When he dreamt, he dreamed of a wave, a giant crash of earth and water and sky, falling together, tumbling over one another. Down and up and over. Like a dance, moving around him. Not softly or deftly. Taking up all his entire eye, crashing and turning and plunging and rolling.
When he opened his eyes he remembered it in the shape of a woman.
The dead were too many.
Man couldn’t beat them back. How they thought they’d ever stood a chance he didn’t know. Maybe they hadn’t. Maybe they were all just clinging to the last bit of honor they had, carrying it like a shield, steadfastly ignoring that they all knew it wouldn’t matter where they were going. Wherever it was they were going.
But she had held it up, protecting them all. Her honor wasn’t a shield it was a weapon. It was strike after strike of her blade against the dead. Each small victory bringing it larger, more powerful, making her more than all the rest of them.
There was no honor in the fight against the dead. There was no place for it. No place for loyalty or vows. Save one.
To give their own wretched lives in the hopes that it made a bloody difference. In the hopes that it saved someone else.
He had only one. One cause to follow one thread connecting the vow to his life, one reason, one thought.
But she had more. He was dwarfed by her shadow.
If I die, he thought, and stopped. When I die, I want to go out like that. Not in the arms of the woman I love. In the wake of her power.
But they hadn’t died.
Miraculously, their honor had been enough. Brienne’s honor had been enough. All of the rest of them combined, pushing her up on their shoulder so she could stand taller, strike harder, fight fiercer. And it had been enough.
(Almost, a voice reminded him. It hadn’t been enough for all of them. The voice sounded like hers.)
She stood out in a quiet castle.
A gust of wind cutting through an open field. Too large, too strong for what surrounded.
He watched as she whistled through the rest of them, like they were blades of grass too small to contain her. He followed, a step too far behind, wanting to get caught up in the breeze, washed away in the storm, if only she would let him.
How could a man face a creature like that?
He’d battled death, he’d looked it in the eyes, he’d knocked it away when it tried to quiet the thunder in her arms. But to stare into the eye of the storm? He didn’t know if he could do that. His strength, long diminished, was no match for her own.
Her voice startled him. He turned on a dime, daring a glance.
“Ser Brienne,” he bowed.
“I wanted to,” she frowned. Her teeth worried her bottom lip. “To thank you.”
His mouth ticked up in half a smile.
She stared at him, questioning, as though he was the one acting strange in all this. The blue in her eyes rippled, like waves in the ocean. For a moment he lost his breath.
“You–you fought bravely,” she said quickly. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.”
“Nothing you haven’t done for me,” he said simply. Ten times over. A hundred.
“No matter,” she said as though it was true. As though the sky itself wrapping around a lion was worth barely a second thought. “I wanted to say thank you.”
“And you’ve said it,” he smiled.
“Yes, well.” Her feet shuffled against the stones beneath them. “Alright then.”
Her smile cut him off before he could get the rest of his thought out. A simple twitch at the corner of her lips and all the breath left his body.
“Just Brienne,” she said.
“Brienne,” he breathed. Even her name, he thought. It felt like the very air in his lungs, pushing and pulling at his chest in ways he’d never felt before. He bowed his head, ignoring the ache that pierced him when she instinctively took a step back from it. “You’re the one we should be thanking.”
The blush creeped over her neck like a sunset.
“Without you–without your leadership,” a mild word, he thought, “none of us–” but that wasn’t the point he was trying to make was it? “Without you, I never would have survived.”
“You underestimate yourself,” she said, softly.
All my life men like you've sneered at me, she’d once said. And all my life I've been knocking men like you into the dust.
“You once said I was slower than you expected.” Her blush deepend. “And more predictable.”
Her eyes fell downward, avoiding him. It was a shame he wasn’t used to seeing on her. Those eyes, big and blue. Moving, always moving. Speaking when she couldn’t, in leaps and bounds and waves she didn’t know how to say.
“A long time ago,” she said simply.
The corridor was too small and suddenly he felt as though he was suffocating. Like she’d burst through him if they stood there a second too long.
“Could we talk somewhere else?” he asked. The words hung between them delicately. He felt his own cheeks color and heat under her gaze, though her neck still stuck out, the red seeping into her cheeks, growing out from her ears.
“I have chambers,” she pointed down the hall.
“Ser Jaime–” she said, as soon as the door clicked behind her.
“Please.” If there was one, just one to call him who he was, let it be her. Let the great eyes staring back at him see him for who he was. “Just Jaime.”
“Jaime,” she nodded.
The sound washed over him. Lashes fluttered against his cheekbones before he realized his eyes had shut, basking in the warmth of is, her breath carrying over to him like a warm summer breeze.
When he opened them again it was to a stripe of red along her neck. His fingers moved before he could think of it, brushing lightly against the torn skin. A long slow hiss slipped past her lips as the tips of his fingers left her skin.
“Not the worst of them,” she said in explanation. As though she had to justify the marks that showed just how alive she still was.
He held his golden hand up. “I know the feeling.”
When she fought she was huge, quick, and strong. But standing in front of her, in an empty chamber, she folded in on herself. The battle turned inward. Jaime reached his hand out, plucking her cloak from her shoulders, as she stood a little straighter. Higher, closer to the great beast that slipped into his dreams, that washed over him as he slept and woke alike.
Brienne the Beauty, they’d called her. His mouth soured at the thought. As though beauty mattered, as if there was any room for it left inside her, amongst the honor, the forgiveness, the kindness, the courage. Bubbling over, flowing from her every angle. There was no room and no use for beauty. And he was glad of it.
Such a simple word, beauty.
Too simple for her. Far too simple for the creature in front of him. Her cheeks remained stained red under his gaze but he couldn’t tear himself away. Brienne the Beast, Brienne the Brave, Brienne the Bold, Brienne the Brilliant.
Words too small for her, all of them.
“Brienne,” he stuck with. Just a whisper. Again and again. “Brienne.”
When he dreamed that night the wave took shape of a woman, crashing over him. Instead of drowning him it brought him back to shore, washed a layer of him away, and rested him safely down again.