January 3, 2015
Castle Black, New York, New York
Jaime watched Brienne walk along the deck as she adjusted her glove, stretched, shook off her nerves. She looked much calmer than he felt.
“My broadcast partner today probably knows this particular rider better than anyone. What can you tell us about the rookie?” Chris Shivers turned to Jaime, who was working as a color commentator for the first time.
Jaime had done several pre-recorded stories for the network the previous season, and conducted a few interviews. Audiences had liked him, so CBS had offered him a larger role, and paired Jaime with Chris for his first broadcast because of their existing rapport and Chris’s experience. Broadcast work was more fun for Jaime than managing his investment in the PBR and Tommen’s in Lannister Corp, so he’d arranged to work as many competitions as he could this season. Broadcasting also gave Jaime an excuse to travel with Brienne.
Jaime could tell Chris plenty about Brienne, little of it appropriate for broadcast, but he wouldn’t. He tore his gaze from Brienne to focus on Chris. “Well, she’s stubborn as all seven hells, and incredibly strong. If she gets set in position in the chute, she’s hard to buck off unless that bull really goes crazy.”
Chris nodded. “Let’s see how she handles Ghost today. Brienne Tarth, 23-year-old rookie, approaches the chutes for the first time on the main tour. No surprise here, she’s looking our way, and my broadcast partner is grinning like an idiot.”
“She’d agree with you,” Jaime admitted sheepishly, trying and failing to adopt a more neutral expression as Brienne looked away.
Brienne had been nervous the previous night, pacing the room until he’d finally managed to lure her into bed. Now she looked calm and focused, unlike Jaime, who could see himself on the monitors wearing a distinctly unprofessional expression, anxiety warring with pride now that she was preparing to enter the chute.
“And now she’s putting on her helmet. Most riders these days wear helmets,” Chris pointed out. “You and I never did, and frankly we’re lucky our brains didn’t get too scrambled.”
“Who says they weren’t, Chris?” Jaime replied, finding it easy to respond when Chris set him up so well.
“True. Very true,” Chris admitted with a laugh. They had both taken plenty of hard falls, and had had the concussions to prove it.
The camera switched from the two men to the chute.
“Tarth is lowering herself into the chute now. Robb Stark is at the gate waiting for her signal.”
Brienne raised her hand, Robb flipped the latch and jumped out the way, and the chute burst open.
“And there she goes. Ghost is going to the right.”
Jaime still couldn’t believe, of all the bulls Brienne could have drawn, she’d ended up with Ghost. She knew that bull better than any other rider could, she’d ridden it so many times back in Austin. Robb had told them that the bull bucked harder now, and she shouldn’t get too cocky. Brienne had taken that as a warning, while Jaime had suspected Robb was blowing hot air. All the stock guys said their bulls were the best.
“She’s slipping to her left a bit,” Chris noted, and Brienne pulled hard on the rope, dragging herself back to center. “No, she’s got it back, Ghost is really bucking hard here, she’ll earn a decent score as long as she stays on. And there’s the bell.”
Brienne scrambled away, easily scaling the railing. She sat atop the rail and pulled off her helmet, short blond hair sticking up until she raked it back with one hand.
Jaime knew he should have said something during Brienne’s ride, but he could only watch her..
The camera switched back to the announcers. Chris turned to Jaime, who was completely ignoring Chris in favor of staring at the scoreboard waiting for her score.
“Tarth successfully rides Ghost in her first competition on the main circuit. What will you tell her about that ride?” Chris prompted.
Jaime blinked hard, turned his attention to Chris. “Nothing she doesn’t already know. She’s got to use those long legs to hold on a bit tighter and balance out her height. But she stayed on, she’ll probably score around 78, and it’s a good start.” Stop talking, he told himself. He hadn’t babbled on about the other riders, he shouldn’t do it now.
“And now she’s got her score, and you’re only a bit off. 79.6,” Chris supplied.
Brienne waved to the crowd with a quick smile, and strode purposefully over to the reporter stationed by the tunnel to the locker rooms.
Jaime vaguely listened as Chris started talking about the next rider. Jaime couldn’t hear Brienne from the broadcast booth, but he could see her on one of the monitors in front of him. Her face was flushed, her eyes bright, and she was smiling. Jaime finally relaxed.
Brienne had done it. All the hard work, the injuries, the shit she’d taken from lesser riders, had finally paid off. Jaime had done it all too, more than a decade ago, and remembered Renly struggling to reach this level, but she’d worked harder and sacrificed and struggled more than both of them.
After she’d finished her interview and headed to the locker room, Jaime was finally able to focus on the broadcast. Renly had ridden earlier, so Jaime had no attachment to the remaining riders. He and Chris bantered their way through the next three riders easily.
When they went to commercial, Jaime pulled out his phone.
Jaime: You were great.
Brienne: I can do better than that.
Jaime: Of course you can. And you will.
Brienne: Ren and I are getting some dinner. Join us when you’re done
Jaime: Love you
Brienne: I know
Brienne: I learned from the best
Brienne: Love you too
June 6, 2015
“Well, this is all a bit much, don’t you think?” Brienne finished her champagne and gestured with the empty flute at the crowd mingling in the huge hotel ballroom.
Jaime shrugged. “If it makes them happy, who cares?”
The elegant ballroom was decorated with black and white accents, complemented by roses in every hue. Given the many Tyrells in the room, that wasn’t a surprise. There were so many blooms, the ballroom smelled like the Rose Parade.
“Renly looks rather uncomfortable,” Brienne pointed out. Renly appeared to be enduring some sort of well-intentioned lecture from Garlan and his wife, Leonette.
Jaime laughed. “That’s because Loras put his foot down about Renly drinking tonight. Something about making a spectacle of himself, he said.”
“They’re already a spectacle,” Brienne observed. Both men, dressed in black tuxedos, looked incredibly handsome, which was no surprise. Renly’s ornate gold PBR champion buckle, earned the previous October, didn’t even remotely complement his tux, but Loras had grudgingly allowed it.
Brienne still thought Jaime was the best-looking man in the ballroom. His black suit and gold-patterned tie emphasized his strong, lean body, the gold in his hair, even the intense green of his eyes. His tie matched the short gold dress Margaery had picked out for Brienne.
Loras had just swooped in to rescue Renly from his brother and sister-in-law when Margaery made her way over to Brienne, holding the red rose bouquet Loras had jokingly tossed to the single ladies a few minutes ago.
“This should have been yours. You’re taller than any other woman here. It would have been no contest,” Margaery said with a smile, setting the bouquet in front of Brienne.
“Keep it.” Brienne tried to give the bouquet back. “I don’t need it.”
Margaery looked at her suspiciously. “I went looking for you before the bouquet toss, you know. Where were you?”
Brienne and Jaime had been living together for a year and a half, and Margaery had recently begun asking pointed questions about their future plans. They’d apparently been a little too vocal about how crazy the planning for this wedding had gotten.
Brienne shrugged. “Photo booth,” she answered, pointing to the far corner of the room.
The point of the photo booth was to take a photo, tape it in the guest book, and sign that page. Of the three photos they’d taken, Brienne had thought one was acceptable for that purpose. Her face was in profile, hiding the faded scar on her cheek, and Jaime wore his typical smirk.
The reason for his smugness was clear in one of the other photos, which Brienne would dispose of at the first opportunity. Jaime had taken unfair advantage of their hiding spot to remind her just how much he liked the rare occasions when Brienne wore short skirts. The predatory gleam in his eyes had made it clear that he would have eagerly taken her in that photo booth, mere feet from the other wedding guests, if she’d allowed it.
Brienne would tuck the last photo into her wallet, for those rare moments when doubts gnawed at her. In that photo, they were looking at each other, and there was no mistaking the love shining in Jaime’s eyes.
Margaery rolled her eyes. “You hate having pictures taken.”
“Less than I hate the idea of fighting a group of women a foot shorter than me for a bunch of meaningless roses,” Brienne answered honestly.
Margaery shook her head. She looked stunning in a silvery gown adorned with fabric roses and embroidered with leaves and thorny stems. A few clueless waiters had mistaken her for Renly’s bride.
“Take the bouquet,” Margaery said. “I’m off to find a partner before the dancing starts. Loras says this band is amazing.”
Jaime waited until Margaery was out of earshot before asking, “So when do you want to tell her?”
Brienne sighed. “Not until after. Otherwise she’ll try to talk us into doing something more like this.”
After watching the stress and expense of Loras and Renly’s increasingly elaborate wedding mount over the last year, Jaime and Brienne had decided to get married at the courthouse in Austin. No witnesses, no photographer, no fancy dress, no rings.
Jaime had proposed months ago, though Brienne still insisted that saying, “I want to marry you someday. Just tell me when and where to show up,” didn’t actually count. He was equally insistent that her response weeks later, “I’ll marry you, but I’m not taking your name,” didn’t count either.
They knew their family and friends would be disappointed, which was why there would be a reception. Eventually. Neither of them had time or patience to organize the party, so the planning fell to Podrick Payne, the assistant Brienne had hired to manage their schedules and travel arrangements. He worked out of the office in their Pacific Palisades townhouse.
Their reception wouldn’t be anything like this extravagant affair, just a party at Casterly Rock for the few people who really cared about them. There would be no waitstaff and no dress code, but plenty of music and food—everything Tywin Lannister would have hated. Brienne was uneasy about using Casterly Rock, but it made sense. Jaime and Tyrion owned it, and it hardly saw any use anymore.
Brienne picked up the roses. They really were too lovely to waste. She stood. “I’ll give these to Myrcie, and I’ll get a drink while I’m up. Do you want one?”
Jaime raised an eyebrow. “You’re having another drink?”
“We are staying here. And I can handle a few glasses of champagne, Jaime. You won’t have to carry me up to our room,” Brienne huffed.
Jaime waved her off. “Go on, then. And yes, bring me one.”
Brienne passed by a table where Tommen was showing Tyrion a game on his phone. Myrcella, her cousin Shireen, and a small cadre of Tyrell girls were ensconced at the next table, swapping music on their phones and showing off pictures of boys from their schools. Myrcella graciously accepted, then split the flowers amongst her companions.
Brienne had slowly forged a friendly relationship with the girl, but they’d gotten off to a rough start. Cersei had made her disapproval clear, and Myrcella had adopted that attitude as well. Things had not improved after Brienne had moved in with Jaime. Less than a week later, Myrcella had abruptly confronted him about his affair with her mother. The girl hadn’t spoken to Jaime for two months after he gently explained that Robert was her father, and he was Tommen’s. The boy still didn’t know, though Jaime and Cersei planned to tell him soon.
Brienne reached the bar and waited while the bartender fetched a fresh bottle of champagne.
“You missed the bouquet toss.”
Brienne was unsurprised to find Cersei at the bar, holding an empty wine glass waiting to be refilled. If her flushed cheeks were any indication, she’d been drinking steadily all evening. Cersei had brought a date, a foreign banker of some sort according to Myrcella, but he was nowhere to be found.
“So did you,” Brienne countered, knowing Cersei wouldn’t have lowered herself to participate. Also Cersei’s red gown was so tight she might rip it if she tried to move too fast.
“I don’t need to get married,” Cersei replied. Her gaze fixed on Brienne’s hands. “I don’t see Joanna’s ring on your finger. Not that it would fit. Funny, Jaime must have asked me a hundred times.”
Joanna’s engagement ring was a flawless 12-carat rectangular-cut diamond on a slim platinum band flanked by baguette diamonds. By modern standards it was unimpressive for a woman of Joanna’s wealth, but Tywin Lannister had purchased it at auction, preferring to spend his money on quality rather than conspicuous size. And that was just her engagement ring. She’d also occasionally worn a 31-carat vintage diamond cocktail ring once owned by a famous socialite.
Cersei was right. The engagement ring was several sizes too small for Brienne, and impractical for her to wear in her line of work. Jaime had shown the ring to her before he’d let Tyrion have it. The rest of Joanna’s jewels were in a safe deposit box. Jaime planned to distribute them to the younger Lannister girls on special occasions.
Brienne smiled gratefully as the bartender returned, laden with bottles of champagne. He popped the cork on one and began filling glasses.
"I’m not going anywhere, Cersei, and I’m tired of fighting. Can we call a truce? For the kids, at least,” Brienne offered.
It had taken her almost a year to speak Cersei’s name. Jaime had nearly choked to hear her say it. Cersei had never made an effort to get along with Brienne, and they’d avoided each other as much as possible. Whenever the children’s activities and events forced them into close proximity, Cersei generally ignored Brienne if she could.
An undignified guffaw burst out of Cersei. She’d likely been drinking before the ceremony too. Brienne was glad that Cersei and the kids were staying at the hotel that night, for all their safety. Joffrey had been expected to attend, his release from the Night’s Watch scheduled for three weeks earlier. Unsurprisingly, Joffrey’s farewell celebration had involved one last round of tormenting the younger boys, and he’d been caught. Cersei had taken the extra six months added to his sentence very hard.
“A truce?” Cersei’s smile was sharp. “Let’s call it a cease fire. Until Jaime trades you in for a younger model. You’re not exactly Lannister material.”
Brienne accepted two glasses of champagne from the bartender, and bit her lip to hold back a laugh. “You’re right. I’ll never be a Lannister,” she allowed. That wouldn’t stop her from marrying Jaime.
Brienne walked away before Cersei could speak again. She handed Jaime his drink and sat beside him.
Jaime took a sip, eyeing her expectantly. “I don’t see a knife in your back, so I take it you won this round.”
Brienne waved off his concern. If Cersei were ever actually nice to her, Brienne would worry. “It was the usual. Your mother’s ring. That I’m not Lannister material.” She shook her head. “Sometimes she’s so much like Tywin I forget he wasn’t actually her father.”
Jaime leaned over to kiss her cheek. “Call yourself whatever you like, as long as I can call you wife,” he whispered in her ear.
Brienne blushed. “Just don’t call me that during a broadcast.” Jaime had slipped twice already, calling her “honey” while interviewing her at competitions. CBS apparently thought they made good television, because now the network insisted he interview her whenever she placed in the top five.
Jaime laughed. “Why not?”
“It’s not very professional, is it?” she pointed out.
“Honey, CBS didn’t hire me for my professionalism.”
They were both quiet a moment, watching the dance floor. Loras and Renly danced together briefly, then Loras partnered with his sister while Renly danced with Olenna Tyrell. The band leader invited the families to join them, and Stannis awkwardly danced with his daughter, who kept rolling her eyes when he spoke to her.
“Did you want my mother’s ring?” Jaime asked quietly. “It meant a lot to Tyrion, and it didn’t really seem like your style.”
Brienne shook her head, looked Jaime in the eye so he would know she wasn’t saying this to placate him. “No, I’m perfectly happy not wearing the equivalent of a house on my finger.” She wasn’t in the habit of wearing jewelry, and didn’t even have pierced ears.
He smiled, took her left hand in his. “What about something simple? Gold, platinum, whatever you want. A plain band, maybe engraved inside. Just don’t wear it in the arena, please.”
Brienne studied his eyes, trying to tell if this was something he really wanted. “I’d never ask you to wear a ring again, you know that, right?”
Jaime shrugged. “I know. That doesn’t mean you can’t, if you want to.”
“We don’t have to figure everything out today,” Brienne reminded him. She still had her parents’ rings, loved the symbolism of them, but wasn’t sure she wanted or needed one of her own.
He grinned. “Not today?”
Brienne felt light years away from that day in Austin, when Syrio Forel had looked up at the two of them with a terribly serious expression and sternly reminded them to focus on the moment, lest it be their last. What had started as a private joke between Brienne and Jaime, one of the first things they’d bonded over, had become an enduring reminder of all they’d been through together.
The bandleader invited everyone onto the dance floor. Brienne sighed. “Should we go dance? Loras will pester us if we don’t.”
Jaime regarded her skeptically. “Do you really want to? I can think of far more pleasant activities.”
Brienne didn’t miss the way his gaze dropped to her bare legs, how his hand moved to rest just below the hem of her dress. “Do you ever think about anything else?” she asked.
Jaime laughed. “Honey, you couldn’t even leave me alone in the shower this morning.”
Brienne blushed. “You didn’t seem to mind. Besides, it would be rude to leave so early.”
Jaime leaned close and whispered in her ear, “You’ve been teasing me all day with those legs. If you make me wait much longer, I won’t even bother taking off that dress before I make you come.”
Brienne shivered. Jaime was incredibly difficult to resist when he was like this. As if that voice wasn’t enough, his fingers were now stroking her thigh. “Jaime,” she warned, but it came out less a warning and more a sigh.
“Brienne, we’ve done our part, and we’ll see them all again at brunch tomorrow. Do we really need to wait?”
It wasn’t fair. Jaime had dropped his voice into that low, seductive drawl he knew she couldn’t resist. Brienne had already promised him forever, and Jaime couldn’t even wait an hour.
She kissed him and rose from her chair. “No, we don’t need to wait. Not today.”