Brienne's wedding was in a sennight, and she had just come perilously close to punching her husband-to-be in the face.
"Pay attention, Jaime," she told him sharply, raising her fists before her again.
"I am," he returned, with a leer that made it quite clear exactly what he was paying attention to. It had been his idea to have a quick bout of fisticuffs after their morning dive at the cliffs, and though he had not managed to persuade Brienne to do it bare-chested, as was the tradition, she had consented to wearing only her breeches and her now-damp shift. In truth, she could have agreed to his proposal and been no more exposed; the cloth was thin enough to be mostly translucent thanks to the water, and if she looked down, she could see… well. Enough to render the shift more of a principle than a practical matter.
She assumed that that was where Jaime's gaze was tending, too, and so--to tease him--she closed her arms a bit further in front of her chest. His gaze only grew more avid.
"Do that again," he urged.
"With your arms," he explained. "With the--" He gestured with his own, and she could see the long, lean lines of muscle stretch and flex beneath his skin.
"Mmm," she answered, considering the drop of water that lingered near the crook of his elbow. "Like this, do you mean?" She rolled her shoulders, and stretched her neck from side to side in the way that never failed to make his eyes go glassy.
It did not fail now. "Are you quite certain, my future wife, that you are flesh and blood, and not some sort of divine sculpture that's been animated to torment me in punishment for the sins of a past life?"
"Your sins accumulate daily, ser," she sniffed. "But in any case, when one wishes to discover the material that a thing is made from, it helps greatly to inspect it from a close vantage, does it not?"
His grin widened. "I have heard that, yes." He started for her, and she shook her head--it really was far too easy to bait him sometimes--and treated him to a rounding blow. He ducked out of the way, laughing.
"Oh-ho. I've taught you too well, Sixes."
"If you wish to perform your inspection, you must earn the right by combat," she told him.
"I would not have it any other way," he said, with the wild and wicked grin that made heat pool between her legs, and the battle was on.
As it fell out, he did manage to perform quite a thorough inspection, in the end.
Afterward, with irrepressible smiles and haphazardly-restored clothes and with sand in places that did not bear considering, they made their way up the path to the top of the cliffs. Sansa and Margaery--having arrived the sennight before so as to make the most of their visit--had promised them a lavish lunch when they returned. Arya intended to regale them with the latest knowledge in poisons that she'd gleaned from Lady Olenna; the dowager had taken the young girl under her wing not long after she had settled in at Highgarden, and together they made a for a pair that delighted the two of them nearly as much as it terrified everyone else. Brienne was happily anticipating both the lunch and the regaling, and she and Jaime were meandering back toward Evenfall, hand in hand and laughing too loudly, when they came over a rise and saw--
Brienne's chest constricted so hard and so quickly that she thought there must be no more room for her heartbeat. In fact, she felt more than a bit light-headed, and everything around her seemed to go vague and soft-edged, wavering in and out.
Everything, that was, aside from the tall, broad figure walking up the path toward them.
Next to her, Jaime clasped her hand more tightly. "Brienne? Are you all right? I'm sorry, you weren't supposed to--"
She looked at him; he was clear to her eyes, too, the only other thing that was. His expression was a riot of hope, concern, and a kind of banked joy. It told her everything she needed to know. She squeezed his hand once, hard, then released him and found herself hurtling down the path, flying as fast as her shaking legs could carry her, until she could throw herself into her brother's arms.
"Gal," she murmured over and over again as she pressed her face into his shoulder, "Gal, Gal, Gal." He was leaner than she remembered, more muscle and less meat, but he still smelled like he always had, like crushed grass and the tobacco he favored and her happiest childhood memories. She clung to him, a sob tearing out of her as she did.
"Brienne," he said, clinging right back, "I'm so sorry. I'm so terribly, terribly sorry."
"You should be." She sniffled and laughed and pulled back long enough to look at him, her hands braced on his shoulders. His eyes were the same, though there were a few wrinkles at the corners that had not been there when he'd left, and his face was a deep gold color under his freckles that spoke of long hours in the sun. There was also a scar running all along his cheek, still faintly pink and angled at one end. She traced it carefully with a finger. "Gal, what happened?"
"I will tell you all when we are at home--Sansa and Arya made me give my word," he said. "But for now, I will only tell you that after my ship sank, I washed up on the shore in Braavos, and I found myself quite unable to return here since--that is, until your husband-to-be sent his former lover looking for me."
"Purported lover," said Jaime, coming up to meet them. He was smiling pleasantly, but Brienne knew him well enough to know that there was uncertainty hovering around the edges of it, and an eagerness to please that he kept hidden far beneath his charming veneer.
"Galladon Tarth." Keeping one arm around Brienne, Galladon reached out his left hand.
Jaime took it, inclining his head. "Jaime Lannister. I did not expect you until tomorrow, my lord--I hope that means that your voyage here was a good deal more pleasant than your voyage away."
Galladon laughed. "It certainly was, thanks to Lady Rhaella. She provided us both with quite luxurious accommodations, in fact." He looked slightly abashed, and he glanced at Brienne. "Father would likely not have approved of the excess, but Lady Rhaella insisted that it was Crownlands' money and that he owed both of us a debt, so." He lifted a shoulder. "I have not eaten nor slept so well in a year."
"Very good," said Jaime. Brienne found herself looking back and forth between the two tall golden men, attempting to credit the fact that they were both here, within her arm's reach. She was not, as a point of honor, given to swooning, but the sheer joy racing through her veins was proving a mighty test of her resolve.
"Speaking of debts, I am very much in yours, my lord," Galladon went on. "It is thanks to you and Lady Rhaella that I am here, and I will not forget it."
The tension drained from Jaime's shoulders. "Your safe return and the expression on Brienne's face when she saw you was all the reward I looked for," he answered. "Well, that and your leave to marry her, of course."
"His leave?" Brienne put in, elaborately indignant; after what he had done for her, she thought he deserved to have her play along. "I have been both master and mistress of this place since you arrived here, ser, and you will remain here under my indulgence or not at all."
"As you remind me every day," Jaime answered, and took her hand to kiss it, his eyes glinting green and warm and amused as he raised them to hers.
Galladon was watching their little performance with a half-smile on his face, and oh, Brienne's heart had not been built to withstand such happiness. "Speaking of masters and mistresses," Galladon said to them both after he'd cleared his throat a bit, "I haven't come to displace you, by the way. I know that you gave up your claim to your own family estate, Casterly, and I know how much Evenfall means to my sister." He turned to Brienne. "I would not have you be anywhere else."
"Are you leaving again?" Brienne asked, reaching out to grasp his hand with her free one. She had a sudden vision of being a child and stubbornly clinging to his leg when he tried to escape her to go to his lessons.
"I hope to conduct business still in Essos," he said, "under slightly more voluntary circumstances this time. So I expect to travel there often. But if you will allow me the lodge at Morne, I would happily make that my home whenever I am here, if that suits."
"Of course," she said. "You shall have whatever you like. But…" She could hardly credit such a thing. "Are you certain?"
"Entirely," he assured her. "You have always been suited to this place, Brienne, and to its people. I should like very much for you to have it, if that is what you want."
She searched his face. When he only continued smiling at her, serene and warm and reassuring as ever, she nodded slowly. "It is."
He leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. "Then consider it a wedding gift."
"Oh! You will stay for the wedding," she informed him firmly. She would not have him haring off even so far as Morne without that much at least.
He laughed. "Of course--I know that I am only here under your indulgence as well. Now." He squeezed her hand. "I hear you have a tale of your own to tell--why don't you share it with me on our way back? Sansa and her secret wife are occupied with their preparations and refused to give me more than the barest details."
And so they set off, with Brienne providing her unvarnished version of events and Jaime varnishing for all he was worth. Galladon looked admiring when Brienne told him that she'd determined to take his place, and amused when she spoke of all the contests that she and Jaime had embarked upon in the first days of their acquaintance. His expression darkened, though, when she described the arrival of Crownlands, and went outright scolding when Brienne told him about the duel.
"She fought in a duel?" he asked Jaime. "I wasn't allowed to fight in duels."
Jaime gave a put-upon sigh. "My lord, have you ever attempted to prevent Brienne from doing something she truly wanted to do?"
"A fair point," Galladon conceded. Brienne dismissed them both with a roll of her eyes, and continued her tale rather louder than before.
It went like that until they had reached the house; Galladon ducked inside ahead of them, eager to see if he could be of some assistance to the rest of their guests and equally eager, Brienne would have bet her hat, for lunch. She observed the familiar shape that his back made in the doorway and she could feel tears threatening again, an ache in her chest so sweet she could scarcely breathe.
Jaime caught her hand, and when she turned to him, he was beaming like he'd invented the sun. "I hope you enjoy your wedding present, my lady. Don't fret that you won't be able to match it; your mere presence is enough, of course."
She took his face between her hands and kissed him. "I do thank you for my present. It's the best I'll ever receive. More than I could have ever hoped for, and I will never be able to thank you enough."
The smug veneer faded away from his smile, leaving only brilliance. "I'm glad, Brienne. I'm so glad."
"So am I." She embraced him, feeling the length of his body all along hers. Wondering if she ought not to do such things now that her older brother had returned to be scandalized, then realizing that she was likely to keep doing it anyway. In that spirit, she murmured in Jaime's ear, "But as to gifts and whose will be best liked, you do not yet know what I have planned for the wedding night."
For once, she seemed to have rendered him speechless; his expression when she pulled away was caught between delight and dumbfounded arousal. She laughed, and kissed him again, and dragged him through the doorway to join her family.