The sun fell towards the western horizon and in it's wake, it left a cold mist. The fog which descended on Winterfell, the old Stark homestead, came in shimmering, rolling waves. Comfortable in a cocoon of thick blankets Sansa had given her, Brienne sunk deeper into their warmth. Margaery was beside her, sharing the heat and snoring softly in her sleep. The warm puffs of her breath spilled into the early evening air and Brienne watched the little clouds dissipate in the air. Through the open windows, Brienne could hear Sansa and Jon speaking to each other in hushed voices.
Tell them there won’t be an open casket. She wouldn’t want to be seen this way. I’m sick of how pushy Mr. Bolton is being… See if you can get him out already. I swear to the gods I’ll punch him if he asks to see Mother’s body one more time…He called you?... How long do you think it’s been… No, no. He’ll stay with us. Mother would’ve wanted that… It’s just, it’s been so long. We should tell the others...
An icy, damp breeze made its way around the veranda, fitting into every nook and cranny. Margaery shivered, unaware in her sleep, and snuggled into her tall friend's side.
Brienne looked down at her friend, watching her curly, ash-brown hair bunch up at the crown of her head. Looking away, Brienne caught sight of a growing bundle of crocus pushing up stubbornly from the cold, dark earth. Catelyn had loved spring, had loved it dearly since she was a girl. Even after she’d left her home in Riverrun, a natural warmth seemed to cling to Catelyn.
Brienne listened to the sound of Jon firmly leading Mr. Bolton to his car before sliding off the swing, bunching up the blankets she had been using to create a makeshift pillow to lay Margaery down on. She rubbed her hands against her biceps to warm herself and slipped into the house, finding Sansa frowning at an ostentatious floral arrangement.
“She hated carnations,” Sansa said, not looking Brienne’s way but evidently speaking to her.
“It’s a common funeral flower.”
Sansa waved her hand at it, as if she needed to emphasize its presence in front of them, “My aunt sent it. She knows mother dislikes carnations.”
Brienne said nothing, looking around the room at the dozens of flower vases and food dishes that littered the dining room, a sea of white flowers and silver tin foil. She noticed the notebook in Sansa’s hand. “What are you doing?”
Sansa brandished the reamed papers. “We need to set out more food, so I’m going through what people brought us to decide what to serve.”
Brienne pursed her lips, used to seeing this same brand of stubbornness in Sansa’s mother. “I thought you already had a plan.”
“The Reeds and Manderlys brought several more dishes,” Sansa argued. “Maybe it would be good to add some different dishes.” She looked exhausted.
“Sansa,” Brienne sighed, pulling the notebook from Sansa’s hands and placing it on the weirwood dining room table, “you’ve been up since last night, calling people, arranging the services, making sure a septon can make it here, why don’t you rest a bit?”
“I’m her daughter. I’m supposed to be here.”
“Arya, Bran, and Rickon, can manage just fine for a few hours,” Brienne countered, already turning Sansa towards the stairs. “Jon can back them up if needed.”
Sansa huffed, though she did nothing to stand her ground. She stopped five steps up and turned to Brienne, “Just an hour,” she insisted, “and no more.” Brienne looked at her. “An hour,” she repeated.
Brienne was in the kitchen loading glasses and plates into the dishwasher when she saw the flash of headlights through the front-facing windows followed by the sound of rubber rolling against the driveway. Sansa was still asleep, and Rickon had been sent up to take a break after the visit from his childhood nanny left him in tears, while the rest of the Starks were seeing to the guests attending the wake. Bran was aided by his friends, the Reed teens, and Arya was accompanied by her boyfriend Gendry. Brienne could spy Margaery still asleep on the bench outside. It was better, Brienne thought, that she missed as much of tonight as possible when it was clear that Catelyn’s death was too close for Margaery after losing Robb the year before.
She walked outside the kitchen door to see a silhouette step out of the car. As it got closer, Brienne began to make out familiar features: broad shoulders, a tall build, and voluminous golden curls.
“Jaime,” she breathed.
The figure stopped, suddenly looking a bit nervous. His green eyes glittered in the dark, as they looked her up and down. “Weedling,” he nearly gasped, “looks like you sprouted up even more while I was gone.”
Brienne shrugged, thankful the darkness hid the heat suffusing her cheeks. “I’m older.”
“You are,” he acknowledged. He made several quick strides and pulled her to him, pressing his face into her neck.
Unable to help herself, Brienne relaxed into him, basking in the feel of his crisp cotton shirt against her face. Jaime’s arms tightened around her torso, his hands clutching the shirt at her back tightly in his fists.
“It’s so good to see you,” he whispered into her hair. “Heard through the grapevine you made captain at your station.”
She hummed and pulled away, feeling sorry as his hands dragged down her arms and let her go. “You’re looking at Station 96’s C Shift captain. So you better show some respect.” He laughed, patting her on the shoulder. “Come on,” she told him, “there’s a room ready for you in the house.”
Jaime told her to wait and ran back to his car. He came back with a duffel slung over his shoulder.
“Who else is here?” he asked, following her in through the kitchen door.
“Sansa, Arya, Bran, Rickon, Jon, Arya’s boyfriend,” Brienne ticked off, “some of Bran’s friends are here, but they live close by.”
They walked up the dark stairs, moving through the second floor halls, where paintings of long dead Starks stared down at them as they walked, until they came out onto the landing for the third floor. In an old stone house like this, sound didn’t travel far though the walls; the third floor was nearly silent.
“Here you are,” she told him, opening the first door on their left. Jaime looked around the dark third floor hallway, with all its closed doors. “Is anyone else up here?”
She pointed to the door across from his. “Sansa gave Margaery Robb’s old room.”
Jaime nodded. He’d been out of the country when Robb died—an accident gone wrong at Catelyn’s brother’s wedding—but had made the time to make what must have been a pricy overseas call to the Stark household the day before Robb’s funeral. Catelyn had been on the phone with him for hours.
Jaime flicked on the switch for the spare room, stepping in and observing the set up. Empty pinewood drawers stood tall, waiting to be filled. Brand new navy bed sheets covered the queen-sized bed. Clean white towels sat stacked on top of the duvet. The room looked a little bare. Brienne wasn’t sure if Sansa might have done something else, but she’d been adamant about taking some of the load off Sansa’s shoulders to spare her the chore.
“The bathroom is one door to your left. If you need anything—”
“Brienne,” Jaime interrupted her, lips pressed together and eyes crinkling. “I remember my way around.”
She paused, and nodded dumbly. “Right,” she affirmed, wanting to ask him a million questions about where he’d been, what he’d been doing, and who else was a part of his life now that the rest of them were just a part of his yesteryears, but it seemed too intrusive after exchanging vague happy birthdays and congratulations on social media. If she really wanted to know, shouldn’t she have asked before? “I, uh, I’m going back downstairs, Jon and Bran probably need help with the callers. Sansa, Margaery, and Rickon are asleep. Arya and her boyfriend are checking out the plot one last time, if you wanted to head out back, though you should probably bring a flashlight.”
His eyes roved the bedroom, looking out of his body and more in touch than he wanted to be. Brienne tripped over herself. “You’re welcome up front if you want to help Jon and I. But maybe…” She trailed off awkwardly.
“I’ll figure it out,” he waved her off, trying to take it all in.
Ever since Jaime had arrived, Brienne could not stop the pervasive feeling of awkwardness seeping into her bones. They’d been friendly enough at one time, crossing paths as often as they did. They were several years apart in age, but had each independently become honorary parts of the Stark household. There was a familiarity to him. She remembered, with some fondness, the young, moody older kid who used to follow Catelyn around after she invited him for dinner at her home. Instead of simply staying for dinner, Jaime had stuck around for years. His home with his father and siblings was simply a place he went to sleep, but in the Stark household, he became a part of their family.
Her first few years visiting the Stark house, Brienne had been wary of him. Everyone knew he’d been charged with attacking a classmate of his, and nearly blowing up the school. For some reason, he’d never been sent to juvie, but it had made even Selwyn wary of him until he decided Catelyn Stark must have exuded enough good influence on him that Jaime would no longer toe out of line with the law.
Jaime’s role in Brienne’s life changed the older she and the Stark siblings got. As she and Sansa started joining the same club team sports, and Robb started spending time with his new girlfriend, Catelyn and Ned were overwhelmed by the demand to deliver all their kids around town. Jaime stepped up, driver’s license in hand, and took some of the weight from Catelyn and Ned’s shoulders. He began taking Brienne and Sansa to their practices and let them sit in the back of the theater with him while they watched Robb hold hands with Margaery at the theater. She had some fun experiences with him coaching her on soccer techniques or being the base while they held up the younger Stark kids to play chicken in the pool during summer, but they’d never been close enough that his leaving had affected her. The Starks had been much more affected. Jaime’d made some attempt to maintain a presence after he left for college, calling often, sending emails, and writing them letters at first, but like all things, contact tapered off with distance and time. Brienne wasn’t totally sure if all the Starks would be open to receiving him.
When Brienne finally made her way down stairs, Margaery was awake again, with Jon and Bran downstairs. Catching sight of her, Margaery grabbed her hand and led her into an adjacent hallway.
“Is that Jaime’s car I saw in the driveway?”
Brienne blinked. “Yes, how’d you know?”
“Aside from that gaudy red, the license plate reading JAMLAN1 was something of a dead giveaway,” Margaery snorted.
Brienne looked at her. “How are you feeling that he’s here?”
Margaery had made it no secret how mad she was when Jaime hadn’t shown up for Robb's funeral. There had been a logical reason, Brienne vaguely recalled, but Margaery had been furious. Cursing him out over voicemail over how Robb had loved him like a brother, only to end up sobbing for hours when he called her back and they stayed up for hours sharing memories of him.
Margaery sighed, looking tired. “I’m glad he’s back,” she confided, “I wish he’d been here before but at least he’s back now. Catelyn would appreciate that he came to say goodbye.”
“Still, I should have come sooner.”
Brienne wasn’t facing the stairs, but she saw Margaery’s eye light up, looking a little watery as she caught sight of Jaime.
She cried out, moving past Brienne to meet Jaime at the foot of the stairs and hug him.
“Hey,” he soothed, rubbing a hand over her back while she held on tightly to him.
“I really should be so mad at you,” Margaery spoke into shoulder.
“And you would have the right,” he conceded, “I shouldn't have left you guys to your own.”
Margaery pulled back, swiping the tears at her face, and shook her head. “Nonsense, Catelyn sent you off with her blessing. You needed to find your own place in the world. Where are my manners? Jaime, do you want a drink?”
Jaime smiled a bit at Margaery’s turn to formal hostess and reached over to ruffle her hair. Margaery squawked indignantly, pushing his hands off her.
“You don’t need to worry about me,” he insisted, “let me help you with the callers out front.”
Margaery nodded, “There’s a late delivery of flowers coming in from the Royce family. l’ll go wait out front while you two help Jon.”
They nodded, leaving Margaery to walk outside.
“That’s a lot of flowers,” Jaime observed, looking awestruck by the sea of floral arrangements that lined the walls and surrounded Catelyn’s casket.
“People from town and Catelyn’s family sent them in,” Brienne explained, pointing out a slanted column of lilies. “You remember the Karstarks?” She pointed to a wreath of white roses “And those are from the Umbers.”
“She touched a lot of lives,” Jaime murmured, pressing his lips together and looking deep in memory. Though she had not been in the Starks’ lives then, Brienne could imagine a sullen teenage Jaime coming over for dinner at the invitation of his school counselor Catelyn Stark. She could imagine him wordless and moody before being won over by a small Robb Stark’s fiercely friendly ways and being forced to play swords with a toddling Arya.
“She did,” Brienne agreed, her hands reaching out and grazing the back of Jaime’s hand before she came to herself and snatched her hand back, fiddling with her fingers while Jaime looked at her head on.
Brienne did not know what to say to Jaime anymore and swallowed. His eyes drifted from hers, looking away but seeming to look at nothing at all.
The screen door from the kitchen slammed again and Brienne stuck her head out a bit to catch who was coming in. “Arya! Look who’s here!”
There was something interesting in that moment where Arya looked over and stared at them, befuddlement written all over her face. Brienne could feel Jaime tense beside her. In a second, Arya’s face morphed to recognition and she brightened, elbowing Gendry out of her way.
“Jaime!” she yelped and jumped on him.
Jaime let out a gasp of air, looking rather buried under five feet of stubborn Stark.
“You’re such an idiot,” Arya announced, pulling back and holding his arms in her hands, “but better you’re an idiot here at home.”
Though the moon had been out for hours, visitors still circulated in and out of the front room where Catelyn’s casket had been put out. This would be the last public event for Catelyn, and most, if not everyone, had made a show to come out.
The presentation of Catelyn, a closed cherrywood casket among a sea of white lilies and roses, struck Brienne as almost odd though this was not her first funeral. The juxtaposition of death against fresh life seemed almost shocking in all it’s stark contrast.
Brienne had attended two funerals that she remembered. The first being Mr. Stark’s when she was just a girl, and Robb only a few short years ago. The visitation that occurred during the wake would be the only time the public could come and give their condolences at an event for Catelyn Stark, as afterwards, everything became a family affair. Catelyn’s burial was planned for early in the morning, a time of the day she loved the most, and the only ones in attendance would be her living children, Margery, Brienne, and Jaime. Margaery had almost been her daughter-in-law once upon a time, and Jaime and Brienne were as good as Starks after Catelyn took them under her wing.
Their places in the Stark household were so known that it didn’t surprise any of the guests to see them playing hosts alongside the grieving family. Instead they allowed the women to lead them to plates and show them the food and utensils while waiting to give their condolences to the first available Stark. Brienne caught many people reminiscing about Catelyn; she was a beloved figure in the community, but often, as was expected when everyone came out, there was time made for idle chatter as adults gossiped quietly among themselves, discussing the latest happenings around town and whispering when they hit on subjects uncouth for a funeral.
While she idled about, Brienne caught Jaime’s name more than once. People wondered where he’d been and what he’d been doing all this time. Not totally sure herself, she looked away, hoping to avoid getting asked the same questions.
Jaime, for his part, seemed to avoid the gossips, instead attending to older guests, like Old Nan and the retired local physician, Dr. Luwin, and younger children who needed help making plates of food while their parents ignored them to chat.
Sansa and Rickon had woken up again and quickly slipped into roles helping the others handle the guests at the wake. Sansa quickly slipped into her role as hostess and new head of the family, and accepted condolences with a saddened, but tearless face. Jon and Brienne kept to her side, curbing any guests who looked like they might be having a glass too many, and distracting those Sansa wouldn’t care to speak to. Margaery slipped more pre-made dishes into the oven to heat them. Rickon joined Bran and the Reeds in watching the kids running through the plum trees next to the house. Arya took over collecting finished food trays and empty wine bottles so she wouldn’t have to deal with speaking to many guests, while Gendry rinsed dishes, loading them into the dishwasher.
The wake continued smoothly until Brienne walked back to the porch after walking with Alys Thenn and her husband to their car, and found Jaime in a face off with his sister.
“Mrs. Baratheon,” she said cooly, “What a surprise.”
Cersei Baratheon nee Lannister didn’t bother to take her eyes off her brother to spare Brienne a glance, instead preferring to snipe at her brother. “I was merely surprised to find out my twin would deign to show his face in these parts after a decade gone. One would think after abandoning the woman who let him into her home, he might have more shame than to show his face in these parts.”
Jaime’s skin went pale, his face looking pained.
Brienne stepped in front of him, toeing up with Cersei so she was dwarfed beneath Brienne’s tall stature. “Catelyn,” she said cut in sharply, “wanted the best for Jaime. And she encouraged him to make a life for himself, especially after knowing how he grew up in such rot .”
Cersei bristled, looking ready to reach up and scratch Brienne’s face with her sharp, manicured nails, when suddenly Margaery appeared at their side.
“Mrs. Baratheon!” she exclaimed, all Tyrell charm and eyes hard as stone. She firmly hooked arms with Cersei and led her inside. “You know I just adore flowers, and your gardenia and orchid arrangement is simply stunning. You must tell me who you used.”
The porch was quiet after they left, a deviation of timing as people were often loitering out front with it being so warm from all the people inside, but Brienne could hear the yell of the children playing among the old plum trees, and it seemed like every other person had gone inside for food or condolences or must be somewhere else among the corners of the house.
She turned around. Jaime still looked frozen and shocked, his skin having regained no color, and his breath absent.
Gingerly, Brienne reached out, pressing reassuring fingers against his arm.
“Jaime,” she called, softly.
He looked up at her, meeting her eyes, then looked away, ashamed. “She’s right, you know. What right do I have coming back?”
“No,” Brienne refuted, “she’s wrong and you know she is. Catelyn only wanted the best for you. And you didn’t abandon her. She showed us the letters you wrote her, she was proud of you and what you accomplished.”
“But I stopped.”
“Time.” Brienne shrugged. “Time and distance will do that, but you never really left. Not when she needed you most. Catelyn told me how you helped pay her to pay for the kids’ school when Ned died while Sansa, Arya, and Bran were at university. And I heard her talking to you late into the night when Robb died. You were there when she needed you most.”
“Catelyn sure told you alot, huh,” Jaime mused, pressing his lips together.
“I know you wanted your secrets, but Catelyn wanted at least one person to brag about you to.”
Jaime laughed, a soft, brief thing, and looked at her. Suddenly the space between them felt too close. He swallowed and opened the door to go back inside.
The moon was high in the sky by the time everyone drifted home, leaving the Starks and their honorary members to clean up. Sansa washed dishes while Bran helped her dry them. Arya and Gendry walked around the porch, wiping down the thick rails and iron patio tables and chairs that decorated each side of the house. Margaery moved back and forth between the living room and the kitchen, bringing Sansa more dishes to be cleaned, and Jaime walked around with Rickon, grabbing loose pieces of trash left lying around and parsing out the recycling to throw in the bin. Jon motioned to Brienne and they started moving the flowers that surrounded Catelyn’s coffin, pushing them back so there was open space around her. They got to the task of moving the furniture, making a haphazard elliptical of plastic folding chairs around the casket.
Sansa drifted in, a bottle of bourbon in hand. Bran and Margaery followed her, arms laden with glass tumblers.
Without a spoken word, the rest of them seemed to feel the change in the air and shuffled in, receiving their glasses in thanks and waiting for Sansa to pour them a few fingers.
Only Jaime, who took a seat beside Brienne, looked confused, but he didn’t say anything, watching the Starks begin some sort of silent ritual and waiting for the rest of the pieces to be filled in.
Sansa sat near Catelyn’s head, a sensible placement, as she’d fallen into the role of head of her siblings after Robb died, and while perhaps not on purpose, it felt like a place of importance. Jon, who Sansa had come to rely on during all the recent deaths of the family in the last few years, sat on her right, and Arya on her left. Margaery sat on the other side of Jon, Rickon beside her. Gendry sat on the other side of Arya, Bran looked blank beside him.
Jaime and Brienne completed the ellipsis on the opposite end. Jaime’s eyes flickered to each person and down to his drink in constant rotation while Brienne gripped her glass, waiting.
Sansa opened her mouth to start.
“We gather here to remember Catelyn Stark. She was a daughter and a sister, and a mother to us all. Catelyn came here a young bride to Eddard Stark, to a town she did not know, and made a home. She raised a family that loved her, and a town that respected her. She was loyal and never let those she cared for feel unloved. After her husband and then her son died, it would have been easy to stop and give up, but she persisted, and home was always a place we could come to and feel safe. Each of us would not be the person we are today without her presence in our lives, her guidance when we needed it most. And if there is anything that can be remembered about her, it was her unrelenting will that made us believe in ourselves even when we could not.”
Sansa lifted her glass, hand looking a bit shaky, and everyone matched her. They tipped their glasses back at the same time. It was Rickon’s first time having alcohol and the teen sputtered, coughing up a storm and face turning red. Arya snickered into her fist. And the somber tension that controlled the room came apart as everyone began to relax.
They went around sharing stories of Catelyn. Some were happy, some sweet, and then it was Brienne’s turn. Brienne gulped down the rest of her whiskey.
“The day of my graduation from college, I got engaged.” Very quickly Sansa’s and Margaery’s faces turned dark, and everyone else stilled. Jaime saw everyone’s change in countenance and looked at Brienne more intently. She stared at the bottom of her glass, afraid to watch everyone while she talked.
“I’d been dating my boyfriend for a while. We were in class together junior year, and at the end of it he asked me out. I always wanted kids and a husband, and this guy, he… well, he was always honest. We’d been living together in the city since school ended when Catelyn called me up one day. She was in the city and she wanted to meet. I loved Catelyn, but at that point, juggling my job with wedding planning, I wasn’t excited to see her. She always planned things in advance, I think it’s one of the reasons she and I got along so well—we love to organize. But she hadn’t told me about this visit, so, annoyed, I told her we could meet up at a coffee place near my apartment. Cat was holding my wedding invitation in her hand when I saw her, and I could feel myself freezing up. Everyone had been on my case about Hyle. Sansa and Margaery had been very vocal about him. Even my dad, who rarely ever gives his opinion, always asked me if I was sure I wanted to go through with marrying him every time we had our weekly phone calls. I expected Cat to start something about Hyle again, and I armored myself up to tell her off, but she didn’t. She asked me if I was still prepping for paramedic school. Asked if I was still making that trip to Yi Ti that I used to tell her I would take as a graduation gift to myself. Asked me to explain why I had suddenly embraced a career in hospital billing since I’d only ever told her I wanted to join the fire department. She was so clearly trying to point out how I’d changed myself for Hyle, but until then I hadn’t realized, not until she drilled me with question after question after question and I realized, even though I’d wanted something very badly, I was risking everything else about me to get it. Catelyn was persistent, to the point of stubbornness— Not something I think a lot of people consider when they think about her, but Catelyn was so determined to save me from making myself miserable. She didn’t let up.”
She did not know when it happened, but during her story Margaery had reached over Rickon and was gripping Brienne’s hand tightly with hers. Jaime was watching her intently, and when she looked over, he held out the bottle of bourbon and poured some into her empty glass. Brienne let out a watery laugh.
“I had the whole wedding planned out. An absolute monster of a thing. Sometimes I think about it, and it scares me to realize how miserable I would’ve been. It was easy for those who cared to look at my situation and tell me it was wrong, but Catelyn loved me to a point of relentlessness.”
The room was still as everyone watched Brienne shudder and take a gasping breath.
“So thank you Catelyn,” she said, raising her glass, “for being the mother I didn’t think I would get to have.”
Sansa broke down in tears as the rest of them raised their glasses up, and wept into Jon’s shoulder, muttering how much she missed her mother. Brienne threw her whole glass back, wincing slightly at the burn of it down her throat. She’d never told anyone that story, she didn’t think Catelyn had told Sansa either, and there was something peaceful in bringing that ghost of the past back. Brienne wouldn’t be where she was without Catelyn’s guidance. She wouldn’t have the family she did now if Catelyn had not welcomed her so intimately after Sansa brought her home.
Rickon slipped out from his seat to hug his sister, and Margaery scooted over into his place. She held up their joined hands and pressed her lips to Brienne’s cold fingers.
“That was lovely, Brienne,” she said simply. Brienne nodded and Margaery dropped their hands, settling into the seat, while Arya shuffled into Gendry’s lap so Rickon could sit next to his oldest sister.
“Jaime, do you want to say something?” Jon looked to be telling Jaime more than asking him.
Jaime nodded, pouring a heavy dose of liquor into his cup.
“I—” he started and then closed his eyes, “fuck.” Tears started running from his eyes and he tipped his head back.
Brienne reached out. And as Margaery had done for her, she grasped Jaime’s hand in hers to provide comfort. Briefly, he startled, though no one noticed, looking down into their cups or laden by the desire to sleep. Brienne meant to pull her hand back as fast as she could, but Jaime grabbed onto it and held it like a lifeline.
“It’s hard to talk about Cat knowing she’s gone, and everything I say wouldn’t be enough. So…” He held his glass up, still clinging to Brienne’s hand, “I love you, Cat, and I’ll miss you.”
Everyone raised their glasses and finished off their drinks.
No one spoke for several minutes, stewing in their memories of Catelyn. Finally it was Margaery, voice falsely chipper, who stood up and pronounced. “Time for bed! We’ll be up early tomorrow.”
And one by one, everyone stood up and trudged their way up stairs.
Brienne sat on her bed, laptop propped up on her knees and answered work emails, going through time off requests, reviewing call reports , and waiting to make sure Jaime had finished his shower. The water had been off for maybe an hour when Brienne wondered if she’d been so focused on handling schedules that she hadn’t heard Jaime leave the bathroom. He’d looked rather grief-stricken when they all parted to go to bed and she wanted to allow him his space, but she was starting to get tired of waiting. Clothes in hand, she stepped into the hallway. She paused in front of the door. The light was on but no sound came out of the small room, Brienne paused, listening for breathing and hearing no sound pressed open the door.
“Jaime!” she exclaimed, rushing beside him. He was on the floor, face grimacing in pain and cradling his hand to him. “What happened?”
Jaime was sweating profusely, his forehead covered in water drops. “Old injury,” he stuttered out, “nerve pain in my hand.” He groaned and curled over.
Dropping her clothes at the door, she told him to wait and ran through her room.
Looking through her suitcase, Brienne pulled out the emergency pack she was fairly paranoid about keeping on her, feeling vindicated to know that she was justified in purchasing it. Sifting around, she pulled out a roll of ace bandages, an unused heat pack and ice pack, and a bottle of ibuprofen.
She stuffed them into her pockets and arms, and with her free hand, grabbed the cup of water on her nightstand.
Brienne walked back finding Jaime still in the same curled position and kneeled beside him on the floor, gently placing his hand into her lap. She shook the ice pack, breaking the chemical seal inside and gingerly set the cold bag against his hand.
Jaime looked at her miserably.
“Always the ready girl scout aren’t you,” he sniped while she wound the bandage around his hand to keep the ice pack affixed. She tugged the bandage tighter and he grunted.
“ Fuck ,” he gasped, “that was rude of me. I’m sorry. I shouldn't be taking it out on you. If anything I should be thankful you keep a kit on hand so I don’t have to wake everyone up cursing my way downstairs.”
Brienne mumbled that it was fine and settled his hand back into his lap.
Jaime looked down at her work on his hand, studying the firm trappings and sighed in relief when the cold began to numb the pain.
“Thank you.” She screwed off the lid to the pill bottle and handed him several milligrams of ibuprofen with the glass of water she’d kept at her bedside. Jaime slumped against the bathtub wall, breathing heavily.
“It’s been a long time since it’s bothered me so much,” he admitted, rotating his hand in front of him like it was a curiosity. “It rarely acts out anymore.”
Brienne looked at it, thinking of the faint indented scar tissues she’d seen across his palm before she’d covered it up. “What happened?”
“What happened?” he repeated.
“How did it happen?” Brienne nodded at his hand. What little bit of scars peaked out from the wrap looked ancient. She wouldn’t be surprised to hear him say he’d had them when they were younger, but he’d never mentioned it and Brienne never noticed. She swallowed, nervous she stumbled onto a taboo subject.
Jaime cleared his throat and sat up. “Aerys.” He said the name of his childhood ghost with such intention and loathing, Brienne felt her breath freeze. Jaime ran his hand over his face, looking incredibly exhausted by simply announcing the name of the boy he’d ruined years ago.
“I thought…” she trailed off.
“Aerys was always mad,” Jaime told her, shaking his head. “I first knew him back in grade school. He was four years older than me, but there was always something about him that never sat right. The way he bullied kids wasn’t just mean, it was cruel and borderline torture. Kids were always afraid of him. I was afraid of him. He had this way of charming teachers that they thought someone was bullying him when they tried to make a complaint, so it was useless to go to someone about him.” Jaime curled his good hand in a tight fist. “When he left for junior high, I thought it would be the end of it. We were enough grades apart that we’d never go to the same school again.” He uncurled his fist and Brienne watched alarm at the deep half-crescents that had formed in his palms. “When I was in seventh, I stayed late at school one day for back to back practice. First for baseball, then track. I was there late, waiting for the babysitter to pick me up, but she forgot. It must’ve been...maybe seven in the evening when I hear someone screaming.”
Brienne’s chest felt so tight, she couldn’t breath, waiting for him to tell her the rest of the story.
“I found a classmate of mine, Rhaella, screaming in the gym, tied to a basketball post, and you know who was with her?” Jaime snorted, like he was about to deliver the punchline to a joke. “Aerys, her fucking brother, had her tied up like some sort of sacrifice and was pouring the both of them with gasoline . You would believe how much of the stuff he had. Somewhere along the way, he must’ve learned how to make pipe bombs because every wall of the gym was lined with them. Rhaella was so out of it, she didn’t even see me she was freaking out so much. She kept wriggling in the ties he had her in, and she’s frail enough I don’t think she’d have gotten out, but Aerys went and punched her so hard she passed out. After that, it was like being on autopilot, I grabbed my bat and I hit him from behind. Of course it was a moment too soon because if I’d waited, the nightwatchmen at school would’ve caught him rather than me nearly bashing his skull. After that it was all a blur, the police we there and I was getting handcuffed even though I was twelve and knew shit about explosives and whatever the fuck it was that Aerys was trying to do.
“When Rhaella finally woke up, the trauma was so bad she went mute. She was the only witness I had, but it took weeks before she said a word. I told the police what happened, but they didn’t believe me. You know how big the Targaryens are, and me accusing the oldest son of the biggest family in town of trying to blow up the school didn’t look good. Not when I was the one found with two beat-up Targaryens. I tried to tell my dad, but he didn’t care. I think the Targaryens paid him to keep shut when they found out what really happened, but it was too late when everyone figured it out. Aerys was tried and sent to prison, which almost no one knows, and every said I was the pyro and wannabe murdered.”
Jaime waved his hands, “And then you know the rest, Cat eventually decided to make imbue me with some semblance of a wholesome family and then I ended up at the Starks to stay until the day I hightailed it out of town for college.”
“Why didn’t you tell Catelyn?” Brienne asked.
“Come on, weedling. Do you think she’d have believed me?”
“Of course,” Brienne defended.
Jaime shook his head, “Her husband’s little sister, Lyanna Stark, was dating Rhaegar Targaeryen, Aerys’ younger brother. Who was she likely to believe? Me, the son of a man she’s never liked? Or Aerys who was also so damned good at being charming for the adults?”
Brienne didn’t know what to say in the silence Jaime let follow and without thinking she grabbed his good hand and held it in her calloused fingers. She squeezed them.
“I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve that. You don’t deserve to be judged for rumors. You did the right thing and I’m sorry the adults were too dumb to help you.”
He squeezed back, his thumb smoothing over her fingertips. Her mind should have been calm. It should have been quiet, but the glide of his thumb over her skin was distracting.
A knock sounded on the doorframe and the two of them jumped. “I heard sounds like someone was in pain,” Margaery said, looking at them queerly. Brienne nearly leapt to her feet, frazzled by the thought she’d been caught in such an intimate moment. You were just comforting a friend. Someone who’s like a brother to you, she tried to reassure herself. It didn’t work.
As the small hours segued into a misty dawn, the Starks and their friends slowly shuffled out onto the front porch dressed in black. Shovels lay in a pile besides the steps leading to the porch and front. They all looked at each other, wordless while Sansa passed them coffees, and a hot chocolate for Rickon, while they forwent any food for breakfast.
Just as a chill started to set in Brienne’s bones, headlights broke through the mist and they watched Jon drive up the driveway. Sansa was quick to meet the septon. There was not and had not been a septon in their county in decades, but Catelyn had been a devout believer in the Seven, so Jon had made the early morning drive over to Quiet Isle County to pick up Septon Meribald, who had agreed to perform the ceremony. His arrival set forth the funeral proceedings and not long after his arrival, they were threading through the countryside that made up Stark lands, weaving around dramatic mountain sides to a lush valley hidden away, that the Starks reserved for those who had found their eternal rest. Brienne served as a pallbearer. Jaime, Gendry, and Rickon taking up the rest of the corners of the casket. They were the closest in height, the tallest of the bunch, and though Rickon was a lean teenager, the other three took care to make sure he never handled much more of the weight than he could handle.
Brienne had only been to the Stark graveyard twice in her life. First, for the death of Ned Stark, and second, for the death of Robb several years later. It was nearly exactly as she remembered it all those years ago, lonely and foreboding, yet welcoming in its history and constancy. Generations of Stark were buried here. Ned Stark’s parents were in adjacent lots to his own, and his siblings, including Jon’s mother, were nearby. At the far end of the lot, were eroded gravestones and mixed among them, the gravestone of Brandon Stark, the first Stark to settle the land over a few hundred years ago. Catelyn would now join the generations of them in a new grave that had been erected at Ned’s side.
Brienne wondered if Sansa had slept, as Catelyn’s grave was not simply a hole in the ground and a headstone laying over it, but it was decorated in fresh floral weavings Brienne knew, thanks to Catelyn’s serious devotion, were symbolic of the Seven. Florists didn’t offer arrangements in this style and Sansa must have been up very late or very early, if she’d slept at all, taking apart arrangements sent to the house to create something Catelyn would have loved.
The burial went on long enough that the sun was well into the sky by the time they were done, and yet Brienne felt rushed. Septon Meribald sang a hymn, something Brienne remembered that Catelyn used to sing when putting Rickon to bed, and a rosary was said. Though considered a part of the Mother, the rosary was a septenate, with seven prayers for each of the seven sections to honor every member of the Faith. When that finished, Septon Meribald delivered post-mortem last rites, invoking the seven to save Catelyn’s soul and welcome her into the afterlife. Then the ceremony was over, and Septon Meribald invited them to a more casual prayer over Catelyn’s casket, urging them to say their pieces to her in their hearts. Brienne, though technically consecrated in the Faith of the Seven, had never felt deeply attached to it beyond begging the Father to help her get a good grade on an exam, so she held her thoughts, unsure of what she would even say. Jaime likewise kept a blank face, and Brienne remembered him to be even irreverent in his references to the faith in the past.
Finally the casket was lowered and each member of the Stark family, and the others that Catelyn loved dear picked up a shovel. Hesitantly, Sansa dug her shovel into the mound of dirt made by Arya, Gendry, and Jon’s efforts, and let it sink in, pulling it back and holding it over her mother’s grave. She took a deep breath, and with the successive exhale, she turned the shovel and the dirt fell down, chunks of earth crumbled on impact with the hard lid.
After that it was a silent tandem of everyone taking turns to pour their shovelful of dirt into the hole. Even Margaery, with her manicured nails, practiced poise, and perfect clothes, did not hesitate to grab a shovel and help bury the woman she’d once hoped to call mother. Everyone took part...except Jaime. Brienne looked over to see him shovel-less and grimacing at the pile of dirt. Then Arya moved past her, and held out her shovel to Jaime. He took the handle gingerly, as if he were afraid it might burn him, before setting it firmly into his hands and running it into the mound of loose dirt. With a grunt he flung it into the hole, and then made to disappear. He threw his shovel to the ground and walked off, his face dark, disappearing into the trees.
Brienne made a move to go after him, then stopped, looking in the direction of the Starks. Sansa caught her eye and nodded. Quickly, Brienne was off following his trail. He was running by the time Brienne saw him, and he seemed unaware of her until she reached out a hand and caught his arm. He slowed and the two of them stopped, gasping for air.
They walked the rest of the way to the Stark house. Brienne found herself opening and closing her mouth along the way as each new idea to engage Jaime ran through her mind and succinctly closing it when she thought the idea stupid. She expected Jaime would head inside but instead he led her into the shade of the old weirwood that shaded the backyard lawn.
“I hadn’t talked to Cat in nearly a year,” he said in a rush. “I’ll never get to say goodbye. Or tell her one last time how thankful I am. I’d make sure to call her on her birthday, and sometimes we’d videochat during the holidays, but it wasn’t long enough. I wasn’t—” He broke into a heaving sob and leaned an arm against the weirwood, burying his face in his bent sleeve.
Briefly, Brienne wondered if she should allow him his privacy. He’d run off presumably to be alone, but then she thought of the grief-stricken way he’d looked when talking about his memory of Catelyn last night and stepped forward. She placed a hand on his shoulder and Jaime turned to her easily, wrapping his arms around her and crying into her shoulder. Their bodies met toe to toe and when Jaime’s tears subsided, he turned his head, resting his forehead against hers. She did not know when it started, but in the silence between Jaime’s shuddering breath, Brienne heard the fall of her own tears, clashing against the hard exterior of the weirwood roots.
Jaime straightened up, looking her over, and raised his hands to wipe away the tears from her face. Brienne didn’t breathe, watching him with confusion.
He pressed his lips together, looking conflicted, and stepped back. “I think it’s time I left,” he said, apropos to nothing.
“You want to go?” Her mouth dropped open in a stupified expression for a moment before she snapped her jaw shut. Jaime wouldn’t look at her. “You just got here. Stay , everyone wants to see you.”
Jaime shook his head. “I’ve overstayed my welcome.”
“No,” Brienne cut him off sharply. “You’re family to the Starks, and it will break their hearts if you just leave.”
Jaime looked conflicted, oscillating between running and staying in their spot beneath the weirwood. His shoulders drooped. “I’ll think about it,” he said at last.
In the end he stayed, or at least, Brienne hadn’t caught the sound of his car overturning the loose gravel that covered the driveway. They had both made their way somberly into the house to wait for the rest of their friends’ arrivals, separating wordlessly to their rooms.
Everyone else’s arrivals were barely noticeable in the house. Their return was somber and quiet, and the only way Brienne was sure she’d heard them was the sight of Jon’s car leaving the property to take Septon Meribald back to his parish at St. Alysanne’s.
When Brienne turned from the window to sit down on the bed, she nearly jumped out of her bones to find Margaery standing in the doorway with her arms crossed.
“It’s so beautiful here, I was thinking of taking a walk,” she said lightly. “Would you like to come along with me? I’ve been wanting to hear all about your promotion at work.” The tone of her voice was genial and tinkling, with all the coverings of sweet Tyrell gloss, but there was a look in her eyes that made it clear to Brienne that she could not refuse.
“Sure,” she said, fumbling awkwardly for the jacket she’d dropped on the armchair in the corner of her room.
The house felt quite empty with no one milling about. Everyone had returned to their rooms to sit in silence, even Sansa, who usually took to comforting herself with busy work in the days since Catelyn had died, and no one had had any appetite to make something substantial for breakfast beyond the hot drinks they had this morning.
Instead of walking among the flowering plum trees that Margaery loved, they took a less beaten path that ran through the edges of the forest that Brienne had not seen Margaery walk since Robb was alive and the two would walk it together. Curious, Brienne followed her into the cluster of weirwoods and pines. Under a heavy blanket of foliage, the air became chillier and Brienne zipped up her hoodie.
“I notice you’ve been talking a lot to Jaime,” Margaery said without preamble. They were hidden from the house by the density of trees now and in their isolation, Margaery’s sharp eyes honed in on her.
Brienne stopped. “It’s been awhile.”
“I don’t remember you two being so close,” Margaery parried, raising her eyebrows.
Brienne gave her a feeble shrug. Margaery nodded and walked further along the path, Brienne followed.
“I noticed you two talking last night,” Margaery told her lightly. Brienne flushed, remembering the way her friend had looked at them last night. Suspicious as if she’d come upon them in some sort of act. “It looked...intimate.”
They came across a stream, running full with the melting winter snow from the nearby mountains, and Margaery pointed out a mossy trunk from an old fallen tree.
“We were just talking about some stuff he said,” Brienne told her as she got comfortable on the log. Water rippled near her feet, so she copied Margaery in propping her legs on the log, bending one leg vertically so she could lean her head on it.
“About Aerys, you mean.” Brienne didn’t answer so Margaery powered on. “Willas used to have theories that what happened with Jaime and Aerys was different from the story that circulated around,” Margaery admitted, leaning forward on her crossed legs to watch small frogs jump on the rocks. “He was a grade below Jaime so they were at the same middle school when it happened.”
“Nana called Aerys bad stock,” Margaery said, turning her head sideways, from where it was propped up on her hands. “What do you think?”
Brienne gaped, opening and closing her mouth, unsure of what to say. Margaery smiled at her, it was friendly and did not try to pull information from her like the looks before. “He’s never talked about Aerys you know.” It felt like an offering, an olive branch extended to make up for the way Margaery knew she might have dug deeper into Brienne’s vulnerable points than she liked. “If he talked to you, well…”
“Don’t you think he would have told Catelyn?” Margaery handed her a smooth stone she’d picked up and from her perch Brienne flicked it toward a smooth inlet of water, watching it bounce once before sinking in.
Margaery followed her, cheering when her rock skipped twice. “I asked Catelyn once when I was younger and nosy—”
Brienne cut her off, exclaiming “You’re still nosy!”
“Anyways ,” Margaery said, smirking, “She said she never asked him. I’m sure she thought about it a time or two. Maybe he didn’t seem ready. She always seemed like the sort who cared and I never really understood why she didn’t. But he became a part of her life, a part of her family and the rest of our lives, helping her drive us around after Ned died, watching her kids when she worked late. You and I know she sometimes judged people too early, but I think the space that might’ve been reserved to see Jaime in that way disappeared when he came through when she needed it.”
“Look,” Margaery declared, settling in to give Briene her opinion, “when Jaime told you about Aerys—”
“I never said he did.”
“Fine,” Margaery rolled her eyes, “ if he told you about Aerys, you’re likely the only one he’s ever told about it.”
Brienne narrowed her eyes. “What are you trying to say?”
Margaery shrugged, “It’s always seemed like something that’s been so important to him.”
They sat awhile on the log without talking, handing each other rocks to skip, listening to the babbling stream and watching animals scurry around, ignorant to their presence. The forest cooled in that time, the sun beginning to cast long shadows to the east. Brienne watched Margaery look at her left hand, and her empty ring finger.
“Come on,” she decided, holding her hand out to Margaery. “Let’s head back before Sansa tries to make dinner.”
Margaery grabbed her hand and jumped off the log, splashing Brienne when her shiny hiking boots landed at the edges of the river.
The sound of a mattress spring squeaking and the thump of something hitting the floor woke Brienne up from her sleep. She rolled over to look at her phone. 1:56 the bright screen blared. Brienne turned the phone back down to the nightstand. There was a shuffling come from outside her door, almost rhythmic in its sound, and paired with the warm cocoon of blankets that encased her, and the soft bed, Brienne was tempted to fall back asleep.
In one courageous pull of effort, Brienne snapped open her eyes and pushed back the blankets of the bed, cursing herself the whole time as the cool air of the room crept along her skin. She considered changing into real clothes, but shrugged. Everyone in the house had seen her looking her worst on the field, and the sight of her in pajamas at the Starks was nothing new. Careful as to not wake the whole house, she slowly opened her door and closed it after her.
A weak light was coming from under the crack in the door to Jaime’s room. The closer she approached, she caught the sound again of shuffling, and was able to distinguish it as the slide of paper.
She tensed at Jaime’s door, wondering if she was stupid, and then let her knuckles fall, hitting the door with a soft rapt. Inside, she could hear Jaime freeze. No sound came out until she heard a soft rumble of “Come in.”
Jaime sat at the foot of the bed. The light Brienne had seen earlier came from an old lamp at his bedside and glinted off his curly hair. Even brighter was moonlight that came in through the west window and added a juxtaposition of silver into the room. Brienne paused in the doorway, looking at Jaime holding faintly yellowed papers in his hands. An open cardboard file box sat at his feet. Wordlessly, he patted the open space next to him on the bed.
“I should’ve written more,” he said mournfully. She looked over his side as she sat down next to him to see a postcard at the top of the pile in his hands. “ Dear Cat ” written across the top. He handed the card over to her.
Thank you for my graduation gift.
I can use the cufflinks for the
annual holiday dinner the
“Surprising to find out that for a man of many words, you’d put so few on paper,” she observed, amused.
Jaime smiled a little, taking it from her hands to put back into the box. “I was never very good at writing letters, Weedling,” he admitted, looking sheepish.
Brienne snorted, “I can see that. What were the cufflinks for?”
“First year with the city,” he told her, smiling. “Cat wanted me to look nice when I schmoozed with the mayor.”
Brienne giggled and Jaime grinned, the sadness in his eyes slipping away. “I mostly talked with the rest of the engineering department at the galas, but at least I looked the part those first few years when I was still paying off my college debt.”
“Fancy,” she mused, fascinated by the way Jaime’s eyes reflected the moonlight, and promptly remindied herself to look away.
Jaime huffed, a tired sound, and dropped the letters back into the box. “I never thought I’d talk about Aerys,” he admitted, resting his elbows on his knees, “I never thought anyone would want to hear.”
“I do,” Brienne told him, truthful. She pressed her lips together. “And I think Cat would’ve too if she’d known.”
Jaime nodded, looking sad, “If I could go back, I’d make myself tell her. Back then all I could think about was how Ned's sister was dating Aerys’ brother Rhaegar, and I decided she wouldn’t give me a chance before we’d even spoken.” Brienne hummed, leaning back on her hands while Jaime looked down in thought. “Did you know you’re the first person to ask me about Aerys? All my life and no one ever asked me what happened that day.”
“No.” All his life Jaime had been followed by the sensationalized stories students would pass around about what happened between him and Aerys. Her own father had been a bit dubious when she crossed paths with him in the Stark household and it was only Catelyn’s support of him as a reformed character that made Brienne’s dad relent and continue to allow her to visit the Stark house.
He looked over at her, still hunched on his elbows. “I’m glad you were the person I told.”
Brienne didn’t respond, her mouth suddenly feeling like cotton. Jaime rolled his head around to work out cricks in his neck and she watched him. He’d shaved the night he arrived, before coming down to help them with the guests, and his face and neck were smooth, the sharp line of his jaw made prominent.
A bobcat yowled and Brienne jumped, her heart starting to race. She worried that they would be seen, and yet questioned herself about what was even wrong with sitting up and chatting with him at night. She’d known him once—was getting to know him again—and it was not strange to talk with a friend.
Jaime had held out a hand to settle her when she’d startled and they paused, looking at where their fingers collided. “You’re freezing.” He smirked. “Sure you’re not a banshee coming to haunt the night?”
The bobcat yowled again, and though she should have been ready Brienne jumped again and Jaime wrapped his hand around hers.
“I’m an idiot,” she said, embarrassed. “Patients coding doesn’t phase me. Bobcats in the night? Apparently it’s too much like a monster under the bed.”
Jaime laughed, and his thumb traced over the knuckles of the hand he held in his. Brienne did her best not to stutter when she told him, “I know things weren’t easy with your family when you left town, and it must have been hard to come back and know you might face them, but Catelyn, wherever she is, is touched. I’m sure of it. She always loved you like you were one of her kids and even when she heard from you less, I know she always loved you.” She made sure to meet his eyes when she said, “Catelyn was proud of you, Jaime. She considered you her own.”
There was a flurry of movement and Jaime’s nose bumped into hers, his hand tugged her closer, and then they were kissing. She made a noise of surprise. Just as she began to respond, Jaime pulled back so abruptly he nearly slid off the bed.
“Fuck, fuck. I’m sorry, that was out of line.”
Brienne didn’t say anything, simply standing up from his bed, and he looked at her warily. She sat down next to him and, quick as lightning, pressed the briefest of kisses against his lips.
There was no more moment of pause, where she might pull back and see his expression at her actions. His response was quick and she was in his lap, his hands running up and down her legs while she ran her hands through his hair.
It was different than being with Hyle, even though she tried not to think of it. There’s no good in bringing up a ghost of the past, but seeing as he was the only man she had ever had sexual experiences with, it was easy to see the differences between the two.
Jaime, as Brienne remembered him, was never a man to date much, and his comparable inexperience to Hyle showed in small things. Hyle had slept with many women before Brienne, something he’d been unnervingly proud of. With Jaime, there was an intimacy in the fumbling, whereas Hyle had treated her like a known equation that he could solve with the same work over and over, leaving Brienne to feel like she was out of her body, separate from any pleasure. Jaime was not always right as his hands roved the shape of her body, but he watched her with an intensity that made Brienne feel as if she was baring herself all over again. He took note of how to stroke his fingers between her legs to make her sigh, he watched how she arched when he pressed her clit just so. She shuddered in his lap.
Brienne pushed him back against the bed, enjoying the way his eyes looked at her with such hunger.
“Condom,” she whispered against his lips, enjoying the way he pressed his cock against her core while trying to navigate his hand in his back pocket. Triumphantly, he pulled out his wallet, sliding out a condom with two fingers and flinging the leather pouch away from him. It hit the wall, falling in a heap of fluttering bills and rolling coins on the floor. It was quick work to shed their bottoms, slip off her shirt and unbutton his. The feel of the fine hairs of his chest created an electric sensation when it brushed against her nipples. Their lips pressed again and again and with each piece of clothing they managed to lose.
Jaime kissed her passionately while she rolled the condom over his cock. Another clear difference between him and Hyle. Jaime was not reluctant with his kisses, he did not use them sparingly. Instead, her lips were the epicenter he wanted to return and never stray far from. It soothed doubts Brienne was not totally conscious of to experience him wanting her so much, wanting her like this. She broke away from him, gasping, and sat up, sliding onto him. Jaime’s head fell back against the bed, his back arching, and a groan of pleasure rumbling from him.
Unused to this enthusiasm from her bedmate, Brienne hesitated briefly. Carefully she lifted herself, then let herself go down, and slowly she eased into the movement, rolling her hips into his.
Jaime’s hands scrambled up, finding the small of her back, and clinging to her as he sat back up, taking her with him. Brienne sighed at the changed angle, and Jaime was quick to show his appreciation for the rest of her body, pressing kisses to her sternum and breasts. His lips trailed her clavicle and sucked the sensitive skin at her neck.
Brienne’s hands scrambled into Jaime’s hair, rucking it a million ways, when suddenly her center of gravity changed and she looked up at him from the bed. Jaime grinned. The same grin she used to roll her eyes at as a girl made her heart clench as a woman. He moved faster, pressing deeper, and Brienne had to bite her lip from shrieking when his pubic bone rubbed against her.
Each stroke was hard and unrelenting. Her hands clinged to his back, fingers looking for purchase on the shifting muscles. Every thrust sent a thrill of pleasure singing through her body, all the way down to her toes. For a long time, Brienne had not believed she would ever be a recipient of such passion, but here in this bed, with a man she once knew when they were children, there was a comfort in his familiarity and it was easier to trust the authenticity of this side of him that he showed. She wrapped one leg more tightly around his hips and allowed the other to trail up his back so the golden hairs of his head pressed against her calf. They moaned at the way he penetrated her deeper, the way she clenched around him even tighter. He startled her by trailing his hand between their bodies, tracing down her breastbone and hard abs, and pressing his thumb to her clit in quick hard circles that had her shuddering.
The feeling of her walls tightening around him made him tremble and as the fog slowly began to lift from her mind, Jaime’s head fell on her shoulder. His breath, hot and heavy, teased the peaks of her breasts. She shivered and stroked his face while he came.
Jaime’s arms shook and Brienne clung to him, pulling him down to her. His arms released their precarious attempt to hold him up and she welcomed the heavy weight of him, protesting when he chose to roll off her. They did not speak, simply staring at each other by the light of a weak lamp and the bright moon. Brienne wondered if she’d just screwed up, involving herself with Jaime.
Instead, he leaned over and kissed her, long and lingering, the sweetest of the kisses they’d exchanged. There was only intent in the way he touched her. There was no doubt in the way he brought her close as they gave way to sleep, their legs tangled like vines.
Brienne awoke to the sound of a door opening. The sight of a room that wasn't her own left her confused, until a towel-clad, damp-haired Jaime sauntered in. Soon after, the events of the previous night came rushing in. She looked at him blearily, trying to simultaneously greet him and burrow back into the covers.
“Weedling, they’re cooking breakfast," he said, pulling on a t-shirt.
She tried to say something, he wasn't sure what, but it came out in an unintelligible grumble. He snorted. This would be perfect material to tease her about when she woke up. For now, he leaned forward to brush a kiss against her forehead. Then left her to her sleep.
An hour later Brienne finally reached the Stark's cemetery, stomach full on the breakfast casserole Sansa heated. Jaime was already standing at Catelyn’s gravestone, looking deep in thought. Brienne stopped silently beside him. She felt fingers thread through hers and looked over. He was studying her, seeing her in the lens of new morning light.
Brienne did not look away.
“Cat was right,” he murmured, more to himself than to her.
Still, she asked him, “about what?”
“That I could always find a home here.” He leaned over and brushed his lips against hers. Brienne leaned into him, appreciating the lines of his body against hers and the poetry of it all.
They pulled back and she looked over at the headstone.