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In his dreams he saw a castle by the sea.

But where there should have been sand, there was snow. The waves rose, frozen above the shore, blocking out the light.

When he turned, searching for a sliver of the dawn, all he could see where piles and piles of dead, lining the road from the beaches to the doors of Evenfall. He tried to move away, to push through the snow, but the wind knocked him back. Only allowed to move forward when his feet pressed on over the dead below him.

Brienne was at the gates of Evenfall Hall, shining through in the armor he’d once given her. He reached for his weapon but found no sword at his hip.

“Jaime!” she cried, pulling a sword from a body below. In the time it took her to toss it his way, ice cold hands had grabbed her by the throat. A long, sharp blade broke through her pale skin before he could reach her.

When he did, his hand was frozen, the hilt of the sword turning his own skin to ice. He couldn’t touch her, couldn’t hold her. All he could do was stand above her, one hand golden and useless, the other a permanent blade.

***

After the battle, Jaime had told himself. After the battle.

A doomed man’s promise he had no intention of fulfilling. But they’d beaten back the night. And he’d sworn. When the night is over, he’d said, I’ll knock and confess.

The door was huge, solid wood, cool against his hands. His fist had slowly deflated, landing flat against the planes of oak beneath him.

When he couldn’t bring himself to knock a second time, he turned and left.

***

Her screams were singular. Like her throat was being shredded before his very eyes. It was all he could hear in the midst of the dark night, all that pushed him forward, plunging between the cracks of death itself, to get to her.

And now, though she sat, quietly, restfully in her own chambers, the anguish echoed night after night. He’d wake in a cold sweat, her name on his lips, before the empty air smacked him back to where he was.

On a small bed, in Winterfell, safe and alone.

***

The energy inside the stone walls shifted. Back to more familiar territory. Delicate politics as the war of Queens raged on. Soldiers were tended to and bandaged, blades were sharpened, horses were readied, and Jaime watched as the men who’d survived alongside him were shoved back into their armor to fight another war that didn’t belong to them.

The dragon Queen had grown colder, more isolated since the great deaths on the fields outside Winterfell’s walls. Her advisors left an opening between their bodies and her own, where Ser Jorah Mormont would have occupied. But plans carried on.

His golden hand too much a reminder of his Lannister roots, the Dragon Queen dismissed him.

“You have kept your promise,” she said, cooly. “You fought for the living.”

“And now?” he asked.

Her eyes latched to his brothers’ as she spoke.

“And now you’re too great a risk.”

Dismissed from both the Kingsguard and the Queen’s army. Sentenced to death by the Queen to the South. An aging soldier with one hand, honor broken beyond repair.

He bowed his head and left the hall. If it was a death sentence coming, so be it. It wouldn’t be the first. And if the great night didn’t take him, he’d be damned if two Queen’s with armies bound to loyalty through purse strings or recycled claims would.

***

“My Lady,” he heard her say. He stopped, just outside Lady Sansa’s solar. Brienne’s voice was troubled, burdened in the way he knew meant she was caught between honor and loyalty, as only she could be. “I am happy to serve in whatever way you need.”

“It’s not an insult, Brienne.”

Jaime smiled despite himself. Lady or Ser, she had worked her way into her Lady’s heart. A habit of hers, then.

“Of course,” he could hear her shuffling back, bowing no doubt, as she made to retreat.

“Brienne.” Lady Sansa’s voice was soft. Hushed, even, as though she was worried someone might overhear. An apt fear, he realized with a smirk. “You are too loyal to risk in a war that has no bearing on the North. I need you by my side.”

Heat bloomed in his chest. After a lifetime of serving lesser lords, lords who should have honored her, knighted her, valued her, finally she had been seen. It was only fitting it was a woman. Not Renly, not the dunderheaded King in the North–or Lord Snow, Lord Targaryen, Warden of the North, whatever it was he was called these days.

I don’t think you know many girls like her, Brienne’s voice rang in his head. He couldn’t stop the smile that pulled at his lips. True of them both, though he was starting to think they were a little more common in the North.

“Of course,” Brienne’s voice came again. Softer, more sincere. “Lady Sansa.”

He slipped away before either one of them could catch him.

***

“Ser Jaime.” Podrick’s voice startled him.

“Podrick,” he bowed his head. “Recovered fully then?”

The young lad shrugged. “As fully as I will before the march south.”

That pulled him up short. Podrick was Brienne’s squire. More than that, he was her most trusted companion. Brienne wouldn’t send him away without her, not if she’d had a choice.

“Lord Snow has promised his men to the Dragon Queen’s army,” Podrick reminded him.

“Are you one of Lord Snow’s men?” Jaime spat.

He wasn’t sworn to the Dragon Queen, his sword didn’t belong to Jon Snow. Podrick was sworn to Brienne, to serve her as a squire should any knight, and Brienne was sworn to Sansa. Sansa who was keeping his lady, his Ser here with her.

I don’t serve the Starks. I serve Lady Catelyn. Could vows not always be so simple then? Must they always come with strings? For a moment he felt a flash of anger–Podrick’s honor and his loyalty being used as bait in someone else’s trap. It wasn’t his war, it wasn’t his vow. Why should one man make the decisions for all the rest?

Why was honor always coming at such a cost?

“I could use a sparring partner,” Podrick changed the subject. “I’m afraid M’Lady Ser still hasn’t fully recovered her strength.”

“Don’t let her hear that,” Jaime grumbled. “She’ll knock you out cold.”

Podrick smiled. “Dawn then?”

Jaime nodded.

***

Dawn came and went and Jaime couldn’t get the heat of a pair of eyes off the back of his neck.

It had been impossible to appreciate when they fought side by side, but Podrick had come a long way. For a moment, Jaime forgot they were simply exercising his skill, preparing him for when he’d need it more.  For a moment he was back south, 15 and sparring on the field with other boys, the weighted gift of Ser Arthur Dayne’s knighthood blessedly far from his back.

As sweat poured down his brow, he smiled at how well Pod toed the line between balance and power.

“Well you certainly move like her,” Jaime said, stopping to catch his breath.

Podrick beamed. “Thank you, Ser.”

He watched as Podrick’s eyes trailed from his to the figure coming up behind him. He could feel her in the air around them, the ground below them crunching beneath her large feet, bowing in the only way it knew how. Podrick’s small nod and bow confirmed it.

“Ser Brienne,” he said softly. “Are you feeling recovered this morning?”

“I’m fine, thank you Podrick,” she said. Her eyes stayed trained on Jaime. Her brow was furrowed, pulled into a point like the day he’d come to Winterfell. Only a few days prior, but it felt like a lifetime. What are you doing? Her eyes said. In response he ticked his head down in a short bow, biting back the grin he felt creeping up. The only dance they knew the steps to.

“If you could give me a moment with Ser Jaime,” she said, finally turning her gaze to the young squire behind him.

“Of course, Ser,” Podrick said. He started to back away, making his way back to the safety of the cold, stone walls, before Brienne called out to him again.

“Podrick,” she said. A small smile Jaime didn’t recognize pulled at her eyes, her mouth staying firmly in place. “You’re coming along quite well.”

It shouldn’t have meant much, after fighting and surviving through the long night. But Podrick’s smile split his face before he bowed once more.

“Thank you, Ser.”

Jaime watched her avoid his eye until Podrick was back within the walls of the keep.

“You’ve taught him well, Ser,” he said. “You should be proud.”

“You don’t need to do that,” she said. She sounded tired, so tired. He’d never heard the exhaustion that laced her voice. Maybe that was what the boy had meant when he’d said her full strength still evaded her. Was it the long night? Had the battle taken an irrecoverable toll on her? The spark in her eyes still lit a fire in him every time her eyes locked on his, but maybe it was an act.

For a moment he let himself remember the baths at Harrenhal. What if she had been the one on the other side of it all? Ragged and ruined, dirty and old, worn out from dreams of honor and glory and righteousness long snuffed out?  

It was unthinkable.

“Do what?”

Brienne’s eyes dipped down, avoiding his. “Call me Ser.”

“I assure you,” he said. An ill timed laugh bubbled in his chest, and her eyes flashed an old hurt before he could explain. “You are far more deserving of the title than I am.” Than any other in the realm. Maybe the first to finally deserve a knighthood and all it means. “And that has never stopped you from addressing me as Ser.”

Truth though it had been, clearly it was the wrong thing to say. The smile that had danced in her eyes as she watched Podrick dropped down to her lips, tight and strained.

“Thank you, Ser Jaime,” she nodded her head. Before her mouth had closed all the way around his name she was turning, the steps crunching over the ice that lined the yard back to the warmth of the castle.

***

News of his dismissal from the Queen’s army floated through the halls before midday broke. Quietly, it shattered the tentative peace that had been building up around him after the battle. A Lannister ready to die defending the heart of the north.

But he hadn’t died, had he?

Maybe if he’d made sure to fall on Northern ground, in the place of an actual Northerner, he could have proven he wasn’t the feral lion they thought him to be. But daybreak had come and he had found a few extra breaths in his lungs, and dead Northerns littered the ground around him, their blood red as his cloak, both staining the cruel snow of winter.

Perhaps they’d still whispered, still called him Kingslayer, as the night raged on, but he’d been too preoccupied to hear it.

The whispers echoed through the halls now.

Kingslayer.

Man without honor.

Oathbreaker.

Each one sent him back, to the dark day in the Red Keep, the blood of the Mad Targaryen King staining his hands.  

How did he find himself under the thumb of another Targaryen?

But the whispers didn’t grate at him as they once had. Every truth they thought they knew was warped and retold. By Ned Stark, by Robert, by the entire realm. By the Dragon Queen herself, who had grown up on fairytales that all ended with a dragon biting deep into the flesh of a lion, ripping it apart.

Maybe he was without honor. He’d seen what honor did, where it got people. Honor bound men to a single path, it cursed them when they strayed. He had no interest in walking the path his 15 year old honor had set him on.

His honor now, took a different form. Lumbering and awkward, more powerful than any force he’d ever seen.

It wasn’t a path laid out for him to stroll through when he pleased. With each step, he fought. Branches of his past blocking the way to the light at the end of the tunnel, unyielding to the slashing of his sword, until he took his one good hand and started snapping them one by one. Slowly, methodically clearing his new path.

***

“Ser Jaime,” Brienne said in surprise as he made his way toward the door she stood guard in front of. Lady Sansa’s chambers.

“Ser Brienne,” he smiled. “Though I’m not sure it is Ser for me anymore. Can you still be knight when you’ve twice broken your vows and been removed from service of your Queen?”

A heavy silence fell over them as Brienne’s eyes raked up and down him.

“I didn’t realize you thought of her Grace as your Queen,” she said softly. It was a careful statement, questioning without pushing. Delicately resting between them. Her shoulders squared off, like she was waiting for it to shatter at their feet.

“Perhaps you’re right,” he said. Any emotion he’d been able to read in her eyes was quickly shuttered off. He took a step closer to her. “Tell me, Ser Brienne, can a man without a Queen still be a knight?”

“I’m–”

Whatever she was going to say was cut off with the heavy rattling of the door opening behind her. Brienne bowed quickly as Lady Sansa looked between the two of them. After a moment, Jaime bowed his head too.

“Lady Sansa,” he said. “I was hoping I might have a moment to speak with you.”

Her eyes shifted to Brienne, an eyebrow raising in silent question. Brienne nodded quickly, and Jaime couldn’t help but smile at the burst of red that swelled behind her ears as he watched her.

“Very well,” Sansa said. She stepped back, gesturing for him to come through to her chambers. He waited, stepping cautiously, not turning back to her until he heard the safety of the door clicking shut.

“My Lady,” he said bowing. “I’m sure you’ve heard of the Dragon Queen’s dismissal of me.”

There was no need to call her Our Queen or Her Grace , not here. The Lady of Winterfell bore no affection for the Dragon Queen. A small voice reminded him that she bore no affection for him either. But Brienne’s word covered him like a shield.

“I have,” she said. She pinched her lips together for a moment before carrying on. “The Queen has found it simpler to rely on the stories she grew up hearing than the truth we have seen on our walls. I trust you won’t take this as a reflection of your service in the fight against the long night.”

“Of course not, My Lady,” he said.

I don’t think you know many girls like her.

Gods, had she been right. The strength of Catelyn Stark radiated from the girl in front of him, tinged with Cersei’s fierceness–all the heart and none of the cruelty. A picture of who she could have been, perhaps.

“I’m also sure you’re aware of my position in the South,” Jaime continued. “I have no titles any longer, no lands, no claims. Cersei would have my head the moment I stepped back into King’s Landing.”

“Something you’ll find in common with more than one of us here, Ser.” It was a flicker of a smile at the corner of her mouth. “What is it you are asking of the North, Ser Jaime?”

“I ask nothing of the North,” he said. “Just one thing of their Lady.”

“And what would that be?”

In an ungraceful motion–his aging body still sore, the strain on his muscles reinvigorated by his spar with Podrick–he knelt in front of her.

“I ask you make me a sworn shield of the Lady of Winterfell,” he said. “I would pledge my loyalty and my sword to you, my Lady.”

Kingslayer.

Man without honor.

Oathbreaker.

He imagined any one of the cleverless monikers the people of the North still whispered as he walked by would slip from her tongue. Instead, what she said was, “Brienne is my sworn shield.”

Jaime unsheathed his sword. The blade shone brightly, reflecting off the light of the candles in the room, the golden hilt balancing out his golden palm.

“Twin swords can make twin shields.” He lifted his gaze from the floor below them and held her gaze. Her father’s steel gleamed in front of her and he saw her hand begin to move forward, the barest movement of her fingers itching to reach and grab it back. He flattened his palm so it sat resting without grip against his open hands.

“Ser Brienne is an accomplished warrior. The fiercest among us, as I’m sure you know.” The smile at the corner of Sansa’s mouth grew, though she was quick to beat it down. “But she is also worth more to you than steel. Name her an advisor, and allow me to give my sword to you both.”

Delicate fingers stretched, brushing their pads against the flat surface of his blade. He noticed her left hand was free of its usual glove, the cold air tinging the tips of her fingers pink as she grounded her hand against the sword.

“Stand, Ser Jaime,” she said after a moment. “I will speak to Brienne.”

It was the only answer he would get at the moment, he was sure. But the memory of Brienne brushing past him, a strong Your Grace on her lips as she defended him, called him a man of honor, pled for his life, warmed him as he nodded a final time, turning toward the door.

Brienne’s eyes were questioning as he exited Sansa’s chambers, leaving the door open for her to take his place inside with the Lady of Winterfell.

***

He had retired to his chambers for the night after speaking with Sansa. He had no other use for the North while she decided his fate and the North had no other use for him.

He hadn’t been waiting long when a knock came from the other side of his door.

“Come in,” he called, rather than making his way over. The fire was warm and he was still unused to the biting cold the North had in droves.

“Ser Jaime.”

He stood at her voice, bowing quickly and offering her a soft smile. “Ser Brienne,” he said. “Please, sit. Warm yourself up.”

He waited until she was seated, perched uncomfortably at the front of the chair, her back rigid and straight, before he rested down again. Her fingers danced, weaving in and out of one another while she stared questioningly into the fire in front of them.

It was familiar, hauntingly familiar, and a rush of outdated nerves coarsed through him. But there was no fire headed wildling, no Tyrion, no Podrick, no Davos. Just them, him and her. Brienne and Jaime. Knights of the Seven Kingdoms.

This time he waited for her to speak first.

“Lady Sansa says you wish to serve her,” Brienne said after only a moment. “You wish to take my place as her sworn shield.”

How, after all this time, could the wench still have it so wrong?

“I wish to serve Lady Sansa,” he says in half agreement. “I wish to offer my shield and sword to her,” he paused. “As I have done for you.”

“Ser?”

“I came North to serve under your command,” he reminded her. “Have you already forgotten?”

Even in the darkness, the fire providing the only light left in the room, her eyes still bled a deep blue, an ocean wave filling his chambers.

“I came to the North with a single purpose,” she said quietly. “To find and serve the Stark girls.” Her eyes slipped away from him. “Would you have me abandon that purpose?”

Would you have me break my oaths? She was really asking. Would you turn me into you?

“I would have you protected,” he said. He could feel her gaze flicking over to him between breaths, but he couldn’t bring himself to look her in the eye again. One last cowards retreat. He almost laughed at the thought.

He’d beaten down death itself, but her sapphire eyes, her unyielding fire, was enough to make him crumble to his knees.

“I would have you know how valuable you are to Lady Stark,” he said. “I would have your hand rest easy on the hilt of your sword, watching for her safety as I watch for yours.”

Still, she said nothing.

Perhaps she still worried. Her confidence when they first met had been well earned, he knew that now, even if he hadn’t then. But she used it as a weapon as much as she did her skills with a blade. One more shield to keep them all away, one more knife to pierce at the heart of any intruder, making sure they couldn’t get too close.

Even the dusk before the night, when he’d tried to knight her. She’d scoffed like it was all a joke. Like if she laughed, if she was a part of the fun, nothing more could penetrate her armor.

But he had no wish to penetrate her armor. He wished to be it.

Covering her every movement, cupping her into safety. For once he wanted to keep an oath, not out of honor, but desire. He would be lucky if she let him.

“You tried to give me that sword back once, do you remember?” At this he leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees. If he wanted, he could reach out, brush his hand against her knee. He watched as her hand wrapped around the golden lion hilt. So tight, her skin stretched white around her knuckles.

Without thinking, he reached his left hand out to cover hers. Rough and dry and cracked from the cold winter air, cold as ice beneath his palm. He gripped it more firmly trying to press the heat he felt flushing through his every limb into her. At the pressure, Brienne startled, shifting back and standing up quickly to make up for the clumsy movement that almost toppled the chair.

“Lady Sansa,” Brienne’s voice cracked. She cleared her throat and tried again. “Lady Sansa has agreed to honor your request. As a sign of gratitude for your bravery in the battle against the dead.”

“Thank you,” he said. His hand still tingled from the chill she left behind.

Opening and shutting her mouth a few times, Brienne finally settled on a nod. “Goodnight, Ser Jaime.”

“Ser Brienne.”

***

In his dreams that night, her screams echoed across the field. A wight clawed at her neck from behind as one jumped on her front. Oathkeeper swung wildly, desperately trying to beat them back.  He plunged forward, his own sword digging into the nearest wight to the hilt and he pressed on, ripping it out of one to plunge into another.

A wall of blue eyes separated them. He couldn’t breathe, his legs wouldn’t move forward.

Between them all she caught his eye.

Her mouth moved but he couldn’t hear anything but her cry for help. “Jaime,” he thought she said. “Jaime.”

Her screams ripped out of her throat as a wight plunged his dagger into Brienne’s neck from behind.

No!

His forehead was coated in sweat as he startled awake. A shaking breath stuttered out of his chest, his forearm swiping the drops that littered his brow before they could slip their way into his eyes.

Just a dream, he told himself. The dead were gone and burned. He was safe, Brienne was safe, Podrick was safe. Just a dream.

But still, his feet had brought him to her door before he knew what was happening.

He didn’t even remember knocking when he door pulled open.

“Jaime?” she asked, and his eyes pressed closed. She couldn’t know, wouldn’t say his name like that if she had known how close it was to the cries that brought him there. As though she realized herself she straightened up and cleared her throat. “Ser Jaime.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, just realizing what he’d done. “Ser Brienne, I didn’t mean to disturb–”

“Are you alright?”

“Forgive me, I–” he said, avoiding her eye. Just a dream, he reminded himself. “Just a dream.”

She had stepped aside, making space for him to squeeze past her through the doorway, into her tidy chambers. They were bigger than his own, but still not large. She had room for a small table beside her bed and the chairs at her fire.

“You aren’t well, Ser” she said as she led him to a set in front of the fire. The same side as the one he’d occupied with her in his own chambers only a few hours earlier. She grabbed a cloth off the small table in the corner and knelt in front of him, dabbing the moisture from his brow.

“I’m fine–truly,” he insisted. He grabbed her hand, dropping the cloth onto his right forearm and letting it slide off until it was dangling from the arm of his chair. “I’m fine.”

She looked smaller somehow, folded over her knees in front of him, pulling her hands back away from him. She pulled at the tunic that draped along her legs, just as he noticed it was the only thing she was wearing.

She stayed there watching him with concern, no doubt ignoring her own discomfort at her dress, and his stomach coiled with guilt.

“I should not have woken you,” he muttered. “It was just a dream.”

I dreamt of you. I dreamt I lost you and it was too much to bear, all alone in the far side of the castle.

“I have them too,”she said. She settled down atop her ankles, the tops of her bare feet pressing into the cold stone below. “Sometimes I’m back in Renly’s camp, watching him die. Watching the shadow glance my way, grinning before plunging a dagger through his heart. While I stand there, doing nothing.”

Ah, Renly, Jaime thought. He’d almost forgotten.

The charismatic King with his Knight of the Flowers. A true knight in shining armor. Armor, no doubt that had never seen the ashen waste of battle. He had been that knight once, for a brief sparkling moment. But the blood of a king was a stain not so easily polished away.

Perhaps a shining knight was the only kind a king without a kingdom needed. Gleaming armor to match his stolen crown.

He felt the bitter taste of unearned envy tease his tongue. For what? What use was there in wishing for that held by a dead man?

“Or sometimes I’m here at Winterfell, just a step behind Stannis,” her voice was tight and cracked and she couldn’t meet his eyes. “And I don’t get to Lady Sansa in time.”

Her hands moved up to grab his left one. “These past nights they’ve been more darkness than anything,” she whispered. “A single curtain of dragon fire raining down just in time for me to see all the death around me. All those I failed to protect.”

Was he one of them? He wondered. The mirror of his own nightmare, each one of them standing on opposite sides of the looking glass, the two living unable to meet, the two dead with a castle between them.

Jaime’s hand tightened, hard, against her own. She winced at the pressure and he let his fingers loose around her but didn’t let go.

“You saved far more,” he said. With his stump he nudged her chin up, until her eyes were level with his. “Far more. I’m alive,” he reminded her. Because of you. “Podrick is alive. You’re alive.”

A soft wetness grew at the corner of her eyes and he left go of her hand briefly to catch the tears before they stained her cheeks.

“Sansa and Arya,” he said. “Your late Lady’s girls, they’re alive. Because of you. You kept your oath when death came to rip it from you.” She almost smiled at that. His nose was so close to her own. If he let out too strong a breath he could tip forward, knock against her. “They’ll write songs about you. Ser Brienne of Tarth, Protector of the North.”

Now she couldn’t stop the smile. “That’s enough, Jaime,” she said, but she squeezed his hand in gratitude. The laugh that escaped her was different than the one when he’d first suggested her knighting. It wasn’t guarded or edged or distancing. It was warm and light and meant just for him.

Heat bloomed in his belly.

“I–I should take my leave of you,” he said, eyes transfixed on hers. He stood abruptly, tearing his eyes away, from her eyes, her hands, her legs–from all of her that they could reach. All they could drink in, in the darkness of her chambers.

She stood too, that confused look she so often gave him falling right back into place.

“Ser Jaime,” she nodded curtly.

“Ser Brienne,” he answered. His hand hesitated on the iron doorknob and he turned back just for a moment. “Sleep well.”

***

“Ah Ser Jaime,” Sansa’s voice called to him from the far end of the corridor. For a moment he startled, thinking her alone when a guard had been ordered for her day and night. He jogged a bit, only slowing when he saw Podrick a few paces behind.

“My Lady,” he huffed out, bowing as he reached her.

“Brienne said you were unwell last night?” Lady Sansa raised an eyebrow. “I hope you’re feeling better now.”

“I’m quite well, My Lady.”

“Good,” Sansa said. She turned to the squire behind her. “Podrick?” Her voice was softer with the boy. “Ser Jaime can accompany me, if you would go check on Brienne.”

What had the woman been through with the Lady of the North, that Lady or Ser it never mattered? Only Brienne. Had they been through it by the time she’d come to him at Riverrun?

“Forgive me My Lady,” Jaime said in question. “Is Ser Brienne fallen ill?”

The eyebrows, Jaime noted. Cersei taught her that.

“Brienne’s ability to perform her duties is my concern, Ser,” she said. She stepped quickly, trusting that he would keep pace, or not caring if he fell behind. “Not yours.”

“Of course, My Lady.”

It wasn’t until they reached the great hall before that he tried again.

“I only meant to inquire after Ser Brienne’s health.” He pulled the heavy oaken chair out for her, ignoring the scrape the wooden legs made against the stone below as his one good hand, one gold hand tried awkwardly to lift both sides at the same rate.

Sansa eyed the leather binds that held his hand to his arm.

“How are you faring with that?”

“Much better than last we met,” Jaime said. “I’m sure.”  Was it Joffrey’s wedding when he’d last seen her? He couldn’t remember. He wasn’t sure he looked at her the entire day. Didn’t see her come in with his brother, didn’t see her sat at the same bloody table, didn’t see her slip away, his son’s last breath sputtering out over her steps.

“I should hope so,” she said. Her eyes locked on his own. “You’ll forgive me if I avoid any cups from your hand for the time being.”

It should have left him cold. Nauseous and sweating, maybe even in a fit of rage. His hand should have sprung to his sword, this time clenched firmly in a palm that had no intention of letting it rest, pointing at her throat.

Instead, impossibly he felt the corners of his lips tick upwards in surprise.

“I see I’m not the only one changed by our missing years,” he said. He’d never been as adept at conveying what he wanted through his gaze, could never manage to flick his eyebrow in quite the same menacing way as his sister. But she answered with a smile, small and unforgiving.

How strange, he thought. To watch her smile at his son’s brutal death, and find his stomach settled.

“I hear I may need to watch out for you in the kennels, My Lady.”

The smile only grew.

“Not at all Ser Jaime,” she said simply. Her blue eyes pierced his own. A shade closer to ice than sky. “If I have need to be rid of you, I’ll have Brienne cut you down where you stand.”

The eyebrows weren’t the only trait of his dear sisters she’d picked up, then.

***

Podrick came to relieve him as the sun turned over in the wide Northern sky.

He’d just begun backing away when Sansa’s voice called out to him.

“Ser Jaime,” she trailed her eyes from his retreating, over to Podrick and back. “When she recovers, you will spend three afternoons a week sparring in the yard with her.”

“My Lady–” he began to object, but Podrick cut him off.

“Since My Lady has requested my presence in Winterfell,” he said. Jaime’s eyebrows shot up as the boy’s face grew red as the Lannister banner. His head bowed so Sansa couldn’t look him in the eyes lest she use her own finger to lift his chin. “I’d be happy to make myself useful and train with Ser Jaime.”

“Ser Brienne is the strongest warrior the North has seen,” Sansa said. Jaime almost laughed out loud. Has anyone told Jon Snow? “I’ll have her train with you as well.” She looked them both up and down once more before turning and walking away.

Her steps were echoing slowly down the hall, heels crashing against the cold stone. Podrick’s neck turned as red as his cheeks.

“Staying in the north then, boy?”

Podrick’s eyes narrowed. It a took a moment but Jaime realized he wasn’t trying to threaten him, just pinch back the smile cracking his face wide open. Then he chuckled warmly, backing away from Jaime. Following his Lady down the hall.

“Could say the same of you, couldn’t I Ser?”

***

“Please, not more broth, Pod,” her voice called from the other side of the door when he knocked.

He pushed the door open wide enough for his voice to float through. “Uh,” he cleared his throat. “It’s not Pod.”

“Oh.” He could hear the clattering of a spoon against a bowl, the four legs of a chair shoved harshly as she stumbled to stand. “Ser Jaime.”

“Please, rest,” he said. Now that he was there he wasn’t sure what he was doing. Retiring from Lady Stark’s service for the night, he’d found his feet walking him in the opposite direction of his own chambers, like he had the night before. Chased away from his own pillow by nightmares of her eyes hardening, all the warmth gone from them.

Almost hesitantly he glanced up to them. The crest of a great blue wave melted over him.

Her normally pale skin was sallow, the bruises on her eye and neck deep yellow, freckled with purple bursts. Jaime looked around for something, a balm a salve, anything but all there was was the two of them and her chairs.

“The boy is staying, I see,” he blurted out stupidly.  

“Yes,” she said, surprised. “He’s proven himself a loyal companion and Lady Sansa has–” Brienne broke off, coughing.

“Yes she seems to have taken a liking to him,” Jaime finished before her. “Impressive. I’m willing to guess the list of people she trusts could be counted on my remaining fingers.”

“Easy to imagine why,” Brienne said, frowning.

“Of course,” Jaime said. “It was meant as a compliment. Not all of us can boast such firm skills in character judgement as Lady Stark.”

When would he have known, if he’d had such judgement? Would he have found himself sooner? Made it there sooner?

Maybe he would have died outside Winterfell all the same, finally cutting down Bolton swine. Ugly flayed men, one hand stretched out, demanding sapphires, the other around the neck of a bound woman.

“Some of us just take a little longer to get there, I think,” she said. He watched a deep crimson wave color her cheeks before she turned away. “Ser.”

Look at me, he wanted to say. Please.

“Some of us need a push,” he chose instead.

A small knock came from the door.

“Lady Sansa says I’m to fill your tub, Ser,” the girl said.

“Oh, really that’s not neces–”

“You’re going to deny your Lady’s direct command?” Jaime clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Tsk, tsk Brienne.”

He watched in delight as her jaw ticked sideways, in annoyance. There it was. That was what he was used to with her. Too much of the darkness of the battle still clouded her face these days past.

“I can come back later, Ser,” the girl suggested from the door, where Jaime had forgotten she was at all.

“No, very well,” Brienne said. When the girl had finished, she made a move to bring a small stool over to the narrow tub, to aid in Brienne’s bath no doubt, but Brienne shook her head. “I’d prefer to wash myself.”

“Of course Ser,” she nodded to Brienne and then Jaime. “Ser.”

When the small, northern girl was gone, Brienne still hadn’t moved from her perch. Her hands were wrapped tightly around one another while her teeth scraped mindlessly against her bottom lip. A moment, two, three, and still she hadn’t moved.

“Well?” Jaime prompted. “You don’t want the water to get cold.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“It’s nothing I haven’t seen before,” he pointed out.

“That was different,” she protested. “That was...before.”

“Before?”

Her eyes rolled as she huffed out an annoyed breath at him. “You know what I mean.”

“Truly,” he said. “I don’t.”

Which truth, he wondered, made his eyes naked on her flesh too much to bear? Or perhaps it was the golden hand, latched tightly to his wrist. Reminding her, reminding him, reminding everyone just how far from the lion’s den he was.

Rather than answering he made quick work with his left hand, unfastening the binds that held the prosthetic to his arm.

“There,” he said, holding up the hand, dropping it on the table with a thunk. “Now your turn.”

“Well it’s not exactly the same,” she grumbled. “Now is it?”

“No?”

He wasn’t sure what it was he expected. Maybe if he stared hard enough, the narrow tub in the middle of the room would melt away, expanding into the great stone tub at Harrenhal. She would be washed clean of the bruises littered down her ghostly pale body.

A part of him longed for the simplicity offered by a world where you’re condemned by allies and enemies alike. It was all so much more complicated when every decision tied back to someone who could be let down by it.

Brienne huffed, her eyes narrowing but not leaving his as she unlaced the ties of her tunic, letting it slide off her shoulders as she moved without hesitation to her breeches. When the thick shapeless fabric fell from her she turned, quickly, climbing into the tub without grace or finesse.

She started as she had all those years ago. Her knees pulled up, arms pressed against them tightly. He felt his cheeks warm in a way they hadn’t then, only now he didn’t have a year’s worth of grime caked around him to hide it.

What had he said then? “Relax. I’m not interested.

Would it be so easy now to rattle her as he’d done then, the image of her cutting through the water, flashing back through his lecherous mind.

Just as he dipped his head down, hoping to mask the heat of his face in the poor light of her chambers, she loosened her grip, letting the backsides of her legs meet the bottom of the basin.

He was silent for a beat too long, and the air grew thick and strangling around him. Out of the corner of his eye he could see her sink down a little, her knees forced to bend slightly to make room for more of her, while she dangled her head off the edge of the tub.

“Lady Sansa,” he cleared his throat. “Lady Sansa says you’re ill?” That was why he had come. To check on her. To...aid her perhaps.

Perhaps then he could rest easy. Make it a single night without waking from the sound of an icy sword cutting through her throat.

“I’m not,” she said. Water spilled in teasing drops from her cupped hands onto her collarbone below. An ill timed coughing fit struck her.

“Of course not,” he smirked. “Forgot you were the only knight in the realm with no physical weaknesses. Nothing so pesky as illness could strike you.”

He risked a glance over to where her neck rested, long and gleaming, against the walls of the tub. He could see three long scars stretching from her shoulder to her sternum. A pale pink, only slightly raised from the rest of her creamy skin. He could almost see the tattered pink dress, sliced through by the Bolton bear, fluttering between each scar.

“Is it true?” she whispered. “I had let myself believe before the battle but, now, these few days past I haven’t been brave enough to ask.”

He couldn’t imagine what could threaten the bravery of the woman across from him. What monstrous idea could frighten his knight?

His face must have asked the question for him.

“The knighting,” she said. Softly, so softly. He didn’t think he’d ever heard a phrase so fragile. “Or was it a gesture made–never intending to–”

She cut herself off.

Stupid girl, he thought. And here he thought he’d given the game away.

“A Lannister always pays his debts.”

Her lips stretched into a wince as she tried reaching her arm back to wash her shoulder blades, the rippling out over her broad back. Trying from a different angle she hissed in pain and dropped the soap into the water.

“Here,” he offered. He started awkwardly walking over to where the girl had left the stool, dragging it over the rest of the way. His hand dipped into the water beside her, brushing some part of her warm flesh as he grabbed the bar and pulled it back out. “Let me.”

“I’m sure I can manage,” she said feebly. “It’s really not necessary–”

“Just let me help you, wench.”

Seemingly at odds with herself, Brienne took a moment before she responded. When she finally did, she didn’t say anything, merely bent at the knees a little further, leaning her chest against her angled legs. Her back stretched in front of him, broad, and shining, and painted with broad strokes of yellow and purple and black and blue.

It was hard with one hand to keep her steady as he slowly circled the soap on her skin. He had to trade off and on between rubbing her down softly, and balancing the soap on his knee. Cupping as much water as he could hold in his palm, the water falling down, dipping into the pockets her muscled back held. Rinsing and running and rolling down, down, and down.  

Then, at once, he was finished. Brienne’s right arm reached over her left shoulder, pressing her breasts further into her chest, her fingers danced open. “Thank you,” she said, waiting for him to deposit the soap back in her hand.

He cleared his throat, standing up. “Of course,” he said.

***

It seemed no matter where in her small chambers he stood, he could see himself, old and bearded and greying and ragged, floating back, staring up at him from the water in her tub. Her arm dipped down harshly, crashing into his likeness, rippling it out until he couldn’t make out his own eyes, his own nose, his own mouth in the blur.

Unable watch the puzzle float back together any longer, he perched himself on the edge of her bed, facing away from her. At least then she could have a semblance of privacy as she finished, lifting herself out of the water.

The palm of his hand was warm and restless, rubbing back and forth against the top of his left leg. Back and forth and back and forth.

The golden hand on his right looked startling still in comparison.

Without meaning to, his eyes had slipped closed.

Keep listening, he told himself. Hear her move, standing, breaking her own reflection. Listen for the sound of her skin pushing against the water until it pulls out. Then listen for the soles of her feet, resting in perfect balance against the stone floor. Listen as she shuffles elegantlessly to the chair where her robe is draped.

Listen to her move and breathe. Listen and listen and maybe you’ll be able to open your eyes when the time comes.

Listen, listen, listen, his mind whispered. Listen as the ice pierces through the heels of your boot instead of crumbling beneath you as it should. Listen as night screams crack the sky, listen as dragon glass whirls through the air.

Listen as the blade cuts through flesh before you can stop it.

“No.”

He jolted awake.

“Ser Jaime.” Brienne was hovering above him, her clammy hand pressed against his forehead.

“Please,” he said. His eyes pressed closed again, tight so nothing could break through. “Enough of the bloody titles.”

They’d fought death. Side by side. Could he not just be Jaime?

“Jaime,” she whispered.

He hadn’t realized when he’d started awake, but his head had fallen back against her pillows, his legs somehow free of his boots and covered in her furs. When she rose above him it was from his side where she lay, propped up on her elbow.

He felt as her fingertips lifted off his skin, one by one.  

She was clad still only in the robe from her bath, her feet carefully tucked under a spare bit of fur that he hadn’t made use of. Gooseflesh raised on the skin of her collar where the robe slipped down.

“Brienne,” he said. “I–”

He what?

“You said my name,” she said.

He wished she hadn’t blown the candles out. He needed to see her eyes, she could never hide anything in them.

Shame flooded him at the warmth he felt from the way her body sat propped above his, the way her arm had cradled his head a moment before, the way she woke him gently, from his restless sleep, just to say his name back.

His mouth opened, but no words came out. What could he say?

“Roll over,” she said, relieving him of the duty to say anything at all.

She shoved at his shoulder, lifting him up and pressing him over as she squirmed in a little closer. Their bodies were a breath away. Close enough that she could scoop the remainder of the furs up and over her own body, close enough that he could feel the heat rolling off of her, but not so close that their sides met from top to toe.

“I’m cold,” she said in explanation. “I don’t see why the entire fur should be yours.”

“Brienne,” he whispered. “I can leave.”

When her chin touched the shoulder closest to him, she met his eyes. Her brows were furrowed as she studied him, as though she was considering it.

“No,” she said after a moment. “Stay, Jaime.”

She rolled back on her side, the wide expanse of her back facing him. Immediately he felt the cold creeping back in. Before he could stop himself, he slumped over, his forehead resting against the barest patch of skin, where her hair and her robe didn’t quite meet. The spot where her long, strong neck met her back.

He could feel her inhale slowly, delicately.

“Please,” was all he said. Everything froze while he waited for her to answer. To roll further away or knock him off of her, to order him to leave. Let me stay this man a little longer, he begged her silently. Even if you can’t bear to look at him.

Then, without a word, she shifted slightly. Backwards, her body connecting with his, barely brushing him, but wrapping him up in hot relief all the same.

***

It wasn’t until dinner the next day that he caught another glimpse of her.

She’d been gone when he’d woken. The first night that he hadn’t lost sleep from nightmares. But there was her bed, rumpled and wrinkled and empty save him.

Perhaps she’d gone for food, he entertained for a moment. But that wasn’t her. The sun was up and her Lady required her presence.

When he walked into the hall, the Lady Stark was dining at the table stretched out long across the room now that there was no feast to manage. Brienne stood behind her, silent and stoic as always.

He bowed. “My Lady.”

After the required courtesy, his eyes followed Brienne, though hers avoided resting on any one part of him. Should he jump about? Wave his arms? Sing a merry song to get her to finally meet his eye?

His throat was dry and he craved to know what he’d find in the well of her eyes.

“Ser Jaime,” Sansa said, in return. Not a moment later, Podrick walked through the doors. “I’ve spoken to Ser Brienne and she feels recuperated enough to begin your training today, if you’re up for it.”

Her eyes flickered up to his for a second, then back down to the floor.

“Of course,” Jaime said. “Thank you My Lady.”

She said nothing else, only nodded at Brienne before leading Podrick out of the hall. He watched as the boy stepped assuredly beside her. Perhaps more of a man than he gave him credit for.

“Well how about it, wench?” he said, looking back over at her. “In the mood for a parry?”

Inexplicably, her cheeks reddened.

“I’m sorry about this,” she said. “I told her you’d come a long way with your left hand, but she insisted–”

Humorlessly he laughed. A long way was a tender way of putting it. Given that she’d been there from the start, when the flesh around his wrist began to rot and split and peel. When he couldn’t wash himself, when the fever soured him to his core.

“I don’t mind,” he said, and surprisingly he found it to be true. He’d hated training with Bronn, hated how small he felt, how strangled he was by his own golden hand. But the dread that weighed him down in his sparring with Bronn was mysteriously gone. In fact, he almost itched to get opposite her with a sword.

He wanted to see how she moved again, when her back wasn’t to his own, when death wasn’t actually on the line.

The answer was like a storm at sea. Wild and unyielding. It must be frightening to look upon her, thrashing that sword (Oathkeeper, she whispered once more in his mind) fearing it would actually cut you. If she’d truly want to she could finish him then and there.

If I have need to be rid of you, Lady Sansa’s voice drifted over him. I’ll have Brienne cut you down where you stand.

And how easy it would be.

He used to be the fearful one, the young lion. Baring his teeth, clawing through his enemies. But now she was the moon, pulling the ocean back and forth, crashing on the coast, and he was the sand at high tide.

***

When he retired to his chambers, he stopped cold when he found them stripped bare. His few measly belongings nowhere in site.

“Ser.”

Podrick’s voice behind him made him jump, the boy’s face showing a hint of embarrassment.

“Lady Sansa has asked me to show you to your new chambers.”

“My...new chambers?”

Podrick only nodded, leading him back out into the hallway. It was a familiar path, the same one he’d walked the night before. They stopped a door away.

“May I ask why I am being so thoughtfully relocated?” Jaime asked, as Podrick gestured into the room in front of them. His few belongings were piled on the table just in front of the fire. The room was a mirror of Brienne’s next door.

“Easier for Lady Sansa to have her sworn shield’s in one place, I imagine,” Podrick shrugged. Jaime was sure he knew more than he was letting on, but the boy could keep his secrets. With a nod and a wave, Jaime brushed him out of the room, collapsing onto the new bed.

It was slightly larger, which should have been a comfort. A luxury.

Instead he felt the empty space as though it was physically pressing in around him.

***

He was in bed the next night when he heard the creak of her door swing open and slam shut. Her movements were loud as though she’d never had to worry about disturbing anyone near her. Jaime wondered how long she’d been the sole occupant of this corridor.

Slowly he reached over to where his golden hand rested on his table. Grasping it he leaned back against the wall above the bed, tapping the golden hand against it.

He heard her stop for a moment, and then continue on, crashing through her room.

He knocked again.

This time he heard her yank the door open, no doubt expecting someone on the other side. When there was no one there, her footsteps echoed back into the room, slamming the door behind her this time.

He waited a few minutes and knocked again.

“Oh, piss off, Jaime,” she yelled.

He leapt to his feet and dove out of his own room to beat her to the door.

“How did you know it was me?”

Brienne raised her eyebrows looking back at the hand he clutched in his left palm.

“Ah, yes,” he conceded. “I suppose there isn’t anyone else with a metal hand to knock on your door now is there?” He stepped around her, rolling his neck back as he thought of one final thing. “Not now that that Wilding’s gone.”

Red shot through her neck, staining behind her ears and all up her cheeks as well.

Instead of addressing it directly, all Brienne said was, “Tormund didn’t have a metal hand.”

Too right, Jaime thought bitterly. Tormund had two functioning hands and a confident familiarity. Whatever caused bile to rise in his belly when that thought ran through his head, he ignored, choosing instead to focus on her fire.

“Now you definitely have a much bigger fireplace than I do,” he mock pouted.

“What are you doing, Jaime?”

He stopped short.

“It’s called a conversation, Brienne,” he said. Reminded briefly of the days they spent avoiding the King’s Road, the days she spent avoiding his questions, he smiled. “I know you’re familiar with the concept.”

She looked frustrated. Perhaps a little angry, though it was hard to tell. Her features were always so severe, simple annoyance could be confused for fury if you didn’t read her carefully enough.

“Ser Jaime,” she insisted softly. “What’s going on.”

It’s almost worse, he thought. Just a wall away and still, everytime I close my eyes. There you are, mouth open, gasping for air around a blade of ice.

I missed you, he could say.

I missed me, he never would. The man you let me believe I could be again. Every second we were apart.

I need you, his mouth opened silently. There’s something about your eyes that makes me see clearly. Let me be near you a little bit longer. Be a little bit better.

“Nightmares,” he said instead. It was a half truth he felt no shame in parting with. Perhaps he should have. A golden lion, afraid of the dark?

But he wasn’t a golden lion anymore. And he’d stopped being a brave knight from the stories a long, long time ago.

Brienne only nodded, pouring him a glass wine.

“A tip from your brother,” she said, handing it over to him.

“One of the few things he learned from my sister,” he said. Instantly he wished he hadn't. Just the mention of her brought thick uncertainty into the room. Brienne lifted her own glass to her mouth, gulping so much she had to tip the goblet up, blocking her eyes from his view.

“Does it help you?” he asked after a moment. “The drinking.”

She shook her head.

“No,” she said. “No, not really.”

It had never helped him either. He wasn’t sure it actually did help Cersei or Tyrion or if they’d just gotten so used to it they didn’t know how to stop.

No, he was always the one that needed physical comfort. Or action. The drink didn’t warm him but sparring until the breath in his lungs was all used up or pinning another body down on top of his–that sometimes could push the unpleasantness away.

“Me neither,” he said. He set his drink down without finishing it.

He had no right to ask it of her, knew. He wandered toward her bed, fingers tracing along the edges of it as he paced back and forth. No right to even bring it up. But–

“Could I–” he started, and then lost his nerve.

Brienne’s eyebrows lifted in question. No choice but to finish the thought then.

“I slept fitfully last night,” he tried to explain. Without you. “But when you let me–”

Why was this so hard?

Brienne’s eyes softened in understanding, and taking pity on him, she nodded.

“Go get the fur from your chambers,” she said. “You hogged all mine the last time.”

Brienne was still standing when he got back, her hands rubbing nervously on the tops of her thighs. Awkwardly he tried to spread his fur out over hers, shaking it out with one hand. It fell crumpled in one spot, so he lifted it and shook it again, watching the same thing happen over and over.

“Let me,” Brienne sighed. She turned quickly, grabbing the corners closest to her, snapping it open over hers.

“Thanks,” he mumbled, climbing in.

Still she stood off to the side of the room, staring into the fire.

“If you’re uncomfortable,” Jaime said. “I can leave. Truly, Brienne–”

“No,” she cut him off. “No, I’m fine.” Wordlessly she worked at the laces of her jerkin, pulling at them one by one with her long fingers. He could barely see the movement as she turned away, hiding all but the steady blush running up her neck from him.

Guilt swam in his belly.

Here she was, the Maid of Tarth. The new knighthood felt so right for her that he let himself forget that wasn’t who she was to the rest of the world sometimes. She was a maid, a girl, far from home. Filled to the brim with a brutal sort of kindness that condemned her to comfort him. A 45 year old disgraced knight with one hand.

She let him forget, sometimes, the weight of who he truly was.

He hadn’t realized it had just transferred to her shoulders.

When she crawled in beside him he shifted, pulling her close before he could convince himself not to. She jerked back a little at first, the coolness of his hand shocking her freckled arm. But he flattened his hand against her, allowing her to slide away if she wanted.

When she leaned further into his lost touch he moved them both so she was facing away from him much like the first night they shared. Then, he slid up behind her, his left hand shoving under their feather pillows. A moment’s hesitation while he hovered he handless arm above them.

Brienne curled her own arm backwards, reaching for his forearm. Crossing her own arms over it, she tucked it between her hands and the surprisingly soft belly beneath her tunic.

“Goodnight Ser…” she trailed off. “Goodnight Jaime.”

“Brienne,” he smiled into the nape of her neck. “Goodnight.”

***

It became routine after that. He’d wait in his room, now more of a formality than anything else, his fur staying in her bed after the third night in a row he’d slept there.

But it wasn’t his room, so he’d wait in his own chambers until he could hear her walking around in there. Then he’d knock and she’d open the door silently, letting him in. Sometimes she just left the door open, and when he’d hear her pulling the door open without snapping it shut again, he’d slide off his own bed and wander over.

Some nights they’d climb right in, exhausted by the day.

Most nights they’d sit by the fire first, drink a little.

Every night, she’d pull the furs up to her shoulders, letting the two overlap a little, falling between them, before turning away from him.

Early on he learned he had to turn away first if he wanted her to bridge the distance, wrap her arm around his chest, until it rested empty on his ribcage.

On the nights he didn’t, he’d wrap his arm lightly around her, waiting for her to tighten his hold, letting his forehead kiss the boney peak at the crest of her back.

***

In his dreams he saw a castle by the sea.

Not yet touched by winter, the waters lapping at his ankles as he stood on the beaches just slightly cooler than that of Kings Landing.

Maybe you’ve escaped it after all, the wind whispered around him.

But the water in front of him turned wild. The blue of it faded to grey as it rose and crashed around him, trapping him within it. The waves tumbled against the sand until the sand was gone, only ash and bone beneath his feet.

When he turned around the ocean was gone. It was a window, stone walls surrounding him. There was a boy, ten, waiting for him on the ground below. Brienne was next to him, her great big hand on his shoulder, her eyes guarded and wounded as Jaime stared down the tower window at him.

When he opened his mouth to call down to her, his voice was gone, strangled by the distance between them.

In her other hand was Oathkeeper, the golden lion hilt gleaming in the sun. Lifting her gloved hand off of the boy’s shoulder, she gripped the blade in her hands. He watched helplessly as it worked its way through her leather gloves, a knife through butter, but her fingers only wrapped around it tighter. Heaving it above her head, she crashed the hilt into the stone walls of the tower he was trapped in.

The lion’s head cracked, splintering off of the sword, and he woke up in a cold sweat.

***

In the daylight, the lion’s head hilt blinded him.

What weight had the golden hilt added to her journey? It had kept her from Arya, kept her from Sansa. Was that what happened when he forced pieces of himself onto her?

Oathkeeper, she’d called it. A promise he’d almost prevented her from keeping, just by wishing for some small part of him to be near her. Not only a breaker of his own, but a fracture in her own word.

“You’re distracted,” Brienne said, stopping. Podrick was off to the side, watching them.

“Perhaps you’re just the better fighter,” he grumbled. The squire’s eyes narrowed at him in concern. For him or for his knight he couldn’t tell.

“I am,” she said without bluster. “But you’re better than this.”

That was true once, he knew. Even when he had been tied to a post for a year, his body frail and hungry and weak, he had managed to hold himself up against her, nearly honoring the one unsoiled reputation he’d had left.

She had frustratingly believed he could get back to that man. Even then when she could barely stand to look at him, she’d guided him, trained him, given him exactly what he’d needed. You must live and take revenge.

How many lifetimes ago was it that they were concerned with such things? How was it that after all this time, she was still reforging the shape of him?

He had slipped from his strength through circumstance, leaving her to pick up the pieces. And without him even asking, she had.

Why hadn’t she left him to crumble? Why wouldn’t she still?

“Perhaps the boy should take a turn,” he grumbled. He slammed the point of his sword down into the soft mud beneath his feet and nodded at Podrick to take his place.

“Ser Jaime–” Brienne protested.

“If you’ll excuse me.” He bowed before she could finish her thought, compel him to stay. He avoided her eyes as he pushed past her, back into the keep.

***

“Ser Jaime.”

Lady Sansa’s voice seemed to echo louder than she’d spoken.

He bowed, hand on the hilt of his sword. “My Lady.”

She eyed him curiously, without saying another word, and gestured for him to follow her. She led him to her solar. When she sat he stayed standing off to the side, unsure if her was there as guard or guest, until she extended her hand to the chair opposite hers.

There was no drink, no food, no wine goblet in her hand.

She sat without extravagance or pretense. No paper in front of her, no quill scribbling mindlessly to make her look busy.

The power she commanded was her own. Taken aback by the sudden thought coursing through his mind, he couldn’t help but wish Catelyn Stark had lived long enough to see the force her daughter grew into.

She had never needed him to fulfill his oath, she had returned herself safely to Winterfell.

“I observed your training this morning,” she said after a moment.

He dipped his head, a small bubble of shame popping in his belly. “An off day,” he assured her without confidence.

She didn’t speak again for a long moment. Instead she seemed to relish the discomfort he was feeling. He may have pledged his life to hers, defended the North, but here it was clear. She was a wolf and he a lion. And she would never trust a lion.

“Did Ser Brienne ever tell you of when I refused her service the first time?” Sansa broke the silence.

“No, my Lady.”

Her eyes tore away from his. Thoughtfully, they stared out the window, and he only then realized it looked out onto the training grounds where Brienne still stood with the boy, trading blows.

“I think back to it frequently,” she said. Her voice was quiet, much softer than he’d ever heard it, even back when she had been a lost girl trapped in King’s Landing. “I imagine how different my life would have been if I had trusted her, if I had gone when she’d asked. Perhaps we could have found my sister, brought her home sooner.”

There wasn’t much he knew about the youngest Stark girl. The shadow in her sister’s eyes told him it was a story that would never reach his own ears. Too fragile and too dangerous for the likes of him.

“But perhaps not,” she interrupted his thoughts. “There is no point wasting time on what-ifs now. We have lived through too many intersecting roads. They’re far too tangled for us to be able to find the right one, even knowing all we know now.”

Perhaps, he thought. Perhaps she would not think so if she had known all he had done.

“It was the Lannister sword,” Sansa said. “That stopped me from trusting her.”

That much he knew. Every cold breeze he felt fall from her icy eyes fell back on his shoulders. Stupid, he thought day in and out. Stupid to give her a lion hilted sword to fight for wolves. Had he known, then, what he’d cursed her with? Had he done it anyway?

“It was also the Lannister sword that saved me.”

His eyes snapped up to hers.

“When I ran from Ramsey, when I was backed into a corner, ready to die, Ser Brienne took the sword you gave her, and cut the Bolton men down one by one. And then she used it to shield my back each step I took on the path that led me home.”

He would not flinch, he told himself. He would push back the heat burning at the back of his eyes. He would not do anything but nod.

“Ser Brienne is honorable,” he said. “Since the first day I encountered her, she had only one goal in mind. The safety of you and your sister.”

Sansa smiled softly. It was a look he had never seen before. Oh, how she had beaten the odds. He felt grateful, suddenly, to be able to sit face to face, speaking with such a force.

“Ser Jaime.” She leaned forward on the table between them. Her hands were gripped around one another, fingers intertwined. “There was nothing our Ser Brienne could have done that would have changed the course of history. Littlefinger would not have let her leave with me, Lannister sword or no.”

A moment of silence fell between them as her soft smile grew into something more sinister.

“And now here I am,” she said. “With Brienne at my side. And Littlefinger dead, at my command.”

The only one in the realm who had been able to use his climb against him, flinging him from the ladder when he was but a few rungs from the top.

It could have been a threat. Had her eyes narrowed just the slightest bit, he may have been afraid. But they were open and honest. She was no longer the little bird caged away, tortured by wild cats. She was powerful and raw and offering him one last hope.

“Lamenting the past does nothing but keep you there, Ser Jaime,” she finally said. “We must learn what we can and press on.”  

***

Jaime’s eyes slipped shut without him noticing. He’d been tapping his fingers atop his knee to try and keep himself awake while he waited for her. But the longer she took, the heavier his eyes felt, the slower his fingers tapped away.

His neck ached but he knew if he let himself slide down, fully on the mattress instead of propped up against the wall, he’d have no hope of staying awake.

Before he could stop himself, sleep washed over him. Only a rough hand on his shoulder woke him, he didn’t know how long after.

“Jaime,” Brienne whispered. With great effort he pried his eyes open. Her blond hair had grown longer, he finally noticed. It was floating down, tucked behind her ears with the ends still brushing her strong cheekbones and she leaned down above him.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

He had no idea what she was apologizing for.

“You could have gone to bed without me,” she said. He was standing before he could register her hands wrapping around his arms and pulling him up. She was pushing him down on her own bed soon, brushing his hair softly out of his forehead before moving to her side of the bed. Still she didn’t join him, slowly divesting herself of layers.

He sucked in a breath when her hands went to her breeches after her jerkin, loosing the tie that held them up above her hips. Slight though it was, the swell of her hips stuck out more with only the thin linen of her tunic falling over it.

For the first time he noticed the blush staining her legs. His belly flipped at the sight of her normally creamy white flesh colored, heavy uneven blotches of red crawling up until they disappeared beneath her hem.  

She rubbed her hands over the fronts of her thighs and he realized she was watching him watch her. Shamefully, he fell back on the pillows staring only above him now as she climbed in next to him. Perhaps he should have apologized. Perhaps he should have left.

Perhaps he should have stopped himself from reaching his hand out to feel if the skin of her thigh was as warm as it was red.

Perhaps he should have ignored how her breath hitched at the weight of his palm.

Perhaps he didn’t.

“Jaime?” Brienne’s voice was uncharacteristically light, like his name was still half behind her lips.

Her legs rippled with gooseflesh, as his fingers trailed up and down the soft, warm skin. Her own hand reached up to his, long fingers tapping one by one to the back of his hand. Then pressing, pushing his hand against her leg so there was no masking the heat radiating off of her, flooding his senses.

Jaime gripped the hand that covered his with a flip of his palm. It was bigger than his own, wider and longer and he relished in the way it enveloped him completely.

Tenderly, he lifted their joint hands up, maneuvering them so that Brienne’s fingertips lay soft against his lips.

Less than a kiss, his mouth parted, her large fingers tracing invisible lines across just his top lip. He could feel his own rapid breaths washing over him as they were pushed back by her hand, barely letting them escape. Twisting their hands again, he let his mouth rest in the soft folds of the skin of her wrist.

With a sudden urgency he couldn’t name, Jaime’s hand trembled over hers. Gripping it tighter within his one hand, pressing fiercer against his parted lips. He let his forehead slide needily along the wide expanse of the back of her hand as his lips danced further and further down her wrist.

Until it became impossible to pull her hand any closer at the angle they were at–her left arm stretched over her belly, him half propped up by his elbow. He wanted more, that’s all he knew. More of her heat, more of the soft edges rounding over her muscled arms, more of the way she let out a small sigh with each kiss he left on her skin.

More of her.

So he sat up, Brienne, compelled by a tug of his hand, followed. The furs around them, dropped from where she’d stretched them to the tops of her shoulders, pooled down at their waists.

His hand was at the back of her bicep now, unable to wrap around the thick limb, strong and unbreakable beneath him. He liked the feeling of her muscles under his palm. Nudging her forearm with his stump, he inched it upwards, forcing the muscles of her upper arm to bulge as her hand curled up. His mouth chased the movement.

“Jaime,” she said again. He felt it more than he heard it, the rumble of her deep voice rolling through him as he trailed his mouth up her shoulder, over her collarbone, the tender dip of skin at the top of her breastbone.

“What are you doing?” she said. If he hadn’t been so close it would only have sounded like a sigh.

He thought back to his first day at Winterfell. The look of confusion he couldn’t seem to get her to drop. The pinch of her brow, like she was annoyed with him as well as flustered.

There was no annoyance in her eyes this time. Instead they were swimming in hesitancy.

“I think you know,” he smiled into her skin.

“I truly–” her breath caught as his tongue flicked out, a quick movement he wasn’t sure she’d even feel, as his cold nose shoved into her tunic, pushing it to the side. “I truly don’t.”

In truth he didn’t either. There were no words to describe the feeling come over him. All he knew was that it has been filling him, drop by drop, longer than he ever realized and suddenly he could bear it inside him no longer.

“Do you want me to stop?”

Her head shook slightly. He nuzzled his face below her ear. “Brienne, say the words,” he pleaded.  “Do you want me to stop?”

A moment. And then,

“No.” Another moment. And then, “Jaime, I–”

It was then that he realized the hesitancy might have nothing at all to do with him. It wasn’t whose mouth was pressed against her skin, it’s that there was a mouth pressed so dangerously close to the small swell of her breast at all.

“Say my name again,” he said. His body wasn’t picky, there wasn’t much she had to do, except let him press himself flush against her, torso to toe. But each time she’d said it, just his name, something tight and hot pulled at the back of his belly.

Instantly she complied. “Jaime,” she breathed. “Jaime.”

He took his time, moving from shoulder to shoulder, barely leaving a breath between his lips and her skin as he moved slowly from side to side. As though he was memorizing her through touch alone. Two lips mapping where two hands could not.

“Tell me when something feels good,” he whispered to her neck. Please , he almost added. Tell me this feels for you how it feels for me. “Or when something doesn’t,” he added sloppily. It had been so long since his own first time, a lifetime ago, that he forgot what was important to say.

Not that he and Cersei had ever said what was important to say to one another.

Not until the woman slowly painting herself red below him came into his life had he said what was important to say.

“Just keep–” she took a breath. After a moment’s hesitation she pushed him away a fraction. Her blue eyes locked on his were all that kept him from reeling back, humiliated. But she pinned him where he was, her eyes piercing unflinchingly into his own. Slowly her hands curled and pulled, removing the final layer from her shoulders.

When the worn, thinning, material dropped off the mattress, he plunged forward, his mouth back on her skin. His hand stretched wide across her bare back. Each finger stretched as far as he could get it, ignoring the strain he felt. He wanted as much of her beneath his touch as he could get.

Brienne’s fingers slipped into his hair, one set wrapping in the growing hairs at the nape of his neck, as she tugged them slightly. As his neck bent back to look at her above him, he barely had time to drink in the sight of her face, flushed and sweaty from his touch alone, before she was kissing from the base of his neck, up his chin, skipping his lips. Landing a press on each closed eye he offered her.

“Jaime.” Oh but please, wench, he thought, as her lips wrapped much too gently around the apple of his throat.

He lifted his hand to keep her mouth just where it was, to encourage her to not be quite so gentle, but as he lifted it, she pushed it down with her free hand. He noticed the fingers of her left hand were still tugging sharply at the hair at his neck. Unable to handle the pocket of air blocking her chest from his, Jaime pressed forward. He mimicked the unbearably light touches she’d just given him on her own neck until he heard her say his name again.

“Kiss me,” Brienne said. He responded happily, devouring the scent of her as he leaned in, nipping at her neck, the corner of her jaw, the lobe of her ear. “Jaime, please, just–just kiss me.”

“I am kissing you,” he said. “I intend to keep kissing all of you.” The words were whispered into her neck, her jaw, the plump stretched lower lip that was red and rough from his own beard.

Her breath smelled sour, of ale and cheese. Had she thought of him as she supped, as he always thought of her? The second chair in his chambers empty, always empty. He would make her think of him now.

Teasing, he lifted his mouth from her. Not willing to part with touch completely, he rested his forehead against hers in its place, an invisible force parting them at the noses. Squinting down he could almost make out the blurry shape of her lips, parting, expecting him. She didn’t ask him again, but her chest heaved slightly heavier than usual.

He took her bottom lip first. Slowly, just pressing his own lips against it, unmoving. Jaime was suddenly flooded by the desire for her to cover him completely. He wanted to touch every part of her with all of him, his eyes, his fingers, his mouth. To help, his hand moved to her cheek, rubbing circles over and over the blushed stained high on her square cheeks, as his lips finally parted, bringing her mouth softly between his own.

Her own fingers mimicked his, her hands coming up on either side of his face. He felt the skin of his cheeks press against her wide palms as a smile stretched across him. Impossible warmth bloomed in him. How could he feel it any more? How was there anything left for him to feel? But it was like fire shooting down from her palms to the furthest reaches of his body.

Rolling off the energy she pressed into him, Jaime trailed his hand down. Down from her cheek, barely grazing her neck, teasing the soft flesh of her breast. A light sweep of his fingers over the swell, the barest tweak he could manage against her nipple and she moaned into his mouth.

As though embarassed, Brienne pulled back, her brows pulling together in apology. “I know I’m–I’m no beauty.” She seemed to struggle with the words. Where it would have been a sentence most shied away from saying, her eyes were challenging, though still fiercely vulnerable.

Jaime knew that look. He knew what it meant with how the words attached were spoken. It had been a tender spot for her, it had wounded her. Then it had become her shield.

Who cares, he thought feverishly. But she did, others had forced her to. They had cut her with her own reflection and she had learned it was dangerous to look upon her at all. Brienne the Beauty, they sneered. He kept his thumb stroking softly against her breast, back and forth, and back and forth, as he stared back at her.

A long moment he stared, drinking in her eyes, her large nose, every freckle that fell between each blush, the expanse of her broad shoulders, the jut of her chin as it ticked upwards self consciously.

She was right, she was no beauty. Beauty was too small a word for her, it didn’t fit. But he stared unrelenting until finally, he could bear the distance between them no longer.

I’m not afraid, he might have said. I see what they could not.

Another phrase jumped through his mind. I’m strong enough.

Instead he flicked his tongue out against the dip below her ear, smiling as he felt her move instinctively against him.

“You don’t need beauty,” Jaime’s breath washed over her ear, leaving a ripple of burnt skin in its wake. “To have desire.”

“I–” she began but he cut her off, finally answering her earlier plea. His lips chased hers in earnest, finally, finally kissing her how she’d asked for. How he’d longed for, for far, far too long. He’d slid his legs closer to hers, nearly rutting up against her he was so consumed by the feel of her.

Brienne’s hand pushed flat against his belly, creating a pocket of air between their middles, while her lips never left his. After resting it there a minute, making him feel a blister in the shape of her palm when she moved, Brienne worked at his laces. Pulling rapidly, not one by one, but two or three at once, he couldn’t tell as they all overlapped, slipping through her fingers, until his breeches dropped shapelessly down.

Then he had to disconnect from her. He pulled himself away to shake the fabric off the bottom of his legs. As he did that he made for the lace of his tunic, grabbing at it with hand and tooth. His efforts only seemed to tangle it more.

“Fuck,” Jaime grumbled around the string. He dropped his forehead in defeat against her shoulder. “Wench, please .”

It was desperation tinting his voice, wasn’t it?

She complied, pushing his shirt off quickly, little care to where it fell to once it was off.

It was strange, they’d been naked in front of one another long ago. Before she even trusted him she stood, defiant, naked, glistening, over his broken and rotting body. She’d caught him when his own strength abandoned him, washed him half out of the tub. Took gentle care of his cuts and his stump, then propped him outside of the water, leaving him naked and alone before he’d even had a chance to thank her.

But now Brienne wasn’t fuming, she wasn’t defiant. She wasn’t burdened by his trust as she was then. He hoped.

And still, his wounds long healed, all his secrets already laid bare, this felt like more. More to offer, more to lose. Had she remembered his body the way he remembered hers? It was meatier now than it had been then, he noticed. Wide and full and strong, he watched her muscles ripple through her like a strong current upstream.

He too had grown larger. Finally recovered the breadth he’d lost tied to a post for a year.

She stared at him, raking in his form from the point of his chin, down his chest, her finger following her eyes, trailing down his skin, ticking through chest hair as it skimmed him. Brienne crested his belly button, a gentle smile as she felt the softness around it, but she hesitated before continuing on.

“Brienne,” he whispered.

“I’ve never,” she started. Timid at first, then a mirror of the girl staring down at him in the tub at Harrenhal. Her blue eyes locked on his, refusing to look away no matter how warm and red her cheeks grew. “I’ve never touched a man before.”

You touched me, he almost teased her. But a bath was different, a bath was not this.

“I’ve never been touched by hands as strong as yours,” he said in reply. A fact and plea in equal measure.

He reached his left arm, twisting his fingers into the hand that wasn’t still resting against his abdomen. At his words, she’d ducked her eyes down, buried her gaze down toward their linked hands, toward his abdomen. She bit her bottom lip questioningly and he couldn’t help the groan that slipped from his lips.

“Please,” he said. “Touch me, Brienne.” His words were barely more than a breath. He would have flushed at how delicate he sounded had his entire body not been at heat already. “If you want,” he amended quickly. “But please tell me what you want.”

With a sharp tug of their grasped hands, she had him falling into her. She pulled her hand away from his own, leaving her other arm lowered as it was, and clutched the back of his neck, directing his lips back on hers.

“Show me what it can be like,” she said finally. Show me how the knight would bed the maid in songs. He could almost still see that girl in her eyes, the one who knew all the songs, all the stories, who still believed in shining armored knights. They needed to write a new song now, he thought, for the maid who was the knight.

Unable to keep up the infuriatingly delicate pace she’d set any longer, Jaime pressed forward. His let his hand fall open on top of her pillow to catch the back of her head as lowered beneath him.

Brienne’s hands didn’t release him though. Her left was sandwiched between their bellies but she pried it out, reaching around to plant it spread on his back. Pulling no, pushing, him closer while her other hand shot back into the spot it had been earlier at the nape of his neck.

He wished he was ten years younger. A full man, handsome and golden, and perhaps almost worthy of her. But he was the man she wanted, if the way her hand pressed desperately against him was telling him anything, and that would have to be enough.

Ignoring that her right hand was steering him right back to her, he leaned his head down, peppering kisses along her long neck. His beard must have tickled her because he felt a sharp pain as her fingers squeezed the flesh of his neck a little too hard. He groaned a little in pain before he could stop himself.

Not allowing her the chance to apologize, Jaime took her mouth again. As her lips parted beneath his, he slipped his hand out from under her head, feeling his own tickle from the short wispy hairs at the top of her neck. Then he grabbed her hand with his own, slotting her fingers between each one of this own, before he pulled it up, pinning it back above her.

She let out a quiet gasp, even as his mouth covered her.

Maybe you wished one of them could overpower you, fling you down, tear off your clothes, but none of them were strong enough.

But in the end it was she who had taken his clothes off, not the other way around.

Still. The look in her eyes as he’d stretched their linked arms out and over and above her head, where she could touch only the palm of his hands...

I’m strong enough.

He was moving without thinking, his mouth slipping from her own, down her chin, across her shoulder, up up up and up the arm he pinned away from her, stopping at the crease of her elbow for a kiss that barely made contact.

Jaime,” she groaned.

It was too much and not enough for him all at once. How was he to survive if he kept going? If he moved down and down and down her body, if he watched her unravel, if he pulled the thread to make it happen? How was he to survive if he stopped?

He couldn’t, it was unthinkable, tearing himself away from her. Turning over and going to sleep when now he knew exactly what her body felt like, naked, flushed, open beneath his.

So he didn’t.

Jaime let the scent of her, the feel of her, the sound of her all wash over him as he moved from her arm back to her neck. So his mouth could revisit the pink peak of the nipple his hand hadn’t reached. So he could feel the rise and fall of her breaths against his forehead as he traveled further down, tongue slipping past her belly button, sliding sideways to her hip as he felt her tense up beneath him.

Only for a moment though, and then Brienne was nodding, her hips ticking upwards, knocking into him in clumsy encouragement. Slowly, lightly he rested his lips against her sex.

And then he was kissing her, devouring her, unable to help the sharp grip of his hand into her thigh as he buried himself further. Instinctively her legs tightened, crushing him slightly before she regained control and forced them back open. While his hand still gripped the hot flesh of her right thigh, he pressed his right forearm against her other leg. Pushing it down and away from him, holding her open to him.

Brienne may have been the maid but the sensations coursing through him were as new to him as they were to the woman pressing her hips hard against his arm.

He never wanted to stop, he couldn’t bear to move away. She nearly peaked, once, twice, her fingers dug into his shoulders but this time he did not move them. He let her knead into him, tightening and releasing, tightening and releasing against him over and over until she cried out, reaching her crest.

Jaime watched the rise and fall of her stomach, shining a little with a fresh coat of sweat. He pressed his lips to it again, circling her belly button, relishing the warmth rising up from her skin. Her fingers had fallen limply off his shoulders and he missed the weight of them pressed against him.

He shifted back up awkwardly, his body half crawling half sliding from between her, until he fell still only half covering her, close enough again to meet her eyes. Brienne’s eyes fluttered closed, the hand that had been tangled with his own rested at her hairline. He watched as her fingers danced, pushing back the small waves that fell over her brow, now slicked with sweat.

“How am I comparing to the songs so far?” His index finger circled the hot flesh of her chest, up and down and over and back up again.

He licked the honey from her hair, ” Brienne sang softly. Her voice was scratchy, indelicate, but warm. “ The bear the bear, and the maiden fair.

“Oh, a bear, am I?” he grumbled. He slid his hand down from her ribs to the slight swell of her hip, grabbing it tightly. At the pressure, Brienne slid over, forcing his own body to flop back onto the soft bed below him. She caged him in with both arms on either side of his chest.

Only after she had dipped down to kiss him did she shift her hips too. A swing of her long leg and she was covering him so wonderfully completely.

Perhaps she was the bear, he the maiden fair.

“Tell me,” she said, tearing her mouth from his. Only far enough to speak, he could still feel her lips moving and her breath against his lips as she formed the words. “Tell me what I should be doing.”

You expect me to be able to speak, woman? Not when her hips were pressed hard against him, not as she rocked without noticing as her body followed her mouth’s exploration of his cheeks, his jaw, his neck, his chest.

Jaime,” she whispered into his shoulder. “Tell me.”

“Anything,” he said. “Gods, anything. Brienne.”

Her hands swept down his chest, stopping to brush the barest press of her fingertips over any scar, before leaning down, covering it with her mouth. It wasn’t until her mouth had worked its way to his hips that he realized her intentions.

“Wait,” he said.

“Do you not want–”

There was no possible end to her question that would have changed his answer. Yes, yes he did want. He wanted all of it, he wanted her hands, her mouth, everything. But as she’d worked her way down, his body had been left bare, her own slipping between his legs, nothing but perhaps a stray palm stroking above his belly button now and again.

He missed the weight of her, the smell of her. He missed her skin against his in every spot they could manage.

He shifted his hips up slightly to remind her exactly how much he wanted.

“Tonight I want you,” he said through a stuttered breath. “I want to be completely,” he pulled her back up for another kiss, “engulfed by you.”

She pulled back slightly and he felt the loss immediately.

“If you’ll have me.”

How he wished she could see what she looked like then. Strong and wonderful and wild. Her hair, usually pushed back so pristinely was curling over her forehead, falling in sweaty tendrils. Her lips were cherry red, raw from kissing, from searching him, from her teeth worrying them as she processed what he wanted.

“I’ve never–”

He cut her off with a kiss.

It didn’t matter, didn’t she see? It didn’t matter if she’d never touched a man, been touched by a man, been with a man completely. Every part was new to him too. To touch and be touched so tenderly. To feel this need, to be able to ask for it.

“Slowly,” he assured her. “We’ll go slowly.”

Brienne nodded. Her bottom lip was still wedged between her teeth. Probably imagining the horrible stories septas tell little girls about losing their maidenhead. What it will feel like, what it will do to them. How it will leave them in the morning.

“It may hurt,” Jaime warned. His fingers danced downward from her neck, to her ribs, the underside of her breast brushing against his thumb in time with each of her breaths. “But your peak will have helped prepare you.”

“Guide me,” she breathed.

Suddenly he felt her hand on his ribs, the mirror of his own position. As he let his slip down further, past her waist, her stomach, finally at the soft blonde curls of her cunt, her hand followed down his own body. As he teased her, playing at her entrance, her large hand wrapped around his cock. Stroke by stroke she matched him until they were panting, their foreheads the only other parts of them touching.

Unable to take it any longer, Jaime slipped his fingers back out, his arm trying to shift her upwards, pulling desperately to get her back over him as she was.

“I won’t last long,” he said, embarassed. She had teased him, worked him too close to release for him to last much longer. Tomorrow, he told himself. He could go slower tomorrow.

“I won’t know the difference,” she teased.

“Maybe not yet,” he grunted. Soon, he swore. But for now, if she kept her hands on him he would come in half a moment, and he really really wanted to feel her surround him.

“I’m ready,” she assured him, sensing his hesitation. Brienne’s hand had pulled away from his cock, resting back on either side of his chest. She sat at an angle, more draped over him than pressed against him. She let out a heavy breath and he felt it shift her chest enough that her breast grazed lightly against his own chest.

When Jaime grabbed her right bicep with his hand, she slipped, elbow crashing down where her wrist had just been as she tried to balance without tearing herself away from his touch. It only took one more small nod from her, then he was guiding her above him. Taking him into her bit by bit.

It was one sharp exhale and a furrowing of her brows, like she hadn’t really realized what it would feel like. A moment passed where Brienne squeezed her eyes shut and let out one long, steadying breath, and then she was moving.

“How–” she started but the grind of her hips on top of his pulled a moan from the deep, back corner of his throat.

“That,” he said. “Like that.”

He was right, it barely took her any time at all to bring him spilling over. The balls of her palms worked their way over him. First his ribs, then his chest, and back again. The pressure, the ways her hips rolled as she leaned down to kiss him, the way she didn’t stop at his mouth, had him coming apart.

Riding the wave down, Jaime wrapped his right arm around her back, holding her in place, urging her forward, as his left hand reached back for her cunt. He circled her, quicker when her hand landed over his, urging him on, guiding him. He wondered how many times she’s brought herself over the edge with her hands just like that. He wondered if she ever thought of him as she did.

A strangled shout, more of a sharp moan than a yell, and she was over, the wave leaving his shores and crashing over hers.

“Stay,” Brienne whispered then. She had fallen back next to him, her hand still resting on his chest.

His eyes were already slipping closed against his will. “That,” he murmured, “was never in question.

***

It was Lady Sansa who delivered the scroll to him, her eyes cast downwards in true sorrow as he read it.

“I am so sorry,” she said when he had finished. When the breath had left his body. “Lord Tyrion was always kind to me.”

What does it matter how he was to you? He wanted to snap. Starks didn’t mourn Lannisters.

Captured and killed by his own sister.

And then he remembered. Perhaps she was the only one who could understand the angry grief taking over him. Was she not the one, trapped by her brother’s enemies, when his treacherous allies had butchered him, their mother, their queen?

Northmen betraying Northmen. Blood murdering blood.

“Thank you, My Lady,” he said through a tight throat. He bowed, making to leave when her hand reached out and grasped his wrist.

“No matter his name,” she said, holding onto his gaze. “He will be mourned in the North. The South does not deserve his memory.” She paused. “Or yours.”

You will die, he heard unspoken, if you go to avenge him.

“If you’ll excuse me,” he said, slipping out of her grasp.

***

He found Podrick at the fire where they’d sat before the long night, eyes red with tears.

“Ser Jaime,” he stumbled to his feet.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. The courtesies, the titles, it didn’t matter. The usual glint in Podrick’s eyes–the one he’d learned from Tyrion–was gone, drowned out by tears. “Just sit down, Podrick.”

Silence washed over them, and Jaime studied the boy in front of him. Not so much the boy his brother knew in King’s Landing, a man now. Planted by his brother, grown by Brienne.

“He loved you, you know.” Podrick startled him.

“I know,” Jaime said truthfully. “He was my truest friend.”

And perhaps he had died for it.

“He loved you too, Pod,” he said, whispering the affectionately shortened name he’d always heard his brother call the young man before him.

Podrick smiled. “I know.”

Before he could stop it, grief turned to rage. He stood sharply, slamming his golden hand against the stones fireplace.

“I should kill her for this.” I should have killed her long ago. I could have stopped this all.

It was too late to stop it but what else could he do? Sit back and do nothing about his brother’s death? He had killed men for less. When his brother was taken prisoner, unharmed but unfree, he had killed Stark men in the street without a thought.

“Meaning no offense, Ser,” Podrick said softly. “But that’s not what he would want.”

How would you know? Jaime wanted to yell. He was his brother. Not a day had Tyrion lived that he hadn’t known Jaime. Since his first breath, he was there.

“And I do not think she would forgive you.”

For a moment Jaime thought the boy was talking about his wretched sister. Past forgiveness herself, he couldn’t care what she thought of him now.

It was a moment before he realized Podrick spoke of Brienne. His eyes snapped over to the young ones staring back at him.

“You made a vow,” Podrick reminded him. “To protect Lady Sansa. If you go south to kill the Queen, you abandon that vow.”

You abandon her.

Could he lose them both?

No, his mind answered without hesitation. It would be worse than losing himself.

****

In the end, he was relieved of making the choice.

Not two days later, another raven arrived.

The false Queen is dead, her ashes added to the ruins of the Sept of Balor. The war is ended.

It was Sansa again who delivered him the news. Perhaps once he would have found the satisfied glint in her eyes horrifying, revolting, even. Now it settled him.

It was done. She and him had been done long ago. She had been gone long ago. The last of her cracking open with Tommen on the streets below the Red Keep.

But still.

She had been his sister, his twin, his other half. Was it right that they had been pulled into the world together, and now he lingered on without her?

His thoughts turned to Brienne.

Yes, he realized. He had pulled from his sister, lingered in spaces without thought of her as soon as his lady knight had loomed above him in the Stark camp.

He noticed there was no news she told him of the North, no mention of the reunification of the kingdoms.

“What now?” he asked quietly.

She took the scroll back, rolling it up in her long, gloved fingers.

“Now we press on.”

***

Brienne was waiting in his chambers when he returned. It wasn’t the first time he’d found her there without him, but it was infrequent enough that he felt the familiar bewildered flip of his stomach as his eyes landed on her.

She was perched just on the side of his bed, facing the door, waiting for him.

Sansa must have delivered the news to her first. Perhaps in warning. Perhaps she didn’t trust him after all.

“Jaime,” she said softly. Much, much too softly. What could he say? What words could forgive the wretched relief he felt at the news of his sister’s death? Which explanation would not push her away?

He did not try to think of one, instead he grabbed the back of her neck. His fingers slipped into the strands of hair at the back of her neck, already sweaty. She must have been training, he realized. Always training, his knight, building a fortress to protect them all with just her body and sword.

She kissed him back for a few moments, sinking into him, but as he made to crawl over her on the bed she pulled back.

“Jaime, wait,” she said. “We should–talk about this. Your sister–

“I don’t want to talk about my sister,” he breathed. “Let’s not waste breath on her.”

He hadn’t expected the hurt in her eyes at that. Only you, he had meant. My breath belongs only to you now.

She pushed him off. His eyes pressed close in frustration.

“She wasn’t just your sister,” she said, suddenly cold.

“Brienne–”

“Open your eyes, Jaime,” she commanded. “Don’t look away from me when you say my name.”

Lamenting the past does nothing but keep you there, Sansa’s voice echoed in his mind. We must learn what we can and press on.

Cersei would always be his past, he couldn’t wash the stain out.

But Brienne had seen it and touched him anyway.

“She died to me long ago,” he confessed. What was one more sin for the Kingslayer? “It was only for Tyrion that my thoughts returned to her.”

It wasn’t nearly enough, but he couldn’t bear the distance any longer and this time when he kissed her she let him. She let him push her back into the feather bed below them, she let him push up under her tunic, not even bothering to take it off as he trailed kisses from her navel to her breastbone, his hand immediately working on first the laces of her breeches and his own.

He breathed her name in question, his hand working over her sex, circling and teasing, until she nodded. Then, their breeches barely pushed down to their ankles, their tunics still blocking the feel of his skin on hers, he pressed into her.

Slowly as her fingers tensed against his back, but once she breathed out and her breaths steadied again, he abandoned the slow pace completely.

“Jaime,” she said over and over again. Her hands reached for his face, trying to pull him back to her. To kiss her or watch her but sudden shame washed over him, and he kept his face pressed where it was in her neck.

His wench, his knight, more than he deserved by half.

It was over too soon, like teenagers rutting in secret before they could be caught. But when they finished, she kissed his brow and shifted them. Finally undoing the laces on first his tunic, then her own, she stripped them of the last layer. Then, a soft, too-quick kiss to each shoulder, and she was moving him again, the press of her naked chest against his back.

“Sleep, Jaime,” she said. Her hands worked in his hair, stroking it away from his brow as she did only once before.

With his hand, he took her free one and brought it to his lips, barely managing to press a kiss into her palm before his eyes slipped closed and darkness bled through the room.

***

It had been two months since they’d gotten news that war had ended. Jon Snow still had not returned from King’s Landing, a fact which made Sansa’s nerves grow with every passing day. Every raven come in was brought to her right away, no matter the hour. And still no word.

All they knew was that Cersei had burned and Daenerys sat herself upon the blasted throne.

The rest of the realm was eager to return to normal. Winter still loomed and lords and common folk alike were comforted by the relief that survival no longer was in the hands of Kings and Queens who cared only for the title.

Houses went back to petty squabbles, noble lords and ladies were paired off to solidify newfound alliances before another war could crumble them.

And though there was no longer immediate danger, Brienne stayed in Winterfell.

Jaime had expected her to return to the Sapphire Isle, knew the pressure the Lord of Tarth must be putting on his only daughter. He had seen the raven scrolls sealed with crescent moons and starbursts.

Tales were whispered in the hallways of Winterfell about the Kingslayer’s whore, perhaps they had reached Lord Selwyn as well. He bristled at the thought.

“I will write back to him right away, my Lady.”

The tightness of Brienne’s voice pulled him up short. He took a quiet step back, hoping not to draw the attention of Brienne and Lady Sansa who stood in her chambers, the door open as though they were about to leave.

“This is the third offer he has entertained,” Lady Sansa said. He could almost hear the way her eyebrow raised as she said it.

Offer? Jaime felt like a stone had been dropped in his belly. Three offers. Three hands extended toward hers, and she had not even told him.

“And my answer remains unchanged,” she said firmly. “I made a vow to you, My Lady. I will stay by your side.”

She will stay here, he thought, relieved. She will stay here with me.

Not for you, his mind whispered, but he would take what he could get.

“And if I release you from that vow?”

His breathing stopped.

It was a long moment before she answered. Jaime wished desperately he could maneuver himself to see her face without giving himself away.

“Then I will stay here for myself.”

***

But the thought wouldn’t abandon him.

Three offers.

Who had they been from? How many more would Lord Selwyn pretend to let her entertain before he decided for her, trading her off like cattle?

When would the raven come summoning home for a match agreed to without her consent?

The thought was like popping a hole in his lungs–a sharp pain noticed right away, long suffering as the breath he gasped for leaked out of him slowly.

“You are distracted again,” her voice pulled him back to where she lay, arms crushing him into her wide chest.

He could burst into a hundred pieces. Would she finally understand then?

“Had any offers of marriage lately?” he asked before he could stop himself.

Cold air replaced where her body had been pressed against him. When he turned, he saw she had sat up, shifted so only her bare back was to him, her feet flat against the stone below.

“I am to inherit Evenfall Hall,” she said instead of answering.

“So you will leave the North? You will leave Lady Sansa?” You will leave me?

“Lady Sansa has discussed releasing me from my vow when the time comes.” Still, she wouldn’t look at him. “I don’t see why you should care either way.”

Kingslayer. Oathbreaker. Man without honor.

“Podrick will stay here in my place,” she carried on. But the room was spinning. She had plans. She had known this would happen. Of course she had, what else would happen? They would go on as they were forever?

Any spark of hope he’d felt when he’d heard her words to Lady Sansa on the subject fizzled out. Perhaps she was just waiting for a worthy offer. Someday a prince would come along and he would be stuck there, at Winterfell, alone, forced to live it all over again with only his sword for comfort.

An indescribable ill feeling crushed him.

“You don’t see why I should care?”  

She stood then, naked as he, but glaring down at him. “Don’t mock me,” she spat.

“Don’t leave me,” he countered before he could stop himself.

It was too much, much too much to ask of her. As though she hadn’t already given him enough, as though she hadn’t given him everything he had. And it exposed too much, he could see it reflected back in her eyes.

Does the knight beg for honor? Does he beg for love? No, he carries on, a lion uninterested in the opinions of sheep.

But Brienne was not a sheep, she was the moon, she was the stars and sky. She moved like mountain and ocean at once and still had room for honor and kindness.

And, just as he’d claimed for years, suddenly he couldn’t care what anyone thought of him.

“Please,” he said softer, less accusatory. His hand reached out for her, pulling her back toward him until her knee buckled, resting against the feather bed. “Brienne.”

He kissed her hand.

“Brienne.”

He kissed her neck.

Brienne.”

He kissed her nose, her cheeks, her forehead, groaned, realizing she was gripping him back just as fiercely.

“Tell the next one to burn in the seven hells,” he growled. “You are not theirs to claim.”

“I am not yours either.”

His lips broke into a smile against hers. “You couldn’t be,” he said. She almost pulled back but he held her in place. “When I am already yours completely.”

He was glad they were already free of their clothes. He loved feeling the blush as it spread from her chest to her neck, back down to her belly. Against his skin he felt the heat grow and he chased it, slowly up her neck, nipping softly at her ear.

“Take me with you,” he begged. “When Lady Sansa releases you from your vow.”

He would drown himself in the Sapphire waters if she commanded it, so long as he could voyage there beside her.

“She will need–”

“We will wait until her family returns,” he said, wishing he had chosen a different time to bring it up. “We can wait as long as you want. We don’t have to leave at all.”

He would grow old in the rotten North, his golden hand frozen to his arm, but his bed warm from her.

“Jaime,” she sighed.

“Let me be yours,” he pleaded. “I will be whether I am by your side or not.”

She pulled back, placing his arms back at his sides as she stared at him. She did not dress or leave, she just gazed at him. Her blue eyes raked over every inch of him. When she had mapped him, when a lifetime under her gaze had passed, she touched him again.

Just a hand, a graze of fingers really, on his forehead. Brushing his hair aside as only she ever did. Down from his temples she flipped her palm so it was the backs of her fingernails moving softly through his beard.

Torturously slowly, she leaned her forehead against his own, skin on skin where she’d just brushed away his hair.

“I am not yours to claim,” she said, “But I may give myself freely. If you’ll have me.”

Surging forward, he crashed his lips into hers, missing the feel and taste of her, though it had been only a few moments.

Brienne’s hands slipped one on top of the other at the small of his back, pressing him into her until he could think of nothing, not his name, not his age, not his favorite color, only her.

***

In his dreams he saw a castle by the sea.

The crescent moon hung low above it, nearly dipping to touch the tallest tower of Evenfall Hall, bursts of stars scattered in the sky above.

The water was deep and blue and still. Stripping off his golden hand, he waded in, the strength of the waters below him carrying, floating him, keeping him in place.