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Fever

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September 25, 2012
The Riverlands Center, Memphis, Tennessee

Brienne Tarth relished the quiet as she walked through the deserted corridors of the Riverlands Center. It was late evening, competition concluded for the day. Hours ago these corridors had been filled with riders and crew, reporters, stock contractors, and event staff.

Up above in the arena, a capacity crowd of 18,000 had cheered as 35 riders took turns mounting one-ton bulls. Eight seconds. That’s all it took to earn a score, but those eight seconds were the longest in sports. In eight seconds a player could make a first down, slide into home, slap a puck into the net, or run the court for a lay-up.

In the arena, for eight seconds a rider held on for dear life, one hand wrapped firmly around a rope looped around a bull’s midsection, the other hand held high above his head, balancing to stay astride the bull as it leapt out of the chute, struggling with every buck and twist to toss him into the air. He pressed in with his legs, thighs burning with every flex of the bull’s larger and vastly more powerful muscles, but if he pressed too hard, the blunted spurs on his boots digging in, he’d get a wilder ride. Changing directions, fading, spinning, the bull struggling to buck him off. The bulls weren’t in pain—they were just pissed off. The wilder the ride, the higher the score, if the rider held on. If he didn’t hold on, he faced a sickening drop to the dirt, hooves slamming down around his head and his body if he didn’t roll away fast enough.

Riders who covered their bulls, lasting until the bell and dismounting, would edge away and let the bullfighters push the bull out of the arena. Riders who fell would roll away and trust the bullfighters to protect them until they could get on their feet. Three bullfighters worked as a team, distracting the bull and luring it away. A year and a half ago, Brienne was a rider, usually the only woman competing in each event. Now she was a bullfighter, working the minor circuits of the Professional Bull Riders tour, traveling from one town to the next in her old Chevy truck.

Brienne usually wasn’t at the PBR’s main tour events, but sometimes Renly Baratheon, her long-time friend and one of the tour’s top riders, would invite her along. He had a tame pet bull and would put on educational presentations for local school groups. Brienne helped with these whenever her schedule allowed. She badly needed the extra money Renly paid her and she welcomed the excuse to come watch the top riders.

Tonight she wasn’t supposed to be in the arena, but Renly had forgotten some of his gear in the locker room. He and his boyfriend Loras Tyrell were eager to celebrate after his top score in today’s go-round, and Brienne was eager to avoid bar-hopping with the riders, so she volunteered to go back and retrieve his things. Renly and Loras always invited her along, but she made excuses to avoid going more often than not.

Brienne, six foot three, broad-shouldered and heavily freckled, did not enjoy the bar scene. The average bull rider stood under five foot ten and had zero interest in even speaking to a woman of her considerable size. Even worse, other men sometimes feigned interest until they realized she wasn’t looking for a quick fuck in the dark. Once had been enough.

Once in the locker room, Brienne quickly found Renly’s new custom competition boots and his helmet, discarded under a bench. As she came back out into the corridor, laughter echoed along the walls. Drunk laughter. Brienne set Renly’s gear down and followed the corridor to the tunnel leading up to the main arena. Peeking around the tunnel’s concrete wall, she spotted Vargo Hoat and his lackey Zollo leaning over one of the steel chutes around the edge of the arena floor. They were laughing.

Bang. Bang. Bang. There was a bull in the chute. An angry one, from the sound of it.

Brienne crept out, using the stadium seating to hide her from the two men. She fumbled for her phone, not sure who she would call, but she had to stop this before they did something stupid. First Brienne snapped a picture. At least she could prove what she’d seen later if they tried to deny it.

“What are you jackasses doing in here?” The voice came from the far end of the arena, where Jaime Lannister was striding in. He was one of the older riders, though still one of the most attractive with his dark blonde hair, insolent smile, and piercing green eyes. He wasn’t smiling now.

Lannister shouldn’t even have been here. He had turned out, withdrawing from the competition due to injury. The idiot wouldn’t wear a helmet, like many of the older riders, and he’d gotten a concussion at the last event. He must have been reliving the good old days with the group of retired riders here this week. The three-time world champion was swiftly approaching retirement too, and hadn’t won a title in four years. Renly often referred to him as “the old man.”

Hoat and Zollo looked up. “Lannithter, we’re jutht having thum fun.” That was Hoat, the one with the ridiculous long, pointy goatee. He actually had to tuck it into his shirt during competition so it wouldn’t get caught in the bull rope. The fat one, Zollo, seemed to exist primarily to slap around people who mocked Hoat’s lisp.

Lannister reached the men, looking down at the much shorter Hoat with disdain. He took another step and peered into the chute. His brow furrowed. “Brave Companion? Are you insane? What in the seven hells is wrong with you two?”

Hoat and Zollo shared a furtive look and edged away while Lannister dug his phone out of his pocket. As he unlocked it, Zollo snatched away the phone and heaved it into the middle of the dirt-covered arena floor. Lannister shook his head and started muttering a string of curses as the pair ran away down the tunnel. He walked around the chute and easily vaulted over the rail down onto the dirt. Lannister quickly reached his phone, half-buried in the dirt in the middle of the arena.

Brienne stood and turned to go find arena security as Lannister squatted down to pick up his phone. Suddenly she caught a flash of movement in her peripheral vision.

The chute slammed open.

Brienne didn’t hesitate. “Lannister! Run!” She was already vaulting over the railing as Brave Companion broke out into the arena 30 feet in front of her.

Jaime Lannister shot to his feet faster than she could have hoped, but he was still too far from the railing. Bulls responded to movement, and would generally pursue the fastest thing they saw moving. He looked over his shoulder, spotted the bull charging toward him, and sprinted for the far side of the arena.

Brienne hit the dirt and rolled. She clapped, yelled, tried madly to get Brave Companion’s attention. She just needed to look like a better target than Lannister. This was her job, but there were good reasons why they always worked in teams. Chief among them was that multiple targets were a distraction. This bull didn’t care about her. It was focused on the blonde man sprinting away in boots not meant for running.

What Hoat had been doing with Brave Companion she wasn’t sure, but clearly he’d been taunting it in some way. Even the meanest bulls didn’t usually continue chasing riders once they were bucked off, although it did happen occasionally. This bull hadn’t even been ridden tonight. Not that it mattered. Only two riders had successfully ridden Brave Companion this season, and Jaime Lannister wasn’t one of them.

The three seconds Brienne had before the bull reached Lannister wasn’t enough. She was running full out, breathing hard, dirt sliding under her boots, 20 feet away when the bull caught up to Jaime Lannister, slamming into his back. He was lifted off his feet, sliding facedown in the dirt as Brave Companion trampled him.

Gods, this is bad. In competition, both riders and bullfighters wore protective vests lined with Kevlar. Lannister was not wearing one now. Brienne changed direction as she ran, trying to lure the bull away from his prone form. She hollered for help, yelled to draw the bull’s attention, screamed because none of this should have been happening at all.

The bull turned and followed her along the wall separating the arena floor from the deck above. It charged toward her faster than she expected, its hooves kicking up clouds of dust. Brienne could taste dirt and hear the bull’s labored breathing as she dodged away from the massive animal. Her move came just in time to avoid the worst of the blow when Brave Companion hooked her on its blunted horns, tossing her into the wall. Pain lanced through her back and her face as she slammed against the steel barrier. Brienne’s vision darkened for a moment, coppery blood filling her mouth, but she struggled to her feet and cut back across the loose dirt of the arena floor toward Lannister before the bull turned toward her again.

“Lannister, get up. Get up!” she begged, finally reaching him. Brienne could hear Brave Companion behind her, but it seemed to be calming down. Usually it would have been pushed out of the arena by now and it appeared confused. That would buy them a few seconds, and Brienne desperately needed to get Lannister and herself out of here. Blood dripped into her eye and there was clearly something wrong with her left arm, but she didn’t have time to deal with her injuries. She stood between Lannister and the bull, watching the animal over her shoulder. There was blood on its horns and hooves. While they weren’t sharp, even filed down those horns were rough edged.

Brienne risked a glance down. Lannister was conscious, slowly trying to get up. He put weight on his hands and screamed.  His right hand was a mass of blood and splintered bones, and his crimson shirt was torn, a deep gash across his back bleeding freely. Brienne reached down and grabbed him by his left arm, yanking him up. “Get behind me.”

Lannister looked up at her finally, confusion followed by recognition on his face. “You again?” he asked, his voice breaking.

Brienne rolled her eyes. They’d met twice in the past six months. Neither meeting had been pleasant.

“Both of you, get out of there,” came from above. Brienne looked up and Steelshanks Walton, Roose Bolton’s crew chief, stood above them. Walton offered Brienne a hand up, and over her shoulder she saw two men jump down into the dirt at the far end of the arena, drawing the bull away from them.

Brienne scrambled up as quickly as she could, then turned and helped Walton pull Lannister up. He couldn’t hold onto anything with his right hand, so she grasped his arm. Once she and Lannister were both safely sitting on the deck surrounding the arena floor, Walton stood. “Stay awake, both of you. You may have head injuries. I’ll be back with the paramedics.”

Brienne watched Walton walk away, then turned to look at Lannister. His legs, chest, and face were smeared with dirt, and he cradled his ruined right hand in his left, his jaw clenched tight. “Are you okay?” she asked, knowing the answer but at a loss for anything else to say.

He shook his head and spat blood and dirt onto the deck. “Hell no.” Lannister looked up at her, his green eyes slightly unfocused. “You look like shit too.”

The adrenaline that had kept Brienne moving was beginning to ebb, and the pain she’d stubbornly ignored thus far clawed at her arm, her back, and her face. Brienne grimaced as she looked down. Blood soaked her green Highgarden Field Hockey T-shirt. Her left arm was weak, and her back felt sticky. She reached up to touch her face and her hand came away slick with blood.

“Why did you jump in?” he asked, his voice tight with pain. “I told you to run away from danger next time.” Even bloody and broken, Jaime Lannister still managed to patronize her.

“Gods, you’re unpleasant. Now we’re even. Next time I’ll let you die,” she promised. Brienne started to shake her head, but the world tilted and she pressed a hand to her temple.

“Honey, I’m going to pass out now. Don’t let anyone molest me.” Lannister’s eyes closed and he slumped against her side just as the paramedics came out of the tunnel.

 

Chapter Text

Five months earlier

 May 2012
Riverrun, St. Louis, Missouri

 Brienne cursed under her breath as two men walked into the arena where she stood waiting for her training session to begin. She, along with a group of twenty or so newer bullfighters and stock contractors, were supposed to be working with a pair of veteran bullfighters and one rider the Professional Bull Riders had loaned them for the day.

Unfortunately, the rider was Jaime Lannister. Arrogant, ridiculously good-looking, and an insufferable bastard. Just the type of guy who might actually benefit from being shoved around by a 2,000 pound bull. Renly insisted he wasn’t a bad guy, but Brienne wasn’t convinced.

Lannister approached the group, loosely holding a clipboard. The other man turned out to be a wide-eyed teenager who seemed frankly terrified of the gruff veteran rider he was shadowing. Lannister looked over the group, already evidently bored with this task. He stopped as his eyes fell on Brienne. Boredom turned to amusement as he smirked at her. “Wait, is that a woman? Gods, you’re big. I could have sworn … well, never mind. What’s your name, honey?”

Brienne blushed furiously. “Brienne Tarth,” she said tightly, her hands balling to fists at her side, “not 'honey.'”

He looked down at the list on his clipboard. “Brienne Tarth. Huh, they must have put you on the wrong list. Barrel racing is … where is the PRCA today, Piper?”

The stocky young man at his side said hesitantly, “Oldtown Center, Boston, I think.”

“Well, there you go. Honey, you should be in Boston. Here we’re working with bulls.” And then he winked and turned away.

What an ass. What on earth did Renly see in this guy?

Brienne could ride bulls, but it had been a full year since she’d competed. She had worked hard to earn a spot in the touring pro division and had won enough events to believe she might make it to the main tour in a year or two.

Then a 16-year-old girl had died after being bucked off at an amateur rodeo in Florida last year, and Brienne’s father had panicked about her safety. He was fighting cancer and she hated to see him so upset, so she’d switched to bullfighting. At least that way she was still in the arena, still watching and learning everything she could. He had sworn he didn’t want her to throw away all of her work, but he was obviously relieved. Selwyn Tarth had died three months earlier, his daughter at his side.

Brienne still wanted to return to riding, but she was under contract to finish this season as a bullfighter. After that, she wasn’t sure she could afford to start competing again. Entry fees and travel expenses added up quickly. Serious riders found corporate sponsors, but none had approached her and Brienne wasn’t quite sure how to approach them.

Jaime Lannister’s attitude wasn’t anything new, either. Men often dismissed her. Either she wasn’t pretty or petite enough to date, or she wasn’t man enough for anything but barrel racing. Racing a horse through an obstacle course of barrels without knocking them over could be a challenge, but it wasn’t exactly exciting. It was also the only rodeo event dominated by women--petite women as a general rule.

“I’m here to work with bulls. Thought I might be able to pick up a few pointers here, but I’m starting to think people just like to overpraise a famous name,” Brienne said with as much venom as she could muster.

A few of the other guys snickered, and Lannister cocked his head, his intensely green eyes looking her up and down. “Alright, honey, let’s see if you can back up that sass,” he conceded.

“Brienne,” she grumbled. “Not ‘honey.’”

He rolled his eyes at her, but didn’t respond.

Usually men looked better in photos, airbrushed and cleaned up in perfect lighting. Jaime Lannister, if possible, looked better in person. There was a grace and an ease to his movements; he was perfectly confident in his body and its capabilities. Brienne found him incredibly annoying. If half the rumors about him were true, he shouldn’t have felt quite so good about himself.

Brienne shifted restlessly on her feet. She was tired of standing here. She wanted to do something. She looked back over the group she’d be working with. At a glance she could tell she was the tallest person there, even a little taller than Lannister and he was quite tall for a bull rider. Most of them were built like the boy Piper: short and solid.  

An hour later, Brienne had to concede that Lannister had every reason to look bored. Today’s bull was nearly as docile as Renly’s pet, a bull so sweet he’d named it Peach and often walked it right into elementary school gymnasiums amidst crowds of small children. Lannister hadn’t been bucked off once. Everyone else seemed to think he had been, but she could tell he was falling on purpose, running through whatever set of choreographed moves he’d been given to demonstrate.

This was a waste of her time too. The defensive moves the bullfighters were demonstrating were basic, and the footwork drills were so easy she could probably have done them in her sleep. Brienne yawned.

Lannister snapped at her, “Are we boring you, honey?”

Brienne shook her head, blushing as every other guy in the arena turned to stare at her.

“Come over here. You’re on the next team.” He pointed to a spot a few feet away from him.

She could see irritation on the faces of the two veteran bullfighters, so she did as she was told. The rookies she’d been teamed with started asking dumb questions, so she tuned them out, looking around the arena again.

“Still not paying attention.”

Brienne jumped. Lannister was right next to her, shaking his head as if she were an unruly child. It was such a patronizing gesture she couldn’t bite back her retort. “This is a waste of my time,” she said under her breath. “I already know the footwork they’re teaching, and you’re pretending to fall, so forgive me if this isn’t holding my attention.”

He eyed her critically, his penetrating gaze making Brienne uncomfortable. Jaime Lannister bit his lower lip in a way that made her breath catch. “I’m pretending?” he asked quietly.

She smiled, pleased to have surprised him. “Was I not supposed to notice? Your falls are too controlled. You’re protecting your left arm, probably because you reviewed the footage from when you snapped your collarbone two years ago.”

Lannister’s hand came up to brush a spot along his left collarbone just under the edge of his shirt collar. “You’ve got me there. I’ll try to be a bit more convincing next time.”

Brienne laughed. “Good luck with that.”

As Lannister turned to go, he added with a wry smile, “Pay attention for the rest of this session, honey. I don’t want you watching my back if you’re daydreaming or staring at my ass instead of studying that bull.”

It took more effort than Brienne would ever admit to keep her eyes off his tight Wranglers as he walked away.

 


 

July 2012
The Gods Eye, Salt Lake City, Utah

 Brienne scanned the dance floor again, muttering a string of curses at the sea of cowboy hats in the crowded bar. It was impossible to spot Ren and Loras like this. She yanked her phone from her pocket and dialed Renly again.

“Ren, if you’re here, I’m waiting over in the corner near the payphones. I didn’t think anyone actually used those anymore, but here they are. If you left, I’m going to kill you,” she growled into the phone, hanging up and shoving it back into her pocket.

Renly and Loras had left her at a table while they went to dance, but that had been nearly an hour ago and they hadn’t come back. She’d only come along to this bar at their insistence. Brienne didn’t have enough “fun” on the road, they said. She wasn’t having any fun tonight either. As usual, Renly had disappeared and she didn’t know anyone else here. This wasn’t even a PBR event. Renly was here doing demonstrations with his bull at the state fair and he’d dragged Brienne along.

“Looking for a little fun, darlin’?”

Brienne instinctively moved away from the hand that clutched her shoulder. When she turned she found three men staring at her. They were sweaty, unkempt, and leering at her in a way that was rarely directed at Brienne. Their bodies blocked her into this isolated corner of the bar.

“No, thanks,” she said firmly, ignoring the nervous flutter in her stomach as she pushed between two of them to get back to the main bar area.

A hand grabbed her arm, dirty fingernails digging into her bicep. “Why not?” The voice was teasing, but when Brienne looked back over her shoulder, his eyes were cold and the grin leveled at her made her skin crawl.

“I’m here with my boyfriend,” she said with as much conviction as she could muster, pulling away from his grasping fingers and plunging into the crowd. Brienne’s heart pounded as she scanned the faces around her for Renly and Loras. Renly was a challenge because he was wearing his thrice-damned hat, but Loras’ springy brown curls should have been easy to spot.

Not finding either of her friends, Brienne made her way through the press of bodies to the door. The hotel was only four blocks away. She could easily walk back and she’d rather not risk running into those creeps again. After the hot interior of the bar, the relatively cool air outside was a relief. Brienne pulled her T-shirt away from her skin with one hand, fanning the material over her sweaty chest as she walked quickly through the parking lot.

“Where’s your boyfriend, sweetling?”

Brienne spun around. The same three men had followed her out into the poorly-lit parking lot. “He’ll be right out,” she said after just a beat too long. She was trapped between two large pickup trucks, halfway between aisles of cars.

They laughed. “I don’t believe you,” the ringleader said menacingly, taking a step toward her.

Brienne retreated, edging closer to the next aisle of the parking lot, where she would have more room to maneuver. Can I beat three guys? Maybe, if I have to. Her heart pounded in her chest and her fingers began to tingle. She was breathing too fast, and struggled to take deeper breaths.

Both the parking lot and the street were deserted, and the music inside was so loud no one was likely to hear if she screamed. For once she wished she had a purse to swing at them.

Behind the men, the door of the bar opened, distracting them long enough for Brienne to pull her phone out of her pocket. She quickly woke the phone and hit the emergency button, beginning to dial 911 when the newcomer spoke. “Honey, there you are. I was beginning to worry.” Brienne’s head snapped up.

The man stepped into the light of the Sapphire Star’s blue neon sign, and she was startled to recognize Jaime Lannister. Brienne had never been so relieved to see that smug face.

She choked back the impulse to use his last name and called, “Jaime,” struggling to keep her voice even.

Lannister approached with his usual cocky stride, eyeing the men with obvious distaste. He took Brienne’s hand, pulling her close, eyes locked on hers and his expression utterly serious. “I thought we were meeting inside,” he reproached, leaning in to brush a kiss on her cheek. In any other circumstances she might have punched him for that kiss, but, if it came down to a fight, a guy with an assault conviction wasn’t the worst ally to have.

“Sorry, I forgot,” Brienne stammered, her heart still hammering too hard to play along convincingly.

“Let’s go back in, then,” Lannister suggested, the continued lightness of his tone completely at odds with the intensity of his gaze. She recognized the tension in his body. He was waiting to see if these men would try their luck now that the odds were no longer three to one.

Brienne broke away from his stare, her eyes darting to each man. The ringleader seemed to be sizing up Jaime. The bull rider was over six feet tall, broad-shouldered and strong.

Brienne nodded slightly at Lannister. “Yes, let’s. You owe me a dance,” she said.

He relaxed, and a small, lopsided half-smile lit his face at the thought of that absurd scene. Lannister dropped her hand, turned, and draped his arm loosely around her waist. “Gentlemen,” he said coldly, and led Brienne back into the bar.

As soon as they were inside, he hissed in her ear, “What were you thinking letting those guys follow you?”

“I didn’t see them,” she answered defensively, pushing his arm away. “But I can take care of myself.”

Jaime growled with irritation. “You may be built like a brick wall, but there were three of them.”

“Did you follow me?” Brienne asked, suddenly wondering how he had ended up in that parking lot. Why was he even here in Utah?

"Yes. I thought you were Renly’s pet. Where is he?” Lannister asked, surveying the crowd.

“I don’t know. I guess he and Loras left,” Brienne grumbled. “Renly’s pet?” she added indignantly, checking the phone still clutched in her left hand. No messages. “I’m going to kill him,” she sighed.

“Get in line,” Lannister muttered. He took her elbow. “We should stay here for a while.”

Reluctantly Brienne followed him through the crowded bar, surprised when he pulled out a chair for her at a table already occupied by an older woman.

“Is she why you dashed off so abruptly, Jaime?” the woman questioned. “I haven’t seen you running after a woman in a very long time.” She had a pile of blonde hair teased upon her head, bright green eyes like Lannister’s, and a no-nonsense look about her. Her hands were manicured but tanned and callused, obviously working hands.  A relative maybe?

Jaime gestured to the woman. “Brienne, this is my aunt, Genna Lannister. Aunt Genna, Brienne Tarth.” He pulled out a chair for himself and sat down, immediately sipping from the bottle of beer he’d evidently left behind when he had followed her.

Brienne slid into the chair he had offered, surprised he actually remembered her name. “Hi,” she said hesitantly, struggling to figure out just how long she had to sit there before she could get away. She glanced down at her own rough hands. Margaery had talked her into a manicure once, years ago. The soft pink polish had done the impossible—rendered her big, callused hands even more mannish. Between that and the makeup Margaery had insisted on, Brienne had never more greatly resembled a drag queen. That entire horrible night was one she’d rather forget. These days the only color on her face came from tinted lip balm and her fair skin’s traitorous tendency toward blushing at the slightest provocation.

Genna Lannister’s gaze flitted back and forth between her nephew and Brienne. “So how do you two know each other?” she asked, amusement in her eyes.

Brienne opened her mouth and closed it again, not quite sure what to say. Of course the notion of a guy who looked like him chasing after her was amusing. She looked to Jaime, and he rolled his eyes. “She works for Renly Baratheon,” he said simply.

Now that she had a chance to really look at him, Lannister looked different than usual. She had only spoken to him once before, but she’d seen him on TV and from afar at PBR events. At competitions he acted as if the riders had a dress code. Without fail, he always wore boots, jeans, a crisp button-down shirt or plaid flannel, and a black cowboy hat. Not that she took special notice of him, because she did not. Tonight he wore jeans and a red Iron Man T-shirt. Nothing about him said “cowboy.”

“Ah, yes, now I recognize you, Brienne. My youngest was at your demonstration this morning. Very entertaining. Maybe he’ll take over the ranch when the time comes. Gods know none of my other boys want it,” Genna said with a little laugh.

Lannister smirked. “Yes, let’s see. Cleos is an accountant and Lyonel fixes computers in the Army. Those two took after Emmon.”

Genna frowned. “Lyonel is in Army Intelligence, Jaime. Not all of us can make a million dollars for eight seconds’ work,” she said tartly.

“It takes longer than eight seconds,” Jaime said with exasperation, stretching his legs out under the table. His knee pressed up against Brienne’s, but he didn’t move it.

“So, Brienne, are all of the riders as obnoxious as my dear Jaime?” Genna asked, her eyes sparkling and her mouth forming the same smirk her nephew was so fond of.

“That’s it, I’m calling Renly,” Lannister huffed, standing abruptly and stalking away from the table.

Brienne watched him go, then turned back to Genna. She thought a moment, then shrugged. “They’re not so bad.”

“And Jaime?” Genna prompted. “Why did he follow you?”

Brienne picked at the ragged corner of one fingernail. Reluctantly she admitted, “Three creeps followed me outside, and he stepped in.”

Genna’s eyebrows shot up, then she nodded. “That’s Jaime. Chivalrous one moment, a right bastard the next.”

Brienne laughed. She spotted Lannister moving back toward them, talking loudly into his phone. “I don’t want to hear your excuses. Just don’t do it again,” he said as he came close enough to be heard. He jammed his phone back into his pocket. “It should be safe to go now. Honey, we’ll walk you back to the hotel. Genna and I are staying there too.”

As Genna stood, she sighed. “I’m sure Walder has ordered pay-per-view porn by now. Teenagers.”

Brienne laughed despite herself. She stood uncertainly and followed the pair out. Genna took her nephew’s arm and they walked together, chatting amiably. Brienne walked a few paces behind, relieved not to have to make conversation and wondering how annoyed Renly would be tomorrow. Lannister was the reason he became a bull rider. They’d known each other since Renly was a kid, and Ren wouldn’t appreciate being treated like a child again.

When they reached the hotel lobby, Genna went ahead, leaving Brienne with Jaime. He cleared his throat. “Well, I told Renly off. He won’t ditch you again for awhile.”

“I would have been fine. You shouldn’t have done that,” Brienne protested.

Lannister rocked back on his heels. “Fine? If you call almost being gang-raped in a parking lot fine, then sure. You were fine.” His voice dripped with sarcasm.

Brienne’s first instinct was to walk away, but it had been a long day, a longer night, and there was something about the certainty in his green eyes that irritated her. She took a step toward him instead, so close she could have kissed him, letting Jaime Lannister take in every inch of her height as she looked down into his surprised face.

“I can handle myself. Those weren’t the first guys looking for a challenge,” she said firmly. Every so often men approached her, thinking that a woman as ugly as Brienne would be grateful for any attention. They were wrong. The few who’d tried to force something had learned she cared little about getting hurt as long as they walked away worse off than she did.

For an instant Jaime’s eyes showed her something new. Sympathy? Pity? Brienne didn’t want either. She turned and strode toward the elevators, jamming her finger on the button harder than was needed.

“Next time, Brienne, run away from danger instead of embracing it,” Lannister called after her. “I may not be around to rescue you, stubborn fool.”

 

Chapter Text

CHAMPION BULL RIDER TRAMPLED AT RIVERLANDS CENTER
Associated Press
September 25, 2012 10:18 p.m.

MEMPHIS, TN-Three-time world bull riding champion Jaime Lannister, 34, was injured tonight in an accident at Riverlands Center. Riverlands was hosting Last Cowboy Standing, a Professional Bull Riders tour event, but competition had concluded for the night. There is no official word yet on why Lannister was in the arena. Early reports indicate that he was trampled by a bull. Lannister was taken to Harrenhal Medical Center, but the hospital’s spokesman has not responded to requests for further information. Brienne Tarth, 21, was also injured. Sources indicate that Tarth works for bull rider Renly Baratheon, 25. She is also a bullfighter in the PBR’s touring pro division.

 


September 26, 2012
Harrenhal Medical Center, Memphis, Tennessee

Brienne woke disoriented with jumbled memories. Going back to the locker room for Renly’s stupid helmet. Jaime Lannister lying bloody in the arena. The paramedics talking over her in hushed tones.

 “Are you awake, dear?”

 Brienne struggled to focus, found a nurse wearing candy-corn patterned scrubs at her side. “Where am I?” she asked hoarsely.

 “The hospital. You’re in good hands, I promise.”

 “Can I get some water?” Her throat was so dry she could hardly swallow.

 “Sure, dear.” The nurse poured a cup from a pitcher beside the bed. “Your boyfriend is still in surgery, but you can see him when he gets to recovery.”

 Brienne nearly choked on the water. “Boyfriend?”

 The nurse frowned. “Isn’t he? The paramedics said you were holding hands in the ambulance.”

 Holding hands? Brienne nearly told the woman that she barely knew him, but they probably wouldn’t tell her anything about Lannister otherwise. “Sorry, it’s pretty new. We haven’t really defined it.”

 The nurse smiled at her a little oddly. Of course. Look at me and look at him.

 “Has his family been told?” Brienne asked as the nurse turned to leave.

 The woman frowned. “No. Someone called his father, but he didn’t answer.” She smiled. “Your emergency contact,” she looked down at her clipboard, “Renly Baratheon?”

 Brienne snorted. “I’m sure Ren was drunk. Did he answer the phone?”

 “I have a note that he seemed agitated and was advised to wait until morning to visit,” the nurse confirmed.

Agitated. More like drunk and irritable about being called out of bed with his boyfriend. In the morning he would be extremely embarrassed about his behavior, like he always was. Renly had told her once that Stannis didn’t drink, likely because he’d seen enough of his brothers’ obnoxious behavior.

About an hour later a doctor came by to talk to Brienne. They’d taken care when stitching up her back, but she would have another scar to add to her growing collection. Her left shoulder had a torn rotator cuff that would heal, and her cheek, mercifully, had bled a lot but was only badly scraped. The doctor was more concerned about the possibility of a concussion, and insisted that she stay under observation for several days unless someone could accompany her on the long drive back to her home in California.

After a while, Brienne dozed off, woken occasionally by nurses to check her vital signs and ask if she wanted more pain medication. They’d placed her left arm in a sling to stabilize it and Brienne kept waking up thinking something was choking her.

Around 7 a.m., she gave up and asked a nurse about getting some breakfast. She watched the local morning news while eating the limp bacon and tasteless oatmeal an orderly provided, gratefully sipping bitter coffee. She nearly choked when Jaime Lannister’s face popped up on the screen next to the perky blonde newscaster.

“Competition will resume today at Riverlands Center, where world champion bull rider Jaime Lannister and a female bullfighter were both injured last night. Police are currently investigating why a bull was loose in the arena. While hospital staff would not comment on the patients’ conditions, sources confirm that Lannister was rushed directly into surgery upon arrival at Harrenhal Medical Center.”

Brienne wondered if the doctors had gotten hold of his family by now. If not, they might see it on the morning news. Wasn’t he from California? Renly had mentioned it once, since his late brother was married to a Lannister.

Renly and the Tyrells had become her family over the last few years. Hopefully Loras would have had enough sense to call Margaery before she saw anything on the news.

Brienne got out of bed gingerly, not used to the sling steadying her arm, and took small steps over to the plastic bag marked “Patient property” on a shelf in the corner. The mirror above the shelf showed just what she’d expected. Half her face was a mass of scrapes and purpling bruises. Her short hair was a nest of straw blonde tangles sticking up wildly. She ran her right hand through her hair, awkwardly trying to tame the worst of the mess. After a moment she sighed and gave up.

Brienne rummaged through the blood-stained clothes they had apparently cut off of her. Her battered boots were covered in dirt, but her phone was somewhat clean. The message light was blinking. She punched in her password. Unsurprisingly, there were multiple messages from Margaery. They had been roommates for three years, since graduating from Highgarden Academy.

Margaery: Loras called freaking out
Margaery: call when u wake up

Brienne awkwardly tried to cradle the phone so she could use both hands, but the phone slipped and she settled for a slow one-handed text.

Brienne: I’m OK will call after Ren visits. 2 early in LA 2 call

Brienne had just set the phone down when it beeped. She laughed and picked it up.

Margaery: not kidding can’t sleep. Bad dreams. Call when u can
Brienne: OK

Brienne set the phone down again and looked around the room. Someone had put no-slip socks on her feet, but she wasn’t about to sit around all day with her ass hanging out of a hospital gown. Especially if Renly and Loras stopped by. Her back ached and her face felt stiff, but she didn’t want to take any drugs before talking to the police. They would want a statement at some point.

Just then a new nurse walked in, fall leaves dancing across her scrubs. “Oh good, you’re up,” she said with a smile. “A police detective will be by soon. They asked that we take you to Mr. Lannister’s room so you could give your statements together.”

The nurse thankfully found a robe on the back of the door, helped her into it, and then brought a wheelchair to the room. Brienne protested but the nurse insisted she use it.  An orderly escorted Brienne one floor down to the surgical ward. Lannister’s room was right by the nurses’ station. He was asleep when the orderly wheeled her in.

Jaime was propped up to keep pressure off the wound on his back, but the real issue was clearly his right hand. His arm was held in some kind of splint, the hand heavily bandaged, with drains leading down to a bag attached to the bed frame. There was something off about his hand, but she couldn’t quite figure out what. Brienne leaned forward, trying to get a closer look.

“No more narcotics,” he muttered, his eyes still closed.

Brienne leaned back. She cleared her throat. “I’m not a nurse,” she said nervously.

Lannister’s eyes opened. Their deep green was dulled with pain, and now she could see how tightly his jaw was clenched. “Honey, you are much uglier in daylight.”

Brienne flinched. She should be used to it by now, she’d heard it all her life. The worst were her pre-teen years at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The older ladies had whispered behind her back, “Poor thing, there’s no creature on earth as unfortunate as an ugly girl.”

“You’re no prize yourself right now, Lannister,” she shot back, exhausted, her own painkillers beginning to wear off, and in no mood to take abuse from Jaime Lannister.

He smiled bitterly. “And I never will be again.”

Brienne frowned. “What do you mean?”

Jaime turned more toward Brienne, searching her face. “No one told you?” When she shook her head, he said grimly, “They took half my hand. Two fingers crushed beyond repair.”

Now that he said it, she could see what he meant. Brienne had thought his last two fingers were taped down. “But how will you ride?” she asked, still trying to process what she was seeing.

“I won’t,” Lannister said sourly. “Just like I won’t be able to type, or swing a baseball bat, or any number of things.”

Brienne looked down at her hands, folding down the last two fingers of her right, thinking about all the things that would be more difficult with fewer fingers. The bull rope would be the biggest problem for him. Riders held onto the bull with a rope wrapped around its belly. The rope itself was wrapped firmly around the rider’s dominant hand. Lannister had always anchored the rope between his ring and pinky fingers, a split-finger or “suicide” wrap. A lot of riders used it, including Renly. Brienne did not.

“You’re giving up?” she asked quietly, looking back up at him.

Lannister grimaced. “I don’t have much choice.”

“I never took you for a coward.” She’d seen him ride. Jaime took risks. Sometimes it paid off, and sometimes he got hurt, but he always came back. He could try to switch hands. It wouldn’t be easy and it probably wouldn’t work, but he could at least try.

His eyes burned. “A coward? Do you have any idea how many bulls I’ve ridden? 402 as a pro. Hundreds more before that. I am no coward.”

“If you quit, those idiots win. Vargo Hoat makes the decision for you. Is that what you want? Don’t you want revenge?”

“Revenge?” he echoed incredulously.

“They threw your phone into the arena, in case you’ve forgotten. You can always try to ride again, if you want to. Show them they can’t beat you.” Brienne shrugged. “Or just sit in the courtroom when they’re convicted. I’ll sit with you. We can flip them off as the bailiff takes them away. You’ve still got enough fingers for that.”

Lannister laughed in spite of himself. “Yes, I can still do that.”

“Renly’s stopping by later. Will your family make it here today?” she asked. Just because she had no real family left to visit her didn’t mean he didn’t.

He laughed again, bitterly. “No, they’re not coming. My father didn’t even answer the phone. Tyrion is in the middle of a trial, and Cersei—well, we’re not close anymore.” He looked down at his hand, and his face hardened again. “Why are you here?”

“The police wanted to talk to us together.” How could Jaime’s family just leave him here? Brienne couldn’t begin to fathom a family like that. If her father were alive, he’d be here.

He nodded, his eyes closing as he grimaced again. “You can tell them how your valiant efforts were too little too late.”

Brienne was stung, but his bitterness had little to do with her. “There’s a reason we work in teams. And I didn’t have to jump in at all. I got hurt too.”

“Really? I see your arm in a sling, but look… ten fingers. Seems you did a better job protecting yourself than me.”

“I did my best. I’m not the one who released the bull. Save your anger for them.”

“Why, when you’re right here? You do a much better job protecting Renly. At least he’s still in one piece.” His lip curled in a sneer when she flinched at Renly’s name. “You know you’re not his type. Renly prefers that curly-haired little girl Loras Tyrell. Yet you still follow him around like a puppy.”

Brienne blushed. She hadn’t thought about her crush on Renly in a long time. At 15, she had worshiped him for one desperate, futile year before he came out. “We’re friends. I could have sworn Renly was yours too, but he might change his mind about you if he heard you talking now.”

“Oh please. We don’t get to choose who we love. I know that better than most.” He eyed her again, a twitch in his right hand immediately followed by a grimace and a sharp intake of breath. “So if not Renly who do you love? Other men? Women?” he prodded. “Livestock?”

“Shut your mouth,” Brienne snapped. She was so tired of everyone assuming that a big woman with short hair must be a lesbian. Working with Renly certainly didn’t help. The nights he dragged her along to gay bars were a particular torment. If she wasn’t being mistaken for a man, there were plenty of women who took one look and moved on.

“Hit a nerve, did I?” That infuriating grin was back, but drawn tight. She couldn’t imagine how much pain he must be in.

Brienne looked away, struggling to find some retort he wouldn’t be able to turn against her.

A man in a dark, rumpled suit walked through the door and introduced himself as Detective Bywater, the officer in charge of their case. He walked them through their stories, took Brienne’s phone to retrieve the photograph she’d taken, then escorted her back to her room himself.

Brienne was released the next day and drove home with Loras. She did not visit Jaime Lannister again.

 


Tumblr.

September 30, 2012

bullriderbabe↹shiversfangirl
Beauty and the Beast in Memphis

Let’s face it. It felt like karmic justice when Brave Companion stomped Jaime Lannister last week at Riverlands. It may have taken 11 years, but he finally paid for Aerys Targaryen. The best part was that pretty boy Lannister needed to be saved by a girl.
He better announce his retirement before the Finals. It’s no fair to steal the spotlight from Chris Shivers. Chris may only have won two titles, but he’s been riding longer, has a lot more fans, and should totally get the attention he deserves for his last ride.

That chick is definitely the biggest, ugliest woman I’ve ever seen, but I can’t believe they’re letting girls protect the riders now. They shouldn’t let her work the tour. She’s obviously not very good at it, and next time someone decent might get hurt! I hear she used to be a rider too, which is crazy enough on its own. That Parker girl who thinks she’s a rider won’t last long either.

#karma #PBR #Jaime Lannister #Chris Shivers #Maggie Parker
93 Notes

 

Chapter Text

March 24, 2000
The Golden Tooth, Albuquerque, New Mexico 

Jaime paced along the deck, headphones blocking out the crowd noise and pumping Garth Brooks into his ears. He rolled his shoulders, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet, pausing now and then to drop into a crouch and stretch the muscles in his thighs and groin. Routine and focus. That was the key.

All around him, the other riders talked, stretched, and spat Skoal into a bucket. He’d dipped tobacco briefly too, until Cersei refused to kiss him. She said he tasted terrible and spitting was disgusting. Watching the other guys now, he tended to agree with her, but there was something about the minty smell of it that brought him back to his first rodeos long ago.

A few of the riders waved at women in the stands, finding potential conquests or checking in with wives. Jaime didn’t look at the crowd. No one was here for him.

Jaime stopped to watch last year’s champion, Cody Hart. He and Cody were both 22, but that was where the similarities ended. Cody was 5’7”, 145 pounds, a full 7 inches shorter than Jaime. Many of the riders were stocky, compact guys, but Jaime thought his longer legs gave him a better grip on the bull. He also weight-lifted and ran nearly every day. At 6’2” and 195 pounds, he looked more like the soccer player he’d been in boarding school.

Before Cody dropped down into the chute, he turned and tipped his hat to his wife. Jaime remembered how calm LeAnn had been last year at Starfall in Laughlin, Nevada, when Cody had taken a horn to the skull and been knocked out. Jaime had watched it on TV with his brother. Tyrion had taken one look at the TV and asked, “Why do you want to do that?” Tyrion had been 12 at the time, and Jaime couldn’t really explain it to him. For those eight seconds, everything else fell away. This was what he was meant for. He never felt so alive as he did when he was riding. Even his stolen moments with Cersei couldn’t compare.

The song ended on Jaime’s headphones, and he adjusted the new music player in his pocket. Cody dropped down onto Strong Belwas, which had bucked off its last five riders. Jaime noted how Cody wrapped the rope around his entire hand, while Jaime preferred a suicide wrap. A stronger grip, but more dangerous. It was far easier to get hung up, hand caught in the bull rope and unable to pull away. Jaime had dislocated fingers and sprained his wrist a few times because of it.

Bon Jovi began playing in Jaime’s ears as Cody signalled the gate man and Strong Belwas leapt out of the chute. Cody had a decent ride, picked up his score, kissed his wife, totally routine.

The next rider, Glen Keeley, wrecked. He slipped and went down hard under the bull’s hooves. Broken arm, probably a couple of broken ribs. The paramedics helped him out of the arena. Jaime got antsy waiting and it threw off his concentration. He chewed nervously on his mouthguard while he paced the deck. He was next to ride and barely hung on. He took his score of 71.6 and was glad to get it.

The next morning Jaime and all the other riders got the same call. Glen was dead. He had bled out at the hospital from a lacerated liver. Everyone was numb. Jaime had seen worse wrecks, they all had, and Glen had been talking and laughing when he’d left with the paramedics. It didn’t make sense.

When Jaime arrived at the arena, he was given a memorial sticker to put on his vest alongside his sponsor’s logo. That damn Kevlar vest was supposed to protect them, but it hadn’t stopped 1,800 pounds of angry bull from crushing Glen. Jaime would ride today, they all would, and try to pretend it couldn’t just as easily have been any one of them.

Jaime called Tyrion first. The last thing he needed was the kid hearing about a dead bull rider and panicking. Then he called Cersei. She was in hysterics, two-year-old Joffrey wailing in the background as Jaime tried to calm her down. “Don’t you dare get on a bull today,” she kept repeating. “Don’t you dare, Jaime.”

But he got off the phone and onto a bull anyway. She didn’t understand. No one who wasn’t there that day would understand. Still, Jaime wasn’t surprised by the knock on his door late that night.

Cersei barreled into his room, furiously pounding against his chest with her small fists. “How could you?” she spat, throwing her purse to the floor and shoving him.

Jaime caught her hands and wrapped his arms around her. “It’s okay. I’m okay, I swear,” he murmured soothingly into her long golden hair. He hadn’t even fallen today, though his scores, like everyone else’s, weren’t great.

Cersei struggled against him, her fury dissolving into tears. Her body shook against him as he held her up. “You can’t leave me,” she sobbed. “If you die, I’ll die.”

Jaime walked her over to the bed, knowing no other way to prove his devotion to her. Cersei resisted weakly as he undressed her and lay down beside her. He told her he loved her again and again as he held her, kissed her, made love to her.

When Jaime woke, Cersei was gone. She did not call for three weeks.

 


 

May 2000
The Twins, Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

“Angel isn’t going to stay. He has his own show,” Tyrion pointed out.

Jaime laughed. “Well, if you want to be logical, I guess, but you do realize we’re talking about a show about vampires, right?” He lay on his hotel room bed, talking to Tyrion on the phone. It was getting late, but “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” had just ended for Tyrion, who was stuck at home in California. The show was really too mature for Tyrion, but that was one of the things he liked about it.

Their father was talking about sending Tyrion to Crakehall in Colorado next school year. Jaime had gone to Crakehall at 14, the same year Tywin had sent Cersei to Summerhall in Massachusetts. If Tywin had meant to push his son and his brother Gerion’s daughter apart, the gesture had come several months too late. Jaime had already fallen madly in love with Cersei, and she with him.

“Jaime, why aren’t you out having fun?” his brother asked.

“I am having fun. I’m talking to you,” Jaime insisted. Tyrion was too smart by half, and he had asked enough questions to make Jaime wonder how much he knew.

“You know what I mean. Why aren’t you out with girls? They look at you like they want to rip your clothes off.” Tyrion had a point. Two girls wearing the briefest of shorts had cornered him as he left the arena this afternoon, letting him know in no uncertain terms that they didn’t mind sharing him if he was into that. Jaime had learned quickly not to mention these incidents to Cersei. Last time she had punished him by teasing him right to the edge and then dumping a pail of ice in his lap.

“Are you interested in girls now? Or boys? I don’t judge, but Father might,” Jaime deflected.

Tyrion laughed. “I like girls. Pretty much all girls. They don’t like me much.” He was trying to play it off, but Jaime heard the hurt in his voice. Kids at 13 were cruel. They had no filter and didn’t care who they hurt.

From the next room, Jaime heard a loud, coarse laugh, then breaking glass, and a woman giggling. He groaned.

“What’s wrong?” Tyrion asked. “Did you break something?”

“It’s nothing. I must be next to Aerys again. I can’t stand that guy. He’s always got a girl, and he’s always loud.” Jaime flipped over on the bed and grabbed the remote, turning up the volume. He could still hear noises from Aerys Targaryen’s room. Aerys was one of the older riders. He’d been riding bulls since before the PBR existed. The other rookies liked to talk to him, but Jaime didn’t like the look in his eyes. He was colder than Jaime’s father, and that was saying something. “Hey, Tyrion, I’m going to turn in. I ride again tomorrow and I’ll be home Wednesday morning, okay?”

Tyrion sighed. Jaime could feel his brother’s loneliness 2,000 miles away. He had few friends outside of chat rooms and online role-playing games, but at least he had those. “Yeah, I’ll see you then. And Jaime?”

“Yeah, bro?” Jaime was already rummaging in his bag for headphones he could plug into the TV.

“You really should find yourself a nice girl. Have some fun. One of us should be having fun.”

“You sound like Father,” Jaime chided.

“Do I? Gods, that’s scary. I think I’ll go beat up some college students on Everquest. See you Wednesday.”

 


 

October 23, 2000
PBR World Finals
Sunspear Center, Las Vegas, Nevada

 

For once, as Jaime stood waiting for his bull to enter the chute, he was like the other riders. He turned to the crowd, looking for Tyrion standing on his seat wearing the completely inappropriate “Bull riders do it bareback” T-shirt Jaime had sent for his birthday. Tyrion only had it today because Father wasn’t here. Cersei would be standing beside Tyrion, her crimson lips pursed with worry.  

Tywin Lannister had never watched his son ride. His sister Genna had introduced Jaime to bull riding when he was 12, at her ranch in Utah, and Tywin had never forgiven her. Aunt Genna drove in to watch Jaime every time the tour came to Salt Lake City.

Jaime finally located Tyrion and Cersei, ten rows up, grinned, and tipped his hat. Tyrion waved enthusiastically and gave Jaime a thumbs up. Cersei rolled her eyes at Tyrion but gave Jaime a small, tense smile. Almost unconsciously Jaime twisted the silver ring he wore on his right hand. Cersei had given the ring to Jaime the day she married Robert, and he never took it off.

Jaime was dully aware of the crowd roaring. The fans had taken to the golden California boy, much to his father’s dismay. Jaime had grown up in a mansion overlooking the Pacific, but he had been active in rodeo since his early teens. Reporters loved when he told the story of his first bull ride. His cousin Cleos, despite growing up mutton-busting and riding calves, had demonstrated the courage of an especially brave ewe when confronted with his first real bull, panicking and falling off as the bull left the chute. Jaime had impressed the bull’s owner by making it six seconds before getting bucked off. As soon as he’d left the arena he wanted to try it again.

It didn’t hurt that Jaime was handsome and quick witted, a favorite with the reporters who interviewed him. His devotion to Tyrion had fascinated the press and the fans as well, but Jaime tried not to talk about Tyrion much. The kid had enough troubles without his big brother putting him in the public eye.

There was no question that Jaime had already clinched Rookie of the Year, but it would be sweet if he could win this event as well. There was a $25,000 purse at stake, and a big win here would bring even more and better sponsorships. Wrangler was interested in doing a series of print ads with him as long as he didn’t mind posing shirtless. He didn’t mind because it would drive his father insane. He was a shoo-in for the PBR’s annual “sexiest cowboys” calendar as well. The proposal he’d been sent seemed to involve only boots and a cowboy hat, which Cersei was sure to veto. He might have to demonstrate that one for her.

A snort from behind him alerted Jaime that his bull, Tattered Prince, was in the chute. He turned back to the arena, put in his mouthguard, and fixed his hat more snugly on his head. The bull, a big gray beast, had bucked off its last seven riders, so if he managed to pull out the full eight seconds he should earn a high score. Tyrion always complained when Jaime drew less feisty bulls, since half his score was based on the difficulty of the bull and they were drawn at random.

Jaime swung his leg over the edge of the chute, standing on one of a steel rails that lined the chute. From there he carefully lowered himself down onto Tattered Prince, marveling as always at the heat and the power coiled beneath him. He yanked his bull rope tight around the bull’s flanks then wrapped the rope around his gloved right hand, tucking it tightly between his fingers, pounding his right fist shut with his left hand. Jaime took a deep breath and grasped the gate of the chute with his left hand for a moment. He tightened his thighs around the bull, careful not to dig in his blunted spurs, and raised his left arm. A fraction of a second after Jaime’s nod to the gate man, the gate slammed open, and Tattered Prince burst out of the chute with a jump to the left.

Jaime pitched forward, feeling the strain running through his arm and down both legs as he gripped as hard as he could. Then came the inevitable kick, as Jaime leaned back, his left arm held high above his head for balance. Tattered Prince bucked away from his wrapped right hand, going left as he often did, and Jaime was prepared for that. The bull bucked hard, throwing Jaime back with every kick, his left arm waving wildly, struggling to stay in position.

No one outside the sport believed he could predict a bull’s movements. It looked so fast, so brutal that riders staying on at all seemed random or due solely to luck. Jaime knew what the other riders did. He could feel the bulk of the beast moving under him, its balance shifting an instant ahead of its moves, and he followed.

Tattered Prince was about to try something new. The bull reversed, spinning right, and Jaime pushed back to center as the bull moved into his hand, bucking once, twice, his hat flying off, keeping his eyes focused on a single point as they came around again and again.

When the buzzer rang, Jaime reached down swiftly with his left hand and loosened his right hand from the rope as quickly as he could manage, sliding off the bull and hitting the dirt hard. The rope slid to the ground, dragged down by the bell attached to its end.

Jaime scrambled away, pumping his fist triumphantly as all 20,000 people in the arena cheered. The score didn’t matter. He felt invincible, exultant. In this moment, Jaime had everything he wanted. He slapped one of the bullfighters on the back with a quick “Thanks, man,” and waited for his score.

Another bullfighter tossed Jaime his hat as the score popped up on the screens above. 88.5.  He held up his hat, saluting the crowd, and grinned.

Later, after the interviews and dinner, Jaime and Tyrion watched “Angel” while Cersei called home and talked to Joffrey. It was getting late, so Cersei sent Tyrion to their room to get some sleep. Jaime and Cersei wanted to stay up and talk. At least, that’s what they told Tyrion. Jaime wasn’t quite sure the boy believed the lie, but Tyrion went to the adjoining room without complaint.

Cersei locked the connecting door as soon as she heard the TV in the other room click on. “I hate watching you ride,” she said vehemently, walking slowly across the room to the lamp between the two beds.

Jaime leaned back on one bed, his bare feet just brushing the floor. “Keep saying things like that and I might suspect that you actually care,” he teased.

Cersei clicked off the lamp and stepped between his legs. “You know I care. You’re part of me. I don’t want to watch you die.”

He would have laughed that off a year ago, but after Glen’s death he couldn’t. She combed her fingers through his hair and Jaime sat up to lean into her touch. He’d cut his hair short in the back but left it longer on top so that it still curled a bit. So that she could still run her hands through it like she was doing now, like she’d done for as long as he could remember.

Jaime skimmed his hands up her thighs, her hips, his thumbs running along the planes of her stomach. He found a rounded swell that hadn’t been there when he’d seen her last, a month ago at Storm’s End in Florida. Cersei tried to bat his hands away, but Jaime caught her hands and held them fast. “What is that?” he asked through gritted teeth, her face the slightest hint of light in the dark room. As if he wouldn’t notice if she turned off the lights.

“I wanted to tell you,” she whispered. “I didn’t know how.”

Jaime’s fingers clenched tighter around her wrists and she whimpered. “When?” he asked, spitting out the word as he loosened his grip. When had Robert put his hands on her, his cock inside her?

“July,” she whispered, miserable. “Jamaica.”

“Jamaica,” he echoed dully. Their birthdays were only a week apart, and Cersei had missed his. Robert had taken her to Jamaica, fucked her, and gotten her pregnant. Jaime didn’t know if Joffrey was his; he couldn’t bear to ask and Cersei had never told him. He wasn’t sure if even she knew. But this one, this one was Robert’s.

Jaime dropped her hands, pushed her away, and stood. For the second time that night adrenaline rushed through him, making his hands shake and his heart pound, but this time he felt sick. “So I have to wear a condom every damn time and fucking Robert doesn’t?” he spat.

Cersei sighed. “Jaime, you know I usually make him, but he didn’t want to this time. What was I supposed to say, ‘sorry, Robert, I know about your whoring’?”

Jaime couldn’t respond to that. Yes, he wanted to say. Tell Robert you know. But she couldn’t, not without risking a scandal. Robert might take a closer look at Cersei’s activities if he thought she had reason to get back at him.

“Tell me you understand,” she pleaded, her hand reaching up to touch his shoulder, feather light.

Jaime understood, but he didn’t want to. He wanted this to go away, wanted to just be them alone again, without Robert and Joffrey and this new child. Instead he reached for her, pulled her down to the bed, kissed every inch of her. Cersei was his, always had been. Nothing Robert could do would ever change that.

 

Chapter Text

Early October 2012
Austin, Texas and Los Angeles, California

 

By the time Jaime returned home to Austin, a week after his maiming, his e-mail had filled up with interview requests forwarded by the PBR’s public relations department. If he still had his agent, Varys would have handled this, but Varys had abandoned him 11 years ago and Jaime had never replaced him.

While Jaime had spent most of that week asleep, the police had searched for Hoat and Zollo. After three days, the pair had been caught in Ohio, arrested, and arraigned. The district attorney was working on a plea agreement to avoid a trial, so at least it looked like he and Brienne wouldn’t have to testify.

Jaime wanted to hide in his house and ignore the press, but the requests weren’t slowing down, and finally he begged Tyrion for help. His brother plowed through the list and told him to do a pre-taped interview with ESPN, a telephone interview with Sports Illustrated, and one national morning news show of his choice right before the PBR Finals in Las Vegas.

Talking it over with Tyrion via Skype, Jaime wished that steering clear of his father didn’t mean staying away from his brother as well. Tywin Lannister conducted much of his business from Casterly Rock, two hours north of Los Angeles near Santa Barbara, but Lannister Corp was headquartered in L.A. Jaime couldn’t visit his brother’s office or apartment without seeing the high rise with its crimson logo towering over the King’s Landing business district.

Jaime couldn’t avoid his father forever, but he did not relish the notion of hearing what Tywin Lannister would say about his injuries. It wasn’t just the missing fingers. A multitude of pins held together the bones of his right hand, and the skin was stitched together in ways that reminded Jaime of Frankenstein’s monster. He was still in more pain than he cared to admit, and his father’s disdain wouldn’t ease that.

“The Tarth girl will do the television interviews with you. Renly convinced her,” Tyrion said, bringing Jaime out of his reverie. Of course she would. Jaime didn’t blame her. Brienne was out of work because of him and probably needed the money being offered for her cooperation.

A flicker of sadness passed across Tyrion’s face, and he added gently, “The press has been decent for the most part, although they can’t seem to stop comparing her to Maggie Parker, but the fans have not been kind to her. A girl like her with a man like you…”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jaime bristled. Brienne was young, not particularly feminine or pretty, but she held her own well enough. She should be able to handle fans. Her size alone made it hard for Jaime to reconcile his image of her with Tyrion’s notion of a “girl.” He wouldn’t call her that if he’d seen her in the arena, bloody and defiant. Besides, it wasn’t as if they were dating or anything. Brienne had jumped in front of a bull for him. That was her job, which made the press comparing her to Maggie Parker ridiculous. Maggie got press because she was a tiny, pretty bull rider on the rodeo circuit.

Tyrion raised an eyebrow. “There are reasons I don’t attend public events with you, Jaime. And it’s not just my intense dislike of the reckless manner in which you insist on risking your life. We dwarves can’t all be as handsome as Peter Dinklage, and some people weren’t keen to let me forget it.”

Jaime was speechless. Had people been cruel to Tyrion? He’d done his best to shelter Tyrion from the worst of the fallout when the press had turned on him. Besides, it had been years since Tyrion had come to any public event with him, years since Jaime had attended any public function without explicit orders from the PBR. The exception was San Diego Comic Con, where they were just fans like everyone else. “I’m sorry, Tyrion. I didn’t realize.”

Tyrion waved off his apology. “It was a long time ago. Just don’t let it happen to your lady bullfighter. There have already been an unfortunate number of Beauty and the Beast references, and she’s not ‘Beauty.’”

Jaime winced. “I won’t. I’m sure this will touch off another shitstorm about how unsafe bull riding is, and I’ll have to do even more interviews anyway. I’ve made such a point of avoiding them, my willingness should distract everyone from her a bit.”

A week later, Jaime showed up at ESPN’s small studio in Los Angeles as scheduled. He was ushered into a green room to chat with a producer, and then sent off to wardrobe and makeup.

Brienne was there. Jaime grimaced. Someone else had clearly dressed her today, and they’d done her no favors. She was wearing a long pink dress that the PBR publicist hovering near her must have felt looked Western. The awkward calf-length skirt highlighted her height while hiding her long legs, the scoop neckline serving only to emphasize her broad shoulders and flat freckled chest. She held her left arm awkwardly. Vaguely he recalled that her left arm had been in a sling the last time they had seen each other. He’d been in a lot of pain and particularly vicious, not something he was especially proud of.

She caught his eye and held up a hand briefly in a quick wave. At least the makeup artist hadn’t tried to cover her face with a ton of makeup and the scrapes and bruises on her cheek had healed. Brienne would never be beautiful, but she certainly wasn’t easily forgotten, not with those astonishing blue eyes.

Jaime nodded in acknowledgement, and she looked away. Jaime glanced quickly at himself in one of the mirrors. He always dressed for the press just as he did for competition. Today he wore crisp, dry-cleaned Wranglers, a green plaid button-down shirt, and boots. He knew from experience that his cowboy hat would shade too much of his face and they would just ask him to take it off, so he had left it at the hotel. He turned away from the mirror.

The publicist glanced at Jaime, looked away quickly. Had he met this one before? They all looked the same to him. Petite, navy skirt suit, fake smile, and incongruous, immaculate boots. He tried not to take out his frustrations on the underlings sent to carry out the wishes of those higher up in the organization, but he wasn’t always successful.

Jaime wasn’t sure why the PBR bothered trying to get him to do press anymore. Before Riverlands, he had suspected that he was only asked to do press and fan events when someone else dropped out at the last minute. He didn’t have many fans and hadn’t since Aerys, not that he cared, which made fan Q&As and photo signings awkward at best. Inevitably, the younger and more likeable riders had a long queue of starry-eyed little boys with their dads and pretty college-aged girls spilling out of their tight T-shirts. Jaime generally ended up with older, brutal-looking men and girls who wanted to rescue him from himself.

“We’re ready for you, Mr. Lannister,” a cringing production assistant with a clipboard said to him. The makeup artist patted a bit of powder on his face to take down the shine under the lights. It itched. So did his hand. He glanced down at his right hand, still surprised every time to see the thick bandages covering the useless knuckles that marked where his fingers ought to be. He could still feel them.

Jaime followed the PA out onto the set, where there were two chairs to one side of a small table and a chair on the other side. Jaime relaxed when he saw Barry Locke sitting in the far chair, a stack of blue notecards in his hands and a wide smile on his face. Locke specialized in probing interviews yet seemed to do none of his own research. He would read from the cards, which should correspond to the questions Jaime had agreed to answer. Then they’d be done. Simple, no problem. He should be out of here in half an hour if Brienne handled her end well enough.

Jaime took the chair farthest from the table and let the PA hook up his microphone pack.

“Jaime, it’s good to see you again,” Locke said blandly. On camera the man was fairly convincing. Off camera he was just going through the motions.

Jaime just nodded, shifting in the chair to hide his right hand down by his side instead of in his lap.

Another PA ushered Brienne onto the set, put on her mic pack and then left the three of them there while the camera crew finished setting up. Brienne twisted her hands in her lap, looking around at the set with wide eyes. “How are you doing?” she asked quietly.

Jaime turned to look at her, surprised. “Okay, I guess.” He brought his bandaged hand up where she could see it. His remaining fingers were splinted. It wasn’t much of an improvement over the last time she’d seen him. “Just waiting to heal.” The studio lights shone hot above them, and Jaime started to sweat.

This had better be over soon. He’d arranged to pick up Myrcella and Tommen from school and they were going to dinner with Tyrion later. Cersei still only let Jaime see the kids when Tyrion was with them. Gods forbid anyone think he paid them special attention. Meanwhile Cersei had spent half of last year with Oberyn Martell. Tyrion worked at Mopatis and Martell, and he’d complained often about the legal wrangling required to keep Oberyn free to make movies, race cars, and fuck half of Los Angeles. When Jaime had complained about it, she’d rolled her eyes and laughed that she was fucking Oberyn, not marrying him. Cersei had ended it after a tabloid printed photos of her enjoying the attentions of both Oberyn and his off-and-on lover Ellaria Sand in a nightclub.

“We’ll be starting now,” Locke spoke up, a bright, false smile on his face. He was wearing eyeliner, Jaime was sure. He couldn’t help but think that Locke looked a little too much like the Six-Fingered Man in The Princess Bride, with his precise goatee and ratty face. He amused himself thinking of Locke swordfighting.

The cameras began to roll, and Jaime tucked his hand back down at his side. Locke began with a quick intro, giving the bare bones of the story. “Now, Brienne, what brought you to the arena that night?” Locke turned to Brienne unexpectedly.

Under his scrutiny, Brienne froze. After a moment, she said unsteadily, “I went back for some things my friend left in the locker room. I heard a noise out in the arena and went to check on it.”

“That’s when you saw the men?” Locke prompted.

She nodded. “Hoat and Zollo. They were laughing and looking into one of the chutes. And I heard banging and knew there was a bull in there.”

“That’s when you came in, right, Jaime?” Locke turned to Jaime. “What brought you to the arena?”

Jaime had not agreed to answer that question. He and Chris Shivers, who was retiring next month, had met with some of the retired guys, to talk about options post-retirement. He’d known the day was coming sooner than he would like, but he had had no idea that it would be that night. “I had a meeting,” he said, making no effort to elaborate even when Locke continued to stare at him.

Jaime had grown up watching Tywin Lannister deal with lesser men. Locke would not make him talk.

Locke finally moved on. The rest of the story flowed easily between them, Brienne growing less flustered as time passed. Then Locke asked the last question Jaime had agreed to answer. “What are your plans for the future, Jaime? You’re still a young man, after all, and you’ve had a good run.”

Jaime smiled, but it was forced. He didn’t feel like a young man most days, and definitely not today. “I’m keeping my options open.” With that, he abruptly stood. “I have an appointment elsewhere. I trust you got what you needed.”

Locke’s mouth opened in dismay, but he quickly switched gears and turned to Brienne. “I do hope you will answer a few more questions.”

As Jaime walked off the set, tugging off the mic pack and handing it to a crewmember, he saw her blush on one of the monitors. He headed straight back to the makeup area to wipe the itchy powder off his face.

His attention was drawn to a monitor behind the mirrored makeup stations as he awkwardly wiped his face with a damp cloth.

“How did you get into rodeo?” Locke asked.

“My dad took me to a rodeo when I was 11. We were living at Fort Leavenworth,” Brienne said, her face lighting up with the memory. “I saw Ty Murray riding a bull and that was it. That’s what I wanted to do.”

Jaime smiled. Most little girls wanted to ride a pony. He wondered how tall Brienne had been at eleven years old. Taller than all the boys, that much was certain. He’d had a similar first rodeo experience, but Ty had been at the beginning of his career then, not the bitter end.

“And you did ride, didn’t you?” Locke prompted.

Jaime tossed the cloth into the trash, but he didn’t leave. Brienne rode bulls? Maggie Parker rode on the PRCA tour, and some girls rode in amateur events, but women bull riders were rare.

She nodded, her eyes still alight with the memories of that time. Such clear eyes, blue as the ocean where it met the horizon. “I rode my first bull when I was 14. Started competing at 16, made it to the PBR Touring Pro Division at 19,” she said proudly.

“Yet you stopped riding last year and started working as a bullfighter instead. Tell me about that,” Locke urged, leaning in with an eagerness that made Jaime uneasy. Locke actually licked his lips.

All the pride left her face. Brienne swallowed hard. The girl with the steel in her spine, the woman who had stood up to Jaime with ease, was gone. Her full lower lip was trembling, by the gods. “A teenage girl died riding in Florida. My father panicked, so I quit.” She stared into the distance and didn’t seem to see the cameras anymore, clearly not remembering that this would be broadcast nationally.

Perhaps he’d been wrong about her. She was just a girl, after all, barely out of her teens and still living her life on her father’s terms. Jaime started to move. He could make it back to the set in less than a minute.

“Your father died, didn’t he? Earlier this year?” Locke pushed. Jaime didn’t need to see the monitor to know how closely the man would be watching Brienne.

He was in the hallway when she answered, but Jaime knew her response when he saw her stricken face.

Locke was unrelenting. “So your entire family is dead then?”

Jaime’s jaw clenched. What gives him the right to ask that? And judging by her expression, she hadn’t been warned about these questions. He kept moving, stalked through startled production staff to walk right back up onto the set and stopped in front of Brienne. “Don’t answer that,” he snapped. “It’s time to go.”

Jaime offered her his left hand, and the girl took it, relief flooding her face.

“She didn’t answer the question,” Locke protested.

Jaime rounded on him. “And she won’t. We’re done. Come on, Brienne.”

Still holding her hand, Jaime guided her off the set and back down the hallway. As soon as they were out of earshot of the staff, she stopped. “Why did you come back?” Brienne asked.

Jaime still remembered a time when he had trusted reporters, when he had thought their smiles and laughter were sincere when they asked seemingly innocent questions. After he had dropped his guard and the questions stopped being so innocent, he’d talked about his mother’s death, his brother’s dwarfism, his father’s disapproval, and he’d found it all printed for the world to see. To make it worse, the same reporters who’d been so friendly had turned against him the moment the handcuffs had tightened around Jaime’s wrists.

“You’re young. You don’t know how the press works,” he said brusquely.

“I didn’t know what to say,” she admitted, grief clouding her eyes.

Jaime squeezed her hand, hard. He took a deep breath. “Don’t give them you, Brienne. Talk about that night in Memphis, take their money, and keep the rest private. You have to be the one to draw the line, or you’ll have complete strangers on the street asking about your father. Trust me.” Jaime suddenly realized how tightly he was holding her hand, and he loosened his grip, letting her hand drop.

Brienne nodded and gave him a small smile.

“And don’t let them dress you up like some big girl next time. You’re not fucking Rodeo Barbie,” Jaime said gruffly, turning to walk away. “I’ll see you in New York, and I better find the great beast of a woman I met at Riverrun when I get there.”

 


 

Sports Illustrated
October 17, 2012

The Kingslayer’s Legacy
(for full interview, see “Jaime Lannister Reflects on Riverlands,” page 17)

When Jaime Lannister arrived on the national stage 12 years ago, the golden California boy had a bright future ahead of him. Despite his relatively late start in competition, Lannister had quickly proven himself in the Touring Pro Division, and moved up to the Professional Bull Riders main tour at age 22.

“I’ll admit, I thought he was just some reckless rich kid looking to piss off his father. But that boy could ride. It was like he was born for it,” said Tuff Hedeman, PBR legend and television commentator. “The fans loved him.” Lannister displayed an ease and openness with the press that made his fans feel like they really knew and understood him.

Sponsors loved him too. Lannister quickly secured a contract for a series of print ads for Wrangler, as well as appearing in the PBR’s annual calendar and on the cover of GQ Magazine. He had just wrapped up sponsorship negotiations with Coca-Cola when news of his arrest in Phoenix broke on March 5, 2001.

Within a week, Lannister had no sponsors and few fans. While sponsors fleeing was understandable, Lannister’s own silence sealed his fate with fans. If he’d ever spoken out in his own defense or simply apologized, he might not have fallen so far so fast. To this day, Lannister has never explained his actions.

Aerys Targaryen, then 38, was a 20-year veteran of professional rodeo with one PBR and two PRCA bull riding championships. Targaryen, sometimes called ‘the Mad King,’ was an eccentric character well-known for his love of fire, but he had no record of violence. The brutality of the attack made Lannister’s actions all the more shocking. Targaryen’s nose and left cheekbone were both shattered. He suffered a serious concussion and multiple rib fractures, and never returned to competition. Targaryen’s death in a fire in 2004 elevated him to martyr status for some fans, though his contemporaries were strangely silent on the matter.

Lannister spent most of the next year living in seclusion on his aunt’s ranch in Utah before returning to the tour in 2002. Over the years, Lannister’s ability and work ethic earned him three world titles, but he remained closed off from both the press and fans. Syndicated sports columnist Rickard Karstark speculated that the image Lannister presented that first season was a facade, and the man who emerged later was the real Jaime Lannister. Some fans were drawn to this new, reclusive Lannister, but a fanbase composed almost entirely of prison inmates and desperate women failed to lure significant sponsors.

The question remains: how will Jaime Lannister be remembered? As the three-time champion who once rode Butcher King for 96.15 points, or as the man who nearly beat ‘the Mad King’ to death? Either way, “Kingslayer” may be the name that sticks with him.

 

Chapter Text

April 30, 2002
The Trident, New Orleans, Louisiana

Jaime craned his neck to look around Cersei. She stood in front of the television, gloriously and utterly naked, her manicured hands on her hips. She huffed with impatience. “Are you going to fuck me or watch TV?”

Jaime grinned. Their meetings were always on her terms. Making her wait for once turned him on even more than her body. “I can fuck you for five minutes or you can wait until this is over and I’ll spend the rest of the night making you moan. Your choice.”

Cersei rolled her eyes and dropped to her knees in front of him. “I don’t know why I put up with you,” she grumbled, unbuckling his belt.

“Because you love me, Cers. You love me,” he said lightly. Jaime deliberately kept his eyes on the screen. Anya and Xander were arguing.

Cersei had moved on to unbuttoning his jeans and unzipping him. “What I love right now, Jaime, is your cock,” she replied tartly. Her hands were small and soft, but there was no gentleness to it when she reached into his boxer briefs and drew him out.

His breath caught at the pressure of her hand firmly stroking him, but Jaime would not give her the satisfaction of looking at her.

Cersei deliberately rubbed her bare breasts against his thighs as she bent over him. It was pointless, as he could barely feel it through his jeans, but he got the message well enough. Cersei’s mouth engulfed him, her tongue flicking over the head and down the underside of his shaft.

Jaime could not suppress a shudder and a groan. It had been three weeks since he’d seen her in Vancouver. Bear Island Arena. Two rides, 85.5 and 90.4, and a win for him.

His hand slid into her hair, tugging gently the way he knew she liked. Jaime could hardly remember a time when they hadn’t known each other’s bodies perfectly. Her pregnancies had been the rare exceptions, but those had also been accompanied by a tremendous surge in her sex drive. He’d once gotten her off with his fingers in the pool at Casterly Rock while Robert slept in a lounge chair no more than twenty feet away.

Fucking Robert Baratheon. He had ruined everything. Jaime had found out about him from Tyrion one day when he called home from the road. Robert had been a frat boy at USC, and Cersei pledged a sorority. She had claimed that she’d led Robert on to keep everyone from suspecting her relationship with Jaime. By the end of her freshman year, Cersei had gotten pregnant. She married Robert before she started to show and dropped out of USC after Joffrey was born. Jaime had been in and out of her life, traveling constantly. All he knew was that the boy looked like him and acted like Robert.

The end credits music began and Jaime realized he’d missed the end of the episode, too caught up in memories and the feel of Cersei’s mouth. He tugged on her hair again. “Come here,” he said, his breathing ragged.

Cersei released him with an audible pop. She smirked up at him from under lowered lashes, her eyes dark, her chest flushed and her own breathing fast. “Oh, now you’re interested?”

Jaime grabbed her by the arm and pulled her up onto his lap, then flipped them so she was lying on the couch. For a few hours, things were simple: nothing mattered but the feel of Cersei in his arms, her voice whispering increasingly filthy demands in his ear. In the dark, Jaime could pretend nothing could touch them. Not Robert, not the children, not Aerys.

When he woke in the morning, she was gone.

 



October 28, 2002
PBR World Finals
Sunspear Center, Las Vegas, Nevada

LANNISTER WINS FIRST PBR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Associated Press
October 28, 2002 11:24 p.m.

LAS VEGAS, NV (AP) - Third-year rider Jaime Lannister, 24, clinched his first world championship at the Professional Bull Riders World Finals tonight at the Sunspear Center. Lannister’s overall point total of 15,891 was nearly 1,000 higher than second place finisher Chris Shivers in the Bud Light Cup Series. Shivers did have the highest overall score of 91.5 for his final ride, making Shivers the winner of the Las Vegas competition.

“Those 8 seconds are what I live for. All the work I put in every day is worth it when I see it reflected in the scores,” Lannister said when given the champion’s gold buckle.

Lannister, a native of Montecito, California, won PBR Rookie of the Year in 2000. He was a fan favorite until his arrest and conviction last year for an assault on fellow rider Aerys Targaryen. His subsequent suspension left him ineligible to compete in the World Finals for 2001.

 


 

October 29, 2002
Watergardens Casino Resort, Las Vegas, Nevada

Jaime woke slowly, a hushed voice bringing him out of the warm, dark cocoon of sleep.

“No, I got up really early…. Robert, I did not.... I needed to go for a run.... Yes, I know. You're all downstairs? Fine. I'll be there in ten. I just need to shower.”

Jaime opened his eyes. Cersei was standing near the bathroom, hair wet, pulling on the dress she'd worn last night. Her porcelain skin still gleamed from the shower, and her full breasts clung to the silky fabric. Jaime wanted nothing more than to rip the dress right back off her, or just yank it up around her hips and take her against the wall.

“Come back to bed,” he said, folding back the rumpled blankets to free up a space beside him.

Cersei frowned and shook her head. “I can't. Robert is waiting in the restaurant downstairs. I shouldn't have stayed. I didn’t mean to.”

His arousal fled at the sound of that name. Jaime sat up, his fists clenching in the sheets. “You never stay, Cers.”

Cersei deftly zipped her dress back up, stepping into her heels. “I'm married, Jaime. My husband is waiting. What do you expect?”

He shoved back the covers and got out of bed gingerly. His ankle ached where he'd twisted it dismounting Bittersteel last night. “More than sitting across from you at lunch, pretending I wasn't just inside you.”

Cersei's eyes flashed and her mouth twisted. “Then don't come.”

Jaime could feel the cruel smile forming on his own face, mirroring hers. “Bit late for that, isn’t it?”

This was the part Jaime hated most, but he couldn't stop. Every damn time she came to him, after she left he wondered what the hell he was doing. She’d made her choices, and when she’d gotten pregnant she’d chosen Robert and the life his political career gave her.

But this was Cersei. She’d been there his entire life, in his bed for a decade. Jaime couldn’t picture his life without her. So he let her into his hotel room every time she came to see him. And every time, he poured all of his fury and frustration into her body, her breath hot against his chest, her moans all he could hear as he drove himself into her.

It was too easy for her. Cersei knew his schedule; she knew he wouldn't turn her away. Each time one of Robert's conquests called the house, or she noticed a large check made out to a person she didn't know, or a credit card charge at Planned Parenthood, Cersei found Jaime wherever he was. She cried and she raged, cursing her husband. And she kissed Jaime hard, sometimes ripping clothes in her haste to strip them both bare, demanding more, harder, faster, until there was nearly as much pain as pleasure.

She nearly always marked Jaime now. Nail scratches on his back, teeth marks and hickeys on his chest, his arms. Never anywhere it would be seen except by another woman. Cersei was not that careless. His name never fell from her lips even when she came, lest it be heard in the next room or the hall. She knew there were no others, had never been any others, yet she staked her claim again and again.

As she stood in his hotel room, wearing last night's red dress, her long golden hair curling loose around her shoulders, Cersei was the most beautiful thing Jaime had ever seen. More perfect as a woman than she’d been as a girl of 14. Fierce, proud, sculpted from gold and marble. She watched him, standing before her utterly naked, and her eyes softened. “You know I love you. Don't be like this.”

Jaime's anger dissolved. He crossed the room and took her in his arms. “I hate him,” he breathed, his face buried in her hair. Robert marked her too. When she came to him bruised, Jaime wanted Robert dead so badly he could almost feel the man's throat under his hands. Choking the life out of him would bring Jaime more satisfaction even than beating Aerys had. But gods, Aerys had nearly ruined his life. Killing a state senator was unlikely to win Jaime anything other than life in a cell.

“I hate him too,” she whispered back.

“Then leave him,” Jaime begged, not for the first time.

“And do what? Move into your studio apartment with the children?” Cersei shook her head, freeing herself from Jaime's embrace. There was no quicker way to make her leave than to demand that she divorce Robert.

Tywin had cut him off after Aerys, so Jaime had to live on his own earnings. The tiny apartment high in the old White Sword Tower was the best he could afford until his championship bonus came through. He could have found something bigger, but it wouldn't have had a view of the ocean. Maybe if he had a house, somewhere private, she would come to him. Maybe she would stay. “Marry me, Cersei. Marriage between first cousins is legal in California,” he reminded her. “I can find a bigger place.”

“You wouldn’t have to. Robert would take the kids. No judge would let me keep them when he found out I’d left Robert for my own cousin, a convicted felon,” Cersei laughed bitterly. “Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.”

Two hours later, Jaime would sit across the table from Cersei while Robert grumbled through his hangover and snapped at Joffrey, four years old and already treating everyone around him as if he owned them. Myrcella, just a year old, would throw her food around and Cersei would hand the toddler off to the nanny.

And as he did every time, Jaime would look at them and wonder if the rest of his life would be like this: a few desperate furtive hours punctuating days and weeks of anger, frustration, and loneliness. Then Cersei would catch his eye. There was no choice at all. Jaime loved her. He would wait, and she would come to her senses eventually.

Chapter Text

 

RIVERLANDS RIDERS SENTENCED TO 3 YEARS
Memphis Commercial Appeal
October 23, 2012

MEMPHIS - Two bull riders convicted in last month’s assaults at Riverlands Center have been sentenced to three years in prison. Vargo Hoat, 29, of Qohor, Peru, and Zollo Ovah, 28, of Vas Dothrak, Argentina, pled guilty to aggravated assault after photographic evidence placed them at the scene. Hoat and Ovah recklessly brought a live bull into the bucking chutes at Riverlands after competition had concluded for the day. As a result of their actions, two people were injured. One of the victims was Jaime Lannister, 34, a world champion bull rider whose injuries resulted in the amputation of two fingers on his right hand.
Hoat, a first-year rider on the Professional Bull Riders tour, and his accomplice both had extensive criminal records in their native countries, as well as in Brazil, where they previously competed. The PBR has denied knowledge of their criminal histories. Both will be deported upon release from prison.

 


 

October 24, 2012
ABC Studios, New York, New York

Jaime loved the anonymity of New York. The tour opened here most years, and it was one of his favorite stops. Here no one looked at him twice, even as Jaime walked past the crowds gathered outside the "Good Morning America" studio windows in Times Square. The show was at commercial, and Jaime caught sight of a tall blonde talking to one of the hosts behind the cameras. Next to George Stephanopoulos, Brienne was truly a giant, nearly a full foot taller.

She had taken his advice to some extent. Brienne wore dark blue jeans with a gauzy blue and gold blouse. She stood with her back to the windows, but Jaime could still see how tensely she held herself.

In the two weeks since they’d taped the ESPN interview, Jaime had watched it twice. The producers had edited the piece so that it began, unsurprisingly, with Jaime’s career, but they’d intercut his early PBR footage with Brienne’s recollection of her first rodeo at age 11. The same year he won his first championship. Which made her 21. Jaime knew that, but seeing the contrast made him feel old all over again. It was bad enough that Renly and Tyrion were kids when he started out and both were grown men now.  

The questions about Brienne’s family had been edited down to the single question about why she stopped riding, thankfully, and the interview ended with his non-response about the future.

The truth was that this wasn’t how he wanted his career to end. Jaime should be in Las Vegas, getting ready to ride in the Finals, not walking into a television studio to sit next to a girl he barely knew, being asked questions he couldn’t even answer for himself yet.

Jaime flexed his right hand, finally unbound, the slowly healing rents in his skin and flesh reminding him of the truth each time he looked, expecting to find five fingers and seeing only three. Expecting to see the silver ring he’d worn for 15 years and finding nothing but memories. He still had the ring but would never wear it again. It had been squashed nearly flat by a hoof, and was the reason his ring finger couldn’t have been saved. It had cut off the circulation for too long by the time the surgeons had gotten him in an operating room, and his pinky finger had been crushed beyond repair. So they’d told him when he had woken with the pain stabbing up his arm, his hand a mass of bandages and drains. He’d nearly lost the entire hand.

There was still some pain, but Jaime had become accustomed to it. Better the constant dull throb than the disorienting numbness of the painkillers the doctors had sent home with him. The staff had fought him his entire stay, trying to give him more drugs, arguing that the pain would be too much. “I’ll scream,” he’d said when the doctors needed to remove more tissue from his hand. He would scare the other patients, they had insisted. He hadn’t cared. And he had screamed. He’d screamed so loudly in the end that they’d given him the drugs anyway. It had taken three orderlies to hold Jaime down.

A month later, he could sleep without worrying about rolling over onto his hand. Brushing against another person or picking up his phone no longer sent pain lancing up his arm. With the splints on his fingers gone, he could usually hide the worst of the damage by holding his hand in a loose fist.

He did that now, as he made his way through security and to the green room, a chat with the producer, and on to makeup.

Brienne was waiting when he got there. The makeup girl carefully lined her eyes with a black pencil while Brienne drummed her fingers impatiently on the armrest of the chair. “Shall we make you pretty too?” she asked, teasing but irritated. “They’ll have better luck with you than me.”

“This is better,” Jaime noted, gesturing vaguely at her clothes and sitting in the chair beside hers.

“My roommate repacked my suitcase when I wasn’t looking. Apparently a denim button-down shirt was not fancy enough for national television,” Brienne said grimly.

Jaime shrugged. “This suits you better than the dress, at any rate.”

“That’s not saying much,” Brienne grumbled, the girl finishing up work on her eyes and stepping back to regard Brienne critically. Whatever she’d done, Brienne’s blue eyes were all you saw when you looked at her face now. Her straw blonde hair was swept back and there was a red tint on her wide mouth that made her look as if she’d just been kissed, and kissed well. Not a look she wore often, if her attitude was any indication.

At least this time hopefully she wouldn’t cry if they asked about her father. While Jaime didn’t regret ending their ESPN interview, someone on the set had talked to the press, and the gossip magazines had decided they were secretly dating. Apparently the presidential election in less than two weeks wasn’t enough to keep the press busy with legitimate news.

Half an hour later, the girl’s strength was put to the test. Tiny George Stephanopoulos, after floating through a series of softball questions, had asked about the safety of the sport. Jaime delivered his usual pitch about rider safety precautions and how this incident had been a fluke. Brienne piped up that this was the job, and they could waste the whole morning showing him their scars, but sports were inherently dangerous even without a one-ton animal involved.

Then Stephanopoulos started digging into her background again. Brienne was, after all, a novelty. A girl in rodeo wasn’t unheard of, but one strong enough to protect guys like Jaime was interesting. She held her own until Stephanopoulos asked, “Was your father proud of the work you did? What would he say about what you did in Memphis?”

She didn’t answer, and Jaime glanced over at her. Brienne’s eyes shone again. He’d likely regret this later, but Jaime casually reached across the few inches separating their chairs and covered her hand with his. Their eyes met for a moment. You have to draw the line.

“My father lived to serve others. He led thousands of men during his service in the Army. I know he would be proud of what I did. He wouldn’t expect any less of me,” she said, her voice growing stronger with each word.

Jaime squeezed her hand and let it go.

Within the hour, a still image of Jaime holding Brienne’s hand accompanied every article about their interview.

 


 

People.com
October 24, 2012, 10:14 a.m.

New York - As the Professional Bull Riders World Finals open in Las Vegas tonight, three-time champ Jaime Lannister appeared on “Good Morning America” today to discuss his recent injury at Riverlands Center in Memphis. Brienne Tarth, the bullfighter who jumped into the arena to protect him, appeared with Lannister on the show. Both reiterated that the incident was not proof of a high level of danger in the sport.
At one point host George Stephanopoulos asked Tarth about how her late father would react to her actions, and she became visibly upset. Lannister briefly held her hand to offer support, fueling more speculation that the two may be more than just acquaintances. Rumors first began to circulate after the pair were interviewed by ESPN. Sources say that Lannister cut the interview short when the questions posed to Tarth became too personal.
Lannister is expected to attend the Finals in Las Vegas this week to support fellow champ Chris Shivers, who is retiring after this competition. Lannister is still recovering from the amputation of two fingers on his right hand.

 



November 22, 2012
Casterly Rock, Montecito, California

The summons had come from Tywin Lannister’s assistant, a harried girl whose name Jaime had not bothered to learn. They rarely lasted longer than a month or two. Jaime was expected for Thanksgiving at Casterly Rock. Formal attire required.

Jaime showed up an hour late, still wearing the faded jeans and The Empire Strikes Back T-shirt he’d worn on the plane. He’d brought a suit in a wardrobe bag, but he didn’t feel like changing just yet. Jaime dropped the bag off in his old bedroom, now a tastefully decorated, generic guest room, and made his way to Tywin’s home office.

When he opened the door, the first thing Jaime noticed was the view. A huge floor-to-ceiling window dominated the space, revealing the lush hillside falling away to meet the ocean. Sparkling green-blue waves raced away toward the horizon and the deep blue sky, unblemished by smog on this windy day. As a child, he had dreamed of sailing away to that horizon.

Tywin Lannister’s desk faced the door. He was seated there, reviewing documents and annotating them with a gold pen. Everything about Father was precise. Closely trimmed gold and silver beard, short, no-nonsense hair. Custom-tailored charcoal suit, gold lion cufflinks, impeccable crimson tie, gold wedding ring still on his left hand. Jaime and Tyrion occasionally referred to him as “Lord Tywin” between themselves. He should have been born nobility somewhere. Instead he was simply rich and ruthless.

Jaime sauntered up to the desk as insolently as he could manage, which was very, and sat in one of the chairs arranged before the desk. He did not speak. Father knew he was there.

A full minute passed, then another. Jaime noted the utter lack of personal touches in the room where his father spent much of his time at Casterly Rock. There was a single large family portrait in his office at Lannister Corp headquarters. The portrait was so old that Tyrion wasn’t even in it.

Finally Tywin looked up, taking in Jaime’s relaxed posture, shaggy hair, scruffy beard, informal clothing, and the dirty Vans on his feet. Jaime’s hand was tucked out of sight. Tywin’s lip curled.

“Well, show it to me,” he prompted, his voice clipped and impatient.

Jaime raised an eyebrow, then his hand. The patchwork of newly-forming scars was livid crimson, but the swelling was long gone and the pain had mostly faded. He needed to start physical and occupational therapy soon. The therapists hoped he might eventually be able to write competently, but he would need to relearn typing. Jaime was more interested in regaining the ability to pick up objects without fumbling. His grip strength was uncertain. He couldn’t think about riding yet. He dropped his hand back into his lap.

Tywin nodded once, looked back at the papers on his desk. “I expected you sooner.” His disapproval was clear.

“My flight arrived late,” Jaime replied smoothly. And then I had a drink at LAX and people watched until I felt like getting my rental car.

“I heard from an old acquaintance at the Dreadfort,” Tywin said crisply.

“I wouldn’t think you would have acquaintances at a prison, Father,” Jaime replied. The Dreadfort was the federal prison hosting Hoat and Zollo for the next three years. Given the evidence against them, they had accepted a plea bargain, much to Jaime’s dismay. He had looked forward to testifying against them.

“You would be surprised.” Tywin smiled, and Jaime suddenly remembered seeing that particular smile when Tywin had taken over and dismantled a rival company, Castamere Manufacturing. “Mr. Hoat has been transferred to a hospital. Apparently he ran afoul of an inmate known as the Mountain. This inmate apparently thought it would be amusing to wrap Mr. Hoat’s long beard around his throat and strangle him with it repeatedly. When the beard began to fray, the Mountain produced a shiv and started cutting.”

The satisfied smile that had begun to creep across Jaime’s face died. He wondered briefly if his father had had something to do with the Mountain’s actions, but it wasn’t like Tywin Lannister to torture his foes. He at least offered a quick death. “Is Hoat alive?” Jaime finally asked, his throat suddenly dry.

“For now,” Tywin confirmed. He pushed some documents across the desk. “I have a gift for you.” His voice was not particularly warm, but Jaime could not recall a time when his father had ever been affectionate.

“Is it new fingers? If it’s not, it can wait.” Tywin had not visited or called since the accident. Not that Jaime had expected it.

Tywin rested one hand on the documents, then appraised his son. “Now that your career is over,” he didn’t bother hiding a sneer as he said this, “you will come work at Lannister Corp. There is an office waiting for you. You will start in a consulting role until you obtain a business degree. I would prefer Harvard, but USC will have to do.”

Jaime wished he were surprised, but he wasn’t. Tywin had likely put all this in motion the moment he’d heard about Jaime’s maiming. Or maybe he’d been plotting this for years. “Have you chosen a bride for me as well? We can’t very well let Joffrey lead the next generation of Lannisters,” he said acidly. Joffrey had become more callous and cruel as he grew. At 14 he was not a child Jaime cared to spend any time with.

A flicker of irritation went through Tywin’s piercing green eyes. They all knew there was something terribly wrong with Joffrey, but that fell under the broad category of “things Lannisters do not discuss,” along with Tommen’s increasingly uncanny resemblance to Jaime.

Jaime smirked. Needling his father was one of the few pleasures in spending time with the man. “You have done something,” he guessed.

Tywin stared him down for a minute. “I invited the Tarth girl to dinner tonight.”

“Why would you do that?” Jaime asked, but suddenly he saw the scope of his father’s plans. He’d always known that his father treated them like pieces in his personal chess game, but Jaime thought he’d removed himself from the board years ago.

Tywin frowned. “She wouldn’t be my first choice. An orphan with no means or prospects to speak of, mannish in appearance and vocation. Ordinarily she would be well below our level, but with your unsavory reputation more appropriate women are out of your reach. This girl is connected to the Tyrells and the press seems to think you are fond of her. She’ll have to do.”

Jaime bristled at this. His hands curled into fists, and the renewed pain shooting up his right arm only stoked his anger. “No,” he said with finality, shaking his head. “I lost part of my hand, not my head. I was not made to sit in an office all day. You can’t just expect me to come work for you, marry whomever you throw at me, and produce a bunch of children. I am a bull rider and that’s all I mean to be.”

Tywin didn’t flinch. “Then you are not my son. You want to waste your life on that ridiculous sport, very well. Do that, and only that. See where it gets you. I will handle the girl, and you will both leave after dinner. Don’t bother coming back.”

Jaime was loathe to give his father the last word. “Why would I? There’s nothing left for me here,” he responded tersely, and stalked out of the room, slamming the door for good measure.

He wouldn’t miss Tywin Lannister. Even after Jaime had thought he’d chosen his own path, his father’s interference with the Aerys cover-up had poisoned his career. If Tywin was truly done with him, Jaime could finally write his own story. He was only 34, he had enough money to keep him going for years, and there were still a few people who supported him. Even as he said he would only be a bull rider, Jaime had known it wasn't true. Even the greatest riders moved on to new challenges, but Jaime's next move would be his choice, not his father's.

Chapter Text

November 22, 2012
Casterly Rock, Montecito, California

Brienne tugged at her dress again. Margaery had assured her that the black shift fit perfectly and was not far too short. Yet the minute Brienne had settled herself in the backseat of the car the Lannisters had sent, she knew the expanse of bare thigh on display was definitely too much.

She had two hours to dwell on this while the car made its slow way up the freeways toward Santa Barbara. Brienne busied herself playing games on her phone, hoping to distract herself from the uncomfortable evening ahead of her.

Brienne was not sure what had possessed Tywin Lannister to invite her to Thanksgiving dinner, but Margaery had forced her to accept. “Maybe he’ll cover your medical bills,” she had suggested, as if Brienne had jumped into that arena expecting a reward. She was still embarrassed that her lack of medical insurance had come out in one of the news articles. It wasn’t anyone’s business.

After a while, Brienne looked up from her phone to find the car climbing up into the hills overlooking the Pacific. The road wound through miles of increasingly sparsely populated hillside until at last they reached an iron gate, which slowly swung open to admit the car onto a private road. The road ended in a large courtyard before an immense Spanish-style mansion set directly against the hillside. Brienne looked through the car’s back window and saw the Pacific kissed with golden evening sun stretched across the entire horizon below.

A uniformed maid ushered Brienne into the house, which was strangely silent for a holiday. She pointed toward a room at the end of a hallway, and Brienne made her way toward the sound of clinking glasses and quiet voices.

The hall ended in a long, narrow room with floor-to-ceiling windows displaying the incredible view. A patio and balcony ran along one end of the room, and a few formal seating areas broke up the space.

There were about 20 people in the room, all dressed in suits and dresses as if this were a wedding rather than a family dinner, and at first glance Brienne recognized no one. Her breathing quickened, the tingling in her fingers signaling the early flutters of panic. She hated situations like these, and once again she cursed Margaery for convincing her to come at all.

“Brienne.”

The welcome sound of her name, even from an unfamiliar voice, sent a rush of relief through Brienne. She turned, and was grateful to recognize the blonde woman sitting beside a coffee table littered with playing cards. Jaime’s Aunt Genna.

The older woman smiled. “Come join us, sweetling. Jaime’s on the phone with Daven, and has abandoned his cards.”

Brienne returned Genna’s smile and gratefully sank into the chair to which the older woman gestured. “Thank you,” Brienne said, her eyes darting to the other card players.

“Everyone, this is Brienne, the girl who saved our Jaime.” Genna pointed to the other players. “My son Walder.” A rather scrawny teenage boy with a sad attempt at a blonde goatee clinging to his face. “Jaime’s nephew Tommen. Well, his cousin, but Tommen calls Jaime ‘uncle,’ right, Tommen?” A boy just starting to grow out of his baby fat nodded and smiled shyly at her from under a crown of loose blonde curls. “Jaime’s brother, Tyrion.” A dwarf with an odd mix of gold and brown hair and mismatched green and black eyes.

Brienne smiled at each in turn. “What are you playing?” she asked Genna.

“Spades,” Tyrion replied, grinning the same sly smile as his brother. “Do you play?”

Brienne met his grin with one of her own. “A little,” she admitted. There was a lot of downtime at competitions and on the road.

“Perfect. We’re teaching Tommen,” Genna said.

Brienne picked up her cards just as Jaime emerged from a door at the far end of the room, a phone pressed against his ear. Apparently suits were just as flattering on him as jeans, even with his shaggy hair and bearded face. He looked like he’d walked out of one of the massive Calvin Klein advertisements she’d seen in Times Square.

Tyrion noticed her attention shift and turned to spot his brother. Tyrion turned back and eyed her with his head tipped to the side and a slight smile. Then his gaze wandered down. Brienne glanced down at herself. Her ridiculous dress was riding up again, displaying far more leg than was seemly. Brienne tried to discreetly drag the hem back down again, and Tyrion smirked.

Jaime walked up behind Tyrion and touched his shoulder. “Your turn,” he said, handing Tyrion the phone.

Tyrion stood and walked away while Jaime sank into Tyrion’s seat, sweeping up his cards with his left hand. As he looked through them, Brienne saw his right hand unbandaged for the first time. It was briefly jarring to note the missing fingers, but it was the scarring that caught her attention. Scars twisted across his pale skin in slender crimson highways. He seemed to have decent use of the hand, though it was slow to respond, and his grip was obviously weak. Twice he tried to rest a card against a finger that wasn’t there.

Jaime looked up and noticed her watching him. He waved vaguely at the room and said quietly, “Sorry about this.”

She shrugged. “It’s okay,” she replied, even though it wasn’t.

He cocked an eyebrow at Brienne, skeptical, then his gaze returned to his cards.

They’d been playing for about half an hour when a waiter tapped Brienne on the shoulder. “Miss, Mr. Lannister would like to see you in his office,” he said quietly. “Down the hall and to the left.”

“Oh,” was all Brienne could manage. She swallowed hard and set her cards face-down on the table. “Tyrion, why don’t you take over my cards?” she suggested, getting to her feet, holding the hem of her dress down in an effort to avoid flashing poor Tommen as she stood. Tyrion had been helping the boy, but Tommen didn’t really need it anymore. Jaime avoided her questioning gaze, his eyes fixed on his brother behind her.

Brienne made her way across the room, trying not to notice the curious looks of everyone she passed. A disdainful blonde wrinkled her nose as Brienne passed, muttering something under her breath that made the sour-looking teenager at her side snicker. Brienne recognized her from Renly’s family photos. Cersei Lannister, Jaime’s cousin.  Brienne knew she didn’t belong here. She didn’t need anyone to confirm it.

Brienne found what she hoped was the right door and took a deep breath before opening it. Tywin Lannister sat at his desk, studying documents even now, while his guests celebrated the holiday without him. She took a seat in front of the desk and waited, first crossing her legs and then just crossing her ankles. It was nearly impossible to get comfortable in this dress. Brienne cursed Margaery again, this time for picking out a dress that made her feel even larger and more awkward than usual. At least for once her legs weren’t covered in bruises.

After what felt like an eternity, Mr. Lannister looked up, his sharp gaze quickly taking her in before he focused on the desk again. He flipped open a large binder and began writing. “Miss Tarth, my apologies for keeping you from wherever you would normally spend this holiday.”

“No apologies needed, sir. Your sister has been very kind to me,” Brienne replied, defaulting to the polite deference she’d always shown her father’s superiors.

“Yes, Genna has a soft spot for those less fortunate,” he said dismissively. Tywin Lannister tore loose the paper he’d written on, and set it on the desktop. “Miss Tarth, I must repay you for your assistance when Jaime was injured. A Lannister always pays his debts.”

He pushed the paper across the desk. Brienne leaned forward. It was a check for $50,000. “I can’t take that,” she sputtered. Margaery was right.  

“You will take it,” Mr. Lannister said firmly, “and you will have no further contact with Jaime.”

Brienne frowned. “No further contact?” she echoed. That hardly required a bribe. She might never have seen Jaime again if Mr. Lannister hadn’t invited her here.

Mr. Lannister looked up at her, his mouth pressed into a tight line. “Jaime may have chosen rodeo over his family, but he is still a Lannister. He will not shame me with a ridiculous job and an inappropriate woman. The Tyrells may not mind your lack of breeding and education, but Lannisters have higher standards. To use your vernacular, Miss Tarth, we’re officers. We don’t mingle with enlisted.” His gaze fell to the check again. “Take it, and I trust I won’t see you again.”

Clearly done with her, Tywin Lannister went back to his papers. For a man who claimed to understand the military, he clearly wasn’t as familiar with it as he thought. Master Sergeant Tarth had been a high-level non-commissioned officer, a man who had earned the respect of both officers and enlisted. He was admired, not feared. Jaime’s father wouldn’t understand the difference.

Brienne stood stiffly. This time fury, not embarrassment, burned in her face. Tywin Lannister could insult her, but he couldn’t make her do anything.

“Jaime could have died,” she said as evenly as she could manage, “and you didn’t even answer your phone. Think what you like, but money and education don’t make you better than me.”

Leaving the check where it lay, Brienne turned and strode out of the office. Once out of Mr. Lannister’s sight, she took her time walking back down the hall. She needed to calm down before she had to face Jaime and his family again. A few doors down, she heard voices.

The door was slightly ajar. “You’re the one who insists on living so far away.” A woman’s voice, irritated.

“Can we talk about this later? I need to go—” That was Jaime.

“No, we cannot talk about this later. You’re so eager to drag my children off to Texas, we’ll talk now or not at all.” That voice was vaguely familiar, but Brienne couldn’t place it. Whoever the woman was, she was pissed.

“I’d pay for their tickets. They would have a good time.” Jaime sounded resigned. This was clearly an argument they’d had before.

“No, you didn’t want me anymore. You don’t get to play happy families when it’s convenient for you. Besides, I don’t want the kids exposed to the women you bring home.”

Brienne knew she should walk away, but she’d read every article published about both she and Jaime since the accident, and none had ever mentioned his ex or any kids.

“What women? I don’t bring women home, and you don’t get to lecture me about dating after Oberyn,” Jaime scoffed.

“You don’t bring women home? What about that freak playing cards with Tommen?” the woman said scathingly.

Brienne took a step back. Freak. It’d been awhile since she’d heard that one, mercifully, but it was a classic. Etched into her locker door when she was 13.

“Brienne? We’re not dating. Father invited her, and gods know what he’s saying to her right now.” Jaime paused, and when he spoke again his voice was softer. “Punish me all you want, but your children need a father.”

She laughed harshly. “Their father is dead, and you’re falling to pieces. They don’t need you.” Her voice dripped with scorn.

Brienne heard footsteps approaching the door. Swiftly she continued down the hall, back to the party. When she was almost back to the room, the woman swept past her. Cersei.  

Brienne had heard the rumors from Renly, who couldn’t quite believe Jaime would carry on an affair with his cousin. Renly had never liked his sister-in-law, a woman he always referred to as “the ice queen,” but had always liked Jaime, despite his history of violence and current arrogance. When Jaime returned to the party, he joined a group including a man who looked like a slightly younger, warmer version of Tywin.  

As she sipped a glass of red wine, grateful for the alcohol if not enjoying the taste, Brienne half-listened to Genna’s gossip about a missionary nephew whose wife was sleeping with half of the men in their congregation while he was away bringing the Seven to Asshai. Brienne couldn’t quite understand why they found this amusing rather than sad.

Brienne checked her phone quickly, hoping for a text from Margaery, but there was nothing. She thought wistfully of the Tyrells’ sprawling house in Pasadena, where she had often spent holidays the last few years. Renly was there too, of course. By now they’d be done watching football and were probably playing games. Garlan and Willas insisted on playing charades every year even though they were terrible at it. From the beginning the Tyrells had made Brienne feel welcome, as if she were family and not just a classmate of Margaery’s brought home like a lost puppy.

The Lannisters, by contrast, were cold and formal. Even little Tommen wore a suit, and Cersei wore some kind of couture dress so fragile she couldn’t seem to sit comfortably in it. Joffrey’s sour expression, which Brienne had originally thought a comment on her appearance, seemed to be permanently affixed to his face.

While there was clearly affection between some family members, tension crackled in the air. When Tywin finally joined the gathering, Brienne couldn’t help but notice the way he completely ignored his sons and his sister. Jaime hardly glanced at his father, too preoccupied with glaring at Cersei, who had removed Tommen from their card game. The boy and a slightly older girl with the same shining golden curls were enthralled with their iPads in a far corner of the room.

When dinner was finally served, Genna Lannister insisted that Brienne sit beside her. Genna was pleasant enough company, sharing stories about life on her ranch in Utah, where Jaime had spent several years. Brienne was truly grateful for her kindness, but as soon as dinner ended she escaped outside to the patio. She stood at the railing, wondering how much longer she had to stay before she could return to Los Angeles.

“Enjoying the view?” Tyrion appeared at her side.

“It’s stunning,” Brienne replied. The hillside was dotted with the lights of streets and scattered homes. Far below huddled the lights of Santa Barbara, and beyond that the moonlight glinted off the ocean. It was more than stunning. Even up here, there was a hint of salt on the breeze.

“And quiet.”

Brienne laughed. “That it is.” She sighed. “Is it always like this?”

“If you mean Father reminding us what great disappointments we are by completely ignoring us, Cersei getting drunk, and everyone gossiping about the latest family scandal, then yes.”

“Disappointment? Jaime’s a world champion, and you’re a lawyer, right? I thought your brother mentioned that,” Brienne replied.

Tyrion laughed. “Oh yes, but a product of inferior state schools, according to the great and powerful Tywin Lannister. He wanted us to follow him to Harvard. Instead Jaime skipped college, and I went to Berkeley. When law school rolled around, I went to Texas.” He folded down his middle two fingers and held his hand up. “Hook ‘em horns. Is it too soon for that joke? I’d rather Jaime not punch me tonight, but I thought he could use a laugh.”

Brienne snorted. “I doubt he’ll appreciate it, but you know him much better than I do.” She sighed. “I don’t know what your father was thinking, inviting me here. It’s not like he needed to buy me off to keep your brother away from me.”

Tyrion turned to focus on her. “Do you always do that?”

“Do what?” Brienne asked, beginning to wish she’d brought a jacket. She crossed her arms and tried to rub away her goosebumps.

“Cut yourself down before anyone else gets the chance to,” he said bluntly.

Brienne blushed. “Old habits die hard.” As much trouble as she’d had as a plain girl who had towered over her peers since she was 10, Tyrion must have had it far worse.

“You shouldn’t make it easier for people to hurt you. Look, I understand. My father never lets me forget who and what I am, and if I happen to, all I need do is look at Jaime. I love him, but it has never been easy living in his shadow.” Tyrion finished his drink in one long swallow.

“No, I imagine it wasn’t,” Brienne agreed. It hadn’t been easy spending her high school years as Margaery’s friend either. As captain of the volleyball team, speech and debate team president, and prom queen, Margaery had ruled Highgarden. “You know, you remind me a lot of your brother.”

Tyrion looked away and said dryly, “Yes, we’re practically twins. I’m surprised you can tell us apart.”

Brienne rolled her eyes. “You’re nearly as bad as Jaime.”

“Oh, I’m much worse. Jaime is a tenderhearted fool compared to me.” To Brienne’s surprise, Tyrion sounded completely sincere.

“That must be a side of him I haven’t seen. He’s spent most of our time together trying to provoke me,” Brienne replied. The nicest thing Jaime had ever said was that her clothes in New York hadn’t been as bad as the last outfit she’d worn. Hardly a glowing compliment, no matter what the gossipy press liked to think about the two of them.

Tyrion smiled indulgently. “He wouldn’t bother talking to you at all if he had such a low opinion of you. It’s really the only thing he has in common with Father. Neither of them suffer fools.”

“Spilling all my secrets, Tyrion?”

Brienne spun around. Jaime Lannister leaned against the doorframe, his arms crossed, a hint of a smirk curling his lips. He’d changed out of his suit, and was now making jeans and a Star Wars T-shirt far sexier than they had any right to be. From his expression, Brienne could tell that she and Tyrion made quite the absurd pair.

“You hardly need to cultivate an aura of mystery, brother,” Tyrion replied airily. “Your ridiculous face is enough of a lure.”

Jaime rolled his eyes. “I’m done with this farce of a family holiday. Brienne, I thought you might appreciate an early ride home.”

Brienne nodded emphatically. “Yes.” She blushed, and turned to Tyrion. “Not that you and your aunt haven’t been perfectly nice to me.”

Tyrion shared a quick glance with his brother. The younger man shook his head. “No offense taken. It was lovely meeting you.”

Half an hour later, sitting in the passenger seat of Jaime Lannister’s rental car, Brienne deeply regretted accepting a ride from him. Jaime was tense and his music choices had begun to worry her.

“I’m Going Down” had been followed by “You Give Love a Bad Name” and then “Father of Mine.” Jaime’s speaking voice was low and provocative; it had a way of sliding through the gaps in her armor to prod at every soft place and hidden wound. His singing voice was enthusiastic but surprisingly terrible.

She hoped he might not sing along when the next song was “Love the Way You Lie,” Eminem and Rihanna’s ode to abusive relationships. And then he began to mutter along with Eminem rapping. Maybe she could get him to just drop her off somewhere and Margaery could come get her. Brienne checked her phone. No messages, and odds were good that Margaery had drunk too much to drive, but Brienne couldn’t handle another hour of this.

Brienne jammed her finger down on the stereo’s power button. “That’s enough. What happened tonight?”

Jaime looked like he’d just woken up from some kind of trance, which was disconcerting considering he was driving. “What are you talking about?”

“Did you even listen to those lyrics? Two nasty break-up songs, serious daddy issues, and now a couple beating the crap out of each other.” He was worse than Margaery after a break-up. Her favorite coping strategy involved shots of tequila and singing loudly to angry girl pop.

“Oh.” He had the grace to seem at least slightly embarrassed.

“Could we not listen to every depressing song you own?” Brienne hesitated for a moment and then continued. “It was bad enough sitting through dinner with your family after your father insulted me and then ordered me to stay away from you.”

“Is that what he said to you?” Jaime glanced over at her, his eyes wide. “I tried to intervene, but I got sidetracked.”

Brienne stared at her callused hands in her lap, rough nails snagging the delicate fabric of her dress. Quietly she told him, “He wrote me a large check, and then told me that a girl with no family and no money was unworthy of a Lannister. He seems to have forgotten he invited me.”

Jaime muttered a string of curses. “I wish I could say that was the first time he tried to buy off a girl, but you seem to be handling it better than Tyrion’s college girlfriend did.” He combed his right hand through his hair and scratched his bearded cheek. “So how much was I worth?”

Brienne sighed. “Fifty thousand, and I didn’t take it,” she pointed out.

He nodded. “More than Tyrion,” Jaime confirmed, a hint of bitterness in his voice. He glanced at Brienne. “And I wouldn’t think you’d take his money.”

“I don’t want anything from that man,” Brienne confirmed.

“Well, we have that in common, then,” Jaime agreed. “He told me this afternoon that he’d invited you, when it was too late to warn you not to come. I guess he believed the gossip magazines.”

“Oh yes, People Magazine, elevating two nice gestures into a torrid secret romance,” Brienne scoffed, rolling her eyes. Margaery had found the notion that her shy, honorable friend would take up with the most notorious man in bull riding endlessly amusing, which had only made each ridiculous article all the more embarrassing.

They fell silent, watching the road spool out ahead of them in the darkness.

Brienne sighed, finding awkward silence less of an improvement than she’d hoped. “So what happened?” she prodded.

“Nothing. I just don’t like family events,” Jaime hedged.

She was going to have to admit to eavesdropping, or they’d sit here in sullen silence. Gods forbid he might start singing again. “I may have overheard some of your fight with Cersei,” Brienne admitted.

Jaime looked at her sharply. “What?”

She shrugged. “I was walking back from your father’s office. You weren’t quiet.”

Jaime groaned and bit his lip. “What did you hear?” The question escaped in a single exhale.

“Enough,” Brienne said simply. There was no need to elaborate.

He nodded and stared out at the road ahead. The hum of the asphalt beneath the tires filled the small car with its comforting rhythm.

Brienne looked out her window, where a small sliver of ocean was still visible framing the urban sprawl as they rolled through the northern suburbs of Los Angeles. The rental car smelled aggressively of air freshener underlying stale cigarette smoke.

Jaime took a deep, shaky breath. “I know it seems crazy. Even I can see it now. Cersei spent most of her childhood at the Rock. Her parents were in the Navy and deployed frequently, so my mom treated her like a daughter. We were as close as twins. After Mom died delivering Tyrion, Father gave us over to a series of nannies. Finally he sent me away to Genna and Cersei to her mother in Florida. We were apart for three years.

“Then Uncle Gerion died in Iraq. Cersei and her mom came back to the Rock, so Father brought me home too. Everything was different. She didn’t feel like my sister anymore, and we were inseparable. After her mother killed herself, Father sent us away to separate boarding schools. I think he knew, even then.  

“It took me years to see that we could never be what the other one needed. Now she punishes me. My shrink said she uses the kids against me because they’re the only power she has left to wield.”

Oncoming headlights illuminated Jaime’s profile as cars passed them heading north. For once he had no cutting remark, no sharp smile, no tension in his body. His eyes were focused on the road ahead.

“Your shrink?” It was the only thing Brienne could think to say. She couldn’t offer him any assurance that she understood, and she had no intention of asking if the kids were his. She didn’t really want to know.

Jaime sighed. “Tyrion made me see a therapist. He thought I might just fall into a bottle. I went for a few months.” He shrugged. “I don’t know how much it helped. I spent most of the time watching the shrink’s reactions and confirming just how fucked up my family is.”

“Tyrion seemed nice. A little over-enthusiastic with his drinking, but nice,” Brienne offered.

Jaime laughed. “I don’t drink around my family. Tyrion can do it, but I can’t handle them drunk. I say stupid things.”

“You say stupid things sober,” she pointed out, needing to lighten the mood, turn the conversation away from the family secrets she wished she didn’t know.

He grinned. “Just imagine how terrible I must be drunk then.”

“Your brother said something very similar.”

“I’m not surprised you liked Tyrion. Most people do if they give him a chance. Granted you looked fucking ridiculous next to him,” Jaime teased.

Brienne shook her head ruefully. “Another joke about my height. You’re awfully lazy with your insults.”

“Oh really?” Jaime snuck a quick glance at her, his gaze running from her bare legs up to her somewhat tamed blonde hair. “What should I pick on? Your millions of freckles? How crazy short that dress is? That you could probably bench press me?”

Brienne huffed at that. She could not bench press him. “You haven’t made an original taunt yet. Trust me, I’ve heard it all.” She loathed the bitterness in her voice, but accepting reality didn’t make it any easier to swallow.

“Oh, have no fear. I’m sure I can find something original to say,” Jaime promised, his familiar arrogance returning.

“Do you want to try some music again? I’ll pick this time,” Brienne offered.

He considered that a moment, then answered, “Sure. Let’s hear how embarrassingly bad your musical taste is.”

“You talk a good game, Lannister, but don’t forget I’ve heard you rapping.” Brienne unplugged his phone and plugged hers into the stereo system. Forgoing the upbeat motivational rock tunes she listened to when she ran and worked out, she selected a playlist of country ballads and settled back into the passenger seat.

As the first notes filled the car, a small smile tugged at Jaime’s lips, and he shook his head a little, silently judging her selection. Nevertheless, he sang along quietly, this song better suited to his voice, and Brienne joined in.

For the rest of the drive, they listened in companionable silence, breaking that silence occasionally with terrible harmony when they both knew the words.

It wasn’t a bad way to say goodbye.

 

Chapter Text

 

April 4, 2010
The Eyrie, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Jaime was used to women approaching him at competitions, but this one was dressed far more conservatively than usual. A publicist or reporter, most likely.

“Mr. Lannister?” she asked, holding out a large manila envelope.

“Can I help you?” he asked, taking the envelope.

She smiled thinly. “You’ve been served. Have a good day.”

Jaime tore the envelope open as she stalked away. He was scheduled to ride in an hour, and there was no way this would be good news. He scanned the documents, dread growing with every paragraph of legalese. Stannis was contesting Cersei and the children’s claims on Robert’s estate.

Robert had died in a hunting accident two months earlier and unfortunately had never updated his will. The terms stipulated that one third of his wealth would go to his wife, the rest to his legitimate children. The children were not named, and Stannis sought to confirm their paternity.

Among the papers was a court order. Jaime was ordered to provide a DNA sample in Los Angeles witnessed by Stannis and his attorney.

He fumbled his phone out of his pocket and hurried down a corridor, deeper into the bowels of the arena in search of somewhere private. He settled for a supply closet and dialed Cersei.

“A paternity test? What the hell am I supposed to do?” he snapped as soon as she picked up the phone.

“I can’t talk right now,” she said tersely. “Just do what the order says. We don’t have a choice.”

Jaime threw his phone against the wall, regretting it instantly as the face cracked. He hadn’t seen Cersei since the funeral. The kids had been so distraught you’d never know Robert had been an absentee father, spending far more time in Washington, D.C., than was necessary for a congressman. Tommen had panicked at the vigil and run crying from the room. Jaime had followed him and tried to comfort the boy, but Cersei had stormed out and admonished Tommen to stop acting like a baby. Jaime had tried to intervene, but she had hissed at him to leave them alone and dragged Tommen away.

 


 

PROBATE OF CONGRESSMAN’S ESTATE STALLED
Los Angeles Times
April 14, 2010

LOS ANGELES - Two months after Rep. Robert Baratheon died in a hunting accident in Texas, the executor of his estate has filed papers with the Los Angeles County courts to enforce a stipulation of his will.
Stannis Baratheon, the elder of the congressman’s two brothers, has disputed the claim of Cersei Lannister-Baratheon to one third of her husband’s estate. The will includes a clause that disinherits Mrs. Baratheon if adultery is proven. All remaining assets of the estate are to be split between the congressman's legitimate children.
To further his case, Stannis Baratheon filed additional papers requesting paternity tests for all three Baratheon children: Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen. Sources say that court orders were issued compelling DNA samples from several men, including various members of the late congressman’s campaign team as well as Mrs. Baratheon’s cousin Jaime Lannister, a professional bull rider.

 


 

April 14, 2010
Los Angeles, California

Jaime sat in the cold conference room, his jacket draped awkwardly over the sling holding his left arm in place. He had been bucked off in Wyoming, breaking his collarbone in the fall, and had only arrived in California this morning. His season was likely over, his fourth ended by injuries. He’d been injured so often Jaime sometimes wondered how he wasn’t addicted to painkillers yet, and his orthopedic surgeon frequently joked that Jaime was single-handedly putting his daughter through college.

At Jaime’s right sat Damon Marbrand, his friend Addam’s father. The Marbrands had been family friends since Damon and Tywin attended Harvard together. Addam and Jaime had both graduated from Crakehall, and were still as close as their busy careers allowed. These days, that wasn’t particularly close.

Jaime couldn’t wait to get home. Tyrion would be studying furiously, as usual, but they could rent movies and relax for one night before his final exams began. Tyrion was finishing his first year of law school at UT, and living with Jaime. The brothers living together had no impact on Cersei’s visits. Jaime had bought the house with the million dollar bonus that came with his second championship in 2005, but Cersei had only visited a few times, always with the children in tow.

When Jaime had begun looking for a house outside of California, away from his father, she told him that it didn’t matter where he lived if it wasn’t nearby. Jaime had bought a house in Austin, Texas, where marriage between first cousins was a criminal offense. At that time he had thought that might bother her, but Cersei hadn’t reacted at all when he told her.

Jaime liked Austin. It was relaxed, and the famous and not-so-famous people who called it home lived in peace. Cersei still came to him on the road sometimes, but as the years passed, the children and Robert’s political career had come to dominate her life. Jaime could no longer remember the last time he’d asked her to leave Robert and marry him.

The door opened behind Jaime. Stannis and his attorney, Davos Seaworth, entered the room, along with a man wearing a lab coat and holding a package in his hands. Stannis and Davos sat across the table from Jaime and Damon.

“Stannis, what are we doing here?” Jaime asked wearily. Stannis had plenty of his own money as well as his share of the inheritance from his parents, killed in Hurricane Andrew when Renly was four years old.  What did it really matter if some of Robert’s money went to children who weren’t biologically his?

Stannis’ face was impassive. “This isn’t personal, Jaime. Robert had concerns before he died. He and Ned both expressed some doubts about your cousin’s behavior.”

Jaime’s right hand clenched into a fist, and his jaw was set. Robert had concerns? Robert who had bedded every pretty intern on his campaign, Robert who had paid for at least four abortions in Washington D.C. since his election. “Her behavior? What about his?”

Stannis waved a hand dismissively. “That has been handled. Cersei is the current issue. Ned hired a private investigator on Robert’s behalf. Robert had not been aware of her trips to various cities where you happened to be on tour. It was clear from the financial records that Cersei did not book hotel rooms for these trips.” Stannis’ tight smile made his implication clear.

Jaime wondered how far back the private investigator had looked. For the last few years her visits had been infrequent. They had only fucked once in the last six months, in Robert’s home office right before the funeral. In the early years of her marriage, though, she had come to Jaime at least once or twice a month. Jaime smiled back, but it was a patronizing smile. “We grew up together, Stannis. Cersei spent her whole childhood at the Rock, her parents were deployed so often.”

Stannis sighed. “I understand that. I would not have assumed such an … unnatural relationship.” He shuddered. “With you, this is mainly a matter of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. The others are more likely.”

Jaime froze. “The others?”

Stannis hesitated, then gestured to Davos. The attorney opened a folder and slid a piece of paper across the table to Jaime. “There have actually been quite a few men over the years,” Stannis explained. “Only those who knew her before Tommen’s birth will be tested.”

Jaime’s eyes flicked down to the paper, but he did not touch it. There were several names he didn’t recognize, but others he did. Lancel Lannister. Their cousin, a skinny kid who’d worked in Robert’s Los Angeles office before he became a missionary. Osmund Kettleblack. Osfryd Kettleblack. Osney Kettleblack. The three brothers, former Army Rangers, had served as Robert’s security team off and on for ten years. Danwell “Moon Boy” Rivers. The comedian who warmed up the crowd before Robert’s campaign speeches.

Jaime took a deep breath and locked away the fury burning in his chest. She wouldn’t.  “That’s quite a list,” he said evenly.

Stannis took the list back, reviewing it with obvious distaste. “She wasn’t particularly discreet. If Robert hadn’t been so busy, he might have seen the signs.”

“Yes, Robert was busy,” Jaime said dryly. “What do you need from me, Stannis?”

“Just a cheek swab. We’ll have the results in three or four days.” Stannis seemed apologetic. Still, Jaime had trouble accepting moral judgment from a man whose wife spent her days trying to convert tourists to the Lord of Light at the Orlando airport.

Jaime sat, numb, while the man in the lab coat approached and removed a sterile swab from the package he held. He gestured to Jaime to open his mouth, and when Jaime complied, the man swiped the swab around the inside of his cheek. He dropped the swab into a plastic bag, sealed it, and wrote Jaime’s name on the bag.

“Is that it?” Jaime asked, his mouth dry and tasting strongly of cotton.

Stannis nodded.

Jaime stood. Damon followed him out of the room.

“Jaime?” Damon called as Jaime turned to leave.

“Yes?” Jaime struggled to focus. He deliberately shifted his arm in the sling, using the dull grind of pain to ground himself.

“Are you sticking around or should I call you at home?” Damon asked, his kind face full of concern.

Jaime shook his head. “I’ll fly home tonight. You can reach me on my cell.” He sighed and summoned a little of his old charm. “Thank you for coming, Damon. I really do appreciate it. And if you talk to Addam first could you tell him to give me a call? It’s been too long since we kicked Daven’s ass at Call of Duty.” Never mind that with his arm in a sling Jaime wouldn’t be able to work the controller.

Damon smiled. “Sure, Jaime. No problem.”

Addam and Jaime hadn’t spoken in weeks, and hadn’t seen each other in at least six months. Addam was a police detective here in Los Angeles and worked incredibly long hours in the Crimes Against Children division. Growing up they had idolized Jaime’s cousin Daven, who was five years older than them. Daven was a career Marine and frequently overseas. As close as they were, Jaime had never confided in either of them about Cersei. He’d given both men the impression that he simply indulged in one-night-stands on the road and was happy with that.

Jaime and Damon parted ways at the entrance of the building where Seaworth Saan was headquartered. Jaime drove directly to the pricey Brentwood neighborhood, where Cersei lived in the ostentatious mock-castle Robert had purchased before their wedding. The vivid red door Jaime had always hated still had a fading note taped to it: PLEASE RESPECT OUR PRIVACY IN THIS TIME OF MOURNING. THANK YOU.

Cersei opened the door the second time he rang the bell. She held a glass of red wine even though it was barely mid-afternoon.

“Where are the kids?” Jaime asked warily. The house was utterly silent.

Cersei sighed. “Taena is picking up Myrcie and Tommen from school. Joff has lacrosse until 5.” She gestured vaguely toward the living room. “Would you like to come in for a few minutes? You’ll understand that I can’t let you see the kids today.”

Jaime ground his teeth. She acted as if this were a casual social call. “I’ve just been to see Stannis’ lawyer.”

Cersei wandered into the large formal living room and sat heavily in a stiff chair. She was dressed as carefully as always in crisp bright green capris, a patterned tunic and gold ballet slippers. Her hair was perfect, her makeup fresh, but her eyes were tired, and her mouth set in a thin line. “Not here for a quick fuck, then?” It surprised him to hear profanity come out of that mouth when they weren’t in bed. She’d stopped cursing anywhere else after two-year-old Joffrey had yelled “shit” in the grocery store.

“No,” Jaime said emphatically. “Stannis showed me a list.”

Cersei’s eyes narrowed as they focused on him. Evaluating the threat. “What list?”

“The other men,” Jaime spat. Was she really going to play dumb? Perhaps she thought he really was that big a fool.

She opened her mouth, closed it again. Finally, Cersei met his eyes, defiant. “What do you want me to say?”

“I want you to say Stannis is wrong, but you can’t do that, can you?” Jaime demanded. He couldn’t stand still anymore. He paced the room, noticing all the useless decorative crap that meant nothing to anyone yet littered every room in this house. He hated this house. Luckily he’d been banned after he punched Robert’s friend Ned a couple years earlier (for implying that the kids looked nothing like Robert). He was too violent, Robert had said, to be around the children. First Aerys, then that paparazzo he’d thrown down the stairs (protecting Cersei from being caught with him in a hotel in New York), then Ned.

Cersei stood quickly, nearly spilling her wine onto the rug. She gestured wildly with her free hand. “You’re never here, Jaime. Never. When I need you, you’re trying to get yourself killed in Saint Louis or Tampa or fucking New Orleans. You’re hurt now.”

“This is who I am,” Jaime said levelly. “I’m tired of you throwing that in my face.”

Cersei had never liked his career; she’d never let him forget it after Glen Keeley died. Jaime’s long list of injuries didn’t help, but that was the job. When Robert’s little brother Renly had followed Jaime into professional bull riding three years earlier, she had been incandescent with rage. She hadn’t come to him since Renly joined the main tour in January.  

“I’m tired of waiting for the phone call that you’re dead,” she countered.

“You’ve been waiting ten years for me to die, and I’m still here,” Jaime said coldly. “I didn’t get myself shot playing boar hunter with a bunch of drunk morons.” He still marveled that hunting feral pigs at night, with silenced rifles no less, had seemed like a good idea to Robert.

“That’s not fair, Jaime. That was an accident. You put yourself in harm’s way all the time. If you loved me, you would have quit years ago,” she accused, poking him in the chest.

“If you loved me you would have left Robert and married me any of the hundred times I asked.”

“You never gave me what I needed,” she reproached.

“So you fucked other men?” Jaime couldn’t keep the hurt out of his voice.

“Don’t act like you haven’t been with any of those girls, what do you call them, buckle bunnies? So I sucked a few cocks, fucked a few men. Big deal,” Cersei spat. “You were my world, Jaime, and you left me alone.”

Jaime drew close to her, until he could smell her familiar perfume and see the slight flush of too much wine coloring her cheeks. “You married someone else. I waited eleven years, completely faithful to you, while you were off fucking other men. And now Robert is dead.” He cupped her cheek in his right hand. “You never intended to be with me.”

Cersei shrugged him off. “I never said I did. I told you half a hundred times that it would never happen, but you refused to listen. Uncle Tywin told me to marry Robert. You think he didn’t suspect Joff might be yours?”

“So what if he suspected? Why do you care so much what other people think?” Jaime plucked the wine glass from her hand and set it down on top of the piano behind him. Cersei had thrown things at him in the past.

She laughed bitterly. “We’ll always be cousins. You’ll always be a felon. Do you know what people are already saying?” She backed away, picked up a newspaper from the coffee table and held it up. There was a large article about Stannis contesting the will. “Today Myrcie’s best friend canceled their weekend plans. I had to turn off the news during breakfast because they were talking about us. Joff asked me last night if his father was really his father. This is what you want for them? A life where people laugh at them behind their backs? To their faces?”

Jaime felt like she had slapped him. I really was a fool. He could feel the smile cruelly curling his lips. “You should have thought about that before they were born.”

She had no answer for that, just glared at him.

Jaime turned away from her and walked out the door, slamming it behind him.

 


 

April 18, 2010
Austin, Texas

When the tests came back, Damon called Jaime. Joffrey and Myrcella were Robert’s. Tommen was Jaime’s. Joffrey and Myrcella would share the estate equally. In the interests of avoiding a scandal, Tywin would provide a stipend for Cersei to live on and fund a trust for Tommen identical to the other children’s. Tommen need never know that his father wasn’t Robert.

Jaime would not thank his father for his interference. He was tired of Tywin “fixing” his children’s lives. Three years earlier Tywin had used a holding company to buy a controlling interest in the PBR. He hadn’t done anything with it yet, but Tywin Lannister did nothing without a plan.

Hours later when Tyrion came home, he found Jaime five drinks into a bottle of Jack Daniels. Jaime told him the whole sordid story. Tyrion was not surprised. He’d known for more than a decade and never said a word.

As his brother tried to assure him that everything would work out, Jaime found himself twisting the ring on his finger. He tried to pull it off, but it was stuck fast, as much a part of him as his scars.

 


 

BARATHEON ESTATE SETTLED
Los Angeles Times
June 25, 2010

LOS ANGELES - Congressman Robert Baratheon’s estate has been settled. According to attorney Davos Seaworth, speaking on behalf of executor Stannis Baratheon, outstanding questions regarding the congressman’s legitimate heirs has been settled.
This follows the stunning request for paternity tests on all three Baratheon children. While the results of those tests were not released, sources revealed that the congressman’s widow, Cersei Lannister-Baratheon, will not receive any monies from the estate. The entirety will be split by his children after Baratheon’s numerous creditors are satisfied. Mrs. Baratheon, niece of tycoon Tywin Lannister, retains the family home in which to raise the children. The couple had three children: Joffrey, 12; Myrcella, 9; and Tommen, 6.
The two-term Republican congressman from Los Angeles was well-known in Washington, D.C., for his tough fiscal policies and boisterous personality. Former staffers made numerous accusations of sexual misconduct by the congressman, but no formal complaints were ever filed.

 

Chapter Text

 

December 15, 2012
Los Angeles, California

“It’s a miracle,” Loras declared, passing Renly the letter Brienne had received the previous day. “Did you light every candle in the sept?”

Renly read through it quickly. “He’s right, this is brilliant, Brienne.”

She took the letter back and tucked it into her pocket. Brienne hadn’t prayed since her father’s death, and certainly never for money, but this did ease her worries.

Professional Bull Riders, Inc.
101 W Riverwalk
Pueblo, Colorado 81003

December 10, 2012

Ms. Tarth,

News coverage of your actions in Memphis has resulted in an unprecedented flood of letters and donations addressed to you and sent to our offices. The total donations thus far run in excess of $50,000.
We have made inquiries and are pleased to report that a check has been sent to Harrenhal Medical Center covering your medical expenses. The remainder will be mailed to you along with all of the letters.
Your contract renewal for next season is enclosed, and we hope that you will return whenever your recovery allows. In addition, we hope that you will consider returning as a rider in 2014.

Sincerely,
Jay Daugherty
Senior Vice President of Competition

Loras shot Renly a questioning look.  "Do you think he ..."

Renly thought a moment and shrugged. "Maybe. It would be like him."

"You know I hate when you two do that," Brienne sighed. She gingerly stretched her left arm and raised it over her head with difficulty. Her range of motion was greatly improved, but she still got sore if she pushed herself too hard. Another month of physical therapy should correct that, but Brienne was impatient. A few minutes earlier she had picked up a heavy bag of Renly’s gear without thinking about it and her shoulder had protested mightily.

Loras grabbed Renly and deliberately planted a smacking kiss on his cheek, grinning broadly.

Brienne stuck her tongue out at them. They had every right to their happiness. Renly wouldn't talk about it, but Loras had told Brienne and Margaery how hard Renly's first season on the tour had been. Even now there were riders who wouldn’t change in the locker room while Renly was in there. The only rider who’d stuck up for him that first year had been Jaime Lannister, but he was injured and away from the tour most of the season. Renly had focused on proving himself in the arena, earning respect if not friendship. Eventually some of the more intelligent riders had realized they should be grateful for the opportunity to comfort Renly's devoted and ultimately disappointed female admirers. Three years later, Renly’s friends outnumbered those who had a problem with him.

Even though the days when Renly filled her dreams were long past, Brienne could still appreciate his appeal. If anything he’d gotten better-looking since school. His messy black hair, striking blue eyes and easy smile had drawn her in even before the teenager she’d worshipped had grown into a tall, broad-shouldered man.

Renly was a good man, and a good friend, at least when he wasn’t drinking. He had an easy laugh, though he laughed more at his own jokes than anyone else did. Brienne knew that Renly could easily hire someone else to work with him on the road, but he preferred to work with her. Renly knew she could use the money and the excuse to spend time on the main tour. In return, she didn't tease him about the absurd amount of junk he carted around on tour or how ornate and expensive his riding gear was. They had fun together, even now when Brienne was less help than usual and felt guilty accepting Ren's money.

"You'll come to New York, right, Bri?” Renly asked, hefting a box filled with the handouts for their school presentation in Orange County the following day. “I’m having Peach driven all the way out there, so I need you. I’ve got four schools lined up."

Renly dropped the box in the back of his truck and shoved it against several bags of gear. After the presentation, Renly and Loras were going on vacation, skiing at Whistler up in the Frostfangs. They’d be back before the Tyrells’ big New Year’s Eve party and the Rose Parade. Brienne had tried to skip the festivities in the past, but one did not say no to Olenna Tyrell. Competition on the main tour resumed at Castle Black in New York the first weekend of January. Renly always hired a driver to transport his RV and his bull to that event so he wouldn’t miss the Tyrells’ party.

"I think so,” Brienne said. “I have to see the doctor next week, and I’m still doing physical therapy. I should have a doctor’s release sometime next month."

The truth was that she needed to get back to work, and the Touring Pro Division season wouldn’t start until late January. Paying January’s rent would deplete her meager savings, but Brienne wouldn't tell Ren that. He would just give her the money, and Selwyn Tarth's daughter did not take handouts.

Neither bullfighting nor Renly paid enough to cover all her expenses and keep her afloat during the slower summer season. She needed both jobs. Not eager to explain that to two men who’d never had to worry about money, Brienne closed the truck’s liftgate and changed the subject. "How's the book going, Loras?"

Loras smiled as they turned to head back into Renly’s house. "For some reason my editor says I need fewer pictures of Renly. I told him that with Lannister out and a ban on further Renly the book will not be nearly so stunning, but he insisted." Loras had studied photography at the Rhode Island School of Design and worked as a fashion photographer’s assistant. The work was sporadic, but that gave him time for side projects. Currently Loras was working on a photography book on the PBR, which gave him an excuse to visit Renly several times a month on the road.

“There are other people on the tour, Loras,” Brienne chided him, following the couple into the house and into the living room.

Loras huffed. “I know that. He wants a chapter on the minor tour, so I’ll need to bum around with you for a week or so once you’re out there again.” He and Renly flopped down onto the couch.

Brienne frowned, taking a seat in a big leather chair. “As long as you keep that camera pointed away from me, you’re welcome to come along.” The last thing she needed was a new addition to the parade of humiliation that was her life: photos of her big, ugly self mere pages away from Renly’s smile and Jaime’s eyes.

“Why can’t I take any photos of you?” Loras asked, his genuine puzzlement worse than if he’d understood. Of course Loras wouldn’t understand. Loras, perhaps even more than Renly, was a beautiful man. He was slightly shorter and leaner than Renly, with fine features and curly brown hair. Brienne occasionally thought that Loras looked more like a woman than she did.

Brienne gestured at her body. She looked particularly herself today, clad in men’s jeans and a People’s Republic of Portland T-shirt from her Highgarden days. “All this immortalized? No, I think you can find more photogenic subjects.”

Renly rolled his eyes. “If I didn’t know better, Brienne, I’d think you were trawling for compliments. Alas I do know you,” he said dryly.

“It’s only taken you six years.” Truthfully it would be fun to have Loras along for a while on the road. She spent too much time alone, and Loras was more fun by himself anyway. She hated playing third wheel.

 


 

December 26, 2012
Los Angeles, California

Renly: Need to see you. At home?
Brienne: Sure. What’s up?
Renly: Be there in an hour

Renly was arrived in 40 minutes, his hair standing up in furious spikes. That was never a good sign. Renly could be a bit vain, and things must be bad if he’d left his house without even combing his hair.

“What happened?” Margaery asked sleepily, clutching a mug of coffee as she curled up on the couch. Margaery had stumbled into the apartment sometime after 2 a.m., and she’d never been much of a morning person.

“I’ve been dropped,” Renly hissed. “John Deere decided that risking their investment skiing black diamond runs isn’t allowed.”

“What do you mean? They can’t do that,” Brienne protested, but she knew they could. Plenty of riders lost sponsors when they were injured. For a sponsor to decide that dangerous activities in a rider’s time off were not acceptable wasn’t much of a stretch.

Renly stopped pacing and laughed bitterly. “Oh, they can. Apparently they saw the pictures of our trip on Loras’ Instagram. I called Davos to review my contract and it’s all there. They might as well have cut my throat, the fucking cowards. They didn’t even call me. I got a registered letter.”

Brienne patted his shoulder reassuringly. Renly was clearly overreacting, but telling him that wouldn’t bring him out of this mood any sooner. She knew this from experience. “You’ve done well this season, you’ll be fine until you can find a new sponsor. I hate to say this, but there are plenty of companies that will jump at the chance to appear progressive by sponsoring a gay bull rider.”

Renly shook his head. “You don’t understand, Brienne. I need to focus solely on riding for a while, at least until I can pick up a new sponsor. I’ve canceled all the demonstrations and school visits I had scheduled.”

“Oh.” Just like that Brienne’s fragile plans fell apart. Without the extra income Renly provided, all she had left was the small monthly payment she received from the Army as her father’s sole surviving family. It wasn’t enough to pay her rent, much less allow her to start traveling again with the tour.

Renly took a deep breath. “I have an idea, but you’ll have to trust me.”

 


 

January 1, 2013
Rose Parade, Pasadena, California

"I still can’t believe Renly didn’t tell you," Margaery said. She pulled her jacket tighter around her. The early morning sun was bright, but the air was still chilly.

Brienne nodded, shifting in her uncomfortable folding chair. The little girl in her lap yawned and pulled a blanket over herself. Brienne couldn’t remember which Tyrell cousin this was. They changed so much from year to year. Since she’d missed Thanksgiving, she hadn’t seen many of them since the last parade.

Even though he hadn’t found a new sponsor yet, Renly had found Brienne a temporary job. An old friend of his was recovering from injuries and training to come back to the tour, he’d said. He needed someone to handle the bulls while he trained. It was an unusual situation, but riders who sat out a full season or longer often required additional training before they could come back. Returning too soon was the fastest way to get hurt again.

Brienne was hardly in a position to turn a job down. She’d been cleared to return to work as long as she finished another month of physical therapy. She could do that in Texas just as easily as in Los Angeles.

"He waited until the last minute to send me the address, thinking I wouldn’t figure it out,” Brienne scoffed. Renly had texted her the address yesterday with no name, and then scrupulously avoided her last night at the party.

"Who wouldn’t want to know who they would be living with?" Margaery agreed, shooting a cursory glance at the elaborate dog-themed parade float passing them by. She’d seen so many of these parades, it took a lot to impress her. Watching the Rose Parade in person was a Tyrell family tradition. “Honestly, sometimes that man just doesn’t think. As if you’d drive across four states without knowing who would be there.”

"It only took half an hour with Google to figure out Jaime Lannister was the only pro rider living in Austin.” Brienne couldn’t understand why Lannister would bother trying to make a comeback at all. He was already at the end of his career, with earnings of more than $5 million. From what she’d seen, there was no chance he’d be able to hold the bull rope with his right hand. Injuries were common, but Jaime’s was a career-ender. Everyone agreed on that point except, apparently, Jaime.

Brienne didn't bother to keep track of injured riders anymore. Either they came back or they didn't, and the majority didn’t. Every year brought a new crop of starry-eyed kids who swiftly learned that the grind of the road wasn't for everyone and hard work was no guarantee of success. Few made it to the main tour, reserved for the top 35 riders each season. Yet they all dreamed of standing in a darkened arena, the crowd cheering as the spotlight lit them up. Brienne still harbored those dreams too. She was just more realistic about her chances.

"Where is Ren?” Margaery asked, turning to scan the flock of Tyrells around them. “Megga wanted a selfie with him to prove she knew him. Some girl at her school is a big fan."

Brienne turned to look as well. "He's around somewhere, whining about his hangover. I think he was using Willas to get through the line faster at Starbucks." The boys had been up long after midnight playing poker and drinking. Renly insisted that both Garlan and Willas were far too honest for poker, but that didn’t stop him from playing with them. At least Loras had finally put his foot down and they no longer played for money.

"And Willas is letting him?" Margaery scoffed.

"Of course! He wanted coffee too."

Margaery tended to think her brother was far more honorable than he actually was because Willas had a metal brace on his leg and used a cane, souvenirs from a nasty horseback-riding accident years ago. Willas didn’t normally allow Renly and Loras to use him to their advantage. Apparently the lure of coffee was too much to resist on this cold morning.

Margaery sighed. “I’m going to miss you. It’s been fun having you around all the time again.” She squeezed her friend’s arm.

Brienne offered her a smile. “You’ll miss having me around to play wingman and Google guys to avoid scandals when you run for Senate.”

Margaery grinned. “It stopped me from dating that creep Daario,” she pointed out. “Who could forget all the crap we dug up during the last congressional campaign? I don’t want anything like that happening to me.” Margaery was a political science major at UCLA and had volunteered for Robert Baratheon’s last opponent, much to Renly’s amusement. They’d uncovered plenty of unsavory rumors about Congressman Baratheon’s activities.

Knowing that Robert Baratheon’s wife had a years-long affair, with her cousin no less, didn’t excuse his behavior. The congressman had always struck Brienne as rather selfish. He’d been unsupportive when Renly first came out—not because he disapproved but because it might reflect badly on him. When Robert learned that having a gay brother could be an asset in California politics, suddenly he’d been eager to have Renly at political rallies. Renly wisely stayed out of it when he could.

“I doubt a few dates with the wrong man would keep you out of the Senate,” Brienne teased.

“And a few months with the notorious Jaime Lannister won’t keep you down either,” Margaery countered. “Even if the guy is clearly bad news.”

“I’m just working for him, not dating him,” Brienne reminded her.

Margaery sighed. “It’s a shame he has such a nasty reputation. Remember his GQ cover?” She fanned herself.

Margaery had discovered that magazine cover two months earlier, when the rumors about Brienne and Jaime were at their peak. In the photo, Jaime stared defiantly at the camera with just a hint of a smirk on his lips. He wore an unbuttoned black shirt, jeans, and a black cowboy hat, his hands on his hips drawing attention to his gold Rookie of the Year belt buckle. He couldn’t have been older than 22 or 23. There was no denying Lannister looked good back then, but Brienne thought that, much like Renly, he'd improved with age.

A little girl hurried past Brienne and hopped into Margaery’s lap. She twisted around and announced with a huge grin, “Willas bought hot chocolate.” Brienne believed her, because the girl’s upper lip was generously smeared with chocolate residue.

“I want some!” the girl in Brienne’s lap protested, shimmying out from under her blanket and ducking back the way her cousin had come. Brienne looked over at Margaery, who was giggling and digging through her purse for anything she could use to clean a small, chocolatey face. Brienne would miss this, but it would also be nice to stay in one place for a few months without having to worry about money.

Renly and Loras squeezed into chairs on Brienne’s far side, massive paper coffee cups clutched in their hands.

Brienne watched Renly, and the way he squinted into the bright sun. Judging from his slight grimace and overall disheveled appearance, the first marching band to pass by would send him fleeing from the parade. If she was going to confront Renly, this was the time.

“Coffee helping yet?” she asked mildly.

Renly turned to look at Brienne. “Not yet,” he admitted, taking a long drink. “How are you so chipper?”

She rolled her eyes. “I didn’t even drink half as much as you. I have to drive to Texas tomorrow, remember?”

Renly nodded, pressing his palm to his forehead. “I know. You’ll be fine.”

Brienne crossed her arms. “Will I?” She leaned toward him. “Did you really think I wouldn’t figure out you were sending me to Jaime Lannister?”

Renly swallowed hard. “I hoped it might take you a little longer to work it out,” he admitted, cringing back against Loras to evade any revenge Brienne might take on him.

She fixed Renly with her hardest stare. “Renly Baratheon, just how stupid do you think I am?”

Renly tried vainly to hide behind his coffee cup. Finally he said sheepishly, “I’m sorry, Brienne. If you drove all the way out there you would have to give Jaime a chance. You’d ranted about his father so many times, we weren’t sure you’d agree to go.”

So Jaime was in on this deception then. Tywin Lannister’s assumption that he could buy her still bothered Brienne, but she hadn’t held his father’s actions against Jaime. If anything, meeting his family had explained a lot. Still, his part in Renly’s scheme galled her. Brienne wasn’t a child, and they had both treated her like one.

“What in seven hells made you think this was a good idea?” she finally asked, exasperated.

Renly thought about his response far longer than Brienne expected, but she refused to look away and let him off the hook. “You need a job, Brienne. I know you don’t like to talk about money, but I do know that you need a job.” His voice was quiet in the massive crowd of people, but Brienne still looked around to see if anyone had heard him.

“You handle Jaime’s bullshit better than most people, and you could learn some things from him,” Renly continued. “You’d work well together, as crazy as that sounds.”

“I doubt that,” Brienne scoffed, recalling the one time she’d worked with Jaime and a bull, back at Riverrun. They’d spent most of the day trading insults.

“So are you going to go?” Renly sipped his coffee, watching her face.

Brienne hated that he’d lied to her. Still, Renly seemed so sure about this. It wasn’t as if she had other offers right now, and at least Jaime Lannister was a known quantity. She turned her attention back to the parade. A float bearing an immense golden lion passed in front of her.

Brienne sighed. “You’d better be right about him.”

 


 

January 3, 2013
Austin, Texas

The trip to Texas had taken two long days. With every mile she drove, Brienne had become more convinced that training with Jaime Lannister was a very bad idea. She had almost turned around in Phoenix when she passed the Red Keep, the tour stop where Jaime had attacked Aerys Targaryen. But she had little choice. By the time Brienne had paid for January’s rent, gas, and food for the trip, there was barely $100 left in her checking account. She had slept in her truck each night, hoping no one would notice her there, and showered at truck stops.

The sun hung low in the western sky when her old blue truck pulled up to the big iron gate of the house on Red Fork Lane, high in the hill country west of Austin. The gate stood open and she eased her truck up the sweeping red concrete driveway to park in the shadow of a sprawling two-story house faced with stucco and river rock, roofed with shining copper.

Of course, Jaime Lannister lived in a mansion.

Brienne hesitantly approached the door, feeling underdressed in jeans and an old Army T-shirt. Music blared through the door and the windows.

She rang the bell, waiting awkwardly on the front steps until the door was eventually opened by a young brunette woman wearing yellow rubber gloves. “Come in, come in,” she said, nearly yelling to be heard over the driving bass line of an unfamiliar rock song coming from somewhere deeper in the house. “The boss is out right now. Why don’t you wait out on the patio? The view is outstanding at this time of day.” She pointed toward the back of the house and Brienne followed her directions.

The foyer opened onto a huge living room with an open kitchen to one side, vaulted ceilings soaring 20 feet above the polished honey-toned wood floor. At the back of the house a wall of windows opened to the hill country, facing west into the setting sun.

Brienne made her way through the living room and out the French doors. A slate patio edged an infinity pool that reflected the sky and the setting sun, looking out over an expanse of green brush and rolling hills. To her right, the hill dropped steeply down to what appeared to be a lap pool set alongside the main pool, and then below that a slate seating area around a large firepit. Beyond the firepit a path ran off in the distance toward a roof she assumed must belong to a barn. There were supposed to be bulls here, after all.

Brienne stood on the patio, basking in the cool air, thankful to stretch her legs after driving for so long. The crisp air smelled faintly of wood smoke and the sky was a blaze of scarlet and orange as the sun settled into the hills.

Behind her, the patio doors opened. “I see Pia let you in,” came a familiar drawl.

Brienne took a deep breath and turned around.

Chapter Text

January 3, 2013
Austin, Texas

As Jaime turned into his driveway, he groaned. A rusty blue truck with an ancient camper shell on it was parked in front of his house. He had completely forgotten that Brienne was arriving.

When he pulled his SUV into the garage, he didn’t see Brienne in her car or by the front door. Pia must have let her in.

Jaime had been looking forward to a quiet evening with a pizza, a beer, and The Dark Knight Rises. If Brienne had been driving all day, as he suspected, she probably wouldn’t mind putting off business until the next day.

It had been a very long day. In addition to seeing his orthopedic surgeon, Jaime had gotten X-rays and endured physical therapy and occupational therapy sessions. With delays between every appointment, he had spent most of the day slowly texting Tyrion and playing the games on his phone with less skill than the average six-year-old.

Dr. Qyburn had been Jaime’s orthopedist since he moved to Austin. The first thing the doctor had done upon entering the exam room earlier was flip through Jaime’s chart, musing aloud on his many injuries. “Broken right tibia, torn left ACL, broken left wrist, dislocated right shoulder and three fingers of right hand, five broken ribs, punctured lung, five concussions, broken nose twice, broken left clavicle... and two amputated fingers and five broken bones set with pins in your right hand.” Qyburn had looked up at Jaime and asked dryly, “And you’re here to discuss returning to bull riding? Mr. Lannister, you’re lucky you can still walk, talk, and remember your own name.”

That wasn’t the answer Jaime wanted, so he had stated his case. All he needed from his right hand was enough dexterity and strength to quickly release his left hand from the bull rope. Even Jaime knew that continuing to wrap his right hand in the rope would never work. He still couldn’t even hold a mug with that hand. Eventually Qyburn had reluctantly conceded that he could attempt a comeback, but that it was ill-advised at best. That was good enough for Jaime.

Jaime entered the house through the kitchen. Pia was furiously scrubbing the stovetop. She glared at him. “What did you burn on here?” she grumbled. Pia’s mother usually did the cleaning, but she was in Mexico visiting relatives. Jaime didn’t really need help cleaning, but Tyrion had hired her when he’d been living in the house, and now Jaime couldn’t bring himself to fire her.

Jaime shrugged. “Pasta sauce?” He tossed his keys on the kitchen island and set down the pizza he’d picked up on his way home. “Where is she?”

Pia pointed to the patio doors, and Jaime wondered how he’d missed the giant blonde girl standing on his patio. Brienne was watching the setting sun. Her short blonde hair caught the breeze, surrounding her head with a burning white halo.

Jaime walked over to the doors, gingerly flexing his right hand. It ached from the exercises both therapists had put him through, but it was a good ache. It meant he was actually doing something.

He stepped outside. There was still a faint hint of wood smoke from the fire he’d burned the previous night.

“I see Pia let you in,” Jaime said mildly. When Renly had suggested that Brienne help him train, Jaime had been skeptical. Since he didn’t seem to be able to shut up when the girl was around, she knew far too much about him already. Jaime hadn’t actually expected her to agree to such a ridiculous arrangement.

Brienne turned toward him. “Lannister,” she said, taking a step back. His name sounded like a curse in her mouth.

“Honey,” Jaime answered, unable to contain his irritation.

She laughed bitterly. “Honey. Of course. You know what, this was a mistake. I should go.”

“If it only takes one word to send you running, you should go. You’re not tough enough for me, or for the PBR,” Jaime snapped.

Brienne stepped forward, looming over him. She could be quite fierce when she wanted to be. Her blue eyes burned, though their startling gaze was set above a most unlovely scowl. He couldn’t recall any other woman ever making him feel small, and Jaime did not particularly like it.

“Men have been saying that for years. They shut up when I beat them,” Brienne said with a hard smile.

Jaime smirked. “No, they just say it behind your rather formidable back.”

The truth of that hit her like a slap, and Jaime felt a momentary stab of guilt.

Brienne stepped back from him and looked away, to the patio doors. “I don’t need this. Goodbye, Jaime.”

“Brienne.” He waited until she was glaring at him again. “We both know that’s not true. You need a job and I need help that won’t go running to the press. If I can’t learn to ride using my left hand, I don’t want anyone to know about it.”

Brienne glowered at Jaime and stepped around him toward the patio doors. “You can find someone else. I can’t work with someone who lies to me.”

Jaime almost laughed at the absurdity of this. Renly was the one who’d lied to her, and he had no doubt that Brienne would forgive her old crush. “When have I ever lied to you? You know more about me than most of my family does.”

She turned back. “Don’t pretend you don’t know. You and Renly decided not to tell me the rider I was working for was you,” Brienne spat.

“You drove all the way here from Los Angeles without knowing who would be here?” Jaime asked slowly. “That’s remarkably trusting of you.”

Brienne shook her head, her face flushed with anger. “I figured it out, I’m not an idiot, but it was too late to back out.”

Jaime crossed his arms and stared her down. Brienne could be angry with him all she wanted, but none of this was his fault. “I don’t know why Renly lied to you, or why you think I had some part in that.” He ground his teeth. Of course Renly had made this far more difficult than it needed to be.

Clearly Brienne didn’t believe him, because when she looked at Jaime now, it was as if last fall had never happened and she didn’t know him at all. Her gaze held the same distaste he’d seen in her eyes back at Riverrun. Jaime didn’t wait for a response. “There it is, that’s the look, I’ve seen it in face after face for twelve years. Fine, Brienne, get in your truck and go back to Los Angeles. I won’t keep you here. But as much as I want to get back on a bull, so do you. Stay, and you can ride too. You won’t get that kind of offer from anyone else.”

Vaguely Jaime remembered Brienne telling him not to give up, but that had been the first day, when he was bitter and alone and broken. Right now she looked pissed off and confused in equal measure, and he didn’t blame her. He blamed Renly.

Renly had assured him last week that Brienne was onboard. Jaime had specifically asked, given their history. Renly had never said he’d tricked her into coming here, and it stung that he evidently thought she needed to be tricked.

Thanksgiving had been incredibly awkward, there was no denying that, but Jaime had thought they’d ended up forging a kind of truce. He wasn’t asking Brienne to like him, after all very few people did. Jaime was used to that. He wanted her help, and he was willing to pay for it.

“Call Renly, talk things out with him,” he said. “I’ll be in the kitchen.”

In some ways, Renly hadn’t changed much from the cocky teenager who’d pestered Jaime for months until he agreed to teach Renly to ride. He’d done it just as much to irritate Robert and Cersei as for the boy himself. Robert had never made any secret of his disdain for Jaime’s career. Renly, on the other hand, thought his brothers’ jobs were terminally boring and Jaime’s life seemed exciting.

Renly had been fifteen when he expressed an interest in bull riding, and Jaime had been sure Renly just wanted to piss off his brother. It was also the first year Jaime had spent most of the season sidelined with injuries. That summer as he rehabbed his surgically repaired knee, he’d taken Renly to Genna’s ranch and taught him to ride. Keeping another secret from Robert had been almost as satisfying as working with the kid.

The next summer, briefly sidelined with a broken wrist, Jaime had helped Renly compete on the junior rodeo circuit. When Robert had discovered what they’d been doing, he hit the roof, and Jaime wasn’t allowed to spend time with Renly anymore. By then it was too late. Renly loved to ride and he was good.

Jaime shook off his irritation with Renly and stalked back into the house, heading straight for the refrigerator to get a drink. He hopped up on the counter to sip his Coke and watch with amusement as Brienne paced the patio talking on her phone. Every movement conveyed her anger, shoulders rigid and her free hand clenched into a fist. Even through the French doors, Jaime could hear an occasional word. He definitely heard “disrespectful,” “thoughtless,” and “idiot.” He hoped those were directed at Renly, not at him.

As the call went on, Jaime passed from amusement to irritation to impatience. Finally he finished his drink, set down the can, and hopped down to the floor. He ignored Pia’s pointed looks and unspoken questions, and she finally left to head down to the barn. Peck should still be down there.

There was a fair chance Brienne wouldn't be around next week, so there was little reason to explain her presence to Pia. Tyrion had brought women here, but Cersei’s few visits had been with Robert and the kids. Jaime had never brought other women home.

Jaime shrugged into a hoodie that he’d left slung over the back of a kitchen chair and walked back outside. Brienne was sitting on a lounge chair on the patio, turning her phone over and over in her hands.

Jaime sat on the chair beside her. "Are you staying or not?" he asked bluntly.

Brienne turned to look at him. Her gaze was so direct it was unnerving. "Did you know Renly would lie to me?”

Jaime forced himself to meet that gaze. “No.”

She visibly relaxed. “Why me? Why agree to Renly’s plan?”

"Just what I said. I need someone I can trust." Jaime looked away, needing to escape her wide blue eyes. "I trust you."

The setting sun was right at the horizon now, casting ripples of red gold across the surface of the pool in front of them. He gripped the edge of the chair, ignoring how the rough vinyl dug uncomfortably into his right hand.

"You don't know me. Why would you trust me?" Brienne persisted.

Jaime laughed. "Why wouldn't I? You jumped in front of a bull for me, you stood up to my father, and Renly trusts you." And when I woke up screaming in that ambulance you grabbed my good hand and didn't let go. It was his only memory between passing out at Riverlands and waking up the next morning, a single flash of Brienne reaching out to him.

She shoved her phone into her pocket and crossed her arms. “I’ll be cleared to go back to work in a few weeks. Why should I stay here?”

Why indeed. Again Jaime questioned what Renly had been thinking. “Stay here, go back to L.A., it’s all the same to me,” he said stiffly.

Jaime stood, not waiting for a response. “Stay here tonight. Take any bedroom on the first floor except the one with all the books and swords. That’s Tyrion’s. If you really can’t stand me, you can leave in the morning.”

Jaime didn’t bother looking back as he strode down the hill toward the barn. It was close to five now and Peck should be finishing up feeding and watering the horses, assuming Pia wasn’t distracting him.

Jaime listened at the barn door, but there was no sound, and it was dark inside when he opened the door. He flicked on the lights, but the horses in their stalls seemed content. He checked just in case Peck was running late, but both horses had plenty of food and water. The bulls would arrive the following week from a stock contractor outside Calgary.

In retrospect, this entire plan was a terrible idea, and Jaime would gladly have blamed Renly for it if he hadn’t agreed to it so easily. Brienne would leave in the morning, and Jaime would just have to make due with Peck’s help. Odds were high he wouldn’t be able to make this work anyway.

Jaime massaged his aching right hand. He was having trouble with phantom sensations again. Qyburn had said they would fade in time, but Jaime still couldn’t understand how fingers he no longer had could hurt so much.

“I thought you had bulls, not horses.”

Jaime spun around. Brienne leaned against the doorframe. Her face was shadowed, the setting sun behind her illuminating the contours of her broad shoulders, her crossed arms, the slight curve of her hips and her ridiculously long legs. Not a pretty girl, no, but striking all the same. He hadn’t lied when he’d teased her about the dress she’d worn on Thanksgiving, but she had the legs to wear dresses like that if she ever stopped behaving as if she’d prefer to disappear.

Jaime cleared his throat. “The bulls come next week. Tyrion bought the horses when he lived here. His girlfriend liked to ride.”

She walked into the barn and came up beside Jaime, reaching out to gently stroke one horse’s soft muzzle. “What’s your name?” she asked, her eyes softening.

“That’s Glory. The bay is Honor,” Jaime supplied. The names seemed just as silly to him now as the day Peck had named them. He’d just watched Saving Private Ryan in history class.

Brienne snorted. “Seriously?” She wore a hint of a smile now, though her shoulders were still hunched, and she actively avoided looking at Jaime.

She’d followed him down here, so likely Brienne was leaning toward staying. It wouldn’t take much to convince her to stay. Or to go, if he decided to push her away. Jaime considered.

He shrugged. “Peck named them and takes care of them. Tyrion thought it was funny.”

“Peck?” she asked absently, moving on to give Honor a bit of attention.

Jaime grinned. If she was going to stay, he couldn’t tiptoe around her for weeks, months, however long this took. He turned to watch her reaction as he said, “Neighbor kid. In the late afternoon or evening, if you see a light down here, you should knock. I’ve caught him fucking his girlfriend in the barn a few times.”

Brienne’s hand froze on Honor’s nose and a delicious red flush crept up her long neck and across her cheeks. “Oh.”

Jaime leaned in closer and dropped his voice low. “Pia, that’s the girlfriend, you just met her, is a fan of the hot tub too. Peck let slip once that they use it when I’m out of town.”

Brienne glanced over at him, her wide blue eyes darting away immediately. She dropped her hand, and Honor began nosing at her. Brienne stepped back. “I thought you said he was a kid?” she asked, that spectacularly vivid blush undermining all of her efforts to sound unaffected. Her freckles darkened under the onslaught of that blush.

Oh, she definitely needs to stay. She’s far too easy to provoke. “Peck is 17. Pia is a senior at UT,” Jaime replied, reminding himself of the unwelcome fact that he was twice Peck’s age. “His mother disapproves of Pia because of the age difference, among other things.”

“And you let them be together here?” Brienne asked, clearly uncomfortable yet still driven to ask the question.

Jaime turned and walked back toward the doors. “Who am I to judge? He’s old enough to make his own mistakes. Come on now, I’ll show you the rest of the place.”

Brienne trailed along behind him as he pointed out the riding paths and running trails that wound through the 22-acre property, and Jaime laughed when she insisted that he had to be joking about watching out for rattlesnakes. He was not.

They paused as he pointed out the pool, the two endless lap pools (with a current to swim against for strength training), and the hot tub. She blushed again, though only a little.

The interior of the house took more time. The first floor held the large living room, open kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, the laundry room, and a small gym with a state-of-the-art bucking machine. Just to see the look on her face, Jaime did show her Tyrion’s room, complete with shelves full of action figures and his replica sword collection. Brienne was suitably amused.

Brienne chose a room with an eastern-facing window and a large framed photo that Loras had taken during Renly’s first season hanging on the wall. The photo showed Jaime with a group of the old guard: Ty Murray, Chris Shivers, Justin McBride, and Adriano Moraes. Former champs all, none competing anymore. Loras had meant well giving it to him, but Jaime had put the photo in this unused room because he didn’t want to think about retirement.

Everyone except Adriano had met up again just before Jaime was hurt. Adriano was happily retired back home in Brazil. Ty was on the business side of the PBR, and Justin sang country music. Chris intended to go into broadcasting. He was well liked, well spoken, and had forgotten more about bull riding than some of the younger guys would ever know.

While Jaime had never discussed what happened with Aerys, these men had known Aerys and they knew Jaime. They hadn’t completely snubbed him the way everyone else had, though they were never as friendly as they had been, and they kept their distance in public.

Ty had recommended that Jaime look into the business side of the organization. After all, his father’s company was the PBR’s majority owner. Jaime was fairly sure that the “gift” his father had offered on Thanksgiving had something to do with Lannister Corp’s share of the PBR, but that was beyond his reach now. Anything he did would be on his own.

After touring the ground floor, Brienne finally began to relax a little, so Jaime decided to skip showing her upstairs. That was his space, and it might make her uncomfortable anyway. He vaguely gestured up the stairs and said simply that his bedroom was up there.

The last place Jaime showed her was the garage. There were two cars parked there, with room for a third and stairs that led up to storage above the garage. Brienne whistled when they walked in. “You don’t drive that, do you?” she asked, gesturing to the classic red Corvette parked beside his dusty white SUV.

Jaime shook his head. “No, it’s fun as hell to drive, but screams ‘Officer, please pull me over.’ It’s tougher to get out of a speeding ticket when you have a record.”

“Why do you have it then?” Brienne asked, walking around the car. He wouldn’t have thought she would be into cars, but then again he didn’t really know much about her.

“This was my sixteenth birthday gift. Just can’t bring myself to sell it,” Jaime explained. Another relic of his old life. He and Cersei had spent many evenings driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in that car. “Come on, let’s go back inside. I brought home pizza.”

Brienne looked dubious when she saw the pizza. “Are those jalapeños?” she asked.

“Yes, along with a lot of other things,” Jaime answered, trying to contain his annoyance. He didn’t really want to fight with her again, and he was suddenly glad he’d left off the anchovies this time. This particular deep-dish concoction was a specialty of the off-campus dive that Tyrion liked.

Brienne hesitated, but took two slices, so Jaime considered his work as host done. He retreated upstairs with his food, leaving her in the kitchen.

Hours later, he heard Brienne go out to her truck. Jaime waited in the hall until he heard her come back in.

For one night, at least, she would stay.

 

Chapter Text

 

January 4, 2013
Austin, Texas

Brienne was used to waking up in unfamiliar surroundings. Years of life on the road had left her unfazed by anything as simple as that. It wasn’t the quiet that was so alien, either. It was being in his home, still uncertain if staying here was really wise.

Brienne rolled over in the large bed. According to the bedside clock, it was 7:02 a.m., and still dark outside. At home, she would have been up and out the door long ago, jogging through the quiet streets of Westwood while UCLA students slept off a night of study, drink, or both.

It had become so familiar that most mornings Brienne had barely even noticed the miles passing, her mind falling into that meditative space where music kept the rhythm for her feet and her brain turned over some of her best and worst rides.

In Jaime’s house, Brienne felt awkward leaving the bedroom in her pajamas. She’d wrestled one suitcase out of her truck last night, and it lay flipped open on the bedroom floor. She put on track pants, an old rodeo T-shirt, a UCLA hoodie, and her running shoes, and found her way to a bathroom to brush her teeth.

The house was quiet, and there was no road noise outside either. After two days in her truck, she was itching for a run, but Jaime’s warning about rattlesnakes had stayed with her. Brienne tried to remember what she knew about rattlesnakes. They stayed out of the sun during the day, right? Or was that only in summer?

Brienne sighed. She would have to ask Jaime, if she could find him in this massive house. If he was even awake yet.

She knew she was exaggerating. The house wasn’t that big, although it was definitely bigger than any of the base housing she had ever lived in, far bigger than the shore house in Evenfall, North Carolina, where the Tarths had spent vacations when she was small. Still, Jaime’s house was smaller than the Tyrells’ sprawling home in Pasadena, and definitely smaller than Casterly Rock.

Brienne came out into the kitchen just as the sun rose, the aroma of brewed coffee drawing her out. Early morning light filtered through the large front windows and into the kitchen. A coffee machine on the counter held a freshly brewed pot, thank the gods. Brienne started looking through the cabinets for a coffee mug.

She’d just discovered cereal bowls when the patio doors opened to her left. Brienne froze.

“Mugs are one cabinet to the right. You know, directly over the coffee pot,” Lannister pointed out. She could hear the smirk in his voice.

Brienne located the mugs, a cobbled together collection of travel souvenirs and film characters. She picked one with “Cal” written in gold script across one side.

“Do you want some?” Brienne asked as casually as she could. She still felt a little bad about assuming Jaime had known about Renly’s lies. As Ren himself had explained the previous night, Loras was in on it, not Jaime. Previous experience had left her wary of men conspiring to get her to do things.

“Nah, I need to shower first.” Jaime walked past her, opening the fridge to retrieve a bottle of water. He cracked it open and drank deeply. “I’m surprised, honey, I never would have pegged you for a lazy-morning kind of girl.”

“My name is Brienne. We’ve been over this.” Brienne turned to glare at him, and caught Jaime’s teasing smile. He had clearly been up for a while. He wore sweatpants and a long-sleeved T-shirt from last year’s Iron Cowboy competition, which he’d won. The shirt was damp with sweat, as was his shaggy hair. He set the water on the counter. With his left hand, he pulled up the bottom edge of the shirt and wiped his face with it, flashing far too much of his taut stomach in the process.  

Jaime’s gaze went directly to hers to gauge her reaction. Brienne met his amused grin with a hard smile of her own. Ridiculous, terrible man. He knew exactly what he was doing. She would not let him use his looks against her. Stupidly attractive though he may be, he’d never know it affected her. “Call me ‘honey’ again, and I’ll spit in your coffee. Got it?”

Jaime laughed. “Oh, we’re going to have fun.” He crossed the living room to the stairs. “There’s cream in the fridge, sugar in that tin on the counter. I’ll cook after I’ve showered.”

Brienne sipped her coffee while she checked her email and caught up on news on her phone. Jaime returned ten minutes later, smelling strongly of soap, wearing khaki cargo pants and a Batman T-shirt. Fumbling only when he cracked the eggs, he made scrambled eggs and bacon for both of them.

As they finished breakfast, the silence between them shifted from comfortable to weird. Brienne blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “So, what’s with the superheroes?”

“What, these?” Jaime pointed at his shirt, then his mug, which was shaped like Iron Man’s helmet. He shrugged. “It’s a thing with me and Tyrion.”

“Do you have any costumes?” Brienne asked, sensing an opportunity to tease him for once.

Jaime stuck out his tongue. “Not a superhero one, no.”

She laughed. “So you do own costumes?”

“A few,” he admitted grudgingly. “No capes, no tights. I wear chaps and a Kevlar vest to work, so an Indiana Jones costume is hardly the strangest thing in my closet.”

Unbidden, the image of Jaime wearing only the chaps and the vest popped into her head and she blushed. Brienne clapped a hand over her mouth before a giggle could escape her, and looked away.

“You are totally picturing me in the chaps and the vest. Gods, honey, you are too easy to read.” He grinned at her, shaking his head as she continued to try not to laugh. “Okay, okay,” Jaime finally said. “Now picture Rivers like that.” Walder Rivers, one of the newer riders, greatly resembled an overgrown ferret.

“Ugh, why would you say that?” Brienne complained, her face dropping into her hands as her giggles subsided.

“Had to be done,” Jaime replied, clearly pleased with himself. “Otherwise you’d be thinking about my ass all day.”

Brienne looked up, finally able to face him again. “Indiana Jones?” she asked, refocusing on things that might embarrass him, not her.

He didn’t seem the slightest bit embarrassed. “Yes, Brienne, Indiana Jones. He rules. Don’t deny it.” At her skeptical expression, he added, “I wore it at Comic Con last year.”

She shook her head and finished the last swallow of her coffee. “So you’re a closet fanboy. Duly noted.” Brienne’s gaze strayed to Jaime’s right hand, resting on the table. He’d used it while cooking, and he could hold a fork with it, but Jaime held his knife and coffee mug with his left hand.

Jaime saw her gaze shift, and glanced down at his hand. He sighed. “Do you want a closer look? I’ve been told it’s hideous. I’m used to it. Mostly.”

He stretched out his arm, his hand resting palm up on the polished wood tabletop. Brienne reached across the table and took his hand in both of hers. Jaime flinched slightly at her touch. His palm was surprisingly unmarked, though the edges of vivid scars crept around the edges where his fingers should be. She ran one finger lightly down the center of his palm, watching his reaction as his hand curled up slightly. “No nerve damage here?” she asked quietly, her gaze flicking up to his face.

Jaime shook his head. “No, not there.”

Brienne nodded and looked back down. She started to turn his hand over and for a moment he resisted. Brienne had seen his hand before, of course, but at a distance.  It looked no better than it had over a month ago, and worse up close. He’d gotten rather good at hiding it, from what she’d seen so far, wearing long sleeves and holding his hand slightly curled up at his side.

When Jaime relaxed and his forearm rotated to turn his palm down, she understood why he’d resisted. The back of his hand was criss-crossed with scars, red and ragged lines with tiny points beside them marking the remains of stitches that hadn’t healed well. Bumps marking where bones ended abruptly were carefully stitched over, but tight. The skin looked thin there, probably tender.

Even if he wrapped his left hand in the bull rope, Jaime would need a glove on his right  hand to protect it during falls and rolling dismounts. That assumed, of course, that his right hand had the strength and dexterity to release his left from the rope.

Brienne reached out to trace the skin with her fingertips again and stopped short. She raised her eyes to Jaime’s, seeking permission.

She wasn’t prepared for the expectation in his eyes. He was bracing for her reaction, bracing himself against it. Brienne looked back down at his hand. Maimed, yes, useless for the purpose he’d built his life around, but not ruined. She traced one scar lightly along his knuckles, noting where he failed to react and where any touch at all brought on a minute hiss or twitch. She continued, light touches against the scars, firmer ones along unbroken skin. Brienne wondered if the over-sensitive spots would heal with time.

No more than a minute had passed when Brienne finished her inspection, Jaime’s hand held loosely in hers. His hands and hers were about the same size. Of course, not a single thing about her could be delicate or feminine. “Squeeze my hand,” she directed.

Jaime reluctantly folded his fingers over hers and squeezed. Missing fingers weren’t his only problem. The remaining fingers were weak, and the stitched skin was definitely tight across the back of his hand. He could pick up small objects and regain some dexterity and strength, but he would probably never be able to rely on this hand to hold much weight.

“Well, doc, what’s the verdict?” he asked lightly, but there was a slight tremor in his voice.

Brienne looked up at Jaime’s face again, caught for a moment in the intensity of his gaze. He didn’t want sympathy or pity, and she would give him neither.  

“You need to order gloves for both hands,” she said firmly. “You’ll wrap with your left, but you need to protect the right or you’ll open up these wounds again.” Her fingertips lightly traced over his knuckles, avoiding the over-sensitive places. “I don’t suppose I can convince you to wear a helmet, can I?”

Jaime abruptly released her hand and pulled back. “You want me to switch hands and ride half-blind?” He shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

Brienne shrugged. “I had to try.” As long as he didn’t crack his skull on her watch, it was his decision.

“There’s a shop in town that makes gloves. I’ll go down there later today. I didn’t want to jinx it by going before my orthopedist signed off.” Jaime stood and took his dishes over to the sink. The plate shook slightly in his right hand, and he grimaced. “In the meantime, I’ll be upstairs if you need me.”

Brienne was still considering her reply when Jaime took the stairs two at a time and disappeared upstairs.

 


January 7, 2013

For the first few days, Brienne spent her mornings with Jaime, few words passing between them. She joined his morning runs, matching his pace and then pushing it. Jaime was far too competitive to fall behind, although he did cheat. He knew every shortcut on the property, and would occasionally disappear only to turn up a minute or two later farther up the path, making rude gestures at her.

On the fourth day, Jaime was not waiting when she came out of her room, and her phone was missing from its usual spot on the kitchen counter. Annoyed to be without her music, Brienne reluctantly headed out anyway. Ten minutes later, she found Jaime waiting for her along the path, grinning and holding her phone. “You have bizarre musical taste,” he said with a shake of his head. “But you do need to give me a few of these songs. They’re not all bad.”

“Let me guess: ‘Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked’? Should be your damn theme song,” she grumbled, reaching for the phone. “How did you even get it unlocked?”

Jaime smirked. “Brienne, your password is your birthday. You have to do better than that.”

She frowned. “How did you…”

“Renly. He really should know better.” He clapped his hands eagerly. “Come on, we’ve got physical therapy in two hours. Better get moving.”

Jaime sprinted away. Brienne took off after him.

Hours later, she found that he’d changed her phone’s wallpaper to a close-up of his stupid smug face. Brienne sighed and changed it back to the old photo of Evenfall. The house in the Outer Banks had been in her mother’s family for generations, but her father had sold it seven years ago to pay her tuition at Highgarden, when he was deployed to Iraq.

 


January 8, 2013

“I need a favor.” Brienne deliberately kept her tone brusque when Renly answered his phone.

She was sitting on the mats next to the bucking machine in Jaime’s home gym. Over the last hour she’d tested out all the various settings, and finally felt her old instincts returning after a rocky start. She would have some nasty new bruises despite the padded floor, but overall she was happy with her progress.

“Does that mean I’m out of the doghouse?” Renly asked hopefully.

“Very funny, Baratheon,” Brienne replied shortly, holding the phone between her cheek and shoulder as she gingerly removed the old, slightly stiff glove from her right hand. Despite its protection, there was a line of red, irritated skin across the back of her hand and along the edges of her palm where the rope had chafed even through the glove. While her hands were always rough, the tough calluses she’d developed while riding had softened over the past year. Until they came back, she’d have to deal with the discomfort.

“Then what can I do for you? I suppose I do owe you a favor,” Renly conceded.

“You do,” she agreed, tossing the glove into her gym bag. “Nothing difficult. I just need you to call Jaime’s cell in about 20 minutes.”

“That’s it? Why?” He sounded relieved.

“He stole my phone and changed my wallpaper. So I took his and changed his ringtone.” It had taken Brienne several tries to guess his phone password, but in the end his was nearly as obvious as hers. 9615, his best ever score.

“Somehow I no longer fear your wrath, if all you could think to do to him was change his ringtone,” Renly said with a laugh.

“He’s at PT. He keeps his phone in his jacket pocket in the far corner of the room,” Brienne explained patiently. “When you call him, he probably won’t realize at first that it’s his phone blaring at full volume, which means there will likely be 30 seconds of a woman singing ‘That guy’s an asshole’ to the entire room before he figures it out or it goes to voicemail.”

Renly laughed. “I’ll do it, but I still think this is weak.”

“I do have to live with the guy for a while yet,” she pointed out, “but he needs to know that, if he pushes me, I’ll push back.” Brienne levered herself up off the floor, already feeling the familiar soreness in her hips and thighs.

Much as she hated to admit it, Renly had been right about one thing. She was learning how to manage Jaime Lannister. She stayed clear of him when she could, and when he provoked her, she gave it right back. Ignoring his innuendoes only made him bolder and more crass.

“How’s it going?” Renly ventured.

Brienne huffed. “You want me to say it? Fine, you were right. I can handle him.”

Renly chuckled, far too pleased with himself. “You can handle him, eh? Good.”

Jaime arrived home an hour later. He set his phone on the counter and said grudgingly, “You win this round. The therapists thought your stunt was very amusing.”

Brienne grinned, and Jaime pointed a finger at her. “I want a rematch.” His eyes flashed. “How do you feel about paintball?”

 


January 9, 2013

When the bulls arrived, Jaime was at occupational therapy, so Brienne accepted the delivery. He went to PT three times a week and OT once a week. Brienne only had PT once a week, and they went together.

Jaime hadn’t mentioned which stock contractor he’d borrowed the bulls from, so the Winterfell truck and trailer snaking around the side road to the barn was a welcome surprise.

Robb Stark and a fierce-looking teenage girl hopped out of the truck and strode over to meet Brienne.

Robb smiled. “Long time no see,” he said, reaching out to shake her hand.

“How are you doing, Robb?” Brienne smiled back, shook his hand. Robb was a former rider whom she’d met through Renly. Robb quit riding after an accident at the Twins. If not for his helmet, Walder’s Revenge would have crushed his skull. Robb now worked for his uncle Benjen’s stock contracting business.

“Good, great, actually.” Robb pointed at the girl hovering impatiently by the back of the truck. “My little sister, Arya. She thinks she’s going to be a rider, so she wanted to come with me on this trip.”

“Really?” Brienne looked the girl over more critically. She was petite, but not delicate. Maybe she could do it. She wasn’t any smaller than Maggie Parker, and Parker was still competing on the rodeo circuit.

“Arya’s been training with Syrio Forel.” Robb shrugged. “You don’t want to know how much it cost to lure him up to Winterfell last fall. He’ll be back in a couple of months.”

Brienne whistled. Forel had been a champ back in the 1980s. He’d retired to his hometown in Brazil but occasionally trained young riders. His time wouldn’t come cheap.

“I know,” Robb agreed. He lowered his voice as his sister walked back to the end of the trailer. “Mom indulges Arya and Sansa more than she should, but they were there when Dad died. They were both pretty freaked out for a long time.”

Brienne remembered her own father’s last moments. He’d been asleep the entire last day, drugged to chase away the pain that had settled in his bones. His last breaths were peaceful at least, but by the end he’d wasted away so much he looked nothing like the strong man who’d raised her. “It’s not easy losing a father,” she agreed.

Robb cleared his throat. “Look, I know you’re working with Lannister right now, but you should know that Renly called me too.”

“Oh. He didn’t need … I wish he hadn’t done that,” Brienne stammered. How many people had Renly called before he talked to Jaime?

“Don’t worry about it,” Robb replied with a smile. “I didn’t have any work for spring, but my brother Jon is leaving us in the fall. Give me a call if you still need a job then. It’s not as glamorous as riding, but it’s steady work, and you could help me keep Arya from breaking every bone in her body before she’s twenty.”

Brienne smiled at that, regarding the young girl now leading a bull out of the trailer. “You’ve been there, Robb. You know it’s not glamorous. It’s dirty and it’s dangerous and you have to be more than a little crazy to keep doing it.”

Arya reached them and Robb made quick introductions as he took a firm hold on the bull’s harness. Arya barely nodded at Brienne before she turned back to get the second bull.  Brienne followed Robb toward the barn. Once they’d secured the bull in its stall, Robb turned back to Brienne. “Speaking of dangerous, are you sure you’re okay alone here with Lannister?”

Brienne almost laughed. Jaime was an ass, but she’d never been scared of him. The look on Robb’s face stopped her. “Do you know something I don’t?”

Robb looked nervously toward the barn doors. Arya wasn’t back yet. “Just be careful with him. It’s not just Targaryen. He punched my dad in the face once for insulting his cousin. I know he’s been good to Renly, but I don’t trust Lannister. He’s hiding something.”

You have no idea. Brienne clapped a hand on Robb’s shoulder. She was several inches taller and broader than the auburn-haired man. “Don’t worry about me. I can handle myself. Besides, if he tried to throw a punch with his right hand I think he’d hurt himself worse than the person he hit,” she assured him.

Arya entered the barn, leading a white bull into a second stall. The girl looked critically at Brienne, who quickly dropped her hand from Robb’s shoulder. “Robb says you used to ride,” the girl said, her raised eyebrow and overall disdain strongly indicating that she didn’t actually believe her brother.

“I will again,” Brienne said with more confidence than she felt. Jaime and Renly, even Robb to some extent, had relied on family money to get them going in their lean early years. She hadn’t been that lucky.

Arya nodded, her face settling into a more pleasant expression. “You should,” she said firmly. “A lot of girls would like to see a woman out there who doesn’t look like a model.”

Brienne didn’t know what to say to that. She cleared her throat and gestured to the bulls. “So what are these bruisers called?”

Arya smirked. “Robb let our brothers name them. That one’s Shaggy, and the white one is Ghost.”

“As long as they buck, they could be named Jonquil and Florian and I wouldn’t care,” Brienne replied as Robb rolled his eyes at his sister.

“We’ll be back in three weeks with rank bulls, assuming Lannister can handle them. Just have him call me if he changes his mind.” Robb slung his arm around his sister’s shoulders and led her out of the barn.

Obviously Robb hadn’t spent much time with Jaime. He’d have to break his left hand too before he quit.

 


January 11, 2013

Brienne woke so stiff she could barely move, much less contemplate running, but she got up and out of bed at 6:15 just like every day. She and Jaime had quickly locked into a routine: 6:30 run, 7:30 showers, then breakfast together. The rest of their days were consumed by physical therapy appointments, workouts, chores around the house or errands in town, and whatever Jaime did in his office upstairs.

When Brienne came out of her room, the house was cold and dark. Usually the coffee was brewing and Jaime was waiting in the living room. She waited a few minutes, then went running without him. Brienne followed the paths around Jaime’s property, but his smirking, increasingly familiar face failed to appear. She was deeply annoyed to find that she missed running with him.

Brienne took a shortcut Jaime often utilized and finished ten minutes earlier than usual, heeding her sore body’s protests. She was irritated that he hadn’t bothered to tell her he wouldn’t be running, but Brienne was proud she’d managed to run at all.

The day before Brienne and Peck had spent most of the day assembling steel posts and panels to form a small arena and a bucking chute next to the barn. The ground was hard clay, and they’d needed to anchor each post in the ground  to make sure the bulls couldn’t break loose. Eventually she and Peck had learned they needed a sledgehammer to anchor the posts deeply enough, and her shoulders and back had burned with every strike.

Jaime, who had spent most of the day at physical therapy, had taken one look at her across the dinner table and handed her one of his pain pills. Brienne had taken it and gratefully climbed into bed right after dinner.

Without the promise of breakfast to lure her, Brienne took a long, very hot shower after her run, standing under the water so long that her shoulders and back were bright red when she finally turned off the cooling water and toweled off.

When she padded out into the hallway, Brienne heard Jaime talking and laughing in the living room. Upon reaching the living room, she saw that he was playing a video game on the TV and wearing a headset.

“Are you ever going to make a move on Desmera?” Jaime laughed. “Ouch! I don’t need a girl in every port to know she’ll find someone else if you don't make a move soon.” He noticed Brienne’s reflection on the TV screen and twisted around. “Morning, honey, there’s coffee in the kitchen.”

Brienne poured herself a cup and came back into the living room, curling up in a padded armchair near the patio door.

“No, I do not have a secret girlfriend,” Jaime protested. “It’s not like that.” He twisted the microphone away from his mouth, fumbling his controller in the process. “Are you my secret girlfriend?” he asked Brienne, rolling his eyes.

She snorted derisively. No matter what the press had said months ago, that was still quite possibly the most unlikely thing Brienne had ever heard. “Dream on, Lannister,” she said loudly, for whoever was listening. “Who are you playing with?” Brienne asked more quietly. She wasn’t a big video game fan, but even she recognized Call of Duty.

“Daven. He just finished his shift.” Jaime twisted the mike back. “What? No, Renly sent Brienne to whip me into shape.” He paused, openly appraising her. “A little taller than me, short blonde hair, killer blue eyes, about a million freckles.”

Jaime grinned as she started to blush under his scrutiny. He turned back to the TV. “Did you really not see our interviews? Just look her up on YouTube if you’re so curious. ‘Good Morning America,’ not ESPN. Dresses are her Kryptonite.”

Brienne took a hasty sip of coffee, scalding her tongue. What had Jaime said about his cousin? Daven was a Marine Lieutenant Colonel, a few years older than Jaime, on a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

“What is it with you and freckles?” Jaime laughed. “No, I will not introduce you. You’re way too old for her.” He huffed impatiently. “Fine, if you don’t believe me.”

Jaime ripped off his headset and tossed it at Brienne, who barely caught it without sloshing coffee all over herself. Brienne set down her coffee and reluctantly put on the headset. “Hello?” She almost added “sir,” but bit it back. Some habits were hard to break.

“Hey. He’s sitting right there, isn’t he?” Even over a crackly Internet connection, the voice was deep and commanding.

“Yes, although a little distracted,” she admitted. Jaime had resumed shooting at enemy soldiers.

“Good. Listen, I don’t know what’s going on there—”

“Nothing,” Brienne cut in sharply. The last thing she needed was to be the subject of Lannister family gossip. She crossed the room toward the kitchen, trying to get out of earshot of Jaime. In an undertone she added, “I’m here to make sure he doesn’t get himself killed trying to get back on the tour.”

Daven sighed. “So how old are you?”

Brienne blushed, recalling his apparent request for an introduction. Daven had to be pushing 40. “I’ll be 22 in a few weeks.”

Daven laughed long and hard. “Oh, wow. That’s… well, try to get him out of the house now and then, okay? Sometimes I think all he does is sit around watching TV alone.”

“That would be accurate,” Brienne said carefully. “At the moment he’s lazing about in sweatpants, a Spiderman t-shirt, and athletic socks.”

“So he’s definitely trying to seduce you,” Daven teased. Oh yes, there was Jaime’s sense of humor. They were definitely related.

“Clearly,” Brienne replied with a laugh.

"Whatever he’s telling you is a lie,” Jaime piped up, his eyes locked on the TV as he fumbled his controller again with a muttered curse. He insisted video games were part of his occupational therapy.

“He says I should watch out for you, old man,” Brienne snapped back, using Renly’s nickname for him, which she’d discovered he deeply resented.

Both Jaime and Daven laughed at that, surprising her, but then Daven said more quietly, “Jaime’s a good guy, under all the bullshit and bravado. He’s just made his career his whole life. If he doesn’t have that…”

“I’m doing what I can,” Brienne assured him. “Which reminds me, you’ve got him for another hour, and then we have physical therapy. He ditched his run to play with you.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Brienne took off the headset. Jaime was actively shooting his way through enemy soldiers at the moment, so she came up behind him and put the headset back on his head, her hands brushing his bearded cheeks and soft hair as she did it.

Jaime flashed her a quick, genuine smile before turning back to his game.

Brienne quickly retreated to the kitchen to make breakfast. Jaime was starting to show her his playful, teasing, unabashedly nerdy face, and it was too easy to like. She reminded herself of the vicious assault against Aerys Targaryen, the years-long affair with the cousin raised as his sister, the casually cruel (true) things Lannister had said to her as recently as the previous week. Jaime Lannister was not a safe person to like.

Chapter Text

January 12, 2013
Austin, Texas

Jaime adjusted the new leather glove on his right hand again, flexing his fingers and feeling the leather stretch across the back of his hand. This was the second glove he’d had made. The first one had been slightly too tight, rubbing raw the skin it was meant to protect. His right hand taken care of, Jaime put on the other glove.

Brienne had been using the bucking machine since the day after her arrival, but she wouldn’t let him watch her, so he was standing in the hall like an idiot waiting for his turn.

Jaime pounded on the locked door with his left fist. “Honey, are you done in there?”

“Brienne, not 'honey,'” she reminded him. He’d have to come up with something else if he wanted to keep needling her. Half the time she didn’t even notice it anymore.

The motor started up again inside the room, and Jaime leaned against the door. Almost immediately he was rewarded with the loud thump of Brienne hitting the padded floor. Jaime chuckled as she cursed. He backed away from the door as footsteps approached from the other side, and the door opened.

Her pale hair was raked back from her red face, both damp with sweat. “Eager to see just how fast you can get bucked off, Lannister?” Brienne asked, turning to grab a towel from the table just inside the doorway. She wore boots, tight jeans, and a white tank top, and there were angry red marks on her arms and shoulders from skidding when she was thrown onto the padded floor.

Jaime stepped into the room and leaned against the wall. This wall and the one across from it were mirrored. “I’d think with those legs you’d be able to hold on better,” he observed with a smirk.

“They’re no longer than yours,” Brienne muttered, wiping her neck and face with the towel and tossing it into a hamper in the corner.

“Oh, I beg to differ. Look.” Jaime moved to stand beside her, noticing how she rolled her eyes. He grabbed her by a belt loop and tugged her closer until they stood hip to hip. At least in theory, they did. Jaime looked up at them in the mirror. She was an inch or so taller than him, and her legs were noticeably longer. “See?”

Brienne only grunted in acknowledgment, sparing them only a momentary glance in the mirror before walking away to grab a bottle of water from the mini-fridge. She leaned against the wall as Jaime adjusted the controls, reluctantly setting the speed far lower than he would have done before his injury.

He looked up at Brienne. “Aren’t you going to shower?” Jaime was not eager for her to watch this. Last time he’d waited until she went to the grocery store, and he’d been bucked off almost every time.

She shook her head. “Oh, I wouldn’t miss this.”

Jaime adjusted his gloves again, took his time setting up his rope. Brienne wasn’t moving.

“So, you’ve been spending a lot of time in here,” he said conversationally.

“I’ll be on the real bulls before you are,” Brienne replied, a hint of well-deserved pride in her voice. She had worked her ass off every day she’d been in Austin.

Jaime still wanted her out of this room. “So, I’ve been dying to ask.” He gave her his most lascivious smile. “Do you find this stimulating?”

Her brow knit in confusion. “Watching you stalling? Not really.”

“Come on. All that bucking between your legs?” Jaime waggled his eyebrows suggestively at her.

Brienne pushed away from the wall and walked right up to him, but he recognized that move. Jaime sidestepped her, moving to the other side of the machine.

“You think I haven’t heard that one before?” Brienne scoffed. “Still nothing new coming out of that pretty mouth.”

This time his smirk was genuine. “Pretty?”

Brienne sighed, stalking back to the wall, her arms crossed. “Lannister, I’m not leaving. Four hundred and two bulls, and you’re scared of a machine?” She shook her head ruefully.

Jaime looked from the machine to Brienne. He wasn’t scared. He just didn’t want her watching him. But damn it, she had a point.

He swung his leg over the side and mounted the bucking machine. Underneath the cowhide-covered metal seat was a strong metal base with a series of pistons and gears that simulated the motion of a bucking bull. The whole machine was bolted not only to the floor but to the foundation of the house beneath it.

Brienne sat by the wall, prudently outside of his crash zone, when he pushed the start button, and the front end of the machine dipped abruptly, simulating the opening kick. He was on the floor in less than two seconds, and subsequent tries weren’t much better. Jaime would have quit if she’d shown the slightest reaction after he fell for the tenth time in a row. But she just checked her stopwatch and wrote down the time in a small notebook. All of his instincts were wrong, and Brienne called him out five times in a row for touching his body or the rope with his right hand. Both would result in disqualification in competition.

After half an hour, Jaime didn’t get back up when he hit the floor again. “Toss me some water,” he said.

Brienne brought him a bottle. Instead of returning to the wall, she sat cross-legged beside him, looking through the numbers she’d scribbled down.

“How bad?” Jaime finally asked.

She didn’t look at the numbers. “Your balance is improving and you’re staying in position better. Your right arm keeps coming down, but we can work on that,” Brienne said, confirming what he already knew.

“Did I ever make it to eight seconds?” To his dismay, Jaime had quickly realized how much he’d relied on the bell at events. He had no idea no long he’d managed to stay on.

Brienne passed him the notebook without comment. The neat rows of numbers showed a lot of falls, but he’d stayed on longer as time passed. She’d marked qualified eight-second rides with stars. Out of twenty-five attempts, there were three.

Jaime sighed and dropped the notebook on her lap.

“So, all that bucking between your legs, are you turned on yet, Lannister?”

Jaime turned to stare at her. A dozen quips came to mind, but then he saw the genuine smile lighting up Brienne’s face. “Not even a little,” he answered, smiling back.

“Then get your ass back up there. Keep this up, and I might let you ride a real bull someday.”

 

That evening, Jaime was up in his bedroom alone as usual. Tyrion had called twice and left messages, but Jaime wasn’t in the mood to talk. All he wanted to do was watch old TV shows. Maybe later he’d go downstairs and get some Oreos. He’d earned that, falling on his ass all afternoon.

A knock on the open door startled him. Jaime looked up and found Brienne standing uncertainly in the doorway. “Hey, did Pia put some of my clothes in here? She took my laundry and only brought some of it back.”

Jaime paused his DVD. “Probably. You can look in the closet.” He glanced around the room, checking that nothing embarrassing was lying around. Brienne hadn’t been in his room before. She hadn’t even been upstairs as far as he knew.

Brienne was embarrassed enough for both of them anyway. He hadn’t made her blush yet that day, but she was blushing now. It wasn’t as if she’d walked in on him naked or watching porn. Jaime sat on his bed, dressed in a plain green T-shirt and Avengers flannel pants. He didn’t sleep on Star Wars sheets or black satin.

Jaime pointed her toward the walk-in closet next to the large wall-mounted TV, where Adam Baldwin was paused in the act of looking surly and holding an extremely large gun.

Brienne crossed the room quickly, looking more than a little uncomfortable. Pia must have put most of her clothes in here. In Pia’s defense, Brienne wore a lot of men’s clothes, and they were roughly Jaime’s size. Just then she was wearing men’s plaid pajama pants and a fraying sweatshirt.

Brienne disappeared into the dark closet. Her clothes should be easy to find. Most of them seemed to be thrift shop finds or swag from UCLA events.

“What are you watching?” she asked. The light in the closet clicked on, and she began to rummage through his T-shirts.

Normally he would sputter in outrage that she didn’t recognize the show, but Adam Baldwin hefting a massive weapon could easily be “Firefly,” “Angel,” “Chuck,” or any number of movies. “‘Firefly,’” Jaime answered, waiting for the inevitable laugh. She seemed to think everything else he liked was funny.

Hangers bumped around in the closet as Brienne found her shirts. As she moved toward the back of the closet, she laughed. “Wow, you were not kidding about the Indy costume. Wait, there’s more. Gods, is this Han Solo?”

“Yes, move along,” Jaime prodded. He’d forgotten those were in there.

Brienne’s laughter finally stopped, and she clicked off the light. She emerged from the closet with an armful of T-shirts and jeans, and looked at the television curiously. “So is this a show or a movie?”

Jaime’s mouth dropped open. “Both, actually. Cowboys in space. You’ve never seen it?”

Brienne shook her head. “No, I don’t think so.”

“I aim to misbehave. Shiny. I’ll be in my bunk,” he ran through a few of the more iconic quotes. “None of this is ringing a bell?”

Brienne shrugged. “No, but that first one sounds like a pick-up line.” She stood awkwardly by the closet for a moment, then moved toward the door.

She’d been living in the house for nine days, and it was still awkward much of the time. Teasing her, while fun, only seemed to make her more uncomfortable with him, though they had their moments. And she didn’t take any of his crap, which was different.

Jaime cleared his throat and patted the bed beside him. “Come sit, I’ll put on the pilot episode. You’ll love it, I swear.”

Brienne stopped, considering. She bit her lip, then looked around again. She dropped her armload of clothes on a chair near the door and hesitantly made her way over to the bed. It was a California king, with plenty of room for both of them.

“Honey, sit down. I don’t bite,” Jaime said, trying not to sound suggestive and failing miserably. He scooted over to make even more room for her.

Brienne sat down and made herself somewhat comfortable, her long legs stretched out in front of her. She glanced over and offered a brief smile.

Two hours later, they were still watching the show. Brienne had moved slightly closer to Jaime, her legs curled to one side. Her feet brushed against his thigh occasionally. An open package of Oreos lay on the red duvet between them.

“He did not just do that!” Brienne exclaimed. Mal Reynolds had just kicked a man into a spaceship engine.

“Oh yes, he did,” Jaime laughed. “I told you, didn’t I?”

They were still laughing when Tyrion walked into the room, shooting Jaime a questioning look. “Brother, I didn’t realize you would have company.”

“And I didn’t realize you were coming, so I’d say we’re even.”

Brienne scrambled up off the bed, her face swiftly turning red.

“Tyrion, you remember Brienne Tarth,” Jaime added, for once irritated by Brienne’s embarrassment. He had mentioned her being there to Tyrion, why was his brother acting so surprised?

“Brienne, of course,” Tyrion said politely.

“Tyrion,” she answered, quickly picking up her armful of laundry. “I should go to bed. We have a lot of work to do tomorrow.” She smiled hesitantly at Jaime. “And you do seem less obnoxious tonight. I must be exhausted.”

“We’ll pick up where we left off tomorrow,” Jaime promised, smiling in spite of himself.

Brienne slipped out the door.

Jaime’s smile faded when he looked at his brother.

Disbelief and amusement twinkled merrily in Tyrion’s mismatched eyes. “We’ll pick up where we left off? She’s awfully young for you, isn’t she?”

Jaime shook his head. “It’s not like that. We’re just training together, like I told you. Remember? Renly sent her.”

“Jaime, that girl is younger than I am,” Tyrion reminded him. His brother was 25.

Jaime waved off his brother’s concern. “I know. We’re just training together.”

Tyrion gave him a shrewd look. “So you said. That’s why she was sitting with you in bed late at night.”

Jaime sighed. “We’re watching ‘Firefly.’ She’s never seen it.”

Tyrion crossed his arms. “That’s because she was 9 or 10 when it aired, Jaime.”

Jaime grimaced. Everyone was determined to make him feel old lately. “Well, then it’s a good thing I’m not interested in her. I don’t need another scandal.”

“After a lengthy affair with your cousin, I very much doubt a dalliance with a co-ed would hurt your reputation, but you are paying her to be here, right?” Tyrion sat down in the chair that had just held Brienne’s laundry.

“Yeah, so?” Jaime admitted. Her wages were direct deposited. He didn’t really think about it.

“That makes you her boss,” Tyrion said pointedly. “Which means if you were to get involved and it went south, she could sue you for sexual harassment. Gods be good, Jaime, she could sue you for any of your usual rude behavior.”

“Tyrion, this was the first time she’s ever been in this room,” Jaime pointed out. “And this is Brienne we’re talking about. We are not getting involved. She thinks I’m terrible.”

“You are terrible,” Tyrion agreed. “You can’t tell me you haven’t made an off-color joke or twenty.”

Jaime huffed. “I may have teased her about checking out my ass. Once or twice.”

Tyrion groaned.

“And I may have asked if she found the bucking machine stimulating,” Jaime added, slightly ashamed of that one, mostly because it hadn’t worked as he’d intended.

Tyrion dragged one hand over his face, as if just talking to his brother was exhausting. “That’s not okay when you’re her boss. Just because she turned down Father’s money doesn’t mean she wouldn’t take every cent you have.”

“Fine, I’ll tone down—”

“Stop,” Tyrion corrected.

“Fine, I’ll stop commenting on the way she is clearly checking out my ass. Happy now?” Jaime grumbled. At Tyrion’s nod, he continued, “Not that I mind seeing you, but what are you doing here?”

Tyrion kicked off his shoes and eyed his brother critically. “Yes, let’s talk about the unholy things I had to swear to do so I could come see you. Because weekends apparently only exist if you don’t work at Mopatis Martell.” He sighed and continued more seriously, “I’m sure I’ll get a lecture about checking my emails any minute now, but you’ve been unusually quiet lately. No late-night phone calls to compare wormhole theory between ‘Farscape,’ 'Galactica,' and ‘Stargate,’ no bitching about the scores of the latest competition you’ve missed, no speculation about how Sherlock faked his death.”

“The wormhole thing was you,” Jaime protested.

“Whatever. My point stands. I just wanted to make sure you were alright,” Tyrion admitted.

Jaime scratched the stubble on his chin. He’d need to decide soon if he was actually growing a beard or just lazy. Shaving once a week or so was playing havoc with his skin. “I’m fine, Tyrion. Brienne watched me fall off the bucking machine repeatedly today. She might let me try a real bull in the next few days.”

“Sounds like she’s getting the best of you,” Tyrion noted with a smirk.

Jaime turned off the TV. “She’s definitely not taking it easy on me,” he conceded.

“Sounds like my assistant,” Tyrion laughed.

“I thought legal assistants were all pretty young things who let you get away with murder?”

“No,” Tyrion said flatly. “Mine is efficient, brusque, and most definitely male. His name is Bronn. I couldn’t tell you if that’s his first or last name, because he never told me and at this point it seems rude to ask. On the plus side, he has no qualms about telling Father to fuck off when he deigns to call me.”

Jaime laughed. It was good to have his brother home.

 


January 16, 2013

Brienne’s face appeared over the top of the gate. “Don’t overthink it,” she reminded Jaime, then dropped behind the gate again.

Jaime took a deep breath, thankful that she’d agreed to let him try his first real ride without Peck present to film it. He wondered briefly when Brienne had become his boss instead of the other way around. Jaime raised his right arm high above his head. “Ready.”

The gate opened, and Ghost took a big jump out of the chute, likely happy to be out of the barn for once. For all his practice on the bucking machine, Jaime was still caught off guard, his right arm drifting down before he remembered and snapped it back up just in time to catch his balance. Ghost bucked to his left.

Jaime had a moment to marvel that everything was going according to plan when Ghost suddenly lunged forward and went into a spin. Shit. Jaime slid out of position, hanging by his good hand as he struggled to free himself from the rope.

Brienne was there in a heartbeat, getting Ghost’s attention and stopping its spin. Jaime released his left hand, fell to the ground, and rolled away as the rope fell away and the bull stopped bucking. Brienne led it back into the chute.

Jaime still sat in the dirt when she turned around. Her brow was furrowed. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“How long was I on?” he asked bluntly.

Brienne grabbed the stopwatch that hung around her neck. “3.5 seconds.”

Jaime nodded. “Well, that sucked,” he said, getting to his feet, brushing dirt off his jeans and vest.

“Then try again,” she said with exasperation.

Jaime shook his head. “No.”

“No?” She had her hands on her hips now, ready to tell him off.

“No. Get your helmet, if you must, but I want to see you ride.” Jaime had been curious before, but no one really taped the minor tour, and Renly didn’t have any videos of Brienne riding.

She flushed, running a hand through her hair and only making it untidier. “You’ve only had one ride. I’m here to help you, remember?”

Jaime grinned. “And you can help me by either proving you know what you’re doing, or by giving me a good laugh. It’s a win-win for me.” He waved toward the house. “Go on, get your gear.”

Five minutes later she was back, grumbling under her breath, soft brown chaps covering her legs, fastening her scraped and faded helmet’s strap under her chin.

Jaime took up her former position at the gate and watched through the slats of the chute as she deftly wrapped her rope around the bull and lowered herself into position, her eyes bright inside the helmet.

Brienne wrapped the rope around her right hand, pounded her fist to tighten her grip, and met Jaime’s eyes over the top of the gate.

“Ready?” he asked.

Brienne took a deep breath and raised her left hand high above her head. “Now.”

Jaime flipped open the gate latch and ducked out of the way as the chute door burst open. He stayed back, as she’d begged him to beforehand. It was strange to be down here on the ground in the arena with the bull still bucking. He realized too late he’d forgotten to start the stopwatch, but he couldn’t take his eyes off Brienne.

Ghost jumped coming out of the chute just like last time, but this time instead of going into a spin the bull bucked to the right, twisting and wriggling under her. Brienne’s arm waved wildly above her head, but her legs were locked around the bull and she moved well, shifting her balance to stay astride the massive animal.

Ghost turned and twisted again, bucking hard, and this time Brienne had had enough. She reached down deftly and loosed her hand, the rope falling into the dirt as she swung her leg over and dismounted easily, hitting the dirt and popping up just as Jaime moved to distract the bull from her.

They both guided Ghost back toward the chute. They’d only get in a few more rounds before they would need to switch to Shaggy for a while.

Jaime caught her eye as he latched the gate. “Not bad,” he acknowledged.

Brienne snorted. “Not bad? I stayed on longer than you.” And she grinned.

 


January 18, 2013
Austin Paintball, Dripping Springs, Texas

Jaime crouched behind a thick bush, quickly pulling his mask up to wipe his sweaty face against his shirtsleeve. He adjusted the mask, picked up his paintball rifle, and checked his ammo again.

If he was right, Brienne was hiding behind a live oak about twenty feet in front of him. He’d been tracking her for about ten minutes, working his way through the woods course. After making good progress in his riding the last three days, he’d convinced her to take the afternoon off and have some fun. They’d arrived at the paintball field in the early afternoon on a Friday, and had their pick of several completely empty courses.

When Jaime had asked if she’d ever played paintball before, Brienne had just laughed at him. “Army brat, remember?” she’d said with a wink and a flashing smile, and Jaime’s confidence had abruptly disappeared.

Sudden movement caught his eye. Far more quietly than he would have expected, Brienne had left the safety of cover, and was hunched over, moving low through the brush in her camouflage Army T-shirt. Her blonde hair, however, stood out against the foliage and shadows.

Jaime braced the rifle against his left shoulder and took aim. He squeezed the trigger, and a vivid red splotch stained the tree just behind Brienne. She froze for a moment and dropped to all fours, scuttling away.

Jaime cursed under his breath and took off after her. He could hear Brienne moving quickly through the brush, heavy footfalls and branches snapping telling him where to follow.

Abruptly the noises quieted, and Jaime lurched to a stop, rifle raised, backing toward a tree to avoid an ambush from behind.

He registered the hard muzzle pressed into his back just as Brienne said quietly, “Gotcha.” At this range even a paintball would really hurt. But her restraint was a mistake.

Jaime twisted away around the tree as her shot went wild, painting the ground beyond him blue. “Missed me,” he taunted, sprinting away. As Brienne followed him, Jaime turned and fired at her. She threw herself to the side, hitting the ground hard but coming up quickly to continue the chase.

He hadn’t had a decent opponent in a long time. Tyrion’s friends mostly hid in the trees like snipers, biding their time. Effective, but not nearly as much fun. Playing with Brienne was far more entertaining, except that he’d begun to suspect that she might actually win.

With her longer legs, Brienne caught up quickly, but before she could shoot, Jaime tripped as the ground fell abruptly away to a dry creek bed. He twisted around as he fell, bringing up his rifle even as he skidded in the dirt, rocks digging into his back. He fired, barely missing her, as she came out of the brush above him.

Brienne leapt down lightly, her rifle trained on him, a few leaves in her hair and dirt smeared all over her jeans and arms. Even through the mask he could see the bright light of triumph in her eyes, and Jaime stretched out to hook his foot around the back of her knee, bringing her down.

She landed on top of him, crushing the air from his lungs. Just as Jaime recovered enough to ask if she was okay, Brienne shoved herself up, her knees planted on either side of his waist, rifle pointed at his chest. Laughter rang out from the trees around them, and Jaime pulled his rifle, fallen at his side, back up toward the noise.

Two skinny boys wearing black heavy metal T-shirts came out of the trees, weapons held loosely at their sides. “Well, what do we have here?” one of them scoffed. “Looks like your boyfriend is—”

Jaime shot the kid before he could finish that sentence, red paint exploding across the boy’s thigh. Jaime had been aiming for the kid’s chest, but he didn’t care as long as the kid shut his godsdamned mouth. Out of the corner of his eye, Jaime saw Brienne raise her rifle and shoot the other kid.

The first kid’s mouth gaped. “Aw, man, what the fuck?” He turned and headed back into the woods, hollering, “Dude, we got shot already.”

The other boy looked at them, blue paint splattered across his chest, shaking his head. “Not cool,” he complained, and followed his friend.

Brienne dropped her rifle beside Jaime and yanked her facemask up, her face awash with concern. “Are you okay?”

Jaime was confused for a second until he remembered that she’d just fallen on him. He set down his rifle by hers and pulled up his mask, grateful for the slightly cooler air on his face. He bit his lip to stop the smirk forming there, his gaze moving from her legs snug around his hips up to her flushed face and disheveled hair. She looks like they caught us fucking instead of fighting.

Jaime wondered how long it would take Brienne to realize that she was straddling him. “I’m fine,” he assured her.

Brienne relaxed, turning her head to wipe her sweaty face on her sleeve. The movement twisted her body slightly, shifting her against Jaime in ways that he would tease her about if Tyrion’s warnings weren’t still echoing in his mind.

He cleared his throat. “We might want to get up.”

Brienne looked down. She scrambled up, her cheeks flushed even darker, grabbing her rifle and pulling her mask roughly back over her face. With her free hand, she offered Jaime a hand up.

Jaime grabbed his rifle and gratefully took her hand, then winced. He’d used his right hand, which ached in her grip. Without a word, Brienne released his hand and grasped his wrist instead, hauling him up.

She cleared her throat. “Do you want a head start?”

“No,” Jaime snorted. As fun as chasing her had been, he had a better plan. “How do you feel about an alliance?”

“An alliance?” she echoed, eyes darting warily around as the sounds of more rowdy teenagers filtered through the surrounding trees.

Jaime gave her a lopsided grin. “Us against those kids.”

She considered him for a few seconds, then nodded, returning his smile with her own.

Jaime pulled his mask on, and they headed back into the trees.

 

Chapter Text

January 23, 2013
Austin, Texas

“Your phone is ringing,” Brienne called, picking up Jaime’s phone before it could vibrate off the edge of the coffee table. She glanced at the screen. “It’s Tyrion.”

“Here, trade me.” Jaime quickly closed the gap between them, handing Brienne the popcorn he’d just made and taking the phone. “What’s up?” he asked, turning and walking toward the patio doors.

Brienne paused the DVD. They’d moved on from “Firefly” to a crash course in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

“He did what?” Jaime asked. A dark look flickered across his face. After a moment, he yanked the patio doors open and stepped outside.

Brienne watched Jaime pace on the patio. Every time he passed through the light above the patio doors, his expression grew bleaker.

She set down the popcorn bowl and turned off the DVD.

Nearly ten minutes passed before Jaime came back inside, his shoulders slumped and his mouth set in a hard line. Without a word he sat down on the couch, turned his phone off, and set it back on the table.

“Is everyone okay?” Brienne asked.

“Not everyone,” Jaime said quietly.

Brienne waited for him to continue. Silence stretched out between them, strange when Jaime so rarely left anything unsaid.

Brienne gave him time, then asked, “What happened?”

“Joffrey went to his girlfriend’s house and found his friend Ramsay with her.” Jaime stared down at his hands, avoiding Brienne’s gaze. “Joff beat her, and Ramsay didn’t lift a finger to stop him.”

“Joffrey hit her?” Brienne asked, horrified. The boy was only 15 years old. The brief glimpse she’d had of Joffrey on Thanksgiving didn’t even begin to hint that he might be violent.

“He didn’t just hit her. He beat her bloody.” Jaime dropped his face into his hands. “They were planning a surprise for his birthday. Ramsay waited until after Joff had beaten her to explain. They just left her lying there unconscious.”

“Ramsay sounds like a sadistic bastard,” Brienne said, regretting how flippant she sounded the second the words left her mouth.

Jaime looked up and gave her a crooked smile. “Joffrey was bad long before he met Ramsay. Tywin said if we could just get him through high school, Joff could go to the Citadel or Annapolis and they’d train this crap out of him.”

“Or teach him more effective ways to hurt people,” Brienne countered. Some of her father’s Army buddies had gone to the Citadel.

Jaime sighed. “It wasn’t my plan. I thought the boy needed therapy and medication, but no one asked my opinion.”

The question that popped into her head was none of her business, but she couldn’t stop herself from asking it. “Why not? You are his father, aren’t you?” They hadn’t talked about the children, and Brienne usually did her best to forget about Jaime’s affair with Cersei.

He shook his head vehemently. “No, I’m not. Just…” Jaime’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Just Tommen’s.”

He looked up at the one family photo on the wall beside the television. Jaime, Tyrion, their father, Cersei, and the children at Tyrion’s college graduation. “I thought the boys might both be mine for a long time, but even when he was small, there was something wrong with Joffrey. Cersei found small animals dead in the house or the yard occasionally. She thought their dog was responsible until she caught Joff killing a kitten.”

A chill shook Brienne. She couldn’t think of anything to say to him. Instead she took Jaime’s hand, still chilled from his time outside.

He blinked hard, staring at their clasped hands. Her fingers folded over his, covering the scars. Jaime’s voice shook when he continued. “Joff hurts everyone around him. Even Myrcie and Tommen aren’t allowed to be alone with him.”

“He’ll get the help he needs now,” Brienne assured him. Any judge must see that the boy needed psychiatric care.

“Not if my father has anything to say about it. Think of the damage to our reputation,” Jaime said, dropping into a fair imitation of Tywin Lannister’s patrician tones.

Their evening watching TV was clearly over. Somehow watching Angel brood over his many sins seemed unlikely to make Jaime feel better. With little knowledge of Austin, Brienne had few options to distract him.

“Come on, let’s do something.” She stood, tugging Jaime up with her. “We could go for a run. The moon’s bright enough for a quick circuit of the main path.”

He looked at her skeptically. “I’d rather crawl into bed with a bottle of scotch and the big damn movie.”

Brienne rolled her eyes. The last thing he needed was to watch Serenity again. They’d just watched it a few days earlier, and ended up having an hour-long discussion about the purpose of various characters’ deaths.

“I bet you can’t beat me in a straight-up race,” she challenged. Jaime was far too competitive to ignore that.

“Fine, I’ll go get my shoes,” he muttered, stalking off to his bedroom upstairs.

Between the bright moonlight and the chill in the air, they ended up running two full circuits of the main trail through Jaime’s property. After miles racing each other, Brienne pounded up the steps from the firepit to the patio, Jaime only a few feet ahead. He needed a win more than she did.

Jaime had turned on the lights in the pool before they left, and the light coming off the water washed in blue waves over them both. He stretched and wiped the sweat off his face with one hand. “Okay, I admit it, you were right. I feel better. Disgusting, sticky, and hot, but better.”

“Ditto. I think I’ll hop in the shower,” Brienne agreed.

Jaime eyed the pool. “Fuck that, I’m taking a swim.” He shoved off his sneakers and socks and yanked his damp t-shirt over his head, leaving him in his running shorts. Brienne tried hard not to stare. He tossed her a wicked grin and leapt straight into the pool.

A moment later Jaime broke the surface with a yelp. “Shit, that’s cold!” he laughed.

“Idiot, it’s January. What did you expect?” The lap pools were heated. The main pool was not. Brienne knelt by the edge of the pool, offering him a hand up.

Jaime swam over to the edge and grabbed her hand. She recognized the glint in his eye a second before he pulled hard, tumbling her into the pool with him. The shock of the cold water forced out all her breath, and she kicked quickly to the surface, gasping even as her teeth refused to stop chattering. “What in the seven hells was that?” she cursed, splashing him.

He grinned, treading water easily as he moved toward the pool steps. “The line is ‘curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal,’ honey. Keep up, or we’ll have to watch ‘Firefly’ again,” he teased. Jaime burst out of the water and went tearing around the side of the pool, up the steps to the hot tub.

She heard a splash and a contented groan from above as she swam to the pool steps, rueing her heavy feet still encased in sodden sneakers. Brienne climbed up into the cold night air, her skin immediately covered in goosebumps. She crossed her arms over her chest, kicked off her shoes and socks, and sprinted up to the hot tub.

Jaime had his back to her, pulling two bottles of beer out of the cooler next to the hot tub as she slipped gratefully into the steaming water. He closed the cooler and settled himself back in the water, twisting the first bottle open against his bicep and passing it to her. “Sorry, there’s no water. Tyrion must have put this out here when he visited,” he apologized.

She shrugged and sipped the beer. Alcohol instead of water was definitely not the best idea, but her mouth was dry. In a minute she’d jump out and get water from the kitchen. Brienne set the bottle down on the edge of the hot tub. “Why don’t you act like this on tour?”

Jaime’s eyebrow went up. “Like what?”

Brienne shrugged. “On the road, you’re aloof. You never talk to anyone. I’d seen you around for more than a year before we even spoke to each other. Here, you’re…” she paused, struggling to find the right words. “Well, you can be fun to be around. When you’re not ruining my running shoes.”

Jaime laughed. “High praise indeed.” He sighed, opened his beer, and took a long swallow. “I’m a black hat. I have been nearly my entire career. I’m not the sweet guy who thanks the Seven and his mama, or the charming rogue with a new girl on his arm all the time, or even the anti-hero who curses every five seconds but is secretly a deeply sensitive guy. I’m the villain. I’m used to it.”

Brienne wanted to tell Jaime he was wrong, but when he put it that way she saw it too. “Nearly your entire career?” she echoed.

The good humor drained out of him. “Since Aerys, okay? Is that what you want me to say?”

“Lannister, you did beat him so badly he missed the rest of the season,” Brienne reproached.

Jaime’s eyes narrowed. “He deserved it,” he said savagely.

“He never came back,” she chided him. Aerys Targaryen was well before her time, but she’d seen enough videos to know that he was great in his day, although he’d never been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Jaime closed his eyes and rested his head against the edge of the hot tub. “He was a monster, but I can’t talk about that.” He laughed bitterly.

Brienne pulled her knees up to her chest, her arms wrapped around her calves. “Why not?”

Jaime opened his eyes and looked at her shrewdly. “Non-disclosure agreement. A gag order. Part of the terms of my deal with the district attorney.”

“Non-disclosure? But who wouldn’t want you to talk?”

“Gods, you are naive. The PBR. Dayne, Selmy, the whole lot of them.” Jaime stared at his bottle, meticulously tearing the label off with his left hand.

“It was embarrassing for the sport. Most people already think we’re just a bunch of drunk cowboys,” Brienne pointed out.

“Yes, embarrassing,” he said dryly, rolling the word around slowly in his mouth. He drank a good portion of his beer before continuing. “A rich kid wins Rookie of the Year in a blue-collar sport and then gets blind drunk and beats a former champ half to death for no reason. The press ate it up. Why do you think we got so many goddamn interview requests?” He held up his maimed hand. “This made their year. That fucker Lannister finally got his just desserts, and as a bonus they got a heartwarming story about the ugly duckling with the heart of gold who saved his worthless ass.”

Brienne stood up faster than she should have, grabbing the edge of the hot tub for balance as her head spun. The swift rise from hot water to cold air combined with the exertion of their run to nearly topple her, but she held on. “Another joke at my expense, Lannister? You are so fucking predictable.”

The smile slid off Jaime’s face. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have—” He looked away from Brienne’s furious face, but as his eyes traveled down he gulped and suddenly didn’t seem to know where to look.

Brienne belatedly realized that her wet, white tank top must be transparent at this point. Apparently flashing Jaime Lannister was the only way to shut him up.

She forced herself to stand there, blushing furiously, for the longest six seconds of her life. Slowly Brienne lowered herself back into the steaming water.

“Don’t be sorry. Think before you open your mouth,” she reproached him, leaning back and turning away. She couldn’t look at Jaime anymore.

The hill country was dark below the house, thousands of stars tumbling through the night above them. Brienne hadn’t seen this many stars in years. Light pollution in Los Angeles hid them from sight. She could see why Jaime spent so much time here, away from his family.

Brienne finally looked down from the sky to Jaime. He looked wrung out, spent, far more than their run would warrant. Still half a god, though, with his tan, well-muscled chest and arms, his wet hair falling into his green eyes. Stupid Jaime and his stupid pretty face. He could be so easy to be with, it was too easy to forget his sharp tongue and messy history.

He raked his hair back off his face with one hand and asked, “Do you know why they called Aerys ‘the Mad King’?”

She had to think about that for a minute. Everyone knew about the end of his career. The rest had faded from popular memory over the years. “He liked fire,” Brienne finally remembered. Aerys had always worn black chaps patterned with red flames.

Jaime laughed at that. “Liked fire? Aerys was obsessed with fire. He used to set small fires in his hotel room. None of the veteran riders liked him, but he was a champ, so the rookies hung around him. The bunnies always found their way to his bed.” A grimace twisted his face. “Aerys liked pain too.”

“You don’t have to tell me this,” Brienne interrupted, a knot of dread growing in her stomach.

Jaime looked right into her eyes, right through her, and somehow that was worse than his mockery had been. “Yes, I do.” His voice was far too sincere, for just a moment, exposing something else beneath the swagger and the arrogance.

He took a deep breath and his gaze dropped to the surface of the water. “The first couple of times I heard it, I thought the girl was willing. And the next few times, when the moans turned to tears and muffled cries, I told Selmy, Dayne, and Hightower. They were the organization’s eyes and ears on the road. We were supposed to bring any issues to them. You know what they said to me? Selmy said it was none of my business. Dayne said it wasn’t our job to protect those girls from themselves. And Hightower, he said some girls liked it rough.”

Brienne did not want to hear more, but she couldn’t bring herself to stop him. She wasn’t sure Jaime could stop at this point.

Steam curled up around them up into the night. “I tried to stay away from him, but that night in Phoenix I didn’t make it back to my room until it was too late to switch. The hotel was full. I could smell cigarette smoke and pot through the adjoining door when I came in, and a girl was giggling. So I bummed a bottle of Jack from one of the other riders, and started watching a movie on my laptop.

“But after awhile, I could hear her over the movie. I’ll admit, I was drunk at that point, but she was whimpering, and pleading with him, this awful ‘No, no, please, no,’ over and over again. And then Aerys laughed. He fucking laughed. So I walked over to the connecting door between our rooms and put my ear to it. The door jiggled a little, and I realized it wasn’t locked. So I opened my side, and his was slightly ajar. I don’t know why.

“He had a naked girl tied to the bed and he was sitting on her, smoking. And while I watched, he covered her mouth with one hand and ground out the cigarette on her breast. The harder she bucked and fought, the more he laughed.

“And then she saw me, and her eyes got really big, and Aerys noticed. So he turned around and he saw me standing there, and he said, ‘I don’t like to share, Lannister. You just turn right around and forget you ever saw this.’ And she bit his hand, and started begging me to help her. Aerys... he turned back and punched her in the face like it was nothing.”

Jaime shook his head, and there were tears in his eyes. “I lost it. I rushed him, and I knocked him off of her, and I just started hitting him. She screamed, finally, while I straddled him on the floor, but I couldn't stop punching him. I just remember there was blood everywhere, on my fist, his face, the carpet.

“Selmy and Dayne busted in and pulled me off him, but I kicked Aerys twice before they could stop me. Just to make sure he wouldn’t get up.”

Brienne couldn’t get the image of Aerys burning that girl out of her head, and she hadn’t even seen it. Suddenly Brienne remembered Jaime following her out of the bar in Salt Lake City. She had never even thanked him.

Jaime looked up at her then, twelve years of carrying this burden burning in his face. “Nothing to say? Curse me, kiss me, or call me a liar… something.” The desperation in his voice was worse than the story itself.

“Why wasn’t this made public?” Brienne asked, her voice raw.

Jaime shook his head a little, like he was waking up. “What would people say if they found out the organization knew about Aerys?” he sneered, armoring himself in sarcasm and arrogance again. “The girl was paid off and taken to the hospital. I never even knew her name. Aerys was hurt badly enough that the hospital called the police. I was arrested for assault, and my father got involved. He worked out the deal with the PBR. I said nothing about what I saw, and in return Aerys refused to testify against me. The case fell apart, and they pled me down to a low-level felony assault. I got some community service, a fine, and anger-management classes. I was also suspended long enough to screw me for the season.”

“What happened to Aerys?” she asked, still having trouble processing the story.

“He didn’t retire, he was put in a psychiatric hospital. When they released him, no one bothered to check in on him, and he died setting his thrice-damned RV on fire a couple months later.” Jaime raised an eyebrow. “Still think I’m the monster?”

“Lannister…” Brienne trailed off, utterly at a loss.

Jaime scowled, stood up quickly, and staggered forward.

Brienne sprang up and caught him as he fell heavily, nearly going under. She wrestled Jaime over to the side, pulling him up on edge of the hot tub, holding him there until his eyes opened.

The sudden rush of cold air on his wet skin made him shiver against her. He seemed confused for a moment, and then his lips curved up in a slight smile. “If you’re going to keep saving me, will you stop calling me Lannister? It’s Jaime. My name is Jaime.”

 

Chapter Text

January 26, 2013
Austin, Texas

“Jaime, wake up.”

A hand gripped his arm, shaking him gently.

Jaime sat up abruptly, almost colliding with Brienne, who leaned over his bed. “What’s wrong?” he asked. Brienne didn’t make a habit of coming up to his room.

“You left your phone in the charger. Your alarm was going off in the kitchen.” Brienne handed him his phone, and Jaime dropped it onto the duvet.

She was dressed to run, and he’d overslept. Jaime pulled the duvet up over his lap a bit more, hoping she hadn’t noticed that his cock was far more awake than the rest of him. “If you can wait five minutes, I’ll run with you, okay?” Jaime suggested, hoping she would leave him alone so he could get out of bed without embarrassing himself.

Brienne nodded. “Sure. Remind me later, I have an idea I want to bounce off of you.” She left, closing the door behind her.

Jaime fell back onto his pillows, and took a deep breath. He’d had a lot on his mind the past few days. Jaime had exchanged a flurry of emails and calls with Tyrion and Addam Marbrand about the next steps in Joffrey’s prosecution. There wasn’t much he could do, but considering how his father had interfered after his arrest, Jaime wanted to be kept in the loop.

Brienne complicated things. Every so often, his eyes were drawn to long, bare legs stretched out on the couch or the patch of freckles exposed on her lower back when her shirt rode up. And Jaime would remember Brienne standing up in the hot tub, furious, water running down her tank top and shorts, small breasts and lean stomach visible through the nearly transparent fabric. Looking down had done little good. Her shorts clung to her body too.

Thank the gods the water had hidden his body’s sudden and enthusiastic response. Brienne had just glared at Jaime, defying him to make another crack about her looks.

Nevermind that Jaime hadn’t been able to think of a single thing to say in that moment, so taken by surprise that coherent thought hadn’t been possible. Thought hadn’t returned until she’d slowly sunk down into the water, his gaze following every inch of skin as it disappeared beneath the surface.

What didn’t trouble Jaime, and probably should, was his decision to tell Brienne about Aerys. It had seemed completely natural, vital even, to tell her the entire story, despite the gag order, despite never telling anyone the full story in twelve years.

In the days since Jaime’s confession, there had been a subtle shift between himself and Brienne. She had told him a little about herself, the places she’d lived, how she’d become friends with Margaery. They’d even compared stories about Renly.

Jaime lay with his eyes closed, breathing deeply to calm himself. Waking to find Brienne leaning over his bed was not helping. It had been far too long since he had been so close to a woman. Three years since Cersei, at least a year since the last ridiculous blind date Tyrion had forced on him. That girl had apologized almost immediately and said that Tyrion hadn’t mentioned Jaime had a felony conviction. She’d only found out by Googling him that day, and she didn’t date anyone with a criminal record.

Jaime had paid for their drinks and sent her home, then told Tyrion never to fix him up again. The irony was that Jaime had since realized that he should have let his case go to trial. It would have reflected badly on the PBR, no question, but a conviction had been unlikely from the start. He’d learned that lesson last year when a father in Texas had beaten his daughter’s molester to death. Charges were never even filed.

There was no point dwelling on past mistakes. He had a full day ahead of him, plenty of opportunities for fresh mistakes. Days with Brienne now included mornings on the bucking machine and afternoons riding the bulls. Both of them were doing well enough now that Robb Stark would be exchanging Ghost and Shaggy for two new, more difficult bulls in about a week.

Jaime got up, quickly dressed, and headed downstairs to meet Brienne.

Once she left Austin, he needed to figure out where adults met people. The bar scene seemed geared toward one night stands, and if there was one thing Jaime was sure of, it was that he wasn’t looking for casual sex. If he had been, the last three years would have been very different.

After their run, Jaime sipped his coffee and watched the morning news while Brienne made breakfast. Tired of the few dishes he could make competently, Brienne had taken over some of the cooking. She usually handled all the chopping and prep at dinner, while Jaime cooked. This morning she was making pancakes studded with granola and wild blueberries.

“So I had an idea,” Brienne finally spoke up, setting a plate laden with pancakes in front of him.

“That’s generally dangerous,” Jaime teased, concentrating on cutting a pancake with his fork in his right hand.

She stuck her tongue out at him. “Robb’s little sister has been training with Syrio Forel. Robb said Forel was coming back up to Winterfell again this spring. I thought maybe he could stop by here first.”

“Why?” Jaime asked. “We’re doing pretty well on our own.”

Brienne flipped more pancakes on the griddle. “Yes, we’ve both made big improvements, you especially. But in the past week your progress has leveled off. I think we need to shake things up.”

Jaime shrugged. “Shake things up? I suppose I could ask Robb about it.” Forel was good, but he had a reputation for using unusual training methods. “On second thought, maybe you should call Robb.”

“Why?” There was a hint of amusement in her voice. Had Robb said something to her?

“He’s never liked me,” Jaime admitted. “I half expected him to talk you into leaving when he was here last.”

She laughed. “He tried, actually.”

Jaime shoveled a piece of pancake into his mouth before it could fall off his fork. “I’ll call,” he said once he’d swallowed. “It can’t hurt to talk to Forel.”

 


February 4, 2013

Syrio Forel had arrived from Rio de Janeiro the day after Robb took Shaggy and Ghost, leaving Summer and Nymeria in their place. Jaime had spend nearly every moment of the two days since torn between laughing and cursing.

The first morning had set the pattern. They began with their usual run, then Jaime rode a bull while Forel watched. Brienne made her usual notes, and waited to see what Forel had to say. At first he had said nothing. Once he did start talking, it had been to spout gibberish about Death that left Jaime wondering if Robb Stark was laughing at him all the way back to Calgary.

Then Forel had surprised them both by insisting that Brienne ride. Peck had been drafted to work the gate while Jaime and Forel watched from the fence. Each time Brienne rode, Forel had quietly pointed out to Jaime what she did right, and what she did wrong. Then he had pointed out traits they shared. Jaime could have lived without spending over an hour each morning scrutinizing Brienne’s body while the little Brazilian man kept a running commentary about the way her legs clung to the bull or the straight line her spine and left arm made together when her balance was perfect.

They would break for lunch, and then the craziness would set in. Syrio Forel’s reputation was well deserved. At Winterfell he’d made Arya Stark chase cats around the ranch to learn agility and speed. Since there were no cats on Jaime’s property, Forel had suggested acquiring some. Jaime’s response had been an emphatic, “Hells no.” They would only attract coyotes anyway.

After shooting down Forel’s first suggestion, Jaime had then felt obliged to agree to the next one—which turned out to be standing on one foot for long periods of time. If he’d been on the ground, it wouldn’t have been so strange, but Forel had other plans. The first day Jaime had spent far too long balancing on one foot on top of a large barrel in the barn. Luckily the damn thing was only four feet high, but he’d still felt completely ridiculous.

Forel thought that Jaime needed to adjust his balance, that he was still favoring his right side. Brienne, of course, didn’t have any problems with her balance, so she mostly stood there struggling not to laugh at Jaime.

“You are going to the deepest of the seven hells for this,” Jaime muttered. He stood on his left leg, his arms held out for balance, feeling extremely stupid.

The first day he’d stood on a barrel. The second day it was a slightly narrower tree stump. An hour earlier Jaime had walked into the barn to find a small platform not much wider than his feet.

“Hey, at least I talked him out of the tightrope,” Brienne pointed out. It wasn’t strictly necessary for her to be there, he’d only fallen once, but at least this way Jaime could vent his irritation to her instead of alienating Forel.

“The tightrope,” Jaime scoffed. That was the next step after Jaime mastered this small platform, according to Forel. Brienne had convinced him a balance beam might be smarter, since Jaime had already broken his leg and wrecked his knee in the past.

Jaime found his gaze drawn to the rafters, checking the barn for hidden cameras as he had every day since Forel had arrived. There was no way people regularly paid him to treat them like this. Robb was clearly pranking him. “If he tells me to wax his car, I’m out,” Jaime said flatly, taking a moment to switch to his right leg.

“Wax his car?” Brienne echoed, looking up at him in confusion.

“Like in The Karate Kid? Really? You haven’t seen that?” Jaime groaned when she shook her head. “Of course not. It came out before you were born,” he muttered to himself.

Brienne checked the time on her phone. “Only fifteen more minutes.”

Jaime gritted his teeth. His legs ached. If he’d thought any of this would help his riding, he would put up with it without too much grousing, but so far Forel’s methods seemed tailor-made to remind Jaime of just how far he’d fallen. At least Brienne was improving with the increased practice.

He heard footsteps entering the barn, but Jaime couldn’t turn to look without putting his foot down. The previous day he’d been reprimanded for that.

“Boy, put your left arm down. Hold your right above your head.” For such a small man, Forel had a commanding voice.

Jaime rolled his eyes at Brienne, who bit her lip to avoid smiling, and did as Forel bid. Forel had been calling him “boy” since he’d arrived. He called Peck and Brienne by their names, but 34-year-old Jaime was “boy.”

Forel walked slowly toward Jaime and around to face him. The man studied him closely, then nodded curtly. “Just so.” Forel turned to Brienne. “We will leave in half an hour.”

As soon as Forel’s footsteps had receded outside the barn, Jaime relaxed and put his foot down. Brienne reached up and took his left hand, helping him jump down.

“Any idea where we’re going?” Jaime asked.

“No clue. Any guesses?” Brienne replied, heading slowly back up to the house.

She was going slowly for him, which was annoying but appreciated. Jaime repaid her by sharing some of the weirder options he’d come up with while standing on the platform. “Maybe he’ll take us to the zoo to wrestle the bears.”

“Jaime, be serious,” she chided.

“Have you met me?” Jaime laughed. “Maybe he found a place with those giant sumo suits.”

“Just what I need, to be even bigger,” Brienne said dryly.

“Not that then. Forel likes you. He enjoys torturing me.

 


February 13, 2013

Jaime knocked on Brienne’s door not long after dinner. Forel was watching television in the living room and Jaime couldn’t take any more of the man’s company. They’d spent the afternoon at the military-style obstacle course that Forel thought promoted an excellent combination of agility and balance. Brienne loved it, and routinely beat Jaime at every obstacle.

Of course, her right hand could support her weight. Despite hours of physical therapy each week, Jaime hadn’t made as much progress as he wanted. His therapist said it would happen if he put in the work.

Brienne opened the door, but her phone was pressed to her ear. “Hang on a sec,” she said into the phone, then turned it away from her mouth. “What’s up, Jaime?”

He held up a bag of marshmallows. “I was going to light a fire outside, roast some marshmallows.” Suddenly this seemed incredibly juvenile.

Brienne pressed her phone against her chest. She leaned close to Jaime and whispered, “Margaery broke up with some guy. This may take a while.”

“She’s not taking it well?” he guessed.

Brienne shook her head. “Apparently Aurane steals cars for fun. She’s blasting music in our apartment, and she skipped right past Pink and Adele to Taylor Swift.”

“And that’s bad?” Jaime asked uncertainly.

She nodded vigorously, eyes wide, putting the phone back to her ear.

Jaime went out to the firepit alone. He lit a fire and waited for the flames to build. Years had passed before he stopped associating fire with Aerys. That was one of the few things the shrink had been able to help Jaime put behind him.

He didn’t mind sitting out here alone. Jaime had done that often enough in the six months between Tyrion moving out and Brienne’s arrival. He could use the time to get his thoughts together.

In twelve hours Jaime would fly to Los Angeles for Joffrey’s hearing. He would spend two days there, and it would be the first time he’d seen his father and Cersei since Thanksgiving.

Then there was Syrio Forel. He would leave for Calgary soon, and he’d already given Jaime his opinion on Jaime’s comeback chances.

When the fire was burning hot enough, Jaime speared a marshmallow on a long toasting fork and held it out toward the fire. He was so intent on making sure he didn’t burn it that he didn’t hear Brienne approach until she sat beside him on the brick bench surrounding the firepit.

“This was a good idea,” she said with a sigh, stretching her legs toward the warmth of the flames.

“Did Margaery calm down?” He passed his toasting fork over to Brienne and got himself a new one.

She snorted and slowly rotated her toasting fork, the marshmallow beginning to brown and smoke. “Nope. I called in the cavalry. She finally let me go when Loras showed up with tequila. Loras has more experience with men than I do anyway.”

Jaime couldn’t help laughing. “Not much of a dater?” he asked. With the way every remotely suggestive comment had made her blush when she’d first arrived, she couldn’t have dated many men.

Brienne sat back and inspected the golden-brown marshmallow starting to slip down her fork. She blew on the marshmallow a moment, then delicately slipped off just the browned exterior, leaving the gooey interior behind. “No, just a few dates in boarding school,” she said flatly. She popped the hot, crispy marshmallow into her mouth.

Brienne knew nearly everything about him, though Jaime thought she might be surprised to learn he hadn’t been with anyone but Cersei. Still, he felt compelled to ask, “No one special, then?”

Brienne eyed him warily for a moment, then looked away. She pushed the toasting fork back over the fire, too close to the flames. She watched while the marshmallow browned and charred, finally catching fire. “There was one guy. He was special.” She spat the last word. “A special kind of asshole.” Her face showed a mix of fury and hurt that made him wish he hadn’t asked.

Jaime pulled his toasting fork out of the fire just as she did. Brienne plucked the charred mess off hers and tossed it into the fire. “I’m sorry,” Jaime said, popping molten marshmallow in his mouth to avoid saying anything else.

She shook her head, sucking briefly on burnt fingertips. “Don’t feel sorry. I punched him in the face later.”

“So the lesson is, don’t piss off Brienne?” he asked, trying to lighten the mood.

She nodded solemnly. “That’s right, don’t piss off Brienne.”

Jaime decided to change the subject. “I’m sorry the timing for this trip sucks. I’ll make it up to you.”

Brienne shook her head. “You didn’t schedule Joffrey’s hearing. Besides, it’s not a big deal.”

“Not a big deal? You’ll be here alone on your birthday. Well, I mean, Forel will be here, but still,” Jaime protested.

“Seriously, Jaime, it’s not a big deal. Anyway, you’re stalling. I know Syrio talked to you today. Are you ever going to tell me what he said?”

“You mean aside from, ‘What do we say to Death?’”

Brienne smiled as they intoned in unison, “Not today.” It was Forel’s pre-ride mantra. Funny, coming from a guy who had never been badly injured, who had always landed on his feet. Perhaps he had some sort of deal with the Stranger or another of the many gods of Death. Jaime didn’t fear death, but he didn’t pray to it either.

Jaime groaned. “Do I have to? I can’t even deal with it yet.” He wasn’t sure he really trusted Forel’s opinion. He’d only been working with the man for two weeks, and for a good portion of that time Jaime had been convinced Forel was just messing with him.

She rolled her eyes. “Yes, you do. I’d like to know how much longer I’ll be here.” Brienne pulled out another marshmallow and popped it into her mouth untoasted.

Jaime sighed and set down the toasting fork. He rested his elbows on his knees, his face in his hands. “Forel says I’ll be ready by Albuquerque.” He looked up to see her reaction. Albuquerque, New Mexico, would host a competition March 22-24. They had five weeks left to train.

Brienne was smiling again. The firelight made her eyes bright, gold flickering in blue depths. He still found himself caught by her eyes now and then. She scooted closer to Jaime and patted his right arm. “That’s great, isn’t it? It’s what we’ve been working for.”

He allowed himself a small smile and nodded. “Yeah, it is.”

Brienne sat up suddenly, her hand falling away from his arm. “What was that?” she asked. Her eyes darted around the fire.

In the distance, Jaime heard it too. A roar. “What was what?” he asked, amused. He knew exactly what it was.

She frowned. “That. It was an animal, definitely.”

“We do have animals around here. This isn’t exactly the middle of the city,” Jaime reminded her, grateful for this distraction. Forel was sure he would be ready in five weeks. Jaime was not.

Roar!

Brienne bolted to her feet. “You can’t tell me you didn’t hear that.”

Jaime tried to look serious, but he dissolved into helpless laughter almost instantly. “Oh, gods, honey, you should see your face.”

Brienne punched his shoulder hard.

“Ow!” Jaime protested, holding his shoulder, but started laughing again almost immediately.

“Don’t piss off Brienne,” she reminded him. Brienne sat back down and glared at him, her arms crossed tightly. “Explain.”

Eventually, Jaime stopped laughing, his face red and his eyes wet. He wiped his eyes and sighed. “It’s a lion.”

“A lion,” she echoed dryly. “Very funny. You mean a mountain lion?”

“No, a lion. As in lions and tigers and bears, oh my,” Jaime answered. If she didn’t get that reference he might lose all hope for mankind.

Her brow furrowed. “Why is there a lion roaring out here in the middle of nowhere?”

Jaime grinned. “It’s the zoo, Brienne. I don’t hear the animals here very often, but it’s not far up the road. They do have lions, tigers, and bears. And prairie dogs. Myrcie thought they were adorable and wanted to bring one home. I took the kids there the last time they visited. Cersei had a headache and didn’t want to come.” His smile faltered. “That was three years ago now. Maybe four.”

“They really don’t visit?” she asked, her expression softening.

“No, you heard Cersei, didn’t you?” Jaime said. “I’m a felon, and people would talk if she let them visit. Because no one else has a criminal record, and so many people are watching her, caring what she does. Robert’s been dead for three years. No one fucking cares anymore.”

Brienne scooted closer to him, the bag of marshmallows stuck between them. “They would like it here,” she said, looking up at the starry sky. “A pool, horses, s’mores in the backyard, the zoo right up the road, what’s not to like?”

Me. Jaime sighed. The kids knew him, though not well. They were far more comfortable with Tyrion and Renly. Jaime didn’t blame them. They were just kids, and he didn’t want to force anything on them. He appreciated Brienne’s support, but short of taking Cersei to court there was little he could do, and he would never do that to Tommen.

“You know, I think Peck wants to try riding.”

Jaime looked up in surprise. “Really?” The kid’s light class schedule as a senior had given him ample time to watch Jaime and Brienne training. He often took video they could review later.

Brienne nodded. “I think I’ll let him try while you’re away. Then if anything happens, his mom can’t blame you.”

He nodded. “Good plan.” Jaime mulled the idea over and shrugged. “He is the right build, I guess. Put him on the bucking machine first. Forel will be annoyed, though.”

“Why?”

Jaime leaned close and said seriously, “He would much rather watch you ride.”

Brienne laughed. “What would possibly make you say that?”

Jaime grinned as she started to blush. “You should hear him when you’re on a bull.” He put on a vaguely Brazilian accent and said in a low, seductive voice, “Watch the way her legs grip its flanks. See how that muscle tenses and holds. Watch the way she grips the rope.”

Brienne swatted his shoulder, her face gone bright red. “Stop it. He does not say that.”

Actually, he did, although Jaime suspected it had more to do with throwing off Jaime’s focus than with any professional or personal interest Forel had in Brienne. The ability to focus in the midst of any distraction was a useful skill considering every competition was conducted in front of thousands of cheering, screaming fans.

“He does,” Jaime insisted. “Now tell me what you’re going to teach Peck. Don’t want you starting any bad habits.”

Brienne rolled her eyes, but told him anyway. By the time they walked back to the house the fire had burned low and Jaime was fairly confident that she wouldn’t let Peck hurt himself.

 

Chapter Text

 

February 14, 2013
Marbrand and Associates, Los Angeles, California

Joffrey sat slumped in his chair near the end of the large conference table, playing a game on his phone. Beside him, his mother, Tywin, and Damon Marbrand rehashed the expected testimony and argued.

Tyrion sat beside Jaime, halfway down the table from where Damon stood pointing at the photographs taken of Jeyne Poole in the hospital.

“Once the judge sees these, there’s no way Joffrey won’t be remanded to adult court,” Damon argued. “He should take the deal.”

Tyrion leaned closer to Jaime. “He’s right,” Tyrion said in an undertone. “No matter what Father says.”

“You can argue that the Bolton boy was the instigator,” Tywin insisted, pushing away the photographs.

“But he wasn’t. Jeyne will testify to that,” Damon reminded Tywin.

“She can’t,” Cersei said dismissively. “She doesn’t remember much.”

Jaime shook his head and said quietly to Tyrion, “This is utter bullshit.”

Tyrion checked his phone. “I said the same. You heard Father. ‘You’re only a first-year associate. You’re not a litigator, Tyrion.’” He shook his head. “At least I went to law school.”

“I never should have listened to Tywin, and Joffrey shouldn’t either,” Jaime agreed. Damon Marbrand hadn’t been involved in Jaime’s plea bargain. He never would have approved.

Tyrion eyed Jaime shrewdly. “Don’t you want Joffrey to get out of this?”

Jaime looked at Joffrey. The boy hadn’t even spared a glance at the photographs. He’d dated that girl for six months, and Joffrey had yet to even ask how she was doing. Jaime had asked Damon about her, before everyone else arrived. Jeyne had lost two teeth, but other than that had no permanent injuries. Not that she would ever forget it.

“No, I think he’s smart enough not to leave witnesses next time,” Jaime told his brother.

Tyrion nodded. “Agreed. Not that anyone cares what we think.”

That was true enough, but Jaime had to try. “Why don’t you just present the deal, Damon?” he spoke up. “I’d like to hear what the district attorney is offering.”

Tywin didn’t even look at his son. Cersei sat beside Joffrey, shooting Jaime a look that would freeze fire.

Damon cleared his throat. “Joffrey pleads guilty to assault, he confesses in court, and he puts in two years with the Night’s Watch.”

Joffrey finally looked up from his phone. “Two years? Doing what?” he asked, pushing his chair back and propping his feet up on the table. Tywin cleared his throat and Joffrey swiftly removed his feet from the table.

Damon shuffled through the papers and picked one up. “It’s a national parks program assisting park rangers in Montana. The kids are based at a camp called the Shadow Tower, and they do two-week rotations in teams out in the park, clearing trails, keeping watch from ranger towers during wildfire season, searching for lost hikers. When they’re in camp they’re in classes and therapy.”

“Sounds good to me,” Tyrion said pointedly.

“Working with park rangers? In the woods? No. I’d rather go to prison,” Joffrey sneered.

“No, you wouldn’t,” Cersei said, worry creasing her brow.

For once, Jaime agreed with Cersei. “Joff, you should take it.”

Tywin turned to Damon. “You and I will speak in private.”

“My office,” Damon suggested, and the pair left the room.

“Why are we even here?” Tyrion asked, setting his phone on the table and spinning it idly.

“I’m missing lacrosse practice,” Joffrey pointed out sullenly.

Jaime laughed. “You’re ineligible for competition, Joff. What does it matter if you’re at practice?”

Joffrey lurched to his feet. “This is nothing. I’ll be back on the team next week.”

“Joffrey, darling, sit down,” Cersei begged, her voice strained.

Joffrey cast her a dismissive look. “I’ll do what I like.” He stalked over to the windows and focused on his phone again.

“Of course he will,” Jaime muttered bitterly.

The door opened. Tywin came in first, Damon behind him with two nervous associates and a legal assistant.

“Joffrey, you will take the deal,” Tywin informed the boy.

Joffrey’s mouth dropped open. “No, I won’t,” he said defiantly.

Tywin stared Joffrey down. “Yes, you will.” He turned back to Damon. “Make the call.”

 


February 14, 2013
Strongsong, Westwood, California

“There’s something pathetic about three single men over 30 sitting in a college bar on a Thursday night,” Addam observed, sipping a Coke. He was on call tonight.  

“Speak for yourself. I’ve got my eye on that girl over there.” Daven’s hazel eyes were focused on a slim woman with short black hair and a pirate ship tattooed across her upper back.

Jaime looked skeptical. “Really? She doesn’t seem like your type, coz.”

Daven grinned and tapped his right arm. “Look again.”

Jaime squinted across the bar as the woman turned, allowing him to see what Daven had noticed. “Does she have ‘Semper Fi’ tattooed on her arm?”

Daven’s grin widened. “She does.”

Addam shook his head ruefully. “Only Daven comes Stateside for a single week and finds a girl in a bar in the first ten minutes.”

Daven pointed at Jaime. “This one has a girl living with him.”

“You’ve been holding out on me,” Addam accused. Jaime had been largely out of touch the last six months until Addam had reached out after Joffrey’s arrest. He worked in the LAPD division that had investigated Jeyne’s assault, but he had recused himself from the case since he knew the Lannisters.

Jaime held up his hands. “I’m not dating her. She works for me. I’ll swear on all Seven if you want.” He was a little glad to get a few days away from Brienne, actually. He’d spent far too much time lately thinking about her. A little distance couldn’t hurt.

Daven snorted in disbelief. “She’s 21 and has legs that go on for for miles,” he told Addam. “Not a pretty face, but in the dark who cares?”

“Watch it, Colonel,” Jaime warned, no real threat in his tone. He didn’t expect Daven to understand. Daven was his favorite cousin, but they had very different ideas about women. Jaime sipped the one beer he was allowing himself tonight. He wasn’t about to turn up to court in the morning hungover. “Whatever happened to your freckly Desmera?”

Daven stood. “She found a guy who’s not in her chain of command. And I’m here. I’m going over to the bar. I may or may not be back.” He dropped a few bills on the table to cover his drinks and swaggered over to the thin girl. She couldn’t be older than 25, if Jaime had to guess, but she talked to Daven readily enough. Jaime might have resented being ditched if they hadn’t made dinner plans for the following night.

Addam fished his phone out of his pocket and checked the screen. “Duty calls. Do you want a ride to Tyrion’s?”

Jaime looked up at Daven. He had his arm around the girl. Daven would find his way to his hotel, or maybe not, without them. His cousin glanced back at them. Jaime pointed toward the door, and Daven nodded.

“Yeah, let me just text Tyrion,” Jaime said, pulling out his phone. He had an unread text from earlier.

Brienne: Be glad you’re not here. Syrio’s picking on me now.

Jaime sent his brother a quick message, then replied to Brienne’s.

Jaime: I’m in your neighborhood. Strongsong.

He was just tucking the phone back in his pocket when it beeped. Jaime pulled it back out.

Brienne: Terrible bar. Skyreach is better. Around the corner.
Jaime: Leaving anyway. Hearing early A.M.
Brienne: Hang in there. See you Saturday.

“Everything okay with Tyrion?” Addam asked as Jaime put his phone away.

Jaime hesitated, almost said that hadn’t been Tyrion, but he wasn’t in the mood to explain. “Yeah, everything’s fine.”

“Are you okay?” Addam asked as he stood up. “What have you been up to?”

Jaime followed him out of the bar. “I’m fine, Addam. I’m going to ride again. Next month in New Mexico.” It felt good to say it out loud.

Addam smiled. “Good. Now tell me about this 21-year-old girl you’ve been hiding.”

 


February 15, 2013
Disney California Adventure, Anaheim, California

Jaime and Tyrion arrived at Cersei’s house at 7 a.m. as they’d all agreed.

The house was in a state of controlled chaos. Tywin sat at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and reading a copy of The Financial Times. Joffrey looked respectable sitting at the table eating his breakfast, but no one could make him look contrite. He wore a nice suit, but his attitude was prickly. Tommen complained bitterly that Joff didn’t have to go to school today while he and his sister did. No one had explained to Tommen what was going on. Myrcella knew, and she seemed to dread facing her classmates.

Jaime pulled Tyrion aside as Cersei swept into the kitchen. She wore the same conservative black dress she’d worn to Robert’s funeral, and Jaime had a momentary flash of how he’d pushed up her skirt and taken her in Robert’s office while she wore it. A fitting end, he supposed.

“Do you really want to be in the courtroom?” Jaime asked his brother.

Tyrion shrugged. “No. I doubt I’ll be able to keep a straight face when Joffrey pretends to regret his actions.”

Jaime adjusted his tie and unbuttoned his suit jacket. It was warm in the kitchen. Too many nervous bodies in one place. He approached Cersei warily.

She barely spared him a glance. “What do you want?” Cersei asked evenly.

Jaime sighed. “Myrcie is nervous about school. Everyone knows what’s going on. Tyrion and I would like to take her and Tommen somewhere fun today. Just to take their minds off Joff.”

Cersei regarded her younger children, considering his offer. Cersei had flatly refused Damon’s suggestion that they bring Myrcella and Tommen to court to show the judge that the whole family supported Joffrey.

Somehow the story had been kept out of the press, but both Joffrey and Jeyne’s conspicuous absence from school, coupled with Joffrey’s sudden suspension from the lacrosse team, made what had happened clear. The story had spread swiftly through the kids’ school.

“Where will you go?” Cersei asked.

Jaime hadn’t thought that far ahead. “I don’t know, Disneyland?”

Cersei frowned, her hand drifting up to worry at the single strand of pearls at her throat. “Usual rules. Only if Tyrion goes with you. Understand?”

Jaime nodded, and went to tell the kids.

Four hours later, Jaime reached over and stole a bite of the chocolate mud pie Tommen was enthusiastically devouring. Myrcella kept shoving napkins at the boy, but every time he wiped his face it just ended up dirty again with the next bite.

“Can we drive the race cars again?” Tommen asked around a bite of pie.

“Really? That’s the third time,” Myrcella complained.

Jaime shrugged. “Whatever you guys want, just no coasters for a little while.”

He pushed the map over to Myrcella, who studied it seriously. Myrcella had insisted that she was too old for Disneyland, so they’d gone to its newer sister park instead.

Jaime finished the last bite of his apple-cheddar pie. Tyrion had just left, only able to take the morning off from his office. The amusement park was not where either of them had expected to spend the morning, but Jaime preferred it to the courtroom.

Jaime’s phone beeped. He pulled it out of his pocket and checked the screen.

Cersei: Hearing over. Have my kids home by 4

He didn’t bother responding. Instead he scrolled back to older messages and replied to Brienne’s from the previous night.

Jaime: Happy birthday. Are you torturing Peck yet?

"Let’s go do Soarin’ next. That looks like fun,” Myrcella suggested.

“Tommen, are you okay with that?” Jaime looked up and discovered that the boy had managed to wipe his face on his shirt sleeve. Jaime sighed. “Okay, change of plans. How would you like a souvenir T-shirt?”

They spent the next twenty minutes roaming shops looking for suitable T-shirts. Apparently Cersei had strict standards for her children’s clothing. Or Myrcella was picky. Perhaps both, but he couldn’t buy Tommen something without buying for Myrcella as well.

Jaime’s phone beeped. Brienne had sent him a picture of Peck lying on the floor in front of the bucking machine. He could see her reflected in the mirror, laughing.

“Who’s that?” Myrcella had snuck up beside him.

“That’s my neighbor, Peck. He might get to ride a bull today.” Jaime slowly tapped a reply. He still had trouble holding the phone sideways while texting, so he had to text one-handed.

“You’re really slow, Uncle Jaime,” Myrcella observed.

She was a little too much like her mother sometimes. “This just takes me a little longer these days,” he reminded her.

Myrcella pulled another shirt off the rack, a pink ruffly thing. “This one,” she said firmly.

Jaime glanced at the shirt, decided it didn’t violate any of Cersei’s rules. “Go help your brother find something, okay?”

“Who’s the girl?” Myrcella asked.

“What girl?” The phone beeped again.

Brienne: Have fun with the kids. See you tomorrow.

“The girl you’re texting.” Myrcella may as well have added “duh” to the end of her sentence.

“Brienne is a girl’s name, isn’t it?”

Jaime shoved his phone into his pocket. “She’s a friend. Now come on, let’s find something for your brother.”

 


February 22, 2013
ESPN First Take

The chat show’s four panelists sat around a low table. Behind them a large screen showed an old photo of Jaime with the PBR world championship trophy.

“So now we’ve come to a sport I can guarantee we haven’t talked about in a long time. Bull riding.” Barry Locke shuffled the cue cards in his hand.

The other panelists laughed.

“Why are we talking about bull riding?” Edd Tollett, a thin man clad in black, asked.

“You remember when Jaime Lannister got trampled in Memphis last fall?” Locke answered.

Two of the other panelists nodded.

“It looks like he may be attempting a comeback.”

“Why? Didn’t he lose a hand?” Tormund Giantsbane spoke up.

“No, just a few fingers,” Locke corrected. “He never officially retired, but everyone assumed he was out. Until yesterday, when Syrio Forel was spotted at the Austin airport. Forel was a champ back in the ‘80s and trains riders now. Lannister lives in Austin.”

“That doesn’t mean anything. I mean, why would he bother coming back? How old is he now?” Janos Slynt chimed in.

“Thirty-four, but some of these guys ride into their forties,” Locke said.

“Yeah, but missing fingers? That’s hardcore,” Tormund said admiringly. “No one’s going to give you crap for retiring after that. Go somewhere sunny and never think about a bull ever again.”

“That’s the thing. This guy’s got a hell of a past. I was only vaguely familiar with him until I interviewed him last fall,” Locke explained. “He’s got a felony conviction for beating another rider half to death, and there have been conflicting rumors for years that either he was sleeping with his first cousin or gay, or possibly both. The latest was that he was dating the 21-year-old girl who got hurt with him in Memphis.”

The picture of Jaime and Brienne on “Good Morning America” flashed on the screen behind the panelists. Tormund snickered. “I think we can rule out that last one.”

 

Chapter Text

February 23, 2013
Nightsong, Austin, Texas

Brienne glanced over at Jaime. He was sitting to her left, his right hand tapping on the table between them. He was down to one physical therapy session every week now, and he didn’t drop things nearly as often as he had when she first came to Austin. Jaime was making good progress, but it was never good enough for him.

The stage lights picked up the gold of his hair and the brightness of his eyes. Brienne looked away before he could catch her watching him.

The waitress walked by them again, checking their drinks and obviously appreciating Jaime. Brienne didn’t blame her. He was wearing a black sweater over a blue button-down and jeans, and he looked good. He looked really good. Brienne had at least tried to dress up a little, wearing a gold top Margaery had given her with the only pair of skinny jeans she owned and gold flats.

When they’d ordered, the waitress had looked back and forth between them, the question in her expression plain. Why was he here with her?

He was here because Jaime had insisted on taking Brienne out for her birthday, which he’d missed, and when he’d suggested Saturday night she couldn’t think of an excuse to put it off. She didn’t want to explain why this day wasn’t something to celebrate.

Brienne’s father had died at Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland exactly a year ago. All that day she had been pushing herself. If she kept moving, she couldn’t think about it. Brienne had almost begged off at the last minute, desperate to just curl up in bed and sleep away the evening, but Margaery had insisted that she go.

Nightsong was the second stop of the evening. First Jaime had let her drive the Corvette to the Alamo Drafthouse, where they had eaten surprisingly good burgers and watched a movie. The theater was showing a trio of zombie comedies: Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead along with the newly-opened Warm Bodies. Jaime had picked Zombieland. After five minutes of Woody Harrelson’s wisecracks, Brienne had understood why.

When they’d first talked about going out, Brienne had requested live music, since Austin was famous for its music scene. So Jaime had brought her to a tiny, out of the way club, promising she would like tonight’s act. It wasn’t exactly what she’d had in mind, but it was what she needed. The performer was a guy who called himself Tom o’ Seven Streams. He was a singing comedian, with a surprisingly good voice and clever lyrics mocking a wide variety of topics, from the Texan obsession with high-school football to dating mishaps.

Brienne laughed so hard that her cheeks hurt after awhile, and she was glad she’d let Jaime convince her to come out. She even drank a single beer after Jaime promised he would drive home. Despite her large frame, Brienne hardly ever drank and was a serious lightweight.

“Cheap date,” Jaime corrected her when she voiced that thought, and she blushed.

When the comedian’s set ended, they headed home. It wasn’t especially late, but they’d been up since dawn, and between running, physical therapy, and their usual riding, both were tired.

As Jaime drove, Brienne plugged her phone in and turned on the same playlist they’d listened to on Thanksgiving. She realized two songs in that this was a bad idea. She had too many songs about broken hearts and loss on this playlist, and by the third song Jaime was the only one singing along.

Brienne was still considering how to change the music without Jaime noticing the downturn in her mood when the first notes of “The Dance” filled the car. By the time Garth Brooks had finished the first verse, "...how could I have known, that you’d ever say good-bye," she no longer cared what Jaime thought.

Brienne grabbed her phone and turned on the radio instead. She turned toward the passenger door, hiding her face from Jaime. It was just music, in fact one of the schmaltziest country ballads ever recorded. It shouldn’t affect her this way.

“Not a fan?” Jaime asked, cut off in the middle of singing along. He glanced over at her, and his brow furrowed. “Are you alright?”

Brienne nodded. “Fine. Just not in the mood.”

Jaime was silent through a full song, then another, and Brienne started to relax, the long day catching up with her. Jaime had parked the Corvette in the garage and she was walking through the kitchen on her way to her room when he finally spoke.

“Was it today?”

“What?” Brienne stopped, not turning back to face him.

“Your dad.”

Her breath caught. She struggled to push away the image of her father’s gaunt face, his hands grown so frail that his wedding ring had simply fallen off one day, and the moment when she had realized that his chest wasn’t moving anymore. Brienne gripped the edge of the counter. “How did you know?”

“After the ESPN interview, the papers said he died in February. Besides, he’s the only thing that makes you cry.”

His shoes scuffed on the wood floor as Jaime came up behind her. His hand closed over hers on the counter. “If you want to talk, you know where to find me. I can occasionally shut up and listen.”

His hand fell away, and Jaime left her standing in the kitchen. Brienne didn’t move until he was upstairs.

She walked quickly to her room, changing into soft, comfortable flannel pajamas and digging a small photo album out of her suitcase. Margaery had helped her put it together last spring when they’d emptied Selwyn Tarth’s storage unit and moved what little Brienne could afford to keep back to Los Angeles.

Margaery had done her best, but she had her whole family around her. She couldn’t understand what it was like to not remember your brother. All three of hers lived within half an hour of her apartment. She couldn’t understand not knowing your mother. Margaery had lunch with hers every Thursday.

Brienne looked up at her closed door, and worried at her lower lip with her teeth. How well did Jaime remember his mother?

She got up and walked down the hall, through the living room, and up the stairs.

His door stood open, light pooling in the hall.

Brienne hesitated at the top of the stairs, listening. Usually his TV was on, but the only sound was the rustle of book pages turning.

She pushed herself to keep walking, reached the doorway, held the door frame to stop herself from turning around.

Jaime looked up. He was stretched out in bed beneath the red duvet, a heavy hardback book open in front of him.

“Do you remember her? Your mother?” Brienne hadn’t meant to blurt that out, but it was what she wanted to know.

Jaime looked taken aback, but he recovered. He tucked a slip of paper into the book and closed it, then sat up. “Some. And there are home movies of her.” He cocked his head to one side, studying her as she stood in the doorway. “Do you?”

“No. There aren’t a lot of pictures of her either,” Brienne explained. “She was always the one taking them.”

He nodded slowly, and moved his book to the nightstand. Jaime scooted over to the far side of the bed. His eyes dipped to the open space he’d left behind, then up to Brienne. “Is there a photo of her in there?” he asked, gesturing at her hand.

Brienne looked down. She was still clutching the album. Slowly she walked over to the bed and sat down. She passed him the album.

Jaime opened it and looked at the first picture. “Your parents’ wedding?”

She nodded. The photo looked strange from this angle, upside down and partly in shadow.

Jaime looked from the photo to Brienne and back again. “You have her eyes and her hair.” There was mischief in his eyes when he added, “Your father’s build.”

She reached out to take the album back, but Jaime pulled it out of reach. He flipped to the next page, forcing her to move closer if only to snatch it away.

“Seven hells, you’re tiny! Look at you!” Jaime exclaimed. He squinted at the photo. “No, wait, that’s not you. No freckles. Who is this?”

She didn’t need to look. She knew the next picture was of her brother. “Galladon. He was four years older. Flip the page.”

He did. Jaime glanced at her. “Come here, would you?”

She sucked in a deep breath, held it, reminded herself of everything she knew about Jaime, let it go. Brienne scooted over beside him, her legs stretched out on the bed, not quite close enough to touch him.

Jaime turned the album toward her a little. Two small children were building a sandcastle on a narrow beach. “I think I was a year old there. At my mother’s summer place in North Carolina. We loved it there. We went every summer, even after she died. She took this picture. I think she was pregnant with Alysanne.”

“Alysanne?” he echoed, turning the page.

“My sister. She died. SIDS. Arianne died with my mother the next year. Uterine rupture.” Brienne took a deep breath. The photo had been taken not long after Alysanne’s death. The first day of school: Galladon with his fair hair and bright blue eyes stood by the front door of their house near Fort Hood. Brienne stood nearby, her face tear-streaked and blotchy. Their mother was crouched between them, a false smile on her face, dark circles under her eyes.

“You didn’t want him to go,” Jaime observed.

She sighed. “No, Dad said I worshiped him. I don’t really remember him either. I was four when he died."

Jaime flipped the page. The two Tarth children sat on a weathered porch, eating snowcones.

Brienne bit her lip. “That’s the last picture of him."

Jaime closed the album, turned to face her. He didn’t ask what happened. He didn’t need to, he just waited patiently.

Brienne closed her eyes. She couldn’t take Jaime’s expression anymore.

She had tried for years to remember Galladon, anything, even that day. All she could recall was the tide rushing in, sucking under their toes and burying their feet in the surf. “All I know is that Dad sent us out to play while he gathered up our towels and snacks. By the time he came back, I was lying in the sand at the tide line, coughing up water, sobbing, and Galladon was gone.”

Jaime's fingers just barely brushed her hand as he opened the album again, flipped to the photos after Galladon. There were few photos of Brienne and her father together, just one taken at her graduation from Highgarden and one she’d taken with her phone not long after he got sick.

Jaime closed the album and looked up at Brienne. “Tell me about your father. Not the end. Tell me about cars and rodeos, and how you mastered obstacle courses and paintball.”

For the first time in many months, when she called up her father’s memory, she found the big man with the bigger laugh and the mustache she’d begged him to shave off. In a childhood filled with cross-country moves and few friends, her father had been her constant. Even after he was deployed and she moved to boarding school in Portland, Oregon, they’d talked as often as possible. He was still her best friend long after Margaery was assigned to help her learn her way around Highgarden and they became friends. Brienne had had few secrets from her father.

She took a deep breath and started to talk.

 


February 24, 2013

Morning sun filtered through the curtains when Brienne woke. She was curled up on her side, a blanket draped over her, on Jaime’s bed. She was alone.

Brienne stretched and started to get up.

“You fell asleep, mid-sentence actually.”

Brienne turned over and found Jaime, still wearing his pajamas, standing by the closet holding his running clothes in his hand.

“I didn’t think I could carry you down the stairs,” he added.

Brienne looked back at his side of the bed, trying to decide if it looked slept in.

Jaime saw where she was looking and grinned. “No, I didn’t sleep in here. No need to get embarrassed, though I do enjoy making you blush.”

Brienne had a strong, sudden urge to kiss that smile. Not because Jaime was stunning even in rumpled pajamas with untidy hair. That was nothing new. Because he was Jaime, in all his ridiculous, sharp-tongued, irritating glory.

Damn. And Jaime was just as out of reach as Renly had ever been.

Brienne threw back the blanket and walked to the door. “I’ll meet you downstairs in a few minutes.” She allowed herself just a moment to wonder if she would have minded waking up next to Jaime, and escaped downstairs.

 

Their phones beeped simultaneously just after lunch.

Renly: Cat’s out of the bag. Check your email. Just sent a link

Brienne and Jaime watched the ESPN “First Take” segment together on her laptop. When it was over, Brienne kept her eyes down, her face burning. It wasn’t even the comment that got under her skin. It was the laugh.

Jaime closed her laptop. He fished his phone out of his pocket and was dialing even as he stood up.

Brienne risked a glance up. Jaime had his back to her, but she didn’t need to see his face. There was tension in every line of his body, in how tightly he held his phone. Jaime raked a hand through his hair. “Jay Daugherty, please.” He paused, listening to the person on the other end of the line likely explaining that the PBR’s VP of Competition was not in the office on a Sunday afternoon. “I know it’s the weekend. Just tell him Jaime Lannister called.” He ended the call.

Jaime turned back toward Brienne, and for an instant his expression softened. “I’m going to swim. Can you bring me the phone if Jay calls back?”

Brienne nodded and took the phone. She was still sitting there, trying to picture life after Austin, when Jaime came down the outside stairs from his terrace and lowered himself into one of the lap pools. Of course he was wearing one of those ridiculously revealing Speedos.

She sighed, tucked his phone into her pocket, and went into the kitchen to make a shopping list. Oreos. Jaime would want Oreos.

 

Chapter Text

March 8, 2013
King’s Landing Center, Los Angeles, California

When Jaime’s flight landed at LAX, his phone was filled with panicked texts from Myrcella. Once he’d translated the text talk and slang he didn’t understand, Jaime puzzled out that Cersei had broken her foot, and couldn’t take Myrcella and her friends to a concert that evening. Myrcella was begging Jaime to play chaperone.

Renly and Tyrion were both out of town, which explained Myrcella’s panic. Apparently none of Myrcella’s friends’ parents were available, or perhaps willing, to take four preteen girls to a One Direction concert.

Myrcella so rarely asked Jaime for anything that he agreed—if her mother allowed it. He expected an emphatic “no” from Cersei. Under the influence of either pain medication or her daughter’s wailing about the unfairness of the world, Cersei agreed.

That evening, instead of eating takeout alone in Tyrion’s apartment, Jaime sat in the midst of thousands of teenage girls. All four of his charges stood nearby, singing along and giggling between songs.

After three songs, Jaime had a splitting headache. He slowly typed in a text. He was getting a little faster, but still slow enough to frustrate him.

Jaime: Shoot me now

A middle-aged man across the aisle caught Jaime’s eye. The man nodded at him once, as if in solidarity for their suffering.

Brienne: Why?

Jaime smiled. It was just after ten in Austin, and she was probably still out somewhere with Margaery. He had suggested that Brienne invite Margaery to come stay for the weekend, and Margaery had jumped at the chance. Brienne had been a bit withdrawn lately, and Jaime hoped some time with Margaery might do her good.  

Jaime: So many screaming girls
Brienne: You have that effect on women
Jaime: Ha ha. They never stop talking
Brienne: Aren’t you at a concert?
Jaime: Not a concert. Deepest of the seven hells
Brienne: LOL
Jaime: Not funny
Brienne: listening to random Scottish band
Jaime: welcome to Austin
Jaime: Have a drink for me. no booze here
Brienne: M flirted to get us drinks. They sent PBR. ugh

Myrcella leaned against Jaime and eyed his phone. “Are you sexting?” she asked.

“Why do you know what that is?” Myrcella was only 12. Did kids do that at 12? Then again, he and Cersei had been 14 when they’d started having sex. Jaime pushed that thought aside. He would love to see Brienne’s reaction to this.

Jaime: Myrcie asked if we’re sexting
Brienne: disappointed if this is you sexting

Jaime grinned. He could think of plenty of filthy things to type to Brienne, each one guaranteed to make her blush. He pictured her sitting in a club somewhere reading them, then saw Myrcella leaning in to look at his phone again and opted for something tamer.  

Jaime: Not in front of the kids, honey.
Brienne:  Weak excuse. Wouldn’t have guessed you’d be shy

That was too good a set-up to ignore.

Jaime: Wait until I get home.

Her response came a full song later, when Jaime had started to wonder if he’d taken it too far.

Brienne: You’re terrible.
Jaime: You knew that.

 

When Jaime dropped the girls off at Cersei’s house hours later, he went upstairs to talk to Tommen for a few minutes. The boy was half asleep but prattled on happily about how his mother promised to buy him a kitten after Joffrey went to Montana next week.

Cersei cornered Jaime in the foyer as he was leaving. She moved awkwardly on crutches, her left foot encased in a large boot.

“What did you do?” Jaime asked, amused. Myrcella didn’t know what had happened.

Cersei frowned. “I dropped a bottle of wine.”

Jaime laughed. He couldn’t help it.

Cersei shot him a look that would freeze wildfire. “I told you to keep your women away from my children,” she said pointedly.

“What are you talking about?”

“Myrcie just told me you were texting your girlfriend all evening.” Her face was triumphant.

Jaime sighed. “Not that it’s any of your business, but she’s a friend.”

“A friend?” Cersei scoffed. “I don’t care what you do with your friends, just keep my children out of it.”

Jaime steeled himself and plunged ahead. “Cers, if you want to pretend we never happened, you can’t keep treating me like your ex. We’re family. You don’t get to punish me for dating.”

Cersei glared at him. “So there is a woman.”

“That’s not the point. Forget what other people think. Myrcella and Tommen are smart kids. If you don’t want them to figure it out, you can’t treat me any differently than Tyrion.”

Cersei grimaced. “Fuck you, Jaime.”

He leaned in close to her. “Not interested.”

Jaime expected a slap, but she couldn’t quite manage it with her crutches. He called down the hall, “Goodnight, girls.”

There was a thump and footsteps from above, then Tommen’s blonde head popped around the corner at the top of the stairs. “What about me?”

Jaime flinched. He hoped the boy hadn’t heard their argument. “Goodnight, Tommen,” he said with a genuine smile, looking up at his son. Cersei was letting his hair grow out again. With his curls he looked less like Jaime. “Maybe we could go out for breakfast tomorrow, just you and me.”

Tommen nodded eagerly, watching his mother for her response.

Cersei nodded wearily. “Fine. Just get out of my house.”

 


March 8, 2013
Austin, Texas

Margaery threw herself into the chair across from Brienne, still breathing hard from dancing. She gestured vaguely at her friend. “So what is this?”

“How much have you had to drink? Because that didn’t make any sense,” Brienne pointed out, pushing a large glass of water toward Margaery.

Margaery raised an eyebrow as she gratefully drank the water. “You’re sitting here messing with your phone instead of having a good time. Pick someone, talk to him.”

Brienne rolled her eyes, covered her phone with one hand. “The men who only chat me up to be introduced to you? I’ve had my fill tonight.” No fewer than four men, two wearing ironic T-shirts and fedoras, had feigned interest in Brienne while they asked a series of pointed questions about Margaery.

“Well, you could try a little harder. A little eyeliner and lipstick wouldn’t go amiss,” Margaery sighed. She held out her hand. “Give me that.”

Brienne clutched her phone tighter.  “Why?”

Margaery sighed. “Brienne, if you’re not going to seduce Jaime, at least try talking to other men,” she said gently. “Think of it as practice.”

Brienne groaned. She already regretted telling Margaery about her feelings for Jaime. “One has nothing to do with the other. And doing anything with Jaime isn’t an option.”

“Yes, because you couldn’t possibly flirt with the hot piece of ass you’ve been living with for two months,” Margaery said archly.

“I wouldn’t even know how to begin,” Brienne grumbled, waking up her phone. Their texts filled the screen, his usual banter mixed with the vaguely flirty replies Brienne had allowed herself under the influence of a single beer and the 1,400 miles between them.

Renly had never bantered with her, never given her opportunities to push back and see where he’d take it next. Jaime did, their conversations more like tennis matches, words volleyed back and forth. And if Brienne accepted his casual touches more easily than she’d used to, that was only because they knew each other far too well now to pretend that they weren’t friends.

“It’s easy,” Margaery scoffed. “Men like to talk about themselves. Ask him questions, listen to the answers, touch his hand or his arm. Smile. If he’s interested, you’ll know.”

Brienne tried to think of anything she didn’t already know about Jaime and came up empty. Maybe it would be easier to talk to someone new.

Margaery idly surveyed the crowd. She pointed at two guys standing halfway across the bar, by the empty stage. “Let’s go talk to them.”

The taller man was lean and dark, with a cocky grin. His shorter friend wore a goatee and an obscure band T-shirt. Immediately Brienne knew which man would end up talking to her, and that their conversation would go nowhere.

Margaery got up, smoothing down her short green skirt, and crossed the bar. Brienne followed reluctantly.

 


March 8, 2013
Los Angeles, California

The full moon hung heavy in the dark sky, bathing the waves in a soft blue glow. It was always more peaceful out here, a relief from the suffocating small talk inside Casterly Rock.

Jaime walked to the railing, gripped it in his hands. His complete right hand. He was always whole in dreams.

Jaime held his hand up in front of his face. The silver ring shone in the moonlight. He twisted it absently, as he’d done thousands of times over the years.

He tugged, feeling the smooth, heavy metal catch against the skin of his knuckle. He worked at it, turning the ring, working it slowly over the skin even though it pulled painfully. The silver was scratched and marked, fifteen years etched into its surface. Finally Jaime pulled it free, dropping the ring onto his palm.

“You can’t get rid of me that easily.”

Jaime looked behind him. Cersei stood on the patio, her crimson dress hugging every curve.

“I know,” Jaime replied, but he still threw the ring over the railing, fancying he could see it spin out over the dark hillside.

Cersei walked toward him, swaying hips and spun gold hair taunting him.

Now Jaime could hear the party going on inside through the patio doors. Tywin would hate this. There was too much laughter and music. Tywin disapproved of music when the family gathered. He disapproved of most things.

Cersei laughed. “Do you really think that paltry token was all that bound us together?”

Jaime shook his head, examining the smooth circle of pale skin where the ring used to fit. “No, I think our son does that.”

“Don’t you dare say that. Never say that,” she hissed. Her green eyes blazed.

“Son, cousin, nephew, Tommen is my family. So are you,” Jaime reminded her.

“And what a family we are.”

There was a cough by the door, and Genna Lannister stepped out onto the patio. “Jaime, your lady is waiting for you,” she said pointedly.

Jaime nodded, and the hand he ran through his hair was maimed again. He followed Genna into the house.

And woke, alone in Tyrion’s spare bedroom.

 


March 9, 2013
Seagard, Los Angeles, California

“I hope that Corporal Marsh was clear about the purpose of this meeting,” Colonel Mormont said as he and Jaime looked over their menus. The man was bigger and older than Jaime had expected, nearly bald with a neat grey-white beard.

“I know you aren’t offering to sponsor me, if that’s your concern, sir.” Jaime’s long-time sponsor, the MGM Resort group, had understandably dropped him after he got hurt. Until he had actually proven he could ride, Jaime would be riding unsponsored, covering his own expenses. He didn’t mind, and could afford the rest of the season easily.

“You understand that’s not an option,” Mormont said apologetically.

Jaime was grateful that Mormont had the tact not to finish that thought. Not only was his comeback still untested, the Army would never sponsor a felon. “I understand, sir.”

Mormont smiled. “You don’t have to call me ‘sir.’”

Jaime laughed. “Oh, I do. I have a friend who would kick my ass if I didn’t show you the proper respect, Colonel.”

Mormont laughed too. “You have a smart friend.”

“I do,” Jaime agreed. He glanced over the menu again. “What looks good to you, sir?”

Mormont looked over the selections. “The salmon, I think.” He closed his menu. “There are soldiers in your family, correct?”

Jaime nodded. “My uncle was killed in action in the first Gulf War. I have a cousin in the Marines stationed in Afghanistan and another cousin in Army Intelligence.”  

“Good, then you’ll understand, I think, that we have soldiers returning from action maimed, facing challenges in returning to their careers,” Mormont said.

Suddenly Mormont’s interest in Jaime became clear. He wanted a positive example for maimed soldiers, assuming that Jaime’s not-so-secret comeback happened as planned. The colonel explained that the Army hoped to host a series of small bull-riding exhibitions on some of the larger Army bases over the summer, as entertainment for troops and families. He hoped that Jaime would be able to participate.

As their plates were removed, Mormont cleared his throat. “There is one more matter I’d hoped you might be able to assist me with, Mr. Lannister.”

“What is that?”

Colonel Mormont looked slightly uncomfortable. “We are actually considering sponsoring a rider, but it’s a big commitment.”

“Of course. I’m sure someone at the PBR could help you pinpoint an appropriate candidate,” Jaime reminded him.

“We’re looking for someone a bit non-traditional,” Mormont admitted.

“I see.” The Armed Forces had more trouble recruiting when deployment was a high probability, and Mormont must have been tasked with raising the Army’s profile among groups less likely to enlist.

“I understand that may be a tall order. We’re willing to wait for the right match,” Mormont added.

Jaime shook his head. “Actually, I think I know someone who would be perfect.”

 


Professional Bull Riders, Inc.
Pueblo, CO

Contact:
Missandei Naathi (719) 555-9812
mnaathi@pbr.com

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 16, 2013

Albuquerque, NM - The line-up for next week’s Ty Murray Invitational is set, and the biggest surprise of the competition comes from confirmed rider Jaime Lannister. The 34-year-old three-time champion has received medical clearance to return to competition and will ride at The Golden Tooth on March 22.
Lannister was injured in an accident at the Riverlands Center in Memphis on September 25, 2012, losing two fingers on his right hand in the process. No rider has ever returned to competition following this type of injury.
The first go-round begins at 2 p.m. March 22. Tickets are still available through Ticketmaster and at the door.

 

Chapter Text

March 21, 2013
The Golden Tooth, Albuquerque, New Mexico

“Wow,” Brienne said under her breath, leaning against the railing. On the other side, stock contractors were moving the bulls between pens.

Jaime stood close beside her, and followed her gaze to a tall, burly man with long, braided hair. “Really, honey? I thought you liked your men a bit prettier.”

Brienne blushed. “I was looking at his tattoo.”

“Ah, yes, that’s impressive,” Jaime agreed. The man had an elaborate black and red dragon covering most of his arm, its tail wrapping around his wrist and its head perched on his shoulder. “Daven has the Marine Corp emblem on his chest.”

“I thought about getting a tattoo, years ago,” Brienne admitted.

“A big dragon? Renly’s name?” Jaime teased, lazily drawing a random design on her arm with his fingertips. Brienne wouldn’t pick something trendy. He couldn’t picture her with a star on the inside of her wrist, “Valar Morghulis” running up her forearm, or roses on the small of her back.

Brienne swatted his hand away. “No, my brother’s name.”

“Did you do it?” Jaime asked curiously. His gaze roamed up her tanned arms and across the thoroughly freckly expanse of chest bared by her V-neck T-shirt. Between Brienne’s occasional swims in the pool and that one night in the hot tub, Jaime had already seen most of her body. He couldn’t recall anything but constellations of freckles decorating her skin.

“No, I didn’t. I had to decide where to put it. I didn’t want it somewhere people might ask me about it, but that left places where it would be strange to put my brother’s name,” Brienne said with a little shake of her head. “I took that as a sign.”

Jaime nodded. She didn’t mean to comment on his relationship with his cousin, though he couldn’t help but think about it.

Brienne looked at Jaime curiously. “You don’t have a tattoo hiding somewhere, do you? A name maybe?” A very pointed question, unusual for her. She rarely brought up Cersei unless they were talking about the children.

Jaime shook his head. “No.” If not for Cersei’s constant paranoia, she would have loved to permanently mark him as hers. Still, it would have to be on his hip or his ass for Brienne not to have seen it by now.

“She gave me a ring instead. I never took it off.” Jaime held up his right hand, and Brienne’s eyes widened. “I doubt I’ll ever wear a ring again.”

“Even if you get married?” Brienne asked.

Jaime tried to picture himself getting married, got hung up remembering Cersei’s wedding, and shook his head. “I don’t think so. But I’d actually have to date someone first. And clearly that happens a lot.” He laughed bitterly.

Brienne looked startled. “Why don’t you? I’ve seen the way women look at you,” she reminded him, exasperated.

Was she teasing or did she genuinely not notice how those looks changed when women saw his hand? Jaime couldn’t tell. “Tyrion set me up a few times,” he admitted. “I don’t know who they were expecting: Lannister heir, cowboy, something else. Definitely not me.”

Brienne leaned close. “That’s their loss. There aren’t a lot of men like you out there.”

Jaime smirked at her and replied dryly, “There are no men like me, Brienne. Just me.”

 


March 22, 2013

CBS Sports Live
Ty Murray Invitational

“And now Jaime Lannister has come out on the deck. I’ve got to say, Tuff, I never expected to see this guy back in competition. I saw him in Vegas a month after it happened and he didn’t even hint at a comeback. But he’s got a glove on his left hand. Do you think he’s really switched hands this fast?”

“I don’t know, Chris. We’ve never seen anyone come back from something like this.”

“Tuff, as you know, Lannister doesn’t talk to anyone before a ride. You can see he’s got ear buds in. He’s listening to music. Back in the old days I know he used to listen to Queen, Bon Jovi, and Garth Brooks. Not sure what’s on his playlist today, but he’s all about focus. He seems a little off, though, right now. Nervous.”

“Can you blame him?”

Jaime tried listening to his old music, then new music, and then put away his iPod. It wasn’t helping. He paced the deck, tense, watching the other riders laughing and joking.

Renly brushed past, clapping a hand on Jaime’s shoulder briefly. He flashed Jaime a quick smile and continued down the deck toward the chutes. Renly was riding next.

Renly held his helmet loosely in one hand as he scanned the crowd. He smiled and held up his hand. Jaime followed his gaze, found Loras smiling back at Renly. Brienne sat beside Loras. She looked just as nervous as Jaime felt.

Jaime watched as Renly and the next rider both completed their rides, and the announcer called Jaime’s name over the loudspeaker. Applause washed over him, but he barely heard it.

Jaime approached the chutes, took a deep breath. He felt dizzy. He looked up into the crowd and caught Brienne’s eye. She frowned, bit her lip. She could tell he was nervous. Jaime adjusted his black hat so she’d see his face, and flashed her a quick smile.

Brienne smiled back, then mouthed something at him. The second time she did it, Jaime got it. “What do we say to Death?”

Jaime laughed and mouthed back, “Not today.”  

He took a deep breath and turned toward the chute. He felt looser, calmer. There was nothing like looking up and seeing the one person who knew exactly how hard you’d worked to be here.

Jaime could do this. He’d done it over and over again every day for weeks. He pushed away the crowd, the arena around him. All that mattered was the bull in the chute below him, and the eight seconds before him.

Jaime climbed over the railing and down into the chute. Titan’s Bastard moved restlessly under him as Jaime settled himself on the bull, wrapping his left hand in the rope. He pulled the rope as tight as he could, tested his grip one more time. He shifted his legs, making sure he wouldn’t spur the bull accidentally. It was strange to be on a new bull after so long riding the Winterfell bulls.

He took a deep breath, and raised his right arm above his head. Jaime caught the gate man’s eye and nodded. The man pulled the latch, the gate slammed open, and Titan’s Bastard broke out of the chute with a sharp kick to the left.

Jaime held tight as the bull immediately reversed, turning right and bucking hard. He clamped down with his calves, instinctively turning his heels out to avoid spurring. Jaime’s head snapped back, his left shoulder wrenched painfully as Titan’s Bastard thrashed beneath him.

The bull surged forward, bucking hard as Jaime’s right arm knocked his hat loose. He lost track of everything but the feel of the rope tight in his grip and the powerful muscles between his thighs, until the bell cut through it all and Jaime hurriedly loosened the rope. He leapt off Titan’s Bastard mid-buck, rolling away from the bull and pulling himself up atop the railing one-handed.

Jaime grabbed his hat when one of the bullfighters offered it up to him, and held it high above his head as he waved once to the crowd. He waited by the chutes, his eyes trained on the scoreboard overhead, until his score was posted.

Lannister/Titan’s Bastard: 81.3

Good enough.

Jaime was still completely high from the ride when he walked out of the main arena toward the locker room. He almost walked right past Leah Garcia, the CBS reporter doing quick post-ride live interviews in the tunnel leading out of the arena.

She grabbed his arm. “Jaime, how does it feel to be back in competition?”

He nervously tipped his hat back so his face wasn’t shadowed. Jaime always hated these interviews and his head was buzzing with adrenaline. He flashed his best press smile and said, “Amazing. Titan’s Bastard had a great day. Mine was just better.”

“Tuff and Chris noted that you were talking to someone in the crowd before your ride. Can you tell us who that was?”

Jaime froze. He didn’t think anyone had noticed. A slow smile spread across his face. “No, I don’t think I can. Wouldn’t be fair to put her on the spot like that.”

“Her? Well, can you tell us what you said?”

Jaime’s grin widened. “Not today.”

“You can’t tell us today?”

“No, that’s what I said. ‘Not today.’”  It might take a few days, but someone would make the connection to Syrio Forel before he rode next in Billings, Montana.

“Can you explain that?”

Jaime shook his head. “Ask me again in Billings.” He walked away.

Once in the locker room, Jaime went straight for his phone.

Jaime: Where are you?
Brienne: Still with Loras
Jaime: Locker room empty. Come here
Brienne: on my way

While Jaime waited, he tossed his hat into his locker, yanked off his gloves and took off his vest and chaps. He sat down to carefully pull off his spurs. All went into the locker.  

Suddenly Jaime heard raised voices in the hall.

“You’re sure as shit not getting into the locker room looking like that.”

Jaime crossed the locker room and opened the door. Mance Rayder, reigning PBR Canada champ, blocked the doorway. While the man himself was comparatively slight, his attitude suggested that, in his own mind, Rayder was a hulking presence.

“Rayder, what are you doing?” Jaime asked, annoyed.

Rayder turned around, and Jaime caught sight of Brienne behind him. In her chambray button-down, black tank top, and tight men’s Wranglers, Brienne was wearing at least three times as much as the girls usually trying to get into the locker room. Her face was crimson with anger and embarrassment.

“Back off, Lannister. I caught her trying to sneak in,” Rayder explained. Jaime knew the man, but not well.

“She wasn’t sneaking in, she’s with me.”

If it was possible, Brienne actually blushed more.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Rayder scoffed.

Jaime shook his head. “Go find someone to stroke your oversized ego and give us a few minutes here.”

Occasionally it paid to have a terrible reputation. Rayder held up his hands and stepped aside. “Whatever, man. You want to fuck—”

“Not another word,” Jaime growled. He reached past the man to grab Brienne by the hand, tugging her into the locker room.

“I’m getting security, Lannister,” Rayder promised.

“Jaime, maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” Brienne stammered as the door shut behind them.

Jaime swept her up into a fierce embrace. She stiffened for a moment, and then relaxed. “Forget him. I just had the absolute best ride of my life.”

“That wasn’t even close,” Brienne scoffed.

Jaime shook his head. “Score be damned. I’ve never worked so hard for anything. You know that.”

“I knew you could do it,” Brienne said softly, her breath warm on his ear.

A shiver traveled swiftly down Jaime’s spine. “I wasn’t so sure.”

Brienne pulled back to look at him, one skeptical eyebrow raised. “Where’s that arrogant ass I remember? That was all you out there. Every second.”

“I’m glad you were here. I might actually miss you when you’re gone,” he teased.

“You’ll miss me kicking your ass.” Brienne grinned at him.

“You’ll just miss my ass,” he countered.

She laughed. “We should go,” Brienne said, glancing at the door. “Security will be banging on the door any second now.”

At this moment he felt invincible, and Jaime wasn’t quite ready to let that end. “Want to help me wind him up a little?” he asked. Brienne had been the target of his jokes for so long, he wanted her on his side for once.

She eyed him skeptically. “How?”

It wouldn’t work if she actually knew what he was going to do. “Just follow my lead. Trust me.”

Brienne laughed. “Trust Jaime Lannister? That’s dangerous.”

He gave her his most wicked smile. “That’s me. Mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”

Catching Brienne by surprise, Jaime quickly pulled her out into the hall.

Mance Rayder was fifteen feet away, scowling as he complained vigorously to the Hound, the security guard who’d been assigned to this hall for as long as Jaime had been competing.   

Brienne laughed as Jaime pressed her against the wall beside the door. She stopped laughing when he moved his right hand to the small of her back.

If Brienne was going to stop him, this was when she’d push him away. He had no doubt she could do it.

Jaime leaned in with a wolfish grin, noticing the way her breath caught and her eyes widened. She gripped his arm, but didn’t push him off.

Behind them, Mance Rayder’s complaints grew louder. Good, he should feel put out. He had no business keeping Brienne away. She obviously wasn’t just a groupie, though Jaime couldn’t quite name what she was anymore.

His plan was to whisper something suggestive in Brienne’s ear to make her blush, and make those idiots uncomfortable. Then Jaime looked up into her eyes. Astonishingly bright, brilliantly blue.  

And he kissed her.

For a moment Brienne didn’t respond, then she kissed him back. Jaime buried his left hand in the soft hair at the nape of her neck. She tasted like the minty chapstick she often used, and she sighed into his mouth as he gently bit her full lower lip.

Did kissing always feel this good? It had been so damn long.

“Gods be good, Lannister, get a room,” the Hound barked. “My locker room is not here for you to fuck in.”

Reluctantly, Jaime drew back, frowning at the Hound. “Relax, we’re going.”

Brienne’s lips were red, and his beard had scratched her chin pink to match her blush. Her eyes were dark. “I’ll see you at the hotel,” she said hesitantly.

Jaime nodded. “I’ll deal with them.” He gestured to Rayder and the Hound, who were still glaring at them.

Brienne walked away as Rayder pushed past Jaime into the locker room, grumbling.

Jaime pulled himself together and went to smooth things over with the Hound. By the time the man had finished his lecture about appropriate behavior in his venue, Jaime was thinking more clearly.

He had asked Brienne to trust him, and she’d played along. But Jaime had no illusions that Brienne was that good an actress. On some level he’d known for a long time that she was attracted to him. She wouldn’t be quite so much fun to tease otherwise.

He liked Brienne, there was no point in denying that either. She was unlike anyone he’d ever met before, strong and determined and utterly without guile. No one would ever call Brienne a beauty, though they were blind if they couldn’t appreciate her long legs, the freckles dusting her shoulders, the graceful curve of her neck. And her eyes.

Jaime had looked into those eyes and wanted to kiss her. So he had.

And gods help him, he wanted to kiss her again.

 


People.com
Comeback for Rodeo Champ
March 22, 2013 9:56 p.m.

The rodeo world welcomed back three-time champion bull rider Jaime Lannister today when he successfully rode Titan’s Bastard at the Professional Bull Riders Ty Murray Invitational in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Lannister lost two fingers on his right hand when he was trampled by a bull last September. While bull riders are no strangers to injury, this is the first time a rider has returned to competition following this type of injury.
Lannister, who worked with 1980s Brazilian champ Syrio Forel during his recovery, is well known for his good looks, sharp wit, and unwillingness to discuss his personal life with the press.
Commentators Tuff Hedeman and Chris Shivers noted that, before his ride, Lannister sought out someone in the crowd and spoke to them. Hedeman and Shivers speculated Forel may have been there, but CBS Sports reporter Leah Garcia disproved that theory when she asked Lannister about it after his ride. He said that he “couldn’t put her on the spot,” which is the first time Lannister has ever acknowledged publicly that there might be a woman in his life.
Another rider, Canadian Mance Rayder, 36, later complained that Lannister and a woman kept him from getting into the locker room after his ride. Speculation on the identity of the woman currently points toward Brienne Tarth, 22, who was injured with Lannister in Memphis. Tarth was seen at the Golden Tooth with Loras Tyrell, 24, long-time partner of rider Renly Baratheon, 25. Rumors also linked Lannister and Tarth last fall.

Chapter Text

March 22, 2013
Ashemark Hotel, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Brienne listened to Loras’ stories about his crazy boss and the diva behavior of the models they photographed. She laughed, nodded, asked questions, but her head was buzzing.

Jaime kissed me.

She told a few stories about Syrio and Peck, but it felt like every other word out of her mouth was “Jaime.” Finally she just stopped talking. It was easier that way. Renly was not the person to talk to about this, and Margaery was in a meeting with her honors thesis advisor for another hour.

Brienne was eating dinner with Renly and Loras, while Jaime was out with Ty Murray and his wife Jewel. She was relieved to have a little time away before she had to face Jaime again.

They were sharing a hotel room. It had double beds, but it still wasn’t ideal. The hotel had been nearly full when they’d booked the room, and this was easier than staying in separate hotels. It hadn’t been a big deal at the time, Brienne had shared rooms with Renly before without any awkwardness, but she’d never kissed Renly.

Brienne had definitely kissed Jaime. When he’d pulled away, Brienne had wanted desperately to grab him and kiss him again. She’d certainly never get another chance to do it, but she couldn’t quite be the kind of woman who did that either.

As Brienne had walked away, panic set in. She still had to go back to Austin for another week, and they had two nights left in Albuquerque together. She wasn’t eager to spend so much time with Jaime if he figured out she’d developed a pathetic crush on him.

Jaime wouldn’t lie to her. He wouldn’t mean to hurt her, but he would be honest.

“Earth to Brienne.”

Brienne looked up. Renly and Loras were both staring at her.

“So did you see the old man after his ride? I didn’t get a chance to talk to him,” Renly asked impatiently.

She wondered how many times he’d already asked her that question. “He was good. Relieved it went well. Said it was the best ride of his life,” she told them, biting her lip to stop herself from babbling.

Then Loras asked about her upcoming schedule, and they began to sort out details. When Brienne left Austin, Loras would be coming with her for a full week to take photos for his book. Loras would photograph her first two competitions back in the Touring Pro Division while Jaime and Renly moved on with the main tour to Montana. Brienne was looking forward to traveling with Loras, as long as he kept his camera pointed away from her.

Brienne’s feelings about leaving Austin were more complicated, and becoming more so by the day.

 

“It’s all over the Internet,” were Margaery’s first words when they spoke hours later.

“What do you mean? What is?” Brienne asked, stretching out her legs on the couch in the hotel room. Renly and Loras had insisted she go dancing with them after dinner, but she’d slipped away as soon as she could. By the time she’d gotten out of the shower, Jaime had commandeered the TV to watch the college basketball tournament.

“Well, Jaime was looking at you in the crowd before his ride, right?” Margaery prodded.

Jaime pulled a can of Coke out of the mini-fridge. He scooped up Brienne’s feet, and sat down, dropping her feet back onto his lap. This couch was far shorter than the one in Austin, and they couldn’t both fit on it otherwise. He tossed her a curious look, then someone scored on the TV and he lost interest again.

“Yeah, he did. Did someone notice?” Brienne asked. If they’d shown her on TV, the reporters would never stop bothering her. She tried to ignore that her feet were resting on Jaime’s thigh.

“If by someone you mean everyone, then yes. The commentators, the camera guy, everyone. They didn’t spot you, though, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Well, that’s something,” Brienne sighed. Jaime began absently rubbing her foot. She should pull away, but it felt good.

“I assume it was you in the locker room too?” Margaery asked.

“Oh gods, that’s on the Internet?” Brienne blushed.

“What?” Jaime mouthed.

Brienne took the phone away from her mouth. “Your little locker-room stunt is on the Internet.”

Jaime snorted. “Really? I thought my heroic return to competition would distract them from reporting on my sex life.”

“You said you weren’t going to do anything with Jaime. What’s going on?” Margaery demanded.

Brienne brought the phone back to her mouth. “It was a prank. Another rider thought I was a groupie.”

Jaime squeezed her foot slightly too hard.

“Oh really? Details. The Internet is vague,” Margaery prodded.

Brienne sighed and blushed, all too aware of Jaime watching her. “We just kissed, Margaery.”

Jaime pulled his hand away. His eyes were bright. “You said you’d meet me back at the hotel,” he pointed out, his smile sharp as it hadn’t been in weeks. “And look, here you are. Whatever will I do with you?”

Gods be good, Jaime, shut your mouth. Unfortunately the easiest way to stop him from talking would just make things worse. Brienne could usually handle the banter and the teasing. That was just Jaime. Today had been too much.

“Bri, listen to me,” Margaery said firmly. “After next week, that man will not be your boss. If Jaime wants to do something with you, let him. Live a little.”

Brienne didn’t bother answering. She couldn’t have the discussion she needed to with Jaime there, and she didn’t want to go out in the hall either. She ended the call and set her phone down on the armrest. “Seven save me if the rumors start up again.”

“Would it be so terrible if people thought you were with big bad Jaime Lannister?” he protested. “I lost half my hand and came back to competition. That should buy me a little goodwill.”

Brienne eyed him critically. Jaime had to know that people would mock him too. They’d certainly latched onto the idea back in the fall. Maybe he didn’t mind after the rumors about Cersei, or maybe he was still just joking around. “Jaime, you know how the press and the fans talked about me before. Now it would be so much worse.”

Jaime looked away. “I didn’t realize what other people thought was so important to you.” He took a deep breath. “Fine, I’ll play nice. I can keep my hands off you in public.” He looked at her and added darkly, “I make no promises about in private, though.” He turned back to the TV, and moved his hand deliberately back to her foot.

Brienne pulled her foot out of Jaime’s grasp. She should be immune to his teasing by now, he did it so often. But she wasn’t.

Brienne lay down on her bed and tried to read the novel Jaime had loaned her, but her gaze kept drifting back to him. He was getting far too worked up over this game. She didn’t think he actually cared that much about basketball, but his shoulders were tense and his cursing grew more colorful as the game progressed.

Eventually she gave up on reading and crawled under the blankets to sleep.

 


March 23, 2013

Brienne cursed the Seven, especially the Smith, for the shoddy manufacturing which allowed a small bottle of shampoo to leak all over the inside of her suitcase. She rummaged through her clothes again, desperately hoping this time she’d find a shirt that wasn’t sticky. The whole suitcase smelled strongly of grapefruit.

Jaime came up behind her. “Why does it smell like your shampoo in here?” He glanced into her suitcase. “Oh. That’s no good.”

Brienne nodded. She did not relish the idea of wearing yesterday’s clothes again until she could get to a store. Maybe if she just wore the tank top it wouldn’t be obvious. Jaime could loan her his hoodie or something. The Golden Tooth had been chilly the previous day.

She gave up and went into the bathroom to wash the shampoo off her hands.

When Brienne returned, Jaime tossed something at her. She caught it. “What’s this?”

Jaime shrugged. “It’s a shirt, honey. It should fit. Better than wearing yesterday’s clothes, right?”

She almost corrected him, but she somehow preferred the nickname over hearing Jaime say her name after the previous day’s farce. Brienne forced a smile. “Thanks.”

She took the shirt and the few unsullied items she’d salvaged from her suitcase into the bathroom to change. Just what she needed to make sure she couldn’t get Jaime off her mind all day, wearing the plaid shirt she could swear he wore at least once a week.

 


Tumblr
March 23, 2013

 bullsnboys ↹ hookemhorns904

I must be feverish. I actually felt bad when Jaime Lannister got bucked off today.

I know! I had no idea I was such a sucker for a comeback. The smile he shot his woman in the crowd yesterday didn’t hurt either. Damn. She should’ve stuck around today. Must be his good luck charm.

 #PBR #Jaime Lannister #bad boys

 


March 24, 2013

“What did you say this was again?” Brienne studied the pizza Jaime had ordered. There was grilled chicken on it, and the powerful aroma of garlic filled the room.

“Chicken alfredo,” Jaime replied, glancing at the box. “I asked if they could add bacon to it, but the guy looked at me like I had two heads.”

She snorted. “You add bacon to everything.”

“Because bacon makes everything better.” Jaime wrestled a piece of pizza onto a paper plate and handed it to her. “Have I ever steered you wrong?”

“Do you really want me to answer that?” Brienne asked dryly, accepting the pizza. They sat on the couch in their hotel room, the restaurant reservations they’d made last week cancelled after the press had taken note of them again. At least the press attention had given Brienne a good excuse to avoid Jaime as much as possible over the past two days.

Jaime rolled his eyes. “About food. I’m right about food.” She had to concede that point. He had a shocking number of cooking shows on his DVR and, aside from his penchant for adding bacon to everything, wasn’t a terrible cook.

They ate in silence for a while, Brienne finally admitting that he’d been right about the pizza. “It’s a good thing neither of us is going out tonight,” she finally said. “I could definitely repel both vampires and humans with my garlic breath right now.”

Jaime smiled. “Then I guess you’re stuck with me.”

Brienne moved the remaining pizza to the mini-fridge to avoid looking at him any longer. She’d tried to include Renly and Loras in their plans tonight, but Jaime had pointed out that she’d be spending a lot of time with Loras soon enough.

“Do you want to watch some basketball?” she suggested. “I’m sure the tournament is still on tonight. Or hockey. There’s a Rangers game on ESPN.”

“You’re a Rangers fan?” Jaime asked, surprised.

“No, I root for whoever they’re playing,” Brienne hedged. One of her least favorite former classmates from Highgarden played for the New York Rangers. She cheered for their opponents, and especially for anyone who checked him or smashed him into the boards.

Jaime let that go. “Actually, there’s something I need to tell you.”

Brienne struggled to adopt a light tone. “I thought I already knew all your deep, dark secrets.”

“You do,” he said slowly. “This is about you.”

A knot formed in Brienne’s stomach. Jaime knew how she felt. He knew and he was going to tell her what she already knew—that the odd friendship they’d struck up was the most she could ever expect from him.

Jaime watched her, his brow furrowing. “It’s nothing bad. Gods, you really are convinced I’m terrible.” He got up and rummaged around in his suitcase. He came back holding two large manila envelopes. Both were addressed to Brienne.

“You stole my mail?” she asked, confused, as Jaime handed her the envelopes.

He sat down beside her, closer than before, but she had nowhere to retreat. “Just open them. The smaller one first.” Jaime looked nervous, which made her nervous in turn.

Brienne dropped the larger envelope in her lap and opened the smaller one.

Professional Bull Riders Inc.
101 W. Riverwalk
Pueblo, CO 81003

March 16, 2013

Ms. Tarth,
Your appeal has been approved. You may return to competition as a bull rider in the Touring Pro Division as of March 23, 2013. Our legal department has agreed to release you from your contract as a bullfighter for the 2013 season. As you paid membership dues for the 2011 season which you forfeited, no payment is required at this time.
Your updated PBR member card is enclosed.

Sincerely,
Jay Daugherty
Senior Vice President of Competition


She looked up. “My appeal?”

“I submitted one for you,” Jaime admitted, a small, almost shy smile on his face. “You paid for a season and didn’t get to compete when your dad was sick. Given that and the positive press you’ve had, the PBR was convinced to let you compete now instead of waiting for next season.”

Competing a season earlier would give Brienne a jump on the points she would need to advance to the main tour. She wouldn’t rank high enough this year, but maybe next year she could earn enough points to rank in the top 35 riders. Those riders competed on the main tour, where each competition paid better and she wouldn’t have to travel around in her truck anymore. Instead of competing year-round, the main tour had only about 30 competitions a year and stopped for most of the summer.

“When did you...”

Jaime waved away the question. “When I submitted mine.”

“But I can’t afford to—”

“Open the other one.”

“Jaime, if this is a check, so help me—”

“It’s not a check,” he said, exasperated.

Brienne ripped open the envelope and pulled out a contract. She glanced over the legalese, struggling to understand what she was reading. “What is this?”

“It’s a sponsorship contract from the Army. Colonel Mormont wanted my opinion on Renly at first. This was back before his new sponsor was public knowledge. So I told Mormont about you.”

Brienne couldn’t speak. She sat there, looking back and forth between the documents in her hand and Jaime’s hopeful face. “Why would anyone sponsor me? I haven’t competed in two years.” Having a sponsor would completely change the game for her. Depending on the specifics, the Army might cover all of her travel expenses, perhaps provide new gear if she performed well.

Jaime laughed. “They wanted someone non-traditional, and you’re about as non-traditional as it gets. Besides, you’re an Army brat. You’re perfect. You should have seen Mormont’s face when I told him about you.”

You’re perfect. Of course those words would come out of Jaime’s mouth like this.

“Non-traditional.” Brienne said flatly. “No thanks.” She stood stiffly, the contract slipping from her lap to the floor.

Jaime was on his feet in an instant. “Brienne, that’s not what I meant.”

“No?” She could feel tears welling in her eyes, and she bit her lip to stop them.

“I meant they didn’t want the stereotypical white farm kid in a cowboy hat.” Jaime tentatively touched her arm. “Just sit down a minute. Let me tell you what I told Mormont.”

Brienne closed her eyes, struggling not to hear the taunts and jeers of her childhood, not to see the class photos where she was always hiding in the back row.

Jaime’s hand slipped away, and she heard him sit down. “Please,” he said.

Brienne took a deep breath and opened her eyes. Jaime was sitting as far away as he could get on the couch, leaving her plenty of space. Slowly she sat down and waited.

“Look, they’re not offering a full sponsorship, just travel money for now. I told them that you’re exactly who they need—different but not a figurehead. You’re not Maggie Parker, getting more attention for looks than talent. Already being sponsored on the minor tour isn’t unheard of, and besides, this way they get you.”

“That’s not a positive,” Brienne muttered.

Jaime pulled a face. “You’re impossible. And now you are fishing for compliments. Fine, have some compliments. You’re amazing, Brienne. You never let anyone tell you ‘no,’ you work harder than anyone I’ve ever met, and you’re talented as hell. Don’t roll your eyes at me, I’m serious. You can do this. You just need a push.”

Brienne couldn’t speak. She wanted to tell him to stop lying, but Jaime didn’t lie to her. He believed what he was saying, even if she didn’t.

“Why did you do this?” she finally managed.

Jaime shrugged, and looked down at his hands. “You put up with me, put me back together. You deserve a damn medal just for that.” He shook his head and looked up into her eyes. “You shouldn’t have to wait another year.”

Brienne picked up the contract. She eyed it warily. “Do you think Tyrion could look at this?”

“Way ahead of you. He already did.” Jaime sighed and stood up. “Come on, let’s find Renly and Loras. I can tell you’re itching to talk to them.”

Brienne hadn’t been thinking of Renly and Loras at all. What she was itching to do was get out of this room before she did something stupid, but she couldn’t let this pass without at least saying something.

Jaime was already at the door when she finally found her voice. “Thank you.”

He stopped, leaned against the door, watched as Brienne came to him. The intensity of Jaime’s gaze made it hard to breathe. He opened the door and held it for her as she left the room.

 


March 25, 2013
US-84 east of Bovinia, Texas

Just as the overwhelming smell of cattle finally cleared from Jaime’s SUV, he started singing again.

Brienne groaned silently. Over the last three months she’d gotten used to Jaime’s penchant for country music, even discovered a few bands she really liked. All morning, though, she’d noticed an unwelcome trend. It seemed like every other song was about falling for your friend and wanting more.

And Jaime was singing along with all of them, giving her the disconcerting impression that he was singing to her.

He looked over at Brienne, his expression unreadable, then launched back into the chorus of the latest instrument of her torture.

She tried to focus on anything but his voice and the swelling music. She counted the wind turbines they passed, to avoid looking at Jaime. Wind turbines. Not thinking about Jaime holding her and kissing her as if Brienne weren’t a giant ungainly excuse for a woman. Not listening to Jaime singing. Not remembering Jaime’s expression when he’d handed her the letters from the PBR and the Army.

Then the wind farm ended.

“Let me handle the music for a while,” she offered, and swiftly changed to a playlist of 1980s classics. There was no way Jaime could turn “Livin’ on a Prayer” into anything sentimental or suggestive.

 


April 1, 2013
Austin-Bergstrom Airport, Austin, Texas

They sat together on a bench just outside security. Jaime’s backpack was on the floor at his feet, his ticket tucked into his back pocket.

“Are you sure it’s okay that I’m dropping you off so early?” Brienne asked for the third time.

Jaime leaned closer, bumping his shoulder against hers. “It’s fine, really. There’s no point in making Loras wait or you coming out here twice.”

They’d tried to synchronize the flights, but it hadn’t worked out. Jaime was flying to Billings, Montana, with a short layover in Salt Lake City. His flight didn’t leave for another two hours, but Loras’ flight from Los Angeles had arrived fifteen minutes ago, and he would come through security soon.

Brienne stood, trying to spot Loras’ springy brown curls.

“Brienne,” Jaime began.

She turned around, and nearly crashed into Jaime, who stood just behind her. She steadied herself with one hand against his chest and laughed nervously.

Jaime cleared his throat. “Brienne, before Loras gets here—”

“Bri,” Loras’ voice cut in. He approached through the crowd, his camera bag slung over his shoulder. He dragged a small roller case behind him.

“Loras, hey,” she greeted him.

Loras smirked, looking between them. “Old man,” he added with a nod to Jaime.

“You know I hate that nickname,” Jaime grumbled.

“I do,” Loras agreed, but didn’t take it back.

“Boys, can you be nice for just a few minutes?” Brienne chided.

Loras shrugged. “I’m always nice.” He looked around, and pointed toward the doors to the main parking lot. “I’ll be waiting over there.”

As Loras walked away, Brienne turned back to Jaime. “What did you want to say?”

Jaime’s face was endearingly uncertain. He cast a quick glance at Loras, then looked at Brienne. “Some of your things are in my room,” he said quickly. “Just make sure you take them when you go, okay?”

“Oh, sure, okay,” Brienne stammered. She wasn’t sure what she had been expecting him to say, but that wasn’t it.

Jaime nodded. “You should go.”

Brienne took a deep breath, and hugged him. “Good-bye, Jaime.”

As she began to pull away, Jaime’s arms came up and held her against him.

Brienne closed her eyes, memorizing the feel of his hands on her back, the tickle of his bearded cheek against her jaw, the slightly spicy scent of his soap. She was officially doing a terrible job of not wanting him.

The last few days in Austin had been different. Neither had spoken of it, but they’d both been aware that the bubble they’d been living in was broken. Reporters had called every day to talk to Jaime, and Robb had sent his brother Jon to pick up the bulls. Without their routine to fall back on, Brienne had found living with Jaime far more awkward. He had been quieter, reserved even, though he’d still had his playful moments. She had spent more time alone, planning out her travel to competitions over the next month, talking to Margaery about her post-graduation plans.

“Are you ever going to go?” Jaime asked, more than a little amused.

Brienne blushed. She must have been standing there longer than she’d thought. She opened her eyes.

Loras stood impatiently about thirty feet away.

She sighed. “Yeah, I should.” She took a deep breath. “Loras is going to give me crap about this as it is.”

Jaime smiled against her cheek. “Gods forbid he might think you’ll miss me, or that I’ll miss you. I do have a reputation to protect.”

Brienne’s already hot cheeks burned anew. She must look like a giant tomato.

Jaime let her go and hefted his backpack over his shoulder. “I’ll see you in Vancouver.”

Brienne was flying from Denver to Vancouver in three weeks to do school presentations with Renly, the first ones he’d done since acquiring a new sponsor. Jaime would be there for the competition at Bear Island, of course. Brienne had agreed to the trip before she knew she would be riding rather than bullfighting, before Jaime kissed her.

They needed time apart. Three weeks would have to be enough.

 


April 2, 2013
Austin, Texas

Brienne was almost done packing when she remembered Jaime saying that some of her things were in his room. She couldn’t imagine what could be up there, or why he didn’t just bring them downstairs.

Loras was down the hall, investigating Tyrion’s bedroom.

“Do you think he’d notice if I took one of his swords? These are sweet,” Loras asked, holding out a longsword with a golden pommel. He brandished it at her, and Brienne had a fleeting thought that Loras would look very much like a fairy tale hero if he wasn’t wearing cargo shorts and a Blue Bard T-shirt.

“Those are Tyrion’s, and yes, he’d notice. He’s an even bigger nerd than Jaime. Also, you’d have trouble getting that through security when you fly home,” Brienne pointed out. “Jaime said I left some stuff upstairs. I’ll be right back.”

She left Loras to put the sword sadly back on the wall in Tyrion’s room. Brienne crossed the bright living room and went upstairs. She’d been upstairs infrequently, only to retrieve her clothes from Jaime’s room when Pia or her mother had mistaken Brienne’s clothes for his. Jaime’s things had ended up in her closet more rarely, and she didn’t want to admit that the shirt he had loaned her was in her suitcase instead of back in his closet.  

She paused by the display case in the hall. All of Jaime’s gold buckles were in there, along with fading ribbons from his early days. In the midst of it all was a framed photograph of Jaime sitting in the back of a pickup truck, his hat discarded with the rest of his gear at his side. He was grinning, his hair wild and his eyes bright, and he couldn’t have been any older than 17. Scrawled in the corner was: first win, September 16, 1994, Gods Eye, PRCA Junior Rodeo.

Brienne moved on, pushed open the door to Jaime’s bedroom. She stopped abruptly on the threshold.

The room looked just as it should, except for the neatly laid out items on the bed. Slowly Brienne crossed the room and touched the dark blue helmet, ran her fingertips over the navy blue button-down shirt, a gold star Army logo patch on one sleeve. She took it all in: the riding glove, the bull rope, three shirts in camouflage, khaki, and navy, the new Kevlar vest, dark brown leather chaps patterned with gold stars, and brown riding boots with spurs.

Suddenly the day that Pia had “accidentally” taken her boots and glove to clean them made more sense. It was just before they’d left for Albuquerque, and Jaime had waved off Brienne’s concern and tossed her a pair of his old boots and his old glove so she could practice that day.

Brienne pulled out her phone, started to call him, and stopped. What would she say? “Thank you” seemed inadequate. He’d spent at least a thousand dollars, and knowing Jaime it was likely close to double that.

Brienne scooped up the shirts and the helmet and went back downstairs to her room. Loras was fiddling with his camera. He looked up and frowned as she came in. “What are those?”

“Nothing,” she said automatically, then added, “There’s more upstairs.”

After Brienne returned with the boots and rope, Loras trailed behind her when she went upstairs again. His puzzled expression changed into a knowing smile when they walked into Jaime’s bedroom. “So that’s how it is,” he observed.

Brienne glared at him. “Don’t start with me, Loras, or this will be a very long week.” She gathered up the last few items, then went back downstairs to finish packing.

An hour later, Brienne and Loras left Austin.

 

Chapter Text

Sports Illustrated
April 1, 2013

COMEBACK REVIVES QUESTIONS ABOUT PAST
by Jon Umber

For more than half his life, Jaime Lannister’s identity, along with a bull rope, was wrapped around his right hand. Two fingers and that identity were cut away one terrible night last September in Memphis.
Most men would have walked away. At 34, Lannister was reaching the end of his career. The 2000 Rookie of the Year, Lannister had won three Professional Bull Riders world championships, in 2002, 2005, and 2008, over the course of a career marked by injury and controversy. Instead, Jaime Lannister spent the last three months secretly training at his home in Austin, Texas. Against the odds, he successfully returned to competition last week in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
For almost anyone else, this moment would have defined his career, but Lannister’s defining moment happened outside the arena. While he would prefer to be judged for his performance in competition, Lannister is best known for his actions in a Phoenix hotel room. One night in March 2001, the up and coming fan favorite brutally beat former champ Aerys Targaryen.
Lannister never spoke about the attack, and Targaryen never returned to competition. Officials remained silent on the matter even after Lannister returned to bull riding in 2002 and won his first world championship.
This week, Justin McBride, 2004 and 2007 world champion, broke his silence surrounding the Targaryen incident. “I don’t know what happened in that hotel room. I wasn’t there. But I do know that Targaryen was a good rider, but not a good man. People who never met him seem to think Aerys was some kind of hero.”
While McBride refused to elaborate, not a single man who competed with Targaryen responded in his defense.
Over the last twelve years, Lannister has been a loner and a cipher, unwilling to talk to the press more than necessary. News of his return to competition broke via rumors, and was confirmed by the Professional Bull Riders organization, not by the man himself. Lannister addressed the media only when necessary in Albuquerque, brushing off questions about his training, his rehabilitation after Memphis, and his future plans. When asked about the woman he was seen with, Lannister simply reiterated that he doesn’t discuss his personal life. Regardless of that silence, personal issues have overshadowed his professional accomplishments in recent years. Rumors have romantically linked Lannister to both his first cousin and her husband’s younger brother, though he has never commented on these allegations.
One of only two men to ever capture three PBR championships, Lannister has had a remarkable career. While he is unlikely to win another title, Lannister appears poised to make the most of his second chance to compete. Fans who have remained wary of him for years cheered loudly when he completed his ride on the first day in Albuquerque, and commiserated when he was bucked off on day two.
While Lannister did not place in the top ten, he was mentioned on Twitter ten times more often than any other rider, with a majority of the tweets discussing him positively. Public sentiment began to shift last fall, after Lannister’s public facade slipped briefly in television interviews.
Whether Jaime Lannister can continue to capitalize on renewed public interest in his career remains to be seen.

 


April 2, 2013
Last Hearth, Billings, Montana

Jaime awoke hard under scratchy hotel sheets. His sleeping mind had become irritatingly adept at concocting scenarios in which his last week with Brienne in Austin had passed very differently. Given how strongly she’d objected to the idea of anyone thinking they were together, he doubted she’d appreciate her role in his recent dreams.

He showered quickly and dressed as he always did for competition. This routine, at least, hadn’t changed. Crisp Wranglers, a deep crimson and black striped button-down shirt, and black boots. He wouldn’t wear his chaps, vest, or hat until later.

First he would go check out the arena and the bulls in the back pens, then there would be interviews and a meet-and-greet with fans before the first go-round tonight. After Albuquerque, Jaime suddenly had fans. Just as Marsh and Mormont had predicted, military veterans in particular were drawn to him these days.

Jaime could get coffee downstairs, too, and he needed it so badly he could already taste it. Hotel coffee was never good, always burnt and bitter, but that suited his mood.

Brienne was leaving Austin. She would return to competition in the Touring Pro Division, spending the next week in Louisiana and Oklahoma with Loras, then another two weeks in the Midwest before flying to Vancouver for a tour stop with Renly. After living together for three months, going three weeks without seeing Brienne seemed like a long damn time.

Jaime wondered if Brienne had found the gear he’d left her yet. It hadn’t seemed like a big deal when he bought it, but when everything had arrived Jaime had suddenly felt uncomfortable about it. Laid out all together it had seemed like too much. Ultimately he’d chickened out of giving it to Brienne while he was still there.

Much as Jaime would have liked to pretend nothing had changed, he couldn’t look at Brienne the same way anymore. Not since Jaime had kissed her, and Brienne had insisted that it meant nothing. Her rejection had hurt more than he’d expected, but neither of them really had time or opportunity to get into anything right now.

Jaime had been so busy when they’d returned to Austin it hadn’t taken much effort to keep his distance. He had been fine until Brienne had hugged him in the airport and whispered his name in his ear, and he’d held on to her far too long.

Jaime met Renly in the hotel restaurant for breakfast, but Jaime found his eyes drawn to his phone on the table even as they talked about baseball, the last concert Renly saw, the bulls they’d drawn for tonight.

“Are you even listening, old man?”

Jaime looked up, and found Renly scowling at him. “Sorry, Ren. Just distracted.”

Renly checked his own phone. “Loras said he’d text me when they left.”

Jaime shook his head. “It’s not that. Just getting back into the routine.”

Renly chuckled. “Sure it is. She’ll be fine. You don’t need to mother Brienne. At least now she has enough money to stop sleeping in her truck.”

“She used to sleep in her truck?”

“Sometimes. Why did you think she had that camper shell?” Renly asked, amused that Jaime had missed something so obvious.

Jaime’s phone beeped. Jaime stared at Renly and did not reach for it.

Renly smirked. “You can check that, you know. I’ll only mock you a little bit.”

Jaime’s phone beeped again, reminding him he hadn’t looked at it. This time he sighed and reached for the phone.

Brienne: Can’t do anything by halves, can you?

He fought back a smile, feeling Renly’s gaze on him.

Jaime: You know me
Brienne: Will you let me thank you?
Jaime: nope
Brienne: you’re impossible
Jaime: don’t forget really ridiculously good looking
Brienne: Idiot. Try not to break yourself again
Jaime: No promises

When he looked up, Jaime couldn’t read Renly’s expression. Finally the younger man asked, “Think you can focus now?”

Jaime set his phone down. “Definitely.”

 


April 4, 2013
Last Hearth, Billings, Montana

Focus hadn’t helped on the last day of competition when Stormcrow went against every previous performance, and came out of the chute directly into a spin, then reversed. With the bull moving backward, Jaime had a much harder time anticipating its moves. He lost his balance and went sliding off the side of the bull. He panicked momentarily, but managed to throw himself clear, landing hard and bruising his right shoulder.

That night he lay in bed waiting for the day’s Touring Pro Division results to be posted, a bag of ice tied to his shoulder with an elastic bandage, when his phone beeped.

Brienne: Thought I told you not to break yourself.
Jaime: Tel that to the bulls
Jaime: You in one piece?

She didn’t answer, so Jaime refreshed the PBR website one more time before moving on. Renly was out celebrating his victory and Jaime planned to fall asleep watching a movie.

Jaime was dozing when his phone beeped again. He unwrapped the now mostly melted ice pack from his shoulder and dumped it in the trash by the bed. Gingerly he reached for the phone.

Brienne: One piece. Not my best ride.
Brienne: Loras took me dancing.
Jaime: Pictures or it didn’t happen.
Brienne: You wish.

Jaime went back to his main message screen and selected the last message he’d received from Loras. It was just a shot from his phone, but Loras, without being asked, had sent Jaime a photo of Brienne on her first day of competition in Shreveport. She stood by the chutes, holding her helmet in one hand. The sun shone in her hair, and her eyes were bright and determined. Jaime wished he’d been there to see it.

 


April 5, 2013
Austin, Texas

Jaime’s flight was delayed due to rain in Salt Lake City, and he didn’t arrive home until after 10 that night. It felt strange when the cab pulled up to the house, and Brienne’s truck wasn’t in the driveway.

It was still strange when he let himself into the dark house, not bothering to turn on lights, left his duffle of gear and his suitcase in the living room, and went upstairs.

Jaime undressed in the dark and went to shower. Light from the bathroom spilled across the room and across the bed when he emerged ten minutes later, a towel wrapped around his waist.

The neat piles of gear he’d left on the bed were gone, as Jaime had expected, but the bed wasn’t empty.

He turned on the lights, crossed the room, and picked up the soft dove-grey felt cowboy hat. It was well made, and Jaime wasn’t surprised when he flipped it over and saw the Stetson label. Jaime sighed. Brienne had left him a $200 cowboy hat.

A grey cowboy hat. Not black. He smiled. She wasn’t subtle.

Jaime mulled over his response for a few minutes, and finally set the hat on his head. He grabbed his phone, held it as far away as he could, and snapped a picture.

Jaime scrutinized the photo. He looked tired, which he was, hair still damp from his shower, but not bad. He slipped the hat off his head and set it on the bed beside him, then added the photo to a text.

Jaime: What do you think?

He dropped the phone on the bed, tossed the towel into the bathroom, turned out the lights, and got into bed.

Much later, the phone beeping woke him up. He grabbed the phone just as it beeped a second time.

Brienne: You should wear a shirt for competition

Jaime laughed, holding the phone lying in the dark. He wondered if she’d blushed when she saw that picture, which was about as subtle as the hat. His naked chest took up half the photo. Somehow her blushes weren’t quite as much fun if he couldn’t see them.

Jaime: Higher scores this way
Brienne: At least wear the vest
Jaime: And the chaps?

He remembered that first morning, Brienne still so painfully uncomfortable with him but struggling not to giggle at the thought of Jaime in what amounted to a bad male stripper outfit.

Not five minutes later Brienne had stroked his maimed hand with gentle efficiency, stripping away all his armor without even trying. She had no idea how much that gesture had meant to him, and still did.

Brienne: I think you like people staring at your ass
Jaime: You seem to like it
Brienne: Who’s fishing for compliments now

It was easier to tease her like this than to admit that he already missed her.  Brienne was on the road with Loras, back to competition and doing what she loved. He doubted she missed him much at all.

 


April 12, 2013
Austin, Texas (Jaime)
Tulsa, Oklahoma (Brienne)

Brienne: Driving is BORING. How did I forget that?
Jaime: Why do you think I fly?
Brienne: Not an option
Jaime: sore
Jaime: Sorry. Damn autocorrect
Brienne: Next stop Iowa
Jaime: Twin Cities next for me
Jaime: are you texting and driving
Brienne: no. Stopped for lunch
Jaime: good
Brienne: road food also sucks
Jaime: you just miss my cooking
Brienne: sadly yes

 


April 15, 2013
The Twins, Minneapolis, Minnesota (Jaime)
Des Moines, Iowa (Brienne)

“Are you falling asleep or getting distracted by all the eye candy?”

Brienne yawned. “Just tired. Sorry. And you picked the movie, Jaime.”

“It has helicopters and explosions,” Jaime protested.

“And Josh Hartnett terribly miscast as an Army Ranger,” she teased.

Jaime sighed, adjusting his phone against his ear. He had competition tomorrow and so did she, but they were still both streaming a movie on their laptops. Jaime had picked Black Hawk Down, thinking she’d appreciate a war movie and it wouldn’t have any awkward romantic subplots. Ten minutes into the movie, he’d realized what he’d actually picked was two hours of good-looking men in uniform.

Ten minutes after that, Jaime relaxed, since Brienne was so distracted by the military elements that she barely seemed to notice the actors, except the ones poorly executing American accents.

“We could stop the movie,” he offered reluctantly.

He heard shuffling noises over the phone and knew she was getting more comfortable. “No, just holler at me if I start to snore,” she joked.

“So it’ll be just like home.”

“Oh, you’re hilarious.”

“I’m not paying you to spend time with me anymore. I have to bring something to the table,” Jaime teased. They needed to talk about what was happening between them, because clearly something was, but it shouldn’t be over the phone. Until Jaime could see her in Vancouver, he wasn’t above reminding Brienne that he wasn’t her boss anymore.

“Can’t rely on your ass over the phone.”

Jaime laughed. “Well apparently tonight I’ve brought you a fine selection of asses in uniform. They’re just not mine.”

She was quiet for a minute. “How’d you do today?”

“You know I got bucked off. How about you?” Her results weren’t uploaded until late at night.

“80.4. Good but not great.”

“Are the other riders still giving you shit? I’m sorry, I overheard Renly talking to you yesterday.”

Renly had walked away the second he’d noticed Jaime listening, but Jaime had heard enough. The other riders were making life as difficult for Brienne as they could. Why, Jaime didn’t know, though she’d taken heat just for being a woman before. He suspected her press coverage since Memphis wasn’t helping.

Brienne didn’t answer at first. “It’s fine. I can handle it,” she said eventually.

“Just be careful,” Jaime cautioned. “Some of those guys, especially the ones who only compete on weekends, think of the tour as some kind of club. They don’t like new people.”

“I figured that out,” she confirmed tentatively.

Jaime frowned. The minor tour was very different from the main tour. In addition to the weekend warriors who used events to blow off steam from their day jobs, there were plenty of young, cocky guys who thought they were rock stars. They usually had their pick of girls, and they didn’t take it well when one wasn’t interested. He took a deep breath. “I don’t need to tell you not to let any of those guys into your room, right?”

She laughed, but it was a harsh laugh. “You don’t need to worry about that.”

“Brienne—”

“Can we just watch the movie? I’m fine.”

He sighed. “Would you tell me if you weren’t?”

Brienne hesitated, and that gave him all the answer he needed. “Jaime, let me handle it. You can’t fix everything.”

She was right. She was usually right. She was annoying that way.

 

Chapter Text

April 21, 2013
Denver International Airport, Denver, Colorado

Brienne crouched in front of a rack of books, vainly searching for something to occupy her during the three-hour flight to Vancouver. The usual selection of cheap bestsellers wasn’t really grabbing her today, and she needed a distraction.

Renly would pick her up from the airport, and tomorrow they would do a series of school presentations before his competition started on Friday at Bear Island.

Jaime would be there. Brienne hadn’t seen him in three weeks, although they had exchanged text messages almost every day and had talked on the phone several times. Twice in the last week they’d watched a movie together, talking as if they were still side by side on the couch in Austin.

“Brienne?”

Brienne looked up, searching for who had spoken. That voice. It was familiar but she couldn’t quite place it. People moved purposefully through the concourse in front of her, while a few lingered around the entrance to the bookstore.

“It is you,” said a young man Brienne had hoped she’d never see again. He was tall, broad, with chestnut hair and intense dark brown eyes, a scar just above his lip moving as he smiled hesitantly at her. He wore a black University of Colorado sweatshirt and jeans.

Brienne’s eyes narrowed.  “Hyle Hunt,” she spat. She’d seen him on TV, but he’d been in uniform then, his helmet obscuring much of his face. She’d forgotten how disarmingly nice he looked.

Hyle heard her tone. He took a step back and put a hand up in surrender. “I deserve that. I get it. I was …” He paused, searching for the right word. “An asshole.”

“Yes, you were,” Brienne said vehemently.

She hadn’t seen Hyle since he graduated from Highgarden Academy five years ago. Back then he’d been a star hockey player, with a scholarship to Colorado lined up and plenty of girls following him around. Brienne had only really known him because he’d failed chemistry the previous year, and been placed in her class. They’d occasionally been paired as lab partners, and he hadn’t seemed bad. A bit full of himself, and obsessed with hockey, but not bad.

She’d been more than a little surprised when Hyle had started paying more attention to her, coming to watch her field hockey games and buying her Ty Murray’s autobiography. Brienne had found his teammates’ subsequent interest confusing and suspicious. It had all made sense when Coach Tarly had finally told her that Hyle and his teammates had bet on who could take her virginity.

Hyle sighed. “Can I buy you a coffee or something? I’d really like to apologize. You can punch me when I’m done if you’d like. Some of the guys think I’m too much of a pretty boy anyway. You’d be helping me out, honestly.”

Brienne stood. She felt better looking slightly down at him. “You already apologized,” Brienne reminded him firmly. Hyle had cornered her in the library a few hours after Coach Tarly spoke to her. He had mumbled his apology at the floor when he couldn’t look her in the eye. “What else could you possibly say?”

Hyle glanced around. The two other people in the store were watching them. “Look, it’ll only take a couple minutes. Could we just go somewhere else?”

Brienne was enjoying his obvious discomfort. Prolonging it might make this unfortunate encounter worthwhile. “Fine, coffee. I could use the caffeine. But then I have a flight to catch.”

They walked through the concourse until they came to a small coffee shop. “Where are you headed?” Hyle asked as they waited in line.

“Vancouver,” Brienne answered, but didn’t elaborate. She ordered the biggest mocha they served along with a massive chocolate muffin she would save for the flight.

They sat at a nearby table, sipping their coffees in awkward silence.

“I saw you on the news a few times last fall. Are you okay now?” Hyle asked slowly, nervously picking apart a paper napkin.

Brienne nodded. “I’m fine. Just taking a couple days off from competition to meet up with Renly Baratheon.” Hyle knew Renly because they’d crossed paths at Highgarden, where Brienne had met both men.

Hyle cleared his throat and offered, “I’m in town for my daughter’s birthday.”

Brienne was thrown. “Your daughter?”

Hyle pulled a photo from his wallet and passed it to her. “Her name is Alyce. Her mom was my college girlfriend. It didn’t work out.”

The girl was perhaps two years old, sweet looking in a wide-eyed, chubby, toddler way. Brienne handed back the photo. “So you have visitation?” she asked.

Hyle nodded, and tucked the photo and his wallet away. “I’m on the road so much she couldn’t really live with me, even part time. During the season I’m in a new city almost every day. What about you?”

Brienne did not want Hyle to know that she’d been alone all these years. He would understand the schedule and the grind of life on the road, but she didn’t want him to see deeper than that. She strove for an air of indifference. “I travel most of the year.”

Her phone beeped.

Jaime: Dinner tonight?

A smile tugged at her lips. Striving to sound slightly less pathetic, she added, “I was living with a guy for a few months, but we’re both on the road again.” Completely true, and a total misrepresentation.

“Is that him?” Hyle asked, gesturing at her phone.

“Yes,” Brienne answered lightly. “He’ll be in Vancouver too.” She sipped her coffee and texted Jaime back.

Brienne: You pick the place. Invite Ren
Brienne:  Having coffee w NHL player now

Almost immediately Brienne regretted mentioning Hyle. As long as Renly wasn’t around, she should be able to pretend to Jaime that Hyle was just an old classmate.  

“Look, Brienne,” Hyle started awkwardly, “I’m really glad you found somebody. I’ve thought about you over the years. Probably a lot more than you thought about me.”

Brienne could honestly say she didn’t think of him often. She had only learned Hyle had been picked in the NHL Draft from the Highgarden alumni newsletter. “I thought of you when I cheered for whoever was smashing your face into the boards.”

Her phone beeped.

Jaime: Should I be jealous?

Her stomach flipped. At least if she showed Hyle the messages it would look like she and Jaime were dating. Unless he remembered who Jaime was from the news coverage, in which case her cover was blown.

Brienne: Gotta go

Hyle looked away, watching the people wandering through the concourse. “I deserved that,” he admitted.

He leaned across the table. “This is way too late and not nearly enough, but I wanted to tell you how sorry I was, for what we did to you.”

His gaze was direct, and Brienne could not look away.

“It was a shitty thing to do, and I’ve regretted it. I wanted you to know that I still think about it, and I haven’t forgiven myself for it. I think of someone doing that to my daughter, and it makes me sick.”

Brienne was finally able to tear her gaze away from Hyle’s stricken face. She stared hard at her hands. She’d tried to put the bet behind her, but reminders still stung. “It should make you sick,” she said shakily, forcing herself to face him again. “You were the worst of them. You pretended to care.”  

Hyle winced. “I liked you. You were smart and strong, just so painfully shy I didn’t see it at first.”

Brienne shot to her feet. Struggling to keep her voice down, she snarled, “Then you should have told your friends I was off limits.”

She grabbed her things and tried to push past Hyle as he stood and blocked the aisle between tables. Both of her hands were full.

Hyle grabbed a napkin and yanked a pen from his pocket. He hastily scrawled on the napkin and shoved it into the bag holding her muffin. “This is my number. If you’re ever in New York or Colorado again, you’re welcome to punch me anytime. It’s the least I can do.”

Brienne glared at him, and he stepped out of her way.

 


Vancouver International Airport, Richmond, British Columbia, Canada

Brienne was still unsettled when she got off the plane three hours later. Renly was supposed to meet her just after customs, but she didn’t see him anywhere.

Brienne was just digging out her phone to call him when she saw her name scrawled almost illegibly on a sign. He must have sent a cab. Except this driver, his face hidden under the visor of a baseball cap, looked familiar. She knew that battered orange hat, that cocky posture. Her nerves suddenly grew much worse. Brienne walked slowly over to the man, who looked up as she approached.

Jaime. His heart-stopping smile shone beneath eyes which fairly danced with amusement. He’d trimmed his beard so it barely covered his jaw, and he looked younger, less dangerous.

“Hey,” Jaime said, and leaned in to enfold her in a bear hug.

“I thought Renly was coming,” Brienne stammered, trying hard not to get caught up in how good he felt, how much warmer his voice was in person than on the phone.

“And here I thought you might be glad to see me.” Jaime pulled back, looked her over, and bit his lip. “So that’s where my shirt went. I’ve been looking for it.”

Brienne blushed. She’d intended to change before he saw her at dinner. “Sorry. Where is Renly anyway?”

Jaime rolled his eyes dramatically. “Renly had some trouble getting Peach across the border. It’s all worked out now, but he was running late. I can leave you here and let him come back for you, if I’m not a good enough chauffeur.”

Brienne snorted. “Your father would have a stroke if he ever heard you call yourself that.”

Jaime laughed. “Oh, that would be worth it.” He reached down to take her suitcase and started toward the doors. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

 


Deepwood Motte, Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver was no different from Austin. Brienne had been sitting at a table with Renly and Jaime for nearly two hours, eating their way through appetizers, steaks, and incredibly sinful chocolate cake. And every time the waitress walked by their table, she cast an appreciative eye at both men, and a curious look at Brienne.

As they ate, the three traded stories about life on the road and recent competitions. Brienne had carefully skirted any mention of the other riders when she talked about her travels.

She’d learned within two hours of arriving at her first competition in Shreveport, Louisiana, that all the other riders thought she’d used Jaime to get back on the tour. Not only used him—allowed him to use her. Before Brienne had even set foot in the arena, she’d overheard Harrold Hardyng and Patrek Mallister joking about the sex acts she must have performed to earn her sponsorship and her place on the tour. That first night Brienne had gone into the bathroom, turned on the shower, and cried where Loras couldn’t hear her.

Over the next week, with Loras around as both friendly face and buffer, Brienne had armored herself a little better each day. The other riders didn’t matter. The crew didn’t matter. The only ones who did matter were the judges and the bull. That had kept her going through three competitions in which she’d failed to place in the top ten. At least by then the other riders had decided she wasn’t a threat, and become less openly hostile.

After the waitress took away their plates and Renly paid the bill, Jaime leaned over and prompted, “So tell me about this hockey player you had coffee with. Didn’t realize you had a date today.”

Renly choked on his drink. “Hockey player? You’re not serious. You saw that asshole?”

Jaime looked at Renly sharply. “You know this guy?”

Brienne cringed. She’d hoped Jaime would forget to ask her about it, at least until Renly was gone. She picked up her drink, a microbrew beer that barely tasted like alcohol at all. It was her third drink of the night. Though Brienne had been pacing herself, her head was buzzing and she suspected she’d been talking a little too much.

Renly was several drinks ahead of her but his flushed cheeks came from anger. “Oh, I know him. It was Hyle Hunt, wasn’t it, Brienne?”

She nodded. “I ran into him in the airport. He wanted to talk.”

“Talk? The only words out of his mouth should have been ‘I’m sorry,’” Renly scoffed.

“Sorry for what?” Jaime asked, looking back and forth between Renly and Brienne.

Brienne avoided answering a while longer by sipping her drink again.

“The Highgarden hockey team made a particularly vile wager and Brienne got swept up in it,” Renly supplied when she didn’t.

“Hyle was an asshole even before the bet, I’m sure,” Brienne countered.

Jaime frowned. “Is he the reason you hate the Rangers so much?”

Brienne smiled at him. “Handsome and clever. I knew I liked you for a reason.” Jaime really did look particularly good, or maybe it was just a side effect of not seeing him for weeks.

Jaime’s eyes widened. “What did he do?” he asked hesitantly.

Renly looked at Brienne questioningly. He’d tell, if she wanted him to, though gods knew what he’d say. After a few drinks, tact wasn’t Ren’s strong suit.

Brienne glared back at him and huffed with annoyance. She downed the rest of her beer and turned to Jaime. “He tried to date me,” she said flatly. It was so much easier in boarding school, where a boy could just show up at your door to hang out, without parents around to interfere. As long as it was before curfew, no one particularly cared. Margaery had a boyfriend then and was rarely in their room.

“There were others too.” She wouldn’t say their names. Bad enough that she could still remember them. Big Ben Bushy, Edmund Ambrose, Mark Mullendore, Hugh Beesbury, Will the Stork. They’d showered her with attention and gifts, no matter how often she told them she wasn’t interested. Brienne had been smart enough to know that boys didn’t chase after her, much less older boys who could have had anyone they wanted.

Jaime at least acknowledged something wasn’t quite right about a pack of jocks chasing after Brienne. “What did they really want?” he asked warily.

“The pleasure of my company,” she said sarcastically. “What do you think?”

Owen Inchfield had snuck in under the radar. He hadn’t given Brienne gifts, hadn’t chatted her up in the common areas like the other boys. Brienne had reluctantly gone to a party thrown by her field hockey team captain, and Owen had given her a drink, then another, and another. Then he invited her back to his room to watch a movie.

Brienne had known he wanted to fool around. Things had progressed so quickly she barely realized what was happening until it was too late. She hadn’t gotten much pleasure from his company, though he eventually managed to get his. After, Brienne had wondered what all the fuss was about. Only much later, after she had told Margaery all the humiliating details, had Brienne finally understood how bad the experience had been.

“I think it’s good I wasn’t in Denver today,” Jaime spat, his face like thunder.

“The coach figured it out and punished them,” she assured him, reaching out to squeeze his hand. Jaime didn’t need to know the wager had been won by the time the coach had confronted his team.

“So Hyle actually apologized?” Renly asked incredulously.

Brienne let Jaime’s hand go. “He did. He did back then too, you know,” she told Renly. After his feeble apology, Hyle had never spoken to her again, until earlier that day. He had barely looked at her for the rest of the school year.

“Apologies don’t change what he did,” Renly scoffed.

“Why would you even talk to him?” Jaime asked.

“At least he was sorry.” She shrugged. “Maybe I should have punched him. Worked with Owen.”

Brienne vividly remembered Owen’s shocked expression, his nose bleeding freely, after she had punched his smug face. She remembered the disappointment in Mrs. Roelle’s eyes when she’d been called to the headmistress’s office and suspended from the field hockey team for a week. Brienne hadn’t cared. It had been worth it.

“Teenage boys never change,” Jaime muttered. “We had assholes like them at Crakehall too.”

“It’s not just teenage boys, is it, Brienne?” Renly asked pointedly.

Brienne had no intention of telling Jaime about the crap she’d dealt with in the past few weeks. “Let’s talk about something else,” she said sharply, reaching for her water glass and succeeding only in knocking it over. Water sloshed over the table and ran into Brienne's lap, soaking her jeans.

She stood abruptly, and her head swam. Maybe all those beers hadn’t been the best idea. Vaguely she remembered that the waitress had mentioned that Brienne’s choice was more potent than most beers.

Jaime stood and took Brienne’s elbow, steadying her. “Let’s get you back to your room,” he suggested.

As they walked out of the restaurant, back to the hotel, in the elevator, and down the hall to her door, she leaned on him more than was really necessary.

When Brienne fumbled her key card out of her pocket and opened the door, Jaime turned to go. She looked back at him. “Aren’t you coming in?” she asked, surprising herself.

Why did he have to look so good? Stupid Jaime and his ridiculous smiles and his casual flirtation. And Brienne was still herself, desirable only as a means to an end. Winning a wager, proving some kind of point to the other riders.

Jaime didn’t answer, just stood there.

Brienne grabbed his hand and tugged him into the room with her.

 

Chapter Text

April 21, 2013
Torrhen’s Square, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

This was definitely not how Jaime had imagined ending up in Brienne’s hotel room. Before this evening, he’d never seen her have more than a single drink, and it was clear why. He’d attempted to discourage her from having a third drink, as she had already become chatty and slightly too loud, but Renly had ordered more for both of them.

Jaime had been slightly annoyed when Brienne suggested inviting Renly to dinner, but it made sense. It had just postponed when they could be alone together. They were alone now, for all the good it would do him. Jaime didn’t have the first clue what to say, but it didn’t matter, because this was definitely not the right time.

Brienne’s phone rang. Jaime scooped it up from the bed where she’d dropped it beside her wallet, and checked the screen. “Margaery is calling you. Do you want me to answer it?”

The bathroom door opened and Brienne walked out, her legs bare. She brushed past him and laid her wet jeans over a chair to dry. Brienne crouched, flipped open her suitcase, and pulled out a T-shirt and shorts. She stood and glanced toward the window. “No, she just wants to talk about Hyle.”

Jaime set the phone down on the desk, watching Brienne as she dropped her clothes on the bed and walked over to the window, checking out the view of downtown Vancouver and English Bay. All Jaime could see was Brienne wearing nothing but his shirt, the hem barely covering the tops of her thighs. It was almost enough to distract Jaime from the question he had to ask.

“Who was Owen?” Months ago, she’d mentioned punching a guy, someone she’d described as “special.” Jaime had a sick feeling he knew exactly why that guy had been special.

Brienne tensed. “Does it matter?”

“Brienne,” Jaime said softly. He took one step toward her.

She turned around, leaning against the windowsill. “He won,” she said flatly. “He told everyone, and the ones who didn’t snicker looked at me just like you’re doing now.”

It wasn’t anything Jaime hadn’t already suspected. He wanted to hold Brienne, to assure her that his attraction to her, at least, wasn’t false, but she would misunderstand that. “How am I looking at you?”

“With pity,” Brienne whispered, her gaze fixed on the carpet between them.

“I don’t pity you.” I want to show you how much I want you. “I want to kick that bastard in the balls.”

She laughed, just for a second.

Laughing was good. He could work with that. “I’ll bet he was crap in bed, too.” None of the serial bed-hoppers at Crakehall had seemed to know what they were doing, based on their boasts.

Brienne looked up, surprised, and blushed. She shook her head a little and admitted, “It was pretty bad.”

Bad enough that even she realized it, when she hadn’t known any better. If Jaime ever ran into this Owen, the man would leave the encounter with fewer teeth.

After a minute Brienne crossed the room to the desk. She cracked open a bottle of water, and drank deeply. “Sadly, this is not the worst night out I’ve had with Renly.”

Jaime seized on the welcome change of subject, though it reminded him of the first night he’d seen Brienne in a bar. “No? You’re not sold on Renly’s charms anymore?”

“It’s not so much him, I just hate the bar scene. I even managed to disappoint a few guys at gay bars.” She shook her head, and set the bottle down.

“What? You don’t look like a man, Brienne.” Not with legs like that, she didn’t. True, her hair was so short it barely brushed the nape of her neck, and she did often wear men’s jeans.

Brienne turned away. “From behind, I do. See?” She looked back at him over her shoulder, and her shirt rode up briefly, flashing a glimpse of pale blue panties. That completely innocent act was just as arousing as Cersei’s stripteases.

Brienne hadn’t even touched him, and Jaime was getting hard. What was it about her that reduced him to a teenage boy: too much want or too little thought? What kind of man got turned on after that conversation? Apparently one who hadn’t been with a woman in three years.

She turned back, running a hand through her hair, the hem of the shirt riding up again.

Jaime took a step back, dragged his gaze up from her legs, but all he could think about was how fast he could unbutton her shirt. Not as fast as he could have with all ten fingers, but sufficiently motivated he could certainly manage it quickly.

“Don’t even get me started on clubbing with Margaery.” Brienne barked a harsh laugh. “She always drags me to these hipster bars with skinny guys in stupid hats drinking PBR ironically. I swear she found every hipster in Austin when she visited. And I always get stuck listening to her guy’s pretentious friend explain why ‘Portlandia’ is funny even though he’s never been to Portland, and inevitably he’s short and doesn’t want to be seen dancing with me.”

“Which hats are stupid?” Jaime asked, trying to distract himself.

“Fedoras,” Brienne replied instantly. She’d clearly given this some thought.

“Hey, I have a fedora,” Jaime protested. Two, actually, including the one from his Indy costume.

“I know,” Brienne said with a chuckle. “Your taste in hats is questionable at best.” She looked him up and down blatantly. “Although the Indy costume is kind of hot.”

She was still drunk. Definitely drunk. Brienne was never this bold with him. “I thought you didn’t like my costumes,” Jaime said, genuinely surprised.

“They’re a little silly,” she conceded. “Doesn’t mean you wouldn’t look good in them.”

Brienne really needed to stop talking like this. Especially since she was only a few feet away, and the desire to run his hands up her thighs and under her shirt was becoming more difficult to resist. Damn it. She had to know what she was doing to him.

“I should go,” Jaime said weakly.

He started to back away, but he hit the desk chair and nearly knocked it over. Brienne reached out to steady him, her hand clutching his shirt, his hands grasping her waist.

Jaime definitely did not imagine her sharp intake of breath. He looked up and her eyes were slightly unfocused from the alcohol but they were dark, too, the merest sliver of blue remaining.

Brienne’s gaze darted away as Jaime struggled not to move his hands up along her ribcage. The sounds of her ragged breathing and his own pounding heart filled his head. It would be the easiest thing in the world to lean up and kiss her.  Easy to wrap his arms around her, to walk her back step by step to the bed, only a few feet away. Her lips were parted and she was trembling. The strongest woman he’d ever met, trembling because of him.

Jaime meant to walk away, but instead he leaned forward with agonizing slowness, waiting for Brienne to push him away. His right hand slid up to cup her cheek, the space of a breath between her body and his. She shivered at his touch.

“I should go,” Jaime repeated. He’d kissed her once, a month ago. Falling into bed tonight would be too fast, even without the complication of Hyle and the bet and the bad memories she was obviously trying to push away.

“You should,” Brienne echoed, her shaking voice barely a whisper. But she bent her head, and her lips brushed his, almost unbearably hesitant.

Jaime remembered how fierce she’d been earlier, how her eyes had flashed with anger and hurt. If he didn’t pull himself together now, he would just be another man taking advantage of her. And he didn’t want to be the guy she fucked to prove something to herself.

Jaime dropped his hands from her face and hip. His feet finally obeyed, and he backed away. “I can’t—We can’t do this,” he mumbled.

“Oh,” Brienne choked out, and ran into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.

Jaime followed her. “Brienne, open the door.”

“No.” Her voice was muffled, but close. She was probably sitting just on the other side of the door.

“Please?”

“Just go.”

Jaime hated the hurt in her voice, but for the second time this evening he had no idea what to say to her. There was too much to say, and none of it should be said when she was drunk and angry and on the other side of a locked door.

“Brienne, please.”

“Go,” she repeated, her voice rising. “Just go. Please go.”

This time he listened.

 


April 22, 2013
Bear Island Arena, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

It was already close to five when Jaime spotted Renly making his way through the stragglers still inspecting the bulls in the back pens.

“Hey, you’re back.” Jaime strove for a casual tone, didn’t quite manage it. He’d already texted Brienne three times with no response. Once more, and he’d be entering stalker territory.

Renly jammed his hands into his pockets and frowned. “Before you ask, Brienne left early. She wouldn’t say why, but she’s already at the airport.”

“She left?” Jaime echoed. He yanked his phone from his pocket, muttering, “Fucking thrice-damned Hyle Hunt.”

“Jaime.” Renly’s voice was sharp.

“What?” Jaime asked testily.

“Get your head in the game.” Renly pointed to the bulls in the pen behind them. “We’re both riding tomorrow. Me, I’m ranked fourth right now. You, you’re so far behind you’re not even top twenty. Worry about your friend later.” Renly embellished that word with air quotes as though his tone hadn’t been sarcastic enough to get his point across.

Jaime reluctantly nodded. Renly of all people reminding him what they were doing here was embarrassing. He likely knew that Jaime had been texting Brienne all day. Brienne and Renly had been friends for seven years, and Renly and Jaime had known each other for sixteen years. If anyone could read them both, it was Renly.

The younger man walked away, and Jaime swiftly dialed, trying to catch Brienne before her flight boarded. He paced, listening to her phone ring.

"You’ve reached 310-555-0645. Leave a message at the tone.”

“Brienne, call me when you get this,” Jaime struggled to keep his voice even. “I wanted to talk in person, but.... Just call me. Please.”

 


May 2, 2013
Austin, Texas

Her silence was deafening.

Jaime had followed Brienne’s progress through her results. Casper, Wyoming: 5th place, average score 80.3. Sioux Falls, South Dakota: 9th place, average score 77.2. He had confined his texts to congratulations on her results. Meanwhile Jaime had channeled his frustration into a top five finish at Bear Island. Renly had placed second.

Two days before he was due to leave for St. Louis, Jaime drove into town for a follow-up with Dr. Qyburn and a check-in with physical and occupational therapy. His occupational therapist could tell immediately that Jaime hadn’t been practicing his handwriting, and he promised to work on it. His physical therapist asked how Brienne was doing, and Jaime shared what little he knew. Qyburn grudgingly admitted that Jaime hadn’t managed to damage his hand any further yet.

On the way home, Jaime pulled over to the side of the road and got out of his SUV. He walked around to the far side of his car and stood there for a full minute, staring. As far as he could see, the hills were covered in bluebonnets. Cars whizzed by behind him, their occupants likely shaking their heads at the idiot impressed by Texas’s state flower, stalks of deep-blue lupines which grew wild all over the state, especially along the highways.

The bluebonnets had just begun to bloom when Jaime and Brienne had driven back from Albuquerque, and even then she’d found them beautiful. Jaime barely noticed them anymore and she had to point them out before he realized what she was talking about.

Brienne would love this. He crouched and snapped a few pictures with his phone. He wasn’t Loras, he didn’t have an eye for this sort of thing, but they got the point across. Brilliant blue flowers spreading rampant over miles of green hills.

Before he could second-guess himself, Jaime picked one of the pictures and sent it to her.

 


May 3, 2013
Austin, Texas (Jaime)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Brienne)

Brienne: Thank you for the picture.
Jaime: Reminded me of you
Brienne: Flowers?
Jaime: Blue flowers
Brienne: That’s corny even for you
Jaime: Out of practice
Jaime: Sparring partner’s been ignoring me

 


May 6, 2013
TMZsports.com

New York Rangers rookie center Hyle Hunt dominates on the ice, but he may prefer to be dominated at home. Six-foot-three pro bull-rider Brienne Tarth spent last night at Castle Black watching the Rangers take on the Washington Capitals in first-round playoff action. Tarth was seated rinkside, and Hunt made a point of speaking to her during warm-ups. The two left the arena together. Sources say that the eye-catching pair attended boarding school together at Highgarden Academy in Portland, Oregon.

 


May 7, 2013
Riverrun, St. Louis, Missouri

Jaime scowled at his phone. No messages. Again.

“What’s got you in such a foul mood?” Renly asked, irritated.

They were out at a bar after a bad first day for both Renly and Jaime. Neither had managed to last the full eight seconds, and Renly wanted to drown his sorrows. Jaime had accompanied Loras and Renly somewhat reluctantly, and now they were getting to that incredibly irritating public-display-of-affection stage of drunkenness. Jaime strongly suspected that this was the stage they’d been in when they’d ditched Brienne at that bar in Utah last summer.

Loras had his arm wrapped around Renly and was playing with his hair. “I bet,” he teased, “Brienne’s out with Hyle again.”

“No, I just haven’t heard from her today.” Jaime’s scowl deepened. “Or yesterday.” He’d sent her a picture when he arrived at Riverrun the previous day, a reminder of where they’d met, a year ago. After three days of tentative text-message exchanges, Brienne had disappeared again. The likely reason for that had become clear when Loras told him that Brienne had gone to Hyle’s game in New York.

Loras cackled. “You’re the one letting her see other guys. You can hardly complain.”

“I don’t let Brienne see anyone, least of all Hyle Hunt,” Jaime retorted. How she could spend time with that guy after what he’d done, Jaime could not fathom. It would be like him palling around with Cersei.

Loras attempted to wipe the smirk off his face with very little success. “Seriously, Lannister, jealousy doesn’t suit you. If you wanted her, you should have done more about it while she was still living with you. Besides, everyone already thinks she got into your bed.”

“Why?” Jaime asked, appalled.

Loras and Renly shared a look. They smirked at him with the patronizing smugness of a couple in a long relationship. They had been together for five years, and were starting to talk about getting married if the Supreme Court ever overturned Prop 8.

“Well, let’s see,” Renly started ticking off his evidence on his fingers. “You held her hand on national television. She lived with you for three months. You shared a hotel room in Albuquerque, where you snuck her into the locker room. Then suddenly she’s allowed back onto the minor tour as a rider mid-season, and has a big-name sponsor and a bunch of expensive new gear.” Renly rolled his eyes. “I can’t imagine why they think she fucked her way back onto the tour.”

“Brienne did not fuck her way back on the tour,” Jaime growled. He lowered his voice. “Does she know about this?”

“Of course she does,” Loras scoffed. “It’d be hard not to, considering the nasty things people said the whole week I traveled with her.”

“Brienne doesn’t deserve the treatment she’s received. No question. But you have to admit it looks bad.” Renly pointed out.

Jaime nodded reluctantly.

Renly sighed. “What you and Brienne do, it’s none of my business. But I really don’t like that all of the fallout is landing on her.”  

“Neither do I,” Jaime said indignantly. “I didn’t know about any of it.”

Loras looked back and forth between Jaime and Renly. “Can I ask the obvious question? What was Brienne doing at Hyle’s game?”

“Biding her time before kicking his ass?” Jaime suggested hopefully.

Loras watched him a moment and said slowly, “Or your pretty face did something stupid.”

Jaime didn’t bother protesting that assessment. He fiddled idly with the flatware in front of him, testing his right hand’s grip on the fork.  

“This is somewhat awkward timing, but does anyone want to see the pictures I took traveling through the South with Brienne?” Loras asked brightly.

Renly and Jaime both groaned.

 


May 8, 2013
St. Louis, Missouri (Jaime)
Birmingham, Alabama (Brienne)

Brienne: 90.20! That’s awesome.
Jaime: thanks
Brienne: sorry I was MIA
Jaime: no sorry needed
Jaime: you don’t owe me anything
Brienne: things I had to find out
Jaime: did you find them?
Brienne: some. waiting on others

 


May 15, 2013
Las Vegas, Nevada (Jaime)
Pueblo, Colorado (Brienne)

From: Jaime Lannister < lionoftherock@gmail.com >
To: Brienne Tarth < nobull@gmail.com >
May 15, 2013 10:18 p.m.

Can we meet somewhere? Months ago, I stupidly agreed to an exhibition tour at Army bases over the next few weeks, but maybe our schedules will line up.

May 19-21 Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington
May 23-25 Fort Hood, Texas
May 27-29 Fort Campbell, Kentucky
May 31-June 2 Fort Bragg, North Carolina
June 4-6 Fort Jackson, South Carolina
June 8-10 Fort Benning, Georgia
After that I’m free. I figured I’d swing through L.A. to visit Tyrion and the kids.

 


May 16, 2013
Las Vegas, Nevada (Jaime)
Pueblo, Colorado (Brienne)

From: Brienne Tarth <nobull@gmail.com>
To: Jaime Lannister < lionoftherock@gmail.com >
May 16, 2013 9:34 p.m.

May 21-23 Amarillo, Texas
May 28-29 Lima, Ohio
June 5-6 Asheville, North Carolina
June 11-16 Los Angeles (Margaery’s graduation June 15)

Looks like Los Angeles. Is that okay?


Jaime groaned when he read Brienne’s email. They would be in different parts of Texas for a single day, and he would miss her in North Carolina by only three days. Otherwise they’d be states apart for the next four weeks. They’d been communicating again, though hardly ever over the phone, and not nearly as easily as they had before Vancouver.

He scrolled through menus and pulled up messaging. Brienne usually had her phone handy this early in the morning. He was sitting in a restaurant overlooking the casino floor, eating breakfast and watching tourists mindlessly dropping money into slot machines.

Jaime: This is ridiculous
Brienne:  ???
Jaime: Waiting a month to see you

He waited, finishing his coffee before his phone beeped again.

Brienne: We have commitments. It’s only four weeks

Jaime sighed. He’d tried to tell Brienne how he felt on the phone, and she’d shut down the conversation every time. In person he hoped he’d find the right words, words she could believe. And if she didn’t feel the same way or didn’t want to deal with his tangled-up life, he would let her go. Jaime was done chasing women who left him wanting and waiting.

Jaime: I can wait. Not forever
Brienne: June. LA. I swear

 

Chapter Text

May 20, 2013
Fort Lewis, Washington (Jaime)
Amarillo, Texas (Brienne)

Jaime: Interesting day
Jaime: Call me if you get a chance

Brienne was sitting in a laundromat when Jaime texted her. She’d been driving all day and was exhausted, but she had no clean clothes left. While she waited, she was eating the dinner she’d cobbled together from the modest offerings of the grocery store across the street.

Trying not to overanalyze Jaime’s messages, Brienne called him.

“Hey, that was fast,” Jaime said, obvious pleasure in his voice.

“Your day has to be more entertaining than what I was doing.” Brienne tried to keep her tone light, but talking to Jaime still made her nervous. Texts and emails gave her more time to think about her responses.

At least Jaime had stopped bringing up Vancouver every time they talked. Brienne was still mortified by her own behavior. Unfortunately she’d discovered that three strong drinks were enough to impair her judgment, but not enough to forget anything. She remembered everything she’d divulged about the bet and the extremely embarrassing pass she’d made at Jaime. Even though Brienne was glad in a way that Jaime hadn’t succumbed to her dubious charms, she still didn’t want to talk to him about it.

“What are you doing?” Jaime asked.

“Right now I’m doing laundry and eating strawberries.” She picked another berry out of the carton and bit into it.

Jaime laughed. “Sometimes I think you’re deliberately trying to torture me.”

“I’m not torturing you. I’m just hungry,” Brienne huffed. When he made odd comments like that, she just ignored them. Calling him on it just led to more uncomfortable topics.

“I know, honey. You’re—” Jaime abruptly stopped talking, then his voice came back muffled. “I’ll be down in a minute. Don’t wait for me.” There was a garbled reply she couldn’t quite understand.

“Who are you talking to?”

Jaime didn’t answer for a few seconds. “Jory Cassel. He’s heading down to eat dinner. Since the Army is covering our travel, we have to share rooms.”

The Army and the PBR had arranged for Jaime and four other riders to put on exhibitions at the largest Army bases in the country as well as the largest basic training facility. The PBR built their fanbase, while the Army entertained troops and their families. It was a win-win. Three riders were older and more established: Jaime, Jory Cassel, and Arys Oakheart. Two were younger, hot-headed: Beric Dondarrion and Theon Greyjoy.

“Is Cassel why you called me that?” Jaime hadn’t called Brienne “honey” in weeks.

He sighed. “I thought you might prefer if I didn’t say your name around these guys,” Jaime admitted. “Considering the crap you went through with the other riders.”

Brienne cringed. “You know about that?” It hadn’t stopped, not really. Every time she placed in the top five the nastiness came back, though never quite as bad as the first few weeks.

“Loras told me.”

Brienne made a mental note to smack Loras the next time she saw him. Or just ask Margaery to do it. “It sounds like you need to go,” she said, deliberately changing the subject.

“Soon. Can I just tell you about my day? There’s one part I think you’ll like. At least I hope you will. You might be pissed at me, come to think of it. Damn. Maybe we should just talk later.”

Jaime getting flustered amused Brienne to no end. “No, I think you’d better just tell me now.”

“Well, we had a demonstration this morning, just riding a couple of times each in front of the audience, with one of the bullfighters explaining to the crowd what we were doing, the rules, all of that," Jaime explained. "The crowd was mostly school kids, with some off-duty personnel mixed in. It’s funny, I’m so used to getting bucked off it surprised me that the kids always gasped when we fell off, like they expected us to be really hurt."

“Anyway, afterward we did a meet-and-greet, and a girl asked us if women ride bulls too. Some of the other kids started making fun of her, and their teacher was scolding them, but I got the girl’s attention and showed her my phone with the picture of you in your gear. I wish you’d seen her face. She had the biggest grin.”

As uncomfortable as Brienne was with the idea of being held up as some kind of example, something else about his words bothered her. “How do you have a picture of me in my gear?”

There was dead silence on the other end of the line.

Brienne sighed. Loras. She was definitely going to smack him. “I told Loras not to take my picture, and he ignored me.”

“Don’t be too angry,” Jaime said sheepishly. “He just took it with his phone. I’ve seen the shots he took with his camera, and you’re not in them, even though you should be.”

“Well, that’s something,” Brienne grumbled. She got up to check on her laundry, which was nearly done.

“I wasn’t looking forward to this trip, but I think it may actually be fun,” Jaime said quietly. “Assuming these guys don’t drive me insane.”

“You’ll be fine. Introduce them to ‘Firefly.’ That should get you through the next week or so,” Brienne suggested.

“It did work on you,” Jaime mused.

“Yes, that’s it. I would still find you incredibly obnoxious if not for Malcolm Reynolds,” Brienne said dryly.

“You do think I’m obnoxious,” he corrected.

“You are obnoxious, just not all the time,” Brienne replied. They were slipping into dangerous territory. “You should go.”

Jaime sighed. “Fine, I’ll go. Goodnight, Brienne.”

“Goodnight, Jaime.”

 


May 25, 2013
Springfield, Missouri

Brienne grabbed her phone off the nightstand when it beeped, hoping it was Jaime.

Hyle: Hope you caught tonight’s game. I got slammed around a lot

She and Hyle had only exchanged a few texts. Brienne wasn’t sure she wanted it to be more than that, and once the playoffs were over he would have no excuse to text her.

Brienne: Just what I like

Hyle had begun texting her after games when he took a hard hit or they lost badly. Brienne thought she understood what he was doing, trying to assure himself that they’d really settled things between them.

Brienne would never forget the bet, and she couldn’t say that she’d forgiven Hyle. But when her competition had ended in Pittsburgh, six hours from New York, Brienne had driven east. She had called Hyle, and he’d offered her a ticket for that night’s game. Brienne had arrived in Manhattan just in time and was surprised to find that Hyle had given her a rinkside seat.

After the game, they’d gone for coffee and talked. Hyle had seemed keen to apologize again, but Brienne had stopped him. All she had really wanted to hear was how the bet had started, and why they’d picked her.

Hyle had explained that his teammates had been bragging about their conquests, and they’d begun teasing Hyle since he hadn’t been contributing. Hyle had told them that he was working on his lab partner, Brienne, who hadn’t fallen all over him like girls usually did. Ben Bushy had taken that as a challenge, and Edmund Ambrose had joined in, suggesting they put money on it. By the end of that day’s practice, half a dozen of Hyle’s teammates had chipped in $100 each.

Brienne had stared out the window the entire time Hyle had talked, unable to face him. Hyle, even more than Owen Inchfield, was the one who had taught her not to trust men. Hyle had seemed sincere back then, just as he did now. If Brienne couldn’t see the difference, how could she ever trust her instincts with men?

Over the past five years, that had never mattered. Men’s intentions had been easy to read: a quick fuck, an introduction to her friend, a joke at her expense. Until Jaime.

When Hyle had finished his story, Brienne had told him that she accepted his version of events, even though she wasn’t certain he was telling the whole truth. Perhaps this was the truth with which he could live. Hyle wanted to be a better man than he’d been at Highgarden, that much Brienne believed.

They’d talked a while longer, about less fraught topics, and Brienne had left the next day.

The phone beeping shook her from the memory.

Hyle: we lost, so we’re done
Brienne: sorry
Hyle: don’t be
Hyle: I’d like to see you ride sometime. Let me know next time you’re nearby
Brienne: Maybe. We’ll see

 


May 29, 2013
Fort Campbell, Kentucky (Jaime)
Lima, Ohio (Brienne)

Jaime was surprised to get Brienne’s text in the late afternoon.

Brienne: I won

He was in the middle of a Q&A session and had to wait an hour to call her. The minute he and the other guys were in the van headed back to the hotel, Jaime called.

“Hi,” Brienne said, as if she was surprised to hear from him.

“Well, tell me about it,” Jaime prodded.

Brienne laughed. “You’re worse than Renly was. Total points 252.6. Best ride 86.4.”

“That’s great. Seriously, I think it took me almost a full year before I ever won an event. The minor tour was different then, but still, it’s impressive that you won already.”

“I just had a good few days,” Brienne said dismissively.

“Don’t do that,” Jaime replied, irritated. “You won. Own it.”

“It did feel good to win,” she admitted.

“Damn straight it feels good to win,” he said vehemently.

“Hey, I talked to Margaery too,” Brienne said suddenly.

“About what?” Jaime didn’t quite follow the change in subject, and was annoyed that she was deflecting attention away from her victory.

“Her graduation. There are some parties, and at some point I have to pack up my room because we’re moving closer to Margaery’s new office,” Brienne explained. “But I’ve got some free time that Thursday. June 13.”

Suddenly Jaime didn’t mind the new subject. “So you might be able to pencil me in?”

“If you want to, sure,” Brienne said hesitantly.

“Honey, you know I want to,” Jaime chided.

She sighed. “You’re with the guys?”

“Yeah, we’re on our way back to the hotel.”

“I’d better let you go,” Brienne said quickly.

Jaime didn’t want to end this call until he made one thing clear to her. “So I’ll see you June 13, right?”

“That’s what we just said, yes.” He even missed that exasperated note in her voice.

“Then it’s a date,” Jaime said deliberately. It was silly, it was juvenile, and she absolutely needed to hear it.

Brienne laughed.

“Not joking. I don’t know where we’ll go yet, but I’ll figure something out.”

She was quiet long enough that Jaime began to wonder if she’d hung up. “Alright. It’s a date.”

 


June 3, 2013
I-20 east of Fort Jackson, South Carolina

“What about Griffith Park Observatory? Or that restaurant where you eat in total darkness?” Jaime asked, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.

Even though Jory Cassel was wearing headphones and reading a magazine, Jaime felt like the Canadian was listening to his call. Cassel hadn’t turned a page in at least five minutes.

“So after waiting two months to see this girl you want to not see her?” Tyrion replied skeptically.

“No, I just don’t want to resort to a chain restaurant and a movie,” Jaime explained. It would be a Thursday, so at least he shouldn’t have any trouble getting dinner reservations, if needed.

Tyrion chuckled. “You may be overthinking this, brother. I doubt even a terrible date would change Brienne’s mind about you at this point. You don’t need much. Food, definitely. Alcohol may be necessary if she’s half as nervous as you are. An activity of some sort where you can still talk.”

“You realize that needing dating advice from my little brother is completely humiliating, right?” Jaime grumbled.

Cassel tried to hide a snort with a sudden coughing fit. Great, he was definitely listening.

“Of course, but I am so much better at it than you are,” Tyrion said smoothly. “Considering you started off making jokes about your ass and letting her meet Father and Cersei, it’s frankly a miracle that Brienne is willing to date you at all.”

 


June 7, 2013
GA-44 east of Macon, Georgia (Jaime)
I-40 near Nashville, Tennessee (Brienne)

Jaime: Tyrion and his girlfriend broke up
Brienne: Sorry
Jaime: We have a spare ticket for Comic Con. Interested?
Brienne: Maybe. When?
Jaime: July 18-21
Brienne: Could only come two or three days
Jaime: That’s okay
Brienne: Can I think about it?
Jaime: of course

 


June 12, 2013
Los Angeles, California

Brienne’s phone beeped just as she was wrestling a gold dress over her head. “Could you check that?”

Margaery grabbed it. “It’s Jaime. He’s sent you four messages in the last hour.”

“Tyrion convinced him to have dinner in Montecito with his family. He’s not having a good time,” Brienne explained, regarding her reflection critically. “I look like an Oscar.”  

They were shopping at the mall, reluctantly on Brienne’s part and enthusiastically on Margaery’s.

“No, you don’t.” Margaery looked up from the phone. “Oh, okay, you kind of do.” She slumped back against the wall of the changing room, prettier and more elegant in her maxi skirt and pink tank top than Brienne had ever been or could be.

Margaery started scrolling through old messages as Brienne shucked off the dress. Brienne thought about asking her to stop, but getting out of this store quickly was a higher priority.

“Why exactly do I need a new outfit?” Brienne complained. She moved a pink shirt Margaery had picked straight to the discard pile.

Margaery rolled her eyes. “Because you have a date. A real date, with a real man, who, judging by the frequency and content of his texts, is very much into you.”

“It’s not like Jaime’s forgotten what I look like,” Brienne pointed out. “And he’s not that into me.” She pulled on a pair of black leggings, and rummaged through the tops Margaery had selected.

The changing-room lighting was particularly unforgiving, making every freckle stand out and highlighting the slight sunburn on Brienne’s left arm from driving. She was reasonably certain none of the clothes in this store were going to work magic and make her look any better.

“Brienne, Jaime invited you on a weekend trip, and you haven’t even gone on a date yet. He’s hitting on you so hard I’m surprised you’re not covered in bruises.” Margaery leaned over and picked through the remaining shirts. “Where exactly are you going tomorrow?”

“Comic Con is not exactly a romantic getaway, and his brother is coming too,” Brienne reminded her friend. “I don’t know where we’re going tomorrow. He said it was casual.”

Margaery laughed. “Casual. This is probably the least casual first date on record.”

 


June 13, 2013
Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, California

Dinner at the Mexican restaurant on the pier was followed by carnival rides and games at Pacific Park. Jaime quit playing Skee-ball quickly after the ball popped out of his right hand and almost hit a kid on the head, but he seemed happy enough heckling Brienne.

They were both flushed and giddy from the roller coaster when Jaime suggested they cool off with a walk on the beach. Brienne was both wary of and eager for time alone with him.

They walked along the long, dark beach close to the tide line, the damp sand hard and cold beneath their shoes. A comfortable silence lingered between them for several minutes before Jaime spoke.

“You know, Tyrion and I always dress up for Comic Con. You really should. It’s a lot of fun.”

“I still haven’t said I’m coming. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I don’t look like the girls in movies or on TV,” she reminded him. Brienne had told Jaime she found the entire concept of cosplay faintly ridiculous, but, if she decided to go to San Diego, she would play along for his sake. She did, however, have limits.

“I’ll win you over. Besides, do you think Tyrion looks like anyone? It doesn’t really matter. I don’t look like Harrison Ford.”

“You have the right swagger. I’d feel like an overgrown kid.”

“What about Rose from ‘Doctor Who’?” Jaime suggested. “You’d just need clothes, not an actual costume.”

“Rose was a glorified groupie,” Brienne scoffed.

“River Song, then. She's bad-ass,” Jaime offered.

River was also the Doctor’s wife. “You just want me to call you ‘sweetie’ all weekend.”

Jaime’s face scrunched up. “Ugh, never mind.” He thought for a minute. “What about Aeryn Sun?” There was a mischievous lilt to his voice.

“Black leather pants and vest? No.” Brienne suspected he was deliberately trying to irritate her so his real suggestions would sound less outlandish by comparison.

“Princess Leia?”

“Have you lost your mind?” she protested. He was definitely winding her up.

Jaime laughed. “The bounty hunter outfit, not the bikini or the buns.”

Brienne didn’t respond, just stopped walking. They’d walked much farther than she’d intended.  “We should probably turn around.” Brienne looked back over her shoulder, saw the pier glowing far off in the distance. “We should definitely turn around.”

Jaime turned and sighed. “You know, I like Los Angeles, but I prefer beaches where we could take our shoes off without worrying about stepping on something deadly.”

Brienne shivered, the breeze coming off the water colder than she’d expected. The last thing she wanted to do was take off her shoes and walk on the cold, hard sand. Briefly, she wished she’d bought the cardigan Margaery suggested to go with the leggings and chevron-patterned tank top she wore.

The view of the pier from afar suddenly looked weirdly familiar. Brienne couldn’t remember ever walking this stretch of beach at night. And then it hit her. She started giggling, her hand clapped to her mouth as she tried to muffle her laughter.

“What on earth is so funny?”

“Thousands of places to go in LA, and you picked the last sequence of Zombieland," she explained, laughter subsiding.

Jaime groaned. “And I left my shotgun at home. What was I thinking?”

“I think we’re safe, although some of those kids devouring churros were pretty scary,” Brienne joked, starting to walk back toward the pier.

Jaime grabbed her arm. “Hey, wait a minute. Can I say something?”

So much for keeping this night casual. “Of course.”

“Will you look at me, please?” he asked, exasperated.

Brienne turned to face Jaime. The beach was almost deserted, a small group of teenagers a few hundred feet distant. The rhythmic surf drowned out most other sounds, though sirens and horns from the road cut in now and then.

The little light cast by the crescent moon still showed how good Jaime looked, effortlessly handsome in jeans and a black button-down shirt. The salt breeze ruffled his hair, made even more golden by the long hours of practice outdoors in Austin, and he swept it out of his eyes with one hand. He seemed tense, nervous even.

“For a long time, you kept telling me that I hadn’t said anything original to you,” Jaime said quietly, and Brienne looked away.

That was true enough. He was still arrogant and irritating, but the casual insults had stopped months ago.

Jaime stepped in closer, traced her cheek and her jaw with his thumb as he cupped her face in his right hand. His skin was warm and slightly rough, and the contact sent a shiver down Brienne’s spine. “I think I might finally have something to say you haven’t heard before.”

Brienne frowned and searched his face for any clue to what he was thinking. Jaime wore an almost painfully earnest expression, and he sounded as if he’d practiced this speech, though she couldn’t imagine why. Words had never been a problem for him.

“You think that I kissed you as a prank, and that I pulled away when you kissed me because I didn’t want you. But you’re wrong.” Jaime took a deep breath, waited while she took in his words. “I kissed you because I wanted to. Because I want you. We’re not just friends, Brienne. We haven’t been for months.”

He was so close now, Brienne could barely focus on him. Slowly, giving her every opportunity to push him away, Jaime leaned in and kissed her. It wasn’t a deep kiss, just his lips soft against hers. Then he kissed her again, more firmly, as if to convey his desire for more. Brienne wanted more too, craved and feared it, because Jaime could so easily hurt her.

Jaime pulled back, his gaze dark as it swept over her.

Brienne’s heart was pounding, and she could still feel his touch across her too-wide lips, the broad and ugly planes of her face, gentle in a way no one ever treated her. Even her father had assumed her size, her strength meant she could take rough handling, and wouldn’t appreciate more tender treatment.  

“I stopped things in Vancouver because you were drunk, and you would have hated me in the morning,” Jaime continued, and she knew that much at least was true.

Brienne tried to put her thoughts into words, but she was still struggling to accept that Jaime had just kissed her, told her he wanted her. A moment’s foolish daydream that he might and hearing him say the words out loud were two entirely different things.

Jaime bit his lip, drawing her gaze back to his mouth. “So am I original yet?”

Jaime was still teasing, but Brienne could also tell he’d hoped she would say something in return. All she could do was nod.

They started walking back toward the pier and Jaime’s car. She should say something. Could she say something? I want you too felt too forward, I like you too felt too juvenile, though both were true. Not as true as the words that stuck in Brienne’s throat, too dangerous to say. Jaime may want her, but she loved him. If she didn’t say anything, he would take her silence as rejection. And if she couldn’t say anything, she deserved to lose him.

“Jaime?” Brienne hated how hesitant she sounded, reminded herself it couldn’t have been easy for him either.

He stopped and looked at her expectantly.

“Can we go get coffee or something?” Brienne asked. It was a cop-out and she knew it, though the amusement on his face showed he understood she was trying. She looked down at the sand, adding as quickly as she could, “I’m not ready to go home yet.”

Jaime smiled. “Me either.”



Margaery was lying on the couch half asleep, when Brienne came home just after 1 a.m.

“You’re earlier than I expected.” Margaery yawned.

Brienne leaned against the armrest. She couldn’t wipe the smile off her face. “Coffee shop closed at midnight. We ran out of places to go,” she shrugged.

Margaery sat up and ran a hand through her tousled hair. “You could have invited Jaime in.”

Brienne shook her head. “Then it really would have been hard to make him go.” It had been difficult enough for her to get out of the car.

Margaery snorted. “Not the only thing that would have been hard, I bet.”

“Ugh, Margaery, don’t ruin this for me,” Brienne grumbled, kicking off her shoes.

“Sorry. Seriously, though, how was it? Where did you go?” Margaery patted the couch beside her.

Brienne dropped down beside her friend. “We went to the Santa Monica Pier and then out for coffee. It was really nice.”

Margaery cocked an eyebrow and looked more closely at Brienne. “Really nice? You look like you spent the last hour making out in his car.”

Brienne blushed, biting her lip. “It wasn’t an hour.”

Margaery laughed. “Okay, now you definitely have to tell me more.”

 

Chapter Text

June 25, 2013
White Harbor, Chicago, Illinois (Jaime)
Tulsa, Oklahoma (Brienne)

Brienne: Bucked off today
Jaime: Me too. Right on my ass
Brienne: turned my ankle
Jaime: So matching ice packs tonight?

No response. Jaime wondered if she was talking to Renly. On the first day of the main tour’s only mid-summer event, Renly had delivered a brilliant 90-point ride on Red Dragon.

Several minutes later Jaime’s phone beeped.

Brienne: Can we talk?

Jaime called at once, pleased that she’d suggested it. He was still trying to let Brienne set the pace, and that included not calling her nearly as often as he would like.

“Hi,” Brienne said, sounding far too tired for so early in the evening. The sun had barely set.

“What’s wrong? You know at best we only stay on half the time,” Jaime reminded her.

“I know. Just annoyed. I got to seven seconds.”

Jaime completely understood the frustration in her voice. He tried to decide if Brienne needed sympathy or distraction. Of the two, distraction came more naturally to him. “You’d love the view from this room.”

He heard rustling through the phone. “My view is of a parking lot. Sodium lights, mosquitoes, and trucks. Not particularly scenic,” Brienne said, tension in her voice.

Jaime walked over to his window and opened the curtains. “I’m on the 18th floor. I can see the lake, Soldier Field, and off in the distance the Hancock tower and the big Ferris wheel at Navy Pier.”

She sighed. “You win.”

While Jaime hated how much time they’d spent apart in the preceding months, almost as long as they’d been together in Austin, it had taught him to read the nuances of Brienne’s voice. More was bothering her than a bad ride.

“I’d rather be with you. The view only matters because I’m alone,” Jaime pointed out. “I doubt I’ll care much about the view outside when I get to Stephenson.”

“We should talk about that,” Brienne said haltingly.

“You don’t want me to come,” Jaime said, the source of her distress suddenly clear. Her competition in Stephenson, Texas, was less than two hours from Austin. There was no way in seven hells he could stay away.

“No, I do, it’s just…” Brienne trailed off.

He waited, a series of worsening reasons for her hesitancy running through his head. Cersei, Tommen, Tywin, Aerys, their thirteen-year age difference, the way the other riders used him against her.

He heard Brienne take in a shaky breath. “I don’t know what I’m doing. With us. With you,” she said quietly.

Jaime slumped down on the bed, suddenly too weary to stand. “Are you dumping me?” he asked, incredulous. “I know I’ve got more baggage than anyone should have to deal with, but you knew about all of that.”

Brienne didn’t answer for so long that Jaime began to wonder if she ever would.

“Brienne, where is this coming from?”

“Blount heard me talking to you yesterday. He said the only way you could fuck me was in the dark.”

“What does he know? Nothing, Brienne. He knows nothing.” They’d been together less than two weeks, and already Jaime tired of how much she let other people’s opinions bother her. If Brienne would let him, he’d fuck her in bright daylight, with every light in the room blazing, in firelight, or under the stars, but that was the kind of sentiment Cersei would have liked, if she’d ever once doubted that Jaime desired her. Brienne wouldn’t believe that kind of declaration, much less welcome it.

Gently, he said, “I’ve already seen most of you, and I will happily look as much as you’ll let me, whenever you’re ready.”

“I don’t know when that will be,” Brienne admitted.

“Is that what this is about?” Jaime almost laughed, but that would be the worst possible thing to do just then.

The brief kisses he’d given Brienne on the beach were not the only ones they’d shared. She had kissed Jaime in his rental car outside of her apartment building, a goodbye neither had seemed able to end. Brienne had learned quickly, inexperience giving way to eager exploration. When Jaime had come to her new apartment to help her unpack days later, his presence had proved more hindrance than help. Still, Jaime had been careful not to push her, and it seemed that she needed a reminder of that.

“Brienne, I booked a room in Stephenson, and one for you in San Diego,” he explained patiently. “Worry about your riding, not me.”

When she didn’t respond right away, Jaime added, exasperated, “Now will you stop trying to dump me?”

Brienne laughed.

 


July 3, 2013
Stephenson, Texas

“You know,” Jaime said in a low purr, his lips drifting along the curve of Brienne’s throat, “you are incredibly sexy when you ride.”

“You don’t need to use a line on me. You’re already in my room,” she laughed.

Brienne lay on her bed, Jaime propped on his elbow beside her. They’d come back to Brienne’s hotel room after dinner to watch a movie, but that pretense had been abandoned almost immediately. She’d gone into the bathroom to change, and Jaime had had a fleeting thought that any other woman might return wearing silk or lace. Not his shy, practical Brienne. She had emerged wearing shorts and a tank top, and still Jaime had wanted nothing more than to touch her.  

Brienne didn’t seem to mind his touch so far. Jaime sucked gently along her collarbone, enjoying the way her breath caught. He wouldn’t mark her. He’d made that mistake with Cersei once, and her fury had swiftly taught him to be more careful.

“I’m serious,” he said, pulling back to look at Brienne.

She was flushed across her cheeks and chest, where the low neckline of her tank top allowed him access to previously unexplored territory. Jaime had expected to be more frustrated by the slow pace they’d set, but instead he’d found that he enjoyed taking his time learning Brienne without any expectations for where it would lead. Time was not a luxury he’d ever had with Cersei.

It also gave him time to adjust to using his left hand, which still felt clumsy. Jaime wasn’t confident in his right hand’s dexterity, despite his renewed commitment to occupational therapy. His grip wasn’t strong enough to pleasure himself, and he didn’t want to try it with Brienne. Not that they were quite there yet.

Jaime smiled wickedly. His left hand rested lightly on Brienne's hip, and he moved it slowly over to her arm. “While you were in the chute, I kept thinking about when we were training with Forel, how he damn near forced me to stare at you. Your hand gripping the rope.” He trailed his fingertips along the inside of her wrist and up her forearm. She sighed as his nails lightly grazed her skin.

“Your legs gripping the bull.” Jaime moved his hand down to her bare knee, looked up at her for permission.

Brienne bit her lip, nodded once, eyes dark.

Muscles twitched under Jaime’s palm as his hand slid slowly up her thigh, seemingly undecided if she should bolt or push up against his hand. That every new touch seemed to surprise Brienne made him wonder how much, if at all, any man had bothered to touch her. Jaime stopped at the hem of her shorts, well short of where he’d like to be.

“I’ve seen you ride at least a hundred times, but this was different. Even the way you walk changed. You owned that deck. And right before you put on your helmet, you had this look on your face. You were a warrior preparing for battle. The Warrior. That,” he squeezed her thigh to emphasize his point, “was sexy as hell.”

Brienne blushed even redder, as Jaime knew she would. "You're ridiculous,” she chided, turning onto her side to face him. Brienne reached out and brushed a lock of hair out of his eyes, her hand trailing along his bearded jaw, coming to rest against his chest. She was cautious about touching him, as if she could really do anything badly wrong.

“Maybe, but you’re with me.” Jaime drew her closer, kissed the corner of her mouth, and smiled. “What does that say about you?"

 


July 19, 2013
San Diego Comic-Con, San Diego, California

“I am burdened with glorious purpose,” Tyrion intoned, stretching his arms wide. He picked up his third, possibly fourth, drink, and emptied it with a flourish.

Brienne started laughing, and Jaime raised an eyebrow. “That’s scotch and soda, Tyrion,” Jaime countered.

“And not nearly enough of it,” Tyrion answered with a grin, thumping his empty glass down on the table. “I’ll be back.”

Jaime turned to Brienne, who sat beside him sipping her first beer and happily people watching. The crowd was far more entertaining than the usual bar scene, superheroes mingling with pirates, medieval ladies, spies, and vampires. Brienne and Jaime were dressed as Zoe and Mal from “Firefly.”

Tyrion had ignored Jaime’s deliberately obnoxious suggestions of Yoda and Bilbo Baggins, and matched them as Wash, totally comfortable in loose brown pants and a Hawaiian print shirt. He even had a handful of tiny dinosaurs in his pockets, which he kept giving to women. Tyrion’s costume had resulted in their trio getting quite a few odd looks, not a surprise considering that Tyrion and Brienne’s characters were married.

Jaime had been counting on his notoriety to get them into this party. It had worked in the past, but this time the bouncer mistook Tyrion for an HBO actor and they hadn’t corrected him. “Admit it, you’re having fun,” Jaime said with a grin.

Brienne shrugged, but returned his smile. “Sitting around Hall H all morning wasn’t exactly the high point of my life, although Loki crashing the panel definitely made up for it.” The three of them had spent the morning sitting outside one of the largest halls at the convention center waiting for the Marvel panel.

“So seeing Tom Hiddleston was the peak of your weekend?" Jaime leaned in close and teased, "You seemed rather pleased with me last night, but I guess I'll have to work harder tonight."

Brienne blushed when Jaime moved his hand to her thigh. They’d exchanged brief touches and heated looks all day, but this was the first time Jaime had so blatantly referred to the previous evening. It turned out that his left hand wasn’t nearly as clumsy with Brienne as he’d feared it might be, judging by the way she’d panted Jaime’s name.

Jaime didn’t intend to stay at this party very long. This was their last night together in San Diego. Brienne had to leave the next afternoon for a competition.

“Has Tyrion always been so into this stuff?” Brienne asked, swatting his hand away and neatly changing the subject.

Jaime let it go. He wanted to remind her of what they could be doing, not embarrass her about it. “As a kid, he liked to escape into other worlds. Books, TV, comics, you name it, he liked it. I was finishing up at Crakehall when ‘Buffy’ started airing, and Tyrion loved it. I started watching it with him so we could talk about it, and it snowballed from there.”

Brienne squeezed his hand. “You’re lucky to have each other.” She stood. “I’m going to get another drink. You want anything?”

Jaime shook his head and she made her way through the crowd to the bar.

“Where’s your girl?” Tyrion asked, setting his drink down and clambering up into his chair.

Jaime gestured with his half-empty bottle.

Brienne waited for the bartender, tapping her ID on the bar and talking to a guy dressed as Wolverine. He seemed to be learning the hard way that his claws got in the way when he tried to pick up a drink. Undaunted, the guy continued flexing his arms in a transparent attempt to show off his overdeveloped biceps.

Jaime took a long drink of his beer, waiting for the guy to give up and move on.

Tyrion looked from Brienne back to Jaime and rolled his eyes. “Before this weekend, I never realized how irritating it could be playing third wheel.”

“What? You’re not the third wheel,” Jaime scoffed.

Tyrion snorted. “Of course I am. You would have been if my girlfriend was here instead of yours.”

It sounded odd to Jaime to hear anyone refer to his girlfriend. That was one thing Cersei had never been. “Are you mad at me?” he asked. “You’ve been pushing me to move on for years.”

Tyrion sighed. “I’m not mad. You’ve had the most ridiculous grin plastered on your face since Brienne arrived yesterday.” He paused. “Granted, if she was my girlfriend she wouldn’t need a separate room.”

“We’ve only been together a month, and most of that time in different states. I don’t have to justify this to you.” Tyrion was definitely the more experienced of the two of them, but Jaime had no desire to repeat his brother’s mistakes. Tyrion tended to tumble into bed with any woman who showed interest, likely a remnant of his teen years, when the few girls he’d dated had been attracted more to the family name and money than him.

Tyrion smirked. “Because I want you to be happy, and frankly because I stand a much better chance of finding a woman to warm my bed tonight if you’re not sitting with me, I’m going to be blunt. You want Brienne.” There was no question in his voice.

“Of course I do.”

Tyrion raised his glass and took a gulp. “Then why are you sitting here with me? You want her? Go get her.”

So he did. Jaime left his beer at the table and threaded his way through the crowd. Cosplay-Wolverine took a small step back from Brienne as Jaime approached and wrapped his arm possessively around her waist.

Brienne tensed for a moment in surprise.

Jaime aimed a hard look at the other man and smirked. “Honey, do you want to introduce me to your friend?”  

“Um, nice talking to you,” the other guy muttered, walking quickly away.

Brienne frowned. “What was that all about?”

“I don’t like watching another guy hit on you,” Jaime chided, drawing her closer.

Rationally Jaime knew that he had nothing to worry about. Brienne wasn’t Cersei. She wouldn’t sneak around or think that infidelity wouldn’t matter to him. He didn’t fault her for enjoying the ego stroke of being approached. Though he’d never sought the attention of groupies, plenty of them had come on to him over the years. It was flattering, but about as real as the chocolate dragon coins being handed out on the convention floor.

“You thought he was hitting on me?” Brienne kissed him, already blushing as she pulled away. “As if you have anything to worry about.” She shook her head and laughed. “I kept expecting him to ask me about Margaery. I forgot she wasn’t here.”

Jaime let her go and sat down at the bar. “You want to be picked up in a bar, I’ll do it,” he offered playfully.

She sat beside Jaime, eyeing him warily. “I don’t know. Do you think you can?”

He grinned. He had once considered literally picking Brienne up, when she had fallen asleep on his bed. Given the high probability of waking her up, the higher probability of her punching him, and the almost definite probability of his right hand slipping and dropping her, Jaime had opted against it.

“Oh, I can pick you up,” Jaime said confidently, as if he often picked up women in bars. He’d actually never tried to pick up a woman, but drunken frat boys, hipsters, and the other riders all seemed to manage it. “Give me five minutes, and you’ll be ready to leave with me.”

She raised an eyebrow, shrugged, and said, “You can try.”

Jaime grinned. Might as well do this properly. “I’m Jaime, what’s your name?”

She smiled back. “Brienne.” She was quiet a moment, then added, “So is Jaime short for something?”

Jaime laughed. Right away she thought of something she didn’t know? “No, it’s not. Although back home in Texas every time I get takeout or coffee they call me Jaime and get really confused when a blonde guy picks up the order.” He used the Spanish pronunciation, which sounded more like hi meh.

“So you live in Texas?” she asked, waving off the bartender approaching them.

“In Austin.” His hand brushed against hers where it rested on the bar. “Have you ever been there?”

“Once. Wouldn’t mind going back,” Brienne said lightly.

The times when she would just play with him were rare, and the mischief in her eyes was driving him crazy.

Jaime smirked. “So you like ‘Firefly’?”

Brienne laughed. “Yes, but the guy I came here with was the one who suggested this.”

“So I’ve got competition?” Jaime asked.

She grinned. “He’s kind of an ass. Handsome as sin, though.” Brienne bit her lip and blushed.

“Oh really? What’s he look like? Dressed as Wash, right?” Jaime prompted.

Brienne sighed and rolled her eyes. “No, he’s not.” She huffed. “Jaime, this is silly.”

He laughed. “Of course, it’s silly. I don’t know if you noticed, but we’re surrounded by 100,000 people geekier than me, most of them in costume. Silly is kind of the point.”

“I’m here, I’m dressed up—for you,” she said pointedly. “I feel like I should be able to quote something from one of the shows or movies we watched, but I can’t think of a single line.”

He could think of a line, utterly out of context, and nearly whispered how he would take her in a manly fashion, but neither the presumption nor the glibness of that response seemed appropriate. “All I want to do is kiss you, so we’re even,” Jaime replied, and kissed her.

Jaime had never been free to kiss Cersei around other people, and knew that Brienne wasn’t comfortable with public displays of affection. Still, she responded to his kiss, a soft groan escaping her when his tongue ran across her lower lip.

Brienne’s hand tangled in his hair, holding him close, and her lips parted, inviting him in. The anticipation growing between them all day moved Jaime in just a few heartbeats from playing with Brienne to needing to touch and taste her.

Jaime pulled away. “Let’s get out of here.”

Brienne’s blue eyes were dark and slightly unfocused. “Why?” she asked, her hand dropping to her lap.

Jaime stood, leaned in until no one else would be able to hear him and said in a low, rough whisper, “Because I want you and I’d rather not undress you in front of all of these people.”

Brienne blushed, but she didn’t say no or try to turn it into a joke.

Jaime grinned wickedly, took her hand, pulled her along with him as they went back to the table to grab their coats. Tyrion was off somewhere, no doubt chatting up a girl. They swiftly walked the block to their hotel and through the lobby to an elevator.

Jaime pressed the button for the top floor, where he was staying in a suite with Tyrion. Brienne’s room was more private, but his had a bigger bed, and he had no intention of sleeping alone.

As soon as the elevator doors closed, Jaime pressed Brienne against the wall, kissing her throat, her collarbone, one hand roaming the soft skin of her lower back beneath her shirt.

“Why your room?” Brienne asked, wrapping her arms around him.

The elevator door slid open. Jaime took her hand and led her out into the hallway. “A devastatingly handsome man has picked you up in a bar and wants to have his way with you.” He grinned. “And your bed is far too small.”

As they walked to the door, Brienne said dubiously, “That doesn’t sound very likely.”

Jaime laughed. “Fine, you’re leaving tomorrow and your boyfriend wants to be alone with you.” That title did not trip off his tongue easily.

She blushed. “That sounds even more unlikely.”

Jaime wrenched the room key from his pocket and slid it into the lock. The red light flashed, mocking his impatience. He growled and shoved the key in again. Green. Jaime opened the door and was halfway across the living room before he realized Brienne hadn’t followed.

Jaime turned around.

She stood in the doorway, eyes shining and a small, shy smile on her face.

He smiled. There was something so innocent about her, so at odds with the persona she showed to the world. “Brienne,” Jaime said softly, “close the door and come here.”

She did as he bid.


An hour later, Jaime laughed quietly, his cheek resting on Brienne’s thigh while she panted, occasional shivers still running through her body. City lights shining through the open curtains washed over her so that the thin film of sweat on her skin glowed.

One small desk lamp cast a circle of light in the far corner of the room. Brienne had scurried under the sheets when he’d turned it on, but Jaime had needed her to know that he did want to see her. And he had seen her, Brienne’s small, rosy-tipped breasts heaving as her thighs had clenched hard around his head and she’d come completely undone under his mouth, his name on her lips giving way to a long, low moan.

“What’s so funny?” she asked, still breathing hard but her muscles loose and her limbs splayed.

“Well, you did nearly suffocate me,” Jaime teased, wiping his damp face with his hand and rubbing it on the white sheet.

Brienne covered her face with her hands, muttering, “Oh, gods, I’m sorry,” with such mortification that Jaime immediately regretted teasing her.

Jaime moved up the bed until he held himself over her. “Don’t be sorry. That’s really the effect I was trying to achieve, in case you’ve already forgotten.” He kissed her shoulder, then deliberately dropped his voice and whispered, “I wouldn’t mind being the first Lannister to die between a woman’s thighs.”

That earned Jaime a little laugh, and Brienne moved her hands away from her face. Even in the dim room, her eyes were breathtaking, and the endearing way she bit her lip just made him want to kiss her again.

Brienne reached up to touch him, her hands ghosting along his sides, and Jaime shivered. There was something about the gentleness of her touch paired with the rough calluses on her palms that thrilled him.

Jaime kissed her, wondered if she knew she was tasting herself in his mouth.

Brienne's fingertips traced along his stomach, his hips, brushed against his half-hard cock.

Jaime groaned, his hips twitching toward her hand.

Surprise and pleasure mixed in the small smile on her lips. Brienne wrapped one hand around him, and Jaime dropped his forehead to her shoulder with a shaky sigh.

She stroked him slowly, learning the rhythm that his right hand couldn’t quite manage anymore and his left managed clumsily. Jaime’s breathing grew more erratic. “I’m not going to last much longer if you keep doing that,” he warned, his voice a strained whisper.

Brienne stopped, released him, and Jaime instantly regretted speaking.

Then her hands moved around his waist, around his lower back, and pulled Jaime closer. Brienne left no room for misinterpretation, no question of her intentions. Her heated skin and wiry hair pressed against his, and he rubbed against her stomach with every quickened breath.

Jaime raised his head from her shoulder. This was his Brienne, her skin a shade of pink unique to her, full lips parted, her blue eyes dark, fierce as he’d never seen her outside of the arena.

Jaime kissed her, unable to do anything else until he’d captured her mouth with his. “Are you sure?” he asked, needing to hear Brienne acknowledge what she wanted.

Brienne blushed, which was a feat considering how flushed she already was. She nodded, whispered, “I want you,” and kissed him, wrapping her legs around his hips.

Even as he reveled in the feel of her body against his, the habit of many years kicked in, and Jaime pulled away, rocking back onto his knees.  

Brienne frowned, her hand grasping his thigh. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. You’re not on birth control, right?” Jaime asked.

Brienne shook her head, muttering, “That was stupid. I’m sorry.”

Jaime covered her hand with his for a moment, hoping to reassure her. “Stop saying you’re sorry.” He yanked open the nightstand drawer, pulled out a condom, and dispensed with the necessary preparations. Jaime had laughed when Tyrion had tossed a handful into his room the previous day, but now he was grateful.

Jaime took a moment to look at Brienne, trembling as she lay beneath him, long, lean body and soft, freckled skin made no less appealing by the scars and bruises of their work. Perfect to him.  

He lowered himself back down, cradled between her strong thighs, and kissed her slow and deep. Jaime knew he wouldn’t last long no matter what he did, but he was determined to make this experience better for her than her first.

Jaime rocked slowly into her, watching Brienne’s face and listening to her stuttering breaths to make sure he wasn’t hurting her, giving her time to adjust. He whispered her name in her ear, overwhelmed as she surrounded him, held him close.

Brienne’s long legs folded around his back, and Jaime let out a sigh that became a groan as he began to move. She reached for him, one hand tugging his hair, bringing his face to hers, kissing him deeply, greedily.

When Brienne broke away from his mouth, Jaime kissed every inch of her skin he could reach, continually surprised as his name fell from her lips between gasps and moans. The one thing he’d always been denied, she gave freely and often.

When Brienne started rolling her hips up to meet him, whimpering with each thrust, her strong hands urging him deeper, he couldn’t hold back any longer. Jaime found himself whispering her name, reverently, again and again, his face buried in her shoulder.

“Jaime.” Brienne coaxed him to open his eyes and seek out hers as he went over the edge.

When he could think and breathe again, Jaime lay spent in her arms. He shuddered as an aftershock passed through him, his breathing slowly beginning to even out. He tried to push himself up, but Brienne held him fast. She could handle his weight.

“That was…” Jaime began, but for once couldn’t find the words. He knew he was grinning, couldn’t stop.

After a quiet moment Brienne offered, “I’d give that a 90,” sounding just as breathless as he felt.

“You’re judging me?” Jaime laughed, incredulous, as he nuzzled her, dropping light kisses just under her ear, her jaw, along the side of her throat. “I should get a bonus. That was definitely longer than eight seconds. But I can do much better.”

Her hands slid up the length of his back, and Jaime shuddered again.

“There’s always the next go-round,” Brienne said sleepily.

“Next go-round, huh?” he whispered, kissing her again. Already the familiar boneless weariness was settling over him.

“You know what I meant,” Brienne chided, a satisfied sigh escaping her.

Reluctantly, Jaime pulled out and dealt with the condom, then lay back down at her side. He propped himself up on his elbow and stroked her cheek with his right hand, marveling again at how Brienne relaxed into his touch, how she accepted him completely. She turned her head, kissed his palm. Jaime coaxed her over onto her side and fit himself against her back.

Sleep began to steal over Jaime, and from the slow steady rhythm of her breathing, Brienne was surrendering to it too. She reached back, pulled his arm over her so his hand rested on her stomach. Content as he had not been in many years, Jaime let himself drift away.

 

Chapter Text

July 20, 2013
San Diego Comic-Con, San Diego, California

Jaime was right: he could do better. Sometime before dawn, Brienne woke to find his lips grazing the skin of her back. She sighed, warm, content, still half-asleep. Everywhere he touched she tingled, warmth spreading across her skin. Jaime’s hands joined his mouth’s lazy explorations, his fingertips finding a spot in the small of her back so sensitive Brienne gasped.

“What are you doing?” she finally asked, not quite daring to look at him.

Jaime pushed back the sheet and licked the spot he’d just touched, making her moan. Brienne arched away from his mouth but he followed, his right hand loosely holding her hip. He chuckled against her skin. “Finding all of your freckles. This may take a while.”

Brienne lost track of time while he kissed her back, and then rolled her over to lavish attention on her legs, her belly, her breasts. She tried not to think about her scars and bruises, tried not to wonder if Jaime compared her to curvy, unblemished Cersei, or any other woman he’d taken to bed.

Brienne tugged gently on his hair to bring his face up to hers. Jaime’s smile was one she’d seen only once before, in Albuquerque after his first ride. She would do almost anything for that smile.

Brienne kissed him, stroked every achingly beautiful inch of his body, and when that wasn’t enough anymore, she took Jaime inside her again.

After, wrapped up in the arms of the man she loved, Brienne resisted falling asleep, holding on to this moment, this feeling, for as long as she could.

 

Brienne woke up slowly, wondering how she had forgotten to close the heavy curtains. The sun was too bright even through her closed eyelids.

Her mouth tasted awful and there was a dull ache between her legs. Brienne stretched, sheets sliding across bare skin, and opened her eyes.

Jaime lay beside her, a sheet tangled around his hips, every curve and dip of muscle golden in the morning sun. A trio of small bruises marred his collarbone and shoulder. Brienne must have done that, though they were hardly the only marks on Jaime’s body. Years of bull riding were recorded on his skin: the pink scar across his back from Brave Companion’s hoof, surgical scars on his left knee, and myriad smaller scars across his back, arms, and chest, most faded to silvery ghosts. And his right hand, its missing fingers and fading webbing of scars.

None of that reduced the beauty of Jaime’s face, relaxed now in sleep, or the grace and power that made him a champion in the arena. Flawed and perfect all at once.

It was too much. He was too much.

Last night it had made perfect sense to go back to Jaime’s suite. Later, with his hands and mouth driving all thought from her mind, what had remained was need, and at that moment Brienne had needed Jaime inside her.

But in the light of day it all felt like a dream, something that had happened to someone else. Brienne didn’t need to look to know that her body, while strong and capable, would never be beautiful. Looking at Jaime, she couldn’t understand how a man like him could want her. Someday Jaime would look at her and really see her, see what everyone else did. It wouldn’t be today if she could help it.

Brienne slid off the bed as quickly as she could, trying not to disturb Jaime. They were in his suite, not her room, and she could hear Tyrion moving around in the living room. A quick glance around did not reveal her clothes or her phone. Of course not. She’d been nearly naked by the time they’d made it to the bedroom. Brienne quickly flipped open Jaime’s suitcase, grabbed gym shorts and a T-shirt, and dressed.

She took a deep breath, and slipped out the door.

“Good morning, Brienne,” Tyrion said with a knowing smile.

Brienne froze. “Um, good morning.” She struggled to act as if this was no different from the last time she and Jaime had shared a room.

And then she saw their clothes from last night strewn around the room. No escaping this incredibly awkward moment, then. “So, this is …”

“Long overdue,” Tyrion said firmly.

“Can we please not talk about it?” Brienne asked, moving away from Jaime’s door.

“You’re right, I should be teasing my brother.” Tyrion sat down on the couch with his cup of coffee, flicking a shirt onto the floor with one hand.

“Have you seen my phone? I need to shower and change.”

“Is Jaime awake?” Tyrion asked, puzzled. “I’m sure he’d be happy to help.”

Brienne shook her head. “Not yet.”

“And you’re leaving?”

Brienne hated the reproach in his voice, but she didn’t know Tyrion well enough to explain. “Can you please just help me find my phone?” she asked again, starting to gather up her clothes as she searched.

Tyrion looked until he found her phone wedged between the couch cushions, but the confused expression never left his face.

Brienne left her costume folded in a neat pile on the couch, escaping into the hall with her room key, wallet, and phone, blessedly before Jaime woke.

An hour later, Brienne sat in a room at the convention hall, her eyes closed, listening to the chatter around her. She was exhausted, and a few swallows of bitter coffee at the hotel had done little to change that. It wasn’t just lack of sleep weighing her down. She shouldn’t have left Jaime’s room without waking him. She’d realized that while she stood in the shower, washing his scent from her skin, but it was too late to go back now. Maybe Margaery would have some idea how to smooth things over.  

A hand touched hers, and Brienne startled, her eyes opening to find Jaime beside her, an unfamiliar wariness on his face. Tyrion sat on his other side looking grim.

“Hey, were you asleep?” Jaime asked.

Brienne shook her head. “No, just resting.” She offered him a hesitant smile. How was this supposed to work? She hadn’t stayed in Owen Inchfield’s room, having been unceremoniously asked to leave as soon as he was done with her. Brienne’s only experience with a morning after was being pulled into Coach Tarly’s office for a cold dose of reality.

The panel was beginning, a television host introducing producers and other behind-the-scenes people she didn’t recognize. Brienne yawned. She could feel Jaime watching her. All she wanted to do right now was lean into him and let him wrap his arm around her shoulders while she rested. She would have done it without a second thought the previous day, but now she felt awkward with him.

Brienne’s phone vibrated in her pocket. And again. And again. Sighing, she dug the phone out and pulled up her messages.

Margaery:  thought you and J were keeping things quiet?
Margaery: You’re on Twitter and Tumblr
Margaery: sent link to your e-mail

Brienne slumped in her seat, feeling Jaime’s eyes on her again. She was blushing, she could feel the heat in her cheeks and across her chest. Brienne opened her email and reluctantly clicked on the link. She groaned. There was a grainy picture of her and Jaime standing at the bar at the party, and a caption.

Tumblr

CactusGeek⇌ComicConCandids

@Comic Con - Bull rider Jaime Lannister and date wearing Browncoat gear at the “Man of Steel” party at Tower of Joy.

That’s Brienne Tarth, the same girl from Memphis and Albuquerque. Not many 6-foot blondes around. I was lucky enough to get into that party. They were kissing at the bar and left together in a hurry. Publicity stunt maybe?
23 notes

Jaime tapped her arm, and Brienne looked up. “What’s wrong?” he whispered.

She passed Jaime the phone, watched his eyes widen when he read the caption, his jaw clench as he scrolled through the comments she hadn’t bothered to read. The attention and the comments still embarrassed Brienne, but she couldn’t bring herself to get angry anymore. She’d heard it all too often, for too long.

Eventually the gossip press and their readers would move on to fresh prey. She and Jaime weren’t really all that interesting. But it still seemed to bother him. Jaime was the one who’d told her not to let it all get to her, so long ago, yet he sat there seething.

Brienne took the phone back, and pulled up her messages to text Margaery.

Brienne: Need to talk to you. Made a big mistake

Brienne really didn’t care about this panel, discussing minutiae of “Battlestar Galactica.” She quickly got up, ducking down to avoid ruining anyone’s view of the speakers, and made her way out into the corridor.

She’d just woken up her phone to call Margaery when the door opened, and Jaime followed her. “What’s going on?” he asked, the plea in his voice so at odds with his usual demeanor that she faltered.

“Nothing,” Brienne stammered. “I just need to talk to Margaery.”

“Can it wait? I need to talk to you.” Jaime grabbed her phone before she could think to stop him, his gaze falling to the current exchange of texts. “A mistake?” he echoed.

“Jaime, I’m sorry.” Brienne reached for him, and he shoved the phone back into her hands.

Jaime backed away. “You are sorry, aren’t you?” He shook his head and ran his hand through his tousled hair.

“What are you talking about?” Brienne asked. Suddenly she was sure the conversation she was having was not the same one he was, and she had no idea what he was thinking.

“A mistake,” Jaime repeated, his voice hard. He turned and walked away, leaving her alone in the corridor.

Brienne started to called Margaery, then stopped. She had wanted nothing more than to talk to her friend, but suddenly Brienne knew what Margaery was likely to say, and she didn’t want to hear it.

Brienne walked down the corridor, hoping to spot Jaime, but all she found was the entrance to the exhibit hall. She dialed Jaime, waited until his voicemail picked up, but didn’t know what to say and hung up. It was a long shot, but maybe she could find him in the crowd.

 


July 20, 2013
Los Angeles, California

Driving back to L.A. that afternoon, Brienne hit traffic and didn’t arrive home until after four. She’d stayed as long as she could, wandering around the convention hall long after she’d checked out of her room, but she hadn’t found Jaime. He hadn’t responded to her texts or calls either.

To Brienne’s dismay, when she walked into the apartment she found Renly and Loras sitting on the garish rose-patterned couch while Margaery cooked in the tiny kitchen. Ordinarily Brienne would have welcomed their presence, but not today.

Brienne tossed her bag into her bedroom and settled reluctantly in an overstuffed chair. “Margaery, I thought it would be just us tonight,” she said uneasily. The whole apartment smelled like Mexican food, which Margaery only cooked as an excuse to make margaritas.

Renly smiled at her. “Come on, Brienne. We haven’t seen you in weeks. I thought you might like to see us.”

“I would. I do. It’s just been a long day,” Brienne explained.

“Right. Comic-Con. Did you wear costumes?” Renly asked with a smirk.

Loras laughed. “Costumes? Oh gods, I didn’t realize there were costumes. You better have pictures. Who did you go as?”

“Mal and Zoe from ‘Firefly,’” Margaery supplied.

Renly thought about it. “Oh right, cowboys in space. We watched that a few years ago.”

“It was a fun weekend,” Brienne said carefully.

“Fun? How much fun?” Margaery prompted. “Tell me you didn’t send him back to his room again last night.”

Brienne glared at her roommate, reminded of why she hadn’t called Margaery this morning.

Both men turned to look at Brienne, clearly amused.

Loras smirked. “Ah, so you did fuck him. Good for you.”

“Loras, leave her alone,” Margaery chided. “She hasn’t even told me about it yet.” Margaery shot a pointed glance at Brienne. “You said you’d call. I don’t know what happened, but whatever you did, I doubt you made any kind of mistake.”

Brienne pulled her knees up against her chest, making herself as small as possible.

When Brienne didn’t speak, Renly’s brow creased. “So what happened? Shouldn’t you still be in San Diego irritating Tyrion by refusing to get out of bed?”

Brienne shook her head. “We had a fight. Jaime took off and isn’t answering my calls or texts.”

Renly checked his phone. “That’s not like him. Jaime lit up when he heard from you, and was downright surly when he didn’t, long before you got together. It was really annoying.”

“What was the fight about?” Margaery asked.

Brienne sighed. “It doesn’t matter. He’s not talking to me.” She’d had her fill of her friends’ well-meaning interference. She didn’t want to talk about this anymore, and she wasn’t about to give them any details of the previous night.

Renly gave Brienne an encouraging smile. “I’ve known Jaime since I was nine. He’s stubborn, maybe even worse than you. But he’ll come around. Couples fight. Ask Loras about our first big fight.”

Loras huffed. “You do not want to bring that up. You scheduled a vacation without me on my birthday.”

Renly stood and walked into the kitchen, pulling out shot glasses and a bottle of tequila. “It wasn’t a vacation. I visited Stannis. Trust me, it was all work and no play. Just like my brother. Besides, I made it up to you.”

Loras crossed his arms and looked at Brienne. “We did go to Dublin a month later,” he said grudgingly.

Renly started cutting up limes as Margaery turned off the stove and started setting the table.

“Isn’t it a little early to start drinking?” Brienne asked Renly. Not only was he drinking, apparently he was bypassing margaritas and starting with shots. She had a long drive ahead of her the next day, and she was already exhausted. Brienne checked her phone again. No messages.

Renly glanced at the clock and shook his head. “It’s almost five.”

“You should have one,” Margaery suggested. “Always makes me feel better.”

Tequila generally did make Margaery feel better, but only for a little while. It definitely didn’t improve any of Brienne’s friends’ behavior or advice.

Renly looked at Loras and sighed. “Remember when we were cool? When we didn’t spend Saturday afternoons dissecting other people’s sex lives?”

“We’re still cool.” Loras glanced at his sister. “If Brienne’s not going to talk, why are we here again?”

Margaery rolled her eyes. “Because I’m making dinner.”

Loras still looked skeptical.

Margaery sighed. “And I have tequila.”

“Which you should definitely partake in, Brienne, while you tell us all about this fight,” Renly prompted, pouring four shots.

Brienne sighed. “I know you all mean well, but I really don’t want to talk about it.”

Margaery’s phone beeped on the counter, and she glanced at the screen. She frowned. “Willas says to turn on the news. Channel 7.”

Brienne found the remote and turned the TV on. A female news anchor with perfect blonde hair was talking seriously, a photo of Tywin Lannister on the screen beside her. “Lannister was found this morning by a member of his staff. His brother Kevan Lannister thanked the press for giving the family privacy in their time of grief. The business world will have to wait until after Tywin Lannister’s will is read to learn the fate of the companies under the control of Lannister Corp.”

Brienne scrambled for her phone, hesitated only a moment on the lock screen photo of bluebonnets. Jaime hadn’t been close to his father, but this still had to come as a shock. She scrolled through her messages. She had sent the last one while she’d walked the convention floor, still hoping to find Jaime.

Brienne: I don’t want to leave things like this. Please talk to me.

There was still no response.

Brienne went into her bedroom and dialed Jaime. The call went straight to voicemail. “Jaime, I just saw the news. I’m so sorry. I still want to talk, but it can wait. Do what you need to do.”

 

Chapter Text

July 20, 2013
San Diego Comic-Con, San Diego, California

Jaime walked along the pier at the marina, watching the boats bobbing in the harbor. The convention center loomed to his right. People pushed past him chatting happily about their plans for the day, the crowd split evenly between costumed con-goers and locals eager to take their boats out to the Pacific. Jaime barely noticed any of them.

The morning had not played out as he’d expected. Jaime had thought he knew Brienne well enough to predict her reaction upon waking beside him. Brienne would try to hide her body under the sheets, still modest even after his mouth and hands had walked nearly every inch of her skin in the night. Eventually they would get up, shower, stop by her room for a change of clothes, and make their way back to the convention center.

Instead, Jaime had woken up alone. When he’d checked the living room, Tyrion had told him that Brienne had gone back to her room. Jaime couldn’t work out why she would do that. He didn’t think he’d pushed Brienne, had gone out of his way, in fact, not to push her, and both times she was the one who had asked him, with actions if not words, to fuck her.

Her disappearance might not have stung quite so much if Jaime hadn’t woken late in the night, opened his eyes to find Brienne lying beside him, and known with burning certainty that he loved her. He wasn’t stupid enough to say those words out loud, not in bed where she would assume it was just his libido talking. Instead Jaime had kissed and caressed her, branding the words he couldn’t say on Brienne’s body. He’d felt like she understood, maybe even felt the same, and the way she’d murmured his name as they’d dozed afterward had made him feel loved anyway.

But Brienne had left, more uneasy than she’d been at Casterly Rock if Tyrion’s description was any guide. Jaime had showered and gone with Tyrion to the convention center in a daze, relieved to find her waiting for them but not sure how to behave. The stupid Tumblr post had been a bitter pill to swallow on top of everything else. She hadn’t read the comments, probably knew how vicious people could be, hidden behind the anonymity of the Internet.

The worst had been her text to Margaery. Back in Albuquerque, Brienne’s casual dismissal of their kiss had hurt. Here and now, it was far worse.

Maybe Brienne was right. Maybe it all was a huge mistake. She was so young, too young if Jaime was being honest with himself. He was maimed, notorious for his violent behavior, father of a 10-year-old boy he would never be able to publicly claim, and tied for life to the cousin in whom he’d drowned for 18 years. It was too much to ask Brienne to handle at 22. Jaime had been with Cersei almost as long as Brienne had been alive. But they should at least talk about it. If Brienne wanted out, Jaime needed to hear it from her.

When he reached the north end of the marina, Jaime turned around and returned to the convention center. As he walked in, he passed a woman who looked vaguely familiar. He recognized her when she smiled. The previous day, this woman in her rich and revealing Inara costume had smiled and spoken to him in Mandarin while they’d waited for a security-flanked group of actors to pass by. After she’d walked away, Tyrion had explained that she’d propositioned him. Brienne hadn’t been particularly happy about that.

Jaime hurried through the crowd into the Exhibit Hall. It was only after he had reached the far end of one aisle that he realized he had no idea where Brienne or Tyrion were, and had no way to contact them. Jaime hadn’t been able to find his phone this morning. He asked a vendor for the time. It was just past one. He’d been walking for nearly three hours.

Jaime cursed to himself and started making his way back through the crowds. Check-out time at the hotel was noon. He may have missed Brienne already.

Jaime was halfway to the entrance when he heard a familiar voice.

“Where have you been?” Tyrion asked, his face drawn and pale.

Jaime shrugged. “Wandering. I was just about to go back to the hotel to try to catch Brienne before she leaves. I didn’t have my phone.”

Tyrion dug the phone out of his pocket and flipped it at Jaime, who caught it. “It was under the couch. I’ve been looking for you for hours.”

Jaime frowned. “What’s going on? You look awful.”

Tyrion sighed, and ran one hand through his hair. “Father is dead, Jaime.”

This had to be a joke. They always said that when the Stranger showed up to collect Tywin Lannister, the man would simply say “No” in that steely voice, and keep on living through sheer force of will. “That’s not funny, Tyrion.”

Tyrion cracked a small, sardonic smile. “Actually, it is, as long as we can keep it out of the press.” At the look of confusion on his brother’s face, Tyrion added, “He died on the toilet. Might have been a stroke or an aneurysm. What an end. The great Tywin Lannister, discovered by a maid with his pants around his ankles.”

Jaime laughed in spite of himself. “Oh, he would have hated that.”

“Indeed,” Tyrion agreed. “We need to leave. Uncle Kevan has summoned us to the Rock.”

Jaime groaned. He unlocked the phone, saw the voicemails and texts.

He pulled up the texts first.

Brienne: Where are you?
Brienne: let me explain
Brienne: back at the hotel to pack
Brienne: Had to check out
Brienne: I don’t want to leave things like this. Please talk to me

The last text had been sent almost an hour ago.

“I can’t leave yet. I have to talk to Brienne. Have you seen her?” Jaime asked his brother.

Tyrion shook his head. “No, and I don’t have her phone number so I couldn’t call her. I’d hoped you were together. I’m sorry if you two are fighting, but she’ll understand why you had to go.”

Reluctantly Jaime followed his brother back to the hotel.

 


July 23, 2013
Lannisport Memorial Park, Santa Barbara, California

Sweat rolled slowly down Jaime’s spine. He adjusted his sunglasses and tried to recall how many prayers the septon had already offered. Five? Four? At least the Faith no longer required a seven-day vigil before the burial. Between the broken air conditioning and the unsettling faint smile on Tywin’s face, seven hours in the sept had been bad enough. Tywin hadn’t even been religious, none of them were except Kevan’s son Lancel, and he wasn’t even here.

After the vigil concluded, the mourners had come to the cemetery, where Tywin Lannister would be interred in a stately granite mausoleum on a hill overlooking the Pacific. The mausoleum itself didn’t have space inside for all of them, so the mourners sat outside suffering in the heat as the afternoon sun beat down without mercy. Jaime was broiling in his dark suit, Tommen’s cheeks were rosy red from the heat, and Kevan’s wife Dorna was discreetly blotting sweat from her face with a tissue.

Every Lannister in the past three generations had been interred here, including Jaime’s mother. There had been far more tears that day, though none from Tywin Lannister. No one was crying now. Weren’t people supposed to mourn the man at his own funeral? Shouldn’t his sons mourn him? Or the niece he’d raised from infancy? Yet Tywin’s own brother and sister sat as dry-eyed as his children. Tywin Lannister was not a man to weep for.

At least the burial was private, restricted to family and close friends. Of course, Tywin’s “close friends” were all business associates, classmates, people he’d known forever who owed their success to him. None were people Tywin would invite over for dinner without an agenda.

The septon finally finished his prayers, and began singing a hymn in a quavering voice.

Seven save us all, how many more hymns can there be? Out of habit, Jaime’s thumb idly moved to rub the ring on his finger, but encountered only a thick line of scar tissue. He still forgot now and then.

Jaime briefly wished Brienne was with him, but her last encounter with his family hadn’t been pleasant. She’d probably never want to set foot in Casterly Rock again, and he didn’t blame her. Jaime wasn’t sure she even wanted to see him. They still hadn’t spoken, the only communication between them the call he’d missed while his phone had charged and Kevan had lectured him and Tyrion on their duties to the family legacy.

Brienne had told Jaime to do what he needed to do, and that was what he’d done. Kevan had his hands full running the business, leaving the funeral arrangements to Jaime and Tyrion. Reporters were parked outside the gates, noting every person who came and went. Tommen and Myrcella had been unexpectedly grief-stricken, especially Tommen. Cersei had briefly lobbied for Joffrey to attend the funeral, but both Jaime and Damon Marbrand had explained that would be impossible. Damon had been far more polite about it than Jaime.

The funeral and all it entailed had easily swallowed up Jaime’s days. Just cataloging all of the valuables in the house had taken an entire day, in part because Cersei had insisted on hiring an appraiser and following him around the house. She clearly had her eye on several valuable antiques, as well as Joanna’s jewelry. A decade earlier Jaime had wanted nothing more than to slip his mother’s wedding ring onto Cersei’s finger. Now he’d sooner throw it into the Pacific than let her have it.

Jaime had retreated to his old bedroom at Casterly Rock every night exhausted, falling into uneasy sleep almost immediately. His dreams had conjured Brienne beside him, under him, his name on her lips, her hands clutching his back. But he couldn’t call her yet. The funeral was only the beginning.

Tywin’s death had left a void others were eager to fill. Lannister Corp executives and lesser Lannisters circled Casterly Rock like sharks scenting blood in the water. So many floral arrangements had filled the sept that they spilled onto the floor around the casket, their pungent scent making Jaime dizzy. He recognized some of the names on the cards, but most were unfamiliar. Jaime had barely set foot inside Lannister Corp since he was a child, and his grasp of the business was tenuous at best.

Once Tywin’s casket had been consigned to its dark space within the mausoleum, the family made their way back to Casterly Rock in a series of limousines. Tommen fell asleep leaning on Jaime as they climbed up into the hills. Cersei made a sour face when she noticed, but didn’t force the boy to move.

Once back at the house, everyone congregated in the living room. Jaime bypassed the bar and the quietly talking groups of black-clad mourners to walk straight out onto the patio. The sun hung low over the water, and a cool breeze chased away the worst of the heat. Jaime shucked off his suit jacket, dropping it on a lounge chair as he moved to the railing. He just needed a few minutes’ peace.

“That was quite the mummer’s farce.”

Jaime sighed, loosening his tie. “Yes, it was.”

Genna Lannister stood beside him, red wine in her hand and a red scarf knotted at her throat. “Those Lord of Light worshipers have one thing right. Just build a huge pyre and let me burn. Spending eternity in the dark with my brothers doesn’t hold much appeal.”

“I can’t imagine why not,” Jaime replied dryly.

“Say what you will about your father, he knew how to get things done.” Genna sipped her wine. “Kevan, may the Crone grant him wisdom, doesn’t have Tywin’s killer instinct. He’s going to need help,” she said pointedly.

“It won’t be from me. Last time I was here, Tywin didn’t even speak to me,” Jaime reminded her. “He told me almost a year ago that I wasn’t his son anymore.”

Genna patted his arm. “You never were much like him. Tyrion is Tywin’s son. Perhaps he’ll take up the mantle.” She smiled a little sadly. “What will you do, Jaime?”

“I’m still working that out.” Jaime wasn’t sure how much longer he would ride, and retirement was something he could neither dismiss nor ignore. He’d taken a meeting with CBS Sports earlier that month to discuss possibly doing some broadcast work. They were interested in trying him out on a few small pre-recorded pieces after he retired. Jaime also had a meeting coming up at the PBR headquarters in Pueblo.

“Does a towering blonde figure into those plans?” Genna asked smugly. “Cerenna apparently tracks your tag on Tumblr, whatever that means.”

Jaime groaned. If Daven’s sister was reading Jaime’s press coverage, Jaime could expect a call from his cousin any day now to tease him. Jaime had teased Daven far too often about liking freckly women for Daven to ignore Jaime’s relationship with Brienne. Assuming he still had one when this was all over. “You’d have to ask Brienne,” he hedged.

Genna looked out over the water. “Be careful, sweetling. Make sure she’s worthy of your trust before you do anything rash. Your secrets aren’t only your own.”

Jaime flexed his right hand against the rail. Of all the objections Genna might have raised, that was the one which had never worried him. It still didn’t. “I know that. Don’t worry about me.”

She smiled at him fondly. “If only it were that easy.”

 


July 23, 2013
Casterly Rock, Montecito, California

Jaime lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. Finally he rolled over and grabbed his phone, tapping the screen until it lit up. 11:53 p.m.

Before Jaime could talk himself out of it, he pulled up his contacts and dialed.

The phone rang three times before it was picked up. “Jaime?” Brienne’s warm, sleepy voice came through the phone.

Jaime released a shaky breath. “It’s late, I know. I should have called sooner. I’m sorry, I should—”

“Shut up.” Brienne paused. “I’m sorry too. I shouldn’t have left.”

Jaime closed his eyes, pretended she was beside him instead of hundreds of miles away. He needed her to understand. “Cersei was always gone by morning. So when I woke up alone...”

“Oh, Jaime.” Her voice was barely more than a breath.

Silence stretched between them. Jaime didn’t want to offer more about Cersei than he had to. Those years weren’t something he wanted to dwell on, and he was wary of telling Brienne anything she didn’t specifically ask to hear.

“My mistake was leaving before you woke up, not being with you.”

Something hard that had settled in Jaime’s gut the past three days began to ease. “Brienne,” he began, but he couldn’t continue.

“Are you okay? About your father, I mean.”

“I’m okay. Numb, I think. There’s too much going on to really focus on it.”

“That’s normal. I was in a fog for weeks,” she assured him.

Silence fell again. Jaime began to relax. He knew he should let Brienne go. She was probably riding tomorrow. “Where are you?” he asked.

“Portland. I can see Highgarden from my window.”

“Damn.”

“Damn?”

“Too far away.”

“Jaime,” Brienne chided, but he could hear the smile in her voice.

“How do you do that?” Jaime asked.

“What?” she chuckled.

“Make my name sound so good.”

“Idiot,” Brienne muttered, but her voice was still warm.

“See? Even that sounds good.”

She sighed. “I’m glad you called.”

Jaime laughed, a low and quiet rumble. “Even though it’s late at night?”

“Any time, but…” she hesitated.

“I know, we should hang up.” Jaime opened his eyes, acknowledged the empty room.

“I have to get up in five hours. Competition tomorrow.”

Jaime hissed. “I’m sorry. I’ll let you go.”

“Call me, if you need anything. I may not answer right away, but I will call back. Okay?”

“Okay.” He paused. “I missed you. I missed this.”

“Me too.”

 


July 24, 2013
Casterly Rock, Montecito, California

Damon Marbrand shuffled the papers in his hands one more time. He stood in front of the desk rather than sit in Tywin’s chair.

Kevan and Dorna, Genna, Jaime, Tyrion, and Cersei watched him. Damon had specified that only the six of them could be in the room when the will was read, so they’d gone into Tywin’s office, away from the other Lannisters still milling around Casterly Rock.

Jaime stood by the window. He didn’t want to be here, and wasn’t sure why he was. Tywin wouldn’t have left him anything.

Jaime listened while Damon droned on in endless legalese before finally discussing the assets. The house was left to Jaime. According to Damon, it was currently valued at $18.5 million, though that was irrelevant. Jaime couldn’t imagine selling it, though he would certainly never live there again. His brother wore an understandably hurt expression. The will specified several smaller bequests as well: family heirlooms for both Kevan and Genna, cash for Genna, trusts for Cersei, Joffrey, and Myrcella.

The reason Damon had demanded privacy became clear when Tommen was given one-third of Tywin’s share of Lannister Corp, held in trust until he reached age 25. Jaime was named trustee. Cersei was furious, but as Jaime glanced around the room he realized that everyone there had already known the truth.

Tyrion and Kevan also each received one-third shares, as expected. Jaime didn’t care—he didn’t want the company, and he was already thrust into the unwelcome role of controlling Tommen’s share for the next 15 years.

Then Damon explained that Jaime was inheriting Tywin’s controlling interest in the Professional Bull Riders organization, an investment worth millions. Exactly how much was hard to say, but Jaime would never need to worry about money again. A management company representative had been sitting on the board in Tywin’s stead for years. That arrangement could continue indefinitely, and it would have to as long as Jaime was competing.

Jaime couldn’t decide if this move had been meant to please him or to manipulate him. He would never get the chance to ask.


Later that afternoon, Myrcella told Jaime that her mother wanted to speak to him in Tywin’s office. He found Cersei sitting in Tywin’s chair, leaning back and staring out at the ocean. He closed the door and walked over to the desk.

“What have I done this time?” Jaime asked, knowing the answer but wanting her to say it. An hour ago he’d caught Cerenna and Myrcella giggling over their phones while shooting glances in Jaime’s direction. Cersei’s summons hadn’t surprised him at all.

Cersei spun the chair back to face him. She raised an eyebrow. “If you had to resort to bedding that freak girl, you could have at least been discreet about it.”

Jaime swallowed his fury and snapped back, “I don’t need a lecture on discretion from the woman photographed hanging all over Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand.”

Cersei rolled her eyes. “That was two years ago. I learned my lesson. It’s time you learned yours.”

“Tywin is dead, Cersei. Your son just inherited part of a large corporation. And your top concern is my girlfriend?” He wasn’t really surprised. Cersei’s priorities had always been skewed, otherwise she wouldn’t have stayed with Robert.

“Your girlfriend?” she sneered. “Does some twisted sense of chivalry demand that you call her that?”

Jaime sat down and looked Cersei in the eye. “We’ve been together over a month, Cers.”

“Oh, really?” she laughed, mocking. “You think your pet will stick around? She’s bound to figure out the truth someday, and then you’ll be alone again.”

Jaime stared at her, wondering why it had taken him so long to see how little she cared for anyone but herself and her children. “Brienne already knows,” he said. When Cersei blanched, Jaime stood to leave and added, “I’d never hurt Tommen. I wish you believed that.”

 


August 1, 2013
Casterly Rock, Montecito, California (Jaime)
Boise, Idaho (Brienne)

“I’m so tired of searching Cersei’s car before she leaves.” Jaime stood on the dark patio, where no one would eavesdrop on his call.

“Why are you searching her car?” There was a tight note to Brienne’s voice. The time he’d been spending with Cersei made her uncomfortable. He didn’t like it any better than she did.

“She keeps stealing things. Weird things. Sentimental things Kevan would have let her take if she just asked, but also anything small and valuable. I think if I actually went to her house, I might find a dragon hoard of junk in one of the spare rooms.” Tywin had left Cersei well provided for, but Cersei had always been paranoid that someone would come along to steal everything she had. She would never be happy, no matter how much money she had.

“Let your uncle handle this, Jaime. Why are you even still there?”

Jaime sighed, scratched at his beard. “Tyrion and I are still working out how I can give him half-ownership of the house without tax consequences, and I promised Tommen and Myrcie a day at Magic Mountain. As soon as that’s done, I’m out of here.”

“She’s letting you take them?”

“Reluctantly,” he confirmed. “She’s still upset about you.”

“Does she want you back?”

Jaime hated how timid Brienne sounded. “No, and it wouldn’t matter if she did. We’ve been over for years.”

Brienne was quiet for a minute, and he gave her time.

“When does your competition start again?” she asked. “I know I should remember, but I can barely keep my own schedule straight anymore.”

“I have meetings in Colorado August 11 and 12, and competition in Tampa on the 14th. Where are you next week?” The business surrounding Tywin’s death had taken far more time than Jaime had expected. Tyrion was as busy as ever at work and somewhat bitter over the inheritance he’d received, so Kevan was relying on Jaime to deal with distributing Tywin’s personal effects.

“Sacramento and Reno,” she answered, clearly unimpressed with both destinations.

Jaime was thrilled. Neither were far away, and he could drive to meet her or take a short flight. “Can you take a day off? Come to Lake Tahoe with me. It’s only an hour from Reno and it’s beautiful.”

“Yes,” Brienne answered so quickly that he wondered if their actual destination would matter. A hotel room would look the same no matter where they were.

“Good. Text me the details.”

 


August 7, 2013
Lake Tahoe, Stateline, Nevada

Fingertips drawn slowly across Jaime’s shoulder blades woke him, but as he was enjoying it, he continued feigning sleep.

“Jaime, wake up.” Brienne’s warm palm rested on his back, gently shook him.

Jaime opened his eyes just a crack, enough to register that Brienne had opened the curtains, and it was far too bright in the room. After a few seconds, his eyes adjusted. “You’re dressed,” he noted with disappointment. “Why are you dressed?”

“I want to go for a run,” Brienne answered, as if it were obvious. She sat on the bed wearing running shorts and a blue tank top. Far too many clothes for Jaime’s taste.

He flipped over onto his back, wrapped an arm around her waist, and slipped his hand under the hem of Brienne’s shirt. “If you want exercise, I can suggest far more satisfying options.”

Brienne smiled and pressed a hand to his chest, but she said, “Come with me. I’d like to actually see the lake. It was so dark by the time we went out to dinner, I couldn’t really see anything.”

“I preferred dessert,” Jaime reminded her with a grin. They’d eaten dinner at an Italian restaurant beside the lake, but taken dessert back to their hotel room. Jaime wasn’t sure if the cheesecake had actually been that good, or if he had just liked eating it in bed with her.

Brienne blushed. “Jaime, you wanted to come here. Show me why.”

Jaime nearly told her that all he wanted was her, but the words stuck in his throat. The last decade of Jaime’s relationship with Cersei had been conducted almost exclusively in hotels, in rooms they never left together.

Jaime sat up, wrapped his arms around Brienne, kissed her shoulder. “You want to run, we’ll run.”

 

Chapter Text

From: Robb Stark < kinginthenorth@winterfellstock.com >
To: Brienne Tarth < nobull@gmail.com >
August 12, 2013 5:23 p.m.

Still looking for someone to take over for Jon here. I know you’re riding again, but let me know if you’re interested in talking to us. Never hurts to keep your options open.

 


August 13, 2013
Bitterbridge Municipal Stadium, Leavenworth, Kansas

Brienne rose early, a habit ingrained by years of running in the mornings. The crappy motels she usually stayed in weren’t always in neighborhoods where it was safe to run, but this morning she was lucky. This motel backed up to a run-down but well-tended residential neighborhood not far from where Brienne had lived when her father was stationed at Fort Leavenworth, and she took a long, peaceful run.

Brienne showered upon returning to the motel, and ate a peanut butter sandwich in her room while reading the news and checking her e-mail on her phone. Jaime had sent her a photo of the famous Red Woman of Denver International Airport badgering travelers to embrace the light of Rh’llor. He was traveling from meetings at the PBR headquarters in Pueblo to a competition at Storm’s End in Tampa, Florida. They would talk later, as they did most nights, though she wouldn’t Skype with him. It was best if Jaime didn’t see how small and shabby this room was. The Lake Tahoe casino-hotel where she’d stayed with him was leagues nicer, and far more expensive, than her usual accommodations.

After breakfast, Brienne visited the stadium for a small meet-and-greet event with fans. She carefully avoided sitting too close to Boros Blount, one of her chief tormentors. There were only a few riders left who actively sought her out to taunt, even after her relationship with Jaime had become public knowledge during Comic Con. Most were largely indifferent. The closest thing she had to a friend on the tour was Sam Tarly, one of the doctors who took care of them, and Sam was nice to everyone.

Once the meet-and-greet ended, Brienne returned to the motel, to eat an early lunch and try to relax before the event began.

By early afternoon, Brienne pulled together her gear and drove to the stadium. The parking lot was brutally hot, the black asphalt soft in places beneath her flip-flops and blinding sunshine reflected off the windshields around her. Brienne bypassed the public entrances and made her way to the visitors’ locker room, far from the home locker room used by the men. She never minded getting ready alone, although she’d learned that visitors’ locker rooms were never as nice as those for the home team.

Just before the competition began, she joined the other riders in the hallway near the home locker room. The riders were introduced at the beginning of the event, so each of them filed out onto the deck in the bright midday sun to wave to the crowd. Brienne was surprised to see so many soldiers in fatigues, including far more women than she usually saw. She was glad she’d chosen to wear her camouflage shirt.

There was no air conditioning in the small baseball stadium, so already her shirt stuck to her back and her hair was damp with sweat. Jaime and Renly had no idea how good they had it. Their competitions all took place in climate-controlled venues, with well-maintained facilities. Here the heat drove all the riders back into the hallway after the announcements, taking advantage of the slightly cooler air out of the sun’s glare. Most of the guys competing today were career riders. Weekend warriors tended to skip outdoor events in such stifling heat.

Brienne waited until after Bulwer rode to come back out onto the deck. She squinted in the bright sun, taking the time to adjust to the light and heat while Grenn and Yarwyck took their rides. Brienne watched Grenn settle himself onto his bull. Grenn reminded her of a large puppy, not particularly intelligent or talented but enthusiastic. He was bucked off within four seconds, but still emerged from the arena grinning.

She stretched while Yarwyck prepared to ride. Othell Yarwyck was so old that Jaime had competed against him more than a decade ago. The man was in his forties and currently a professor of construction engineering at the University of Nebraska. For fun, he spent his summers riding bulls all over the country.

Yarwyck got out of position almost immediately, flung about violently until the bell rang, and he threw himself off the bull and rolled across the dirt. He tipped his hat to the judges, his mouth a line of grim acceptance upon receiving a score of 67.85.

Brienne made her way to the chute, ignoring a few wolf-whistles accompanied by laughter in the crowd. She’d noticed months ago that the later she rode the more catcalls and jeers she could expect from the crowd. This afternoon Brienne was riding almost dead last, and she was grateful that she hadn’t allowed Hyle to attend this event.

Hyle had texted her five days ago. He’d noticed she had a tour stop relatively close to his home in Boulder, and asked to come watch her ride. Brienne had the distinct feeling that he thought he could smooth over what he’d done in his youth if they became friendly now. That was never going to happen, but she would like to reach a point where she didn’t actually want to punch him in the face every time she saw him. She wasn’t quite there yet, so she’d told him not to come.

Brienne raked her hands through her hair, grateful she wore it so short, and put on her helmet. The crowd noise receded, and the visor shielded her eyes from the bright sun. She took a deep breath, and climbed over the rail into the chute.

Below her, Pretty Meris shifted restlessly. The pale bull was anything but pretty. Its owner, the man now waiting by the chute gate, had given the bull that name as a calf after it had been badly scarred in some kind of accident.

Brienne wrapped her rope around its flank, settled herself atop the bull, and carefully wrapped the rope around her right hand. She pulled it tight, opened her fist, checked her grip, closed her fist again, and clenched it as tightly as she could. Brienne took one last deep breath, and signaled her readiness.

The gate opened and Pretty Meris leapt out, its head dropping low then bucking hard. The bull spun right, trying to throw Brienne off, but she was solid, unmovable, upright even as the bull’s back legs kicked high again and again. She had one instant to think that this was a damn near perfect ride before Pretty Meris jumped forward twice and abruptly twisted left mid-jump. Brienne was flung wildly to the right, her hand in the rope not enough leverage to keep her in position, her spurs sliding across the bull’s flank as she made one last ditch effort to stay on. She hit the dirt hard just as the bell rang, scrambling away on hands and knees. Brienne had no idea if she’d hit the ground before the bell or after.

The crowd fell silent as Brienne sprinted to the railing, hauling herself up even as she kept one eye on the digital scoreboard above the outfield stands. Brienne scrambled out of the arena about twenty feet down from where she’d started just as the scoreboard flashed 8.0 seconds. Relief flooded through her. She unbuckled her helmet and walked back along the deck toward the judges. A sudden breeze cooled her skin, but also brought the mingled scents of Bud Light, sweat, and dirt.

“Brienne!”

She stopped, searched the crowd, and found Margaery in the stands, waving enthusiastically. What was Margaery doing here? Brienne waved back.

The crowd cheered. Brienne looked over at the scoreboard. 88.75. Her best score all year. She would definitely make the top five, and might even win tomorrow if she had a half-decent ride.

Brienne made a quick gesture to Margaery that she would call her, then made her way to the locker rooms beneath the stands. Usually Brienne would pack up her gear and head back to the motel to shower, but she was hot and sweaty, and between the bull, the dirt, and the heat, she didn’t smell very good either. She decided to take a quick shower after she called Margaery.

“How did you get here?” Brienne asked when her friend answered the phone.

“A plane. How else?” Margaery laughed. “No, seriously, your boyfriend called and asked me to come. He wanted to be here himself, but he couldn’t make the flights work so he’d still get to Tampa on time.”

“Why? I just saw Jaime a couple days ago.” Two nights and one day together in Lake Tahoe had been nowhere near enough, but Brienne realized that they’d just have to take what little time they could get. Jaime hadn’t made it easy to drive away from Lake Tahoe, two hours later than she’d planned and struggling to stay awake during the long drive to Provo, Utah.

Margaery laughed. “That’s what I said. He said that Leavenworth was where you first saw bull riding and someone should be here to watch you compete.”

Brienne smiled. How had he remembered that? She might have mentioned it once, months ago in an interview. The town had seemed bigger back then, and now she could appreciate how truly small it had been. Now it was basically a suburb of Kansas City.

“Well, what did you think?” Brienne asked.

“You were badass, of course. But I’m going to get out of here now and beat the traffic. I’m at the Holiday Inn Express, sadly the best hotel I could find in this town. Come find me when you’re ready to get some dinner.”

 

Hours later the two women relaxed at a table tucked in the corner of a brewpub down the street from Margaery’s hotel. An empty plate rested between them, two spoons and a slight suggestion of chocolate on the white china the only remaining evidence of the molten chocolate cake they’d ordered for dessert.

They’d spent much of dinner talking about their work. Margaery enjoyed her new job working for a state legislator, but his staff drove her insane with their incompetence and laziness. She joked that she would have to take over just to get anything accomplished, but Brienne suspected that Margaery might actually end up doing it.

Aside from her exceptional ride that day, Brienne had been struggling lately, finishing out of the top ten in three events in the past month. It was normal to have bad weeks, she knew that. But she'd also seen guys go into a spiral where they started doubting themselves and never recovered. They rarely finished the season.

Brienne couldn't afford to let those kinds of doubts consume her, but she also had to be clear-eyed about this. She loved to ride, but it was a sport, not something she could do forever. What Brienne would do after she finished riding, whether that turned out to be next year or next decade, was something she needed to consider.

Much as she loved Jaime, Brienne had begun to realize how much of a distraction he could be. She needed to focus on her work, but he didn’t make that easy. Some nights, talking to Jaime was far more appealing than sleep, and when they were together, sleep was the last thing on her mind.

“I’ll admit it. I did not understand what you saw in Jaime, you know, other than the face and the body and the voice,” Margaery said with a laugh.

“I get it, stop ogling my boyfriend,” Brienne cut in, more sharply than she’d intended. The last thing she needed was Margaery deciding that Jaime was worth her attention. A man’s current relationship had never stopped Margaery from pursuing him.

Brienne was very aware of how she and Margaery looked. Being with Jaime had not changed who Brienne was or how other people saw her. In her floral sundress and espadrilles, Margaery looked stylish and put together, her lustrous brown hair pulled back in a simple ponytail. By contrast, Brienne wore jeans and a souvenir T-shirt from Lake Tahoe depicting a bear chasing a hiker.

Margaery rolled her eyes. “Brienne, relax. I’m just saying, I know you two got off to a rough start, between ignoring the obvious for so long and then being apart so much. But talking to Jaime the other day, it was obvious how much he adores you.”

Brienne’s first instinct was to brush that assessment off, as she’d brushed off the idea of Jaime wanting her, ignoring all evidence to the contrary for months. But the frequency of his calls and texts, the passion he showed in bed, the things he noticed and didn’t forget, were impossible to ignore.

Brienne decided to change the subject. “Robb Stark emailed me last night. I wanted to talk to Jaime about it, but it’s too late to call him tonight.”

“Robb Stark? Don’t tell me you have another suitor,” Margaery teased, signaling the waitress to bring the check.

Brienne laughed. “No, Robb’s uncle owns the stock contracting business which brought bulls to Jaime’s house. I met him a few times through Renly back when he was riding. Robb had mentioned last spring that his brother was leaving their company and I guess they’re still looking for someone to replace him.”

“Why did he contact you? I thought you were happy with riding?” Margaery asked, frowning.

Brienne laughed. “Why give up such a glamorous life?” She gathered her thoughts while Margaery reviewed the check, pointedly ignoring Brienne’s attempt to cover her half of the bill.

“Aside from today, my scores haven’t been great lately. I’ve been thinking about what I’ll do if riding doesn’t pan out. I can’t stick around the minor tour forever, and I wouldn’t want to. Even if things do work out, look at Jaime. He’s 35 and retiring. I need something to fall back on. I won’t be inheriting a fortune like he did.”

Brienne still had trouble comprehending that Jaime’s father had left him Casterly Rock and a majority stake in the PBR. This came on top of the fact that Jaime had already been a millionaire, though the only evidence of that was the size of his house and his occasionally extravagant gifts.

“So you’re thinking about quitting?” Margaery asked.

“No, not yet. I just need to think about my future, and working for a stock contractor is something I could do for decades, not just a few years. Anyway, I wanted to run it past Jaime, see if he thought a trip up to Winterfell was a good idea.”

Margaery shook her head vehemently. “No, no, no. You can’t talk to Jaime about this.”

Brienne frowned. “Why not? He knows a lot of guys who’ve retired. He might have an idea I haven’t thought of.”

“None of those guys were his girlfriend. If you bring up your future, it’ll look like you want a long-term commitment. You’ve been together two months. That’s guaranteed to send him running,” Margaery insisted.

Brienne blushed. Margaery had teased her from the start about how their relationship was anything but casual, but Brienne and Jaime had never actually talked about it. “He wouldn’t think that. That would be crazy.”

“Of course it would. But if you start talking about the future, he’ll start thinking about his future, and that’s going to make him think about whether or not he wants you in it,” Margaery said, using the same tone she’d used to win debates at Highgarden.

Jaime was already thinking about the future. He’d had meetings with CBS to talk about broadcast work, he’d just spent two days at the PBR’s headquarters in Pueblo to learn more about the business, and he was looking for a condo in Los Angeles so he could spend more time with Cersei’s children. Being more present for Myrcella and Tommen was one of the few perks of retirement for Jaime.  

Brienne appreciated his commitment to them even though it would likely reduce the time she and Jaime could spend together. Her father had dated after her mother’s death, but those women had never been more than a voice on the phone to Brienne. He’d never tried to replace her mother with one of them. With Tommen and Myrcella, that was a laughable thought. Not only was Cersei very much alive, but Brienne could picture Cersei’s reaction to Jaime’s 22-year-old girlfriend having any role in her children’s lives. Cersei had already made her disapproval perfectly clear, and would undercut any relationship Brienne had with the children.

But there was no point in worrying about such an unlikely scenario.

“I haven’t answered Robb anyway. Nothing may come of this,” Brienne said uneasily.

“See, there you go. No point in stirring the pot unnecessarily,” Margaery said with a smile. “Trust me. I have a lot more experience with men than you do.”

 


August 14, 2013
Bitterbridge Municipal Stadium, Leavenworth, Kansas

“Your wrist isn’t broken, but I do want you to go easy on it the next few days. Ask for help carrying your bags, try not to pick up your gear with your right hand. Just use common sense,” Sam Tarly reminded Brienne as she hopped down from an exam table in the sports medicine trailer. Brienne had fallen hard the previous day, but her wrist hadn’t hurt until she'd gotten briefly hung up in the rope during her dismount this afternoon.

“I’ll try,” Brienne agreed, knowing she was likely to break that promise before she finished loading her truck in the morning. Margaery was flying back to Los Angeles this evening and there was no one else here Brienne trusted to help load her gear.

“There is one more thing I’ve been meaning to talk to you about,” Sam said hesitantly.

Brienne stood, flexed her wrist now that it was wrapped. There was a twinge, but the wrist was more stable than it had been. She would likely be fine by her next competition in three days. “Sure. What is it?”

The young man looked away for a moment, his broad, bearded face growing pink. “This is awkward. I usually stay out of the riders’ personal lives, but as long as you’re here, there is an issue we should address.”

Brienne knew immediately what Sam meant. She had been expecting questions about her sex life from the doctor ever since her relationship with Jaime went public. There were always free condoms available in Sam’s trailer, and she had noticed he refilled that basket frequently. “Sam, it’s really none of your business,” she said haltingly.

He shook his head. “That’s the thing. As your doctor, it is. If you were to get pregnant, I couldn’t let you compete. I’m just saying, I can write you a prescription if you need one. I love my son, but Gilly and I thought we were being careful, and now we have Aemon.”

Brienne stared down at her hands, unable to meet Sam’s eyes. He was just being practical, she knew that, but it was still embarrassing. None of the guys had to discuss their sex lives with the tour doctors unless they picked up something sexually transmitted. Jaime hadn’t complained about using condoms, unlike some guys Margaery had encountered over the years. Brienne assumed his understanding came from a combination of Robert Baratheon’s well-known promiscuity and the probably accidental conception of Tommen, but she’d never asked. Jaime’s relationship with Cersei wasn’t a comfortable topic for either of them.

“I’ll take the prescription.” It couldn’t hurt to be careful. Brienne couldn’t really picture herself as a mother, and the gods knew this wasn’t a good time for her to have a kid. It was bad enough that Margaery had reminded her she shouldn’t assume Jaime would even be in her life a year from now.

Sam nodded and pulled out his prescription pad. “I’ll write it for 90-day refills. That should be easier to manage with your travel schedule.”

 


 

From: Brienne Tarth < nobull@gmail.com >
To: Robb Stark < kinginthenorth@winterfellstock.com
August 18, 2013 8:17 p.m.

Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply. I’ve been firming up my schedule for the next few months.
Is the job still available? I’d love to come up to Calgary and talk to you about it.

 


 


From: Robb Stark < kinginthenorth@winterfellstock.com >
To: Brienne Stock < nobull@gmail.com >
August 19, 2013 4:18 p.m.

Let me check with Benjen and get back to you.

 


August 20, 2013
Cincinnati, Ohio

Brienne stirred when the door opened, bright light from the hall spilling into the dark room. She caught a glimpse of a long shadow by the door before it closed and locked, darkness closing in again. A bag hit the floor with a heavy thump.

Brienne stretched and turned onto her side. Behind her, shoes tumbled to the floor, and footsteps crossed the room. The bathroom light clicked on, the door shut, and the shower came on.

Brienne drifted off again, waking only when the covers lifted, and a warm body slipped into bed behind her.

“Security in this hotel is shockingly lax,” Jaime whispered in her ear, wrapping his arms around her. “What did you tell the front desk? The guy took one look at me and handed over your key.”

Brienne smiled and turned over to face him. Jaime’s skin and hair were still damp, and he smelled strongly of soap and minty toothpaste.

“I told him that if a terribly handsome man arrived late to give him my key. He didn’t believe me, but he was polite about it.” She’d fully expected a call from the front desk when Jaime arrived, but the clerk working the night shift apparently wasn’t terribly concerned that Jaime might rob or assault her.

Jaime gathered her closer and kissed her briefly. “Sorry I’m so late. There was a massive thunderstorm in Chicago. Canceled flights all over the place.”

“What time is it?” Brienne yawned, briefly wishing she wasn’t wearing pajamas. Jaime had come to bed naked, making it far more difficult for her to go back to sleep. Nearly two weeks apart was too long.

Jaime looked at the clock over her shoulder. “1:12. Go back to sleep. Don’t worry, I’ll wake you up later.”

“You better.” Brienne settled against him, one hand lightly stroking his back. It was a little ridiculous how much she’d missed this, just having Jaime here with her.

Jaime smiled, kissed her again. “Honey, I just spent ten hours in airports and on planes to get here. I will wake you up later.”

 


August 23, 2013
PBR.com
Women of the PBR: Brienne Tarth

It’s not easy being the only woman rider in the Touring Pro Division, but Brienne Tarth is taking it all in stride. After five months on the tour, Tarth has notched two impressive wins, though she failed to complete any qualified rides in her last competition in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“Everyone has bad weeks. You just have to keep going and get on the next bull,” she said, speaking en route to her next competition in Wichita, Kansas. Tarth is currently ranked 51 in the Built Ford Tough Series rankings. She was ranked as high as 40 earlier in the season, and needs to place in the top 35 to move up to BFTS competition.
Adding a woman to the tour has posed some challenges. “In Springfield, Missouri, the maintenance staff forgot to unlock the visitors’ locker room, and Tarth had to get geared up in a public bathroom. These things happen sometimes,” said crew chief Humfrey Wagstaff.
Tarth grew up as an Army brat, spending time at Fort Hood, Fort Bragg, and Fort Leavenworth before attending boarding school at Highgarden Academy in Portland, Oregon. “My dad raised me alone for the most part. I’m used to spending my time primarily with men. It doesn’t bother me,” she said.
Life on the road doesn’t allow Tarth much time with her boyfriend, three-time PBR champion Jaime Lannister. While she prefers to keep the focus on her riding, Tarth first came to national attention last September, when she risked her life to protect Lannister from an angry bull. Lannister lost two fingers in that incident, but returned to competition in March after training alongside Tarth for several months. The pair publicly acknowledged their romantic relationship in July.

 


 

From: Robb Stark < kinginthenorth@winterfellstock.com >
To: Brienne Tarth < nobull@gmail.com >
August 23, 2013 5:24 p.m.

Benjen checked up on you. You’ve got a sponsor, your scores have been generally good. He’s not convinced you’re ready to move on, but he’s willing to give you chance if you want to come check out Winterfell.

 


 

From: Brienne Tarth < nobull@gmail.com >
To: Robb Stark < kinginthenorth@winterfellstock.com >
August 24, 2013 6:43 a.m.

Thanks. I’m taking the long view and looking at my options. You know how it is. You’re only as good as your last ride.
I have availability in mid-September, otherwise I’ll have to skip a competition. I am willing to do that. Just let me know.

 


 

From: Robb Stark < kinginthenorth@winterfellstock.com >
To: Brienne Tarth < nobull@gmail.com >
August 24, 2013 4:27 p.m.

Mid-September will be fine. Forel will be back then, and he’ll be glad to see you. So will Arya. Check your schedule and give me the exact dates. I’ll get you a meeting with Benjen.
 

Chapter Text

August 25, 2013
Austin, Texas

Jaime rubbed his eyes, hoping his lack of understanding was due to tired eyes rather than just not comprehending what he was reading. The PBR had overnighted a packet of materials explaining a proposed joint venture with the AEG venue group, and Jaime had spent the evening struggling through the information, trying to decide if he supported the idea.

The new venture was a tour which would bring bull riding to more cities, generating more revenue. Jaime looked over the numbers AEG had provided, and if their estimates were correct, it seemed like a good plan. Selfishly, he noted that this tour would mix competitors from the Touring Pro Division and the main tour, the Built Ford Tough Series. Brienne would be able to compete alongside Renly several times a year even if she didn’t advance to the main tour after this season. Looking at her results, it was unlikely that she would move up. She’d joined too late in the season to accrue enough points.

Jaime glanced at the clock on his nightstand. 11:14 p.m. That explained why his eyes were so tired. He sifted through the paperwork spread out over his bed and found his phone. No messages. Brienne had finished competition in Wichita today, and had barely cracked the top ten. Jaime wasn’t surprised she hadn’t called. He typed in a quick text just in case she was still awake.

Jaime: Top ten is better than nothing. Call me tomorrow

He didn’t expect a response. They’d seen each other only a few days ago, while Brienne had suffered through a truly awful competition in Cincinnati. She’d re-injured the sprained wrist she’d gotten in her win at Leavenworth, and been unable to complete any rides. Brienne had had several bad competitions, that happened sometimes. She’d never failed to complete a single ride before, and she’d taken it hard. Brienne had been quiet the past few days, and Jaime had tried to give her space to work through her doubts. He’d tried encouragement once, and she’d just scoffed that he had to believe in her because they were dating. Dating wasn’t really the right word as far as Jaime was concerned, but he wasn’t sure what other label applied.

Brienne had also been singularly annoyed when an interview she’d grudgingly given a PBR marketing coordinator had turned into a “Women of the PBR” blog post. Those blog entries were occasionally interviews with the few women stock contractors, but the bulk were written by the riders’ wives. The topics generally gravitated toward their faith in the Seven, the trials of having a spouse who traveled frequently, “how we met” stories, and heartwarming anecdotes about their kids. Being lumped in with the wives, when she’d been told she was being profiled on her merit as a rider, had sent Brienne into a half-hour rant when it was posted the previous day. That the blog had devoted an entire paragraph to her relationship with Jaime had just added insult to injury.

He understood Brienne’s issue with the post. The PBR marketing department insisted they wanted to promote her, to raise the profile of women in the sport, but all they were doing was turning her into another Maggie Parker, known for everything but her riding. The problem was that Maggie looked like a pageant queen, and Brienne did not. The marketing people had no idea what to do with her, so they treated her like Jaime’s wife, as if her career was a hobby she’d taken up to fill the days while he was on the road. Jaime wondered if a call from him would make a difference or just make things worse.

Between her recent poor scores, the marketing department botching her press, and the inevitable crap she would take when the other riders saw the blog post, it was no wonder Brienne wasn’t at her most talkative lately. Jaime just didn’t know what to do about it. She had three days of competition coming up, and Jaime was leaving for an event in Memphis in two days.

He was not looking forward to Memphis. Gods how he hated Memphis.

Trying to push unpleasant memories out of his mind, Jaime made one more effort to understand a series of graphs and charts showing projected revenue for events at several venues. After five minutes he gave up, shoved all the papers back into the mailing envelope, and turned on the puppet episode of “Angel” to watch while he tried to fall asleep.

 


August 28, 2013
The Riverlands Center, Memphis, Tennessee

Jaime had broken into a cold sweat the minute he’d set foot in the building the previous day, and the feeling that he needed to get out of there had still not fully dissipated.

Eleven months ago, Jaime had walked into this building and had a totally unremarkable day. He’d watched the day’s rides, then gone to a dinner meeting with the retired riders who’d come into town to offer him and Chris Shivers advice on handling retirement. They’d advised Jaime to look into the business end of the PBR, but at the time Jaime hadn’t been interested. On this trip, he’d spent the entire flight from Austin studying the PBR’s five-year growth plan.

When he’d heard noises in the arena, Jaime could have walked away, left it to the venue staff to handle, but no, he’d been too curious, and followed the sound up into the arena. By the time Jaime had left, he’d been strapped to a stretcher, floating in and out of consciousness, his hand a throbbing, mangled mass of blood and bone.

At least then Brienne had been with him. Not that he’d had any idea back then how much she would come to mean to him. Jaime wanted her with him now, but she had a competition and really needed a few good rides to get her confidence back. Brienne also would have hated the inevitable press attention if they’d shown up together.

There was plenty of press attention as it was. Jaime had spent much of the previous day ducking reporters, and this morning had been the same. One particularly persistent woman from WREG, the Memphis CBS affiliate, had followed Jaime around for almost an hour before he’d ducked down a corridor and found himself walking out into the main arena.

Jaime approached the railing, his mouth suddenly dry. Daylight flooded through the windows high above, and there were people milling around, double-checking the chute gates and the depth of the dirt covering the arena, but Jaime didn’t see any of it.

Jaime was down in the arena again, the bull slamming into his back, his breath forced out as he hit the dirt, blood and dirt filling his mouth as he bit his tongue hard.

“So this is where it happened, eh?”

Jaime blinked hard, shook his head to clear it. An unfamiliar man stood at his side. “Do I know you?”

The husky man put out a hand. His hair was a spiky red fireball above a full beard and lively eyes. “‘Red’ Ronnet Connington. GriffinsRoostSports.com.”

Jaime shook his hand, noting how Connington flinched at his touch. He rarely offered people his right hand, but this guy already rubbed him the wrong way. Jaime didn’t like being ambushed. “Yeah, this is where it happened.”

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw the news coverage. I mean, her dad said Brienne was a bull rider, but I thought he was kidding.”

“Her dad? Do you know Brienne?”

“Sort of. Our dads were buddies in the service. They ran into each other a few years ago and thought it’d be a hoot to set us up. It was a hoot alright.” Connington gestured at himself. Now that Jaime was really looking, he saw that the man was at least six inches shorter than Brienne and probably five years older.

Jaime made a noncommittal grunt. Why in seven hells had Brienne’s father thought this smarmy reporter would be a good match for his daughter?

“She was sitting down when I got to the bar. We talked for a minute, and she seemed nice enough, although kinda touchy when I asked if she played basketball. Anyway, then she stood up, and I had to be honest with her. I told her thanks for the drink but that was all she was going to get from me. And I left.”

“You ditched her because she was tall?”

Connington shrugged. “And not my type. I like a girl that actually looks like a girl, ya know? I should’ve given her a chance, really. I didn’t understand back then.”

Jaime bristled. He couldn’t fathom why this little pissant thought it was okay to talk about Brienne this way, to him of all people. “Understand what?” he asked coldly.

“How incredibly grateful ugly girls can be.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively. “You got in her pants, right? You know what I mean.”

Jaime didn’t even think about throwing the punch, but Connington hit the deck spitting blood and teeth, and Jaime’s scarred fist was throbbing and dripping blood.

Connington wiped his hand across his bloody mouth. “Seven hells, what was that for? Don’t tell me you actually like that bitch.”

“She’s not a bitch,” Jaime growled. “Her name is Brienne, and you will never speak about her again, or your teeth won’t be all I break.”

“Jaime, what are you doing?” Renly hissed and yanked him back, gripping Jaime’s shoulder hard.

Jaime stepped back as another man helped Connington to his feet. “He called Brienne a bitch,” Jaime muttered.

Renly’s brow knit in confusion, then he nodded. “Fair enough. Let’s get someone to look at your hand.”

 


Memphis Commercial Appeal
August 29, 2013

MEMPHIS - Notes on the PBR Last Cowboy Standing Invitational: GriffinsRoostSports.com reporter “Red” Ronnet Connington, 27, opted not to press charges after an altercation at the Riverlands Center. Bull rider Jaime Lannister, 35, reportedly punched Connington in the face, knocking out two of his teeth. No word on how the fight started. This was not Lannister’s first violent incident. He was convicted of assault in 2001, and involved in an altercation with a photographer in 2006.
The Riverlands Center was the site of the incident last September when Lannister was trampled by a bull. The two men convicted of assault in connection with that incident are currently serving three-year sentences at Dreadfort Penitentiary.

 


August 29, 2013
Memphis, Tennessee (Jaime)
Prescott, Arizona (Brienne)

“So now I understand why you didn’t call last night.”

From Brienne’s tone, Jaime knew instantly that he was busted. “Who told you?”

“Margaery. Apparently she has a Google Alert on you.” Brienne sighed. “What were you thinking?”

“He told me about your date,” Jaime fairly spat the last word. He still couldn’t believe the nerve of Connington, so casually insulting Jaime’s girlfriend to his face.

“So? Gods, Jaime, you’re a felon. You can’t just haul off and punch people,” Brienne said, exasperated and weary.

Jaime hated when people talked to him as if he were a child, as if he weren’t often reminded of his criminal record. Connington had certainly pointed it out when he’d demanded that Jaime pay his medical expenses, plus $10,000 to keep him from pressing charges.

“He disrespected you,” Jaime protested.

Brienne laughed harshly. “You say that like Ron Connington is the first one to disrespect me. As if it doesn’t happen every day.” She sighed heavily. “Connington doesn’t matter to me. You matter to me, and I don’t want you getting into trouble defending me from morons who don’t matter.”

Jaime hadn’t realized before it was possible to be so irritated with her and so warmed by her words at the same time. “I just couldn’t believe he’d talk shit about you to me of all people,” he grumbled.

“You think he really believes there’s anything between us? Come on, Jaime, we’re tabloid fodder. The gossip sites can’t seem to decide if I’m sleeping with both you and Hyle or just happen to have gorgeous male friends.”

“Neither,” Jaime said vehemently.

Brienne laughed, but this laugh wasn’t bitter. “Actually, the second one is true.”

It took Jaime a few seconds to realize that she was talking about Renly and Loras. He waited until her laughter ended. “When can I see you? I could fly out to meet you again, if it won’t distract you too much.”

“I don’t know. I didn’t get much sleep last time,” she said reproachfully.

“Are you complaining?”

“No, I’m just saying the next day sucked.”

“Yeah, I know, mine too.”

Seeing Brienne for a single night, alternately dozing and making up for lost time, had felt far too much like his years with Cersei. It wouldn’t have been like that if the weather hadn’t delayed him for four hours. At least Jaime hadn’t woken up alone, and they’d actually said goodbye before he’d had to catch his flight. He wasn’t proud of it, but he needed to see her at least every couple of weeks, if only to reassure himself that nothing had changed between them. Cersei’s shadow fell over his relationship with Brienne more than he liked, no matter how often Jaime reminded himself that the two women couldn’t be more different.

“Are you coming back to work with Renly this fall?” Jaime asked. They hadn’t talked about her plans for the rest of the season. Jaime had been so wrapped up in learning what he needed to know about the PBR and Lannister Corp that he’d monopolized their conversations lately.

“No, I don’t think so.” Brienne hesitated. “The only time I had open during your competitions was mid-September, but I’ve booked a trip to Calgary, so I can’t come to Boston.”

“What’s Calgary got that Boston doesn’t? I mean, I’d be in Boston too, you know,” Jaime teased. He knew two things about Calgary: the Stampede was held there every summer, and the Stark ranch was nearby.

“I’m going to Winterfell. Robb got me a meeting with Benjen Stark,” Brienne admitted.

“Why?” Maybe she was going to work with Robb’s little spitfire sister, Arya, for a few days. Nothing else made sense.

Brienne sighed. “Robb’s brother Jon is joining the military, and they have an opening. Robb suggested I come talk to Benjen about it.”

“You’re a bull rider. What do you know about livestock?” Jaime pointed out.

“Plenty. I worked as a bullfighter for almost two years, and with Renly and Peach for four years. I know bulls,” Brienne reminded him. “Besides, what am I going to do if riding doesn’t pan out? Even if it does I might get ten years out of it, and then what do I do?”

Brienne had been upset, her confidence shaken, but Jaime had had no idea she’d been considering something so drastic. “You fought like hell to get here, are you seriously thinking about quitting?”

“It’s just a meeting,” Brienne replied dismissively. “And it’s my career. It doesn’t affect you.”

“It doesn’t affect me?” Jaime bristled at that. Her career plans damn well did affect him. Jaime had been turning himself inside out trying to make sure they had a relationship, not just a series of desperate fucks in hotel rooms. Brienne apparently either hadn’t noticed that or didn’t care. “For some reason I thought you might tell me if you fucking decided to move to Calgary.”

“Whoa, I’m not moving there yet. You’re just mad I won’t be sitting with Loras and the wives like a good little girlfriend,” Brienne snapped.

That was a sore spot for her, but it was for him too. Jaime had had someone there to watch him ride only a handful of times in his entire career. “Honey, if I wanted a good little girlfriend, I wouldn’t be with you. I’m mad because this is a stupid thing you’re doing.”

Brienne didn’t answer immediately, and when she did her voice was cold. “Well, if you think I’m being stupid, you may as well know I might see Hyle in Calgary. The Rangers are playing the Flames.”

“So you’re quitting riding and you’re seeing Hunt. Anything else you want to tell me?” Jaime could feel this conversation slipping out of control, but he couldn’t seem to stop it.

“That’s not fair,” Brienne said defensively. “And if I see Hyle, it would only be dinner and watching his game. He’s asked twice to come watch me ride, and I told him no.”

Brienne had never mentioned talking to Hunt. Jaime hadn’t even known they were still in touch. Why would she talk to him? When it came to Hyle Hunt, Jaime was always going to assume the worst.

“Hunt wants you to ride him, honey,” Jaime shot back in the same patronizing tone she’d used earlier. The list of Cersei’s lovers flashed through his mind. Brienne and Cersei were nothing alike, but Cersei’s betrayals still gnawed at him. She had cheated on Jaime for years and he’d had no idea.

“Here I thought I had a say in that,” Brienne countered. “You know I only want you, Jaime. Why are you acting like this? It’s just dinner.”

“Dinner,” Jaime scoffed. “Don't let him get you drunk. We both know what booze does to you.” The instant the words left his mouth he knew he shouldn’t have said it, but the words hung there between them.

“Fuck you, Jaime.” Brienne’s voice was hard, brittle. “I’m hanging up now. Don’t call me tomorrow.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t.” Jaime took the phone away from his ear and pressed End.

 

Chapter Text

September 5, 2013
Omaha, Nebraska

Brienne stood in the doorway of Jaime’s suite in San Diego.

Halfway across the room, Jaime turned, his darkened gaze on her, and smiled. Her name on his lips was a caress, his words a tether pulling her to him. Jaime had been pulling Brienne back to him with that voice for months, his laugh when they talked on the phone, his teasing texts, even the nickname that had changed from taunt to endearment.

She approached Jaime slowly, still afraid that this was all an elaborate joke, even now. After some time, her disbelief receded under his touch, soothed by his lips against hers, his hands peeling away her vest and shirt to expose heated skin to the cool air.

Brienne expected him to stop, to come to his senses confronted with her flat chest and thick waist. But Jaime didn’t stop, only found new places to touch and kiss and tease, smiling against her skin in reaction to her gasps and whispered words. Driven to touch him, Brienne made quick work of removing Jaime’s shirt, her hands gliding over his back, his stomach, his hips, making him groan and buck against her.

Boots and pants were kicked off and discarded around them, and at some point Brienne realized that she was sitting on the couch astride Jaime wearing nothing but her panties and a full-body blush. She would rather Tyrion not walk in on this, should he return to the suite any time soon. So Brienne disentangled herself from Jaime, thwarting his attempt to remove the last vestiges of her modesty, and retreated into his bedroom. Jaime followed.

Brienne woke abruptly, alone in her small, dingy hotel room, breathing hard and grateful to have woken when she did. The memories were painful enough these days; she didn’t need to relive that night too. Her back protested as she stretched. Her computer was still on, a movie running.

All this would be so much simpler if life were a movie, if they could fix what had gone wrong with a boombox outside her window. But this wasn’t a movie and no perfect song would heal the rift between Brienne and Jaime. They were too good at running away from each other.

This time Brienne wasn’t sure they would find their way back to each other. A week had passed with nothing but silence between them. For the first few days, Brienne had expected him to call, to apologize. He’d done it after San Diego. But Jaime hadn’t called, hadn’t texted.

Brienne had lost count of how many times she’d almost called him. She missed Jaime, especially at night, when they’d always talked. What Brienne needed to do was get on a plane and go to Michigan, where he was competing. She needed to see Jaime's face, see if he truly believed she would ever cheat on him, much less with Hyle.

But Brienne wouldn’t get on a plane. She remembered Jaime now. He was the man who teased her, encouraged her, held her in the dark. But he was also the man she’d met at Riverrun, the one who could cut her with a single word or a sharp smile. The man who’d lashed out at her in Memphis and accused her of failing him. She’d forgotten that for a while.

 


September 8, 2013
Joplin, Missouri

“So you’re really not coming to Boston?” Renly asked incredulously.

Brienne sighed. “We’ve been over this.”

They’d discussed Boston a week ago, before she’d placed third in Omaha. Renly seemed to think that one good competition should change her plans. It had helped her confidence in the arena, but Brienne still needed to explore her long-term options.

“Alright, I’m just checking before I hire someone else.”

“You know I appreciate that you still ask.” Brienne was quiet a moment, then she steeled herself and asked, “How is he?”

Renly snorted. “Ask him yourself.”

“I can’t. He said horrible things to me. I’m not crawling back to him,” she said firmly.

“Bri, I really don’t want to be in the middle of this.” Renly sounded so tired. Brienne wondered if he’d had this conversation with Jaime too.

“I’m sorry, Ren. I wasn’t trying to put you in the middle.”

“Look, I love both of you, and that’s not going to change if you’re together or not,” Renly reminded her gently.

Brienne was quiet.

Renly heaved a sigh. “He’s miserable too. And that’s all I’m going to say about it. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Renly, thank—”

“Don’t thank me,” he said sharply. “You two are really pissing me off right now. You’re not the first couple to ever have a godsdamn fight. Grow up. Talk to each other.”

“Say what you really mean,” Brienne joked, but his assessment stung.

Renly laughed harshly. “I always do.”

 


September 10, 2013
TMZsports.com

Beauty and the Beast call it quits

Sources close to the oddball couple of professional bull riders Jaime Lannister and Brienne Tarth confirm that the duo have split.
“She’s been really upset,” one source said. “Moping around and checking her phone a lot. It’s sad, really, but it’s amazing it lasted as long as it did.”
Another source confirmed, “It was only a matter of time before Lannister came to his senses. He must’ve finally realized he could do better. Whatever he owed her for Memphis, that debt is long since paid.”
Lannister, 35, and Tarth, 22, have been linked off and on since last fall, when both were injured by a rampaging bull at the Riverlands Center in Memphis, Tennessee. Tarth then moved into Lannister’s Texas home for several months until both returned to work. The pair were also seen together in July having a romantic getaway at San Diego Comic-Con.

 


September 12, 2013
Los Angeles, California

“How are you doing?” Margaery asked, flopping onto Brienne’s bed and watching as her friend packed a suitcase.

Brienne shrugged, turned back to her closet, grabbed a shirt. Jaime’s shirt. She put it back in the closet, hoping Margaery hadn’t noticed. She pulled out a different shirt, folded it, laid it in the suitcase. “Fine. Should be an interesting trip.”

Margaery raised an eyebrow. “Fine? Your music selections today say differently. Unless you’d like to pretend you haven’t been listening to mopey break-up songs all day.”

Brienne bit her lip. “Two or three songs is not all day.”

“So you still haven’t talked to Jaime,” Margaery guessed.

Brienne shrugged. “No. He said awful things to me. And he meant them.”

Margaery laughed. “Brienne, everyone says things they don’t mean during a fight. Why do you think Jaime is any different?”

Brienne tossed a pair of jeans into her suitcase. “You don’t know him. He doesn’t lie to me. Brutal honesty is more Jaime’s style. Besides, this is partly your fault.”

“My fault? How could this be my fault?” Margaery protested, sitting up and crossing her arms.

Brienne looked away, but she’d spent so little time in this room that everything reminded her of the day Jaime had helped her unpack. “You told me not to talk to him about the future. The fight really started when I told him I had booked the trip to Winterfell. He was upset I hadn’t talked to him about it.”

“Oh please, he booked trips without telling you,” Margaery pointed out.

Brienne thought a moment. “No, he didn’t. Jaime always told me first. He never asked my opinion or shared a lot of details of his business trips, but I knew about them first.”

“Fine, so you have the one boyfriend in the world who wants to talk about future plans with his girlfriend of two months,” Margaery huffed. “You could have ignored me, if you were so sure.”

Brienne sat on the bed beside her friend. “I don’t know what I’m doing here. I trust you to keep me from messing this up. And maybe it’s for the best, if he really thinks I’d ever screw Hyle Hunt.”

Margaery laughed. “Jaime Lannister jealous of Hyle Hunt? Someone must have burned him bad to make him think any woman would choose Hyle over him, reputation be damned. If it’s a straight-up choice, one night in a man’s bed, sorry, I’d pick Jaime over Hyle any day.”

Beautiful, icy Cersei rose in Brienne’s mind. Had Cersei cheated on him? When Stannis had challenged the children’s paternity, Renly had mentioned that Jaime hadn’t been the only guy tested. Jaime must have known that. If Cersei had cheated on him, that might explain his reaction, though there was still no excuse for what he’d said.

“There’s no choice,” Brienne agreed. “Even without Jaime in the picture I would never be with Hyle.” She closed her suitcase.

Margaery’s face grew serious. “Brienne, everyone fights, and everyone says things they don’t mean. Words are wind. They’re not worth more than everything you two have been through together.”

Brienne smiled at her friend. “I’ll think about it. I promise. But right now I need some sleep. I’ve got a flight to catch in the morning.”

 


September 15, 2013
Winterfell, west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Brienne checked the time on her phone. She’d been ready to leave for half an hour, but Robb was still stuck inside the house, injecting a voice of reason into the loud, hysterical lecture his younger brother was receiving.

Bran, whose daredevil exploits were legendary on the ranch, had climbed high atop an old water tower that afternoon and nearly fallen. The boy’s mother and uncle had spent the last half hour reminding Bran in detail of the many ways he could get himself killed on the ranch. Meanwhile Brienne waited on the porch with Arya, both pretending they couldn’t hear what was going on inside.

Brienne had already told Benjen Stark that she wasn’t ready to give up on riding yet. The decision had been easier than she’d expected, despite the friendliness of the Starks and the beauty of Winterfell. The ranch lay in the foothills of the Rockies, nestled against jagged, snow-capped mountains. The house itself was built from ancient stone, and sat upon hot springs which heated the house. Arya had confessed that the hot springs pool in the woods behind the house was also a popular spot for skinny dipping in the winter.

“So, you and Jaime Lannister,” Arya said, tossing her a wink and an amused smile far too smug for a girl barely sixteen years old.

Brienne sighed. “It’s complicated. What about you? Anyone interesting at your school?” She’d spent a lot of time with Arya over the past two days, but they’d mostly talked about bull riding and snickered together over some of Syrio’s more outlandish training methods. It was Syrio who’d convinced Brienne to stick with riding, at least for another year. Jobs like the one at Winterfell would still be there in a year, but if she quit now it would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to ever ride again.

Arya smiled, almost shy, an expression utterly unlike her usual blustery confidence. “We’re homeschooled, but there is one boy. He’s stupid, though.”

Brienne laughed. “That’s what I thought about Jaime, too. How’d you meet your stupid boy?”

Arya glanced at the front door, making sure it was still closed. “On a field trip with the kids from Winter Town High. There’s a mock medieval village not far from here, and we were all given parts to play for a day.” She rolled her eyes. “I was a high-born lady. I had to wear ridiculous skirts and keep my hair neat.”

Brienne smiled. Arya, with her short, messy brown hair and clothes always smudged with dirt, was the last girl Brienne would expect to enjoy playing that role. “And your boy was a knight in shining armor? A lord?”

Arya shook her head. “Gendry was a blacksmith. The first time I saw him he was stripped to the waist and pounding a sheet of metal into shape with a big hammer.”

Brienne’s smile widened. “That must’ve been quite the first impression.”

“He told me to shut my mouth or bugs would fly in,” Arya confessed.

Brienne bit her lip to keep from laughing. She should have known pretty words wouldn’t interest Arya Stark. “Sounds like a charming young man.”

Arya shrugged. “I like him. Mom would throw a fit. He’s older. She thinks I’m taking dancing lessons in town, something Syrio suggested and I shot down. Gets me out of the house a couple of times a week anyway.”

Brienne sighed. “Just be careful.”

Arya frowned, her brows gathered over sharp grey eyes. “I’m not stupid.”

Brienne nodded and let it go.

The argument died down inside, until it was just Robb’s mother Catelyn, sobbing and furious simultaneously, begging her son never to do something that dangerous again.

Robb came out onto the porch, looking drained. “Sorry about that, Brienne.” He held out a hand to her.

Brienne shook his hand firmly. “Not a problem. And thanks for showing me around. This was really enlightening. I didn’t realize how much was involved in raising and training the bulls.”

Robb followed Brienne down the steps and across the driveway to her rental car. “If you ever change your mind, just drop me an e-mail. I think you could really fit in well here.”

Brienne nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks again.”

She got into the car and made her way back to the Trans-Canada Highway, speeding toward the city as the sun set behind her.

Hyle was in Calgary, but Brienne had canceled their plans yesterday, claiming she didn’t feel well. Hyle had been understanding, and perhaps a touch relieved if she was interpreting his tone correctly. At some point he was bound to realize that seeing Brienne was only a reminder of the kid he’d been, not the man he wanted to be.

Brienne yawned as she drove. She would sleep on the plane. She’d switched her flight from tomorrow morning to tonight, and her destination from Los Angeles to Boston. It was time to stop running. Renly and Margaery were right. After everything they’d been through, Brienne couldn’t just let Jaime slip away without even trying to talk to him. If all she accomplished was telling him how hurtful his accusations had been, that would be better than the way they’d left things.

After half an hour, Brienne realized that she was more than tired, she was exhausted, and it wasn’t safe to keep driving. She cranked up the radio, singing along at full volume, until she spotted an exit ahead with the promise of Tim Horton’s.

Turning off the highway, Brienne found the coffee shop right at the base of the exit ramp, where it crossed the street running under the highway. The parking lot was full, so she took a spot in the nearly deserted lot next door, behind a semi-truck. There was only one other car there, a battered station wagon loaded for a road trip, sleeping bags and suitcases wedged against the back windows. A young girl, maybe 12 or 13 years old, sat in the passenger seat, light from her phone shining on her face. Did kids do anything but play on their phones these days?

Brienne went inside, ducking in line ahead of a group of laughing kids led by a tall, dark-haired young man and a slender brown-haired girl. He looked a bit like Renly, if she squinted. Brienne ordered a mocha and waited by the counter while a woman made her drink.

Brienne sipped her drink as she headed back to her car. Dark had fallen while she waited in the coffee shop, and the parking lot was only lit up in a few spot. Several of the lights were burnt out, and apparently no one was taking care of this lot now that the restaurant it surrounded had gone out of business.

There were several motorcycles in the parking lot now, and a pair of guys stood by the station wagon’s door. They wore black leather jackets, something embroidered in red on the backs, but she couldn’t read it from here. Was the girl still in there? Brienne had just set her cup on the roof of the car when she noticed that the men were using a bent coat hanger to try to unlock the door.

“Hey, what are you doing?” she yelled sharply, realizing a fraction of a second later that calling the police from the safety of her rental car would have been a much smarter plan.

One of the men looked up, grinned. That grin made Brienne’s skin crawl.

The grinning man passed the hanger to his friend, and stalked toward her. A pathetic, barely audible squawk drew Brienne’s attention back to the station wagon. The girl inside the car was sobbing and hitting the car’s steering wheel repeatedly, but the horn was clearly broken.

Had the girl called the police? Brienne hoped so, but she still reached into her pocket, unlocked her phone, and swiftly hit the emergency button. Brienne suddenly realized she didn’t know what number to dial in Canada, and called Margaery instead. She shoved the phone back into her pocket, hoping Margaery would be able to hear what was happening and call someone.

Hopefully the police were already on their way. Brienne just needed to stall until they arrived.

As the grinning man approached, Brienne saw that his teeth were filed to points. “You’re a big, ugly bitch,” he observed, so matter-of-factly it was unsettling.

Fear raised goosebumps on her skin, but Brienne pushed it away. She wanted to respond, but she needed to keep the men distracted for a few minutes, not provoke a confrontation. Brienne couldn’t retreat to her car. This man would likely just smash her window, and the other one might take the hint to do the same to the station wagon.

“Help!” Brienne yelled, hoping someone in the Tim Horton’s parking lot would hear her. She heard footsteps, looked behind her, only to find five more men wearing the same jackets coming toward her.

Brienne cursed under her breath. Seven against one. If only she were at risk, Brienne would retreat. She couldn’t beat seven men. But she couldn’t run and leave that girl alone. She palmed the rental car company’s key fob, the key protruding between the fingers of her clenched fist.

One man said with a gleeful snarl, “Look what you’ve found us, Biter. Another car and a big bitch to fuck. I bet this one could take all of us.”

“You know I take care of my boys, Rorge,” Biter replied.

Brienne rushed toward the station wagon, hoping that surprise combined with her strength and agility would be enough to get past Biter and the man with the coat hanger. Biter stepped into her path, and she swung at him. Her key raked him across the cheek, and he yelped, grabbed her arm, shoved her back toward the men closing in behind her. One grabbed her, and she kicked him hard, fairly sure she’d hit his knee from the way he squealed.

A fist slammed into her shoulder, spun her around. Fear spurred her, kept the pain she should have been feeling at bay. Brienne lashed out again, and another man grabbed her hair, spitting, “Just for that, I’m going to kick out your teeth.”

Another man kicked her knees out from behind her, and Brienne hit the ground, the shock making her cry out. Another steel-toed kick sent pain lancing through her chest, each breath stabbing through her.

Brienne lost track of the dark shapes massing around her, but she struck out one more time, and a man howled. She looked up and saw her key embedded in Rorge’s eye.

A boot slammed into Brienne’s chest, knocking her onto her back.

“I’m going to pop out your fucking eyes and make you eat them.” It was the man with the filed teeth. Biter. He leered down at her, then stomped hard on her right arm.

Brienne felt it snap, a strangled, thin cry wheezing from her. Gravel dug into her back and her arm, and Biter straddled her, dropping down hard onto her stomach, his knees pinning her arms down. He clutched an empty beer bottle now, reached over, broke it on the ground. “But first I’m going to make you even uglier.”

As he slashed down, Brienne turned her head. She barely felt the drag of the glass across her cheek, but then her face was on fire, sticky warmth dripping into her ear. The coppery scent of blood filled her nose.

“Freeze!” she heard, loud but far away. Brienne’s vision darkened around the edges. She had to keep fighting, though she wasn’t sure how. She couldn’t feel her hands anymore.

Biter turned to look, the bottle still held high, blood coating the jagged edge and dripping down onto her chest.

A loud crack sounded, and suddenly Biter’s smile froze. A gunshot. She knew that sound well. As he toppled, Brienne saw the bloody hole in the side of his head.

And then the darkness took her.

 

Brienne was cold. She shook with it, her head pounding, and crossed the common room. The window must be open. Why wasn’t anyone else cold? Music blasted around her, the beat pulsing in time with her heart.

Other students surrounded Brienne, talking, dancing, kissing, few bothering to spare her even a disdainful glance as she passed. Renly and Loras were wrapped around each other on the couch, not caring what anyone thought of them. That wasn’t right. Renly shouldn’t be there.

“Let’s get out of here.”

Brienne turned, her head throbbing as her vision blurred with the movement.

Owen Inchfield stood there, broad-shouldered, dark, sharp brown eyes in a stubbled face. “You’re going to like this,” he said. His hand grasped her right arm, fingers digging sharply into her flesh, pain shooting up to her shoulder.

This wasn’t how it happened, was it? No, Hyle wasn’t there either, watching as Owen pulled her out of the room. And Brienne had not needed much coaxing to leave the party, not after four cups of sweet punch which didn’t quite mask the taste of grain alcohol.

Through the door, into deeper cold. The room may as well have been a walk-in freezer despite its simple dorm furniture, Tarantino posters on the walls, the only light the glow from his computer screen. Dizzy, she sat, closed her eyes for just a moment. When Brienne opened them, she lay half-naked on the bed, Owen’s clumsy hand between her thighs. Brienne closed her eyes again. He took his hand away but this time she knew that his hard cock would replace it, the weight of his body pushing her down, pushing inside.

Brienne didn’t want to relive this. She’d left that room too drunk to fully comprehend what had just happened, uncomfortably sore, and wondering why everyone thought that was so great.

This time Brienne shoved him away, and he tumbled to the floor. She scrambled up, not caring about her nudity, and escaped into the hall.

But it wasn’t a hall. It was a bar, and she was stuffed into a short, ridiculous black dress.

“Would you at least try? Please?” Margaery urged as a man whisked her away onto the dance floor.  

Brienne stepped back, her hip jostling a table. She turned to apologize.

“I don’t know who you think you’re fooling.” Ronnet Connington sat at the table, smirking. “A dress won’t make you more of a girl. Or any prettier. That ship sailed long ago, when you got so big you could probably wrestle a bear.”

He laughed, and Brienne pushed her way through the crowd. She shoved between men, women, happy and laughing. Men she recognized from bars, from the tour. Boros Blount and his horrid wife, almost certainly TMZ’s sources. Biter raised his drink, grinned at her.

Brienne stumbled. Her arm still hurt. Why did her arm hurt? Her chest felt tight, and her face was hot despite the frigid air.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a flash of gold. Brienne whipped around to follow. Jaime? She pushed people aside, ignoring their protests, determined to reach him. He pushed through the door just ahead of her.

The arena was dark, the only light coming from the open roof. Here, at least, the biting cold made sense. Where were they? She struggled to think of any arena like this. None should have that many stars filling the night sky, diamonds strewn across midnight velvet.

Jaime stood by the chutes, but there was something wrong about him. He wore no hat, and when he gripped the railing, she saw the glint of silver on his right hand. His complete, unscarred right hand.

“Jaime,” she called out.

Jaime turned, his handsome face all arrogant smirk and appraising eyes. “Honey,” he said, with none of the affection and warmth which had come to inhabit that name. “You don’t belong here. Run back to Renly. I’m sure he’ll pet you and tell you what a good dog you are.”

Her lip quivered and tears filled her eyes, but Brienne couldn’t speak. Her tongue felt too big, and when she tried to call his name again she bit her tongue, blood filling her mouth.

Jaime climbed the railing and leapt gracefully into the arena, stalking across the dirt like he owned it.

The chute was empty below her, but Brienne heard the bull nonetheless. It was somewhere in the arena, waiting. She struggled over the railing, her right arm still throbbing, boots sliding under her as she ran. Darkness coalesced into a black mass of muscle and fur, white horns bright in the moonlight, blue fire in its eyes.

Brienne called out a warning, but no matter how loud she yelled, Jaime didn’t seem to hear her. Her chest still felt tight and breathing was becoming difficult.

He was too far away, standing vulnerable in the middle of the arena, and she ran toward him, but the bull reached him first, tossing him like a rag doll. Jaime hit the dirt hard and was trampled.

As the bull swung around to chase her, this time Brienne didn’t dodge, didn’t try to get away. She had eyes only for Jaime. She just needed to reach him, to drag him out of here.

Brienne had almost reached him when the bull rammed her. She slammed into the dirt, her world reduced to blood and pain and Jaime lying just out of reach, his green eyes open and empty.

Brienne screamed.

 

Chapter Text

September 15, 2013
Hightower Hotel, Boston, Massachusetts

When Jaime’s phone rang, he almost didn’t pick it up. While weeks ago a call in the evening would almost always have been from Brienne, lately it was Tyrion complaining about something at work or trying to distract Jaime.

But it wasn’t Tyrion. It was Margaery.

“Margaery, what’s up?” Jaime asked, unease prickling down his spine.

Margaery had never called him before, and Renly and Loras were safely in a room down the hall. There was only one reason Margaery would call Jaime.

"It's Brienne,” she said, a sob escaping her.

Jaime could barely speak. “Is she okay?”

Margaery continued sobbing, and Jaime sank down onto the bed, waiting for her to answer.

Finally Jaime couldn’t take it anymore. "Is she okay?" he repeated, more urgently. "Please just tell me."

The longer Margaery cried, the worse the scenarios in Jaime's mind became. Trampled by a bull. Car accident. Plane crash.

“Margaery, please. It can't be worse than the shit running through my head right now."

Finally, Margaery took a shaky breath. “I thought they were killing her, and there was nothing I could do,” she said, anger mixing with fear in her voice.

“Killing her? Is she….” Jaime trailed off, unable to finish that question. Not an accident.

“No, no, she’s on her way to the hospital. The cop said he thought… she’d make it.”

If Brienne was alive, there was only one thing Jaime needed to know. “Where are they taking her?”

Margaery hiccupped. “I don’t know yet. Somewhere in Calgary. I can’t get there until tomorrow afternoon. My passport is in my parents’ safe deposit box.”

Jaime shook his head, then remembered she couldn’t see him. “I’ll go. I have my passport. I might be able to catch a flight tonight.”

“Thank the gods. I was afraid you wouldn’t have your passport either.” Margaery’s relief was palpable, her voice still shaky but stronger.

“I don’t usually carry it, but with Brienne in Canada…. Anyway, I’ll send you my flight information as soon as I have it.”

Jaime hung up. He immediately flipped open his laptop, went to his usual travel site, and cursed loudly when he realized there was no way to reach Calgary tonight. At best, he would arrive just after 9 a.m. the next day. Jaime booked the ticket, and sent Margaery the details with an apology. He still needed to leave for the airport right away in order to make his flight to Chicago.

Jaime packed quickly, making a cursory scan of the room for any stray items. Less than ten minutes later, he knocked on Renly’s door.

Renly was red-eyed, and Loras, his face ashen, sat on the bed hunched over his phone. “You’re going?” Renly asked.

Jaime nodded, holding up the bag with his competition gear. His grey hat, the one Brienne had given him. Boots, chaps, bull rope, gloves. “Can I leave this with you?” he asked.

Renly took the bag, tossed it next to his own gear. “Go,” he said firmly. “Give her our love.”

On the cab ride to Logan Airport, Jaime called Tyrion and begged him to see what he could find out. When the plane took off, Jaime was still waiting to hear from his brother.

 


September 15-16, 2013
O’Hare International Airport, Chicago, Illinois

Jaime arrived in Chicago just before midnight, and paced the silent, darkened concourse for hours.

Brienne would survive. That’s what Margaery had said, though the cop who told her that may have just been trying to calm her down. Jaime had spent the entire flight puzzling out scenarios, and when he had landed he’d had one text.

Renly: She’s out of surgery and stable. They wouldn’t tell me more

Jaime’s reply text thanking him went unanswered. He wasn’t that surprised. It was after 1 a.m. in Boston. Renly was likely either asleep or blind drunk.

After hours spent worrying that Brienne would die before he reached her, all Jaime could think about was that her last words to him had included “Fuck you,” far more suited to his mouth than hers. As much as Brienne pushed back when he was rude or obnoxious, Jaime had heard her use that word fewer than a handful of times.

It had taken five days after their argument for Jaime’s anger to fade, five days before he’d realized that, not only had Brienne been drunk when she came on to him in Vancouver, she had probably been drunk on the night Owen Inchfield had used her. No other word suited what had happened, as far as Jaime was concerned.

And Jaime, too blinded by his own hurt, had unknowingly thrown that back in her face.

At a competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a week after their fight, Jaime had finally broached the subject of Owen with Renly, who’d reluctantly confirmed Jaime's suspicions, but he didn’t know any other details. Renly had already graduated from Highgarden by then and had only heard about it through Loras and Margaery. Brienne had never wanted to discuss it.

Going against his usual policy of steering clear of relationship drama, Renly had also bluntly told Jaime to get his head out of his ass and call Brienne before she gave up on him.

Jaime had known he should just pick up the phone, or better yet get on a plane, but he hadn’t known how to begin. The confession he'd made on their first date had come together quickly once he realized what Brienne would need to hear. This time he'd been lost.

Pride had kept Jaime from calling her immediately, when a simple apology might have been enough. By the time Jaime had realized what a complete bloody fool he’d been, it was too late. To explain himself, Jaime would have to share a lot more about his relationship with Cersei than Brienne would want to hear. But without that information, “I’m sorry” would be empty words.

Jaime’s phone rang just after 2 a.m., the only sound in the dark, deserted concourse. He sat alone at an empty gate while Tyrion explained what little he’d learned. Brienne had been at a coffee shop between Winterfell and Calgary. She had stopped some men from hurting a child, and had been badly beaten. She'd been taken to Hollow Hill Medical Center, where she'd had surgery. That was all Tyrion knew.

In light of that, Margaery’s words made more sense, but Jaime couldn’t bring himself to think more about it. He just had to get there, whether Brienne wanted to see him or not.

Jaime tried to sleep. His flight didn’t leave until 5 a.m., but nightmares woke him every time he dozed off. Finally he gave up and passed the hours pacing the concourse, waiting.

 


September 16, 2013
Hollow Hill Medical Center, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

“Sir, we’re here,” the cabbie said, jolting Jaime out of a fitful sleep.

“Thanks.” He handed over his credit card to pay and added a generous tip. The man had pushed the cab well over the speed limit all the way from the airport.

Jaime stumbled out of the cab, almost forgetting the bag he’d hurriedly packed. Asking after Brienne at the registration desk, he was pointed to the third floor and handed a visitor’s badge to clip to his shirt.

Brienne’s room offered little in the way of privacy. As Jaime approached, he could see through the glass walls which allowed the nurses to monitor patients more easily. He vaguely recalled being here once before, years ago, to have his hand X-rayed after the Stampede one year.

Inside Brienne’s room, a man was slumped in a chair, talking on a cell phone. He was clad in blue scrubs, a discarded New York Rangers hockey uniform crumpled on a nearby chair. Broad-chested, with short-cropped dark hair, Hyle Hunt was better looking than Jaime had expected, as if the foul things he’d done as a teenager would have left their mark on his face. There were dark circles under Hunt’s eyes, and his mouth drew down into a frown as he talked.

Brienne lay asleep in the bed, her right arm in a heavy splint and half her face swathed in gauze. Her skin was so pale it contrasted starkly with her sun-darkened freckles and the ghost of a recent sunburn pink across her nose.

Jaime swallowed hard as he approached the doorway. Hunt looked up and saw him. Jaime was close enough to hear him say, “Lannister just showed up. I’ll call you when she wakes up again.”

Jaime stood uncertainly in the doorway. Why was Hyle Hunt here? He cleared his throat. “How is she?”

Hunt glanced at Brienne. “Sedated. She was in a lot of pain when she woke up.”

Jaime took a few steps into the room. “Why are you here?”

Hunt sighed. “I was in town, and Margaery didn’t want Brienne to be alone last night. Trust me, she wouldn’t have called me otherwise.”

Jaime rubbed his dry, grainy eyes and dropped into a chair between Hunt and the door. “Have the doctors told you anything?”

Hunt’s gaze never left Brienne as he spoke. “They broke her arm, cracked three ribs, and slashed the left side of her face. But she’s going to be okay. Needed surgery for her arm, and a plastic surgeon stitched up her face while she was under.”

“I thought you were supposed to be with her last night,” Jaime said. They were having dinner together before his game, that’s what Brienne had said.

Hunt shook his head. “She canceled on me two days ago. Anyway, Margaery called me right before I was supposed to get on the ice, told me Brienne had been attacked and taken to a hospital in Calgary. She begged me to come here, so Brienne wouldn’t wake up alone.”

“Did you play?”

Hunt barked a laugh. “Hell no. I nearly walked out in my skates. Confused the cab driver I found outside the arena. The team’s already on their way to Edmonton for a game tonight. I’ve been suspended, but right now my give-a-damn seems to be broken.”

Jaime had to smile at that. “Yeah, I was supposed to ride today, but I needed to be here.”

Hunt was silent a minute, then stood up, his back cracking. “I’m going to get something to eat. Just sit with her, okay? She probably won’t wake up for a while.”

When Hunt walked out, Jaime took over his seat next to Brienne’s bed. Her left arm lay on top of the blanket, an IV protruding from the back of her hand. Gingerly he took her hand, studied the way they fit together.

Jaime wasn’t sure how long he’d been sitting there when her hand twitched. Jaime looked up, and her eyelids fluttered. “Hyle?” Brienne murmured.

That stung. “No, he’ll be back soon.”

“Jaime?” Brienne’s eyes opened, and Jaime had never seen anything so beautiful. She turned her head slightly to see him better. Her brow furrowed. “You look awful.”

Jaime laughed. “You’re no prize either.”

She winced, reaching up to touch her face, stopping when she saw the splint on her arm. Her lip trembled and she bit it hard, but not fast enough to stop the tears welling up in her eyes.

Jaime squeezed her hand. “Renly and Loras send their love,” he said, struggling to distract her from the injuries he couldn’t look away from either.

“Renly… you were supposed to ride today.” Her voice was rough.

“It’s not important,” Jaime assured her. How could Brienne possibly think one competition was more important to him than her? “Besides, you seem to inspire career suicide in men. Just ask Hunt.”

“You talked to Hyle?” she asked, surprised, as if he could have avoided it.

“When I got here. He’s been suspended for skipping the game last night and he’ll probably miss another game tonight. I’m prepared to put the past aside for a little while in light of that.”

She smiled a little, just enough to make her wince. “Who are you and what have you done with Jaime Lannister?”

Jaime laughed and leaned down to brush a kiss across her knuckles. She had a point.

Brienne’s gaze drifted to the doorway.

When Jaime looked up, Hunt was there. “I should call Tyrion. I kept him up half the night worrying about you.” Jaime released Brienne’s hand and stood up, crossing the room to the doorway. He passed Hunt and walked out into the hall.

Awhile later, Jaime was half asleep in a chair in the visitors’ lounge down the hall when Hunt sat down next to him. Jaime struggled upright and gratefully accepted the paper cup of coffee Hunt offered him. “Thanks.”

Hunt stared at the floor, holding his own coffee. “When I got here last night, they were prepping Brienne for surgery, and they wouldn’t let me see her. It was hours later when a nurse finally came looking for me. I guess the guy in full hockey gear was tough to forget.” He smiled ruefully. “So I sat by her side all night. And you know what Brienne kept saying, in her sleep?”

Jaime eyed the younger man warily. “What?”

Hunt looked up at him. “Your name. Over and over.” He scratched at the stubble on his chin. “She was confused when she woke up and found me here instead.”

“I got here as fast as I could,” Jaime replied defensively. “I’m glad she wasn’t alone, but I can’t say I was all that happy to see you here.”

Hunt shrugged. “I owed her this much, but don’t act like I’m the only one who’s done something stupid when he was young. You should know.”

Aerys again. It never went away. “Don’t you dare compare the things we’ve done. Why are you even here? You didn't have to come.”

Hunt looked away. “Brienne was a friend. She might have been more, but I killed that the day I told my teammates about her. I’m going to go tell her goodbye, and see if I can get a flight to Edmonton. Don’t worry, I won’t contact her again.”

By the time Hunt emerged from Brienne’s room, his uniform tucked into a hospital-issued plastic bag, she was asleep again.

Jaime waited until Hunt was gone, then went back into the room and settled himself in the chair beside her. He sent a quick text to Renly, reminding him that everything here was under control and to focus on his ride. Renly was in third place right now, within striking distance of winning the championship in October, but Jaime had been in his position several times and knew that Renly couldn’t afford any missteps. Jaime was ranked 15th, but it didn’t matter. He would have left Boston even if he was in first place.

Brienne woke when a med tech came to take her vitals. Just as the tech was finishing and Jaime thought they might finally have a moment to talk, the police arrived and asked him to step out while they took Brienne’s statement. She hadn’t been conscious long enough the previous night to tell them what had happened, though Jaime had gleaned from Margaery’s call that somehow Margaery had heard the entire attack. Brienne must have been on the phone with her when it happened.

“No, I want him to stay,” Brienne insisted.

Jaime sat at her side, his hand finding hers when her voice began to shake, while Brienne explained the events of the previous day. He struggled to keep his expression neutral when she recounted the threats the men had made, the blows they had struck. Brienne’s work made her particularly good at recalling details of the action. She could recall every move a bull made in eight seconds; she could remember almost everything which had happened until she’d hit the ground. The last thing she remembered was the bottle slashing her face.

One cop filled in a few details while his partner finished writing up Brienne’s statement. The young man whose car the bikers had been trying to break into had returned to the parking lot just in time to see the attack begin. He had flagged down a cop who had just pulled into the Tim Horton’s parking lot, responding to an emergency call, and they’d reached the scene just as the man the police called Biter had cut her. The cop had ordered Biter to freeze, and the man had reached for something under his jacket. Assuming it was a gun, the cop had shot him.

As soon as the shot had rung out, the bikers had scattered, most of them getting away. Rorge with his ruined eye and Biter dead on the pavement had remained. The gang, the Bloody Mummers, were notorious in three provinces and four states, and they liked to maim their victims. Brienne had been lucky.

Looking at her now, Jaime could tell she didn’t feel very lucky. He squeezed Brienne’s hand, reminding her that she wasn’t alone. If anyone here was lucky, it was Jaime. If that cop had been any further away when the call came in, Brienne might have died alone in a parking lot far from home. Jaime would never have had the opportunity to apologize, to tell her he loved her, like he should have been telling her every day.

Jaime followed the police out of the room to ask the nurse when Brienne could have more pain medication. A young couple stood outside the room, clearly waiting to go in. He was tall and dark, while she was slight but strong.

“Jaime Lannister,” the girl acknowledged him, as if she expected him to know her.

Jaime only had to study her a moment longer, the long face, the grey eyes, before he saw the resemblance. “Robb Stark’s sister,” he guessed. Jaime couldn’t think of anyone else Brienne knew in Calgary.

“Arya,” the boy piped up, his arm going around the girl protectively.

She shook him off. “Gendry, knock it off. He’s not dangerous. He’s Brienne’s boyfriend.”

“I’m going to the cafeteria to get some food. Brienne’s awake, but tired. You can go in if you want,” Jaime offered.

He hadn’t planned on leaving Brienne, but at least this way he could get something to eat and she wouldn’t be alone. Jaime disliked making small talk, especially with teenagers. He had spent a lot more time with Myrcella in the past few months, but Arya Stark didn’t look like she wanted to talk about reality TV, shopping, or boy bands.

By the time Jaime returned from eating a truly abysmal meal and filling Tyrion in on the full story, Arya and the boy were gone, and Brienne was sleeping again. Jaime took up his position at her side again and checked the day’s scores at Oldtown on his phone. Renly had scored 87.65. Jaime sent him a congratulatory text, then called Margaery, who had calmed down significantly since their last conversation.

Jaime found himself yawning as they talked, and ended the call after promising to try to get Brienne to call Margaery the next day.

Brienne was mumbling in her sleep, her words indistinct but her fear painfully clear. Jaime thought she said his name once or twice, but he couldn’t be sure. He scooted his chair closer and took her hand. Jaime watched as her brow smoothed, and her breathing calmed. Things between them wouldn’t be so easy to fix when she woke up, but he wouldn’t be anywhere else.

 

Chapter Text

September 16, 2013
Hollow Hill Medical Center, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

When Brienne woke up in the hospital, Hyle was there, wearing his Rangers uniform. At first, she thought she was dreaming again. Why else would Hyle be at her side?

The next time she woke, it was still night, Hyle was still there, but someone had taken pity on him and given him scrubs to change into.  

By morning the doctors cut back her narcotics sufficiently that Brienne was certain Hyle was actually there. Margaery had called him, he said, so Brienne wouldn’t be alone. Brienne managed to thank him, but nothing more. Within a few minutes, exhaustion sent her back into a restless sleep.

And the next time she woke, Jaime was there, his clothes rumpled, dark circles under his beautiful green eyes and his hair messy in that careless way familiar to her from their morning runs.

Brienne knew she should be angry with Jaime, would be angry with him later, but just then she couldn’t manage it. She was too relieved to see him.

Not long after that, Hyle told her he was leaving, and Brienne doubted she would ever hear from him again. It wasn’t anything he said, just the finality of his tone. There was nothing left to say, and long past time to move on.

The day passed quickly, sleep broken by the police wanting to interview her, then Arya Stark arrived with her boyfriend Gendry, the young man from Tim Horton’s. Sometimes the world seemed very small.

When Brienne woke next, the sun had set, and someone had drawn the curtain which shielded her bed from the view of the nurses’ station. A tech was wrapping a blood pressure cuff around her arm, and Jaime was gone.

“Where is Jaime?” she asked, looking around. The question was hardly out of her mouth before she spotted his bag on the floor in the corner of the room. Jaime must still be somewhere in the hospital.

The tech shrugged. “Visiting hours ended about an hour ago. I’m sure the nurses kicked her out.”

Brienne didn’t bother to correct the woman. As soon as the tech left, Brienne called Margaery, apologized for making her listen to the attack, and thanked her for calling Jaime, Renly, and Hyle.  

Dr. Myr stopped by to check on her progress, and was pleased to find Brienne awake and alert. It would be at least two days, probably three, before the swelling went down enough that they could cast her arm. The doctor insisted that someone travel home with her when she was released. Brienne’s first thought was Jaime, but he’d already missed one competition because of her. He shouldn’t have to miss the next one, too. Margaery could come. She’d already offered anyway. Brienne just needed to tell her when to come.

Dr. Myr also brought in a nurse to change the bandage on her face. Brienne asked to see the wound, and the nurse brought her a mirror.

The entire left side of her face was swollen. Small, neat stitches ran from her left cheekbone almost all the way to her jaw. The doctor insisted that it would heal well, especially if she used scar-reducing creams and tried to stay out of the sun for a while.

Brienne almost laughed, considering how much time she spent outdoors, but then she remembered that she wouldn’t be competing any time soon. She turned her head, looking at her unmarked cheek, then the slashed one. Brienne was plain at best, freakish at worst, even before this. What did it matter? The people who loved her had never much cared how she looked, had told her more than once that there was nothing wrong with her looks. Margaery would just have a little more trouble now keeping a straight face when she tried to convince Brienne that different clothes would make any difference.

Brienne refused to wonder what Jaime would think about it.

The nurse applied a fresh bandage, and the doctor advised Brienne to rest for the night. He wanted her to start moving around again the next day.

Moving around was the least of Brienne’s concerns. Between visitors and her exhaustion, she’d slept away the day and avoided talking much with Jaime. The next day there would be no excuse to avoid it.

 


September 17, 2013
Hollow Hill Medical Center, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

When Brienne woke, Jaime was there, typing on his laptop. He’d managed to change clothes, but if possible he looked even more rumpled than the previous day. Jaime’s brow was furrowed as he typed, muttering curses under his breath often. The “enter” key tripped him up every time. Jaime was much better at this now than he’d been in the beginning, when he’d reverted back to hunting and pecking with his right hand, slowing his typing to a crawl. Brienne remembered a morning back in Austin when Jaime had gotten so frustrated he’d almost thrown his laptop in the pool before she’d intervened.

Jaime’s computer did have speech recognition, though it occasionally misunderstood the slight Texan drawl that slipped into his voice when he was home for long periods, but he wasn’t using the program now.

Brienne turned toward Jaime, gingerly wiggling her fingers in the heavy splint on her right arm. She’d been warned repeatedly to keep the arm elevated and alert a nurse if she had any tingling or numbness. As if Brienne needed one more thing to worry about. Her ribs protested her movement.

“You can turn on the speech recognition if you want to finish that faster,” Brienne offered, her voice rougher than she expected.

Jaime stopped typing abruptly and looked up. He smiled, the brilliant, heart-stopping smile that she loved so much. It wasn’t the look which made Brienne want to drag him to bed—that impulse was reserved for a particularly intense stare, paired with the way he sometimes bit his lip. But that smile still melted her.

Brienne had not forgotten the things Jaime had said, nor the silence which had built a wall between them. But she had been on her way to see him, had practiced what she would say. It would be nothing like Jaime’s declaration on the beach. Brienne was still angry, she was still hurt. She wouldn’t let him off the hook because of one smile.

But she had missed him.

Brienne adjusted the hospital bed until she was sitting up, while Jaime dictated an email about a PBR proposal he’d reviewed. He fixed a few errors the program had made, sent the message, and closed his laptop.

“You sound like a front office guy, not a rider,” she observed, amused. Jaime had been opposed to working on the business side of the organization for as long as she’d known him. He had always said it sounded incredibly boring, but she suspected his resistance owed to its resemblance to his father’s work. If Jaime couldn’t find any satisfaction in working on the business side of the organization, he’d be better off selling his investment to someone who could. An indifferent hand at the wheel could be ruinous for the PBR in the long term.

Jaime rolled his eyes. “If the next words out of your mouth include ‘you sound like your father,’ I’m leaving,” he said dryly.

Brienne shuddered. “Seven save us from that. He was right about one thing, though.” She started to smile, winced as her stitches pulled tight.

Jaime frowned. “What’s that?”

“He said he would never see me again. He was right.”

Tywin Lannister had also called her an inappropriate woman, and tried to bribe her to stay away from Jaime. At the time, it had seemed completely ridiculous. Yet six weeks later, Brienne had been living in Jaime’s house, and six months later in love with him.

Jaime tucked his computer into the bag beside his chair and stood, walking to the window. “Tywin invited you to the Rock to push us together. He wanted me to go to business school, work at Lannister Corp, settle down, raise a family,” Jaime said quietly. “I told him that wasn’t the life I wanted, so he tried to buy you off. Obviously he misjudged you.”

Why would Tywin Lannister have thought Jaime was interested in her? He hadn’t been, not back then. Or had Jaime’s father even cared what his son wanted? Doubtful.

Brienne forced a short laugh. “You would have been miserable.”

Jaime turned to look at her, and Brienne found she couldn’t read his expression. “Not entirely. You would have been, though.”

She was never going to get a better opening, and Brienne couldn’t keep dancing around this conversation all day, all week. They couldn’t keep pretending… Brienne wasn’t actually sure what they were pretending here. That they were friends again? That they were still together and nothing had changed? Neither was true.

“Jaime, why are you here?” Brienne asked.

Jaime dropped heavily back into his chair, looking up at her in disbelief. “You’ve got to be kidding me. You could have died. I got on a plane in Boston not knowing if you would still be alive when I got to O’Hare, much less when I got here.”

Brienne shook her head. “That’s not a reason. Whatever happened to me would have happened whether you came here or not.”

Jaime moved to sit on the edge of her bed. He looked her directly in the eye, his gaze so intense she itched to look away, to kiss him, to do something to stop him from looking at her like that.

“You still don’t get it. I love you,” he said softly. “And I almost lost you.”

Jaime’s words cut right through her. “You love me? You don’t even know me. If you did, you would never believe I could want Hyle Hunt.” Brienne’s voice broke, but she struggled on. “You would never think that a few drinks would make me betray you.”

“I’m so sorry, Brienne. You wouldn’t do that. I know that. I know you.” Jaime looked down, took her hand. “I thought I was protecting you, protecting us, by not telling you much about my relationship with Cersei. But there are things you need to know, to understand why I act the way I do.” He took a deep breath and looked up again. “Do you know why I ended things with Cersei?”

Brienne shook her head. She’d wondered more why they’d stayed together as long as they had, considering how Cersei treated him.

“After Robert’s death, I found out she’d been sleeping around for years. When I found out, I ended it.” Jaime made no effort to disguise the bitterness in his voice as he continued. “Cersei and I were together for 18 years. I was never unfaithful, and I had plenty of opportunities if I’d wanted someone else. But I never did. All I wanted was her.”

That woman was who he wanted. All Jaime wanted. Petite, feminine, beautiful. Everything Brienne wasn’t and could never be.

Brienne looked away, her gaze focused on the open doorway, but the pressure of Jaime’s hand on hers wouldn’t let her escape. Eighteen years. She had had no idea their affair had gone on for so long. Almost as long as Brienne had been alive. She rarely thought about their age difference, but the full weight of it settled on her then. Renly’s brother had only died three years ago. After half a lifetime together, three years was nothing. No wonder Cersei was still so angry with Jaime.   

Brienne finally found her voice. “It didn’t occur to me that she cheated on you until a couple of days ago. Other than with her husband, I mean.” It felt strange, offering Jaime comfort over the infidelity of the woman who valued her vows so little she’d slept with another man throughout her entire marriage. But Jaime had loved her for many years, and she was the mother of his only child. He would never truly be free of her.

“I should have known. Cersei and I had been falling apart for a long time,” Jaime admitted.

Brienne understood why Jaime felt he needed to tell her about Cersei, but she didn’t want to hear any more. “We’re even, then,” she said as lightly as she could manage. “You know about the boys at Highgarden, and I know about her. I’d rather not hear about other women unless you need to tell me for some reason.”

Jaime frowned. “What are you talking about?”

She gritted her teeth. Why was he making her say it? “I know you dated after her, and I don’t want to hear about them, okay?” Bad enough that Brienne couldn’t help comparing herself with Cersei. She didn’t need others to remind her of all the ways in which she fell short as well.

Jaime laughed, and Brienne yanked her hand away, grimacing as her arm hit her broken ribs.

“You think this is funny?” she asked, angry and hurt.

Jaime stopped laughing. “Brienne, it is funny. Yes, I went out on a few blind dates, but I’ve only been with two women. Cersei and you.”

That didn’t make any sense. Brienne had watched more women than she could count ogling Jaime, and some openly hitting on him. There was no reason for him to be celibate for years. “Why? You could have had anyone.”

Jaime smiled ruefully. “You’re so convinced every woman would fall into my bed, as if a maimed felon with a son and a bitter ex is such a great prize.” He took a deep breath. “Besides, I didn’t want just any woman. I want you. I love you.”

Brienne didn’t reply. Jaime wanted her to say it back, that was obvious. He’d already said it twice. And she did love him, had loved him since Austin, had wanted to say it so many times. But Jaime had hurt her, and while Cersei’s betrayal explained a lot, it didn’t justify his behavior.

“Please say something,” Jaime begged. “Anything. Pull a Han Solo if you want.”

It took Brienne several seconds to remember what he was talking about. In The Empire Strikes Back, Princess Leia told Han she loved him, and he replied, “I know.” But Brienne didn’t know. Jaime said he loved her, but his actions said that when things were difficult he would push her away. She didn’t want to live like that.

The speech Brienne had carefully planned seemed pointless. So she asked the one question Jaime hadn’t already answered. “If you love me, why didn’t you ever call me back? This wasn’t like San Diego, Jaime. Nothing was stopping you from calling me, and we didn’t talk for two weeks.”

“You could have called me too,” he pointed out.

Brienne picked up her phone and navigated through menus until she found her now-useless boarding pass. She showed it to him. “I was coming to Boston. Would you have just let me go if I hadn’t?”

Jaime smiled a little, sighed. “Probably not. I felt stupid, Brienne. When you set up that interview without even mentioning it to me, I thought, damn, I’m doing it again. I spent years thinking I had a future with Cersei, and she never once considered it. And here you were, interviewing for a job outside the country without telling me about it.”

“Jaime, we’d been dating two months when I set it up,” Brienne reminded him gently.

“Would you stop saying we’re dating?” he snapped. “I’ve seen Tyrion dating women. You and I meant more to each other on our first date than any of those women ever meant to him.”

Brienne didn’t know how to respond to that, so she forged on with what she’d already been trying to say. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Winterfell, but Margaery told me you would freak out if I even hinted that I hoped you’d still be in my life in the future. She didn’t want me to get hurt.”

“Did that work for you? It didn’t work for me.” Jaime sighed, stared down at his hands. Brienne had noticed months ago that he often touched the scar where his fingers used to be when he was nervous, and he was doing it now.

Jaime looked up, his expression resigned. “If you really want to quit riding, honey, then quit. I’m not going to move to Calgary and follow you around like a puppy. I did that enough with Cersei. But I love you, and I want to be with you. If you want to be with me, we’ll find a way to make it work. No more games, no more trying to spare each other’s feelings.”

Three times. Jaime had told her he loved her three times, and Brienne hadn’t said it back. How many more times would he say it before he gave up?

“I love you, too. I just don’t know where we go from here,” Brienne said shakily. It was a relief to say the words, finally.  

Jaime smiled, leaned in to kiss her uninjured cheek. “Where do you want to go? Aside from just getting out of here, I mean. Are you going to take the job at Winterfell?”

“No, I already told Robb I couldn’t stay. Syrio convinced me to give it another year before I start seriously thinking about quitting.” Brienne couldn’t help but notice that his smile got bigger. “Don’t look so smug, Jaime. That decision had very little to do with you.”

“I’m just glad you’re making the right choice. So when you’re healed up, you'll go back to competing. You’ll be fine to start the new season in January,” Jaime pointed out.

Aside from Brienne’s irritation that of course Jaime thought what he wanted was the right choice, something else bothered her. “I never asked you to move to Calgary, and I never asked you to follow me around. I’m not her, and you can’t tell me you know that one minute and expect me to act like her the next.”

“I don’t treat you like…” Jaime trailed off, and he groaned. “I do. I know you’re not Cersei, and thank the gods for that. I guess it’s going to take some time to get used to having a normal relationship. Well, as normal a relationship as two people who don’t even live in the same state can have.”

Brienne had wondered, more than once, if it wouldn’t be smarter to just let this end now. Distance was the least of their issues. “This isn’t going to be easy, you know that, right?”

Jaime sighed. “You’re only saying that because I’m retiring and you’re just starting out, I have money and you don’t, I have a son and you’re 22… do you want me to keep going? I can do this for a while.”

Brienne shook her head. “Why exactly are we together again?”

“I definitely make you laugh. And you haven’t kicked me out of bed yet, so we’ve got that going for us,” he teased.

“Jaime, be serious. Are we crazy?”

He squeezed her hand. “We’d be crazy to walk away from each other. And we don’t have to figure everything out today. We’ll do it together, just the two of us. Margaery and everyone else can keep their opinions to themselves.”

 

Chapter Text

September 21, 2013
Calgary, Alberta, Canada (Brienne)
The Eyrie, Jackson Hole, Wyoming (Jaime)

Jaime: when is your flight?
Brienne: stop worrying. Margaery is here. We’ll be fine
Jaime: I’ll stop worrying when you stop getting hurt
Brienne: Ditto

 


September 25, 2013
Los Angeles, California

Jaime: Stuck in traffic. I hate LA
Brienne: This is still an improvement on last year
Jaime: Sure, we’re not sharing an ambulance this year
Brienne: stop texting and driving or you’ll end up in one again
Jaime: more like texting and stopping

Jaime’s flight back from Jackson Hole had been slightly delayed by mechanical problems on the second leg of his trip, from Denver to LAX, getting him back just in time to hit rush hour traffic. By the time Jaime finally made his way to Brienne and Margaery’s apartment, he knew it was too late to convince Brienne to go out to dinner with him.

He was, however, pleasantly surprised when Margaery opened the door carrying an overnight bag, loudly calling to Brienne that she would see her tomorrow. Margaery winked at Jaime as he entered the apartment, and she left it.

Brienne was in the kitchen, rummaging through the refrigerator, her back to Jaime. Aside from the light blue cast on her right forearm and the slightly stiff way she moved, she looked reassuringly normal. Jaime wasn’t sure how long it would take before he could look at her without thinking of how fragile she’d looked lying in the hospital bed that first morning.

Jaime had reluctantly left Brienne in Calgary four days earlier, after Margaery had arrived to escort Brienne home. He’d flown directly to Jackson Hole for a competition, Renly bringing his gear. Jaime would have happily turned out and spent those days with Brienne, but she’d insisted.

“So Margaery is going out for the night?” Jaime asked, trying to sound casual. He crossed the room and leaned against the kitchen table, where an advance copy of Loras' book about the PBR lay open. Brienne was still unhappy about it, but Loras' editor had requested more photos of women, so the photo of her that Loras had snapped with his phone appeared in the book.

Brienne pulled two Diet Cokes out of the fridge and set them on the counter. “I reminded her that I have broken ribs, but she didn’t seem to think that would pose a problem for us.” She took two glasses out of the cupboard and filled them with ice from the freezer.

“Well, I don’t suppose Margaery has ever had broken ribs,” Jaime allowed. Margaery was also far more experienced than Brienne and could likely think of several pleasurable activities which wouldn’t put any pressure on her ribs. Jaime certainly could, although Brienne had other injuries to consider.

Brienne awkwardly popped the cans open and filled both glasses. “There are some takeout menus on the table. I’m not really feeling up to going out, if you don’t mind.”

They’d originally planned to go out tonight, get dinner and maybe go to a movie, if only to take their minds off the date. A year ago they’d both walked into the Riverlands Center not knowing that they’d leave it in an ambulance.

“Honey, are you ever going to look at me?” It hadn’t escaped Jaime’s notice that Brienne had kept her back to him deliberately. While they’d promised each other honesty, he suspected she feared his.

Her shoulders slumped. Brienne took a deep breath. She was making such a production of this that Jaime half-expected some kind of gaping wound, which he knew wasn’t the case.

In the four days he’d spent with Brienne at the hospital, Jaime had left her side as little as possible. The first night he’d gone down to the cafeteria for a few hours, waiting for the day shift to go home, before sneaking back to Brienne’s room. The young nurse who had found him there let Jaime stay after he told her a somewhat romanticized version of how he and Brienne had gotten together. He’d asked that nurse about the gash on Brienne’s cheek, and she’d reassured him that the plastic surgeon had done an excellent job.

Brienne turned around, her hands shaking slightly, and passed him a glass. She took a quick sip from hers, grimacing. “Every time I think maybe I’ll like Diet Coke, and every time I’m wrong,” she said nervously, eyes down as she set her glass on the counter.

A long red line bisected her bruised cheek, the fading purple and green clashing with the fierce blush flooding her skin. Jaime knew from experience that she would likely feel strange sensations in the new scar tissue as she spoke, ate, laughed, kissed, for weeks or months to come.

Jaime hated that Brienne would see a reminder of that attack every time she looked in a mirror for the rest of her life. He loved and feared how she protected others without any thought for her own safety. That impulse might have saved his life, and the life of a girl from Calgary, but Brienne hadn’t emerged from either encounter unscathed. Jaime didn’t want to think what might happen to her if she did something like that again. He’d thought about it enough between Boston and Chicago.

He left his glass on the table and moved to stand beside her. Jaime brought his right hand up to Brienne’s cheek, gently tracing the healing skin with his thumb. Did this feel like when she’d first touched his hand? Back then even the lightest touch had produced too much sensation, though not precisely pain. Jaime had needed that touch even though it had overwhelmed him.

Brienne pulled away from his hand. “Well?” she asked, turning her cheek toward him, her jaw clenched tight, unable to meet his gaze.

Jaime struggled to find the right words. He wouldn’t lie, wouldn’t tell her it was nothing. She knew that wasn’t true and wouldn’t thank him for minimizing what had been done to her. The wound would heal, and the scar would fade, but the absence of freckles along that line alone would make it stand out.

Brienne closed her eyes. “It’s okay, you don’t need—”

The meekness in her voice, the way she began to dismiss the request she’d clearly made, asking him for reassurance if nothing else, pushed him to speak.

Quietly, Jaime said, teasing, “If you could stop blushing for more than five seconds, you’d look rather dangerous.”

She laughed, finally meeting his eyes. “Dangerous?”

Jaime nodded solemnly. “Very.” Hand Brienne a shotgun, and she could star in any of the post-apocalyptic action movies so popular lately.

Brienne shook her head and gave him a small smile, but there was relief shining in her blue eyes. “You’re ridiculous,” she chided.

“And yet somehow you still love me.”

 


September 30, 2013
The Trident, New Orleans, Louisiana (Jaime)
Pasadena, California (Brienne)

“Willas just told me I should draw a fake scar on the other cheek and be Inigo Montoya for Halloween,” Brienne complained.

“I thought Willas was the nice one?” Jaime asked, confused. Willas was also the one with a brace on his leg, the one who walked with a cane. Jaime had thought Willas would have enough sense not to draw attention to Brienne’s scar just yet.

Brienne laughed. “No, that’s Garlan. Willas is the smart one supposedly.”

“Honey, just ignore him. I’m sure he didn’t mean any harm,” Jaime pointed out.  

“I’m sure he didn’t, but he wouldn’t take kindly to jokes about his bad leg, either,” Brienne grumbled.

Jaime looked at the clock in his hotel room and groaned. “I’m sorry, but I need to go. The top five riders and their wives are all having dinner, and Renly is making me go with him since Loras couldn’t make it,” Jaime reminded her. He kicked off his boots and sat on the bed.

“Jaime, it’s Loras’ birthday, you know that. His family would have thrown a fit if he chose to spend it with Renly instead of them.”

“Renly did call, right? I can badger him if he didn’t.”

“No, he called. Sent a new lens for Loras’ camera, too,” Brienne confirmed.

“I wish you were here,” Jaime said with a sigh, laying back on the bed.

He was trying to appreciate these last few competitions, but every minute Jaime wasn’t in the arena he just wanted to be with Brienne. He’d only been home in Austin for two days since she’d been hurt. The rest of the time, Jaime had been staying with Tyrion. He would have preferred to stay with Brienne in her apartment, but she was still healing, and Jaime hadn’t pushed her for anything physical beyond a few kisses. They had plenty of time for that, he hoped.

“I miss you too,” Brienne answered, but Jaime knew that she wasn’t eager to appear in public right now. If she showed up at his competition, the television cameras would see her, and there would be more press focused on them. There had been a few scattered mentions after Jaime’s abrupt withdrawal from competition at Oldtown, but they’d managed to stay out of sight in L.A. despite spending nearly all of their time together.

Brienne’s doctor had also advised no further travel for a month after she returned home. Dr. Myr had explained it, but Jaime had been too disappointed that Brienne wouldn’t be able to watch him finish out his career to really listen. So he’d gone to Jackson Hole and then New Orleans alone, focusing on enjoying his rides and distracting Renly from the pressure of heading into the Finals ranked second to J.B. Mauney.

“One more competition, and then the Finals. You’re coming to Vegas,” Jaime said firmly. It was only a six-hour drive from LA if she didn’t want to fly. Brienne had to come. He needed her there, at the end. Tyrion was coming, which was a miracle in and of itself considering how busy he was at work these days, and Genna was driving in from Utah. Jaime was still working up the nerve to ask Cersei if the kids could come.

“Of course I am,” Brienne replied with a sigh. They’d had this conversation more than once. “Now go play Renly’s wife for the evening. I’ll try not to get too jealous.”

 


October 18, 2013
Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California

“Sorry about this. Petyr said this place would probably have multiple offers if I waited until tomorrow,” Jaime apologized.

Cersei stood in the doorway, arms folded across her chest. She looked back over her shoulder at the view from the front of the townhouse. Through the trees, the blue Pacific sparkled in the sun. “Just don’t make it a habit,” she said curtly.

Jaime backed away from the door, and Cersei reluctantly followed him into the foyer. He hadn’t planned to bring Tommen and Myrcella here, but he’d been looking for a house for months now, and this place had looked perfect when the listing had popped up this afternoon. Petyr had insisted Jaime needed to see it immediately if he wanted to put in an offer. He’d said homes like this generally didn’t last more than a day and would garner multiple offers.

Jaime hadn’t believed Petyr, but had still packed up the kids, who’d been spending the afternoon with him, to come look at the house. It was half the size of his place in Austin, but it had everything on his wish list at just under a million dollars, which was, horrifyingly enough, a good deal in this market. Writing up the offer was taking so long Cersei had had to come pick up the kids for one of their many clubs and sports practices. Jaime had lost track of which one this was.

“The kids are upstairs looking around. I’ll get them,” he offered.

“Don’t bother.” Cersei looked past Jaime to the open kitchen, where Lannister Corp’s contracted realtor, Petyr Baelish, stood at the counter writing up an offer on the townhouse. “Petyr, bring the children downstairs.”

The weasely-looking man looked up, his eyes narrowing. “Of course,” Petyr said smoothly, and went upstairs.  

Jaime looked at Cersei questioningly.

“I don’t trust him,” she explained, walking around the living room. This level of the townhouse was mostly open plan, with a living room, kitchen, dining area, and only an office closed off with glass French doors.

“There are three bedrooms upstairs. Tommen likes the one that faces the hills,” Jaime pointed out.

Cersei turned back to Jaime, her red manicured nails tapping impatiently against her tanned arms. “You expect Tommen to stay here?” Her voice dripped with disbelief.

Jaime nodded. “Myrcella too. I’ll still be traveling some, but I plan to live here at least half the time. I’d like them to visit. I picked this neighborhood because it’s so close to your house.”

She snorted. “We’ll see how long that lasts. As soon as you and your pet split up, you’ll be back in Austin, and I’ll be the one explaining to the kids why you don’t come around anymore.”

“Don’t call her that.” Jaime bristled. He’d let it go once, but he wouldn’t do it again. “You think I want to spend time with the kids because of Brienne?” He laughed. “As if hanging out with preteens is so appealing to a 22-year-old woman?”

Cersei looked at Jaime as if he were the stupidest man alive. It was a familiar expression. “Plenty of girls that age want babies. Especially babies who would inherit millions from their father.”

Jaime crossed the room and replied in a low voice, “How did that work out for you?”

Cersei raised a hand to slap him but stopped herself. “Don’t you dare. You want to play dad to my children, you don’t get to talk to me like that. And they’re not a godsdamn practice run for your own kids. If you run off and hide in Texas again, don’t expect me to let you back into their lives when you feel like coming back.”

Jaime cast a glance at the stairs, listening to hear if Petyr was returning with the kids yet. He leaned in close to Cersei. “Tommen is my child. Push me and I will take you to court. I don’t particularly care about a scandal.”

Cersei’s eyes were hard, cold. Jaime could barely remember a time when she had ever looked at him with any warmth. “Do you think Tommen will thank you for that? I know we can’t keep it from him forever, but you wouldn’t be doing him any favors by making it public now.”

“You’re the one who’s always pushed me away from him, Cers. Don’t pretend like that was my choice,” Jaime reminded her.

“You were never around! You moved to Texas when he was two years old. You never gave a shit about the other kids. How would it have looked if you obviously favored the little boy who looked just like you? I had to protect my marriage, Jaime.”

Jaime barked a laugh. “Yes, you had to protect your marriage,” he sneered. “By fucking me whenever Robert slipped up and reminded you what he was really doing every night he was out late. And then you fucked anyone who was convenient when I wasn’t.”

Cersei grimaced. “I don’t have to explain myself to you, but I did learn my lesson with Oberyn. I don’t let men into my children’s lives. You should do the same. I’ve seen it happen with their friends. The kids get attached to a boyfriend or girlfriend and get hurt when the relationship ends.”

Jaime shook his head. “This isn’t a casual thing, Cersei. I’m not going to push Brienne to spend time with the kids, but I’m not going to hide her from them, either. They met her at Thanksgiving.”

Cersei gave him a pitying smile. “You’ve been together what… three or four months? You’re still in the honeymoon phase. Even Robert still seemed like a good man after four months. When this nonsense ends, you can be the one who explains it to my children. I’m not going to help you.”

Jaime shook his head. “Brienne is not Robert.” The unfairness of that comparison galled him. He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. The kids would be downstairs again any minute and there was still one thing he wanted to talk to Cersei about. “Look, Cersei, I do have one request.”

Cersei raised one eyebrow. “This should be good. Go ahead, ask.”

“I want the kids to come to Vegas,” Jaime said in a rush. “Tyrion can bring them, just for the third night of competition. That’ll be my last ride. Thirteen years, and the kids have never seen me work.”

Cersei smirked. “I’ll think about it. But don’t hold your breath.”

Tommen came thundering down the stairs behind Jaime, jumping the last few steps and landing heavily on the hardwood floor. “Did Uncle Jaime ask you about our trip?” he asked excitedly.

Cersei shot Jaime a poisonous look. “You told him?”

Jaime shrugged. “It was Myrcella’s idea.” He wasn’t fooling himself. Myrcella didn’t care about bull riding. She just wanted to go on a trip, preferably without her mother. She was a smart kid.

Cersei frowned, but Jaime knew she’d fold eventually. Myrcella would work on her until the girl won. She’d learned from her mother, after all.

 


Sports Illustrated
October 23, 2013

LANNISTER’S LAST RIDE

Many athletes approaching the end of their careers fade into obscurity, disappearing from the public consciousness without much fanfare. Not so for Jaime Lannister, the three-time Professional Bull Riders world champion competing for the last time at the PBR World Finals in Las Vegas this week.
Lannister retires after a year marked by a crippling injury, an unprecedented comeback, and a strong performance by the veteran rider. The champ is expected to finish around 15th in the final standings in a year when no one expected him to compete at all.
“I heard it all,” Lannister said when interviewed via phone from his brother’s home in Los Angeles. “No one thought I could come back. I didn’t do it to prove something to them. I did it for myself. I wanted to go out on my own terms.”
While he did return to competition, Lannister is not retiring strictly because he wants to. Upon the death of his father, Tywin Lannister, in July, Jaime Lannister inherited a majority ownership stake in the PBR. The board of directors voted to allow him to finish out the competition season, but Lannister was asked to either sell his stake or retire. He opted to retire.
“It’s not really how I planned to end my career, obviously. I didn’t have my next move mapped out yet. You go into this sport knowing it can’t last forever, but no one wants to think about retirement at 35. I’ve been totally focused on riding since I was 16. It’s tough to move on from that.”
And yet Jaime Lannister is moving on. The champ is in the process of buying a new home in Los Angeles, despite inheriting his family’s estate near Santa Barbara. Lannister has called Austin, Texas, home for eight years. “Austin is a great town. I’m not leaving for good, just splitting my time,” he explained.
Lannister’s girlfriend, fellow bull rider Brienne Tarth, also lives in Los Angeles. As usual, he refused to answer questions about her, but Lannister raised eyebrows when he abruptly left Boston last month in the middle of a competition to fly to her side. Tarth was hospitalized for a week after suffering multiple injuries in a random attack outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She is expected to return to competition in January.
Meanwhile Lannister will be taking over a seat on the PBR’s board of directors, and is rumored to have signed a deal with CBS to report on PBR events. “I’m looking forward to traveling less, spending more time with my family. I’m lucky, in a lot of ways.”
When asked to elaborate, Lannister concluded the interview with this typically cryptic response: “I spent a lot of years chasing what I didn’t have. I’m finally happy with my life. How many people can say that?”

 


October 26, 2013
PBR World Finals
Sunspear Center, Las Vegas, Nevada

The first time Jaime had entered this arena, he’d been 22 years old, and Rookie of the Year. He’d thought he was invincible. Cersei and Tyrion had been there, Tyrion still a child. Cersei had already married Robert, Joffrey had been toddling around that stupid mini-mansion in Brentwood, and that night Jaime had learned that Cersei was pregnant with Myrcella. Back then, Jaime had been young and cocky and thought he could bend the world to his will.

Thirteen years later, Jaime saw it all clearly. He should have known back then that Cersei would never have been content as the wife of a professional bull rider, disowned by Tywin and living on Jaime’s winnings.

On this night, Jaime walked into the arena knowing that his brother, his aunt, and his kids were there. Myrcella needed him just as much as Tommen did, maybe more, lest she turn into her mother. And Brienne—the woman who knew him better than anyone and still loved him—was there too. She had arrived that afternoon with Tyrion and the kids. In a few years, Brienne would be standing on the deck, and Jaime would be the one sitting in the crowd, probably stuck next to Loras, the only men among the wives and girlfriends.

Jaime crossed the deck to the chutes, turned back to face the crowd, and scanned the section reserved for the riders’ friends and family. Thank the gods Brienne was tall or he’d never have found them. She sat between Loras and Tyrion, the kids seated between Tyrion and Genna.  

Jaime’s name was called over the loudspeaker. The crowd cheered, and Jaime watched as his son took in 20,000 people clapping and hollering for Jaime. He raised his right hand to the crowd, waved, and caught Brienne’s eye.

When Jaime was sure she was looking, he slowly and deliberately tipped his gray hat to her, grinning. Brienne smiled back, and he hoped she didn’t see the television camera operator turning to find her in the crowd. They’d definitely seen her this time.

Brienne didn’t say a word, but Jaime mouthed “Not today” anyway. He’d been saying it to himself before every ride since he’d come back.

Jaime turned back to the chutes, where Windblown waited for him. Jaime took a deep breath, focusing on the task ahead, and adjusted his hat again. Loras had convinced him the previous day to get a haircut and trim his beard. Jaime had barely recognized himself in the mirror.

Jaime climbed down into the chute, wrapped the rope around the gray bull, and settled onto its back, tightening the rope around his left hand. Every moment of his routine felt heightened, details Jaime never noticed jumping out at him. The weight of the rough braided rope coiled tightly around his left hand. The impatient noises the bull made, eager to get out of this cramped chute. The buzz of the crowd hushing in the space of a few seconds as Jaime made eye contact with the man at the gate. He knew the crowd could see him on the large screens around the arena.

Jaime raised his right arm and signaled he was ready.

The gate swung open, and Windblown charged out, head dropping down, back legs kicking high.  All Jaime could hear was the bull’s snorting breaths and his own heartbeat pounding in his ears. As Windblown twisted and bucked to the left, Jaime risked a small dig of his spurs against the bull’s left flank. The bull jumped to the right, bucking hard. Jaime held tight, struggling to keep his right arm high for balance. Powerful muscles flexed and rolled under him as the bull worked to buck him off.

Jaime was surprised when the bell went off, and he quickly released the rope and leapt free, hitting the dirt on his feet and sprinting back to the rails.

Jaime hauled himself out of the arena and up onto the deck. The crowd roared around him, louder than he’d heard it in years. Or was it that he was listening now? The sea of faces was a blur before his eyes. Jaime whipped his hat off his head and held it up, grinning madly up at the crowd. He waved the hat, and the noise actually got louder. The roar filled his head, that mad rush coursing through him like it had back in the early days, before he’d known to appreciate it.

Jaime was supposed to go right, to the board where his score would be posted, where a CBS reporter waited for each rider. He stood, breathing hard, taking in the moment, grinning madly. He could see photographers out of the corner of his eye, didn’t care. Short of winning one last title, Jaime couldn’t have scripted a better end.

By the time Jaime made his way down the deck toward the reporter and her cameraman, his score had been posted. 84.65. Not an epic ride, but good enough. He stopped in front of the reporter, his hat still held loosely in one hand.

“How do you feel, knowing that was your last ride, Jaime?” she asked, her question bland as usual.

Jaime’s heart was finally slowing down to normal speed, but he was glad he’d prepared answers to the few questions the reporters generally asked. “It was an amazing ride. Not just today, the last thirteen years. I’m sorry to see it end, but I’m looking forward to starting something new.”

“Does that something new include the woman you tipped your hat to in the crowd?”

Jaime looked back across the arena, but he couldn’t see Brienne. He turned back to the reporter, fully aware that he was on camera. Jaime smiled. “It does.” He didn’t need to embarrass her further, not today, so he didn’t elaborate.

Jaime could see the wheels turning in the reporter’s head, formulating another personal follow-up question. He spoke before she could ask anything. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to take a moment to thank the fans, the crew, everyone who’s been there for me the last year. It wasn’t an easy road, and the fans have been incredibly supportive. I don’t always say it, but I’ve appreciated the kindness people have shown me.” He didn’t need to point out that the fans hadn’t always been this way. They couldn’t change the past any more than he could.

Jaime set his hat back on his head, smiled, and walked out of the arena for the last time.

 

Chapter Text

October 26, 2013
Titan of Braavos Casino Resort, Las Vegas, Nevada

Brienne would never get used to the stares. She’d certainly been stared at before, for her size, her looks, briefly because of Memphis, and in the past few weeks because of the slowly healing wound on her face. In the arena that night, they stared because Jaime directed his brilliant smile at the crowd and tipped his hat to Brienne, the big, ungainly woman with the red slash down her cheek.

Brienne knew how they looked. Having Jaime by her side highlighted everything awkward and unfeminine about her. But when he looked at her, Brienne couldn’t bring herself to care.

As Brienne watched Jaime’s last ride, her gaze left him only once. Just before the gate opened, Brienne snuck a glance at Tommen. Jaime’s son had been enthralled watching the other riders, but his loudest cheers were reserved for Renly and Jaime. She tried to memorize Tommen’s rapt expression, the excitement and pride on his face, so she could describe them to Jaime later. The boy didn’t know that Jaime was his father, would be hurt and angry when he learned the truth, but for now he obviously worshiped his uncles. Tommen could do worse than Jaime, Tyrion, and Renly, for all their faults.

After competition ended, they all met for dinner at an Italian restaurant. Dinner was strangely easy. They were seated in a big round booth, Tommen getting pasta sauce everywhere and Myrcella scolding him like a younger version of their mother. Renly and Loras told increasingly inappropriate stories until they finally excused themselves to go watch one of the Cirque du Soleil shows. Once they were gone, Genna and Tyrion kept up a constant stream of stories about Jaime, much to his embarrassment and Brienne’s amusement. Jaime’s right hand rarely left her knee.

Later, when Jaime walked her back to her hotel room, he held onto her hand as if she would disappear if he let her go. Brienne hesitated outside her door.

Brienne had delayed coming to Las Vegas in the hope that the doctor would cut off her cast that morning. Her ribs were healing, and had finally stopped aching. Her face felt a little strange at times, but it didn’t hurt anymore. She hadn’t wanted to come to Vegas still wearing the blue cast her friends had insisted on signing, as if she were a little kid who’d fallen off the monkey bars. Jaime had threatened to draw a heart around his name, adding to her embarrassment.

That morning she’d told the nurse to throw the cast out as soon as he’d cut it off. The neat surgical scars where they’d inserted screws and plates to hold her bones together were reminder enough.  

Jaime’s gaze moved between Brienne and the door. “Are you going to let me in?” he asked.  

She wanted to, but anxiety held her back. Between their fight, her injuries, and Brienne’s inability to relax with Margaery in the next room, she and Jaime hadn’t spent a night together in two months. Hadn’t had sex in two months, she reminded herself. She couldn’t quite bring herself to think of it as Margaery had when she’d blithely asked if Brienne ever intended to fuck her boyfriend again. The walls of their apartment were paper thin. In the last few weeks, Jaime had kissed Brienne often, but had made no move to initiate anything more intimate.

Now he fingered the collar of her shirt. “Brienne,” he said reproachfully, “you can’t expect me to believe you wore this by accident.”

It was Jaime’s shirt, of course, and she nearly hadn’t worn it. It hadn’t brought her any luck so far. The first day Brienne had worn it, Jaime had been bucked off. Another day, she’d encountered Hyle in Denver and made a drunken pass at Jaime.

“No, it was the only long-sleeved shirt that fit over my cast,” Brienne admitted. “I wasn’t sure they’d actually take it off today.” She had gone straight to the airport from her orthopedist’s office, and then barely had time to put her suitcase in her hotel room before the competition began.

Brienne had also wanted to look at least a little put-together, knowing that there was no way she’d escape the cameras this time. The soft blue and green plaid brought out the blue of her eyes, and Margaery had told her a million times they were her best feature.

Jaime pulled her to him, his breath against her ear maddening. “The last time I saw you wearing this, all I wanted to do was take it off of you.” He chuckled, ran his fingers lightly down the shirt’s buttons. “Well, not all I wanted to do.”

Jaime’s lips grazed her earlobe, just barely, and Brienne couldn’t quite stop the sigh that escaped her. “If you come in, you won’t leave until morning, and I have an early flight,” she reminded him. Tyrion had barely been able to get any time off from work, and Cersei had insisted the children return as quickly as possible, so they were all booked on an 8:14 a.m. flight to LAX.

“That was the idea,” Jaime agreed, his fingertips drawing slow circles on the small of her back. “I’ll pay the change fee. Stay another day. Another night.” He had barely touched her, but his voice was deep and rough, and promised a very long night with very little sleep.

Renly had one more round of competition, and Jaime and Loras were staying to support him. There was still a slim chance that Renly might win the title, and Jaime wanted to be there. Stannis certainly wasn’t, and Renly didn’t have any other family. Tyrion hadn’t remembered that Brienne might want to stay when he’d booked the tickets.

“I don’t need your money,” she huffed, realized almost instantly that she sounded like she didn’t want to stay with him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.”

If she sent him away now, Brienne wouldn’t see Jaime again for a week. He was flying directly from Las Vegas to Austin to pack some things and move to the new townhouse in Los Angeles. Tyrion’s belongings would also be packed up. Jaime had said Tyrion could put it all in storage or actually let women know what a nerd they were dating, but it wasn’t staying at the Austin house anymore.

Brienne reached up to comb her fingers through Jaime’s hair. He had cut his hair much shorter on his first day in Vegas, and he’d called that night grumbling that it was all Loras’ fault. Jaime had claimed the hairdresser had given him a style better suited to a college kid, which required some kind of styling cream he had no idea how to use. He had somehow managed it this morning, though, because he looked even hotter than usual. Younger, definitely.

The stylist had also trimmed his beard down to barely more than stubble. The change drew her attention to his jawline, which just led back to looking at his mouth. That only reminded Brienne of what he could do, and had done, with that mouth.

Noticing the way Brienne studied him, Jaime asked, “Well, what do you think? I told you it wasn’t very me.”

“It’s different,” she said neutrally. It was a more high-maintenance look, and Jaime probably wouldn’t bother styling it properly very often. The rest of the time Loras would mutter behind his back about what a pity it was that a man that good-looking wouldn’t make more of an effort.

Jaime rolled his eyes. “You hate it.”

Brienne slipped her hand behind his head and brought his mouth to hers. He was just nibbling on her lower lip when she pulled back and said firmly, “Idiot, you always look good. Covered in mud and sweat, even broken and bloody, you still look ridiculously attractive. It’s obnoxious, really.”

He grinned at that, so she wiped the grin off his face with another kiss. This time she was the one deepening the kiss, but carefully, still unaccustomed to the pull of the new scar running down her cheek.

When they broke apart, Jaime’s green eyes were dark. “If you really want me to go, I will,” he said quietly. Jaime leaned in again, his lips skimming the base of her throat. “Because you asked me to.” Another kiss, slightly higher and firmer. “Even though I don’t want to.” His tongue flicked out to taste her skin. “And I will dream of you.” Higher, he nipped at Brienne’s throat, drawing a quiet moan from her.

“Jaime, you’re playing dirty,” Brienne whispered, her hands moving up his sides, feeling his ragged breathing.

“You have no idea how dirty I can play.” He smiled against her throat, his nose brushing her jaw as he moved up to kiss her once, gentle but insistent. Jaime shook his head ruefully. “I swear that sounded less creepy in my head. If you change your mind, text me. I can get back here in under a minute with the right motivation.”

That was it. She grabbed him by the shirt to stop him from leaving, and Jaime smiled wickedly.

Brienne jammed her keycard into the door lock and they pushed into her room.

Brienne switched on a light, and Jaime wrapped his arms around her from behind, still careful of her healing ribs. He kissed the nape of her neck, her shoulder.

“I missed you, too,” Brienne teased, and he laughed, relaxing enough that she pulled away. She kicked off her shoes, tried not to think about whether or not he was watching her as she unbuttoned her jeans.

She risked a quick glance back as she pushed her jeans down and stepped out of them. Definitely watching, intently. Brienne moved toward the bed, and Jaime followed. His hands ran down her arms, down to her thighs, and back up under her shirt, making her shiver.

“Do you have any idea how much I wanted to touch you back in Vancouver?” His lips found a sensitive spot where her shoulder met her neck.

“No,” she said hesitantly. Brienne had pushed away the memories of that night for a long time, too embarrassed to consider them for very long. Now she could recognize the desire which had shone in Jaime’s eyes that night, the tension in his body when she’d dared to kiss him.

“Then I’ll have to show you,” he said, kissing Brienne again, guiding her back onto the bed.

Their first night together, Brienne had been so consumed with him, she hadn’t really had time to feel nervous. Everything about sex with Jaime was so different from her first fumbling, mercifully brief experience that it had hardly seemed like the same act at all.

Brienne was nervous now. She wanted Jaime, loved him more than she’d thought possible, but in these moments she couldn’t help but wonder what he saw when he looked at her.

He took off his shirt quickly, tossed it onto the floor, the rest of his clothes swiftly following. Jaime stood before her, toned muscles and golden skin, more the Warrior made flesh than she would ever be, his teeth digging into his lower lip as his darkened eyes traveled the length of her.

Brienne still couldn’t get over Jaime’s obvious pleasure in just looking at her, even now when only her legs were bare. Margaery had tried to convince Brienne to buy some lingerie, pointing to her own drawerful of silky bra and panty sets as evidence of the efficacy of such garments. Brienne hadn’t bothered to explain that not only were such delicate items probably not even made in her size, but they would look utterly ridiculous on her. Besides, Jaime didn’t seem to mind her simple cotton camisoles and panties as long as she eventually took them off.

Brienne closed her eyes. If she thought about the intensity of his stare too long she’d need to pull the sheets up over her pale, freckled body.

The mattress dipped beside her, the springs creaking slightly as Jaime joined her on the bed. Her skin prickled with anticipation. As a child, she’d often sat by her window as thunderstorms raged outside. Texas, Kansas, North Carolina, all boasted wicked summer storms. Each time the lightning had flashed, electricity in the air raising the hair on her arms, Brienne had counted silently until thunder rolled across the sky, breaking the tension.

She held her breath, waiting. The springs creaked again as the bed shifted beneath her, and the light behind her eyelids dimmed. Jaime was above her, his breath suddenly warm on her face, his lips ghosting along her scarred cheek, his tongue finding the sensitive spot just below her ear. “I love you,” he murmured, working open the buttons of her shirt.

Brienne shivered, opened her eyes, found Jaime’s face inches above her own. “I love you, too,” she answered, as if those words were big enough to encompass how she felt about him. Jaime was still too much for her to take sometimes, and time apart hadn’t cured that. He wasn’t large enough to overpower her physically, but she had learned that Jaime, with his regular access to gym equipment and safe places to run, was the stronger of the two of them. And he didn’t need to overpower Brienne when just looking at him made her tremble.

Jaime coaxed her up enough to peel away the rest of her clothes, then closed the gap between them, his body settling warm and solid along her side, one leg thrown over hers as his lips found hers. They’d kissed barely a minute before, yet Brienne suddenly felt the weight of all their time apart, and could not get enough of him.

The fervor of her response seemed to surprise Jaime, but he eagerly accepted her challenge. One callused hand caressed Brienne’s thigh, drew her closer, moved up along her hip, her stomach, found a hard nipple to tease. It hadn’t taken him long at all to learn how she liked to be touched, where a light stroke would make her arch into his hand, and where a firmer touch would make her moan.

Jaime traded his hand for his mouth on her breast, and Brienne gasped his name. He lifted his head for a moment, grinned up at her before he settled back to his task.

Brienne had dreamed of this more than once over the last two months, the warmth of his body against hers, the flex of his muscles under her hands, the slight rasp of his stubbled face against her sensitive skin, the throb between her legs.

But as Jaime continued, treating her more carefully than he had since their first night, Brienne was surprised to realize that, much as she enjoyed his dedication to pleasing her, right now his hands and mouth weren’t enough.

When his hard length touched her thigh, his hips unconsciously moving to find that contact again, she took him in her hand. Jaime groaned, and Brienne stroked him as his hand moved down between her thighs. He smiled when he found her already wet, pushing against his fingers.

The few nights they had spent together, Jaime had taken his time, slowly working her well beyond the simple release she’d sought alone in the years before him. With Jaime, Brienne had finally understood why people said they saw stars or blacked out, because she’d never felt so good or so out of control as she did in those moments.

It had been so long. Too long. There would be time for slow and tender later.

Brienne gripped him harder, and he moaned.

“Jaime, I need you,” she whispered in his ear.

He shuddered. “You have me.”

“Now,” she begged, releasing him.

Jaime didn’t need to be told twice, moving swiftly into position and easing inside of her.

Brienne wrapped her legs around him, pulling Jaime closer. They both groaned and panted, eyes locked on each other as he began to move. How stupid and stubborn they’d been, to let one fight nearly destroy this.

Jaime was as close to her as he could get, and still it wasn’t close enough. Brienne clung to him, desperately needing the friction of their bodies moving together, ignoring the occasional twinge of discomfort when Jaime’s weight pressed on her ribs despite his efforts to hold himself up.

The thrill Brienne felt riding a bull was nothing compared to this. In the arena she was always in control. With Jaime, there was no control, only the rush when she kissed him, pushed up to meet him, moaned his name.  

Jaime slipped a hand between them, trying to bring her over the edge with him, but Brienne kept approaching the brink only to find it slipping away. She pushed his hand away. Jaime would insist on making it up to her later. “It’s okay,” she whispered at his questioning look.

Jaime slowed his pace, his mouth quirking in a half-smile. “Trust me?” he asked.

Brienne kissed him in response. She could barely think just then, but that much she was sure of.

Jaime flipped them over so she was on top. Brienne blushed, covered her breasts with one arm, instinctively uncomfortable being so exposed, towering above him.

“Just try it,” he urged, one hand lightly stroking her thigh.

Brienne let out a shaky breath, not quite sure how to move.

Jaime smiled at her, equal parts encouragement and lust, his hands trailing over her belly, pulling her arm away from her breasts. His hips twitched up in a shallow thrust, her hips rolling against him in response. It took some time before Brienne found a pace and a motion that she liked, then she was too caught up in the feel of him inside her, the way their bodies fit together, to think of how she looked.

Jaime moved his hand to where they were joined, his thumb sweeping over her, matching her pace. Brienne heard herself moaning loudly enough that anyone in the next room could probably hear her, but she couldn’t stop. Jaime wasn’t much quieter. She pushed them faster until she came with a sudden cry, still shaking when he followed her moments later.

Brienne collapsed on Jaime’s chest, both of them sweat-slick and panting. His hand combed through her damp hair and she could feel his heart racing.

After a minute, he said softly, “Come to Austin with me.”

Brienne sighed, shifted until she lay tucked against his side. There were only two places she didn’t feel awkward and oversized: on the back of a bull, and in Jaime’s arms. “We’ll have plenty of time together when you get back,” she reminded him when she could finally speak. “Your place is only 40 minutes from my apartment.”

Jaime planned to move into his new townhouse in a few weeks. He’d keep the Austin house as a second home. “As if you’ll be sleeping at your place much. Waste of money, if you ask me,” he teased, his hand tracing lazy patterns on her back.

Brienne snorted. “I couldn’t afford the rents in your neighborhood, Jaime.” She knew what he was implying, he’d hinted that he wanted her to move in with him, but she wasn’t ready to think that far ahead yet.

Jaime laughed. “I hadn’t planned on renting you a room, honey. If you insist on paying, I can cut you an excellent deal on half a bed and a bit of closet space. I’ll give you a key for free.”

Brienne looked up at him, saw that he needed reassurance even as they lay together. “We don’t need to rush. I’m not going anywhere.”

Jaime sighed, kissed her forehead. “In two months, you’ll be back on the road. I just don’t want to waste any of the time we have.”

Brienne kissed his stubbled jaw, his mouth. “Don’t worry. We won’t waste any time.”

 


November 1, 2013
Austin, Texas

Brienne sat in a lounge chair on the patio, wrapped in an old hoodie she’d found in Jaime’s closet.

She’d arrived two hours ago, letting herself in with the key she’d never given back. Brienne knew from talking to him last night that Jaime was out running errands. He should be home soon. With so much time on her hands, Brienne had thought to throw together some dinner, but that plan had fallen apart once she had realized that the refrigerator was nearly empty. A trip to the grocery store wasn’t an option, as a quick peek in the garage had revealed that both cars were missing.

Left with nothing else to do until Jaime returned home, Brienne had wandered around the property. The horses were gone, but the arena and the chute were still there. There were also boxes all over the house. The bookshelves lining one wall of Jaime’s bedroom were empty, their heavy burden of DVDs and books packed away. The display case in the hall had been stripped of its buckles. Tyrion’s room was filled with boxes, the walls completely bare.

When the patio door slid open behind her, Brienne didn’t turn. The sun was just kissing the horizon, painting vivid shades of pink and orange across the clouds, and reflecting on the surface of the pool.

Jaime settled in behind her, wrapping his arms around Brienne. “Honey, I’m home?” he teased.

“You said I should come,” she pointed out. It had seemed like a good plan that morning, when she’d left Margaery a note and taken a cab to LAX. Now it seemed pushy.

Jaime nuzzled her neck. “I’m glad you changed your mind.”

“I wanted to see the place again.” She sighed and leaned back against him, taking in Jaime’s warmth, his hands settling on her stomach.

When they’d parted in Las Vegas after watching Renly finish second for the year, Brienne hadn’t expected to miss Jaime so much. They’d spent more time together in the last month than they had since Austin, but it was different now that she didn’t have to pretend she didn’t love him.

Going to Austin, even though he’d be back in Los Angeles in a few days, had just seemed silly. But what had finally made Brienne get on the plane that morning wasn’t just missing him. She missed the bubble they’d lived in back then, spending all of their time together alone in that house. In Los Angeles, at least until Jaime moved into the townhouse, other people would always be around. Margaery and Tyrion had every right to be in their own homes, but it had been tough to find much time wholly alone together.

They stayed on the patio until after the sun set. The sky had turned scarlet at the horizon, purple deepening to navy above them.

“It’s so quiet out here,” Brienne observed.

“It’s been quiet since you left. No one to yell at me and keep me in line. I sold the horses and Peck went away to college, so Pia doesn’t drop by anymore.”

Brienne turned her head, dropped a kiss on his jaw. “Where’s the Corvette?”

“Sold that too. Didn’t need it anymore.” Jaime kissed her temple. “I know we should go get something to eat, but would you mind if we waited a bit longer?”

“No, did you have something else in mind?” she asked, absolutely sure what was on his mind.

“I’ve lived in this house for nine years, and there’s one thing I’ve never done in my bed. Care to help me break it in?” he answered quietly.

Jaime stood and offered Brienne his right hand. She took it, and followed Jaime up to his bedroom, where they’d spent a long-ago evening watching “Firefly” together, where she’d told him all about her family, where she’d realized that she loved Jaime and told herself she could never be with him.

Brienne had never been so happy to be wrong.

 

Chapter Text

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
Jaime: Nerd
Brienne: I learned from the best
Brienne: Love you too

 


June 6, 2015
Pasadena, California

“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.”