“My lady, that’s not enough. I still need to give my bannermen a reason not to cut his head off, and all of them are clamoring for it.”
To her credit, Sansa Stark doesn’t look like she’s dying to kill him, which is pretty much the only consolation Jaime has right now, but she’s right. She has to keep happy her northern allies, the Vale lords and the Riverlands ones - and if one group doesn’t want him dead, the other two do, or close to it. It doesn’t matter that if he hadn’t gotten involved she might never have become queen regent - from the way things are, it’s obvious that Brienne did most of the work and so no excuse is going to be enough to save his hide. That’s fine, he figures. It could have been worse.
And then Brienne visibly swallows and gives him a look. A look that she’s given him plenty of times since they set for the Vale to see if they could really find Sansa after burying what was left of her mother. That look says please just go along with whatever I’m going to say right now.
She doesn’t even leave him time to nod. She turns to Sansa and the opens her mouth, and - what comes out of it is not what he had expected.
“We’re married,” Brienne says, her voice incredibly steady considering how bad of a liar she is, and her hand reaches out and her fingers curl around the ones of his left hand.
He doesn’t scream we are what now? just out of self-preservation, probably, but Sansa’s eyes suddenly become a bit wider and she bites down on her lip.
“I see,” she says. “I think it might be enough.”
It is indeed enough - killing the kingslayer was one thing, killing the husband of the woman that pretty much singlehandedly saved the queen regent and made sure she didn’t die throughout the Long Night is an entire other one. When Sansa tells them that they need to come speak to her bannermen, Brienne turns to him the moment they’re left alone.
“Right,” she says, sounding more or less mortified, “we married on the Quiet Isle while we were hiding during the trip back to the Wall. That’s everything they need to know.”
“And what if they ask questions?”
“That’s everything they need to know.”
"I’m sure Sandor Clegane was close enough to the Elder Brother to know that it never happened.”
“Clegane won’t be the one contradicting my story,” Brienne cuts him short. “It only has to be until your name is cleared for good.”
“I never said I wasn’t in on it,” he answers, and squeezes her fingers as they walk out of the room.
Never mind that he knows that she only said it to make the impact lessen - but he can’t go anywhere that isn’t the North or the Riverlands or the Vale as it is because every other damned ruler in the now divided Seven Realms wants his head, so he can’t see this stint lasting only a short time.
That said, he could do worse than pretending to be married to Brienne - provided that they actually let him live.
They let him live.
He also can’t still leave Winterfell. And neither can Brienne.
It’s a couple of weeks before he hears the whispers. It’s a lot of different kinds of, but the moral of the story is that people are wondering why, if they’re married, they behave like friends at most.
The most popular reasoning people come up with is that he obviously married her out of pity or something like that, and that somehow angers him more than it should, but - the idea that people who know how much the fucking North owes Brienne of Tarth and her ridiculous attachment to vows made to dead women would still say that is frankly unnerving. Never mind that Brienne can do a lot better than being married to someone out of pity. Hells, if they really were married she would be the one taking pity on him since he’s the one out of the two of them who’s disinherited, wanted dead by most of the fucking continent and whose only living relative is still not on speaking terms to him.
So that evening, after they sit next to each other as usual during supper, before it’s served he doesn’t even warn her before putting his good hand behind her neck and kissing her full on the mouth - he doesn’t push too much, just to make sure she doesn’t punch him back, but he does it long enough that no one would think that he was kissing her out of obligation.
Brienne goes red in the face but says nothing.
Later, in the room they’re sharing, and in the bed they’re sharing even if they sleep on opposite sides, she asks the question long before all the candles are blown off.
“Why did you do it?”
“People are wondering if I married you out of pity because we don’t behave like we’re actually married, wench.”
"And since when do you care about what people think?”
"I don’t, but I think we’ve both been through enough that pity isn’t in the equation anymore.”
Brienne doesn’t give him an answer at that, and he doesn’t expect one.
At the next feast, he’s nursing some wine in his left hand while keeping out of the crowd when he notices that some people are approaching Brienne to dance and she refuses all of them.
That’s when he hears some knight from the Vale behind him conversing with a friend of his.
“Do you think it’s because she can’t dance or it’s because her husband doesn’t want to and she’s too honorable to dance with someone else?”
Jaime really wishes people would just stop talking behind others’ backs.
He finishes his wine and stalks through the room until he reaches her.
“Well,” he says, “I think that as one of the few married couples in this room, one dance is required.”
Brienne was sitting - she looks up at him as if she doesn’t understand whether he’s gone mad or not.
“I think you heard me the first time.”
“I don’t dance,” she replies curtly.
“I don’t either, for that matter, and I haven’t for years, but I’m still asking you.”
“You don’t have to do it.”
"And who says I’m doing it because I have to? Maybe I want to.”
She still doesn’t look that convinced, but then she takes a deep breath and takes his outstretched left hand and lets him drag her forward.
The thing is - she’s not really that bad. She’s coordinated, and she was obviously taught how to dance at some point, it’s just that it’s obvious she hasn’t done it in ages, and she’s also too stiff. As if she’s entirely too conscious of people watching her.
"Maybe you should lead,” he says, trying to at least make the air less tense.
“Just an idea. Why not? I mean, I doubt anyone cares. And you seem pretty damn uncomfortable.”
“… Wouldn’t you mind?”
“Wench, you’re actively keeping my head upon my neck with this, do you think I care what people think if you lead?”
“Fine,” she says, and they switch position and -
Who’d have known. She’s a lot less stiff if she’s leading.
Jaime is sure he can hear people commenting, but he kind of likes it, now that she’s not holding herself together that stiffly, and she’s also half-smiling to herself, so when the music’s over he doesn’t go back to their seats and it ends with them dancing through the next four songs.
He’ll never tell a soul that it was kind of nice to just follow her lead, never mind that her being as tall as he is if not a bit more means that he doesn’t have to lean down to rest his chin on her shoulder.
He also notices that her heartbeat has somehow sped up as he presses up closer, but he doesn’t point that out.
The thing is - two months or so after they start the charade, he realizes that he actually likes it. By now they’re good at keeping up the appearances in public - he’ll kiss her as properly as he can, they’ll touch more than friends should, they’ll dance whenever the occasion presents itself, they’ll sit together, all the usual etiquette that married couples should follow, and the thing is that if it was a chore he’d feel it, but he doesn’t. After all, it’s not that much different from before, just with a lot more touching and the kissing, and every time he kisses her lately he finds himself thinking what if I pushed, what if I used my tongue, what if, what if, and whenever they end up touching at night because if you share a bed it happens, he never makes an effort to move - she’s warm
(same as she was when she caught him in the pool)
and he kind of likes it if her arm accidentally ends up around his waist - he hasn’t shared a bed with that many people in his life anyway, and he certainly never shared Cersei’s like this, and he hadn’t realized how nice it could be until he had it every morning. Never mind that he’s not an idiot - he knows that by being fake-married to him she’s actively denying herself the chance of finding a husband if she so wishes. Not that he thinks she wanted one in the first place, but she’s still the heir to Tarth and she might want to make sure she has offspring at some point. If she ever manages to come back, because of course she could but she’s not.
He’s pretty sure it’s because he can’t leave. And on one side it makes him feel terrible, because she shouldn’t hinder herself because of him, but on the other - why would she?
Why would she even do that, unless -
He doesn’t know why it took him this long to maybe realize it, but the only explanation has to be that she somehow wants to stick with him, even if by all reasons she shouldn’t, and it’s been long enough that he’s more or less positive that she doesn’t feel that guilty for having tricked him into leaving his army back in the Riverlands anymore.
And gods help him, he thinks that if she went back to Tarth and asked him if he wanted to come with, he wouldn’t say yes just because there’s no one else in Westeros who’d have him.
He smiles to himself. He thinks he knows what he should do.
“We should take a walk,” he tells her after supper.
“A walk? Why?”
“I have to ask you something. But not here.”
Brienne doesn’t look that convinced at all, but she doesn’t say no and follows him outside the castle and into the weirwood. He stops in front of one of the heart trees that survived the sack, and he wishes he had thought of doing this in the morning - it’s not snowing, but it did before and the air is fucking cold.
“Jaime, I guess that if we didn’t die of the cold back on the Wall we’re not going to do it now, but why are we here?”
“Well,” he answers, “it’s just a short thing, but I guess we should get it done as soon as possible.”
“And what’s that?”
“I’m told the Northerners have peculiar customs. Such as, you don’t need a septon to get married.”
“I mean, from what I know if you say your vows in front of one of these trees it’s as good as a septon, and I guess it’s very convenient since I can’t find one to marry us. Since it would give out that we weren’t, you know, married before.”
“Wait. Wait, are you actually -”
“Wench, I’m actually telling you that there’s no reason why we should keep up a mummer’s farce when the both of us want the real thing. Unless I’m reading you wrong.”
Brienne opens her mouth, then closes it, her cheeks flushing in spite of the heat, blue eyes perfectly clear in the moonlight.
”You want it?”
"Hells, at this point I should as you if you want it. I mean, if you don’t you’re basically saving my neck out of the goodness of your heart. And you shouldn’t be wasting your life here just because you think you should keep me alive out of honor or whatever, wench.”
"That wasn’t what I asked.”
“Did you see me protesting once to our little arrangement?”
She just glares at him.
"Fine, yes, would I even be asking otherwise? And while I’d say I can give you all the time in the world to think about it, maybe an answer before we both freeze to death might be nice.”
"Says the man who took my first kiss without even warning me.”
… that wasn’t what he had thought.
“Sorry, I did what?”
“At the supper. That first time you kissed me.”
“… Do I have to apologize?”
She takes a step forward, coming closer to him, and then -
She reaches out and takes his left hand in both of hers, but then thinks better of it, reaches down for his right wrist and covers the stump of his right hand with her own.
“Maybe you should since it was hardly worthy of a ballad, but considering that I might have wished that it would be yours, I suppose you don’t have to apologize. I should also hope that if we do this, you’ll do somewhat better than that.”
“I don’t need to marry you first to do better than that,” he says, and pulls on the hand he actually is holding on to so that she has to close the distance between them before kissing her properly, the way he’s wanted to for a while, his left hand going to the back of her head and his tongue slightly pushing inside her mouth until he finds hers. And maybe he sighs a bit into it when her free hand buries itself in his hair, and when they part he doesn’t really move back - his forehead is against hers and he’s not feeling this cold anymore.
"So,” he says, “will you marry me already so I can stop being remiss in my marital duties?”
“How honorable of you, ser,” Brienne laughs against his mouth. “Yes, of course I will.”
“Good. Then we should get back soon, because I’m bloody freezing.”
“Says the one who came outside without a cloak,” Brienne sighs, and - ah. Right. Yes. He definitely didn’t take his furs before leaving. He might have been somewhat nervous.
“Good thing this is a wedding,” she adds a moment later, and then she takes off her own cloak and wraps it around his shoulders.
Well, he wasn’t expecting that, but after all it’s only too appropriate.
"You’d better get a new one, I’m not giving it back to you.”
“As if I ever had a doubt. And I can’t even ask myself what am I getting into, since we’ve been technically married for months.”
He has to laugh at that, his left hand reaching for hers again. “So how about we do this properly so I can go fulfill my duties as soon as we’re done with?”
"I suppose I can hardly deny you anything,” Brienne says with another half-smile before dropping on her knees in front of the tree.
He follows suit, and he doesn’t even protest when he vows out loud that he’ll make sure she will never feel cheated out of the months of not fulfilled marital duties and Brienne throws a handful of snow at his face.
He’s pretty sure that he can’t imagine being married to her starting any differently, and he’s entirely fine with it.