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“He is a fool.”

Lady Sansa’s frankness startled Brienne. The young woman had no love for Lannisters, she knew, but her brashness scathed just the same.

Since Jaime had ridden off in the dead of night, she hadn’t slept, unable to make any sense of their strange, intense relationship or his sudden parting. For so long, the invisible thread that had connected them had never stopped pulling, and until he’d drunkenly attempted to remove her shirt, neither of them had even acknowledged it. Maybe it had been a delicate thing meant to be untouched, a ribbon recognition would only sever. Perhaps her heartache was proof of it.

Or maybe she had been only a curiosity, an odd chance at escape from duty and oaths? And if so, why had he served under her command? Why had he humbled himself and later crawled her into bed? Why had he pretended to care?

He simply didn’t care enough, you silly beast.

“He hurt you, and I’m sorry.” The words woke Brienne from her spiral of thoughts. Sansa had the same eyes as her mother, and when she allowed, the Tully blues were warmer than the waters of Tarth in summer. “I know what it means to be disappointed, and men can be the most disappointing of all.”

“I know that too well, my lady. Men have never been kind to me.”

Sansa frowned. “Nor have they been kind to me.” She reached to Brienne, clasping a large hand in her delicate one. “But you love him all the same.”

She flinched. Love? Was that the term for the emptiness she felt in the pit of her stomach? The lady’s acute observation forced words to tumble from Brienne like water from a broken dam. “I suppose that makes me a fool. Why in seven hells did I believe he would remain here with me?”

“I will not tolerate your deprecation, Ser. You are a true, honorable knight, and he is a blind, bitter man. Anyone would be lucky to have your attention. I am grateful to have you in my service.”

A squeeze from Sansa kept her thoughts in the lady’s chambers and away from the intimacies of the past weeks. Brienne could not think of those now. She refused to remember how he’d felt beneath her fingertips, how his kisses had tasted, and, oh, how he’d wanted her.

It had been temporary, as all things were.

“Cersei will destroy them both. She’ll burn the Red Keep to the ground before she’ll allow Daenerys to take the Iron Throne.” Her face must have looked pained for Sansa dipped her head to regain Brienne’s focus. “He knows this. He knows what she is, and he knows what you are.”

“He knows what I am,” Brienne echoed, as if the statement would clear the fog that had enveloped her. She pulled from her lady’s touch, and abruptly recalled the sound of Jaime’s feet hitting the sand of the bear pit.

“You are too good for the likes of him, Ser.”

Brienne nodded and remembered his green eyes staring up at her in his red, siege tent when she’d tried to return Oathkeeper. “And Jaime believes this.”

“I’m sure of it. Golden lions tend not to be so golden, and yet you risked your honor on him all the same.”

It was forged from Ned Stark’s sword. You’ll use it to defend Ned Stark’s daughter.

“He entrusted me with his honor.” This time, Brienne grasped Sansa’s hand. The girl’s eyes widened with surprise. “For you, my lady, and for the vow he’d made to your mother. He entrusted me with that oath.”

Sansa sighed, sadly. “His good deeds do not absolve the bad. His… affection for you does not negate his wrongdoings. Even you cannot deny Ser Jaime jeopardized the realm for his hateful sister and her hateful schemes.”

She’s hateful. And so am I.

“He said as much,” Brienne admitted though none of it sat well with her. None of it. She could still picture his sheet-white face and his empty gaze as it had glittered with tears he’d refused to shed.

For whom had those tears formed?

“Lady Sansa.” Her voice betrayed her, so much weaker than she expected. “I must request your leave.”

“Brienne.” Another squeeze, tighter this time. “Please do not ask this of me. Do not ask for my permission to shatter your already tender heart. If you chase after Jaime Lannister, I fear you are only chasing death.” Tears? Were Sansa’s tears for Brienne or for her ill-fated journey?

“Podrick is a fine swordsman, and he can protect you until I return.”

“The Kingslayer has betrayed your trust and therefore has betrayed mine.” Sansa raised her voice now, angered. “He was a guest, my guest, and he rode south to protect the one woman who has done more to hurt my family than anyone.” She stood, and Brienne did the same. “You are free to do as you wish, Ser Brienne, but know I must send a raven to Dragonstone to inform the Hand of his brother’s movements. Should Jon find him on the King’s Road, he will detain him for –”

“Treason?” Brienne shook her head. “But he’d committed treason when he pledged to fight the dead, my lady.”

“His aiding Cersei could very well endanger my brother and his troops.” Again, Sansa frowned, and her pretty eyes glanced to the floor. “You should go if you hope to stop him from making a grave mistake.”

Brienne of Tarth bowed before leaving her lady’s chambers. She had Podrick ready her horse and was on the King’s Road within the hour, unsure of what she rode toward.

Whatever it was, it had to be better than her hollowness.

The King’s Road had at least a foot of fresh snow, but her palfrey trekked well enough. She made good time and reached the Inn at the Crossroads within a week, despite the cold. Brienne had a bit of coin and decided it was the best option for a true night’s sleep. The gods knew the horse needed the rest.

The inn’s dining room housed perhaps a dozen men, all travelers in furs and thick capes who slurped from bowls of broth and sipped from pints of ale. A bard sang Six Maids in a Pool, and the innkeeper met her just a few moments after she stepped inside. She removed her hood and brushed the snow from her shoulders as the gruff man’s face altered with surprise.

“Milady,” he greeted, warily.

“Ser,” she corrected.

The much shorter innkeep smiled at that, which unnerved her. “Ser Brienne of Tarth, no doubt?” When she nodded, he continued, as if charmed. “Lord Snow’s men had stopped here on their march south, and we’d heard tales of the Long Night. Your first cider is on me, Ser, for the sworn sword of Lady Stark is always welcome here.”

Brienne thanked the man, unsure of how to receive the hospitality, and scanned the room. She felt his eyes upon her before she spotted him, and the way he watched her from his seat by the fire... Though she couldn’t catch her breath, her bones vibrated with anger, and her stomach twisted in panic.

But in the firelight, his eyes shined and the cut of his cheek looked sharper, and she immediately felt her body’s memory of him. She ached for his warmth.

“Will you be needin’ a room?” the innkeep inquired.

She did not glance his way with her reply. “Your promised cider and a meal will do just fine for now.”

“My cook will bring it to your table.”

Ser Brienne of Tarth walked past the gaping travelers and sat before the man wearing inconspicuous, brown clothing. Dark circles had grown beneath his eyes, and his hair looked even darker than she remembered, nearly nothing of the golden lion whose tent she’d entered at Riverrun. He wore shabby gloves despite sitting so close to the hearth.

Jaime’s frown deepened at her presence, and she ignored the crack in her heart and remained stoic as if this were just another day, another duty.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded quietly, his tone laced with ire. “Shouldn’t you be serving your precious Stark?”

“The Stark you charged me with protecting,” she noted, faintly. A young redheaded girl, perhaps Arya’s age, brought a pint of hot cider.

“Milady!” the boy, Hot Pie, beamed as he set a large helping of stew and fresh bread before her. His rosy cheeks were round as apples when he smiled. “I was told to give you the best. Now that I know it’s you, milady, I’ll make sure to bring you one of the tarts I baked earlier today as well.”

“She is a knight, boy,” Jaime corrected. “You will address her as such.”

Brienne smiled, in spite of Jaime’s scorn. “Thank you, Hot Pie. That is very kind of you.”

“You’re a knight knight,” he confirmed, delighted and unphased. “A tart is a small gift then. Enjoy your supper.” The boy left them then to tend to his work.

She tore her hunk of bread and dipped the crust, despite the constant summersolts within her belly. While on her journey, Brienne had decided she would not allow herself to act like a foolish girl, like the heartbroken waif Jaime had left in Winterfell’s courtyard. This was a part of her quiet vow, pretending she was fine though she was anything but. It took all her resolve not to reach for him and not to beat him to a bloody pulp.

“Even this far south, the locals have heard of the lady knight who’d protected the realm from the dead.” He blinked, and she thought she saw admiration replace his self loathing.

She refused to read into it. “Tall tales will get many a man through the winter.”

“And you may be the tallest of them all.” Before she could feel the stab of his quip, he shook his head. “It was a poor jape.”

“It is apt, if nothing else.”

“I like the length of you,” he murmured, and she felt a shiver travel through her.

Brienne shifted in her seat and spooned her stew. “Not enough it would seem.” Her focus remained on the generous helping of potatoes and peas in her bowl. If she looked to him for too long, she knew she’d be lost for his damned, handsome face had that effect on her. If able, she could spend hours studying his smile lines and the crows feet at his eyes, and she knew the kindness of his cruel mouth all too well.

“You came for me.”

When she blushed at the words, Jaime quickly realized what he’d said. “I mean you traveled south for me.” His eyes narrowed. “Am I to be your prisoner?”

The bard strummed his instrument and chuckled wickedly before he started his rendition of The Bear and the Maiden Fair. It was slower, more sensual, than the familiar version she’d heard soldiers sing.

She scoffed. “We’ve sung that song before, Ser, and I am quite sure you are as unwilling to repeat past transgressions as I.”

Jaime sneered. “You needn’t be so formal.”

“I’m afraid I know no other way to be, Ser.” Brienne felt as she had when she’d worn that pink dress — exposed beneath his gaze. It was hot atop her skin, but she refused to show her discomfort. She just ate her stew.

The bard continued his plucking and some of the travelers even hummed along with the heady tune.

“I didn’t think I’d see you again.” Because I meant to die, he did not say. The unspoken words hung heavy between them, a rope coiled tightly around each of their necks.

“Very sorry to disappoint.”

“You couldn’t disappoint if you tried, my…” The word died on his tongue, and Jaime finally glanced away from her and into his near-empty pint of ale. “If I am not to be captured, why have you followed?”

“I suppose to reason with you.”

“Hadn’t you tried already?”

Embarrassment flooded her face and hands. Wretched, shambling thing, Brienne thought as she blew out a shaky breath. “I tried to appeal to you as a woman when I should have spoken as a friend.”

Jaime swallowed, and she caught the movement of the apple at his throat. His face changed, suddenly softer. “We are not friends, Brienne.”

She straightened even more, her spine Valyrian steel though a new piece of her heart fractured. “You have my apologies, Ser. I recall telling the Blackfish as much not long before he was killed.”

“You’re maddening.”

“Better than mad, I suppose,” she sniped instinctively. He recoiled, as if she’d struck him, but before he could respond, she advanced. “Perhaps I should have spoken to you as your commander or as Sansa Stark’s sword, a knight worthy of carrying an ancestral weapon.”

“You spoke as a widow, and you had every right to do so.”

The bard’s velvet voice crooned as he eased his lute into the next melody, his fingers strumming the chords delicately. My Lady Wife, he sang, and again he changed the arrangement. This time lust and longing replaced its well-known sadness.

“I had no right, Ser. We hadn’t sworn a vow nor whispered a promise.”

Jaime laughed, though it never reached his eyes. “You were more my wife than any who came before.” Cersei hadn’t been just anyone, Brienne knew, but did not argue. “I never deserved your reverence, let alone your body, and yet I want you all the same.” His emerald eyes darkened, and she felt his stare glide over her blue plate.

Desire pooled at her thighs, and despite her dignity, she hungered for any sort of friction. “I’ve already humiliated myself one too many times, Ser. I am not foolish enough to think it would not end this time as it had the last.”

“I truly didn’t want to leave you.”

“Yet you left all the same. I understand you love her more than –”

“No,” he snapped. “Do not compare yourself to her. She is not fit to stand in your shadow.” His hand took her wrist, and she dropped the spoon into her stew. His touch, even through the worn leather, was like fire. It burned her, and yet she yearned to be consumed by it. “So many times, I tried to tell you…”

“Release me, Ser.”

“You misunderstand. I’d left her to die alone, and that isn’t me. I save my siblings.”

“Release me,” Brienne repeated. Jaime only adjusted his grip, slipped his thumb into her palm to clutch her. She didn’t pull away, shamefully starved for the feel of his callused left hand. “You are the type to leave women weeping in courtyards.”

“Damn it, Brienne. I’m trying to talk to you.”

“Tell me what?” Her hushed voice hardened. “You need not explain yourself, Ser. I already know. I’ve had a lifetime of knowing.” She felt her eyes water then.

Don’t let them see your tears, Renly had whispered into her ear so long ago. They’re nasty little shits, and nasty little shits aren’t worth crying over.

“Leaving you was the hardest choice I’ve ever made,” he said. “Not Aerys, not choosing to live, not releasing Tyrion, not riding north.”

Brienne narrowed her eyes. “Should I be honored, Ser? Grateful for the pity you’d bestowed upon me?”

“Milady?” Hot Pie held a fresh apple tart in his chubby hands, and his eyes moved from her face and to Jaime’s hold. He let her go then, and the boy set the tart upon the table. “Is your squire in the stable? Should I fetch him?”

“You have my thanks. All is well,” she insisted, but the boy openly stared at Jaime, refusing to hide behind pleasantries.

Brienne split the dessert in half and handed a piece to Jaime. “Here,” she urged, and he took it reluctantly. She bit into hers, and its taste awoke something within her, something which craved comfort. She sighed into its sweetness and grinned. “This is splendid.”

When Jaime nodded his approval, the boy appeared somewhat satisfied. “Happy to please, milady,” he said and left them, taking her bowl and submerged spoon with him.

“You bring attention to me,” he drawled and scrubbed a hand over his beard.

“I am not exactly unnoticeable.”

A smirk took his mouth. “I didn’t give you blue armor to be unnoticeable.” Jaime stood. “My room is the second door on the left. There’s only one bed,” he nonchalantly stated, as if his invitation meant nothing to him at all. She watched as he walked to the stairway and could only detect a moment’s hesitation before he ascended the steps.

Her hand shook, but she managed to pull a few coins from her purse and pay the innkeep for the meal. When he again asked if she required lodging, she dodged the question, but the man was perceptive.

“You’ll have no judgement from me, Ser,” he admitted as he tucked the coins into his pocket. “If you are in need of anything, anything at all, please let my Sara know, and she will fetch it for you.”

The singer’s soothing, honeyed tone persisted, and the room had gone quiet as he played Seasons of my Love. Even Brienne paused to listen before she followed in Jaime’s wake.

...I loved a maid as white as Winter,
with moonglow in her hair
I loved a maid as sweet as Spring
with flowers in her hair…

It was as if the bard sung for her, implored her to seek the second door on the left. She did not know what awaited her beyond the threshold of this suggestive space, but she hadn’t come all this way not to learn of it. Brienne considered knocking but instead pushed the door open without warning.

Jaime sat on a wooden stool by the small fireplace, free of his cloak, gloves, and gold hand. He’d loosened the laces of his tunic to reveal a bit of the hair covering his chest. She tried not to gawk but, if his smug face was of any indication, she plainly failed.

“Close the door and come here,” he muttered in that breathy way of his. She complied but remained standing, not a foot from the exit. He squinted at her. “You are welcome to sit.”

“I’m perfectly fine here, Ser.”

“You’re a terrible liar.”

Brienne moved to clutch at the lion's head pommel at her hip but resisted, and she instead fisted her hands in her cloak. “Would you prefer I be a good one?”

His eyes darted to the gold before once again settling on her face. “No. There isn’t a thing I would change about you.” He toed off his boots then, never looking away from her.

She again shivered. “You asked that I listen to your excuses, so here I am.”

Jaime sighed. “I do not blame you for your anger.”

“That is gracious of you, Ser.”

“Stop speaking to me as if I haven’t been inside of you, Brienne.”

Brienne did grasp her sword as both fury and chagrin reddened her cheeks. A flush stretched across her chest, and she couldn’t help wondering if Jaime wondered about it as well. He smiled his satisfied smile, clearly pleased with his provocation.

She glowered at him as her calm facade slipped. “Remind me of what you were saying in the dining room? Oh yes, that you left my bed in the middle of the night to die beside your hateful sister.” Her words quickly wiped the smile from his face. “I did not think you a craven, Ser, and yet you snuck away.”

“I did not want to hurt you.”

“You believed disappearing would solve that? I thought you a man of action.”

“So, your purpose for following was to berate me.”

“I followed you to your room so we would not draw attention.” She huffed, annoyed. “You keep insisting I am justified as your widow and jailer, and yet you are surprised by my critiques?”

“Take off your cloak, sweetling. Remove your armor.”

“You remove yours, Ser,” she countered, and his brow furrowed. “You’d evaded talk of Cersei since your arrival at Winterfell. Was it because you’d planned on leaving all along?”

“I thought I’d die at Winterfell, at your side and fulfilling the last of my oaths.” He shook his head. “And when we lived – when you and I lived – I wanted to forget her, wanted to drown in your blue eyes and lose myself in your long legs, and I tried. By the gods, Brienne, simply being in your presence, burying myself between your thighs, felt better than anything I’ve ever experienced in my forty years.”

“Almost better, you mean to say.”

“Do not put words in my mouth unless it is my own name you mean to moan into it.”

Brienne tightened the hold on Oathkeeper. “Your carnal knowledge of me does not permit you to speak to me in such a manner.”

Jaime stood and swiftly closed the distance between them. His unshaven face was so close, she could smell the ale on his breath. He was intoxicating.

“I don’t want to go south, Brienne,” he managed, “but I feel it’s my duty.”

“It is your duty to again throw away your life on a sister who refused to aid the kingdom in its time of need, a woman who unjustly blamed your monstrous son’s murder on an imprisoned girl and your dwarfin brother because she despised them?” Brienne tilted her head righteously, daring him to answer.

He looked to be studying her mouth. “Why do you insist on saving a dying man?”

“I developed the proclivity years ago and found it agreed with me.” She spotted the twitch in his lip, the hint of a half-smirk. It thrilled her, but she disregarded it nonetheless. “I will not again beg you to remain with me. However, I will remind you of your honor.” Brienne moved to unbuckle the red sword belt at her hips, and Jaime lowered his gaze to watch. She felt the metal suns and lions which adorned the leather beneath her fingertips as she gathered the straps and pushed Oathkeeper to his chest. He didn’t flinch.

“I told you it was yours,” he said. “You’re the only knight worthy of such a blade.” Jaime faltered when she nudged again, and his hand gripped the scabbard. She released her hold then and stepped back as he awkwardly set Oathkeeper atop the small table. “You do not wish to remember me, then?”

Another tear took her bruised heart. “I am unable to forget you, Ser.”

His hand suddenly cupped her face, and again his touch scorched like the sun. He ran his rough thumb across her lips before sliding his hand to the leather of her northern cloak, unfastening it and dropping it to the floor. He then started on the straps of the plate he’d gifted her.

“What are you doing?”

“Removing your armor, Ser Brienne.”

“Why?”

“To better see you. You hide beneath a Lannister belt, a northman’s cloak, and blue steel of the capital. I intend to see you.” A biting smile seized his mouth. “You’re welcome to assist me. I am an old cripple and tire easily these days.”

“And why should I allow you to do so?” she questioned though she didn’t stop him from unfastening her right pauldron. “We haven’t settled anything.”

“What is there to settle? I am a scoundrel, and you are the knight sung about in songs.” Jaime set the plate aside. “You’d left Sansa to rescue me, had you not?”

“She’d been displeased, but I’d asked for her leave, yes.”

“I had followed you north, and now you’ve followed me south,” Jaime said as he struggled with a rerebrace. Brienne swatted his hand aside and undid it herself. He snorted. “I think you’re the first to follow me anywhere.”

“Don’t be absurd. You’ve had armies follow you.”

No sooner than the words had escaped her mouth, Jaime’s lips crashed atop her own. He tasted like home, smelled of sweat and leather, and Brienne was held spellbound. His hand drifted across her breastplate to continue its slow work at her left shoulder, and her back collided with the wooden door. She recklessly opened for his tongue and aided him with the bands, together removing the rest of her armor as they’d done dozens of times before.

This had not been her plan. Brienne tried to remind herself to remain indifferent even as Jaime’s stump snaked to the small of her back to pull her flush against him, as his cock pressed against her thigh, and as his fingers started at the laces of her gambeson and then at the laces of her breeches.

“Jaime,” she exhaled, as if in agony.

Amused, he softly bit her jaw and growled, “Ah, now you recall my name. I’d appreciate it if you would repeat it so I may remember it as well.” Jaime sunk to his knees, bringing her pants to her ankles. How he’d pulled her foot from her pant and slung her leg over his shoulder so effortlessly, she did not know and did not care.

Brienne gasped when his mouth found her, and the last of her sense melted away as her hand tangled into his shaggy hair. To hold her in place, he firmly gripped her arse, and she knew his fingertips would surely leave bruises.

She cried out his name.

__

They never made it beneath the roughspun blankets.

Brienne settled atop Jaime, urged him to lie back and stretch his arms out above his head. She held his wrists as she lazily rolled her hips, rising and sinking slowly.

“Fuck,” he uttered, and she smiled.

This would not be easy for him, she assured herself. She wanted Jaime to think on this for the rest of his days, for the rest of his nights, and remember how she’d brought him to the edge and refused him quick relief. Drawing out his pleasure sated her, and it was one of many lessons Brienne had learned during their time together at Winterfell.

Jaime was beautiful beneath her, as he was at all times: angry with bloodlust, half-starved and filthy, snarky and conceited… 

Always painfully beautiful.

She lifted herself, nearly separating them, before she again slowly slid down his length, and her legs trembled with the sensation.

“Seven heavens and hells,” Jaime whined. “Is this how you mean to kill me?” She did not answer, instead leaned forward so her breasts could brush against his chest with every rock of her hips.

She was again close, and his chest rubbing against hers only got her closer. Brienne stole his mouth with hers and kissed it languidly. He moaned her name, and she swallowed it gladly.

With no warning, Jaime spun them and pinned Brienne beneath him. She’d gotten distracted, too gluttonous with her need, and allowed the opening. He’d been right so many years ago. He was strong enough.

Her hands traced down his arms, over the muscles of his back, and to his firm behind as he nuzzled at the scar at the base of her throat. His crude tongue slid across the ridges the bear had left before he kissed her again.

“Brienne…” he mumbled against her cheek with a thrust of his hips. He held himself in place, pushing to fill her completely, to claim her. The fool that she was, she would allow him everything despite already having given all of herself. “Marry me,” Jaime grunted and continued their slow rhythm. His arm reached for the pillow and slipped it beneath her, giving him even more leverage.

She ignored his words, too overcome with the feel of him, and urged him deeper. He obeyed and moved to take her left nipple between his teeth. Brienne’s vision darkened just before lightning coursed from within her. She saw stars and sunbursts above her, above Jaime, and she cried his name. He pumped wildly then, and finished with her name upon his lips as well.

Undone and ravished, Jaime was his most beautiful, she thought.

These moments, with their pulsing bodies intertwined, had been what she’d missed most in the last week for his ragged breathing against her skin felt most intimate of all their acts. She tightened herself around his softening cock, and he hissed.

They’d been stupid. Brienne should have shoved him off and brought him to completion with her hand or her mouth. There was no guarantee of tansy at this inn.

“You didn’t answer my question,” he reminded her.

“A question you asked under duress.”

“I assure you, I was not under duress.” He slipped from inside of her to lay onto his back, and she immediately felt the loss of his weight and his heat. The cold nipped at her bare skin as his seed leaked from her. “Marry me, Brienne. I know I have nothing but broken promises and a soiled name to offer, but I want to keep fucking and fighting you until the day I die.”

“You’re drunk.”

“You very well know it takes more than two pints of ale.”

“You’d left me.”

“And you’d rightly named me a craven and a fool.”

His left hand drifted to her cunt, lazily brushing his fingers over her coarse hair before sliding his middle digit over her clit. She sighed as her thighs instinctually tightened around him. It took not a half dozen strokes before he had her trembling again. He hummed as the soft pleasure took her, and she quietly thanked the Seven he was deft with his remaining hand.

“I’ll not leave you again. You have my word.”

Brienne attempted to catch her breath, trying to understand where the night had led them. This was surely not what she’d planned.

“If you wish to remain unwed, openly keep me as your paramour, and know I love and will love no one else.”

“Why now?” she managed. “What epiphany had you since you’d left me in Winterfell?”

“I’d already doubted my choice, regretted not having you in that dower dressing gown.” He turned to hold his head up in his hand. “Then you chased after me.”

“You have a tendency of failing to think things through, and I couldn’t bear to wonder if I could have reasoned with you when not blubbering in the dead of night.”

“Would you have taken up your sword against me, sweetling?”

Brienne laughed a little. “I’m relieved it didn’t come to that.”

“I assume I am to return to my position as hostage.”

“You were allowed to remain as a guest, as a favor to me and not a hostage.”

“Yes, Sansa allowed her sworn sword to enjoy her valuable hostage.” He rolled into his belly and slung his maimed arm over her stomach. “I’m a bargaining chip to be used against either Tyrion or Cersei.”

“Lady Sansa trusts your brother, and your sister is as good as dead. If anything, it was the Westerlands’ favor she’d sought.” She turned her head to stare into his tired, green eyes.

“Cersei claims there is a child, Brienne, and if it’s true, I left them both to die just as I’d left Rhaegar’s children, just as I’d left my children.”

Suddenly, Brienne was very aware of her nakedness, of the scratchy furs beneath her, and of the sweaty arm draped over her waist. She imagined a graceful and pregnant Cersei, a golden spectre with blood red lips and wildfire eyes. That venomous woman could ensnare any man, with or without a babe, she knew.

“You are not to blame for their deaths, nor are you to blame for her choices.” She gnawed her bottom lip. “Do you want her to be with child?”

“No,” he confessed, and the ghostly figure faded. “I don’t want to be tied to her or her lies.”

She thought of their invisible thread and of the strings on the bard’s lovely lute. Her mouth was parched and it was difficult to swallow. “To whom do you wish to be tied?” Brienne rasped.

“All I require is your agreement, and I will be bound to you as husband or admirer for however long I remain alive. Wherever you go, I will accompany you.”

“We will ride North to protect the girl, as we’d promised her mother, until the war is ended.”

“Fine. Then let us find a barnyard septon so I may love you properly.”

She shook her head, her eyes now focused on the ceiling. “No.”

His arm pulled her closer. “A sept then or a godswood. Your Lady Stark should be there to bear witness, to see her father’s sword again as one.”

Brienne imagined Jaime in his Lannister red and she in her Tarth blue beneath the foliage of the weirwood. The rubies at their hips would sparkle like the stars, like his eyes in firelight.

“North it is, then.” His lips curved with gladness when she looked at him.

She loved his pompous mouth. “North it is.”

+ The End +