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Tale As Old As Time

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Prologue 

Once upon a time, there was a proud lion of a man, who strutted gilded halls in golden armor, his head held high. He was Ser Jaime of House Lannister, and he was haughty and beautiful, with fierce green eyes and a head of gold locks. He had been a Knight of the Kingsuard since he was barely more than a boy and seldom few could match his prowess with a blade or the sharpness of his tongue.

His past was littered with darkness and many whispered that he lacked honor, that he had slain his king and broken his vows, but Jaime Lannister cared little for the opinions of lesser men. He had his blade to deal with anyone stupid enough to say such things to his face, and he had his beautiful sister, Queen Cersei, whose bed he sought out at every opportunity. She was his twin, his other half, his heart and soul. That she belonged to another meant little to our proud lion.

One day, this man and his sister, and her husband, King Robert, road north to the kingdom of the Starks and there, events were set in motion that would change the Seven Kingdoms, and Ser Jaime, forever. 

A small boy, climbing the castle walls, stumbled upon Jaime, Cersei and their terrible secret. To protect his beloved and the lion cubs she'd born, Jaime threw Bran Stark from that Winterfell tower, intent that the knowledge of their affair would die with him...

The Stark boy lived, but his body was broken. A short time later, the boys parents learned the twins' secret and Lady Stark learned the horror Jaime Lannister had brought to her sweet son and a fierce war began.

Many moons later, when the proud lion lay chained and captive in her dungeon, Lady Stark confronted him, and the haughty lion confessed readily to his crime, showing little remorse, stating only that he'd done it for love.

The Lady's heart was a dark sea of pain and loss and anger. She ached for her lost children and longed for vengeance.

"You know nothing of love," she spat. "Curse you, Jaime Lannister. Curse you. If the gods are just, they will take all that you hold dear from you, as they have done to my family. Curse you!"


The proud lion had scoffed at her words, for he'd learned long ago that the gods were not just, if they were even there at all, and thought little of her words.


Then Lady Catelyn set him free, bidding his cousin Cleos Frey to bring him to King's Landing in exchange for her daughters, pinning all her hopes on his brother Tyrion, the only Lannister in her eyes who possessed a lick of honor. Upon his release, Jaime had reveled at the freedom, the feel of sunlight on his face and the wind in his long and tangled hair, unaware that Catelyn Starks words would prove truer than he could bear.


On the road, he and his cousin were set upon by a band of sellswords, who in an act of immense cruelty, cut off Jaime's right hand, the hand that had held his sword and his entire identity.


In the weeks that followed, the crippled lion endured fever and illness and agony such as he had never experienced. There were moments when he thought he would let himself die, for what was he worth, without a hand to wield a sword?


But thoughts of his beautiful, golden sister kept him going. She needed him. The kingdoms were crumbling around them as war tore the lands asunder.
He made himself live, for Cersei.


If he did not believe in curses before, his arrival at King's Landing would make a believer of him, as Jaime proceeded to lose the only other thing he had to live for.


He arrived too late to save King Joffrey, the horrific son he had made with his sister, and she held that against him. His maimed hand repulsed her, the sight of his stump made her gag and a wedge formed between Ser Jaime and the person he cared most for in the world.


His father too, seemed more concerned about whether he could still hold a blade than much else, but seemed to believe his wound was enough to free him of his service in the Kingsguard. Tywin had his heir back, and wanted Jaime to take up his place at Casterly Rock, the place King Aerys had robbed him of when he gave Jaime the white cloak all those years ago.


Jaime refused the offer and intended to keep his place as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard and to do his best to aid young Tommen, his son. Tywin was wroth with anger and bitterly disappointed in Jaime, who he no longer considered a son.


But it was not to be so. His sister saw to that.


They had changed, in their time apart, and he found Cersei drunk on power and desperate to hold onto it. She scorned his missing hand and she scorned his love.


In an act of greatest betrayal, she publicly relieved him of his duty as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, as she had done with the great Barristan Selmy long before.


Lord Tywin was still furious with his son, but he bade Jaime return to Casterly Rock, now that he'd been stripped of his duty and Tywin served at King's Landing as Hand of the King.  


Bitter and disgraced, with no other place in the world, the once proud lion slunk back to the Westerlands, wounded and brokenhearted.


He'd never wanted any of it. Power, land and titles meant not a thing to him. He'd only ever wanted Cersei and cold steel in his hand and their absence turned his heart to heavy stone. He was nothing now, and Ser Jaime quickly slipped into deepest darkness.


Many of the servants there had known Ser Jaime as a boy. They remembered a nice young lad, who laughed easily, who loved his sister and was kind to the twisted imp of a brother no one else could bear to look upon. They remembered a boy held dreams of knighthood and glory, who sat at high tables clinging onto the words of the season knights he so admired. When this crippled and broken and impatient man returned to them, they were saddened by their master's anger.


It pained them to see him holed up inside his chambers, cursing himself and the world, taking no joy in meat or mead or the company of the guests Tywin sent to the Rock.


With so many hardened layers around their lion's heart, they had to wonder if anyone could ever break through them to find the man he once was. He became more bitter and lonely with each passing day, and they began to lose hope that they would ever see the icy walls built up around their lord melt away.


Then one day, a young maiden from Tarth showed up at the gates of Casterly Rock , tall and homely and clad in mens' mail, but with a heart purer and truer than any the lion had ever known. On that day, everything changed.

Chapter Text

Jaime was roused from his sleep at midday by Maester Corryn shaking him gently awake. He slept most of his days away, his curtains drawn and his room darkened and he shut his eyes tighter in distaste.


"My lord, I am sorry to wake you, but there is a matter that requires your attention," the old man said quietly.


Jaime groaned, stretching widely. Had the wrinkled fool not learned by now that he had no interest in dealing with 'matters' of any kind?


"What is it? Can't you take care of it?" Jaime mumbled, trying to slip back beneath the covers. A serving girl was already drawing open his curtains, and the noon sun blinded him. He'd always deferred virtually all affairs of the Rock to the Maester, who, while not precisely comfortable with the responsibility, did a reasonable job of handling them.


Sometimes, however, the Lannister bannermen were not satisfied to deal with a mere Maester and  insisted on an audience with him personally. It was dull, dreary work, but as Corryn was so keen to remind him, if Jaime did not hear them out, they'd likely be sending ravens to King's Landing to complain about him.


Neither the Hand or the Queen would take kindly to being pestered about troubles Jaime should be dealing with himself. Unfortunately, the effort of dealing with their ire would likely be worse.


"No, my lord, I fear this is something I do not have the authority to deal with-"


"Very well!" Jaime snapped, jumping out of bed so suddenly that the young servant knocked over a vase in fright and began stammering apologies. Already Jaime’s head was aching and his tolerance for people was waning, and he'd only been up for two minutes.


"Forget the bloody vase, you daft woman! Just get out, both of you while I dress!" he commanded harshly.


It was only after they'd shuffled out hurriedly that he remembered the humiliating difficulty he had with even the simple task of dressing himself, now that they'd taken his hand.


He thought of the Stark woman's harsh words and scowled. Anyone would think him mad for believing a grieving mother like Catelyn Tully had the power to curse a man, but it nagged at him more each day as he contemplated the turn his life had taken since she'd invoked the gods to bring him justice.


He laughed bitterly as he selected a pair of breeches and a tunic and set himself to the arduous struggle of putting them on and lacing them up. It took him what felt like ages to finish the task.


Good, he thought pettily. Let whoever it is wait.


When he emerged, Maester Corryn was waiting for him in the hall.


"Alright then, what's this bloody urgent business about?" he asked impatiently.


"As you know," the Maester began, in that irksome tone he used whilst reminding Jaime of something he very well should know, but probably didn't, being so set as he was on his path of total apathy regarding the affairs of the Rock.


"We have been holding a few lords who had allied with Renly Baratheon captive here. Lannister troops intercepted them on their way to treat with Renly prior to his death. Undoubtedly they were on their way to discuss the possibility of providing the false king with more men and resources-"


"Yes, yes, what of it?" Jaime said, urging him on. He was aware of the slew of prisoners in cells, and couldn't care less about any of them. 


"Lord Selywn of Tarth is among them, my Lord. Your Father had commanded he be kept here until Tommen's reign is more secure, lest Selywn choose to ally himself with Stannis. He is in the process of selecting a Lord to rule Tarth in the meantime."


"Right," said Jaime. "I'm happy to let him rot down there until Stannis is dead. What is the issue?"


"Well his- his daughter has come to plead for his release," Maester Corryn said, somewhat nervously as though expecting Jaime to snap at him.


His fears were not entirely unfounded. Jaime growled in annoyance.


"Do you really think I have any interest in hearing some maiden sob for the release of a man my father has commanded remain imprisoned?"


"No, Ser- my, my Lord. I, I only think- it would be wise to keep relations diplomatic, to ease negotiations as the war draws to a close. Stannis will surely surrender soon, and when that happens it would be better to have the good will of as many lords as we can. You ought to hear the girl out, I think, even if you do not grant-"

 

"I don't care to hear some simpering maid's woes!" Jaime roared, taking small satisfaction in the way the Maester cowered before him. 


"I don't believe you shall hear much simpering from the Maid of Tarth, Lord Jaime. She is a- a most peculiar girl. She arrived dressed in armor and has offered to duel any man of your choosing in exchange for her father's freedom."


Jaime let out a bark of laughter at that. "Did she now?" That was absurd enough to capture a bit of his interest.

What sort of naive fool would think...Even for a man to show up with such a notion was laughable, but a maiden? It was idiocy and madness both!

He found his pace quickening as he and Corryn walked to the Great Hall where the maid was waiting. It would be quite amusing to lay his eyes of this delusional woman and he was quite starved for amusement these days.


Jaime had never had the slightest interest in gossip, but one did hear things.

Now that he thought of it, he could vaguely recall tales of the Maid of Tarth, a giant of a woman who paraded about like man and had served in Renly's rainbow guard. He'd heard it mentioned at feasts in passing, a good joke to be shared at feasts. 


He strode into the hall and searched for her. It did not take long. She was difficult to miss, standing in front of a few household knights, in shining blue armor with a scabbard on her hip. Even from a distance, he could see she was an ugly brute of a woman, and as he got closer, the maid grew no fairer.

He saw that towards the side of the large hall, Lord Selwyn of Tarth had been dragged from his cell room and was standing, as wide-eyed and perplexed at this sight of this homely wench as the dozens of other onlookers were.


He continued to walk towards her. When they were just a few feet apart when Jaime stopped, waiting for her to curtsy and begin her pleas.


It never came.


She took a step forward and said, in a strong, sure voice, "Jaime Lannister. I have come to bid you to release my father, Lord Selwyn of Tarth, from his captivity. The effects of this war have reached the shores of Tarth, and his strength is needed to keep our island whole and unravaged."


Though her words were clear and confident, Jaime noticed her large hands shaking at her sides as she clenched them into fists, and the light layer of sweat on her brow.


Jaime did not attempt to stop the mocking laugh that came from his lips, though he knew Maester Corryn would politely scold him for it later.


"Have you, now?"


"Yes," she said, and he was momentarily shaken by the fierceness in her blue eyes, large pools of sapphires that seemed almost out of place with the rest of her homely features. "I do. My father was only on his way to speak with Renly Baratheon when he was taken captive. He has fought in no battles, provided no men to the cause-"

"Ah, save one," Jaime interrupted. "Not much of one, mind," he said looking her up and down judgmentally, "But one would hardly call a creature such as you a woman. Whatever you are, you did serve in Renly's guard, did you not, wench?"


Jaime was too focused on watching the maid's face change at his words to even consider how appalled Maester Corryn would be at his utter lack of courtesy in treating with a highborn maiden. He'd struck a nerve when he'd insulted her, and hurt had flickered across her features.

The wench was a bloody open book. Her blue eyes had looked glossier, for just a moment, and Jaime had thought, victoriously, that he'd successfully reduced her to tears in under a minute. All maidens were the same, underneath it all. Layers of armor couldn't change th- But then he'd mentioned Renly, and all that ferocity was back.


"Yes I did," she said, love and pride and pain all painted plain on her homely face. "And I'd do it again a thousand times over. But that choice was mine, and mine alone. My father has not-"


"You did a grand job there, eh?" Jaime interrupted. "Guarding Renly? You know, I'd heard there was some mailed beast of a woman present when his throat was cut. I suppose that was you? Curious tales, too. I wonder what the truth of it is. Some say she slit poor Renly's throat for him, while others say she was simply too weak to stop the hand that- oooh! Struck a nerve, I see!"


He grinned victoriously when her hand found the hilt of her blade and she began to pull it out. A half a dozen of his guard moved forward, blades drawn.


"Brienne!" Lord Selywn cried out across the hall and Jaime spared a brief glance to see the old man struggling to step forward, held back by the guards.  


But the wench had already dropped her blade into its scabbard and was looking angry with herself for rising to the bait.


Jaime signaled for them to back off and smiled wickedly at her.


"Do you even know how to use that thing?"


"I'd say I can wield a blade a good deal better than you can these days, Lannister," she hissed, just loud enough for him to hear, eyes flickering pointedly to his stump. He'd neglected to put on his golden hand this morning and it was there, bare and hideous.

Jaime felt a wave of fury course through him at her audacity.


Louder, so the entire hall could hear, Brienne called out, "I am willing to fight for my father's freedom, if need be. I will fight any man you name and beat him."


Jaime watched her quietly for a long moment. There was sheer conviction in her eyes, and he was admittedly curious to see how she would fare in a fight. She was bloody huge and her arms were certainly muscular enough, but strength alone meant little in unskilled hands.

He shook his head. Tempting, but no. 


Even one as disinterested in politics as he was knew it would be no good if word got out that one of his guards had slaughtered a young woman of a noble house in his hall. The Lannister name had been dragged through enough mud by the actions of himself, his father, his sister and his vile dead son.


"While I'm sure that would provide great amusement to my household," Jaime said, taking a step closer. He took her hand and kissed it, feeling it stiffen and clench into a fist beneath his lips. He smiled mockingly up at her.  "It would not be very honorable for me to allow a highborn maiden to be killed so brutally in my hall."


"What do you know of honor, Kingslayer?" the ugly wench hissed, again, for Jaime's ears alone. Rage swelled up inside him, but before he could react, she wrenched her hand out of his grasp and addressed the rest of the hall. "I assure you, I have no fear about that being a possible outcome. I take the risk willingly."


A few onlookers had begun to laugh. Jaime glowered at her. This was getting out of hand. He had to end this spectacle now, and get back to his chambers. As he considered the matter quietly, Selwyn used the opportunity to call out to his daughter.


"Brienne, my child, this is madness! Return to Tarth. Rule in my stead until the fighting ends and I shall-"


"Quiet," Selwyn's guard said sharply, elbowing him in the ribs and the old man fell silent.

 
"Your father is right, my lady," Jaime said at last. "It is madness. I will not have you dueling anyone in my hall." He paused once again, but much more briefly this time, for an idea came to him almost at once as he considered the affection between father and daughter that was so blatantly on display .  "However...I believe there is a way we can help your father, if you are willing."


"What's that?" Brienne asked, narrowing her eyes suspiciously.


Jaime considered the solution bouncing around in his head. It was reckless, stupid and probably a little bit insane....but it made sense.


Tarth was an island and Selwyn's ancestors had ruled it since- since- well, Jaime didn't know or care precisely how long, but it was long enough that its people would be unwilling to bend to whatever outsider Tywin thought to grant the lordship to.


And the man loved his daughter, that much was plain. Why, Jaime could not comprehend, for she was an ugly, delusional beast who pranced around playing at swords and war and insulting her betters. But Jaime recalled that Lord Selwyn had no other heir, and his distress at seeing his child willing to die for his freedom was plain.


Jaime had no interest in these political games, but he was in this regardless of his wishes. So he made his move.

"Tarth needs a strong hand to rule it. That much is true. And the King needs loyalty. I will send your father back to your Sapphire Isle. But in order to ensure his loyalty to King Tommen, you will remain hostage at Casterly Rock in his place." 

Brienne stared at him, her blue eyes wide. She took only a moment to consider it before bowing her head, "Very well. I will stay."


"No, Brienne! You don't-" her father cried out, but he was silenced by the guard immediately.

"Yes, father. You are needed at home. I will remain here in your stead." she said, addressing him from across the hall, her expression set and determined. 


Jaime turned to Maester Corryn. "Corryn, find suitable chambers for the lady," he said, before turning towards the guards who held Selwyn, "See to it Lord Tarth is given clothes fit for travel. Cleos, gather up a guard to escort Lord Selywn safely home."


He turned to go. Maester Corryn and a few guards were attempting to lead Brienne out a side door of the hall, towards a passage that contained a number of fine rooms. Across the hall, Lord Selwyn was being lead out another door.


"Wait! Please! I want to- I want to say goodbye!" Brienne pleaded, fighting them. One of them had already taken her sword, but she was twisting wildly, trying to move back across the hall to her father. Now there were tears leaking freely from her blue eyes. Jaime only spared her the briefest of glances, but he could see them streaming down her freckled cheeks.

He turned his back and strode out of the hall towards to his chambers, ignoring the sounds of her pleas, slamming the door in his wake.

Chapter Text

While Jaime would have been quite content to spend all his time in his rooms rather than deal with the troublesome bannermen and simpering ladies vying for the title of ‘Lady of the Rock’, it was simply not possible. Far more often than he liked, the Maester or castellan or some servant was rapping at his door with some piece of tedium that required his attention.

Maester Corryn had served Jaime's father for years, and while Jaime could be quite intimidating whilst in a rage, few men could instill fear in a man quite like Tywin Lannister.

Tywin wrote the Maester frequently, intent upon being informed of how Jaime was handling his unwanted duty. While Tywin's hands were tied in his dealings at King’s Landing, keeping some of the pressure off Jaime, the Hand of the King was eager for Jaime to produce an heir and made no secret of it. 

He had given up his plans of marrying Jaime off to Margaery Tyrell, and plans were already in the works for her to wed Tommen, and soon.

Tywin’s focus, for the moment, was on his grandson and troublesome daughter, but he sent a number of powerful men and their daughters Jaime’s way with instructions for him to treat them courteously and garner favor, planting the seeds for a potential betrothal when Tywin eventually had time to select a bride for his son.

Jaime, of course, had no interest in any of them. Though thoughts of his sister still left a bitter taste in his mouth, she was the only woman he’d ever wanted, and none of the ladies brought before him had so much as tempted him.

After Jaime's first few weeks back at the Rock, where he stubbornly kept to his rooms, and was pestered by Corryn daily to entertain his guests lest he bring his father’s wrath down upon them all, they'd finally come to an agreement.

If Jaime agreed to feast with the many visitors arriving at the Rock at least twice a week, Corryn would cease (or at least drastically reduce his nagging) and write favorably about Jaime to his Father.  

Jaime still found it tedious and dull, but he endured it. Twice a week, he would grumpily seat himself beside the bannermen desperate to ingratiate themselves to him and women who craved the power and status a marriage to Jaime Lannister would bring.

The men blew hot air at him about how the kingdom would prosper with Tywin as a hand once again and how strong a king Tommen would grow up to be with the great Lord Tywin to guide him. Jaime did his best to grit his teeth and thank them without rolling his eyes.

The women rained compliments upon the castle, its grounds and gardens and tapestries and spoke of how ‘brave you are, to have endured such a terrible injury. Pretty words, yet they could never stop themselves from regarding his stump with horror, just as his sister had.

It pales in comparison to the agony of enduring your company, my lady, he’d think, but would hold his tongue and reply with some dull words of courtesy that would make them blush or titter.

Am I making you proud, father? Is this how a Lion Lord behaves?

He dreaded these social occasions with every bone in his body. He’d never cared for large banquets, but at least in his life before this war, he could whisper japes about the irksome guests to Cersei or Tyrion. A glib comment about that lord’s beard or that lady’s misspeak would have his siblings snorting into their wine glasses and it would make the whole thing bearable.

Now he faced them, and everything else, alone. It was tedious and humorless, but this bit of minimal effort on his part was preferable to having Tywin ride up to the gates of Casterly Rock in a rage.  

With the kingdoms still in turmoil and the threat of Stannis Baratheon far from extinguished, his father would not take kindly to being pulled from his duties as Hand to deal with his disappointment of a son, so Jaime put up with it all as much as he could stand.


_______

Jaime thought little of the Maid of Tarth after her initial arrival, except to occasionally scowl as her insolent words popped into his head, unbidden. He knew the world called him Kingslayer when his back was turned, but it was rare for someone to say it to his face, and it made him tense with fury whenever he recalled her eyes, and how much she meant what she said. 

The girl kept to her rooms almost exclusively, or so he'd heard. He, too, was inclined to keep to his small corner of the castle whenever possible, so it was only through his Maester that he learned anything about her at all.

One evening, shortly after her arrival, Maester Corryn was in his chambers, discussing preparations for one of his biweekly feasts.

"Lord Kenning and his sister have arrived just this morning, so I have deemed it necessary to add a few more extravagant courses to the usual fare, to show respect for our guests-"


"Yes, yes, that's fine," Jaime groaned, waving his stump in frustration. "Do as you will."


"I've rearranged the seating so that our newest arrival from House Broom and Ser Tybolt Crakehall are as far from each other as possible. I am told they once dueled over Crakehall's wife, when she was still a maid and have born ill-feelings towards each other ever sinc-"


"Man must have been a bloody fool to cross swords with Tybolt,” Jaime guffawed briefly, before turning sullen once more.  “Do I really need to hear all of this?"


The Maester sighed. "Well, my lord, as it really ought to be you making these arrangements in the first place, I-" he quailed under Jaime's glare. "No. No, I suppose not."


Corryn glanced through his notes quickly before saying, "Ah. There is one more th-"


"What?" Jaime asked, full of impatience.


"Our ah, newest...ah, guest from Tarth. Lady Brienne. Ought we require her presence this evening as well?"

Jaime considered it. It wasn't necessary, really.

There were plenty of highborn lords and ladies present at the Rock to fill the tables of his hall. He could not imagine any of the men having much interest in the ugly, hulking wench, even with the prospect of gaining access to her father's lands. Her presence would not add much to anyone’s enjoyment, he gathered.

And the girl herself would hardly like being seated among the very people she'd fought whilst defending Renly. Some among them had once been loyal to the youngest Baratheon, but had bent the knee to Tywin and the Lannisters much earlier, abandoning Renly's cause as soon as things took a turn for the worse.

Given his brief exposure to her ideas about honor, Jaime figured she would surely be disgusted by their disloyalty.

And on top of it all, though the maid had spoken bravely enough when she'd sought her father's freedom, she hardly looked the type to feel comfortable at formal occasions, being as awkward and homely as she was.

Perhaps it was a desire for revenge against the things she'd said to him under her breath on the day she’d arrived that made him say it.

Perhaps it was simply a desire to have someone present at the feast  who would be more miserable than he was.

Whatever the reason, Jaime found himself turning to the Maester and smirking, "Yes. Yes, I believe we owe the girl that courtesy."

 

___

Jaime’s guests that evening were more talkative than usual, and though their conversation was as dull as ever, the constant stream kept him busy through the first few courses.


Finally, after about the fifth course, a younger knight at their table was goaded into sharing tales of his travels, and after his initial shyness, he’d gotten very comfortable with the attention of the table and Jaime was allowed a reprieve from the chatter.

Jaime allowed his eyes to wander the hall to the lower tables. The Maid of Tarth was hard to miss. Someone had found some hideous gown for her to wear, and she could not have looked less comfortable in it. It was pink, lacy thing made for someone with a much thinner and bustier frame, and he caught her fidgeting and tugging at it often.

She sat sullenly at the table amidst handsome young men and better dressed and vastly more feminine women. She spent most of her time staring quietly down at her plate, and even when her whole table erupted into laughter at some bawdy joke, the wench failed to crack a smile. Jaime smirked down at her, grimly satisfied at her discomfort. 

For weeks, Jaime never spoke a word to the  Brienne of Tarth, and saw her only at the feasts. He found himself watching her often, amused by how dreadfully out of place she was. It was an odd source of comfort, to know that there was someone in the hall even less enthusiastic than he was.

One evening, she finally caught him staring, and fixed him with a glare full of such loathing and sorrow that he found himself startled. She held his gaze for only a moment before turning away in disgust, but even across the hall, there was something in those blue eyes that moved him in a way he couldn’t fully understand. 

The next day, he told Maester Corryn to send someone to make a new gown for her. Seeing her plucking awkwardly at the ones that had been scrounged up no longer seemed to amuse him nearly as much as it once had.

Jaime noticed it immediately, when the new dress was made. Brienne still stuck out like a sore thumb amidst the tiny-waisted women with their elaborate hairstyles and plunging necklines, but whoever had fashioned the new garment knew what they were doing.

The wench would never look truly graceful, but the blue suited her well and there was no lace to be pulled at, at least. She seemed to hold herself with slightly more confidence in it, though he still never saw her actually speaking to anyone at her table.

The next time she met his eyes across the hall, she still wore that look of hatred and sadness, but Jaime thought he also recognized something like puzzlement in her expression until she quickly turned and stared back down at her stew.

After that, Jaime vehemently told himself he ought to abandon this strange habit of seeking her out in his halls. It was strange and pointless and confusing and stupid. But somehow, at the very next supper, he found his eyes searching for the sullen maid anyway, in total defiance of the commands of his brain.

 

Chapter Text

Jaime had made a habit of prowling the castle by night. He kept to his room by day mostly, for he preferred not to deal with the all people milling about while the sun was up. But cabin fever usually threatened to overcome him by nightfall, so he took to wandering its halls and grounds when most everyone was abed, save for a few guards.

As he absentmindedly strolled the halls, he heard the loud whacking sounds of metal on a wooden dummy as he approached the training yard.

He assumed it was some page who'd snuck out to practice away from the taunts of his peers, and walked on, intending to pass without comment. He'd done the same as small boy, and had no desire to embarrass a young lad eager to prove himself.

When he glanced briefly to his left, however, he saw not a page, but the towering figure of the Maid of Tarth attacking the dummy with wild, angry swings. She was back in the men’s garb she’d worn upon her arrival, and was soaked through with sweat.

He felt a wave of cruel delight wash over him at the sight.

"Imagining that's my head you're hacking off, are you?" he said wryly, smirking when she gasped and whirled around to face him.

Her sword slipped out of her hand and fell with a clang. Jaime laughed. Even in the moonlight and at a distance, he could see her freckled face burning red.

"I- I was just...just...I'll go now," she stammered, bending to pick up her blade.

"By all means, my lady, stick around. Show me what you're made of," he said, raising his eyebrows at the fallen blade.


"No thank you," she said, through gritted teeth. "I take my leave of you, Ser."


"Oh, did I say that you could?" Jaime asked, affecting an expression of mild confusion. "I must have missed that."


She glared at him for a long moment, saying nothing. Finally, she forced herself into a half bow, and rose again, meeting his eyes with a pitiful attempt at deference. “With your permission, Ser, I would greatly appreciate having your leave to go.”


Nice words, or they might have been if they hadn't been forced out through such tightly gritted teeth. Jaime grinned. The wench may be the most transparent bloody woman I have ever met.


He wandered over to a wall where a number of tourney swords hung, and picked one up.


"The night is young, wench. Care for a round?" he asked, approaching her with the sword held out and hating how awkward it felt in his left hand. It did not, however, feel quite as awkward as the homely wench looked, he noted.  


"No, thank you," she said again.


"Come now," he said, circling around her with his blade. "Surely a woman can hold her own against a poor cripple, at least?"


"I have no concerns about that, Ser," she said with a forced calm. "I simply do not wish-"


Jaime, growing impatient at her attempts to remain calm, took a swing at her without warning. She blocked it, just in time, and turned to walk away.


"Impressive reflexes," he said with a low whistle.

She ignored him, making her way to the end of the yard. He felt an unexpected desperation rise up in him, a need for her to stay that he could neither comprehend nor explain.

Though he didn’t understand where it came from, he knew it was that which caused him to say, "You weren't quick enough to block the blow that killed Renly though, were you?"

As expected, she spun around, the expression of total fury making her unpleasant face even less so. "You don't know anything about that,” she said sharply.

"Enlighten me, then," he said cheerfully, striding towards her. "I hear such strange tales of what happened that day. The young stag was in his tent, wasn't he? Recovering after his first battle against Stannis? Both sides took heavy losses. The green knights in Renly’s service, perhaps more so, even though he had greater numbers at his call.. A blue-armored girl from Tarth was there too, I hear, and she-"

"Shut up," Brienne warned.

A weakness. Provoking this one’ll be easier than I could have dreamed.


He laughed, and took another swing at her. This time she blocked it more easily and pushed back against him with more force.


"The wench had fought beside him on the battlefield, but she was unable to defend him in his own tent,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “Too slow and stupid to defend the man she'd sworn to-"

She swung at him this time, hitting him hard on the shoulder, though not as hard, he suspected, as she might have done if she'd used all her strength.

Still, Jaime was finding more amusement in taunting her than he had at a single one of his dinners at the Rock, and was not ready to quit yet, despite the pain.  

"Oh, forgive me, wench. Do I have it wrong? Perhaps you were quick enough and clever enough after all? I heard you were alone with him, when it happened. Were you perhaps clever enough to gain poor Renly’s trust and then slay him when he thought himself safe? Quick enough to steal off into the night to avoid paying for your betrayal?"

"I would never,” she cried, her eyes and blade both flashing in the moonlight as she lashed out at him.

Jaime lifted his sword to defend her blow, grinning maliciously.

The force of her blow reverberated up his arm, and he just managed to hang on to his sword. She slashed at him again, and he found himself impressed at her strength and form. Brienne was absolutely furious and his useless left arm could do little but desperately attempt to defend her attacks. Offense was out of the question.

Seven hells, he thought as she pressed her attack. Even if I had my good hand, she’d be a worthy opponent. She’s fierce and focused and fights smart as well as strong.

“Struck a nerve, have I? Why did you kill him?” he taunted, though it was difficult to get the words out as he panted, out of breath and out of shape.

He knew, of course, that the wench could never have done it. She was as righteous as they bloody came and it was sickening. But Renly was clearly a weak point for her, and he was desperate to trip her up and land at least one decent blow before they were through with this little sparring session. He wanted to seize at least one small victory so he pushed on.

He grinned, “They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Was that it? Did you do it for lov-”

She swung furiously at him, and his grin faded when she sent his blunted blade flying across the yard. He realized, from the force of that most recently blow, just how much she’d been holding back before. His eyes widened.

He silently cursed his useless left hand, but could not resist continuing his taunts, even unarmed. He’d hit a sore spot with his words, even if he hadn’t managed to strike her body. He knew it was borderline madness to do so, but he continued his verbal assault, reckless and cold.

“Did you love him, wench? Did it break your heart, to think of him buggering Loras Tyr-"


“Enough,” she growled, and struck Jaime once- twice- thrice- until he was on his arse, his chest and arms aching from the force of her blows. She held her blunted blade pressed against his throat. “Enough,” she said again.

Jaime stared up into her blue eyes and watched the fury in her large blue eyes turn to an aching sorrow. She spoke softly, more to herself, he thought, than to Jaime. “I did not kill him. There was a shadow. Some... dark shade that struck before I could even- there was nothing I could- how do fight a shadow?”

Jaime saw the tears welling in her eyes and his eyes widened. He watched the fierce, capable wench he’d been fighting moments before turn into someone entirely different. Someone helpless and lost and defeated and young.

Something unfamiliar twisted in his gut, something akin to shame and pity. But that could not be. Pity was not an emotion Jaime Lannister experienced, save for angry self-pity directed inwards as he brooded in the darkness.

There was a thundering of footsteps and suddenly a half dozen of his guards were standing in the yard, shouting “Stand down!” and “Get back, woman!”

Jaime was grateful for their arrival, for it allowed him to break from her gaze and detach from the uncomfortable things it stirred inside him. She too, had turned to the guards and lifted her blade from his throat. As soon as she did, two of them charged forward, attempting to restrain her. The wench, still with that torn, far away look in her eyes, did little to resist.

“Let her go,” Jaime said, hoarse from the pressure of her blade against his throat. “It was only a tourney sword, you imbeciles. The girl beat me fair and square. Unhand her.”

“Sorry, m’lord” one of them muttered, head bowed.

“Apologies, m’lady. We thought...we thought you was... sure it looked like you was tryin’ to kill-”

“She doesn’t care what you thought,” Jaime snapped, getting to his feet with a wince. “Go make yourselves useful. Elsewhere.”

“Yes, m'lord,” they said and shuffled off in shame.

Brienne stood there awkwardly. All the grace she possessed with a blade in her hand seemed to dissipate as soon as she’d dropped it.

“I...I should not have...I’m sorr-” she stammered. She was staring at his neck. It may have been a tourney sword, but he'd bruise where she'd held the blade all the same. 

“Don’t apologize,” Jaime said, getting to his feet with a wince. “I wanted a fight and I goaded you into it.”

She stared at him without responding.

“I should not have said that, about Renly,” he mumbled. He could probably count the apologies he'd made in his life on his remaining fingers. He knew what he must say, but looking into those blue pools of hers while he said it was impossible. “It was unjust and unfounded. I am sure you- sure you fought for him with great valor.”

When the big wench continued to stare at him, saying nothing, Jaime pressed on, though he felt heat rising in his cheeks as he stumbled about for something chivalrous to say to make up for stirring up her pain.

“You’re- you’re very strong. You have considerable skill with a blade, my lady,” he said.

“Yes,” she said, eyeing him warily.

His good will and patience disappeared with her insolence, her pig-headed refusal to give him any help as he floundered about like an awkward squire.

Annoyed, he spat, “I believe ‘thank you’ is the appropriate response when your lord pays you a compliment, wench. I shudder to think of the kind of septas you have on your sapphire isle if that’s how all the ladies of Tarth speak.”

Her eyes sparked with anger for a moment and he interpreted the look as saying ‘You are not my lord, Lannister.' But then she bowed her head and mumbled, “Thank you, my lord. Do I...do I have your leave to go?”

She spoke stiffly, full of tension and barely concealed loathing.

Jaime considered her closely.

Though his body already ached (and his pride was even more wounded) from her beating, even that brief bout of pitiful left-handed fighting had made him feel more alive than he had in months.

He longed to be as good as he once was, to feel as though the sword in his hand was an extension of his own body, to feel powerful and strong once again.

He doubted he’d ever get there, but for the first time since he’d been maimed, he felt a burning desire to try.

And the wench, who never spoke more than two words to anyone, would hardly spread gossip through the castle about how pathetic he was with his left-hand.

It was a ridiculous thought, but he could not stop himself from saying, “Yes. You have my leave. But I’d like you to come back here tomorrow night. I wish to practice using a blade with my left hand. I’d like you to serve as my partner.”

“And why would I do that?” she asked, disgusted and horrified. Jaime almost laughed at her brazen response.

He was certain she was the only living soul in the castle who would dare to speak to him so, and he was sure anyone who heard the exchange would be flabbergasted.

He should be angry, but he found he had no room for anything but amusement. She was truly something else, this beast of a girl from Tarth.

“Because I rule this bloody castle and I told you to?” he asked, and a small chuckle did escape his lips. She looked vaguely sheepish at the reminder of where they stood. “And if that’s not enough, how about because even a useless cripple ought to be a better sparring partner than a wooden dummy, and no other man here would deign to spar with a woman?”

Brienne stared at him quietly for some time. Finally she asked, “Do I have a choice?”

Jaime was silent for a spell too before finally saying. “Yes. Yes, you do. But I hope to find you here tomorrow all just the same.”

Without waiting for a response, he gave her a slight nod before turning around and leaving the yard.

______

Jaime had been pacing his room for almost an hour, debating furiously with himself, filled with self-disgust at his indecision.

It was bloody stupid, to be so worked up about...about this. He had never in his life felt quite so pathetic as he did right then, palms sweating as he agonized over whether or not to make his way down to the training yard.

She won’t come, you fool. You spoke to her like she was lower than the dirt beneath your boots, you sent her father away without even a moment to say goodbye, you accused her of killing the man she would have died for and she thinks you’ve got shit for honor...She won’t come.

That voice had been loudest in his head all evening.

But another voice had persisted throughout, softer and calmer and full of vague hope.

But she’s got a warrior’s blood in her veins, it would say. You saw it in her eyes, that glint every fighter gets when they hold good steel. She feels alive with a sword in her hand, just as you once did. She may loathe you, but she loves to fight. She will come.

She won’t.

She will. No one else in this damned castle would fight a woman, let alone the daughter of a traitor to the crown. She craves a partner, even if it’s a cripple like you.

She’s got too much hatred-

And then another voice had interrupted, full of scorn.

What does it matter, if she doesn’t come? You’ve been scorned by your father and sister both. No one in Seven Kingdoms thinks you’ve got a lick of honor.  The only person on this earth who gives a damn about you is a brother leagues away, who you might not see for years. Would the rejection of some ugly pig-headed girl really make a difference?

Yes. Yes, it would, he was forced to admit with a growl of disgust. It was an unsettling notion, but he knew if he were to make his way all the way down to the yard only to find it empty, it would bother him more than anything has since his return to the Rock. 

Just get down there, you bloody coward. Are you a man or not?

With a feeling of dread, he threw open his door and stormed out of it.

_____

 

Relief washed over him when he found her there, her broad back to him, standing up and tapping her foot in a nervous fashion. From behind, she could have been a man. Seeing her size again reminded him briefly of the beating he’d received the night before, but the fact that she turned up brought back all his typical cockiness.

“Well, well, well. Fancy meeting you here, my lady. What brings you out on such a chilly night?” he grinned smugly.  

Brienne turned around to look at him coldly.

“If you’re going to be flippant, I can just leave.”

He bristled at that. No bloody sense of humor at all on this one.

“Relax, wench. I came to fight,”  he said, picking up a training sword. The sword he chose for himself was much lighter than any he would have chosen in his glory days, but he was long out of practice, and his left arm was always weaker than his right.

“Brienne.”

“What?”

“My name is Brienne. Not wench,” she said and she looked so disgusted he had to wonder at the fact she'd turned up at all.

“My apologies, Lady Brienne.”

“Brienne’s enough,” she mumbled stiffly. “I’m no lady.”  She reached for a sword as if to prove her point and he felt his mouth twitching into a smile, in spite of himself.

“Very well,” he said with a little mock bow. “Shall we begin, Brienne?”

She came at him slowly and without much ferocity. He blocked her blow with ease and swung at her as fiercely as he could with his clumsy left arm. She parried it without any trouble and sent another light blow back at him, but Jaime had seen her in full fury and knew she was barely trying.

It irked him, to be coddled like some six-year-old page holding a sword for the first time.

“Come now, Brienne. I know you’re capable of more than that.”

She gave him an almost sympathetic look that plainly said “I may be, but you’re clearly not.” and struck a tiny bit harder.

“I didn’t come here for your pity, wench, and I don’t bloody need it!" he barked. "Put some effort into it or you may as well go to your bed!”

She stared at him expressionlessly for a moment, and he began to fear that she would go, and he’d have to go back to his bed and his dull, bitter and swordless life.

Then she raised her arm and swung at him, full force. His sword went clattering into the dust. 

“That’s better,” he said gruffly as he went to retrieve it, annoyed at the heat rising to his cheeks.

Jaime was grateful that he’d kept a beard since his captivity with the Starks. The moon was full, and the wench would hardly be able to miss the color rising to them if he was clean-shaven.

She waited until he had his blade poised and began to attack once again. Jaime caught the blow and managed to hold on to his sword this time, but it felt as though the bones in his arm were ringing from the force of her strength.

They fought hard for nearly ten minutes, and she sent his blade flying thrice in that time. His body had already been in agony from their fight the night before and she had him huffing and puffing in no time at all.  He fought as valiantly as he could, sure that he’d be unable to even move in the morning due to the bruises.

He held on for as long as his pride could stand it, but eventually, he’d stepped back, panting hard and letting his blade drop to his side.

“Alright. Alright, wench,” he breathed. “Perhaps....perhaps I need a little of your bloody pity.”

Jaime thought for a moment that he saw the corners of her mouth twitching in a smile, but before he could confirm it, she was nodding solemnly. “Alright. Catch your breath and we'll begin again.”

She scaled things back a bit the next round, still showing considerable strength and speed, but not enough to send his sword clattering across the yard again that night. She set the bar just above his skill level, and raised it every time he showed a little improvement.

Jaime lost track of time as they fought. It had been so long since he’d done this and even though he was clumsy and awkward and slow, he still bloody alive out there in the cold night air. 

They didn’t talk much as they sparred, and Jaime was fine with that. He spent enough time during his days making small talk with dullards. Grunting and panting and the clash of steel on steel was music to his ears, the only sounds he wanted to hear.

Even with the wench going easy on him, she wore him down and he had to marvel at her endurance. He was perhaps even more tired than he realized, because after they’d been at it for a couple of hours, he let an easy blow get past him and the flat of her blade collided with his nose.

It didn’t break, but a steady stream of blood gushed out of it.

“Sorry,” she’d mumbled, and came forward with her sleeve out, preparing to help him stem the flow of blood. It almost looked as though there was a look of concern in those astonishingly blue eyes of hers, and it startled him.  Jaime found himself stepping back from her approach and when she realized he was pulling away, Brienne stopped short, looking embarrassed and dropping her arm. 

“Don’t be,” he said gruffly, waving his hand. “I should have stopped us long ago. You’ve bloody worn me out, wen- Brienne.” he corrected. "You really are quite the swordsman. Woman."

Mocking grins came easily to him, but genuine smiles had never quite suited his face. Still, Jaime made his best attempt at one to show her that there were no hard feelings.

"T-thank you," she said, staring at her boots. The difference in her tone from her thanks the night before was hard to miss. 

“I think it best we turn in for the night. It'll be dawn soon and I believe I have some dull business to attend to in the morning,” he said.

“Y-yes,” she said, not quite meeting his eyes. “It is quite late. G-goodnight.”

“Goodnight, my lady. Same time tomorrow?” he asked, still wiping at his bleeding nose.

She nodded briefly before turning around and quickly making her way across the yard to the passage that would lead to her chambers.

Jaime watched her go until she turned a corner and looked down at his bloodstained sleeve.

The proud young man he’d once been, the one who excelled at the sword and cockily challenged men with years of experience on him to fights would never have dared to imagine this would be his future.

If Jaime been told that one day he’d be a useless, angry cripple who had to depend on the kindness (or desperation) of an ugly brute of a woman-hostage to get any chance of swordplay in, he’d have laughed himself silly.

But the gods had a bizarre sense of humor, and here he was; handless, bitter and alone.

And as absurd as it was, Jaime found himself glad that, if this was to be his fate, that Brienne of Tarth was here too.

 

Chapter Text

 

They fell into a steady routine after that. Every night, when he was sure most of the castle was either in bed or getting thoroughly drunk in the Great Hall, Jaime would make his way down to the training yard and Brienne would be there, waiting for him.

Each night, she set the bar a little higher, always pushing him to his limits but never totally dominating him, though she was more than capable of doing so. (That wasn't strictly true. He was attempting to be courteous, but it wasn't necessarily in his nature and there were occasions when his mouth said things without giving his brain a chance to veto them. It was then that the wench would remind him how much better than him she really was.)

In general though, Jaime was impressed by her skills and grateful for the chance to make something useful out of his useless left hand. He tried to keep his quips to a minimum and was more successful at it than he would have thought.

Brienne was a woman of few words.

There were no lengthy chats or colorful stories from her between swings of the blade. Jaime had tried, once or twice, to ask about her life on Tarth, but the short responses, never more than a word or a nod, had led him to give up that fruitless endeavor quickly.

He did however, have need of breaks every now and then, and he preferred to fill the silences with tales of his own. Brienne didn’t seem to mind him talking, even if she didn’t offer much conversation herself. He talked about Tyrion and they way he used to follow Jaime around the castle in awe. He talked about the lions that had once lived in cages at the Rock and jumping off the cliffs into the sea. He talked about the first fight he won against a boy twice his size and how it felt.

He’d even made her crack a smile every now and then, and more rarely, brought a little laugh from her lips. It was a pleasant sound that softened her, and it gave him an odd sense of accomplishment whenever he managed it.

Those conversations were few and far between, however. The wench worked him hard and usually left him to exhausted to even form sentences.

It was maddening, having to think about every move he made, rather than acting on pure instinct as he had with his right hand. He felt slow and thick, but she pushed him to a higher standard every evening.

Their fights were usually filled with the sounds of grunts and the clash of steel on steel, but occasionally it were punctuated by a sparse compliment from the wench. "Admirable footwork." "Good parry." "Your arm's gotten much stronger."

Her words were far from flowery and meant all the more to him for it.

She seemed to look at him with less disdain over time, but he still thought it would be a delusional stretch of the imagination to pretend the wench actually liked him. She liked fighting and he was an outlet for that while she was trapped at Casterly Rock. Nothing more.

He knew she did not compliment his work to flatter his ego because she had no interest in doing so. When she said he was improving, he knew she truly meant it, and he knew that in addition to self-improvement, he was pushing himself to see those occasional looks of admiration flicker across her plain features.

Jaime tried to repay her with compliments of his own, professing that she was an excellent teacher and could strike a mighty blow. He laid his praise on more often than she did, because he enjoyed the way her cheeks reddened and she mumbled her thanks without meeting his eyes.

Jaime had slowly come to the uncomfortable realization that fighting with this surly brute of a woman was the only worthwhile thing happening in his rather miserable life. He came to the realization that getting out of bed each morning had become remarkably easier since their nightly sparring had begun. Listening to the gripes of his bannermen was made infinitely more tolerable by the knowledge that he'd be battling with Brienne in a few hours time, sweating and panting and getting better.

He was becoming more and more dependent on her company and though he tried to pretend it was only the fighting he cared for, he was forced to admit he had a growing fondness for the wench herself, stubborn and surly as she was.

Though Jaime was improving constantly through Brienne’s firm yet patient pushing, he was often frustrated by how far he had to go before he'd be even close to as good as he was.  

One chilly night, Brienne had seemed particularly intent on testing his reflexes and had been faking him out all night with her stealthy moves.

It was not going well for Jaime. Half the time he fell for her feints and got his arse kicked. The other half, he saw them coming but was too slow to react and got his arse kicked anyway.

After one particularly painful blow to his bicep, he'd let out a roar of frustration and threw his sword to the ground, kicking the dirt.

"Sorry," Brienne had muttered, wincing guiltily.

"Don't be, wench. It's not you. It's me and this bloody worthless hand! I can't stand it! Once, my sword was an extension of my arm. I knew without a second thought where to move it, how to move it. It was as much a part of me as my heart and lungs. Now I have think about every fucking move I make and every reflex I have is wrong. And as I do my thinking I get beaten to a pulp. It's useless. I'm useless," he'd spat venomously.

There was a moment of stunned silence wherein Jaime felt burning shame rise up inside him as he realized how much of his soul he'd just borne in the rant. He hadn't intended to reveal so much. He turned away from her before he could showcase his embarrassment.

She moved towards him so quietly that he jumped at her touch when a large but gentle hand came down to rest on his forearm. "You're not useless, Jaime," she said softly. It was the first time he could recall her using his name. It sounds nice, on her lips. The thought from nowhere, starling him.  

She gave his arm a reassuring squeeze and said, "You're getting better every day. Honestly."

"It's not enough!" he growled, wrenching out of her grasp.

"It is," she said firmly, moving around in front of him so he was forced to meet her sincere gaze. "I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for you. To relearn everything you've known. I cannot even hold a quill in my left hand, let alone a sword. I know it seems an insurmountable challenge, but you show up every night anyway and that's nothing to be ashamed of. And you are improving. Keep coming, and you'll be as good as you were once. I know it. I wouldn't say it if it wasn't true."

Jaime stared at her, and he knew his mouth was foolishly agape. That was probably the most she'd ever said to him in one breath since she’d arrived at Casterly Rock. Her great blue eyes were brimming with emotion. She genuinely believed it. Believed in him. And those eyes of hers really were astonishing.

It was too much. He broke the connection, looking down at his discarded sword.

"Right," he said, reaching over to pick it up. "No one ever got better by whining did they? Come at me, wench. Do your worst."

She rolled her eyes at him then,  her soft sincerity replaced by mild annoyance. She swung at him and he blocked it. The moment was gone.

They fought for another hour and Jaime was astounded by the burst of confidence her words had given him. Astounded, and a bit uncomfortable. He fought hard, trying to distract himself from the meaning behind it.

When they'd finished for the night and he was back in his bed, her words replayed in his head until he fell asleep. As he drifted off, he was forced to admit that something about her had gotten under his skin. He wasn't sure that he liked it, but the last thing he saw before sleep took him was a pair of large blue eyes, sweet and kind and painfully sincere as she told him he could be the swordsman he once was.

Chapter Text

One night, Jaime got to the training yard to find it empty. That surprised him, because the wench always got there first. He never knew what time she arrived, only that he'd never been the first to arrive in more than a moon's turn of sparring with her.

He waited, feeling strangely awkward. He drew lines in the dirt with the toe of his boot. He inspected the swords. He looked up at the stars and recalled the stories that went with each of the patterns. An hour passed, at least. He grew impatient.

He waited one more before he finally gave up and decided to turn in for the night. He wondered why she hadn't turned up and hoped she was alright. He tried not to think about the feeling of longing tugging at his insides that had little to do with the longing to hold a sword in his hand.

The next day, he sought out maester Corryn to see if perhaps the wench had been ill.

"Lord Jaime," Corryn said, looking mildly incredulous, for he usually had to track down Jaime and beg him for an audience. "Have you come to discuss the accounts? This is a first! We have much to go over. We need to consider replenishing a number of items from our stores inc-"

"No," Jaime said, before the old man could get fully started. "I was...I had a question. About- about the Maid of Tarth."

"Indeed?" asked the maester, raising his eyebrows.

"Is she...has she fallen ill?" Jaime asked, looking at his feet.

"Ill? No, Ser. She is well, as far as I know. She has not sent for me, in any case," Corryn said. "Why do you ask?"

Jaime shrugged. "She... missed an appointment," he said stiffly. "I merely wondered if her health was the reason."

"Ah," said Maester Corryn with realization dawning in his watery eyes.

"What?" Jaime asked, perhaps a bit too sharply. The maester appeared to notice and seemed more wary as he continued.

"There was ah, a raven from Tarth yesterday. I did not read the message, but it was addressed to Lady Brienne. Perhaps ah, the contents of the letter stirred up some ah, longing for home. She has been here without any contact with her father for ah, quite some time. Perhaps she was...upset."

"Right," said Jaime, nodding briskly. "Right."

He turned around swiftly to go, ignoring the maester calling him back and crying out about "the accounts!"

Jaime stalked through the castle, anger twisting in his gut. He had no right, really, to be angry, but there was no denying that he was.

He'd come to rely too bloody much on her and he knew it. Her dependable presence in the yard, her patient teaching and her surprisingly soft words had lulled him into believing...believing they were friends or something akin to it.

They'd never quite joked with each other as friends do, and she still hadn't come around to sharing any of the details of her life with him, but he'd allowed himself to believe she had come to enjoy his presence as he did hers.

Obviously that's not the case, he thought bitterly. 

This news was an unwanted reminder to Jaime that Brienne was his prisoner. It was a fact that he'd almost allowed himself to forget. She was a hostage, here against her will, and if he had allowed it, she would have left the castle the same day as her father and never returned. And she would leave tomorrow if he gave her permission without a backward glance. 

She was the only person in the damned castle he could stand, the only person he wanted to spend any time with, and she didn't want to be here.

It stung.

Bothered as he was, he showed up at the training yard that night again, hoping that she'd be over her homesickness and ready to fight. Perhaps once she had steel in her hand again, she'd forget whatever emotions had left her so upset she had failed to show up the night before. And he could try to forget that his sparring partner was an unwilling prisoner.

She wasn't there. He waited again, for long enough that he was just as furious with himself for his pathetic co-dependency as he was with her for failing to show up.

He stood out there in the cold night for far too long before finally turning in, hurt and angry.

He brooded about it for all of the next day, fluctuating back and forth between anger at the wench and anger at himself.

She ought to consider herself lucky. You've given the ungrateful wench every luxury she could want. You treat her well and give her the chance to use her sword every evening. Few men would be so kind. There's many a hostage in the kingdoms who can only dream of such treatment.

She's a prisoner, you great fool. She's miserable and you've got the wits of a mule if you're  expecting her to be happy about being trapped among her enemies, leagues from home. She comes to you because she's got nothing better to do in this foul prison, not because you mean a thing to her.

I've been bloody nice to her, haven't I? Nicer than I am to anyone else in his damned place, anyway. She ought to be-

Grateful? So you've said. Look at you. Pathetic, maimed old lion desperate for the affection of an ugly, stubborn beast of a girl. A lonely, lame cripple longing for a friend, feelings hurt when forced to accept his only candidate wishes with all her heart to be elsewhere. Pitiful.

Similar thoughts waged war in his head all day, so that by the time he reached the training yard that night, he was in a foul rage.

Brienne was there. It startled him, for he hadn't been expecting to find her.

She looked up when he approached, and he noticed that her large blue eyes seemed smaller and there was a blotchiness around them that indicated she'd been crying.

Instead of stirring his pity, it only made him bitter and annoyed that thoughts of home had made her so miserable.

"Well, well, well. Look who's finally deigned to show up!" He sneered as a way of announcing himself. "Tell me wench, have you been off courting? Did one of my knights recently have an accident that blinded him? Has some maiming made someone capable of stomaching your company?"

Brienne eyes widened in shock and hurt. "What? I...no!" Her eyes began to glisten as she stared at him, open-mouthed. "I was...I have been...I've been ill," she finished lamely.

"Don't lie, wench! You couldn't get away with one to save your life," he spat. He picked up the training sword he favored and danced towards her, continuing his verbal assault, "So what's the truth of it? Surely courtship is out of the question! Even if someone was blind or desperate enough to be interested in you, you're still mooning over poor, dead Renly, aren't you?"

"W-what?" she sputtered, blocking the blow he attempted to land, looking deeply wounded. A small voice in his head was stirred by guilt and asked him to have some pity, but there was a veritable chorus of other voices cheering him on, delighting at how stung she look. Good, they said, sneering like petty children getting coveted vengeance. Carry on. Salt the wounds.

"There comes a point where these things become pathetic, wench, and I think you've long past that. As if Renly would have looked at you twice even if he didn't  favor the feel of a cock!"

"Why are you- why are you talking like this?" Brienne asked, a bruised look on her face that reminded him of an injured doe.

She looks completely betrayed. Stop it, you bloody animal, the voice of reason in his head pleaded, but the feelings that had been brewing over the past two days had not played themselves out.

"Just trying to figure out the truth about where you've been, wench."

"I've told you, I was indispos-"

"Enough," he spat, swinging at her again. "I don't need to hear your lies. Give me the truth of it. I heard about your bird from Tarth, wench. I know you want out of here," he said, and actually landed a hard blow on her shoulder as she stared at him in utter confusion. "Trust me, no one here is particularly enamored with your presence either. Your charming conversation would surely not be missed at dinners," he taunted. This time when he swung at her, she blocked it with ease and pushed back against him. "You must hear them, wench. Talking about how tragic it is, that a maid should be frightfull dull in addition to being ug-"

"Enough, Kingslayer," she hissed, and with a couple of strikes, her blade was at his throat once more.

"Ah, there it is. Kingslayer!" he grinned mirthlessly. "You've been a good little girl, lately, haven't you? 'You're getting better every day, Jaime,'" he mimicked girlishly. "But the truth comes out. Getting better at getting fit for kingslaying, is what you think!" he sneered, an ugly look on his face.  "How long have you been holding that in? It all comes back to Aerys, doesn't it? Kingslayer," he scoffed again.

"It's true, isn't it?" she growled angrily. "You swore a holy vow and then spat on it. Others dream of having a place in the Kingsguard and you broke your oath like it meant less than nothing!" Jaime snarled and made to retort, but Brienne carried on. "Does it wound your pride, to hear me say it? How can it, when everyone knows you haven't a single scrap of honor in your entire being-"

Jaime lashed out with such an unexpected wave of fury that Brienne lost her grip on her sword when his blade came crashing down on hers. It flew to the ground, but he pressed his attack, even though she was unarmed.

"You don't know a fucking thing about that, wench!" he spat, slashing at her. She took a step backwards, out of his reach. She stepped back, back, back until he had her pressed up against a wall and there was nowhere to go back to.

He dropped his sword and seized her around the collar of her tunic forcefully, pushing her hard against the wall, pressure against her collarbone. "Not one fucking thing. Don't you dare stand there and judge me, you self-righteous bitc-"

Jaime stopped suddenly when he saw- for the first time ever- genuine fear in Brienne's blue eyes.

He realized then, how hard his hold was and how much pressure he was putting on her neck and knew he'd gone too far. Just as he was preparing to release her and begin an apology, her fear turned to fury and she kicked him hard in the shin.

He jumped back at the pain and her elbow came up to smash him in the jaw. He clutched his mouth, which was already filling with blood. Then she rammed her shoulder into his chest, knocking him to the ground.

He was momentarily stunned.

By the time he got his bearings, he realized she'd taken off running across the yard.

Fuck.

"Wait!" he called, furious with himself. "Hang on, wench! Brienne! I'm sorry! I didn't m-"

It was too late. She was long gone.

Chapter Text

Jaime sat there on the ground for a long while, filled with self-loathing. He'd certainly gone and cocked things up, hadn't he? He, his stupid mouth and his horrible temper.

He felt rather helpless sitting there in the dust, forced to acknowledge that he would more than deserve it if she chose never to speak to him again.

The thought of that  filled Jaime with a dull ache in the pit of his stomach. He wasn't sure he could bear it, if their relationship truly collapsed.

A part of him felt that loss of her quiet company shouldn't really mean a thing, after he'd already gone through the loss of Cersei, his hand, his father’s respect and even his monster of a son, but he knew without a doubt that the loss of this odd companion of his could very well push him over the edge.

He got to his feet, wincing in pain. He had to fix this. He could not lose her. She may not view him as a friend, but sad as it was, he had truly come to think of her as one. His only one.

He was never much good at apologies, and as he walked the halls to her chambers, he struggled painfully as he mulled over what he could possibly say to make things right.

Nothing, you bloody fuck up, said the voice of reason in his head, glaringly loud now that the others were silent and subdued. This is beyond repair. You saw the betrayal in her eyes from the beginning and you still charged on like raging bear. Why on earth would she forgive that cruelty? You may as well go to bed. It's ruined.I did warn you, it added, rather smugly.   

No,  he responded desperately. I can fix it. I'll- I'll think of something.

Right. Good luck, the voice scoffed, with the sort of tone one might use when wishing a squire luck as he went up against Sandor Clegane in a tourney.

When he got to her chambers, he was surprised to find the door wide open. He walked inside and found it completely empty of life, though there were clothes and belongings strewn about the room as if it had been torn apart.

Fuck. She's bloody gone. He shouldn’t have been surprised but it hit him like a ton of bricks. 

He took off running towards the gate he knew Brienne would have left through.

He had mentioned it to her in passing once, during one of their sparring sessions.

Jaime had pulled a muscle and they'd paused to allow him a chance to recover. As they rested, leaning against a stone wall, Jaime told her than when he was a boy, he'd heard a commoner in Lannisport had renowned skill with a blade. His skill already surpassed that of all the other boys in the castle and was desperate to prove himself against a worthy foe, and so he'd snuck out the small passage at the end of the castle one night, when he knew the only guard on duty was a drunk.

Brienne never said much, but she was sharper than she seemed. He was certain she remembered it and would select that method as her best chance of escape.

He made his way through the castle, boots pounding on the stone floor as he darted around corners. 

He'd sat there where she'd knocked him over for too bloody long. He'd never guessed...never would have dreamed she'd leave the entire castle or he'd have gone after her long ago. 

Sure enough, when he reached the back door, Jaime found the guard struggling with tied hands, a bleeding wound on his temple.

"I'm....I'm dreadfully sorry, m'lord! The- the wench came out of nowhere! There was nothing I could do!" he cried when he saw Jaime, looking absolutely terrified at the thought of retribution.

Damn her.What in the seven hells was, taking off on her own into the night?

Without a word of comfort to the helpless guard, Jaime stormed past him and out of the passage into the chill night air, trying not to think about the dangers that could befall a woman- even a woman like Brienne- on her own in the wilds around the castle. 

The Westerlands were less safe now than they'd been since the days of Robert's Rebellion. The Brotherhood Without Banners had grown so large that it split into multiple factions, one of which had been roaming nearer and nearer to the Rock. Outlaws and brigands plagued the surrounding lands, and bands of wolves prowled the forests and hills, preying on the dead, and according to some tales, the living as well.

What the hell was she thinking? he thought again.

Probably that she'd rather take her chances with the monsters out there than spend another day with a monster like you, the snide voice of reason chimed and he raged at its' accuracy. It was his cruelty and temper that had forced her into this, and it was up to him to find her and make it right.

He reached the stables to find two terrified stable boys whispering to each other. 

"We ought to tell someone straight away!" the taller one hissed with wide eyes.

"Are you mad? We'll be whipped bloody!" his companion replied, sweat covering his pimply brow.

"It'll only be worse if we wait, you dolt!" said the tall one, smacking him on the arm. 

"It's alright, lads," Jaime said loudly, making the poor fellows jump out of their skins. "I wouldn't expect you to lot to be able to fight off that mad wench. Tell me, how long ago was she here?"

"C-c-couldn't be more than t-t-ten minutes, m'lord," the taller one stammered. "She took that gray mare that she arrived on and made for the back gate."

Jaime would have asked them to saddle a horse for him, but with the way they were shaking he knew it would be quicker to do it himself, even with one hand.

He began the process and after a few moments of shocked staring, the taller boy jumped to his aid. Jaime mounted his horse and rode to the back gate, where he found an unconscious guard lying in the mud.

Realizing he was unarmed, Jaime jumped off the horse for a moment to take the man's blade. He sheathed it, jumped back up and gave his horse a kick to get it going. Then they galloped off into the night. 

Fortunately, a fresh snow was still falling, and her horse's tracks were the only ones he could see. It made the pursuit easy and he was grateful because he was far from a master tracker. 

There were some woods not far from the castle, and that's where the hoofprints led. 

He plowed down the trail, branches whipping at his face and scratching at his eyes. He urged his horse on desperately, and was just wondering if he'd ever catch up to her when he heard a terrified whinny ring out through the forest.

"Move, you beast," he pleaded with his horse, who was struggling in the deep snow. 

He came upon a clearing in the woods and found a fierce battle waging.

Two shaggy grey wolves were tearing at Brienne's horse, one at its' throat and one at its' back feet.  The mare was fighting and kicking desperately for her life.

Brienne was on her feet in the snow, blade held out as four wolves circled around her. Two more lay dead and bleeding at her feet. He could see dark blood pooling at one of her shoulders even in the low light provided by the moon.

Despite the injury and the vicious canines surrounding her on all sides, she was fierce and focused. Every time one of the wary wolves risked darting in at her, she held it at bay with a swipe of her blade.

Jaime jumped from the saddle at once.

If the sound of his boots colliding with the earth was not loud enough to be heard over the fray, his shout of, "Over here, you filthy brutes!" was enough to draw their attention.

Brienne's eyes snapped up to focus on him, and two of the wolves turned to see what this new source of sound was.

Jaime saw the surprise in her expression for only a moment before she used the distraction to bring her blade down on one of the wolves' necks, nearly hacking it clean off.

Jaime was not afforded much time to be impressed. 

One of the wolves had received a kick from Brienne's horse that sent it flying across the clearing.

It landed in a heap not far from Jaime and he ran it through with his sword before it could stagger to its' feet.

He took a brief moment to revel in the fact that it was the first thing he'd killed since he lost his right hand, before he was broken out of his reverie by a set of teeth tearing into his stomach.

Jaime howled in agony as the fangs tore at his belly and lashed out at the beast, which saw his blade coming and leapt back before he could strike.

Another wolf came at him from the right, a she-wolf, by the looks of her and he turned awkwardly to stop her attack with his clumsy left hand.

He just managed to react in time, and landed a deep cut to her chest that sent her whimpering backwards.  

A split second later, the other one was back on his left side, and bit into thigh savagely. Despite the intense pain, he was able to keep his senses and plunge his blade through its' skull, but he had no time to catch his breath.  The fearsome she-wolf had recovered her courage and was diving at him once again.

Jaime struck out meekly with his blade and it made her leap back again in fear, but his aim was pitiful and he would not have been able to hit her even if she hadn't backed up.

He looked down at his wounded leg and stomach, drenched in blood. Too much blood.

He reeled woozily, and fell to snow-covered growned.

Weakly, he lifted blade just as the she-wolf jumped at his throat. It tore through her flesh and straight into her heart. She landed in a heap on top of him and he felt a fresh wave of agony as her weight slammed against his torn up belly. 

Lying on his back, Jaime turned his head to look at Brienne for a moment. Her tunic was in tatters and her shoulder was drenched in slick blood, but she was still on her feet. He managed a small grin as he watched her finish off the last of her foes with an expert slash of steel.

Then his head spun, his eyes rolled up in his head and his world went dark.

 

Chapter Text

Jaime’s first thought, upon waking was: fucking hells, that hurts.

His second thought was: why?

Painfully, he forced his eyes open and looked down to see thick bandages around his stomach and thigh. What in the seven hells happened? he wondered woozily.

"Jaime!" he heard a familiar voice cry softly.

There was flurry of sound to his right as Brienne came forward to kneel at his bedside, as big and ugly as ever, the smattering of cuts and scrapes on her face doing little to improve her appearance, but her big blue eyes were wide and brimming with concern. 

He still felt dizzy and dazzled, but seeing her jarred his memories: His abominable behavior in the training yard. Her subsequent flight from the Rock. The wolves.

Jaime noticed her shoulder had some thick bandaging on it too, but she seemed better off than he was. He tried to look around the room, but couldn’t see much past the dark hangings around his bed. The hard lumpiness of the mattress told him it certainly wasn’t his. 

"Where are we?" he asked blearily.

"Casterly Rock," she said, breathlessly, her brow furrowed in worry. "One of the chambers on the ground floor. We didn't want to risk moving you up to your rooms. How do you feel? Are you alright? Do you want some water? You must be so thirsty. You-"

He blinked at the speed with which her words came tumbling out, trying to process them through his dizziness.

He almost laughed, but suddenly it occurred to him how strange it was that she was here at all. She had been in the process of escaping, when he was last conscious. 

"We were in the woods," he interrupted, troubled.

"Um, yes," Brienne said quietly, flushing. "We were. We’re...we’re back now though. It’s alright. You're alright."

She did not meet his eyes as she said it, but stared intently at her fingernails.

"You could have left me out there, wench," he muttered, just as quietly. "You had the chance to make your escape. I was certainly in no condition for a chase."

Her head snapped up suddenly and she gaped at him. She looked so scandalized at his words that he chuckled for a moment, stopping after he felt a surge of searing pain in his stomach.

"Do you honestly think I could have- could have just left you there? To bleed to death?"

"Of course you could have," he said. "I’m not sure how your mare fared in the fight, but mine was alright when you killed the last of the mongrels. You could have gone. You could be halfway back to your Sapphire Isle by now if you weren't so bloody righteous."

"Jaime," she said earnestly. "You saved my life. I couldn't have."

He laughed again despite the pain it caused him. "That's being remarkably generous, wench. I thinking 'made a tasty snack out of myself'' is a more accurate description of my role out there," he said bitterly.

"That's not true," she said vehemently. "You fought bravely. You slew two of them, and with only one hand. I surely could not have lasted much longer without your aid."

Jaime opened his mouth to make another self-deprecating comment, but stopped when Brienne reached over from the place where she knelt at his bedside and took his hand in her large one.

Thank you, Jaime," she said and gazed at him with that incredibly sincere look on her face that always made him so bloody uncomfortable. Her eyes were just so bloody blue.

Because Jaime wanted to see another expression on her face besides overwhelming, big-eyed gratitude (and because he was an idiot who never learned from his mistakes) he smiled wryly and said,

"You know, wench, this all could have been avoided if you hadn't gone racing off into the night on your own like a bloody madwoman."

As expected, she changed from grateful to furious in a flash. "This could have been avoided, Jaime, if you hadn't behaved like a monster."

She glared at him, nostrils flaring and hurt in her eyes and he remembered that he’d chased her into the woods to apologize.

"Fair point," he said quietly. "I am- I am sorry, Brienne. I should not have reacted so...I should not have-"

He sighed in annoyance as struggled to find the words to express his regret. He was woozy and weak and thirsty. He couldn't think. Couldn't form eloquent thoughts. But the words began to spill out of him anyway. 

"There aren't many people who have the courage to talk about Aerys to my face," he said so softly that Brienne had to lean closer to hear him. "I know they whisper about me behind my back. All Seven Kingdoms know me as the bloody Kingslayer. I should be bloody used to it by now, but... having it thrown in my face so directly was...that's not something I'm accustomed to."

"I should not have-" Brienne began, but he held up a hand to silence her.

"I drove you to it," he said. "I do not blame you for saying it, or for judging me. You had to fight with everything you had for a place in Renly's guard and I've no doubt that it appears I've violated the very sort of honor you've always yearned for. I know what it must look like. But the truth is, I'd do it again, a thousand times. I've never regretted it."

His head began spinning, so Jaime closed his eyes, but continued speaking.

The words tumbled forth without any thought. His confession began to spill from his lips and once he began, there was no stopping it. He told her everything. For the first time, Jaime told his story.

How Aerys had given him a place in the Kingsguard to rob Tywin of his heir. How he'd been trapped at the Mad King’s side at King's Landing while the other kingsguard fought in the rebellion. How he'd witnessed the Targaryen king's descent into even greater paranoia and madness,  how he’d stood by and watched as Rickard and Brandon Stark died brutally.

He told her of the wildfire plot, and how Aerys had planned to burn the city to the ground. He kept his eyes shut the entire time, and the wench kept silent. It was almost as if he was talking to himself, telling the tale he’d never told another person, the tale he’d kept inside himself for over a decade.

When he opened them, Brienne was still at his side, staring at him with an expression that was difficult to read. Finally she whispered, " My gods.Thousands would have died. Why haven't you ever tol-?"

"You’re supposed to keep king’s secrets, aren’t you?" Jaime spat bitterly. “As if noble Ned Stark or any of the others wanted to hear my feeble explanations. They only had to look at me to judge me guilty.”

Brienne chewed on her lip for a moment.

"It seems I misjudged you, Jaime. You did the right thing. The only thing." she said quietly. "I should not have said-"

"You didn't know,” he replied quickly.  “And as I said before, I drove you to it. If anything should not have been said that night, it was everything that came out of my mouth from the moment I arrived in the training yard. I am sorry for the things I said to you, my lady. Truly."

Brienne stared at him quietly for a while and that expression of hurt came back to her homely features, making his stomach ache in a way that had little to do with his wolf-induced wound. He too, recalled the cruel things he'd said in his anger.

"Why did you say those things, Jaime? It was so unlike yo- well... it was very different to how you have been these past weeks, anyway. Why-"

"Because I'm a bloody idiot, Brienne. A bloody idiot who had his feelings hurt."

Her mouth fell open slightly.

"I- I don't understand," she asked, puzzlement wrought across her freckled face. She was still kneeling at his bedside, her face level with his. He turned away from her to stare at the ceiling, unable to face her blue eyes as he confessed,

"I heard about your raven from Tarth. It served as an unwelcome reminder that you're not here by choice. You're a prisoner.”

“I...I don’t see how that-” she began, but he cut her off.

“Come on, wench. You’d have to be as thick as a castle wall not to realize you’re the only person in this castle whose company I can tolerate! I acted like a fucking bastard because I was hurt. Hurt and angry over the realization my only bloody friend in the world is a political hostage who’d rather be elsewhere. I know you were upset and longing for home, and I took my bruised feelings out on you.”

Gods, would you ever shut up? You’ve borne enough of your soul just now to last a fucking lifetime, Lannister. Quit while you're ahea- Well, quit before you make an even bigger arse out of yourself.

The voice in his head was screaming at him to be silent, to stop saying things that were making Brienne stare at him with a mixture of shock and pity but he blamed his wooziness on this unplanned flurry of honesty spouting from him.

In a soft, small voice he added, “Is it really so terrible for you, being trapped here with me?”

“I-” Brienne said, before falling silent for a long moment. Jaime continued to stare at the ceiling, unable to look her in the eyes as she gave her inevitable ‘yes.’

“No,” she said at last, and reached over to place a hand on his once again, startling him. “It’s not terrible, Jaime. With a few notable exceptions, you’ve been very kind to me. It is quite wonderful to have someone to spar with. Your castle and grounds are beautiful. It’s just...Well, It’s not my home,” she said, looking almost guilty at her honest response. 

“I know,” Jaime said, meeting her eyes and attempting to look as sincere as he felt. He wasn’t sure he could pull off the expression, but he did his best and continued with, “I'm sorry, Brienne. If I could...If I could let you go, I would.”

“I know,” she said, giving his hand a little squeeze. “That means a lot.”

He scoffed. “It doesn’t mean a damn thing. Words are wind, wench,” he said sharply, but when he caught her expression he softened. “Still. If there’s anything I can...I can do to make your stay here more tolerable, do not hesitate to ask. If it can be done, it will be.”

“Er...alright. Thank you,” she said, chewing on her lip again. There was an awkward silence that Jaime eventually broke with a rather loud,

“So where the hells is Maester Corryn anyway? I assume he’s the one who patched me up here,” he said, indicating his bandages.

“Oh! Right. He was called away to assist with a complicated pregnancy. The babe has turned the wrong way in the womb and is like to come any day now. I am to...” she blushed. “He instructed me on how to...how to change your bandages. It would be best to do so soon,” she said and even in the low light of his room he could see how red her freckled skin was glowing.

“Oh,” he said stiffly. “Alright then. Get to it, wench! I want to get an idea of what my next set of hideous scars will look like.”

She stopped blushing and looked mildly annoyed at his demanding tone, but got to her feet to fetch a bowl of water, a cloth and some sort of foul smelling salve from a nearby table. She came back to kneel at his bedside, looking hesitant.

His torso was naked, save for the thick bandages wrapped around his belly. He chose to look at the ceiling again, rather than the wench as she slowly reached forward to untie the wrappings. She worked surprisingly gently, though he still let out a hiss of pain as she slowly peeled them back from his puncture wounds.

Brienne let out a hiss of her own at the sight of his injury.

“On second thought” he said. “I’d rather not look. How bad is it?”

“It’s...well it is not exactly pretty. But you'll be alright. Corryn stitched you up nicely and thinks we shall be able to avoid infection if we stay on top of things. He should be back shortly to look after you.”

She dipped a rag into the water and wrung it out.

When she was ready, she turned back to him and allowed her left hand to come to a rest on an uninjured place on his abdomen. Her fingertips on his bare flesh made his skin tingle and a pleasurable shudder went through him.

Jaime barely had time to contemplate the absurdity of the sensation, before Brienne pressed the freezing cold cloth against his wound and the pleasurable sensation disappeared. Good, he thought, eyes widened. That was...odd.

Brienne was very delicate in her movements, but Jaime's wounds were deep and painful and he had to struggle to maintain composure and not writhe away from her.

When she reached the spot on his ribs where the fangs had gone in, he let out a roar of pain.

That hurt, wench!”

“If you’d hold still, it wouldn’t hurt as much,” she chastised and he scowled. 

"Don't talk to me like I'm a bloody child," he huffed. 

"Then don't act like one. Be still," she repeated. 

Brienne moved her left hand to his bare hip and held him there firmly to stop his squirming.

Jaime froze at the feel of her big, warm hand against his naked flesh and willed his heart to stop pounding in his chest.

It ignored him, and pumped even faster in order to send a rush of blood straight to his cock, which was beginning to rise against the fabric of his smallclothes.

He gritted his teeth in horror and prayed the wench would not notice, intent as she was on cleaning out his wounds.

It’s been months since you’ve been touched by a woman, he told himself, trying to justify his body’s reaction. Just a few times with Cersei, after you escaped the Starks, and before that you were off fighting wars and rotting in a prison cell. That’s all this is. You're bloody touch starved. 

The whole process did not take very long, but to Jaime it seemed an eternity. As Brienne calmly tended to his wounds, Jaime was a veritable mess. He flopped back and forth between experiencing searing pain when Brienne cleaned a particularly tender wound and experiencing highly unwanted pleasure whenever her gentle hands grazed over a sensitive bit of skin. He wasn't sure which was worse. 

It wasn't her fault, of course.

He was truly grateful she was here. He was grateful that the ridiculously honorable wench had not abandoned him to die in the snow.  He was grateful that he would be able to spar with her once again when he healed. He was grateful that she’d managed to forgive his cruelty and that their friendship had not been damaged beyond repair. 

But he would most certainly be giving Corryn strict orders to take sole responsibility for all of his future bandage changings.

Chapter Text

Brienne turned up the next day to check on him. Fortunately, Corryn had just changed Jaime’s bandages, and he’d made sure to insist that the maester do it from then on.

Still, while he was not eager to have her fingertips grazing his skin anytime soon, he found himself rather touched by her decision to visit.

His gratitude did not do anything to make the visit any less awkward, however, and they puttered their way through some very stilted conversation that day.

 

"Um, hello," she said, standing awkwardly in his doorway, her shoulders hunched.

"My lady," he said, and struggled to sit up a bit in bed.

"I just thought I'd er...come see how you were doing. Are you well, Ser?"

"As well as can be expected," he said, gesturing to his bandages. "Have- have a seat, if you like."

She pulled up a chair at his bedside, and then they sort of stared at each other for a bit, neither one quite sure what to say.

Jaime asked after the condition of her horse, (which had sustained only minor wounds) and Brienne told him that the woman Corryn had gone to assist had given birth to a healthy babe that morning. Stuttering, Brienne shared other half-hearted bits of gossip that neither of them truly cared about, simply because they filled the strained silence. 

Though the light in his chambers was low, Jaime could tell there was a distinct blush on Brienne’s freckled cheeks the entire time she stayed, stammering out her rather pitiful attempts at small talk.

Once she had stayed for what she deemed a polite length of time, she mumbled at him to 'feel better' and all but dashed out of the room.

It was such a stilted interaction that Jaime had to wonder if she’d ever set foot in his chamber again. And considering how painfull awkward the visit had been, he had to wonder why he cared so much that she did.

 

 

His worry that she might not come back was put to rest the very next day, when she showed up at his door. This time, she had the sense to bring a book.

Jaime almost laughed at first, when he saw her holding it.

“What’s that for, wench?” he asked, with a guffaw.

“Oh, er. I found it in the library. I thought- I mean, I don’t have to, but I figured it must be- quite dull, being stuck here, and I thought perhaps I could...I could read some of it to you. If you wanted,” she stared at her feet, cringing with embarrassment. .

“What book?” he asked, unable to keep the note of skepticism from his voice. Tyrion was the reader in the family, not him. She held it up so he could see. 

Jaime felt something twist inside him as he recognized the worn cover of Tales of the Great Heroes.

It had sat at his bedside for years, as a boy. If he cared to try, he could probably recall the exact tone of Joanna Lannister’s voice as she had read each tale to him. He could probably recall feel of the fabric of her skirts as he clutched at them during the tense fight scenes. Even when he knew the endings, Joanna would read it in such an exciting way that he always feared for his heroes fates. He’d gotten rid of the book shortly after her death, not wanting the painful reminder of his mother’s kindness so near and had not thought of it in years. 

How strange, that the wench should choose this, of all the hundreds of books in their library.

With a bit of a struggle and controlled-breathing, he managed to get the lump out of his throat.

He raised an eyebrow, “Isn’t that a children’s book, wench?”

“What?” she asked, looking offended. “I’ve only read a few so far but the prose seems quite eloquent. The stories are really quite wonderful." 

"Perhaps,” Jaime shrugged insolently. “If you were a  seven year old with a head full of lofty dreams.”

For a moment, Brienne appeared to be a bit put out by his words and Jaime felt a flash of guilt over once again managing to hurt her feelings.

But then she stubbornly jutted out her chin, pulled a chair up to his bedside, and flipped the book open on her lap.

“Well, it’s what I brought and unless you’ve got something particularly profound to fill the silence with, I’m going to read it. And I somehow doubt that you do,” she added, giving him an appraising look that made him chuckle.

“Fine. Read it. At least make sure it’s a good one. Something with a bit of action. Not that stupid one about the lovers separated by the narrow sea.”

"Stop your complaining," she said. She took a moment to select her page and began to read. 

It turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining experience. Jaime amused himself greatly by criticising everything the heroes did, calling them naive dunces and fools, and giving away the endings before Brienne got there, just to annoy her. He was greatly amused by the way her nostrils would flare in indignation when he insulted an act of bravery in her tales, and at the way her face would screw up in anger as she passionately defended their decision to do the right thing.

Of course, as a lad Jaime had aspired to be the very heroes she was reading about. Deep down, he had a nostalgic attachment to the stories and characters and rather enjoyed getting lost in these tales once again.

But he was also getting a great laugh out of irritating Brienne, and though she huffed at him in frustration, it seemed she knew he was intentionally winding her up and was enjoying the banter as much as he was.

 

They were in the middle of such a heated debate when Maester Corryn came in a few hours later, that they did not even notice him entering.

“So you’re telling me you would have just left her trapped in the tower?” Brienne asked, appalled.

“Why not?” Jaime shrugged. “Surely some noble fool with a thirst for heroics would have come along eventually to rescue her. The gold seems a more pressing matter to me. Would you really want those filthy pirates beating him to the treasure?”

“Pfft,” she hissed. “Typical Lannister answer. Clearly, the fate of his one true love matters more than a pile of gold, Jaime.”

“There you go again with your naive view of the world! If the pirates beat him to the treasure, they could have quadrupled their number of ships, and how many innocents would have died then? Hmmm wench?”

“You are just being difficult, now,” she growled. “His choice is supposed to be about love versus money, not about the consequences of ...that’s just- you’re skirting around the point-”

“No, wench, I’m bringing up a very practical point that you’re simply not interested in considering because you’re a bloody hopeless romantic who wants-”

“Ahem,” Maester Corryn was finally forced to give a little cough to announce his presence, and the both jumped about a foot in the air in surprise.

Jaime turned to look at the Maester who was appraising them with a highly amused look on his face. “Forgive me, for interrupting, my lord and lady,” Corryn said with a little bow. “But I do have a matter to discuss with Lord J-”

“Of course,” said Brienne, jumping to her feet, face red once again. “Forgive me. I’ll be going. I’m sure you’ve got very important business to attend to, Maester,” she said, clearly flustered as she made her way to the door.

Just as she reached it, however, she turned around and caught Jaime's eye, giving him a very serious look.

“To be continued, Ser.”  she said threateningly, before giving way to a tiny grin. Then she turned her back on him and left the room.  

Corryn had come to discuss a minor squabble between two Lannister bannermen that was threatening to become more serious as neither one showed a willingness to compromise, but Jaime was having a hard time concentrating on the matter at hand.

He kept finding himself breaking into a grin. Productivity was made even more difficult by the fact that, rather than chastising him for his lack of attention, whenever it happened Maester Corryn would merely grin back at him with a bit of an incredulous look on his weathered face.

____

She came every day after that, until Jaime was fully healed, and though they often argued, they laughed often as well, and occasionally Jaime was good enough not to interrupt her stories with antagonistic comments. Instead he would just listen quietly, enjoying the sound of her soft voice and allowing it to lull him to sleep.

Jaime was extremely grateful to her for putting up with so much and doggedly coming to see him as he healed. He kept turning her words over in his head. It’s not my home. It's not my home. 

He could never make the Rock her home, but he could be doing more to make her feel like she had a place here, to give her a sense of belonging.

Sure, they had their training sessions in the yard at night, but what was the wench doing with her days? He’d never bothered to ask.

As soon as he was well, he vowed to spend more time with her by day.

He invited her out riding, and together they roamed the grounds and lands surrounding Casterly Rock. He showed her all his favorite places. Cliffs and waterfalls, the den in the woods where a pair of foxes whelped litters every year when he was growing up, the tree where he had taken Tyrion to bury treasure when he was a child, the swift-flowing stream where he and Cersei used to play, standing on rocks and trying to push each other off them into the water below.

Brienne sat a horse well, and they often raced through the fields, sending sparrows and thrushes to the air in an angry flutter as they trampled through the meadows at top speed.

Even one-handed, Jaime was still a great rider and he enjoyed having the chance to beat her at something at least half the time.

Brienne seemed to laugh more, outside the castle walls, and Jaime found he was quite enamored with the sound.

------

One night, a few evenings after they first started meeting in the training yard again, they were sitting on the ground, shoulder to shoulder.

They’d had a boisterous fight and though Jaime’s wounds were basically healed, the weeks of bedrest had left him quite out of shape and easily exhausted.

As he sat beside her, he was overcome with a longing to have his sword hand back so he could fight her with his full strength and show her what he had been capable of. Without meaning to, he found himself speaking the words aloud. 

“Sometimes I wish I could have it back, just for a few minutes," he muttered. "Show you what I could do when I had my good hand. Give you a bit of a bloody challenge for once. I’d probably be able to beat you, you know. At least some of the time,” he added.

He half-expected her to scoff and give him some sort of wry comeback about how she’d knock him into the dust anyway.

He was not expecting her to reach out slowly to touch the tips of her fingers to his stump and whisper, “It’s just so awful, what they did to you.”

He looked up in shock and the empathy brimming in her blue eyes was staggering.

He remembered his return to King’s Landing. He’d crossed a thousand leagues and faced countless horrors to return to his family. When they took his hand, he had to fight the urge to simply give up and die with everything he had in him.

And when he returned, it was as if the missing hand was all they saw. His personal turmoil was overshadowed by their rage and thirst for revenge. 

Tywin's first question had been whether or not he could still weild a sword and he had viciously spouted his plans for vengeance. Cersei had been utterly repulsed by the sight of his stump, and recoiled in horror from it. Even Tyrion, who had been infinitely more sympathetic than his father or sister, had tried to make a bit of joke of it. Handless and noseless, he'd called them.

There was nothing angry or disgusted or sarcastic in Brienne's expression now.

The utterly sincere degree of sympathy coming from her was staggering. Jaime shivered at the feel of her soft fingers on his stump and the look of deep sorrow etched into her features. “Awful,” she repeated softly before taking back her hand.

Jaime shrugged, trying to sound indifferent. “Well, the world is bloody awful, wench. You ought to have realized that by now, even with your determination to live in a fantasy world of heroes and chivalry.”

Brienne was quiet for a moment before she simply said, “Stand up.”

“What?” he asked Seven hells. She can’t really be offended by that. It's only the bloody truth.

“Stand up,” she repeated, getting to her feet.

“Listen, Brienne, you can’t be upset with me for-”

“I’m not!” she said, with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I’ve got an idea. Stand up.”

Cautiously, Jaime rose to his feet. Brienne went to retrieve her sword, and then held it out, poised to fight. It took him a moment to realize what was strange about the picture.

She was holding it in her left hand, her right planted firmly behind her back.

“Wench, what are you-”

“Shh,” she said as he attempted to protest. “I may never be able to witness how well you once fought, but I can offer you a more evenly matched fight.I’ll keep my right hand behind my back the whole time. It’s the closest we can get to a fair fight.”

Jaime thought it seemed a bit stupid, but Brienne looked so eager and pleased with herself that he shrugged and picked up his sword. 

 

It turned out to be a rather invigorating experience.

He was not sure this really qualified as a ‘fair’ fight as he had been training with his left hand for months and had shown significant improvement, while Brienne had next to no experience fighting left handed. Still, there was something enormously satisfying about sending her sword flying out of her hand, or getting her to hiss damn every few minutes as he landed a blow she was unable to block.

She also interjected with things like “Gods, I don’t know how you do this, Jaime.” and “Everything just feels so wrong. I can’t believe you’ve managed to get good at this so quickly.”

They fought that way for almost an hour, Jaime feeling rather graceful against Brienne's clumsy left-handed motions. By the end, her straggly blonde hair was stuck to her forehead with sweat and her face was red from exertion. Even so, the sight of her filled him with a warmth that went right down to his core. 

“Well, that was illuminating,” she said, brushing her hair out of her eyes. “We’ll have to try it again some time.”

She paused and with a wince and touched a spot on her ribs where Jaime knew he’d given her a good bruising. She smiled, “Though perhaps not for another fortnight or so.”

________

While Jaime was spending more time with Brienne during the day than he was prior to the wolf attack, he still had duties to attend to.

He would have loved to go out riding in the fields and woods with her every day, but he had to manage the affairs of the Rock. In fact, his mood was so improved by her company that he found himself becoming increasingly more invested in his lordly duties.

Dealing with his bannermen and the accounts was even starting to become mildly enjoyable and Jaime was finding that while he might never love politics the way his brother and father did, he did not have such a bad head for leadership and diplomacy. Even Maester Corryn had recently been extraordinarily complimentary about his level of involvement.

But every minute he spent on his duty was a minute less he had for Brienne. He knew she had not really befriended anyone else in the castle, and she still sat quietly in the Great Hall during feasts, removed from the conversations of others. It gave him a pang, to look at her from his seat at the high table, big and bulky, sticking out like a sore thumb yet being treated like she was invisible by everyone around her.

He drove himself crazy, trying to think of things he could do to make her stay at Casterly Rock more tolerable. If she had to be stuck here, he wanted it to be as enjoyable for her as possible. He was prowling through the castle in frustration, one day, trying to come up with something brilliant, when he stumbled upon the answer by accident.

 

His Master-at-Arms was an older gentleman called Mynar who had arrived at the Rock shortly after Jaime had joined the kingsguard, after the previous master had passed. Jaime had not paid much attention to the man since arriving back here, but was aware that Mynar was known as a bit of a drunk and rumored to have a foul temper.

In his aimless wandering, Jaime had come upon the training yard, where Mynar was shouting at a trio of young boys who could not have been more than ten.

“Bunch of useless sacks of meat, the lot of you. Wouldn’t last a bloody day out there on the battlefields, I’ll tell you that much. You’d be stuck like pigs, cryin’ out fer your mothers with yer last dying breaths, and not a soul would help ye, or even bother t' put you out of your misery,” he growled at them.

“Stand up straighter, you useless shits,” he barked, and the boys jumped to attention. The smallest of the three wobbled as if he might faint. “Tighten your grip on that sword, runt. One gust of wind’d blow that sword out of yer scrawny hand, boy!”

 

Jaime watched with raised eyebrows as the boys scrambled to follow orders, their eyes wide and full of fear.

Some of the older lads were standing about the yard, watching with grim expressions.

Jaime walked up to one of the boys that was standing on his own, observing the scene with a furrowed brow.

“What’s your name,  lad?” Jaime asked.  The boy jumped at being addressed  by his lord.

“I’m...I’m Garreth, my lord,” he stammered. He looked to be about twelve.

“What can you tell me about Ser Mynar here?”

The boy’s eyes widened warily. “He is a...a skilled soldier, Ser. He has taught us m-much and-”

“It’s alright, lad,” Jaime interrupted. “Give me the truth of it. He’s certainly harsh enough with the little ones. Give me your honest answer. I won't breathe a word of it to him,” he said.

“Well he...he often doesn’t turn up until the day’s nearly over. He’s er, he’s fond of his mead, my lord," Garreth said cautiously, but seemed to gain confidence when Jaime nodded encouragingly. "And...he’s usually in a foul mood when he does  turn up. That little one there, with the blonde hair,” he said, pointing to a tiny lad Mynar was shouting at. “He’s my brother, Ser. Mynar makes ‘im cry nearly every day, my lord, and he's only just started training. He never wants to come down at all, 'cause he's so scared of Mynar, but I ‘ave to drag ‘im down else father’ll be furious with the pair of us. Once I tried to ask Mynar to give little Tim a break ‘cause he was pushin’ ‘im too hard and he gave me a black eye over it.”

Jaime frowned. He continued to talk to Garreth for a while and then asked a few of the other lads for their opinions. Most were reluctant, at first, to say anything bad about the master-at-arms, but with a little prodding, the universally revealed that Mynar was vicious, angry, abusive and a drunk. He could see for himself that Mynar was violent and cold, though when he noticed Jaime watching, he changed his mannerisms significantly.

Though he was disturbed by what he’d heard and witnessed, and feeling a bit guilty for being so uninvolved in the lad’s training that he hadn’t noticed what a disaster Mynar was, Jaime left the yard grinning. He knew now, what he could give to Brienne. He had a gift to offer that just might mean the world to her.

He walked briskly through the castle to her chambers and rapped on the door hard.

“Yes, who’s there?” Brienne called from behind the heavy oak door.

“Jaime. Let me in, wench,” he said impatiently.

“Is everything alright? I’m- I’m in the middle of dressing for dinner,” she said and even with her voice muffled through the door he could tell she was embarrassed.

“Everything’s fine. But hurry up. I want to talk to you,” he said.

He paced impatiently by the door until she opened it a few moments later. Then he strode into the room and sat on the end of her bed, grinning at the way she frowned at his blatant impropriety.

“Do you want to- er, walk outside?” she asked.

“Here suits me fine,” he said, bouncing up and down a bit on the end of the bed, his green eyes flashing with mischief. “I have a proposition for you, my lady.”

“Oh,” she said, looking quite perplexed. “Er- what is it?”

“I was strolling through the castle this morning, and I happened to come upon the training yard. I confess I’ve given little thought to the present master-at-arms since returning to Casterly Rock. I had the chance to observe him today, however, and I was displeased with what I saw. The man is a drunk, for one thing, and is often negligent of his duties. He’s also impatient, cruel and even violent towards the lads, even the littlest ones.”

Brienne looked concerned, “That’s...that’s awful,” she said.

“Indeed it is. One of the lads was telling me his little brother can’t even hold down his breakfast in the mornings, he’s so scared of Mynar. I think it’s time I start edging the man out of the role, as he’s clearly not fit for it.”

“Yes, he does sound awful...” Brienne said, though she looked a bit puzzled. “But why are you- Do you want my opinion on possible replacements? I bet Ser Roy-”

“No,” he said. “I actually have someone in mind that would be perfect.”

“Oh. Who?” Brienne asked curiously. Jaime laughed.

“You, Brienne,” he said as though she were a rather slow child.

Her jaw dropped and she sputtered for a moment before saying,

“Me? Jaime, you have got to be-”

“I’m not. You’re a bloody excellent teacher. You’ve got the patience of a septa and a stronger arm than any knight in this castle. You've managed to make a decent swordsman of me already. Why not?”

“Jaime...” she said, looking utterly flabbergasted. “I do not think- I'm a- I don’t think the lads would respect me-”

“Oh, they’ll bloody respect you if they know what’s good for them,” Jaime said threateningly, but paused when he saw the expression on her face. 

“Look, Brienne. Most of them are quite young. Young enough not to be bothered by the fact that you’re a woman. The rest may have begun to develop ideas about what a woman’s place is, but they’ll change their tune as soon as they can see what you’re capable of. They seem a good sort and would be grateful for a little kindness. You're just what they need.”

She looked hesitant and opened her mouth to say something negative, but he cut her off.

“You’ve told me stories about your master-at-arms. Ser Goodwin, yes? He was a good man, who taught you well and helped to make you the warrior you are," Jaime said.  "I trained under good men as well. Patient, helpful, wise. Mynar is none of those things, and the lads are suffering for it. You’re always going on about ‘doing the right thing,’ wench. Don’t tell me you’d back away from doing what is clearly the right thing for these boys just because you’re afraid they won’t respect you because you’re a woman. You’ll make them respect you, Brienne. Hells, if you got me to do so, I have no doubt that you could manage it with anyone."

She smiled weakly at that, "I- I suppose you have  a point." 

"Of course I do. You'll start tomorrow," Jaime rose from his seat on her bed. "I plan on making sure Mynar's cup is never dry, this evening, so he'll be out for the count tomorrow. I believe the lads show up an hour after dawn." 

"Jaime, I-" 

"Shhh. You won't have to do it alone. I'll be there too, Brienne." he said. "You'll be brilliant. I know it." 

Without giving her a chance to protest further, he bowed quickly and strode out of the room. 

Chapter Text

Jaime got to the training yard not long after dawn to find Brienne already standing there, pacing nervously.

“Ah, so you came!” he said delightedly and loudly, making her jump. He laughed.

“I- yes. I did,” she said warily. “But Jaime, I still don’t think this is a good-”

“Shhh,” Jaime said, striding up to her and placing a finger on her lips to silence her. Her eyes widened at his touch and she took a step backwards, her cheeks coloring in the early morning light.

Jaime dropped his hand, gave a small awkward cough and continued.

“Brienne, you were born for this role. You’ll be brilliant, and I refuse to hear anything else about it until you’ve at least given it a chance. If you still think it's a terrible idea at the end of the day, we can talk about it. But you're going to try. For the sake of those poor lads, you're going to try. Aren't you?"

She sighed, looking slightly ill. "Yes, Jaime. I'm going to try." 

"There's a good wench! Come on, let’s get you warmed up,” he added, picking up a sword and giving her a playful poke in the ribs with it.

She swatted it away, though she managed a weak smile as she pulled her own sword out of its scabbard. They had opted not to spar the night before, given their need for an early start this morning, and Jaime was glad to have a small window of time to cross swords with her.  

They stopped their sparring as soon as the first lads arrived. Jaime still wasn’t comfortable having others watch him fight with his left hand, despite the improvement he’d shown.  

“Morning,” Jaime said brightly to the trio of young boys who had just shown up.

“Morning, my lord,” said the eldest of them awkwardly, and the others scrambled to bow and follow suit. “‘ave- ‘ave you got need of the uh, training yard this morning? Ought we leave?” he asked, looking at his feet.

“Indeed not,” Jaime smiled. “It’s all yours, lads. I believe your usual master will be out for the count today though. He was deep in his cups last night and I have my doubts that he will rise before the sun sets,” he glanced around the yard to see that most of the other lads who trained were arriving too, including Garreth  and his young brother.

“It is unbefitting for the future lords and knights of the Westerlands to be without proper instruction. It will fall to you, one day to protect the women and children of these lands, and you cannot do so if your rotten drunk of a master-at-arms only shows up as the day draws to a close. Please refrain from telling him I said that, though,” he added, and from the looks of barely concealed horror on their faces, he was sure he had no reason to worry. “The gods know I have enough bloody things to cause me headaches.”

He glanced at Brienne, who stood at his side, close enough for him to feel her arm shaking slightly.

“In light of Ser Mynar’s less than satisfactory performance, I have elected to put someone with mightily impressive swordsmanship skills to the task of instructing you. At least for part of the time...until I can convince Mynar that he doesn’t want this bloody job anyway. It’s time you had someone competent showing you how these things are done.”

He looked at the lads, and saw that the older ones were eyeing Brienne beside him with confusion and judgment. He scowled at them.

The younger ones seems perplexed entirely, and Garreth’s young brother Timeon let out a squeak “Do you mean...you m’lord?” His eyes were wide with excitement and Jaime found it hard to believe that lads still dreamed of crossing swords with the famed Kingslayer, now that he was a defeated old cripple.  

He brushed off the strange feeling and laughed heartily, “Gods no! I’m far too busy and important for that!” he said and heard Brienne give a derisive snort at his side.

He grinned at her reaction for a moment before sobering up. “No, lads, I will not be teaching you. That task will fall to the Lady Brienne of Tarth, whose skill earned her a place in Renly Baratheon’s kingsguard, and who has spent these past moons aiding your lord in the arduous task of learning to fight with the only hand left to him.”

There was a flurry of muttering as the dozen or so boys took in the information. They mostly whispered to each other and it was hard to make out what they were saying but he did catch the word ‘woman’ more than once. He grew irritated immediately and spoke loudly to be heard over their chatter.

“Lady Brienne is one of the finest swordsmen I’ve encountered in my considerable years. She will teach you a great many things that will someday save your lives and the lives of others... if you can manage not to be arrogant little shits and give her the respect she deserves.”

Jaime,” Brienne hissed at his side, but he ignored her.

“She will be making full reports to me on your progress, and if I hear any of you have behaved with less courtesy than is expected of one of my knights, I will be most displeased,” he said firmly. Though most of the boys were looking dubious, they seemed frightened enough by his tone to keep their mouths shut.

One lad, a strong and stocky looking boy of about thirteen was bold enough to speak up, “With all due respect, my lord, do you really think a woman will be any better suited to our training than a drunk?”

Jaime clenched his fist and had half a mind to knock the boy on his arse for his insolence. Instead, he mustered all the calm he could and forced himself to smile.

“What’s your name, lad?”

“Gerion of House Banefort, my lord,” he said with far too much haughtiness for Jaime’s liking.

“Ah, Gerion? Were you perhaps named for my great adventurer of an uncle?” Jaime asked amiably.

The lad must have been uncommonly thick, for though his companions eyed each other warily at Jaime’s friendly questioning, Gerion puffed out his chest and said,

“Indeed, I was, Ser,” with an expression of pride.

“My uncle had considerable skill with a blade. Do you intend to follow in his footsteps?”

“Aye, my lord. I believe I’m well on my way, too,” Gerione said, jutting out his chin.

Jaime had to stifle a laugh at that. He’d observed this cocky little fellow in action when he’d been asking the other boys about Mynar. Though Gerion was strong and aggressive, he’d been sorely lacking in finesse.

“I bet you are. In fact, I am so confident in your abilities and strong sense of pride that I’d like to offer you the job,” Jaime said cheerfully.

M-me, my lord?” Gerion asked thickly. He seemed to finally be realizing something was amiss but was still not quite sure what Jaime’s game was.

“Yes, you!" Jaime replied. Then he brought his hand up to stroke his beard thoughtfully. "Although it would be unchivalrous of me to take the opportunity from Lady Brienne without even giving her a chance to prove her worth. No, that simply wouldn't do at all," he said shaking his head.

"Ah ha!" Jaime cried, as if the solution had just dawned on him. "I've got it. I suggest you duel her for it. Winner takes over training. It shouldn’t be too difficult, eh? She is, after all, only a woman,” he said with a snort.

Gerion’s mouth fell open. He finally turned his full attention to Brienne and took in her towering height and her muscular arms. He suddenly seemed much less confident. 

“Jaime...” Brienne said quietly at his side.

“What?” he hissed back. “That little arse might be the only one bold enough to say it, but there’s others among them who’ll think the same until you knock them down a peg or two.”

“He’s just a child,” she whispered, but Jaime was already striding away from her and addressing the other boys.

“What do you say, lads? Want to see your friend Gerion put this woman in her place?”

There was a flurry of whoops and cheers and laughter as the boys made their way to the sidelines to give Brienne and Gerion room to fight.

Gerion was taller and broader than most of his peers, but still at least a head shorter than Brienne.

Jaime almost felt bad about the humiliation the arrogant boy was about to suffer, but his protectiveness of Brienne won out, and he found himself eager to see her to knock the smirk off his face.

Gerion was standing awkwardly in the middle of the yard, a good distance from Brienne, looking nervous.

“Well,” Jaime barked. “Get yourself a sword, boy! I’m sure you’re eager to teach the rest of these fellows all you know, but you’ve got to win your title first! I'm sure you'll give us a grand show.”

Brienne glared at him from across the yard. Despite all the cruelty she’d faced in her time, he knew she took no pleasure in hurting others, even those who hurt and judged her. She was not looking forward to this one bit. 

Jaime met her glare with a shrug that indictated he was not planning to pull the plug on this any time soon. With a last look of fury, she turned away from him. He smirked.

He’d just have take enough pleasure in watching this lad learn his lesson for the both of them.

Gerion’s black hair was already sticking to his head with sweat and his freckled cheeks burned red as he went to select a practice sword.

“Go on, Gerion!” shouted one of the boys.

“Show us what you’ve got!” another yelled. There was a roar of laughter amongst the boys.

Jaime wished for Brienne’s sake that they did not find this funny at all, and their mirth only cemented his belief that calling Gerion out was the right decision.

This was a golden opportunity for them all to see what she was capable of. He wanted to extinguish their prejudice in one fell swoop and if an idiot of a boy had to take a bit of humiliation for it, that was his tough luck for speaking out.

Holding his head as high as he could manage, Gerion strode towards her, his blunted sword held out.

Brienne had told Jaime much of her master-at-arms, Ser Goodwin, and how he’d warned her men would try to vanquish her quickly, lest it be said a woman had tried them sorely. The man had advised her to conserve her strength as they wore themselves out trying to achieve a quick victory, and it had been her experience that Goodwin was right. 

It seemed idiot boys were no different from arrogent men, and young Gerion dove at her fiercely, all strength and no skill.

Brienne winced uncomfortably and slowly brought her sword up to block him without any trouble at all. She stepped back as Gerion lifted his heavy sword again, growling, and turned her head to meet Jaime’s eyes.

She shook her head at him and he knew she was quite unhappy with him for forcing her to publicly shame this lad. He shrugged insolently and unapologetically.

She was still glowering across the yard at him when Gerion swung at her again, and she didn’t even look at the boy as she brought her blade up to block his blow. Gerion gave a howl of rage at being blocked so easily. 

There was another burst of laughter from the lads. Jaime laughed along with them, before recalling that he’d been just as foolhardy and arrogant the first time he’d fought Brienne, and she had put him in his place in much the same manner.

“Seems to me she could take you on blindfolded, Lord Banefort,” one of the boys shouted, laughing uproariously. Gerion turned even redder in the face, fumbled and dropped his blade.

Brienne bent at once to pick it up for him, and held it out with the hilt facing him.

Jaime could tell even from across the yard that she was looking at the boy with that sympathetic, blue-eyed look of hers.

Gerion scowled and snatched the blade back from her, and attempted to catch her off guard by swinging at her right away. She blocked him once again, though her expression was more apologetic than victorious at managing to stop him

“Wow,” Jaime heard one of the boys beside him breathe, clearly impressed by her reflexes. He beamed with pride.

That’s my wench.

Gerion took a few more impotent swings at her, none of which he managed to land.

Brienne put almost zero force into her parries, just enough to keep the blows from hitting her.

Jaime found himself starting to cringe now, every time the other boys laughed at their peer’s futile attempts. It was painful to watch.

Gerion was exhausted and panting, drenched in sweat. But he had spirit and far too much pride, and would not give up. He continued to strike at her, though his movements were slower and weaker than ever.

When Brienne caught his eye once again, glaring, he mouthed, “Just finish it. Have mercy. Just finish it.

She still looked reluctant, but seemed to realize her refusal to go on the offense was only dragging out the boy’s shame. Scowling at him, she turned back to Gerion.

This time, when he struck at her, she blocked and pushed back against him with her blade.

It looked to Jaime as though she put less than a tenth of her full strength into it, but even that was enough to send the exhausted youth stumbling backwards. He tripped over his feet and landed on his rear.

“Sorry,” she cringed, so quietly that he had to read her lips to figure out what she'd said.

She extended a hand to Gerion, which he ignored. Scowling, he got to his feet on his own, with considerable effort.

He swung at her once again, full of fury, and she met his sword with a half-swing from her own.

His blade went flying across the yard and landed with a clang.

Gerion scowled and spat in the dirt as the lads held onto each other for support, howling with laughter.

Jaime then strode back into the middle of the yard towards Brienne and Gerion, and they all fell silent.

“Bad luck, boy,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “Perhaps the lady will be charitable enough to give you the job to you when she retires, if she can actually manage to get through that thick skull of yours and teach you anything."

The other boys laughed loudly again, until Jaime turned around to face them.

"As for the rest of you,” he said, as they elbowed each other to fall silent. “You’ve barely seen a hint of what this woman can do, for she is far too kind-hearted to have given this boy the beating he very well would have deserved. I've fought alongside men such as Ser Arthur Dayne and Barristan Selmy. I have seen the greatest swordsmen in the Seven Kingdoms in action, and Brienne still manages to impress me."

He glanced briefly at her, and saw that she was staring determinedly at her boots. Her cheeks were redder than he'd ever seen them, but he thought he saw a small smile on her face as well. He turned back to the boys.

"I assure you, Lady Brienne is more than capable of taking over for that sorry excuse of a master and if you’re willing to listen to her and learn from her, she may even make decent men out of some of you. Will you do so?”  

“Yes, Ser,” they all mumbled rather bashfully.

“Good!” he said. “In that case, I turn it over to you, my lady.”

Brienne stepped forward, blushing.

“T-thank you, my lord. Er,” she said, biting her lip. She surveyed the boys, looking utterly lost and reminding Jaime of just how young she really was. She’s just a girl herself, he thought with a wave of empathy. She'd only hinted at the kind of scorn she'd faced in her life, but Jaime knew enough of men to guess at the rest. Of course she's afraid. 

He placed a hand on the small of her back and leaned in to whisper in her ear, “You can do this, Brienne. I know you can. Be brave, girl. I'll be right over there.”

He walked off to the sidelines again and barked, “Go on up, lads and see what the lady has to teach you! She's taught me well with only a useless left hand to work with, so if I don't see improvement in you lot, I'll be putting the blame on you, not her."

They scrambled forward, all but tripping over each other as they made their way towards her.

“I- I think perhaps, we ought to get you paired up with- with lads of comparable size and build, so I can er, see what you can do so far,” Brienne stammered, blushing. "Find a partner to do some basic sparring with, if you will."

Some of the lads were starting to nod and look around for a partner, but little Timeon looked highly disappointed. “Oh! But can’t we fight you, my lady? I want a turn!”

“Yeah,” said another boy, older than Tim but younger than Gerion. “I’d like to try as well. How’d you ever get so strong?”

Jaime grinned at the look of admiration in the lad’s face as he stared up at Brienne in awe. Brienne blushed.

“Erm, perhaps...later. I think for now, I’d like to see you up against lads your own age,” she looked around at the dozen boys, and saw two of a similar height standing beside each other.

“Will you two be a pair? Great, thank you. Why don’t you move down to that end of the yard and get warmed up while I divide up the rest of them,” she asked and the boys nodded, moving away from the group.

"Tim is it?” she asked the young blonde. “Why don’t you go down that way with this young man. What’s your name?”

 

Jaime smiled as he watched her divide them up. She still looked quite nervous but he had no doubts that she’d settle into the role quickly. He stood and watched for a while. Once the lads were paired off and dispersed across the yard, Brienne wandered through amongst them, pausing at each pair to give tips and pointers on how to hold their blades or move their feet.

The boys listened to what she said and did their best to follow her instructions. As he expected, she showed complete patience as she corrected stances and offered feedback, gently assisting them as she lifted arms and elbows into the right position or demonstrated how to swing a sword.

It was a joy to watch, and Jaime could have stood there all day.

But he'd seen Brienne often raising her head up to seek him out, to see if he was still watching. He loved the way she brightened up at his reassuring smiles, holding her head higher and her shoulders straighter, but he felt it was time to leave her on her own. She was doing splendidly and had no further need of him. She had to know that it was her they were responding to, and not their lord's presence. 

He walked up to the place where she was assisting Garreth. The lanky boy was staring at Brienne with a look of deep admiration as she demonstrated a graceful move.

“You almost had it already. If you hold your arm just a little bit higher, you'll be right on the mark,” Brienne smiled kindly. “Go on and try again.” She handed his sword back to him and he mirrored her movement nearly perfectly.

“Excellent, Garreth. You’ve got really impressive form and the makings of a great fighter. Your build may be lean, but you move with much grace and that can often mean more than brute streng...” Brienne said, trailing off when she saw Jaime approaching. "Ser Jaime," she said with a slight bow.

“My lady," he said, bowing back. He took her arm and pulled her slightly away from young Garreth.

"I know I said I would be here with you for your first day, but it seems I have some pressing matters to attend to,” Jaime said quietly. “Would you be very angry with me if I were to leave you on your own? You seem to be doing a fine job without assistance, but I suppose if you really need me to I could push things back.”

“Oh,” she said looking mildly fearful at the prospect of him leaving. “I- well. Of course. The affairs of the Rock must be your priority. I- I’m sure it will be fine here. Yes, go on. Attend to your duties.”

“Thank you,” he said. “Send for me if you have a need, but I don't expect that you will. What did I tell you? They love you already.”

She blushed. “I...they don’t lo-”

“Don’t argue, wench,” he grinned. He looked around the yard and increased his volume, “Garreth here is glaring daggers at me right now for taking your attention away from him, and the rest were furious with him before I came along.”

Garreth, who had indeed been scowling rather impatiently in their direction, blanched and did his best to wipe the sour expression off his face. Jaime laughed.

“She’s all yours, lad! I’ll see you this evening, my lady.”

He left the yard, still chuckling.

Of course, it had been a blatant lie.

For once, he had no major duties to attend to. He’d made sure to have a full day free, in case Brienne had needed him to help discipline the boys, had they proven unwilling to respect her authority.

As he truly had nothing else to do, and was still delighted by the sight of her developing such a rapport with the lads, he merely took a stone staircase up one flight and found a window that overlooked the yard, and elected to watch from there.

Even from one flight up, he could hear the excitement from the boys in the yard and laughed to see Brienne clammoring to meet the demands of all the lads vying for her attention.

“Lady Brienne, could you come over here? I still can’t get  this right. Can you show me again?”

“Lady Brienne, tell Carlyle he’s doing it wrong! He won’t believe me!”

“Lady Brienne, watch this!”

Though a bit flustered by the constant shouts of her name, Brienne did her best to kindly tell them to wait their turn as she worked with their peers.

She had an almost constant smile on her face as she made the rounds, though he could see by midday her shoulders were starting to sag with exhaustion. He knew the lads were not willing to let her rest just yet, and Jaime was eager to let her enjoy their obvious worship for a bit longer.

He called to his servants and requested that they bring out some fresh food and drink down to the yard, so they all might take a small break and give Brienne a chance to rest. He laughed when they all but shoveled the food into their mouths, rushing back out of retrieve their swords after just a few minutes, calling to Brienne to join them.

Jaime would make sure that in the days to follow, the lads developed some boundaries and gave Brienne a chance to breathe. But for now, he could see that despite her exhaustion, Brienne was deeply, deeply happy at her positive reception and it filled him with the sort of warmth he hadn’t felt in a long time.

Even arrogant young Gerion eventually allowed her to guide his hand as he swung his sword, teaching him how to use precision as well as strength as he moved.

They did not stop until the sun had set. The boys seemed reluctant to quit, even then, but Brienne finally developed enough backbone to insist that they retire for the evening and have something to eat, promising that she’d be there on the morrow.

_____

When it was time for their evening feast, Jaime made sure to catch her in the passageway before dinner.

“Well, my lady,” he asked, coming up behind her just as her hand was reaching out to open one of the thick oak doors to the great hall. “How did it go?”

“Wonderfully,” she beamed, sounding worn-out but pleased. She had changed out of her sweaty clothes and into the blue gown he'd had made for her shortly after her arrival. The velvety fabric was the exact same shade as her eyes, which were even more astonishing now that they were shining with such clear delight. “There are some truly lovely young lads here. They are so sweet and eager. I believe they will grow into knights that will make House Lannister proud.”

“I’m glad to hear it. I had no doubts that you would be perfect. I’m proud of you, my lady,” he said, placing his hand on the small of her back, and for once it was Jaime who made her have to look away with the sheer intensity of his sincerity. 

“T-thank you, Ser,” she said, blushing in the low candlelight of the hall. “H-how was the rest of your day? Did your er- pressing matters go well?”

“What?” Jaime asked, forgetting all about the lie he'd told earlier. He remembered and grinned.

“Oh, right. Didn’t have any. Spent the whole time watching you and the boys from an upstairs window, actually.”

He grinned even wider at the appalled look on her face. Her mouth hung open in speechless outrage for a moment before she sputtered, “B-but you said- you said-”

“Lannisters lie,” he smirked. “You were doing so well, I wanted you to know you could manage them just fine on your own. And you did. They’re clearly delighted with you. And why shouldn't they be?"

He smiled at her, and she softened under his praise.

"I only hope they haven’t left you so exhausted that you won’t be up for sparring with me tonight. I don’t want any of them stealing my title of ‘Favorite Pupil'! I may only have one hand, but that title better always belond to me,” he said.

She rolled her eyes. “Favorite?" she snorted. I believe you mean ‘Most Arrogant and Annoying,’ Ser.”

Jaime grinned.

“I’ll see you later, my lady,” he said and in a fit of madness, pressed a quick kiss to her freckled cheek.  Before she could react, he pulled away and opened the heavy door to the hall, and began making his way toward the high table.

He glanced back briefly as the door swung closed, and saw her still standing outside it, a large hand held against the place where his lips had touched. Jaime's stomach gave a funny turn at the sight, but he told himself he was simply starving and in need of something to eat. He hurried to his seat, his cheeks warmer than usual but his lips quirked upwards in a contented smile. 

Chapter Text

Jaime knew he ought to be happy for her- and he was, he really was. He was thrilled with the way Brienne had come into her own over the past few moon’s turns and incredibly proud of the progress she’d made with the lads, who, thanks to her patient guidance were well on their way to becoming admirable soldiers.

He was genuinely happy for her. He was rather less happy for himself, it pained him to admit.

 

It wasn’t her spending all her time with the boys that bothered him. It seemed Stannis Baratheon was likely to mount a second attack on the realm and soon, which meant Jaime was a lot busier than he’d have liked. He had precious little time to spend with her, busy as he was ensuring the Westerlands were well protected and seeking promises from of his bannermen that they would provide men to defend Tommen’s reign should the need arise.

He was indeed pleased that Brienne had something to fill her time when he could not be with her, something she excelled at and something that made her happy.

It was a pure delight to watch her roaming the halls of the castle lately, no longer sullen and lonesome, but swamped with company.

It was rare to catch her without a train of small boys in tow these days, eager lads jogging to keep up with her long strides and chattering away.

She was no longer allowed to sit quietly at meals, removed from the crowd, for there was always a scuffle of adolescent males scrambling to find a seat beside her at the table. All of her charges hoped to find a place at her side, so they might ask her to regale them with tales of her time in Renly’s army, to describe what battle was really like, to ask about things Ser Goodwin had taught her.  She always had warm and patient smiles for them, even though he suspected she might enjoy a bit more time to herself than they were willing to give her.

 

Young Timeon, it seemed, had formed a particular attachment to her. Jaime had learned from Garreth, his elder brother, that the boys' mother had fallen to fever when Timeon was just a baby, and their father, a skilled guardsman, was a hard man, not at all generous in his affections.  He had latched on to Brienne's kindness and had proven difficult to shake.

While most of the boys seemed to respect Brienne as they would any male in her role, always glowing with pride upon receipt of a compliment from her, but maintaining an appropriate distance, Timeon, the youngest among them did not seem to have the same boundaries.

 

Jaime found himself laughing often when he saw Brienne and Tim walking through the castle together, with Timeon’s tiny hand holding hers. Brienne would wince at him helplessly as she passed but he could only shrug, as clueless as she was about how to detached the lad.

She’d confessed to him how awkward she found his affection when they’d been out riding one day, saying she'd never been very nurturing and was desperately unsure of how to deal with the child's emotional attachment. He'd done his best to assure her that she should just carry on as she had been, and urged her to accept it because short of changing the very core of who she was as a person, there was nothing she could do to break the bond. 

Brienne may have been less than comfortable with it, but she was far too kind to demand that Tim give her space. Jaime could see the affection growing on her part as well, even though she still blushed profusely when Timeon’s face lit up at the sight of her every morning and he ran forth to greet her, often with a fierce little hug. Jaime found it terribly endearing. Often the image would pop into his head as he drafted a letter to some bannerman, and he'd find himself smiling alone in his study. 

 

No, her relationships with the lads she was training did not bother him in the slightest. No matter how they wore her out (and they certainly did), she never failed to show up for their nightly sparring sessions. He was constantly improving, and her work with the lads had made her a better teacher than ever. She often fought him using only her left hand and he found that she was learning to use it so well that she might soon be beating him at that as well.

 

So no, it was not her time spent with the lads that was making him...less than pleased.

It was something else.

He had to do some investigating to figure out how exactly this...new development had come about, but Garreth proved once again to be a useful source of information. With a bit of goading, he  filled Jaime in on the series of events that caused things to change in a rather distressing manner (no matter how desperately he tried to convince himself things were fine).

 

A half-dozen of Brienne’s pupils were seated in the Great Hall, taking lunch while she trained in the yard with the others.

Garreth, Timeon and their peers were eating broth, discussing their earlier sparring matches, and arguing over who had fared best.

Seated nearby were a few young knights who had recently joined Jaime’s guard. They were off-duty, and while it was only midday, they were deep in their cups, indulging in wine and ale and talking loudly.

It was impossible not to overhear them, and when the conversation turned to the Maid of Tarth, the lads all fell silent to listen.

“Don’t know what he’s playing at, leaving that big, ugly bitch to train the boys,” one of them muttered, though it was quite loud enough for the lads to hear and glare over at them.

“Aye, I suppose they’ll be knitting and sewing rapidly to defend the castle, should it be attacked!” joked another to a roar of laughter from the rest. “Perhaps she’ll get them donning skirts, to better conceal their footwork, maybe hide some extra blades beneath!”

The boys listened, stone-faced while the men laughed.

“The little bastards’ll be sobbing at their first sight of blood, no doubt. Like any woman could prepare them for the horrors of battle, soft-hearted creatures that they are. They’ll be whimpering like newborn babes, just you wait-”

“You shut up about Lady Brienne!" Timeon had burst out, voice squeaky and high but loud enough to be heard over the mens’ laughter. There was a loud snapping as all five of their heads turned round to face him.

“Tim, wai-” Garreth had tried to say, reaching out to grab unsuccessfully for his small brother as the Tim jumped up from his bench and marched over to the five slightly stunned drunks.

“You shut up about her,” Timeon said again, standing fiercely before them. “She could knock you all into the dust before you could blink!”

They roared with laughter and Garreth, cringing, began to slink over to try to pull Timeon away.

“You’re a funny boy!" roared a bushy-bearded man called Ser Talworth. “Has she been suckling you against her teats to inspire such loyalty? Of course, she’d likely be more suited to that task than teachin' you to-”

“You don’t know anything,” growled Timeon, stomping his tiny foot in fury. “She could beat any of you with one hand tied behind her back!”

“Come on, Tim,” Garreth had hissed, tugging at his brother’s sleeve, but Timeon shrugged him off.

“Lady Brienne is the best fighter there is,” Tim insisted. “If you don’t believe me, fight her and see! She’s in the training yard right now. She'd take you!”

“Aye, Talworth, ya hear that?” laughed one of his companions. “Maybe you should fight the wench. Give yourself a chance to come out on top for once. Gods know you could use a victory.”

Talworth glared at his companions.

“I’m not wasting me day off teaching some cunt a lesson. I’m here to drink and be mer-”

“It’d be her teaching you the lesson, Ser,” spat Timeon. “You just go and see, if you’re not too craven!”

“TIMEON!" Garreth cried in horror, physically lifting his small brother up into his arms to drag him away. “My apologies, Sers. My brother does not-" he began but the Talworth’s companions were roaring with laughter too loudly to even hear.

Garreth began to carry his brother back to the table, hissing chastisements and warnings about the beating he was like to receive if their father got wind of this as Tim kicked at him wildly and ineffectively, wanting to go back to take on the rude men.

The damage was done though, and Timeon’s idea had taken root.

It seemed the guards were eager for entertainment and were egging on Talworth heartily.

“Go on then, Tal. Let’s head down there and let you challenge the brute, if you’re not too craven,” cackled a freckly ginger-haired guard, clapping him on the back.

“Yes, let’s see you show the bitch what’s what!”

Within a few moments, they were on their feet and making their way to the training yard. Garreth and the others followed.

It seemed Talworth had gained confidence on their walk down to the yard and was enjoying being the center of attention. He seemed eager to provide some entertainment and called out loudly to Brienne upon his arrival.

She was aiding Gerion in finding the proper stance, when Talworth cried out,

“My Lady of Tarth! One of your lads has vouched for your prowess with a blade, though I confess I find it hard to believe! I wonder if you might be up for a little duel, to show my friends and I what you are made of!”

Talworth sauntered into the yard, arms raised dramatically.

Jaime had been working on the next floor up, his window opened for he enjoyed having the sound of Brienne and the boys training in the background as he worked. He walked over to the window at the sound of Talworth’s voice.

He had not been able to hear exactly what the man was saying, but he saw the drunken stumble as Talworth walked towards her and sensed the aggression in his movements. He also took in Talworth’s four amused companions standing on the sidelines, and left his study at once to make his way towards the training yard.

There had been quite a few new additons to his service,  most young, arrogant and cocksure. Jaime had not spent an overabundance of time in their company, but based on what he’d seen thus far, only a handful of them had been remotely likeable. Talworth had struck him as particularly irksome.

He made his way to the yard as quickly as he could. He knew Brienne had much strength both within and without, but she had, in their time together, alluded to having faced considerable cruelty in her life and he wished to shield her from more of it.

The conversation in the yard had continued, of course, as Jaime had made his way downstairs, and Garreth had later filled him in on what he missed.

Brienne had rejected Talworth's challenge, naturally.

“You are drunk, Ser, and I am busy training these boys. I would thank you to leave us,” she’d said with a steady calm.

“I understand your hesitance, wench,” laughed Talworth. “You’ve somehow managed to convince these poor, stupid boys  that you can wield a blade as  well as a man, and are loath to have them see how poorly you hold up against a foe older than twelve!”

“Who do you think you’re-” young Gerion had begun fiercely, just as Jaime was reaching the yard. Jaime smiled at the lad's protectiveness. He had clearly grown just as fond of Brienne as all the rest.

Gerion had been full of fury, ready to defend her, but Brienne placed a hand on his shoulder and he fell silent.

She turned to face Talworth and his sniggering companions, clearly annoyed at their obnoxious interruption. 

“Gentlemen,” Brienne said with barely concealed contempt. “I must insist that you to leave. I have a duty-”

“To shrink away from a fight like any wise woman would? ” Talworth said with a laugh, gesturing at Brienne’s angry young charges. “ See lads! She may cross swords with little boys, but your gentle Lady shows her fear quick  enough once challenged by a real man!”

“I do not fear foolhardy drunks. But I don’t fight them either, especially when I have important work to do,” Brienne said quietly.

“Aye, I’m a bit drunk, yes and you’re stone sober, but I’ve no doubt I could drink a full cask of wine and still have you crawling back to your Sapphire Isle in shame,” sneered Talworth, and his friends laughed, whether at the insult or at his ridiculous bravado, Jaime could not say.

“I highly doubt that,” Brienne said, gritting her teeth in anger. “But I will not fight you. Lord Jaime has entrusted me with the training of these lads and that is what I intend-”

“ Actually," Jaime said, stepping out of the shadows and startling them all. "Lord Jaime would be quite pleased to see you shut this drunken buffoon up with your cold, hard steel, my lady. I could throw him in the dungeons for a month for his brazen lack of respect for a highborn maid such as yourself, but I’d much rather see you beat him bloody in front of his companions.”

“My lord, I’m sorry-” began Talworth, preparing to grovel embarrassingly, but Jaime held a hand up to stop him. He'd be facing humiliation enough momentarily. 

“I don’t want your apologies. I’d much rather see you crawl off in shame when you cross blades with this fine warrior,” he smirked, walking up to Brienne and placing a hand on her shoulder.

“Jaime...he’s drunk,” she began, clearly reluctant.

“Yes, he’s drunk. He’s also a bloody prick and I want you to beat his insolent arse into the ground,” Jaime said, low in her ear.

She turned to him, looking hesitant for a moment. Then she grinned sheepishly, “So do I.”

"Then do it," he grinned. 

He clapped her on the shoulder and loudly announced, 

“Well then! It seems the lovely lady accepts your hare-brained challenge, Talworth! Come on up and prepare to eat your words. The rest of your lads, I suggest you find your seats quickly. This show won’t last long,” Jaime said, grinning broadly.

He hustled off to the side-lines, standing near Garreth and Timeon.

“Ha!” Tim said, pumping a small fist in the air. “She’ll show that smug bastard, won't she Gar?" 

Jaime barked out a laugh at Tim's choice of words and mussed his blonde hair, "I'm with you, Tim. She'll knock that smirk right off his face." 

And so she did.

Jaime had felt some degree of guilt making her fight Gerion on her first day as lady-at-arms, but he felt no such remorse here.  While Brienne had been extremely reluctant to fight back against the boy, she showed no such qualms about humiliating Talworth. Not surprising, considering the vile abuse he'd been foolish enough to spew at her. 

Brienne allowed Talworth to start them off with a few wild swings, which she avoided effortlessly.

His companions jeered and japed, telling him to land a blow and stop embarrassing himself. The taunts made Talworth angrier, more desperate. Brienne dodged a few more violent swings, allowing him to break into a sweat before she even began to press her own attack.

 

The first swing sent him stumbling backwards, but he managed to keep his feet. Talworth’s eyes were wide and he seemed to realize his mistake in underestimating her right away.

She was taller than him, stronger and steadier. She managed a second blow that tore a sizeable hole in his fine tunic. He gaped down at it.

A third blow, seconds later sent his sword crashing to the ground. Her blade was at his throat immediately, and she growled at him to yield in a voice that would have made any man tremble.

 

“ I yield!" Talworth gasped, clearly frightened. Laughter rang through the yard.  

Jaime, Brienne’s boys and Talworth’s companions were all roaring with laughter, cheering at her victory.

What was more, the commotion had drawn other spectators as well. Other knights and guards, a pair of visiting lords, even a few washerwomen had stopped to watch the fight.

Brienne looked fiercely proud and Jaime beamed across the yard at her, winking, as Talworth stalked across the yard in bitter defeat. It would have been done, then, if Jaime hadn't heard a snide comment somewhere off to the left. 

"Aye, she was able to beat a piss-drunk fool who can barely hold a blade when he’s sober. What does that prove?”

It was another one of the new guards, though not one who had shown up with Talworth’s group. He’d been speaking to his friend, but Jaime heard it clearly and scowled.

“Well fought, Brienne,” Jaime said loudly, and everyone in the yard fell silent to hear their lord speak. “But it seems this guardsman of mine, Sybley, I believe he’s called, does not believe this a proper demonstration of your skill, as Talworth was deeply inebriated. I tend to agree. You didn't have to do much to put that jackanapes in his place and it seems a crowd has gathered, eager to see a real demonstration of skill. ”

He heard Sybley gasp at being called out and continued on.

Sybley seems sober enough himself! Perhaps you ought to fight him as well, just to set any further questioning of your considerable talents aside.”

“Jaime,” she said, her eyes widened. Panic, fury and embarrassment could all be seen in those blue orbs.

 With so many people watching, she would not saying everything on her mind, but he knew her well enough to interpret her tone and expression. “What in the seven hells are you doing? is what they clearly said.

“Come on then,” he smiled, still talking loud enough for the crowd to hear. “You barely broke a sweat putting Talworth down. I’ve no doubts you can take out another idiot foolish enough to doubt you. I hear Sybley's actually won a few melees with that blade of his. Perhaps when you take this one out, you’ll be free of this sort of stupidity once and for all.”

She was shaking her head in disbelief. Clearly, this was not how she envisioned her day going. The number of onlookers had increased even further and he knew she did not like to be the focus of any sort of attention. She was not happy with him, that was for certain. But Jaime wanted to see her do this and knew that she could.

He also knew that even if she was furious with him for it right now, she would thank him later and so he pressed on. 

“What do you say, Sybley?” he asked, turning to the guard who had spoken. He was a few years older than Brienne, perhaps, and was quite tall and broad. He would give her a better fight than Talworth had, to be sure, but Jaime had seen him fight and knew she’d shut him up too. “Are you brave enough to take on this mighty foe?”

There was more laughter in the yard, and Jaime scowled, quite certain that the onlookers thought he was mocking her rather than Sybley. They'd learn the truth soon enough.

“I am, Ser, if the lady is willing to face a man who’s not half-dead from drink! I shall go easy on her, of course. I know my lord is fond of her,” Sybley said, smirking around at his companions. Jaime wanted to punch his cocky head right off his body with his golden hand, but knew there was no need.

Brienne would take care of this herself.

Jaime glanced at her, and saw that Sybley’s words had indeed pricked her to anger.

“Step up then,” she said simply, holding out her blade.

Jaime watched, enthralled. He’d fought her himself, of course, and watched her spar gently with the boys, but this was his first time watching her cross blades with a soldier of any sort of skill and he found himself mesmerized by the sight. 

She moved with considerable grace, large and broad though she was, and he marveled at the musculature of her arms, the fluidity of her movements.

Sybley was good, certainly.

He seemed not to fall into the trap of starting off fiercely in an attempt to vanquish her quickly, as so many men had done, Talworth included.

He made her come at him as well, and his quick reflexes allowed him to dodge or block quite a few of her blows.

They danced around each other, each earning impressed ‘oohs’ and ‘ahh’s from the watching crowd in turn as their blades clashed together and came apart.

But in the end, Brienne was stronger, and her endurance won out.

It was a longer fight than the first, but she overpowered Sybley with a sudden onslaught of heavy blows that he was unable to combat quickly enough. She disarmed him and made him yield and Jaime felt his heart might burst with pride as the onlookers burst into applause and Sybley slunk away in shame. 

That was when things took a turn for the worse. Well... better.

Better for Brienne. Worse for Jaime. 

After Sybley stalked off to the sidelines, scowling, another knight had stepped up.

S er Devon, he was called. A young man of about two and twenty, he had earned his knighthood on the battlefield and had risen high in the ranks of the Lannisport City Watch. He been helping to keep the peace around Lannisport for the last couple of years. He was in the city more often than the castle, but from what Jaime had knew, he was well-liked and respected. The current commander of the watch had mentioned him as a possible replacement commander, when his bones grew too weary to hold on to his post. 

“You move with much grace, Lady Brienne,” Ser Devon said, walking forward and giving a small bow. “My cousins Timeon and Garreth have spoken to me of your skill and I have been hoping I might have the chance to see it at work.  I'm afraid they did not do you justice, eager as they were to sing your praises.”

Ser Devon smiled at her. He had a kind, pleasant face, and the smile reached his sparkling blue-grey eyes.

“Um,” Brienne said, reddening. “Th-thank you, Ser. Timeon has told me of your admirable feats on the battlefield. It is kind of you to say so, with all you have accomplished.”

Devon smiled again (does he ever stop smiling? Jaime wondered with a scowl).

You’ve seen battle as well, I hear and faced your foes boldly," he said. He glanced around at the crowd. Some of the onlookers were beginning to disperse, particularly the conquered fools and their companions, but Jaime and the boys were still watching, as were a few of Ser Devon's City Watch companions.

"I wonder, my lady... if you have not exerted yourself too much on your previous opponents- and I daresay it does not seem that you have," he smiled. "Would you be willing to spar a bit with me as well? I do not wish to keep you from your duties much longer, but I would be thrilled for the opportunity to experience your skill firsthand.”

Ser Devon looked around and caught Jaime's eye, "Er, if my Lord of Lannister permits it." 

"If the lady wishes it, I have no qualms," Jaime said gruffly, though deep in his gut there was a longing for her to refuse him. 

“Er- alright,” Brienne said shyly, not quite meeting his eyes but looking rather pleased all the same. "If the boys don't mind waiting." 

"Go on!" said Timeon brightly. "Devon's really good!" He frowned. "Not as good as you though, my lady!" he added. Then he looked at his cousin and frowned again. "I mean, he's very- well you both fight differently..." 

Devon laughed heartily, a pleasant sound that rang out across the yard. "Relax, dear cousin! Let us begin, my lady, and save poor Tim from trying to protect my feelings." 

And so Brienne faced her third component of the day.

Ser Devon was not quite as strong or muscular as Sybley had been, but he did have a certain admirable finesse to his swordwork.

There was less aggression in this fight, as Devon had not enraged her with an utter lack of courtesy. Brienne and Devon both seemed more intent upon learning from each other than besting each other, at least at first. They fought companionably, passing compliments back and forth after a particularly good bit of footwork or a sharp swing of the blade.

Brienne and Ser Devon sparred  like that for over a quarter of an hour in that manner. Jaime found himself growing more irritated as he watched, though he could not say why. He found himself quite relieved when they switched from testing each other to earnestly fighting and attempting to force a yield from one another.

Brienne managed to beat him too, but unlike his predecessors, Ser Devon did not scowl and storm away.

He smiled brightly and bowed, “You are a remarkable swordsman, Lady Brienne. Er, swordswoman, I suppose I should say. Truly  remarkable, my lady. I shall have to practice hard until the next time an opportunity to cross blades with you arises. Perhaps next time you shall not beat me so sorely in front of my cousins!” 

He laughed musically, winking over at Garreth and Tim. 

“It- it was n-no easy victory, Ser” Brienne said. Her shoulders were hunched awkwardly, her eyes boring into the dirt below her feet.  “You fought very well.  The people of Lannisport are fortunate to have your blade protecting them.”

"Thank you, my lady. Now, I shall let you get back to your training, “ Ser Devon said, bowing to her. He grinned widely, inclining his head towards the boys. “Or my cousins and their companions shall skewer me for taking up your time. I imagine they’re becoming quite deadly under your tutelage!”

He smiled, bowed again and wandered away.  Jaime watched him go, scowling until he was out of sight, and for quite some time after.

And that was the source of all of the confusing anger Jaime had been feeling of late.

It made very little sense, he knew, to be so displeased about it all.

It hadn’t bothered him in the slightest to see Brienne smiling and chatting with the boys at mealtimes. Quite the opposite, in fact. He'd been thrilled that she had company other than him. 

Yet now that the wench had befriended Ser Devon, he found himself glaring down from the high table whenever he saw her sitting with him. He only came in from Lannisport every so often, but when he did, he and City Watch his companions sought Brienne out and sat with her, edging out the sullen lads from the yard who usually sat by her. 

It should please him, to see her smiling and laughing for once with people her own age, but he found that seeing it usually it made him lose his appetite, made the elaborate delicacies he was served turn to ash in his mouth. 

She had been at the Rock for months before he'd ever heard her laugh, and once he'd discovered what a pleasant sound it was, Jaime had done his best to bring the sweet sound out of her more often. Why should it trouble him that she was doing it more often now? 

Why should he grip his goblet so tightly that it threatened to crack whenever he thought of her clashing blades with other men? 

Jaime tried to convince himself it all came back to swordplay and his desire to get better with his left hand. He was worried, he told himself, that since she now had Ser Devon and his friends to spar with, she would grow tired of one-handed bouts with an old cripple like him and stop training with him.

Jaime might be getting better each day, but he’d never regrow a hand and never be able to offer her the sort of challenge a fierce fighter such as Brienne would always crave. Now that she'd discovered she could get that elsewhere, she might lose interest in sparring with him. 

Ser Devon kept decent men in his company, and it seemed his friends were just as willing as he was to take Brienne on and graciously accept their defeats. 

Brienne did defeat them often, but not always and that bothered him quite a bit.

A swordsman often learns more from a defeat than a victory, and they could help her grow in ways he never could.

He watched them, sometimes. He saw the fire in her eyes as she was worn down by a worthy opponent and thought bitterly that he’d never be able to teach her a damned thing.

But try as he might, Jaime could not simply justify his deep annoyance at these budding friendships as coming from worry about losing his sparring companion.

Even with her retinue of new opponents, Brienne never failed to show up to fight with him, and always seemed quite happy to do it.

Night after night, she still kindly praised him when he did well and sat beside him companionably when he needed a break (as he often did, given how much stronger she’d gotten since befriending Ser Devon and company.)

No, Brienne was as loyal as they came, and showed no signs of abandoning him now that she’d come across these new companions.  Try as he might, Jaime could not delude himself into thinking his concerns about having a sparring partner was the only thing at play here.

There was more to it, for certain, but he had very little desire to figure out what exactly it was that troubled him so.

Some doors were best left closed, and so he resigned himself to glaring down at Brienne and her companions from his high table when they came to the Rock without really understanding why.  Picking listlessly at his food, he would watch and scowl, scarcely hearing a dull word from the lords and ladies he was supposed to be entertaining. 

 

Chapter Text

Brienne’s teeth were chattering, her whole body periodically succumbing to violent shudders as she sat beside him on the cold cliff.

They were sitting beneath a thick blanket in dry clothes, but her hair was still soaked from being submerged beneath the frigid coastal waters off Casterly Rock. There were tiny ice crystals frozen into the straggly blonde strands, which had grown quite a bit since she’d come to the Rock all those months ago and was now past her chin. Jaime hugged the blanket closer, also shaking like a leaf but unable to stop himself from grinning like a boy.

 

Jaime was still amazed he’d convinced her to do it at all. It was a mad notion, even for him but he’d woke up one morning with the idea in his head, and he couldn’t shake it.

 

Perhaps he had dreamed of those summer days, so many years ago, when he and Cersei would leap from the cliffs, hand in hand, clutching each other tightly as they plunged into the sea below.

 

He did not recall having such a dream, but it was one that came to him often in the dark of night and it may have been what got him longing to make the jump once again.

 

Though it was bitterly cold at the Rock now, he felt that if any resident of the castle would be bold enough to face the biting waters, it was Brienne of Tarth.

 

So he’d gone to seek her out.He decided it would be best to simply invite her out for a ride, waiting until they reached the cliffs to pose the mad idea of jumping off them to the sensible wench.

 

He’d packed up a blanket and some spare clothes, seeking out some mens' garb large enough for Brienne, and walked down to the training yard to ask her.

 

The boys had looked downright mutinous when he’d sauntered across the yard and said,

“I hate to say it, lads, but I must steal away your lady-at-arms today. I take comfort in the fact that she has taught you much these past moons. You will doubtless have much that can be practiced without her here. Work hard, so she will be impressed by your efforts when I return her to you.”

 

They knew better than to argue with their lord, but if looks could kill, he’d have been deader than the wights rumored to roam beyond the wall.

 

“What is it, Jaime?” Brienne had asked as he led her off the field by her sleeve. “Is anything wr-”

 

“Not at all,” he said, gesturing up at the clear blue sky. “Just thought it would be a fine day for a ride. But by the looks of them, your lads think it a fine day to gut me with their training-swords for stealing you away. Possessive little buggers, aren’t they?”

“A bit,” she smiled, her eyes sparkling in the sunlight.  

Suddenly Jaime felt himself growing strangely shy. “You needn’t come, of course, if you’d prefer to stay with them. But I would be glad of the compa-”

 

“I’ll come,” she interrupted, so eagerly that Jaime broke into a grin. She blushed. “Sorry I just- I could use the break, to be honesty. They are such sweet lads, and they work so hard but...well, their enthusiasm can be a bit exhausting,” she admitted, smiling fondly.

 

“It’s hard work being utterly adored, eh wench? I knew all about that feeling, once,” he smirked, leading the way to the stables.

 

It was a crisp, clear, sunny day with the occasional gust of wind biting at them.

They rode for a while, side by side and at a brisk but steady pace.

As they made their way across the lands surrounding the Rock, Brienne filled him in on the boys’ progress in the yard and Jaime complained about a particularly irksome old lord who’d been staying at the castle.

Brienne’s laughter rang out as Jaime spouted off a lengthy list of the various items that had ended up in Lord Wexford’s beard last night while the ruddy-faced bannerman furiously spewed his many grievances while trying to shovel food into his mouth. Jaime enjoyed the sound so much he began to add ever more ridiculous items to his list until Brienne caught on and chastised him, laughing still.

 

After a time, they reached the cliffs. Jaime hopped off his horse and walked towards the edge. Brienne was still sitting atop hers, serenely taking in the view, the clear blue of the sky making her eyes appear brighter than ever.

 

“What do you say, wench?” he grinned. “Fancy a swim?”

 

She snorted. “Mmm, that would be a relaxing dip alright.”

 

“I’m serious. I want to swim. Get down here,” Jaime said, delight washing over him when her eyes widened like saucers. 

 

“Jaime,” she said, shaking her head. “I know you find Lord Wexford tedious, but there are alternatives to suicide...”

 

He barked with laughter. “I never pegged you for such dramatics, Brienne! It’ll be bloody cold, to be sure, but I’ve got spare clothes in my saddlebag. We'll live. Come down from that horse, would you?”

 

He walked over to her horse and held a hand out to help her down. She took it warily.

 

“Right, so we won't freeze to death. What of the surety of bashing our heads open on the rocks below? Do you have a solution for that, my lord?

 

“Relax,” he said, leading her over to the edge. “Look down. No rocks here. This spot is safe, I promise you. My sister and I used to do this as children, right from this very place. Trust me, wench, never a head was bashed. Surely a brave warrior such as yourself would not balk at doing something children do?”

 

Brienne stood on her toes to glance over the edge of the cliff, not wanting to go any closer. They were high up, that was for certain. “That’s right,” she said shakily. “There you have it. It’s something children do and we are a man and woman grown. There's no need for us to-””

 

“Where’s your sense of adventure?” he grinned slinging an arm over her shoulder. “Come, my lady. I’ll be wasting away from boredom for a bloody week after this. Have a bit lof fun with me, before I succumb to the tedium of dealing with the new batch of lords arriving. Give me a fond memory to smile at instead of being sick while I watch Wexford slurping bits of crab out of that beard. Please?””

 

She looked hesitant, but he could tell he was wearing her down.

 

“You’ve really done this before?” she asked.

 

“Yes. Many times.”

 

She did not respond, just eyed the cliffs warily.

 

“Come on,” he said. “We’ll do it together. I’ll be right beside you, all the way to the bottom. Please?”

 

“Alright,” she sighed heavily. “I’ll do it.”

 

“Excellent!" he cried, unslinging his arm from her shoulder and starting to pull of his boots. "Shed your boots, then. They’ll weigh you down and it’s a bit of a swim to get to the best path back up to the top.”

 

Brienne obliged, looking rather pale. Jaime removed his boots and was done well before her. He walked up to the edge and turned back to face her. “Off with them, now. You’re stalling, wench!”

 

“I’m not!” she protested, scowling and kicking off her second boot. Slowly she walked up to join him, glancing down at the waters below and looking rather ill.

 

“This. This is. Utter madness.”

 

“No it’s not,” he said, seizing her hand in his and holding it tight, for she showed signs of wanting to retreat.

He felt a sudden pang, as he clutched her hand in his, as childhood memories came swirling to the surface. He’d held Cersei, like this, when they were children . Or rather, she’d held him, scathingly calling him 'coward' when he’d expressed his misgivings before the first time they’d leapt.

They were young then, their lives whole and unshattered by war and politics and the ambitions of so many people desperately vying for power. Perhaps his sister had never really been innocent, but she'd seemed it then, as they lay in the fields and swam in the sea together, before the world had swallowed them, forcing them to be pieces in a game Jaime had never wanted to play. 

 

“Let’s do it then,” Brienne said, her steady resolved, voice shaking him out of his reverie. “Quick. Before I lose my nerve.”

 

They counted to three and jumped.

 

His thoughts of Cersei were left at the top of the rocks as he and Brienne went plunging towards the icy waters. The fall seemed impossibly long, and his heart was in his throat.

He was shouting and so was Brienne and then they hit the water and all thoughts other than ‘fuck, that’s cold’ were wiped from his mind as they fell into the frigid sea.

 

They were heavier than he and Cersei had been the last time they’d done this and thus went deeper beneath the surface.

T he shock of the cold almost made him let go of Brienne’s hand, but he managed to hold on. They kicked towards the surface, her strength propelling them back up to the desperately needed air.  

 

When they emerged from the icy depths, he heard Brienne gasping for air beside them for a few moments.

When Brienne had finally caught her breath enough to speak, she let out such a stream of such unintelligible nonsense interspersed with slightly hysterical giggles that Jaime nearly swallowed half the sea from laughing.

“GODS THAT’S....F-FREEZING! Hahaha! I can’t believe I actually...haha...what did you make me do?...It’s so COLD! Seven hells!”

They treaded the water for a while, Brienne spouting words of disbelief and incredulous laughter and Jaime chuckling at her fondly.

“Bit chillier than the sapphire waters of Tarth at midsummer, eh?”

“A BIT bloody chillier!” she gasped, her teeth chattering as she laughed.

“Did you just say bloody?” Jaime asked. “Never hear you use that word, wench! My bad habits must be rubbing off on you.”  He reached over to tousle her soaking hair affectionately for a moment, before pushing down to dunk her under the water.

She came up sputtering and swinging, clouting him on the ear hard enough to make him use words much worse than ‘bloody’.

Laughing and shivering, they wrestled in the surf for a bit longer, splashing freezing water at each other and trying to shove each other under.

When Jaime noticed the bits of ice starting to crystalize in her stringy blonde hair, he reluctantly put a stop to it.

“Alright. Let’s get out before we freeze to death.”

They swam back to the rocks, Jaime leading them to the exit point he remembered from childhood.

Brienne got out first, and reached down to help him out of the water. He could not help but scowl at the discovery of yet another task made infuriatingly difficult by the lack of a hand. But as she pulled him up onto the rocks, she gave him such a warm (if tooth-chattery) smile than his annoyance dissipated.

“Race you to the top?” Brienne asked, quirking an eyebrow.

“You’ve already seen you have an unfair advantage at this...but I’ll agree to being inevitably bested by you on the grounds that I may actually turn into an icicle if we don’t move fast. Losing to you yet again ranks above frigid death, if not by much.”

They scrambled over rocks and up the cliffs to where their horses and spare clothes were waiting. Jaime got the sense Brienne was holding back slightly as she went, though she still managed to beat him to the top.

When he arrived, he found her recklessly combing through his saddlebag, tossing clothes and food and waterskins out onto the rocks.

“Which of these clothes are meant for me?” she asked, bouncing on her toes in an effort to keep warm. “Hurry up, Jaime, I’m absolutely freezing!”

“Gods, look at the mess you’re making,” he laughed, crouching down to find the clothes he’d intended for her, which she’d already strewn across the ground. He thrust them into her arms, chuckling. “Here, you mad wench.”

She took them from him gratefully, and dashed behind a large gray boulder to change.

She came out when Jaime was still awkwardly attempting to lace up the top of his tunic one-handed. It was going just as badly as it always did when he had to dress himself. He felt a wave of embarrassment at being caught in the struggle and cursed himself for not finding a boulder to hide behind as she had.

Brienne approached shyly, biting her lip. “Would you- would like some help?”

She asked so tentatively, so unassumingly that Jaime could not help but give a brief nod.

She stepped forward and reached for the laces at his chest.

She began to tie them, her eyes determinedly focused on her task.

Jaime turned his head to the side, trying to concentrate on the swell of the sea instead of how the accidental grazing on her fingertips across his chest  felt as she worked on his laces. He hoped the sea was loud enough to mask the thundering of his heart in his chest.

This was foolish.  He had servants help him dress every day. She was just tying some bloody laces. This was nothing.

And yet the gooseflesh all over his body could not be explained by the cold alone. 

Brienne did not so much as glance away from the laces until she was done, and he was grateful she seemed to be making short work of the task.

But then she finished and her eyes flickered up to his face just as he was turning back from staring out at the sea.

Her impossibly blue eyes met his stormy green ones and they locked. Her hands were still pressed softly against his chest, her mouth slightly ajar.  Jaime’s breath caught in his throat and he felt more like he was drowning right then than he ever did when they were down in the sea below.

They had only the slightest fragment of time to contemplate the intensity of the moment before a loudly cawing sea gull swooped down near their heads, making them jump apart like two adolescents caught kissing behind the stables.

She dropped her hands immediately and the connection was broken.

Both slightly more red-faced than could be attributed to the cold, they stepped apart. With a slight grunt, Jaime turned and walked over to pick up the other items Brienne had tossed out of the saddlebag in her desperation to find dry clothes.

“Your poor septas must have had their hands full, trying to teach you how to be neat and tidy like a good maiden should,” he smiled, picking up a parcel of food he’d taken from the kitchens that Brienne had thrown aside.

Brienne stepped up behind him to help, “Sorry,” she said, grinning at the scattered clothing and food she’d thrown to the ground. “I was cold.”

“You don’t say,” Jaime smirked, breathing a slight sigh of relief at the return to normalcy after that...incident.

He picked up a bit of dried venison from beside a rock and held it up. “Hungry?”

“Starving,” she said.

 

And so Jaime had grabbed the thick blanket he’d brought along, as well as the venison and two loaves of bread, and there they sat, side by side beneath it, watching the gulls diving into the grey sea.

 

As they sat beside each other, Jaime could feel her shuddering against him every so often.  He found himself overcome with the urge to wrap an arm around her shoulder, or perhaps the small of her back, to pull her close and provide her with a bit of extra warmth. No. That would be...overfamiliar. 

Instead, he leaned his arm against hers, his side against her side, in the hopes of transferring some body heat to the shivering wench.  It seemed to be helping, but he was troubled by the persistent desire to be touching more of her. He tried to distract himself from the desire with chatter. He started with some basic mindless gossip intended to fill the silence, but somewhere along the line it took a deeper and highly unexpected turn.

He found himself talking to her of his father, and his furious reaction upon learning of Jaime and Cersei jumping from the cliffs. Brienne had been rather appalled at Tywin’s decision to scold children for simply being children and Jaime had smiled at her naivety.

He went on to tell her other truths about Tywin, words he’d never spoken aloud or ever fully acknowledged to himself. He talked of his father’s appalling treatment of Tyrion, and how Jaime had done his best to give his stunted brother the love the motherless child was receiving from nowhere else.

He even found himself bitterly recounting the collapse of his relationship with his father after his handless return to King’s Landing. Brienne listened quietly, pushing her arm back against him a little harder whenever his voice cracked with emotion. She said little as he spoke, seeming to realize he had to get the words out now that he’d begun.

When he’d finished,  he felt a rush of embarrassment. “Gods, I really talked your bloody ears off there, didn’t I? Sorry, Brienne. I did not mea-”

“Don’t be,” she interrupted, reaching over to squeeze his hand gently. “Such things are not easy to say, Jaime, but I am glad you felt you could say them to me. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to be raised by such a man. But... take comfort in the fact that you’ve managed to become a good man in spite of it.”

Jaime felt a curious lump rise in his throat at her words. Wanting it to go away, he forced himself to scoff, “There aren’t many in Westeros would go so far as to call me that.”  

She shrugged, gazing at him with soft blue eyes. “Well, I would. You are a good man, Jaime.”

As he had so many times before, Jaime found himself having to look away. He glanced at the sun, which was high in the sky.

“I- I supposed we’d better start heading back now,” he said, hating the almost strangled quality of his voice. “I’m meant to be dining with some daughter of Lord Wexford this eve. Tywin’s orders. Seems to think dangling the marriage carrot will make Wexford offer more soldiers to Tommen. Maybe you should just shove me off this cliff now,” he groaned. “Save me from the slow torture.”

Brienne looked at him slightly uncomfortably and offered a weak smile, “I hear Lady Jayla of Wexford has a...has a wonderful singing voice. They say that it puts the songbirds to shame. Perhaps it won’t be so bad.”

Jaime snorted at her pitiful attempt to say something positive. “Easy for you to say. You’ll be down there laughing your head off with your bloody Ser Devon and his mates, while I have to listen to the same damn songs I’ve heard a thousand times before and try to come up with something pleasant to say about them just like I have a thousand times before.”

Brienne cringed at his scathing tone for a moment, but seemed determined to say something encouraging.

“They come from a very beautiful part of the kingdom. Talk about that. Perhaps- perhaps it will not be so bad,” she repeated.

“Trust me, it will be,” Jaime said. “It always is.”

Without thinking, a new set of words came tumbling from his lips, “Gods wench, I ought to just marry you and free myself of all the bloody headaches.”

He knew the instant he said it that it was the wrong thing to say.

Brienne stiffened and turned around sharply to face him. He could not discern the look on her face, only that it was definitely not good and he found himself scrambling desperately to cover his foolish words.

“That was- that was a jape,” he said quickly, cursing himself for saying something that made her so clearly uncomfortable. “I was only joking.”

To his surprise, for a moment she looked even less happy than before and Jaime felt blind panic stirring up inside him.

Could he really have caused such a dent in their friendship with one offhand comment?  He didn't mean..he'd only meant...how could he fix-

But then Brienne was quietly saying, “I know. Of course it was.”

Then she shrugged, and gave a small laugh that may have sounded a bit forced.

“You know, that’s not actually the least romantic proposal I’ve ever received, so no harm,” she laughed again though the smile did not meet her eyes.

Jaime took a moment to comprehend the meaning  of her words. When he did, he found himself starting to frown...though he could not say whether it was the idea of there being proposals at all or the fact that they must have been utterly pitiful if they were worse than that that bothered him more.

Just as he thought he was beginning to get a handle on it, to the point where he could respond with something that wasn’t offensive or foolish, Brienne was nudging him on the back and getting to her feet.

“Come on, we’d better get you back to Lady Wexford,” she said briskly, making her way over to her horse and jumping onto it. Her voice still sounded...different, though Jaime could not place exactly what the difference was. “I’ll race you back to the castle!”

Then she had put her heels to her mare’s sides and was galloping off before Jaime could even pick up the blanket.

___

It was a close race. One minute Jaime was ahead, and the next minute she was overtaking him.

They shouted abuse at each other as they passed, laughing and scowling in turn. Jaime urged his steed on, though he found he did not care overmuch whether or not he won.

He was happy enough to see that Brienne’s laughter was finally reaching her eyes and whatever damage he’d caused with that bloody marriage comment seemed to have been minimal. He was still not sure what had made him say such an absurd thing but he’d be happy enough never to have to think about it again.

He pushed the thoughts from his mind and hurried to catch up with Brienne, who was currently ahead.

He desperately attempted to get his horse to pick up speed, gripping tightly with his legs, hissing words of encouragement to the beast.

“Ha!” he cried as he pulled ahead. “Almost there now! Looks like even with a head start you’re going to be eating my dust, wench!”

“I wouldn’t be so sure, Lannister,” she called from behind him.

Jaime looked up to see a sentry on the wall, and signaled for him to open the gates. It was always more fun to have the gate as their finish line, even if they ended up scaring the wits out of whatever servants were in the yard as they galloped inside.

As they thundered forward, Jaime saw the iron gates being pulled open.

He felt a surge of joy as he approached, knowing he was going to beat her. It was such fun to gloat and watch her face screw up in annoyance.

Then she was level with him, and just as they crossed over the threshold, she pulled ahead.

Damn her.

They burst into the courtyard and indeed startled a number of residents of the Rock, including a pair of scullery maids who gave each other darkly significant looks.

“Ha! What was that you said about eating dust, Jaime? Was it that you really enjoy it? You must, as you seem to do it so often,” Brienne laughed, turning her horse around to face him. Jaime barked with laughter.

“Not so fast, wench. Don’t go getting too cocky. This one was a tie,” Jaime said. It wasn't. He knew that. But it was fun to see her anger when she knew she was right and he was clearly wrong. 

She scoffed derisively. “A tie? In your wildest dreams, perhaps. I was the clear victor.”

“Not this time,”  Jaime said. “We were neck and neck.”

“Yes, we were. Until the end,” she insisted. “When I clearly won.”

Jaime looked around the yard to where a stableboy was watching them, open-mouthed and holding a pitchfork. “You there, lad! You were watching! Tell us who won and tell us true! And before you do, remember that as your Lord, I could always have you execut-”

“JAIME,” Brienne scolded in outrage before he could finish. She jumped off her horse and moved over towards the horrified looking boy. “He was only joking, sweetling. The Lord of the Rock is a very bad loser with an even worse sense of humor.”

She patted him on the shoulder and nudged him away gently.

Then she rounded on Jaime, half-outraged, half-laughing, “You are an awful man,” she said, shaking her head. “That poor boy doesn't understand your horrific humor, you know. Few people do.”

“He’ll be alright,” Jaime laughed, dismounting as well. “He may need to change his breeches, but he’ll be alright.”

Brienne shook her head, crossing her arms over her flat chest and raising an eyebrow.

“Well? Now that you’ve successfully traumatized a child, are you ready to admit defeat?”

“How hard will you hit me if I say no?” Jaime asked.

Brienned chewed her lip contemplatively and shrugged. “Half-strength?”

Jaime laughed, throwing his arms up in defeat. “That’s still too bloody hard. Very well, wench. You’ve won. This time.”

He chuckled at the smug, self-satisfied expression on her homely face and the sparkle of victory dancing in her eyes.

“Well, well, well,” came a voice to his left. A voice he had not heard in quite some time. Jaime's jaw dropped as he whirled around. The voice went on to say,

“I must say, that is the quickest I’ve ever seen my dear brother laugh after facing a defeat. Usually he sulks for days... utterly inconsolable. It’s quite funny. You must be something very special, my lady, for him to concede defeat with a smile on his face.”

Jaime watched with disbelieving eyes as Tyrion Lannister approached from across the yard, a clear smirk on his battle-scarred face.

Tyrion?” Jaime gasped.

“Do you know any other dwarves that would call your sulking funny to your face?”

“What are you doing here?” Jaime asked, still rather shocked.

“I had intended to visit my poor, maimed brother to save him from his loneliness. Though now that I see you, I'm not so certain there’s a need,” he smirked, then turned to Brienne. “Who is this marvelous rider?”

Jaime knew from the look on his face that Tyrion was well aware of who Brienne was. What the imp was knew about her, however, Jaime could scarcely guess. His brother was hard to read at the best of times.

“Brienne of Tarth,” Brienne blushed, her curtsy looking quite clumsy and awkward in the mens’ garb Jaime had given her. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I’ve heard much about you.”

“All lies, if my brother is the one who has shared the tales,” Tyrion joked and Brienne smiled weakly. “I’ve heard much about you too, my lady.” In an undertone intended for only Jaime’s ears, he added, “Though not from my dear brother.”

Jaime suppressed a groan at the loaded statement. A part of him dreaded finding out the meaning behind his brother's words, though he surely would, and soon.

Tyrion clapped his hands together, smiling. “I look forward to learning all about your fair island home, as well as the training of the lads of the Rock, which I hear you have taken charge of. You certainly look strong enough for the job, my lady and I have no doubt you possess the skill as well. In fact, I hope to send my squire Podrick to the yard, if you can take on another lad while I’m here. He’s a courageous boy and I owe him my life for his valor on the battlefield, but he could certainly use refinement.”

“It would be my pleasure,” Brienne smiled. “The lads will be glad of the challenge that comes with facing a new opponent. We begin an hour past dawn.”

“Then he shall meet you in the morning,” Tyrion said, still smiling.

“Wonderful. I- well, I suppose you and Jaim- Lord Lannister have much to talk about. I shall take my leave of you, if it please you,” Brienne said, looking back and forth between them, clearly eager to be given permission to go from one of them, and quickly.

“I can’t say it does,” Tyrion said, before Jaime could answer. “But you are right in your assessment that we have much to discuss. I do look forward to seeing more of you while I am here though, my lady." 

“Likewise,” Brienne said, bowing her head and all but dashing out of sight.

When she was well and gone, Tyrion turned to him. “Well, my dear brother. I must say I rather expected to arrive and find you sulking in some dark corner of the castle. Your first letters after arriving at the Rock were such sad, bitter things. Instead, after travelling leagues to see you at my first opportunity, I find myself waiting hours while you gallop about the countryside having a grand old time.”

“I wasn’t- we were just-” Jaime struggled, hating the way Tyrion grinned so bloody knowingly at him.

What was there to grin knowingly about anyway?

He didn’t know anything.

He’d just arrived.

And there was nothing to know.

“Stop stammering at me and offer me something to drink. And eat.” Tyrion said. “Father would burst a vein in his forehead if he knew the sort of hospitality you show your guests.”

Jaime scowled at his brother and followed as Tyrion waddled towards the great hall, talking about how bloody starving he was, about the weather on the journey, about the strangeness of being back at the Rock after being so long away, about his longing to visit the library.... and everything but Brienne of Tarth.

Jaime knew his brother far too well to allow himself to relax. He had not even begun to hear Tyrion’s opinion on the matter, but he would.

And he got the feeling he might have to outdrink the imp if he was going to be in any way capable of dealing with the conversation when it inevitably came.

Chapter Text

Jaime would be lying to himself if he tried to pretend he hadn’t been avoiding Brienne since Tyrion had shown up. To Jaime’s surprise, his brother hadn’t said a single word about her on the day he arrived, and Jaime was entirely sure the Imp was enjoying watching his elder brother suffer  and squirm as he waited for the subject to be breached.

Jaime had avoided the training yard for days, for he knew Tyrion would be watching like a hawk for the next time opportunity to observe the two of them together. He stopped by only once, when he knew Tyrion was meeting with the maester. He stuck his head in briefly ask her about the lads’ progress  and to ask how she was doing before bolting.

But after nearly a week, he could not deny that he was missing Brienne more than he could say, and all his plans to avoid giving Tyrion any more fuel for mockery were gone.

 

He needed to see her and he was going to, regardless of how Tyrion might choose to taunt him about it.

He reached the training yard just as the lads were breaking for lunch. He strode over to Brienne, and started talking at once about nothing and everything, amazed by how much he had to say after only a week apart.

They ended up sitting on the ground with their backs to the wall as they so often did when breaking from bouts of sparring.

They sat close enough that their arms touched. Whenever she turned to look at him directly, their mouths were much too close and made his breathing turn ragged.

Jaime was just in the middle of telling her a story about a prank he and some other boys had played on the ornery master-at-arms at Crakehall when he’d squired there.

Brienne was breathless with laughter, clutching at his arm to keep from doubling over and causing an involuntary swooping sensation low in his belly.

“What little monsters you were!” she gasped, giggling and shaking her head at him.

“Trust me, my lady, the grumpy old codger more than deserved it. He was not nearly so good a teacher as y-”

“Good morning, dear brother,” Tyrion cried with delight, interrupting him. He waddled across the yard toward them, eyes sparkling. “And you, my lady. It seems I’ve just missed some great joke.”

“Jaim- er Lord Jaime was just telling me about some mischief he caused while squiring at Crakehall.”

Tyrion smiled broadly. “Ah, would this be the one about the ridiculous beard-dyeing that earned him a black eye or the donkey in his bedchamber that nearly got our Jaime sent back to the Rock?”

Brienne clapped a hand over her mouth and turned to Jaime, looking scandalized, “Donkey in the bedchamber? I’ve certainly not heard that one yet! ”

“Er, I was building up to it,” Jaime said awkwardly, aware of  Tyrion’s eyes on them, shrewdly taking it all in. He noted his proximity to Brienne and subtly tried to shift away from here, putting some space between their bodies.

Not subtly enough.

When he caught Tyrion’s eye, his brother gave a blatant smirk that showed Jaime had failed to pull the wool over his eyes.

“Well, I’m afraid I do not have the time to stick around for that tale, but I’ve no doubt you’ll enjoy it, my lady. I must meet with the maester before our dinner this evening, Lady Brienne. Do you still plan to attend?” he asked.

Jaime’s head whipped around towards his brother, his mouth agape.

“I do,” Brienne said, and he saw her nodding from out of the corner of his eye. “You are very kind to extend the offer.”

“As are you to have accepted. I look forward to it. Farewell,” Tyrion said, bowing slightly.

Tyrion shot Jaime a cocky grin and turned to go, leaving Jaime glaring after him.

The scheming imp couldn’t have planned it better. Jaime had been forced into a private dinner with some sworn lord this evening, a meeting which promised to be long and tedious. Meanwhile, Tyrion would have Brienne all to himself and every opportunity to pry information out of her. His brother, so skilled at navigating the courts of King's Landing would have no trouble at all manipulating an innocent like Brienne into giving things away that simply...simply weren’t true.

The thought of them sharing a meal without him present to look after her left Jaime feeling slightly ill.

Jaime hoped Tyrion would treat her well. His brother, though not unkind, had a sly wit and was better at bandying words than Brienne could ever hope to be. He hoped he would not torment her too much as he attempted to glean information about her relationship with Jaime.

“So you’re... you’re having dinner with him?” Jaime asked, once Tyrion was gone, trying his best to sound casual. “How did that come about?”  

“He came by this morning to watch Pod at work. The boy is a fast learner and your brother seemed impressed by the quick improvement. He asked me to dine with him so that he might thank me for educating his squire on the finer points of swordplay. I could hardly refuse the offer,” Brienne said awkwardly. “Besides, it will be nice to get to know him after all the stories you’ve told me about him. He’s seems just as amiable as you’ve always said.”

Jaime could only grunt.

She was so bloody naive and trusting. He hated that about her almost as much as he loved it.

_____

Jaime burst into Maester Corryn’s chambers a while later, loud and angry.

“Maester Corryn, would you please excuse us? I must needs speak with my brother,” Jaime snapped.

“My Lord, we are in the middle of-”

“It won’t take long. Leave us."

When Corryn shuffled out, looking half-terrified, Jaime was annoyed to see that Tyrion looked the furthest one could get from afraid. He was grinning.

“What can I do for you, dear brother?” Tyrion asked innocently, pulling out a chair so Jaime could sit beside him. Jaime refused.

“What’s all this about you having dinner with Brienne?” Jaime asked sharply.

“What about it?” Tyrion blinked. “She’s a highborn guest of this castle, who has gone out of her way to aid my squire in the acquisition of skills that will be most useful to me. He saved my life on the battlefield, but I believe that was due more to luck more than anything else. I simply wish to know her better.”

“Don’t toy with me, brother,” Jaime said darkly. “You’re not in King’s Landing anymore. I have little patience for dancing about with words. I know- I know why you’re trying to- trying to-” he sputtered, too furious to articulate the words.

“Trying to what?”

“You think there’s something- something going on. You’ve heard- rumors or something and you want to-”

“What do I want to do?” Tyrion asked, furrowing his brow in feigned confusion.

Scowling, Jaime bit out, “Enough, you foul little imp. Have your dinner, but you better be bloody nice to her. Whatever game it is you’re playing, it’s with me, not her.”

Tyrion grinned. “Quite protective, aren’t you?”

“She is my prisoner, but she is of noble birth. It is my duty to see that she is treated with respect worthy of her station,” Jaime said stiffly.

“Ah yes, and is it also your duty to charge her with the training of your boys and ride all across the land with her? Or to sit on the ground beside her telling her all about your childhood mischief?” Tyrion grinned.

“She has the skills required to make a good teacher. She can fight as well as any man here, and has the patience they need to grow. That is all.”

“And the patience to train with you every night, sometimes dueling away with you until the sun starts to come up, I hear,” Tyrion smirked.

“I didn’t come here for this,” Jaime scowled. “I came to warn you to treat the wench well. I may have only the one hand, but I reckon I could still beat you bloody, little brother.”

To his frustration, Tyrion began to laugh. Cackle, really.

He laughed until tears were streaming down his scarred face and he was beating his small fists against the wooden table. “My gods. You really- you really do like her! I thought I was only winding you up, but you actually like that giant beast of a woman!”

Tyrion dissolved into a fit of laughter once again and Jaime found his patience had worn thin.

“Shut up,” Jaime hissed, seizing Tyrion by front of his red velvet tunic. “Stop laughing at her!” Tyrion widened his eyes in surprise.

“I’m not laughing at her, you imbecile,” Tyrion cried, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. “I’m laughing at you! Brother, you honestly have the strangest taste in women of any man in the Seven Kingdoms, and I say this as someone who has given my patronage to some very peculiar brothels over the years and seen some very peculiar things within them. I’ve seen men with all sorts of bizarre desires, but not a one can compare to the strangeness of yours.”

Jaime scowled and opened his mouth to retort, but Tyrion kept going.

“You finally get past the ever-pressing desire to fuck your vicious, scheming sister right under a drunken king’s nose, and then you start mooning over a girl who’s taller than you are, stronger than most men and more noble and righteous than any knight in the country. Could there be any two choices stranger or more opposite?”

Jaime sighed in frustration. “You’ve got it wrong. I don’t - I don’t feel what you’re suggesting. Not in the slightest. She’s a fair companion. A patient person to spar with, handless and crippled as I am. And she's maddeningly noble and might actually make honorable soldiers out of some of those boys. She's earned my respect and she has it. But I - I don’t feel that way about her.”

“Why not?” Tyrion asked plainly.

“Because- because it would be bloody absurd,” Jaime cried.

Why would it be absurd?” Tyrion prodded. 

What was his brother not getting? It should speak for itself.

Brienne was...she was...

Alright, she was his favorite bloody person in the world, but that didn’t mean he wanted to be with her.

“It just- would.”

Even as he said it, images of kissing her hard against the stone wall of the training yard sprang into his mind, unbidden. He imagined the feel of her tongue, hot and warm against his, of her strong legs wrapping around his waist as he intensified their kiss and ran his good hand along her body, touching the places he knew no man ever had.

 He shook out his mane of golden hair in annoyance, rattled by the rush of heat that came with the unwanted images.

“I don’t have time for this,” Jaime snapped. “I’ve got to meet with Lord Rockwell and listen to his forty thousand grievances. But I warn you, brother, if I hear you’ve been anything less than a gentlema-”

“Don’t worry,” Tyrion said with a wave of his hand. “I plan to treat your girl with every bit of courtesy I possess.”

“That’s what bloody has me worried,” Jaime muttered, before whipping around and walking out of the room to the sounds of Tyrion’s chuckling.

 

_______

 

“Well, I had dinner with your dear wench last night,” Tyrion smirked, as the serving wench left with their dinner plates.

The brothers had shared a private dinner that evening and had been engaged in a battle of wills over who would bring up Brienne of Tarth first. 

Tyrion was finishing his third cup of wine and seemed ready to move on to the next stage of their game. 

“I heard,” Jaime responded, offering no more.

“It was wonderful to get to know the woman who has captured my dear brother’s heart so completely.”

“She hasn’t captured my heart,"  Jaime sighed, taking an angry swig of wine from his own goblet. "I hope you managed not to be entirely vile in her company. She might look brawny but the wench is more delicate than she lets on.”

“Funnily enough I did,”  Tyrion said. “I was the picture of courtesy and your sweet maiden made it easy to be so. She was a bit shy at first, but I was my usual charming self and soon enough we developed a rapport. She’s not much to look at-” Tyrion raised his eyebrows when Jaime scowled. “But she’s a truly lovely young woman. Pod can’t stop talking about her either. I can see why you like her so much.”

“I don’t-” Jaime began weakly.  

“Of course you don’t. And the sky isn’t blue and the sea isn’t wet and the smallfolk aren’t tired of this bloody war. What other things shall we tell lies about? I’m sure I could think of a few more if you want to keep up with this game,” Tyrion said, keeping his mismatched eyes on Jaime as he reached for his golden goblet and drank deeply from it.

“I’ve told you,” Jaime said. “I respect the wench. I enjoy her company above most of the tedious people in this castle. That’s- that’s it.”

He knew it sounded pitiful the moment he said it.

The truth was, since his conversation with Tyrion the day before, he’d been having an increasingly difficult time rationalizing even to himself that he didn’t feel something for the wench, something so deep it shook him to his core.

He’d barely listened to a word Lord Rockwell had said during their meeting the night before. As the elderly lord croaked at length about taxes and smallfolk, Jaime had tried in vain to fight off images of pressing his body flush against Brienne’s, of running his hands through her hair and nipping hungrily at her thick neck.

When Rockwell realized Jaime wasn’t listening, the sour-faced old man had frowned and suggested they meet again when his liege lord was less distracted.

Jaime had slunk off to bed without checking in on Tyrion and Brienne’s dinner, but he’d laid awake with similar images flitting through his mind, unbidden.  When he’d finally managed to sleep, the same sorts of images, and filthier ones had plagued his dreams. He woke sweating and hard and longing for a warm body beside him.

And not just any warm body.

Hers.

His devious little brother had shoved Jaime out of the darkness and into the light with his goading and Jaime was struggling to adapt to the change. All the feelings he’d been trying to ignore for months were shoved to the surface now, and Jaime found himself blinking as let his eyes adjust to the sudden brightness and clarity like a man stepping out of a black mine and into the midsummer sun.

He wasn’t sure exactly what it was he felt, but as he tried to understand it, a persistent voice in his head kept whispering It’s love, you bloody idiot.

Love.

The word terrified him.

He should not be afraid of four simple letters with all he’d seen and done, but he was.

Jaime had fought in fierce battles and watched good men burn at the command of a mad king.

He’d endured his father’s fury and cruelty and lived as a captive in a rotting cell for a year before having his hand chopped off by scumbags just when he thought he was almost home.

Jaime had endured the scorn of the whole world and witnessed the sort of pain and horror that could not be dreamed up in the worst of nightmares.

 

But it was love and all its’ power that scared him beyond belief.

Jaime had known love as deeply and powerfully as he’d known war.  

Every sensible part of his mind told him it would be less foolish to go back to war than it would be to subject himself to the heartless power of love again.

In his sister’s hungry arms, he’d known love.

All powerful, all consuming love for the last woman he should have given it to.

He’d known the kind of love that blinded him to flaws, the kind of love that made him a slave, willing to do unspeakable things to hang onto it, the kind of love that had shattered to pieces and left him cold and broken and alone. Subjecting himself to love's clutches once again would be an exercise in folly.

But Brienne isn’t Cersei, he thought.

She is gentle.

She is kind.

Her love would be as gentle and kind as she is. 

No, the part of him that wanted to cling to rationality argued. No. 

“She is a friend to me,” Jaime said, loud and resolute. “That’s it.”

“Jaime, please,” Tyrion said, and this time his expression had lost its’ mirth and was entirely sincere. “You need not lie to me. I’ve seen what you’ve looked like whilst madly in love before, and I wished every day to see you look that way at someone- anyone- other than Cersei. Her love was a poison that brought out the worst in you and it pained me that you were never able to see the woman I did. You were always so good to me, and I always dreamed of some kind woman coming along to open up your eyes." Tyrion looked bitter and serious as he spoke of Cersei, and Jaime felt a twinge of guilt as he remembered how much of Cersei's scorn for Tyrion he'd willfully ignored.

But then Tyrion took a sip of wine and was smiling again as he said," I can’t say that Lady Brienne is anything like what I had in mind, but that is by no means a bad thing. After spending five minutes in her company, I knew that she was better for you than any woman I could have dreamed up.”

Jaime gaped at his brother, wanting to protest but finding his words catching in his throat as he caught the warm expression on Tyrion's face.

“When you left for the Rock more than a year ago," Tyrion said. "I confess I was afraid to see you go. I had never expected to see my brave brother so defeated and I feared I’d never see the glint back in your eyes. It’s back, Jaime, and it’s different than it ever was. It’s... softer, and that girl from Tarth is the cause. You love the wench. That’s a good thing, brother.”

No, Jaime thought, shaking his head.

He could not love her.

And yet he knew that he did.

He stared quietly at the wooden table for a long while, thinking.

“She’s too good for me,” Jaime said quietly, at last.

“That’s probably true,” Tyrion conceded, and though he’d been the first to voice it, Jaime scowled. But then Tyrion continued.

“Yet it is apparent that Brienne feels as deeply for you as you do for her, and I think the lady is more than capable of deciding on her own whether she would like to be with you or not.”

“She- she does?” Jaime asked, flushing slightly and feeling foolish. “But how do you- how do you know?”

“Because, dear brother. Your wench is rather unfortunate when it comes to her appearance- and before you get angry with me," Tyrion added, because Jaime was opening his mouth to retort. "Know that I am not saying that to be cruel. I am merely stating an uncomfortable truth, and if you’ll allow me to finish, you will understand my point. I know that Brienne feels something for you, because her eyes- the only feature she possesses that could truly be called pretty... well, my brother, they become downright beautiful the moment you walk into a room and she sets them upon you.”

All Jaime could do was stare. Tyrion’s lips twitched at the corners. “It’s true, Jaime. If she has not done anything to make her feelings apparent to you, it is only because she’s been hurt by cruel men who’ve come before you, and likely is not aware of how deep your affections run. I suspect that with all the scorn she's faced, she is unable to even imagine that you could love her.”

In spite of Tyrion’s attempt to be reassuring, Jaime found himself feeling a twinge of jealousy.

Brienne had only spent one dinner with Tyrion, and she was already telling him things about her past she’d never even shared with Jaime?  

“Hurt before?” Jaime asked, eyes narrowed. “Has she- have you talked about that sort of thing? What has she said about-”

He stopped when he caught sight of Tyrion’s ridiculously triumphant expression.

“We have,” Tyrion said, grinning. “It is not my place to spill her closely guarded secrets, though. But you can relax, brother. If she felt comfortable relating some of her sadder tales to me, I expect it is because our unfortunate appearances have made us kindred spirits of sorts. That does not mean I have any intention of stealing her away from you. I look ridiculous enough beside a normal-sized woman, thank you,” he winked, before turning somber and serious again. “Besides, I couldn’t steal her away even if I wanted to. I’d bet every last dragon I possess on it. She loves you, Jaime. Truly.”

Jaime stared at Tyrion shrewdly, trying to read his brother’s expression to find any signs of mockery beneath the sincerity and finding none.

When Jaime decided that Tyrion meant what he was saying- that he really come to believe Brienne loved his maimed older brother- he broke into a grin.

Perhaps this wasn’t so absurd. Perhaps he could find some way to tell her how he felt and find comfort and warmth in her strong arms.

He could not longer deny that it was what he wanted.

He could no longer cower away from his own feelings.

“You’re a very annoying little imp,” Jaime said, smiling. “But I suppose I ought to thank you for- for clearing things up.”

Tyrion grinned back. “I consider it my duty, being the brains of this family, to help my less fortunate siblings along.”

Tyrion paused to refill their goblets, which had run dry. “Don’t waste time hiding from it, Jaime. Let her know how you feel and see if you can’t salvage a bit of happiness for yourself.”

Jaime felt a wave of warmth for his brother as he watched the Imp reach for his goblet. Before he picked it up, he turned to Jaime with a raised eyebrow and said, “However, when father loses his mind after you marry her (and you know he will), I solemnly swear I will deny giving you my blessing to the grave. If I don’t, I will undoubtedly be sent to an early one myself, and I rather enjoy all the perks that come with having air in my lungs and blood in my veins.“

Tyrion raised his goblet in the air and drank deeply.

Jaime did the same.

 

Chapter Text

The days that followed his conversation with Tyrion were not easy. Jaime could not longer deny that he wanted Brienne or that he had somehow become irrevocably enamored with the girl.

It defied logic. Though, as heir to the Sapphire Isle and any man should be eager to court her in order to gain the lands and titles that would come with such a marriage, her size and homely appearance were enough to send most men fleeing in the other direction.

Jaime could not deny that Brienne's lack of beauty. Though his affections for her had endeared her to him, and made her more attractive in his eyes over time, Brienne was not the maiden men dreamed of or the kind of lass songs were sung about. The overpowering desire he felt towards this ugly wench was bloody strange, to say the least.

But Jaime had been enamored with a great beauty for most of his life, and it had ended in bitter heartache. One lost hand and his newfound desire to pursue some semblance of honor had been enough to make Cersei cast their love aside.

While Brienne might not turn any heads for any reason other than her enormous size, she had, without even trying, managed to steal Jaime’s heart. Now that Tyrion had forced him to see how enraptured he was with Brienne, Jaime could hardly manage to hold a conversation with her.

How could Jaime listen to her talk fondly about catching Timeon breaking into the armory and nearly losing a foot when he dropped a broadsword that was bigger than the scrawny boy himself, when all he wanted to do was kiss her?

He knew now that he wanted to hold her in his arms more than anything, but bringing that into casual conversation after so many months of being friends was a challenge he had yet to overcome.

With Cersei, their first kiss had come about before they even understood what they were really doing, and everything that came after came without effort.

Jaime really had very few ideas on how to court women, and everything he’d ever witnessed on the matter had come from watching courtly women who were so unlike Brienne that the ideas seemed useless anyway.

A few days after his conversation with Tyrion, Jaime sat beside her in their corner of the training yard. Their backs were to the wall as they watched the boys sparring with each other in pairs.

Brienne was laughing, her eyes sparkling as she tried to tell him about Tim’s attempted sword theft. All Jaime could do was stare into the great blue sapphire depths, occasionally letting his eyes wander to those big lips that covered her prominent teeth, or the white column of her neck he was suddenly compelled to start exploring with his mouth.

He tried to laugh weakly along with her at the appropriate times, but she kept looking at him oddly, her eyebrows quirked.

Eventually she said, “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Huh?” Jaime asked stupidly. His tongue had been running over his lips as he watched her smiling mouth. He pulled it back and shrugged, “Looking at you like what?”

“I...I don’t know how to describe it. But you’ve been doing it a lot, lately,” she said, frowning slightly. “It’s just...different.”

Jaime scoffed, “You’re imagining things, wench. You’re spending too much time in the sun.”

“Jaime, it’s nearly winter,” she said, almost pityingly.

“Not drinking enough water then,” he grunted. “I’m looking at you like I always have.”

“Alright,” she said, still slightly suspiciously, getting to her feet.

You could have told her then, you idiot.

I’d have either been rejected in front of a pile of children, or ended up kissing her in front of them. It wouldn’t do, either way.

Great excuses, coward.

“Well, I’d better get back to it,” Brienne said, offering him a hand up. She’d done so dozens of times before, yet now the touch of her warm, strong palm against his had his heart thumping in his chest. “ Pod wanted me to teach him a new technique this afternoon. Perhaps I’ll see you this evening? Tyrion suggested the three of us have dinner together. He promised to tell embarrassing stories about you.”

She was grinning mischievously, and it was all he could do not to seize her by the shoulders, press her up against the wall and attack her with his mouth.

“Did he now?" Jaime muttered. "Not sure that’s really a selling point, wench."

“Well, think of it this way: You can either join us and be able to defend yourself, or stay away and have your character besmirched out of earshot. I’m going either way,” she said with a little wink, hitting him softly on the arm.

“Alright, wench. I’ll be there,” he conceded. “I’ve got some stories about that imp as well. They might not be fit for your delicate ears, but depending on what tales he wants to tell, I may have to bring them out.”

“Good,” Brienne smiled. “You’ve been busy since Tyrion arrived. I miss your stories.”

His stomach seemed to do a little flip when she smiled at him, and he knew he couldn’t wait much longer to tell her how he felt.

He watched her walk across the yard to Pod, and could only hope that Tyrion had been correct about her feelings for Jaime. She turned her head to smile at him and wave goodbye, and even from across the yard he thought he might have caught that sparkle in her eyes that Tyrion had mentioned.

Gods, he hoped so.

 

_____

 

A few days later, Jaime slowly creaked open the door to a dark room in the east wing of Casterly Rock, his heart hammering in his chest.

He hadn’t entered this chamber since he was a small child and, up until now, hadn’t ever intended to enter it again. It was too painful.

The moment he stepped inside, a familiar smell hts him, a smell that should have been gone for over a decade.

It lingered though, in the curtains and the blankets and the air, soft and flowery.  Smelling it (smelling her ) after all these years caused a lump to form in Jaime’s throat. It seemed impossible that a scent could remain after so many years, and there was a good chance he was simply recalling the scent now that he was inside the room and imagining it. 

Jaime lit the torches on the wall with the one he carried, and crossed the room to the large window, throwing open the dusty curtains to allow the light of the soon-to-be setting sun to filter in.

He was standing in Joanna Lannister’s chambers.

Jaime used to storm in here often as a boy, shouting an enthusiastic story from the training yard to his smiling mother, or crawling into bed beside her with a storybook.

He remembered lying beside her on the bed once, late in her pregnancy with Tyrion. Joanna was huge by then, and stayed in bed more often. By then, Jaime had mostly outgrown bedside visits with his mother, but he hadn’t seen his mother about the castle as often in these final stages of her pregnancy. Though he felt a bit silly about it, he missed her.

He crept inside, shier than he ever used to be. His mother’s smile was warm and her green eyes soft and fond as she patted the bed beside her and said, “Jaime. Come here, sweetling.”

He lay beside her for a while, telling her about how his father mentioned that morning that he would be letting Jaime go off to squire soon at Crakehall. Jaime recalled begging her to see if she couldn’t urge Tywin along. Joanna shook her head, smiling and said that Tywin would send him to Crakehall when it was time, and not a moment before.

“Besides,” she had said, patting her huge belly. “You have a little brother or sister on the way. You cannot leave us before you meet your little sibling. And you will have to help me tell them stories, and show them how to wield a sword when they are old enough.”

Jaime had swelled with pride at that, and Joanna reached over for his hand, bringing it to her belly. She pressed it against her swollen stomach and said, “Look Jaime, the little one is kicking. I believe your little brother or sister is growing impatient to enter the world.”

Jaime pressed his hand against her hard, but couldn’t feel anything. They kept trying for a while, Jaime growing ever more frustrated at not feeling the movement.  Joanna only laughed softly and readjusted his hand. When he finally felt it, his eyes lit up and Joanna softly smiled at him and for the first time he really considered what it would be like to be an older brother and realized how eager he was for the opportunity.

“It won’t be long now. I will teach you how to hold him properly, and when he or she is older, you’ll teach them right from wrong and protect them like every good brother should,” Joanna had said, running a hard through Jaime’s golden hair tenderly.  

His brother came into the world within a fortnight, and his kind mother left it, leaving a hole in his chest Jaime had tried hard to bury under layers of cynicism. Sometimes it was easier to forget he ever had a mother than it was to remember what he’d lost.  

He felt the walls he’d built up starting to crumble as he brought a shaking hand up to the ornate door of a wooden dresser and cracked it open.

He thought of Joanna so rarely that he was not prepared for the pang that coursed through him as he took in the sight of her delicate gowns. Often, Joanna was little more than a fuzzy memory to him, but seeing the dresses triggered images long buried, and he could see her as clearly as if she were standing beside him.

He closed the dresser door with a bang. He was not in that room to stir up painful memories. He was there for something else.  

He was there for Brienne.

He walked over to a table with a small wooden jewelry box sitting on it, and lifted  the lid. He knew  exactly what it is he was looking for. He remembered it well.

Cersei took Joanna’s wedding band when she’d married Robert Baratheon, and Jaime was fine with that. It was an elaborate, gaudy sort of thing that would not have suited his wench anyway.

The piece he had in mind for Brienne was simple and elegant, a single sapphire enclosed on either side by a small white diamond.

His mother had worn it often, and Jaime could recall the way it caught the light  when she turned the pages of his heroes storybook, or smoothed out the wrinkles on his tunic before a dinner with important guests, shaking her head and smiling at the mud stains he’d picked up whilst wrestling Cersei in the gardens.

He found it after rooting around for a few moments, grasping the cool metal in his fingers and closing his eyes for a moment. Then he opened them again and began groping around in the box for a small gold chain to match the band of the ring.

The sapphire ring was small and dainty, just as Joanna was, and Jaime was certain it would not fit on even the smallest of Brienne’s large fingers. Should the girl be mad and kind enough to accept his offer, he did not wish to embarrass her by trying to force it on her.

After a moment of searching, he found a chain that would do nicely, and his heart pounded at the thought of slipping it around her neck as she gazed at him with those shining, impossibly blue eyes.

 

Jaime was still struggling to accept the fact that he was actually doing this, but standing in his mother’s chambers with her ring was certainly making him come to terms with the reality of the situation.

He was going to ask her. He was going to bend on one knee and ask Brienne of Tarth to be his wife.

He hadn’t even managed to say a word about his feelings yet, but he knew beyond a doubt that if she would have him, he wanted her to be his wife.

It was too absurd for words, yet his stomach was a mess of painful knots as he tried to tell himself that it would be alright, that Tyrion was a sound judge of character and there was no way Brienne would wince and say something like “I’m sorry, my lord, but I’ve already promised myself to Ser Devon. He’s got two hands, you see, and I rather like that about him.”

Though he still had no confirmation of her feelings for him, in the days since his conversation with Tyrion, Jaime got carried away dreaming of sort of future he’d never really imagined possible for a man like him.

He’d often dreamed of marrying Cersei, of course, of declaring his love for her to the world and being free to kiss her defiantly in front of anyone he pleased, daring anyone to tell him otherwise.

He’d known all along that it could never happen, known they’d never be permitted to openly have a life together.

That reality had never stopped him from  from envisioning hungrily kissing her in a hall filled with people, fiery and proud and lustful.

This was different. His visions about Brienne were proving quaint and sweet and tender. He did not so much long to kiss her in front of the world as much as he longed to spend quiet nights with her behind closed doors, having her to himself for as long as he pleased.

With Cersei, he’d always been shoved off and away the very moment he’d spent himself inside her. She would push against him with her palms, hissing “Go now. We musn’t be found.”

Brienne (if she even agreed to his ridiculous request) would not roughly push him off her after he brought her to her shuddering to her full.

Jaime be allowed to hold her as long as he liked, to press soft kisses into her strong neck until sleep took him, to whisper sweet words into her hair long into the night.

He would allowed to wake up beside her and take in the soft morning light in her arms.

Jaime had created three lives with Cersei, but he never once felt like a father.

Cersei’s fears for her children’s lives meant Jaime was never permitted to show them any undue interest or affection towards them. He’d felt that was no real loss where Joffrey was concerned, for the boy had shown from the start that he was a vile, spoiled little monster, but Myrcella and Tommen had always been sweet.

There were times when Jaime wondered what it might be like to speak more openly to clever Myrcella or to sit with round-faced little Tommen in the stables as he patiently tried to coax a litter of kittens out of their hiding place.

Jaime had lost what little chance he had to be a father when Myrcella had been shipped off to Dorne and his father and sister had conspired to remove him from the Tommen’s Kingsguard after his maiming. His two remaining children were lost to him and the only things left to wonder about were foolish what-might-have-beens.

With Brienne, he would not have to wonder if he had it in him to be a true father.

If she bore him children, she would not deny him the chance to be a real father to them. She would give him the chance to try his clumsy hand at him, and patiently guide him through it when he struggled.

She already smiled fondly at him whenever she caught him paying a kind word to one of the lads she trained, her eyes sparkling in the sun.

Jaime had begun to imagine what it would be like to have a real family with her. He began to picture her, some years down the road, still standing in the training yard and weaving in and out amongst practicing lads just as she did today, save for the addition of a blue-eyed babe balanced on her hip.

Brienne would move among them, giving soft instructions to the young lads as the bright-eyed infant gazed about.

In his mind's eye, he could see her moving towards another child, an older one with Jaime’s head of golden-curls and his green eyes, but the sort of prominent teeth and freckles that were all Brienne.  Jaime imagined this lad slashing his practice sword in frustration, hitting at a dummy with unrefined movements.  Brienne would laugh kindly at their older son and turn to Jaime, holding out the babe to him.

Even in his fantasy, Jaime could not imagine taking the child from her in a way that wasn’t awkward. Partially because of his stump,and partially because he’d never held a baby that small before and they seemed such small and fragile things. But he’d take the tiny blonde creature from her, because she was Brienne and because she trusted him to, and then she’d turn to attend the needs of their older lad.

She would take the boy’s arm in hers, guiding him carefully through the proper motions. She’d patiently guide his arm until he got it right, and turned grinning to Jaime to demonstrate his improvement.

Jaime ought to perhaps be ashamed of himself for such blatant sentimentalism, but the images filled with with such overwhelming warmth that there was no room for shame.

He wanted this. He wanted her.

Her kindness and her warmth and her love. She’d already given him the first two in droves. He could only hope she’d be willing to give him the latter, because he wasn’t sure he was prepared to deal with her rejection- even the sort of gentle rejection a woman as kind as Brienne would give.

 

Now that he had the ring in hand, he knew he had to act, and act at once. He’d been mulling over scenarios of how to do this in his head....where to do it and a what to say. He’d considered taking her out riding and doing it at the cliffs or somewhere comparatively beautiful, but with the knots in his stomach, he knew he couldn’t wait any longer. The nerves were becoming physically painful and he was starting to break into a sweat.

Now or never, Lannister.

He pocketed the ring and chain and walked out of Joanna’s room, heart pounding.

There was always a chance his astute brother had been mistaken in her affections for him. How could a girl as good and kind as she want a life with a maimed and bitter slayer of kings?

Well, if a rejection was to come, better it happen sooner rather than later. He made his way to the training yard where she would be finishing up her day’s work with the lads, sweat glistening on his brow.

Then there was the possibility that Tyrion was right. That Brienne felt for him as powerfully as he did for her, and would agree to be his wife. If that were the case, he needed to know right away as well, so he could draw her into his arms and shower her with all the kisses he should have been planting on her lips for months, to cover her in the kinds of hungry kisses he’d been too blind to even realize he’d wanted.

He reached the training yard, prepared to ask the boys for permission to take their lady a few minutes early and expecting to be met with glares, but when he arrived a quick glance around told him that she wasn’t there.

Gerion and Garreth, as the eldest boys, seemed to have taken over for her and were assisting the younger lads, putting them through their paces. Jaime might have smiled on another day to see how mature they seemed, but he felt a wave of frustration instead.

Where was she? He couldn’t stand another moment of not knowing how she felt.

“Tim!” he barked, so sharply that Timeon dropped his sword. The lad he was sparring with laughed, then covered his mouth, looking sheepishly up at Jaime.

“Yes, my lord?” Tim asked timidly.

“Where’s Lady Brienne?”  Jaime probed, still glancing around the yard in case she might have wandered back in the span of a few moments.

“I...I’m not sure, m’lord.” Tim squeaked, looking around shiftily.

“It is not wise to lie to your lord, lad,” Jaime said, slightly amused but also irritated. “You’re attached to that woman at the hip most of the time. Where is she?”

“I...she...she asked that we...that everyone leave her be, for a while. She does not wish to be disturbed, m’lord,” Tim said, looking stoically protective as he spoke his last sentence.

Jaime scowled. “It’s important. I’m sure Brienne will be willing to make time for me. Come now, lad. Tell me where she is.”

“I...I believe she is in the rose gardens, m’lord,” Tim said, looking very annoyed with Jaime and himself as he betrayed his lady’s location.

“Thank you,” Jaime said, turning around at once and making for the gardens.

 

The gardens were a labyrinth and it took longer than he intended to track her down. His nerves were at a high when he found her, and he gasped, “Brienne!” in relief when he saw her sitting on a stone bench.

Her head snapped up as he jogged the distance between them. Her legs were bent along the bench so her knees were close to her face, and as he approached, he slowed down, taking in her expression.

“Jaime,” she croaked, bringing a large hand up to her face and wiping at her cheeks furiously. Her eyes were red-rimmed and her furious wiping could not dry all the tear tracks from her face.

“My lady,” he said softly, surprised. “Are you alr- what is it?”

He quickly moved forward and took a seat on the bench beside her. She immediately pulled her legs down from the bench and turned away from him. 

“It’s- it’s nothing. I just. I just need- I just need-” she stammered before bursting into sobs. Jaime immediately scooted closer to her and gripped her arm with his good hand. “Brienne,” he murmured utterly at a loss at what to say. He was afraid she would jerk out of his grasp, but the moment he touched her, she instead turned to him and buried her face in his shoulder, sobbing into him. In no time at all, his tunic was drenched in her tears.

He wrapped his arms around her, stroking her straggly hair with his good hand and whispering “It’s alright. It’ll be alright.” even though he had no idea what ‘it’ was or if it would be.

When her sobbing finally subsided, she pulled back, wiping at her nose, “Oh Jaime, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to- your shirt,” she said, reaching over to touch the spot on his shoulder where her tears had soaked the fabric. 

“Hush,” Jaime said at once. “It’s alright. Just- please, tell me what it is, Brienne. Perhaps there is something I can do to help. Tell me, my lady. What has you so- so...” he trailed off, unable to even describe what he was seeing.

“There was a raven from Tarth, this morning,” she answered flatly. Her eyes were dry now and she sounded hollow. His stomach lurched.

“What- what did it say?” he asked, placing a hand over hers.

“It’s my father, Jaime. He’s ill. Very ill. He could not even write to me himself. Our maester penned it. He- he tells me that my father will not live longer than a moon’s turn. He’s dying, Jaime,” she said, shuddering. “He’s all alone on that island. No wife or sons to comfort him in his final days. He’s just...he’s all alone, and he’s always been so good to me, even though I was never the sort of daughter any lord would want, nor could I fill the role of a son.  I’ve turned away every suitor he ever found that would be willing to have me, and I spent my days learning to use blades rather than needles, but he’s just always been so kind and loving. I just- I can’t believe he’s going to- to- he’s not a young man, Jaime, but he’s not old either. Not old enough to go.”

“Gods, Brienne,” Jaime breathed, gripping her hand in his as tightly as he could. “I- I am so sorry, my lady. Truly, I-”

Jaime stopped, unable to think of a thing to say. The grief shining in her eyes was painful to see, but he would not do her the disservice of turning away. Helpless did not even begin to cover how he felt.

“I just can’t - I should be - I know I should be writing him a letter.  I should be doing it now. There’s so little time and even if I sent it this morning, who knows if it would get there in time? But I just- I just can’t think of a word to say. I want to tell him how sorry I am, for never being the heir he deserved, and to tell him how much I will miss him and how empty the world will feel without him in it but how do you write such words down and send them off, knowing they are the last words from you someone will ever see?”

She looked lost and broken and helpless and Jaime’s heart shattered to see it. He let out one shuddering breath before closing his eyes. Though half of him was screaming in protest, Jaime said the words he knew he had to say.

“You must go to him.”

“What?” Brienne gasped dropping the crumpled parchment she held in her fist.

“You shouldn’t have to say all of that in a letter. You must go to him, and say your goodbye at his side. If you leave at once, there is a chance you will make it.”

“But-” she said, her red eyes widening in shock. “What about your father? Lord Tywin wanted me to..won’t he be- I’m supposed to-”

“To hells with my father. Whatever semblance of a relationship we ever had is long gone now,” Jaime said bitterly. “You have a father who you love and who loves you in return. I’ll deal with whatever Tywin has to say. You go to Tarth and see your father before it is too late.”

Brienne stared at him, a fresh wave of tears springing to her huge eyes. “Jaime,” she breathed. “I don’t - I don’t know what to say.”

Jaime’s blood seemed to turn to lead in his body as it dawned on him what was happening. She was leaving. The only spark in his dreary life was going. The lump in his throat made it hard to speak, but he forced himself to do it anyway. 

“Don’t say anything. There’s little enough time for you to reach him. I suggest you gather your things and be ready to leave at first light. I will arrange for an escort to see you safely to the Sapphire Isle.”

“Jaime,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. She gripped his arm. “I-”

He stood up, pulling himself from her grasp.

“I must go select your escort and get plans for your passage in order. You need to get ready. I will see you at dawn,” he said stiffly before stalking down the row of roses.

As soon as he turned the corner, he stopped. He clutched at the front of his tunic, wanting to reach into his chest and rip his heart out.

Gods. It was truly happening. She was leaving. 

The sun had set already, and by the time it rose again, Brienne of Tarth would be gone from his life.

He was doing the right thing, letting her go.

He knew he was.

There was no way he could stop her from saying goodbye to the father who had helped her to grow into the incredible woman she was rather than forcibly  trying to mold her into the type of woman she could never be. Jaime had barely exchanged a word with Selywn of Tarth when he’d been a brief captive of the Rock, and he regretted that now.

It was right, to let her go. To keep her from a chance to say her farewells would make him the monster everyone believed him to be.

It was right. It was good. It was noble.

And it felt a lot like being ripped apart from the inside out.

He thought he heard her footsteps approaching, and took off at once, walking quickly.

He could not bear to look at her. Could not bear to see the face that was going to be gone in the morning.

He made his way to the castle to arrange her escort. He thought he’d learned the full meaning of the word agony when he’d lost his hand, but as he gave his orders and made plans with a trusted guard, he found himself discovering a whole new facet to the word.

 

____

At dawn, he met them at the gates. Her mounted escorts sat atop their horses as the sun began to rise in the sky. Brienne was standing beside hers, waiting.

He’d delayed longer than he should have in coming to meet them, had almost wanted to not show up at all.

He did not think he could face it.

“Jaime,” she said, striding over to him, her expression wrought with emotion.

“Brienne,” he said stiffly, not meeting her eyes. “These are good men. They will see you safely home.”

“Jaime, I cannot even begin to tell you how much- what this means. I’ve been...I’ve been trying to find the words to thank you and-”

She reached for him, eyes shining, as though she meant to embrace him, but he brought a hand to her shoulder to stop her, keeping her at arm’s length.

He could not trust himself to do it. Could not trust himself not to hold on for to long, or to whisper ‘Don’t go. Please, my lady, don’t go.’ in her ear.

She didn’t need that.

“Don’t bother,” he said flatly. “No time. Winter is coming, my lady, and the days grow short. You’d better leave while you have limited daylight. Away with you. Godspeed.”

He pushed back on her shoulder, perhaps more roughly than was necessary, trying not to show the pain he felt. Loneliness was already threatening to envelop him and she hadn’t even left his gates.

He had just enough time to catch the wounded expression on her face before turned on his heel and began walking away.

“Off with you then, Ser Talbot,” he barked as he past the leader he’d appointed to their company. He heard the hooves of their horses starting to stir, and stalked back towards the castle.

Chapter Text

The days after Brienne departed for Tarth were among the darkest of Jaime’s life, even considering his long and filthy imprisonment by the Starks and the loss of his hand that came after his release.

Jaime knew he had done the right thing in letting her go, but that did not make the loss of the one bright spot in his life any easier.

He would not change his decision to send her home, though in the darkness of the room he kept to, he often wished he’d had it in him to be as selfish as he once was. But thanks to her relentless goodness, Jaime was no longer the man he once was. He had become better, and because of that, he felt so much worse than he imagined he could. 

That stupid, stubborn honorable girl had taught him the meaning of selflessness and, without even trying, had made him love her enough to let her go.

He sometimes laughed bitterly as he wondered at what spiteful glee Catelyn Stark would get if she could see him now, a once proud lion with the life gone out of him.

Tyrion tried his best to help in the days that followed, to cheer him up and to commend his kindness and tell him he had done the right thing. 

It didn’t help.

The castle was as full of lords and ladies and soldiers and squires as ever but the loss of one muscular, homely, blue-eyed wench filled every last hall and room with a palpable loneliness. It may as well have been empty, for every time he ventured out of his quarters, he saw the shadows and memories of where she used to be.

Jaime saw her striding through the halls with her long legs, little Timeon struggling to keep up with her and talk her ears off.

When he dared to take a peek at the training yard where she’d patiently taught him to use his left hand and slowly allowed him beneath her walls to get a look at the gentle girl within, his heart cracked to pieces and he turned on his heel, back to his quarters.

He stayed there for days, brooding, until Tyrion persistently talked him into attending dinner to stop people from gossiping about his absence.

Tyrion had done his best to engage him in conversation, to get him talking so the visiting lords would not whisper all the things they had been whispering since Brienne had left.

Jaime tried to keep up with their conversation for his brother’s sake, but found his eyes drifting down the table to the place Brienne usually sat.

She’d been so sullen and withdrawn, in those first days, dressed in the awful gowns she’d been made to wear, as Jaime sat her among enemies out of boredom and spite.

Those memories seemed pale and distant now, but other images of her were much clearer and more inclined to cause him an ache.

Towards the end of her stay, when Jaime stared down at her from across the hall, he was more likely to find her smiling indulgently at some lad’s story from the yard, her magnificent eyes sparkling even from a distance. 

He missed her.

Jaime thought he understood how much she meant to him when he searched through his mother’s jewelry chest for the ring he intended to use to ask for her hand in marriage. He thought he understood, as he searched the castle to ask her the question that had his heart hammering in his chest, how important the wench from Tarth had become to him.

He had not truly understood it, even then.

It was only now that she was gone that he truly understood how much her company and her kindness and her eyes had meant to him.

For the first few weeks, Jaime found himself drinking more wine that he should, holed up in a room he should be leaving more than he did. The sulking was pitiful, he knew, but he preferred to wallow in darkness than to walk through the places Brienne used to be. 

Eventually, Tyrion’s goading and his own pride made him come back to the world. She was gone, and that was that. 

He vowed to forget all about Brienne and go on living and behaving as a Lord of Casterly Rock should. He buried himself in duty and allowed his most mundane bannermen to go on as long as they liked, for they provided distraction from his bitter longings. He cursed himself whenever he thought of her and focused harder on whatever distraction was on hand.

For a time, it almost seemed to work. The pain he felt at her loss began to fade into a sort of numbness that allowed him to carry on.

Then he got the raven from Tarth.

The Maester brought it to his chambers, and he stared at the sealed letter for a long time before he had the courage to open it. 

Dear Jaime,

I have arrived safely on Tarth, with many thanks to the men you sent to escort me. They were most honorable and dutiful. They have been sent back to Casterly Rock with more than enough provisions to sustain them on the journey home. I suspect they should be returning shortly, if they have not already.

Jaime, I scarcely know what to write or where to start. My departure from the Rock happened so quickly, there was little time to say all the things I wished to say. I can scarcely think of the right words now, but the depths of my gratitude compel me to try. Your decision to send me to my father was an incredible kindness that I cannot even begin to properly thank you for.

I hope it will please you to know that it has not been in vain. My father still lives, though he is greatly weakened. 

Since I arrived here yesterday morning, he has opened his eyes only once, briefly, and I cannot even say with confidence that he recognized me. I am shocked by how much he has aged in so short a time, but I am more thankful than I can say for the chance to be with him in these last days. He has been a far better father than a girl like me could hope for, and I could not bear for him to leave this world alone. 

I do hope your father has not come down very hard on you for letting me leave. I swear to you, as soon as I am able, I will send as many men as I can spare to pay homage to King Tommen and prove our loyalty, in the hopes that it will alleviate any tensions that may have arisen between you on my account. 

I will bring this rambling letter to a close now. I’ve let it go on for too long, I fear, but it has provided some small distraction, at least.

Please do write back to let me know how you are faring and if there is anything I can do about Lord Tywin. Let me know how the lads are doing. Tell them that I miss them and I am sorry I did not have the chance to bid them goodbye.

Again, Jaime, I thank you with all of my heart. 

Brienne

Jaime's heart raced as he read her words, pounding from open to close.

The dull ache that had been in his chest these past weeks had flared up once again, as intense as it had been the day she left. As he read her letter, he was able to call up her image as clearly as if she were seated at his side, saying the words aloud with a gentle hand on his arm.

He shoved the letter aside and rose to his feet. It was too much. So full of her overwhelming kindness, which he could no longer experience firsthand, and her pain, which he could do nothing to ease, so far away as he was from her.

He left his chambers at once and busied himself throughout the day with whatever he could, trying not to think of her eyes, wide and blue and full of sadness as she sat at the side of a dying old man.

What could he do or say to make it better? Not a thing.

He spent the remaining hours of daylight supervising the storage of grain for winter and found his frustration making him more irritable and short with the men than he was normally inclined to do. He could feel them exchanging looks behind his back and ignored it.

When the sun had set and work ended for the day, however, he returned to his chambers to the unanswered letter lying on his desk.

He sat and stared at it for a time, trying to think of a reply. He did not possess the words and the more he sat and tried to think of them, the angrier he got.

Eventually, he blew out his candle and crossed the room to his bed, thinking now that the wench was free of him, it would be best to let whatever there had been between them fade away. If he was never to see her again, there was little sense in repeatedly reopening his wounds with correspondence. Let us be rid of each other, he thought resolutely, but he lay awake well into the night, unable to force her image from his mind.

Tyrion, sharp little fiend that he was, clearly detected the unpleasant change in a Jaime, who had been showing some semblance of improvement prior to the arrival of the raven.

Tyrion said nothing about it for a few days, but Jaime could feel his mismatched eyes shrewdly taking it all in. Jaime would not satisfy him by bringing it up, though he hated the feeling of inevitability that loomed over them whenever he was in Tyrion's company. 

On the fourth day, the Imp finally decided to address the matter.

“So, brother. I’ve heard a bird arrived from the Sapphire Isle recently,” Tyrion said as they sat together for a private dinner.

“You’ve heard correctly,” Jaime shrugged, stabbing at his meat in annoyance and offering no further information.

Tyrion watched him for a time, waiting.

“I've also heard that no return bird has been sent back to Tarth.”

“Your ears appear to be working quite well then, little brother. I am glad to hear it,” Jaime said dryly, raising his goblet to his brother and taking a long sip of wine.

Tyrion raised his eyebrows and drank as well. The fire in the corner of the room crackled, but aside from that there was naught but heavy silence.

“And how does Lady Brienne fare? I trust she has arrived safely on her Isle?”

“She has.”

“And her father?”

“He still lives, though likely not for long.”

“And have you any intention of replying with an expression of concern for either of them?”

Jaime stared at his brother for a long moment. Tyrion stared back.

“No,” he said at last.

Tyrion, who had been keeping his features quite impassive as he fished for information, finally revealed an expression of visible disappointment.

“Jaime,” he frowned. “You ought to write something to the girl. For a letter to have come so quickly after her arrival home, you know she wishes to hear from you. She is doubtless in need of comfort at a time like this. I know the separation pains you, brother, but the honorable thing to do would be-”

“You forget who you are speaking to, brother,” Jaime interrupted bitterly. “I’m the Kingslayer, remember?  A man without honor, and I shall do as I like.”

He glanced at Tyrion for just long enough to see his disappointment deepen, and then rose from the table, his dinner half-finished.

“Goodnight,” Jaime said shortly, walking across the room and out the door.  As he trudged through the halls angrily, he barked at a servant to bring wine to his chambers. When it came, he drank until he was deep in his cups. On an almost empty stomach, it did not take long for him to get drunk, but no matter how many goblets he swallowed, it was not quite enough to chase away the feelings of guilt and anger and longing that plagued him.  

When he ran out of wine, he stumbled to his bed, trying not to think of Brienne seated at her dying father's side, waiting for a letter that would not come. 

Chapter Text

Jaime hadn’t thought it possible, but the next letter to arrive from Tarth brought him even lower.

It arrived a little over a fortnight after the first, and sat on his desk for a full day and night before he opened it. As much as he wished she hadn’t written at all, his heart rate quickened as he unfurled the parchment and looked down at her neatly penned words.  

 

Dear Jaime,

 

I have the most wonderful news!

 

I almost cannot believe it’s true, but I’m sitting across from him in his solar as I write this, so it must be true. My father is alive! He is sitting up, and smiling, and probably exerting himself far more than he should considering how close he was to the brink, but aside from still being a bit thin, you would almost find it impossible to tell he was ever ill.

 

It was a most fortunate turn of events. A ship from across the narrow sea pulled into port on Tarth, to restock their provisions and do a bit of trade. Their ship’s healer got wind of what ailed my father- it turns out, though it baffled every maester and healer on Tarth, it has been common in Essos for several years, and not all that difficult to cure if you know what you’re doing.

 

I cannot tell you how terrified I was, or what a relief it is to see him thriving again. He wants to go down to the seaside in the morning, and I admit I am worried about it, but the maester and the Braavosi healer agree he’s ready. To be honest he seems more spry and lively than he was before I left to join Renly. I am trying to allow myself to look forward to it. It’s been a long time since I set foot in the sapphire waters myself, and they certainly are beautiful. I daresay it will be a bit warmer than my last swim, although winter’s chill is starting to reach down here as well.

 

I had hoped I might hear from you after my last letter, but I expect you must be quite busy with the affairs of the realm. The men from Essos had much to say about that Dragon Queen, and it does seem ever more likely those rumors are true. I do shudder to think of what damage fully grown dragons could do to Westeros, though I suspect your brother might be less apprehensive and more excited than I am at the prospect. He did go on about his interest in dragons while I was at Casterly Rock, on more than one occasion.

 

I do hope you might send news from the Rock. I miss so much about it, and I would very much love to know how you’re doing, and Tyrion, and all the lads. Do write, when you can, even if it's only a few lines. It is strange to think of you all so far away, and knowing a little more might ease the distance. I hope you’re well, Jaime.

 

                                                                                                                                                             Brienne

 

He read the last word, and his heart sank.

Her words painted a clear enough picture. She was home. She was with her beloved father, who was well and smiling. They’d visit the sea together, and delight in sapphire seas the color of her eyes. She had her life back. 

He should be happy for her, but all he felt was empty and bitter. He glanced once more at her final paragraph, the one imploring him to write back, and shook his head.

No. He needed to let this go. He’d been on the cusp of a possibility with her, but that future was gone now. It already took all his strength not to mope all day long in his chambers with the curtains drawn. He was already starting to rival his siblings in his wine consumption, which is something he’d never expected would happen. He had a responsibility as the Lord of Casterly Rock and if he had any hope of fulfilling his duties even somewhat admirably, he had to stop dwelling on a past that was lost. He could survive this, if he could only leave the wench in the past where she belonged. 

 

He could not even consider picking up a quill. What would he say? What could he say? It had taken every effort to bury his wounded feelings, and to attempt to write back a friendly letter would only pull everything back to the surface. He must not let it happen. 

 

His chest tight, the squeezed down on the letter with his good hand until it was a crumpled ball, and flung it across the room.

 

That should have been the end of it, but unfortunately, his noisy brother had once again gotten wind of the arrival of another letter, and of course was unable to let sleeping dogs lie. Tyrion found him after dinner in his solar, striding in on stunted legs, sharp eyes full of purpose.

 

Jaime stiffened at the sight of him, well aware of what was coming. Tyrion had tried a couple of times to bring up the subject of writing to Brienne since her last letter, but Jaime had always shut it down with savage ferocity and for a time, Tyrion seemed to have given up. But Jaime had no doubt that the arrival of another letter would provide his brother with more fuel to meddle.

 

“Well then. What did Lady Brienne have to say this time?” Tyrion asked bluntly as he began to help himself to some wine.

 

“Would you be willing to accept a curt ‘none of your business, Imp’ as an answer?” Jaime asked through narrowed eyes.

 

“Absolutely not. This is her letter, I presume?” Tyrion said, inclining his head toward the wad of parchment lying in a corner of the room. “Would you like to tell me what it says, or shall I just read it myself?”

 

Jaime scowled at him. “What I’d like best is if you’d turn around and waddle out of my sight. But since I highly doubt the likelihood of such a blessing, if you wish to stick what’s left of your nose in my business, you’ll have to read it your bloody self. I do not wish to speak of it.”

 

Tyrion gave him an annoyed stare through mismatched eyes for a moment, before bending down to pick up the letter, straightening it out and scanning it quickly.

 

“Oh, Jaime,” he said quietly when he’d finished.

 

What?” Jaime asked. He'd been expecting harsh criticism, and the soft, sad exclamation was jarring.

 

“You’re really not going to write to her, after this? The poor girl is practically begging you.”

 

“No she isn’t,” Jaime muttered. “She asked, is all. She’ll forget us soon enough.”

 

“You’re a fool, Jaime. This is dripping with poorly concealed restraint. How you could spend so many days with such a sweet girl, and then cast it all aside is beyond me. Can you not see how you're hurting her?”

 

“She’ll be fine-”

 

“I rather doubt-”

 

“She’s bloody happy, Tyrion! You saw it yourself. She’s back with her bloody father, where she belongs! She was here as a prisoner. I allowed myself to forget that, but I’m sure she hasn’t, nor has her father. But she’s free now, and gone, and I’d just...I’d like to be free of her  now that it's done . Won't you let it rest?”

 

“Jaime, she asked you to write to her. She wants to hear from you.”

 

“I know. I can read, brother, even if I don’t burn through a dozen candles a night doing so,” Jaime scowled.

 

“Don’t think it’s rather cold of you to entirely ignore this girl who’s only ever been kind to you?”

 

“Yes. Yes I do. But I’m all out of kindness, Tyrion. I let her go. I’ve done enough for the girl. I don’t owe her a lifetime of useless correspondence!” Jaime said through gritted teeth.

He wished he could throw Tyrion bodily from the room. He was doing all he could do build up his walls, and this bloody dwarf was determinedly kicking them down faster than Jaime could repair them.

 

“You’re clearly trying hard to be cruel. With a great degree of success, I must say,” Tyrion said, looking at him with wide eyes, full of disappointment and a bit of sadness.

 

“Good,” Jaime said, keeping his expression as blank as he could. “That’s the intent. She’ll understand soon enough I’m not worth wasting any further time on, and she’ll slip back into her own life.”

 

Tyrion sighed heavily, and downed his goblet of wine.

 

“You have ignored one glaringly obvious possibility, you know.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“Ask her back, you bloody fool. Finish what you started. Tell her you miss her, and want her for a wife, and whatever else it is that’s in your soft heart.”

 

Jaime felt his heart give a little jump at those words. Could it really be that easy? Jaime pictured himself, trying to write such words, with his useless left hand scratching out child’s scrawl worse than Tommen's. He'd never be able to find the words. 

 

“No.”

 

“Why not ?” Tyrion asked, exasperated.

 

Jaime dropped his head into his hands, just as frustrated by this circular conversation.

 

“She’s happy , Tyrion. She’s with her father, and her bloody sapphire waters. She might be inquiring about us, out of gratitude for setting her free, and...an interest in the lads she trained, but- no. She’s being polite-”

 

“Jaime, don’t be ridiculous. She’s as fragile about this as you are, and doing all she can to try and keep her tone light, but it’s clear she wants desperately to hear from you. It’s callous to keep her in the dark. She won’t understand. She’ll think you don’t care .”

Jaime let out a roar of frustration. Here he was, trying his hardest not to think about her at all, and here was Tyrion, trying to force images of her into his head, images of her sad and hurt and confused. It wasn't fair. He'd made a big bloody sacrifice, letting her go. Did he have to suffer for all eternity, perpetually having the two of them rubbing salt in his wounds? 

 

“Can’t you bloody see that I’m trying not to? It was in my grasp for a moment, but it’s not anymore. She’s gone. I’ve accept it, and so should you.”

 

“Jaime-”

 

“Let it go, Tyrion. I’m done discussing it.”

 

Tyrion stared back at him with an expression of deep disappointment, mingled with no small amount of disgust. Shaking his head, he filled his goblet high, turned around and walked out of the room without another word.

 

---

The wench had always been stubborn. It was the very first quality he’d noticed in her, other than her unusual appearance. So he wasn’t surprised, really, when a third letter arrived from her, though he had hoped his silence might be loud enough for her to understand he had no intention of writing back.

 

This time, Jaime left it for two days before he opened it, trying his best to ignore it but never once managing to keep it from plaguing the back of his mind. It was shorter than the others, and much more pointed.

 

Jaime,

I am writing to you, and young Garreth as well, since it seems you might be disinclined to write yourself.

I cannot pretend I understand why, though I wish you could bring yourself to at least offer a few words of explanation. If you have received my previous letters- I suppose it’s possible the ravens did not make it.

Jaime, I know you’ve never been happy writing with your left hand, but  I thought you would know I don’t care what your penmanship is like, if that's what's holding you back. I simply want to hear from you, even if you only have a little to say.

I hope at least, that I will get some news out of Garreth. I never could have imagined upon my arrival at your gates that I would miss Casterly Rock as much as I do.  

As promised, we have sent as many soldiers as we could spare to join Tommen, in gratitude for your kindness in allowing me to go free. As a result, it has been rather quiet here. I have thought about trying to train some of the young lads who are left, as I did at Casterly Rock, but I do not think I’d be able to earn enough respect to get started without you here to intimidate them into it. Tarth has not changed much in that regard. 

Well, I cannot think of much else to say, other than that my father is well- better than ever, and now talks the ears off any visiting lords about the wonders of Braavosi medicine.

My real purpose in writing is to ask once again for news from you, if you are willing.  I truly hope you’re well, Jaime, and I miss you, even if you do not feel the same.

 

                                                                                                                                                     Brienne

 

As expected, there was yet another unpleasant conversation with Tyrion after it. His brother found him just as he’d been about to toss the letter into the fireplace, and snatched it away from him before he could.

 

When he finished reading it, Tyrion had that same disappointed expression on his face that he wore so often these days when looking at Jaime.

 

“She deserves better than this, Jaime,” Tyrion said with disgust. “She deserves better than you.”

 

“I’m well aware,” Jaime said flatly. He was already deep in his cups. “Soon enough, she will realize that too. The wench is thicker than aurochs about a great many things, even she will figure out someone so cold is unworthy of her thoughts.”

 

“Don’t you realize your silence is breaking her bloody heart?” Tyrion asked.

 

“I doubt that,” Jaime muttered. “But even if it...She’s young, Tyrion. It’ll mend.” She'll find some honorable, upstanding type to pledge her sword to, to follow around the country on some useless endeavor...

 

“Fine then. You’re a bloody coward, Jaime. To think I was once deluded enough to think otherwise,” Tyrion scowled in disgust, walking away and making it the shortest conversation they’d ever had on the subject.

 

--

 

The fourth letter came not long after that and Jaime did not even open it. For four days it sat on his desk, and a dozen times he’d nearly thrown it into the fire unopened, always stopping himself at the last moment. 

 

Finally, Tyrion lost patience and stepped in, snatching it off his desk in plain sight of Jaime.

 

“You’re really not going to open it?” Tyrion asked, waggling it in the air.

 

“No,” Jaime said. “There’s no point. Give it back.”

 

“What’s the point?” Tyrion shot back, rolling his eyes. “If it’s only going to sit on your desk? You're not making any use of it. No, I think I’ll have a look and see what damage you’ve done to the poor girl now.”

 

Jaime made a grab for it, but Tyrion evaded his attempt with surprising grace. He took several steps back and began to read it aloud.  

 

“'Jaime, Forgive me if-”

 

“Stop it,” Jaime snapped. “I don’t want to hear-”

 

But Tyrion ignored him, reading more loudly. “ Forgive me if this letter is but another nuisance to you. I promise that if I don’t hear from you after this, I’ll not write again. I allowed myself to hope that perhaps my first and second letters never made it to you, but as I’ve received word back from Garreth, I cannot delude myself into such a fanciful explanation again.

 

I cannot pretend I understand why you won’t spare just a few moments, after all the time we spent in each other’s company, but I won’t continue begging to hear word from you. I know you’re alive at least, thanks to Garreth, and I suppose that shall have to be enough.

 

Perhaps our friendship no longer holds value for you, when I am no longer a presence in your daily life. That does not change that it has value to me. Your kindness at the Rock meant a great deal to me, as did your decision to allow me to return to my father when he was dying, and I thank you for it. I wish you the best, Jaime.”

 

Tyrion read the last words and slowly rolled the scroll back up. Jaime watched him wordlessly. “Well?” Tyrion asked, impatient, when Jaime remained silent.

 

Jaime stared across the room at him. “'Well' what?”

 

“You don’t have anything to say about this?”

 

“The pigheaded woman has finally taken a hint. I suppose that means it’s over,” Jaime said, leaning back in his chair.

 

His insides were burning ice, but he kept his expression neutral.

 

Tyrion gave him a long hard look. “Very well, then,” he sighed, placing the scroll into his pocket.

 

“What are you doing with that?” Jaime asked sharply.

 

“Oh,” Tyrion blinked. “Did you want it back? I thought you said it was over...”

 

Jaime glared at him, suspicious.

But then a deep weariness came over him, and he found himself lacking the energy to care about what game his brother was playing. If he was trying to manipulate him into doing something about it, it wouldn’t work. He finally had what he wanted. An end to these bloody ravens that reopened his wounds with every flight they made.

 

“It is. Keep the bloody thing, then. I don’t care.”

 

“Very well. I will. Goodnight, brother,” Tyrion said, smiling falsely and giving him an insolent bow before leaving the room.  

Chapter Text

Jaime stood outside the stables, waiting for the lad to bring out his favorite horse. They’d had a brief thaw with only a few remnants of snow piled in corners of the courtyard, but the chill of winter had never really left, and now a light snow was starting to fall again. The air was cold, but Jaime was determined to get outside the castle walls for a bit, and away from the tedium of being there. He could count the number of times he’d been out riding since Brienne left on his remaining fingers. In truth, he had taken little pleasure in it any of those times, but still, it had to be better than the alternative.

 

The castle was frustratingly full with Lannister bannermen, their ladies and their soldiers and he was feeling extremely stifled. Even Tyrion, who had come from King’s Landing with the intention to bring him some cheer, brought no relief with his company. Although he had given up on trying to discuss Brienne with Jaime, and seemed to have moved on, Jaime knew his brother still judged him harshly for refusing to write to her, and they were never wholly at ease with one another these days, and were not able to delight in one another’s company as they once had.

 

Just as the stable boy was bringing out his horse, Jaime heard footsteps behind him and the sound of man clearing his throat. He turned to see one his head guards, Fenton Hill, standing before him.

 

“Excuse me, m’lord,” he said, inclining his head slightly. “But you have a... there’s someone here to- well. Look,” he said, gesturing behind him, clearly a bit flustered.

 

Jaime followed his gaze back several yards and his mouth fell open. He could hardly believe his eyes, yet there was no mistaking such a woman.

 

Gods be good.

 

Brienne?” he gasped, his heart jumping into his throat. Fenton gave the slightest of nods and quickly shuffled away, clearly eager to make himself scarce.

 

There were others in the yard, he knew, probably all trying to determinedly look as though they were going about their business while really eyeing the scene with interest, but Jaime quickly lost his awareness of everything in the world but her. He strode forward as fast as he could, towards this amazingly impossible sight, his wench standing tall in her armor, hair damp from riding.

 

“My lady,” he croaked as he approached, unable to stop himself from ogling.

 

Without thinking, he moved to embrace her, wanting nothing more than to hold her with all his might, to confirm that she was real, that this wasn’t some mad, torturous dream. He wanted to press her to him and never let her out of his sight again.

 

But as he approached and his intent became clear, she recoiled, taking a large step back, and he froze in place.

 

Though his heart was starting to swell at the sight of her, and his mouth, which had been tight and down-turned for months, was suddenly remembering what a smile was, Brienne certainly did not mirror him. She looked reproachful. Even cold.

 

His grin faltered as the reality sunk in. While he could hardly control the feeling of delight and disbelief swirling about inside him, Brienne was not surprised at all to be here. She had chosen to come, in spite of his months of silence, and he could hardly wrap his head around that, but clearly they would not be jumping right into a warm reunion.

 

He sobered his expression and managed to get out a strained, “What- what are you doing here?”

 

Brienne stared silently for a long moment, and Jaime quailed slightly under her gaze. “I’m not entirely sure,” she said. Her posture was stiff, her blue eyes wary, angry even.

 

Jaime swallowed hard. “Well I’m- whatever the reason I- I am glad to see you,” he said. It was certainly the biggest understatement he’d ever made.

 

She had made it clear, without a single word, that she would not welcome his touch, so it took everything he had not to throw himself at her, to cling to her solid form, breathe in her scent.

 

Brienne raised an eyebrow, expression hard.

 

Are you? Because everything you’ve done has led me to believe you’d have been quite happy to have never set eyes upon me again,” she said. Gods, her eyes. He’d seen them in his head every day, every night since she’d left, but there was nothing like the real thing. Those eyes bore right through him now, making him feel much smaller than he was.

 

Jaime flushed hard, feeling the weight of her words collapse in on him like crumbling stone. He’d been well aware of his choices, and what the silence would mean to her. He’d been fully aware that his refusal to write would cause her pain, but he’d committed to it. He’d even been able to live with it, though the pitiful existence he’d led since she left was not much of a life.

 

But there had been leagues and leagues of distance between them then.

 

It was quite a different thing, ignoring a letter than it was to look her in those beautiful eyes with a full awareness of what he’d done to her. He felt sick with guilt, and there were no words he could say to explain it or make it right. He wanted to look away, for it was an agony to face her now, and face the cowardice of his own actions, but he knew that he must not. No if he had any hope of making it right.  

 

“Brienne,” he struggled. “That’s not- I never meant-”

 

It was no good. The heat of his shame burned like wildfire. He looked at her, and saw the stiffness of the way she held herself, and the stern neutrality of her expression start to fade. She watched him through those painfully blue eyes, which had grown wider as her expression turned sad, shining as they grew moist. She bit her lip, looking thoroughly wounded and confused. He ached with the awareness of how young she was, how innocent, and how he’d damaged those parts of her. It was clear to him now, all those things Tyrion professed that he refused to believe, and he felt it as physical agony, twisting in his gut.

 

Why didn’t you write, Jaime?” she asked, so soft he could barely hear her.

 

Jaime hardly knew what to say. His could barely even wrap his head around the fact that she was here.

 

He’d never, not once, anticipated having to explain himself to her. There hadn’t been a day since her last letter where he hadn’t thought of her, but he’d allowed himself to believe it was truly over, that she was just another scar on his heart, perhaps the deepest one of them all, and that he’d live out the rest of his days waiting for the memories of her to grow numb, to fade with time.

 

But she was here. In spite of his cold-hearted, selfish, cruel silence, somehow, the greatest person he’d ever known was here, standing right in front of him, waiting for an explanation he didn’t have.

 

He had to start somewhere. His face burning with the shame of his cowardice, he reached for her hand. “Brienne. I am so, very sorry.”

 

He was able to hold her for only a moment before she wrenched it out of his grasp, narrowing her eyes.

 

“I don’t believe you,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest, closing herself off to him. She was angry, yes, but he could see her eyes were full of tears as well.

 

“Brienne-” he tried again. He’d never felt so bloody helpless, not even the first time he’d tried to use a sword with his left hand. He was drowning, and there was nothing he could hold onto, and he’d done it to himself.

 

“You let me believe you didn’t care,” she said quietly. “I- all the things we did here. All the things you did for me, Jaime. Training with me, allowing me to train the boys, riding with me, talking to me...they meant the world to me,” she said. Her voice was rising in volume now, growing higher too, full of emotion.  

 

“They truly did,” she said. “I- I had never been so close to anyone, in all my life. No matter where I went, there was never a place where a woman like me ever seemed to fit. I never once felt like anyone really saw   me. Not my father- he allowed me to play at swords, out of affection and exasperation, perhaps, but I think he always hoped I’d grow into a more womanly role with time. Not Renly- he was glad of my service, I think, and he was always kind but…he didn’t know me. Not really,” she said, shaking her head. Jaime again longed to reach for her, to comfort her, to adamantly profess what fools they were, to not see her and love her wholly for all that she was. But he knew he must be silent. He knew he was next.

 

“I...I had really come to think you were different. You certainly learned more about who I am than anyone else ever has. Leaving here meant leaving such a huge part of myself behind. I thought about this place, about you, every day. And I thought that you- that you might- But then, nothing. Not a single word, even though I begged you? Jaime, you made every good moment, every warm memory of this place crumble into dust,” she said, voice cracking.

 

He wanted to rip his aching heart out of his chest. He wanted to stop her, to tell her how far it all was from the truth, but she had more to say, and he owed it to her to say her piece.

 

“You cast as shadow of doubt over every single moment. I was sure that- that I’d been a fool to think it meant even half as much to you as it did to me. I was clearly just a- a passing amusement, only worth a thought while I was here to distract you from your tedious duties, someone to fight with who wouldn’t go gossiping about your hand or spilling your secrets or-” she sighed and trailed off, starting to lose some of her fire, looking bone-weary.

 

“Well. It doesn’t matter. I was convinced you didn’t care. I believed that it all meant nothing, that I meant nothing and it hurt, Jaime, more than I can say. And I would have continued to think it, for all my life maybe, if...If your brother hadn’t taken it upon himself to write to me when you would not!”

 

Jaime’s jaw dropped.

 

My brother?” he gasped. He’d never- he’d never thought Tyrion would go that far. Yes, he’d taken the letter, but Jaime had assumed that was just some bloody mind game or...or something. He had certainly not expected this.

 

“Yes,” she said. She seemed to have accessed the cold, hard part of herself again, her voice lower and sterner.

 

Jaime felt ill, not for the first time that day.

 

What could his brother have said to bring her all this way, in spite of Jaime’s abhorrent silence? He felt distinctly nervous, but there was a slight trickle of gratitude filtering in among it. She was here after all, and though she was clearly furious and hurt, it was still something. It was a chance .

 

“Can I...can I ask what it is he wrote...that brought you all this way?” Jaime asked tentatively.

 

Brienne stared him down. “What do you think he could have said, to bring me all this way?”

 

Right. He should have expected she wouldn’t let him off that easily.

 

He ran a hand through his hair, and started. “I- I imagine he took it upon himself to...to explain the reasons behind my silence...”

 

She offered up no words of encouragement, just gave him a stony look that said go on.

 

“Brienne,” he said, voice rather hoarse. “I promise you, it had nothing to do with not caring. I am truly ashamed for being selfish enough to let you think so, but I won’t try to deny it. I admit, I chose silence because I hoped to forget you.”

 

He saw her expression flicker with hurt, but her jaw was set. She gave him a nod to go on.

 

“Brienne, you offering yourself in exchange for your father...it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I thought, after losing my hand, and all the awful things that came after, that I’d never be happy again. That I’d be doomed to live every day in this miserable half-life, just...existing. Half the time I spent longing for the war to come to our doorsteps, so that I might have the chance to die in glorious battle and be free of it all. You brought joy back into my days, when I thought it a thing long lost and I-”

 

He swallowed, maintaining eye-contact as he did. She was listening. She was hearing every word, although he could read nothing in her expression.

 

“I simply couldn’t take losing you. Letting you go was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do...I knew it was the only thing that was right, after all the good you’d brought me, all you unrelenting kindness and patience, but… it was a choice that took everything I had,” he admitted. “It hurt to think about you, more than I can say…So I convinced myself that if I didn’t write, that you’d stop too and I could just- try to move past it. It didn’t work, by the way,” he added. “I’ve thought of you every day. Every bloody waking hour. Is that the gist of what my meddlesome brother said?”

 

She studied him with an expression still couldn’t read, but it seemed to have softened a bit as he spoke.

 

“Most of it,” she muttered, sighing heavily. “But Jaime, you never lost me. If you’d only written once, I would have...I…,” she shook her head. “Surely you must have known how much it hurt me, to have nothing but silence, from you? To know perfectly well you’d seen my letters, begging you for just a few words, and getting nothing?”

 

Jaime bowed his head. “I was being selfish, Brienne. Entirely, unforgivably selfish, I know that. I was consumed by my own grief and I...I thought- you seemed happy. Talking of your father, and the sapphire seas and...you were a prisoner here, after all. I thought you would be fine, given time. I thought you’d forget us- forget me- if I...If I didn’t...if I...” he let his words die off, not able to look at her as he said it. Saying it out loud, in front of her, it seemed like such nonsense. How had he ever convinced himself of such rot?

 

“You’re a bloody fool, Jaime Lannister,” she said fiercely, her features wrought with anger. The ire made her plain face more homely than ever, but there was still no face in the world he’d rather be looking at.

 

“I know,” he said quietly. “I know.”

 

But you’re here, a small voice inside him chimed in to say. In spite of all he’d done, the wench was here.

 

Then, perhaps because the miraculousness of having her back had reignited that brazen impulsiveness that was such a key part of his nature, Jaime raised an eyebrow at her, and dared to let a little smile ghost across his features.

 

“But surely you haven’t traveled all these hundreds of leagues just to call me a fool and tell me how terrible I am?”

 

Predictably, as his meaning sunk in, Brienne’s face contorted in outrage and she began to sputter- “What are you- are you- don’t you bloody grin at me, Jaime. I ought to be slamming your head into the castle wall after all you’ve done! You- you have some nerve- you-”

 

He forced down his grin and whatever amusement he felt at her fury, and made his expression sober once again. “I know, Brienne. I really do. And I am sorry, though you have every right not to believe it. Words are wind, as they say. But- I do hope you’ll let me show you,” he said quietly.

 

Her mouth fell open slightly at that, but she said nothing.

 

“Did he say anything else, in his letter?” Jaime asked, throat tight. “Perhaps about- about what I had intended to...er- on the last day you were here?”

 

Brienne blinked at that a couple of times, then shook her head. “No. He didn’t speak of the...the last day at all. He simply- well, I suppose you could just read it yourself,” Brienne shook her head, reaching into a brown leather bag at her hip. She pulled out a letter and handed it to him roughly.

 

“It’s...quite worn,” Jaime said, his heart skipping a beat in spite of her carefully maintained cold air. It was deeply creased, as though it had been folded and unfolded many times.

 

“Yes. I did reread it several times on the journey as I questioned whether or not I’d gone and well and truly mad ,” she said, giving him a nod to open it and read it.

 

Jaime hesitated.

Obviously something truly good had come of it, if Brienne was here, but considering how angry Tyrion had been with him over the past months, he suspected the contents of the letter would probably not cast him in an entirely favorable light. Still, Brienne had already read it several dozen times, by the looks of it so he may as well know as much as her, to reduce the likelihood of making even more of a fool of himself.

 

He unfolded it clumsily and his eyes grazed over the words as fast as he possibly could, aware every moment of her watching him.

 

Dear Lady Brienne,

 

I have struggled over whether or not to write this letter, as I prefer not to meddle in the affairs of others- No, let’s not do that. I must not start off this thoroughly heartfelt letter off with a lie. You have surely gathered enough about me by now to know that I quite delight in meddling in the affairs of others, most of the time.

 

Still- I am being quite honest when I say, I wish with all my being I did not need to meddle in this one. I should, by all means, not be the one writing to you, but I no longer feel as though I have a choice.

 

My brother is a fool.

 

An absolute imbecile. And I am utterly furious with him at the moment and a part of me feels he ought to just keep on wallowing in his own misery if he can’t find the courage to pull himself out of it, especially when I know that your soft heart has been wounded by his unbelievable cowardice.

 

The trouble is, I fear he won’t ever find the strength to do it alone and, as angry as I am, I love the man, I truly do. What’s more, my lady, our brief acquaintance at Casterly Rock was long enough to make me quite fond of you as well.

 

He may be a fool and a coward, but Jaime does possess a number of fine qualities apart from that- and I do not just mean the face the gods have chosen to bless him with. For all his flaws, I do believe without a doubt that for you both, your greatest chance of happiness lies with one another.

 

I know you think Jaime’s silence is born of indifference- I will admit to having read your last letter, and I apologize for the invasion of your privacy-  but I assure you it is quite the opposite. He is trying with all his strength to forget you, not because he does not care, but because he cares more than he is able to stand.

 

When he first left King’s Landing to take up his seat at Casterly Rock, well over a year ago, I thought I’d seen my brother brought as low as he could possibly get. He had lost many things, and lost most of himself along with them. I can’t tell you how pleased on my arrival here to find that you, my dear girl, managed to bring him out of that.

 

Brienne, I daresay I’m drunk enough just now to wax poetic about it- you reignited the last dying embers of a life turned to ash, and built him back up to something resembling what he once was. I’d go as far as to say, better than he was.

 

But to have you at his side and then lose you...it has hurt him in ways he’s too damaged to admit even to himself, let alone anyone else.

 

So, I am afraid it falls to you to be the courageous one, Lady Brienne, and I hope I’m not wrong in thinking you’re far braver than my brother. I’ll say it again: He has not withdrawn due to lack of affection, I promise you, but because he’s trying to bury a badly broken heart. I hope that you might have the courage and kindness to mend it, in spite of the reprehensible manner with which he’s chosen to deal with his wounded feelings.

 

Return to us, my lady. Beat him bloody with a tourney sword as punishment for his cruelty- or perhaps with a real one, if you so desire. I can’t pretend he wouldn’t deserve it. I’ll even have the smithy keep one sharp, just for you. But return to us. I do not believe this the end, for the two of you. Not if you can find the strength my brother cannot.

 

Whatever you choose, I wish you nothing but the best, my lady.

 

Tyrion Lannister

 

Jaime finished reading it, his face red and burning.

 

“‘Fool’...’Damaged’...’Cowardly’...he certainly didn’t pull any punches, did he?” Jaime muttered, face coloring.

 

“No. Nor did he say anything inaccurate, from what I can tell,” Brienne said, arms crossed over her broad chest, expression stony.

 

He averted his eyes, unable to bear the look of hurt and judgment in her blue pools.

 

“No. He did not,” Jaime admitted. “I have been a coward and a fool. I wouldn’t dream of pretending otherwise.”

 

Brienne watched him with those impossibly deep blue eyes, and Jaime felt like she was staring straight through him, right into his heart.

 

“What did you mean, before?” she asked slowly. “When you...you spoke of the last day I was here?”

 

Jaime swallowed hard.

 

He was grateful, in a sense, that Tyrion had left that part of it out, and he suspected his clever brother was fully aware of what he was doing in omitting it. It meant Jaime had something else to offer, to possibly soften her justified anger, a reason that explained the depths of his hurt, even if it didn’t excuse his actions.

 

Still, Jaime felt the terror run straight through him at the thought of admitting how close he’d come to asking her to be his wife.

 

He still wanted it, more than he ever had, but he knew deserved her hand in marriage much less now than he had on the day she left, and even then, he hadn’t felt worthy of someone so pure and so good. Still, Brienne had read Tyrion’s words, and been bold enough to take a great chance, even though he’d been entirely despicable. Now it was his turn to lay himself bare.  

 

“That day, in the rose garden,” he said. “When I went looking for you… I found you broken-hearted about your father and I knew I had to send you to him. But that was not why I sought you out. I went looking for you with a...a question in mind. I had- I had intended to ask for your hand, Brienne. I wanted you to be my wife. More than I’d ever wanted anything before in all my life,” he croaked out, forcing himself to look her in those sapphire eyes, which went wide as saucers.

 

“You... you did?” she asked, swallowing hard.

 

“I did,” Jaime said. “I do. I still do, Brienne. I never stopped, not for one moment.”

 

For the third time since her arrival, he stepped closer and reached for her, and this time, she did not prevent him from taking her hand. He suspect she might perhaps be too stunned to do anything, but still, he held it tight in his own as he went on.  

 

“I know I don’t deserve your forgiveness. I was so focused on my own pain, I didn’t spare enough thought for yours. But I promise you this now; if you give me half a chance, I promise to spend the rest of my days making it up to you. I’ll devote every last breath to making you understand how much I adore every last thing about you.”

 

They gazed at one another, Jaime’s heart threatening to beat out of his chest as he grappled with the terrifying though that she might pull out of his grasp once again, tell him he was a callous, selfish bastard that she never wanted to see again. He’d certainly deserve it.

 

Instead, he saw her wide mouth turn upwards into a small, tight smile, “Well...as you said...I have traveled a very long way if my only intent was to tell you what a fool you are.”

 

He stared at her, at that spark in her impossibly blue eyes and his mouth fell open in disbelief.  As the meaning of her words hit him, his shoulders sagged with relief. He broke into a grin, a real, genuine ear-to-ear grin and pulled her hand closer to him. “Is that a yes, my lady?”

 

“It is,” she said quietly, and he thought his heart might burst in his chest. Then she matched his grin and added, “Although I have a promise for you, Jaime . The next time we spar, I will not hold back even a bit. I will bash you from one end of the yard to the other. And I won’t force a yield until you’re well and truly bruised.”

 

Jaime laughed and held out his hands in defeat. “I accept your terms, my lady. I’d expect nothing less.”

 

She smiled back at him, and for a moment they fell into silence, just smiling at each other, both a little bashful.

 

“I- have a ring for you,” Jaime said, remembering it. “It was my mother’s. It’s...well I may have misplaced it, after you left, but- well I’m sure I’ll be able to find it again.”

 

He was quite certain that one evening, deep in his cups, he’d wrenched it off his neck, breaking the chain and hurling it away. With any luck an honest maid would have found it and put it somewhere safe though.

 

“I...thank you,” she said, her cheeks bright red.

 

“Gods,” he said, shaking his head at her, gazing at her with adoration. “I can’t believe you’re here. I can’t believe this is real.”

 

Knowing she would not push him away this time, he stepped forward, embracing her as he’d longed to from the moment she’d arrived here, and long before that. In all the time they’d spent together, he’d never once held her, but he did so now, and it was better than he could have imagined.

 

She was solid in his arms as he wrapped his around her, pressing his cheek against hers. Her strong arms came up to wrap around his back too, and for a long time they simply held each other like that. Jaime could not recall the last time he’d felt so warm, in spite of the snow falling around them, starting to stick to the earth. He’d had so little human touch, in these past years, and he sank into her, breathing her in, basking in the glory that she was here and his .

 

After a long while, he pulled back a bit, wanting to look at her, at this perfect person who had, in spite of everything, agreed to be his wife.

 

He smiled at her, and she returned it, shy and sweet. And then he could wait no longer. He leaned in slowly, his mouth meeting hers in a soft kiss. Her lips were wide, and warm, and he felt her surprise against his mouth. He’d never had a kiss so sweet; with Cersei it had been all passion and secret trysts, desperate, fast, covert. This was something entirely different, and he’d quite like to melt into it for all eternity.

 

Still, after a few moments, he pulled back again to look at her. Her cheeks were redder than ever, but she looked pleased, and that was all he’d needed to know. She breathed out, eyes bright, and he saw the mist of her breath in the air. At once, he was on her again, kissing her harder, and he this time felt her respond. His left hand went up to tangle in her hair, snaking around to the back of her head so he could have more of her, could pull her to him. Their bodies came flush against one another, and he was amazed by how solid she was, what a magnificent reminder it was that she was real.

 

Brienne might not have done this before, but with just a little urging, she opened her lips to him, and he delved forward greedily, not caring a bit that they were in the middle of a crowded courtyard, and that the eyes of dozens of servants and soldiers and nobles were likely staring at them.

 

Let them stare. He’d spent his entire life in a love he’d needed to hide from the world, a love he’d done unspeakable things to keep hidden.

 

Finally, after long years and foolish mistakes, he had a love that was as pure and good as the woman who’d stolen his heart, and she was to be his wife. This bloody night, if the septon would agree to such a thing. Jaime had half a mind to threaten him with death if he didn’t. He wouldn’t, of course, but only because he doubted very much that his lady would approve.

 

Still, he would not wait long to make her his wife. He’d waited long enough.

 

He kissed her breathless, amazed at how yielding she was to his lips and his tongue, when he’d known her to be so maddeningly unyielding with a blade in her hand. When he finally pulled away, they were both gasping for air, and he felt lighter than he had since before Aerys gave him a white cloak when he was a lad of fifteen. The world, at last, was wholly right.

 

He grinned warmly at Brienne, and she grinned back, although he sensed she was more embarrassed than he at their public display. She glanced around the courtyard bashfully, and her eyes seemed to fix on a spot behind Jaime’s left shoulder.


“How wonderful to see you within our walls once again, my dear Maid of Tarth,” he heard Tyrion say, and shut his eyes tight, cringing. Could they not even have a moment before the blasted imp came strutting through to gloat?

 

“Although,” Tyrion went on. “If that’s what your first kiss looks like, I rather doubt I’ll be able to address you as such for much longer.”

 

Jaime whipped around fast enough to catch Tyrion sending her a saucy wink, and he glared at him, outraged, “Tyrion! I’d thank you not to speak so crudely to my wife-to-be.”

 

But to his surprise, he heard Brienne laughing behind him. He turned around to stare at her. “And you! Stop laughing. Don’t encourage him!”

 

Brienne raised an eyebrow. “Was that an order? Because you’ll be quite disappointed, Ser, if you expect to get away with barking commands at me just because I’ve agreed to marry you,” she said, but she was smiling, eyes twinkling like the sunlight on water. “Anyway, I believe you may have to let your brother do and say whatever he pleases for quite some time. We wouldn’t be standing here if not for him.”

 

“Why thank you, my lady,” Tyrion said, bowing with flourish. “Your good sense will be most welcome around here. It gets rather tiresome being the only one in a place with a good head on his shoulders.”

 

Brienne laughed again, and Jaime was overcome with the thought of how much he’d missed that sound.

 

“I suppose the lady is right about that,” Jaime admitted, raising an eyebrow at his brother. “You meddlesome little imp,” he could not help adding. Tyrion only grinned at him, a genuine smile that reached his eyes, and the first he’d given Jaime since his initial refusal to write back to Brienne.

 

He grinned back at Tyrion for a moment, before looking at him quite seriously and saying, “Thank you.”

 

“Seeing you as happy as you are is all the thanks I require, dear brother. Although I would not protest overmuch if you decided we could finally open that rare cask of Dornish Red that father has been so frugal with, and accept all the blame if he ever finds out it’s missing.”

 

Jaime laughed. “That seems a small price to pay for what you’ve done,” Jaime agreed. “And there hasn’t been such a cause for celebration in these walls for years. I’ll have it brought up at dinner.”

 

Tyrion smiled. “I’ll look forward to it, and to speaking with you further, my dear Brienne,” he said, nodding at the wench. “But for now, I suspect my brother would like to have you to himself. See that he keeps his more animal urges under control, will you? Until I can track down the septon? I expect you’ll want this done quick, dear brother? Lots of lost time to make up for.”

 

Jaime laughed and offered a fervent nod. “That would be greatly appreciated.”

 

“Consider it done,” Tyrion said, winking and wandering off. 

 

Jaime turned to her again, smiling widely. “Well, my lady. I expect you must be quite exhausted from your journey. You’ll be wanting a bath, I assume, and something hot to eat,” he said, gesturing to the castle archway.

 

Brienne nodded slightly, but then gave him a look of full of mischief. “It looks to me as though you were just about to go riding...”

 

Jaime gaped at her, but quickly realized it was foolish to be surprised. She was unlike anyone he’d ever known, which was why he loved her more than anyone he’d ever known.

If that was what she wished, he was more than willing to get her outside the walls, away from prying eyes, where they could be at peace with one another again as they had been all those months ago. At once his mind raced ahead to all the places he could take her, places made for kissing. Places made for more than kissing, that he'd make use of as soon he could do so honorably. 

 

Perhaps Tyrion would have finished arrangements with the septon by the time they got back, and he could wed her right then and there, throwing his Lannister cloak over her riding clothes and making her his at last.

 

“As my lady wishes,” he said, and in minutes, they were both in the saddle, racing out of the gates amid the falling snow, hearts pounding and laughter cutting through the crisp air.