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Having seen her share of movies, Brienne half-expects to wake up in some embarrassingly compromising position with Jaime, but it turns out that neither one of them has moved much during the night except that he's ended up on his side facing away from her, one arm flung over the side of the bed. His mouth is slack and he's drooling a little; objectively speaking, it's probably the least attractive she's ever seen him look, yet she's suddenly seized with the impulse to lean over and press a kiss to his temple, like some kind of sleeping maiden fantasy but with more consideration for consent.

None of that is part of their agreement, though, so she contents herself with running the pads of her fingers along the very tips of his hair where it's smashed up against the pillow. Then she wiggles her way out of the bed feet-first in an attempt to keep from disturbing him. It works, almost, until she brushes against him just as she's stretching one leg out toward the floor and he stirs with a muffled groan.

"Whatreydoing," he mumbles, clearly annoyed, his eyes still shut. "Slpng."

"You can sleep," she says, keeping both her voice and her laugh quiet. She'd been afraid it would be awkward between them this morning, but this isn't so bad, the hush of the early hour and his sleep-thick muttering. "I'm going fishing with my dad today, remember? Addam's going to pick you up later so you can both check out the festival." It's part of her agreement that every year, she gets the Day of the Father off to hang out with her dad. This year, he'd seemed particularly insistent on it, and she's been looking forward to some one-on-one time with him anyway, regardless of how easily Jaime had seemed to fit himself into their home. She'd felt a little guilty at the prospect of leaving Jaime to fend for himself, but Addam's arrival had been the perfect thing to assuage any concerns about that.

"Mmm." Jaime's eyelids drift open, and he gives her a sleepy smile. She's seen quite a few of his various smiles over the past few days, but that one is new, unguarded, and it makes something go tight in her chest. "That's right. Have fun with your dad." The words are a little more distinct now, though the ends of them still run into each other.

"Thanks," she says. "Go back to sleep."

"Mmf," he mutters, eyelids sinking shut again.

He looks so cozy and peaceful and rumpled that she has a brief, wild desire to crawl back into bed with him, curl up and let the rest of the world take care of itself. Her dad is waiting, though, so she just smiles fondly at his sleeping face and starts digging in her suitcase for her clothes.

* * * * * * *

The lake is as clear as glass, and the frost on the tall grass at the perimeter sparkles in the early morning sun. Mist hovers over the surface of the water, which is broken only by the occasional ripple as a fish darts up for a snack before retreating. Birds call to each other occasionally, tree to tree.

Brienne sighs happily. Now it feels like Sevenmas for sure.

"I'm so glad we could do this," she tells her dad as she reclines against the back of the boat with her fishing rod braced between her feet. They don't always catch much on these expeditions, but of course that isn't the point.

"Me too," he says. His hair looks whiter than she's used to, though maybe it's just the light, and he's been quieter than usual so far, too, even by his standards, which concerns her a bit. She reassures herself by thinking of how he'd nearly cracked her ribs when he'd hugged her good morning. He's still in good health, and she's still grateful. "Actually," he goes on, as he scrapes the toe of his boot along a patch of mud at the bottom of the boat, "there's something I've been wanting to talk to you about."

I knew it. Adrenaline spears through her early-morning calm. "What? What's wrong?"

"Brienne." He smiles at her, gruff and reassuring and a little bit sad. "Not all news is bad news."

She breathes in through her nose, out through her mouth, trying to slow her racing heart. "Okay, fair point. So what is it?"

"I wanted to tell you that…" He pauses, staring out over the water. "Gods, there's no way to ease you into this." Then he looks back at her and clears his throat in the harrumphing dad sort of way that he always has when he's been about to wade into unfamiliar territory like tampons or school dances. "Brienne, I wanted to tell you that Goody and I have been… well, we've been dating."

"Dating?" The sound her brain starts making at that one word isn't so far off from that of a fishing reel rapidly unspooling. "Dating who?" Had they decided to join some sort of middle-aged hookup service together?

A short laugh slips out of him, though it has a faintly agonized edge. "Dating each other, sweetheart," he says.

Brienne can't help it; her jaw drops. Her dad and Goody? Her dad and Goody. "I.." She's so astonished that for a second, she can't even form words. Then she sees the anxious, unhappy quirk at the edge of her dad's mouth, and hurries to assure him, "I mean, I'm so happy for you, of course. Goody's amazing, and you've been friends for so long." Some of the tension eases out of his shoulders. "I just…" She takes a deep breath. "I'm sorry, this is a lot to take in. When did… when did this start?"

Another scrape of his boot on the bottom of the boat. "Well, that's the thing. We've actually been dating for about six years now--since not long after you left for college."

"Six years?" Brienne nearly screeches. A bird squawks in disapproval and wings up into the air. "You shut up!" she yells at it, then turns back to her dad. "You've been dating your best friend for six years, and you're just telling me this now?"

"I didn't know how to tell you," he says, his eyes dropping back to the fishing rod in his hand. "I know how hard it was on both of us, losing your mom, and the two of us were kind of our own island for quite a while there. I didn't… I didn't know if you'd take it the wrong way. And then the longer I went without telling you, the harder it got." Then he looks up at her, something halfway to a hopeful smile on his lips. "But then you brought Jaime here, and I thought that if you were ready to heal from what happened, then you'd understand how I could be ready, too."

"Dad." She can't believe he'd hide something this momentous from her; the frustration of it burns her throat as the word comes out. "I'm a fully grown adult. Did you think I couldn't handle knowing that you'd found someone? That you were happy?"

"How could I be happy when you were alone?" he asks, and something seems to snap inside her chest.

"I'm fine on my own!" she shouts. She's probably scaring the fish now, but she couldn't care less. "I've always been fine! And it's honestly pretty fucking insulting that you keep suggesting otherwise!"

"Brienne." His mouth is set in a tense line. "I just wanted to know that you were taken care of."

"I can take care of myself," she insists. "You of all people should know that, since you taught me how. Or did you think you were just humoring me, like when you used to let me pretend to mow the lawn when I was a kid?"

"Brienne." He keeps one hand on his fishing rod and leans over to put the other one on her knee. "You know I wasn't doing anything of the sort."

"Do I?" It's on the tip of her tongue to tell him the truth about her and Jaime, let him see what he's driven her to with this patriarchal crap. But he looks so distressed, so uncomfortable that her heart contracts; he's just told her what should have been good news, and he can't even meet her eyes now. He sits back in the boat, squinting up into the morning sky.

Brienne clenches her hand around the end of the fishing rod and sighs. "Look, Dad. I know we're not really good at talking about stuff. But I am an adult now, and I need you to be able to be honest with me about things. Especially big things like you being in love." She tilts her head; she and her dad don't really go into this kind of thing normally, but given that they've already upended the box and dumped all the game pieces on the table, she might as well ask, "You are in love, right?"

He hesitates, and she can see his neck go red; he's got the same fair skin that she does, despite it being more weathered. "I am," he tells her--or rather, tells the sky, since that's still where he's looking.

There's a twinge in Brienne's stomach at that, which surprises her. She is happy for him. She wants him to be happy. And though he's never been the social butterfly type, she's been worried about him sometimes, rattling around that house by himself, saying goodnight to her mom's picture. And despite the fact that she'd been fully unprepared for this revelation, the more she thinks about it, the more sense it makes--Goody and her dad have known each other half their lives, have stood next to each other through death and divorce and every change of every season. She's pretty sure that weeks pass where Goody is the only one her dad talks to.

She blinks away tears, and tells herself they're solely of happiness. "That's good, Dad. That's really, really good." She nudges his toe with hers. "I'm really happy for you."

That gets him to look at her, finally, and the tentative joy on his face makes her heart contract all over again. The idea of her dad looking for her approval is something she's having trouble fully comprehending--which, she guesses, only means that it goes well enough with all the other revelations of the morning. "Thank you, sweetheart," he tells her. After a pause, he adds, "And while I don't want to pry into your personal life, I do want to say that I'm glad that you brought Jaime home with you. I like him. I like the two of you together."

It's Brienne's turn to drop her gaze, as she suddenly becomes intensely preoccupied with making sure her reel is locked properly. "Thanks, Dad. He's been really glad to meet you too." She can be honest about that part, at least, though it just makes her feel worse. She hadn't considered the possibility that her dad and Jaime would hit it off so well, and the thought that the end of her fake relationship is probably going to be the end of that very real one, too, is starting to haunt her every bit as much as lying to her dad in the first place.

Somewhere off to her left, there's the little bloop and splash of a fish catching a part of its breakfast. A part that is not, sadly, her bait, but at least it brings her mind back to the task at hand. She sighs again, crushes her guilt down like she's forcing closed an overfull suitcase, and manages a smile. "Why don't you invite Goody over for dinner tonight? It would be nice to hang out with both of you."

Her dad's eyes widen, then crinkle at the sides as he smiles at her. "I'm sure he'd love that, and so would I." He glances away and angles his head down, swiping one eye quickly across the top of his shoulder. When he speaks again, his voice is rough. "Not much biting yet today."

Despite herself, Brienne smiles--that's a Sevenmas tradition, too. "No," she says, her ritual response, "not yet," and sits back and tries not to think about anything else.

* * * * * * *

As unobtrusively as possible, Brienne shifts from her left hip to her right in the bed, angling her knee up as much as she can without running into Jaime.

Jaime, who had insisted on sharing the bed with her again, even though it had been his turn to have it to himself. "The theory that we can both survive a night in this bed together has been proven, so we might as well do it again," he'd pointed out. She'd looked at the spot on the floor next to the bed, contemplated the effort of piling up all that bedding and then packing it away again in the morning to hide it from her dad, and then had agreed without further protest.

Now, though, she's regretting it, since she can't seem to get comfortable and she can't move freely, either. She rolls slowly to her back and works one hand up underneath her pillow, aiming for a slightly better angle on her neck.

"Brienne," comes Jaime's voice from the other side of the bed. Brienne freezes in mid-adjustment, and winces. Shit. "If I'd known you were going to be doing calisthenics all night, I'd have made you sleep on the floor after all."

"Sorry," she says miserably. "I can't sleep."

"Really? Same, for some reason." He rolls over so that he's facing her; when she turns her head to the side, he looks almost monochrome in the near-dark, the faint glint of moonlight reflecting off his eyes and painting his face in shadows. "So do you want to talk about it, or do you just want to keep up your cardio class over there all night?"

She sighs. "It's ridiculous."

"Hmm. I'll be the judge of that. And don't worry, I was raised in a very judgmental environment, so I'm an expert at it."

Brienne frowns; oddly enough, she's more disturbed by the reminder of Jaime having grown up like that--and by the almost matter-of-fact irony in his voice when he says it--than she is by the prospect of his judgment. It's dark, and something about that and the warmth of him next to her seems to be bypassing her normal defense mechanisms.

She's still wrestling with whether to respond to his initial question or to ask a follow-up one of her own when Jaime prods gently, "This wouldn't have anything to do with your dad suddenly confessing to you that he's been dating someone for six years, would it?"

She snorts; it comes out half-laugh and half frustration. "Ugh. It's predictable, right? I hate being predictable."

"That is not a word I'd use to describe you, Tank," he says. "And I think that, given that you and your dad are pretty close, being weirded out by finding out that he's been hiding something like that from you seems like a pretty normal reaction. Normal," he repeats, before she can interrupt, "which is not the same as predictable."

"The thing is, I don't even think it's just that," she muses. "I mean, I was upset at first, of course, but given that I've been lying to him for the past week, not to mention having dragged you into it, too, I can't exactly take mortal offense at him not being completely honest with me. It's also that… I should be happy for him," she says, fist clenching at her sides, tears pricking at the backs of her eyes again as she stares up at the ceiling. "Like, completely. Why can't I just be happy for him?"

There's a long pause, and then Jaime says, "Look. I could be really off-base here, so feel free to tell me to fuck off, but. You know what I told you last night about my dad, right? About how he felt about my mom?"

Brienne nods, then realizes she's not sure how well he can see her in the dark, and murmurs, "Yeah" instead.

"Okay, well," Jaime goes on, "at this point, any relationship he gets into is more about an advantageous contract than anything else. But if I thought he'd actually fallen in love again, there's a part of me that would feel a little strange about it, I think, even if I was also glad that he'd found someone for real."

The tears are threatening to overflow now; Brienne squeezes her eyes shut against them, though one leaks out anyway, making a warm path down the side of her temple until it ends up trickling into her ear. "I just. I know it's ridiculous. I know he deserves to be happy. It's not like I want him to be alone for the rest of his life, if that isn't what he wants. And he and Goody are amazing together--you saw how good." Now that their secret was out, the frankly teenaged level of shy, goofy grins that the two of them had been aiming at each other all night had been equal parts adorable and embarrassing.

"It was pretty disgustingly cute," Jaime agrees.

"But…" She pauses, hesitant to admit it even under cover of night. "I think that deep down, there was a part of me that kind of wanted my dad to be faithful to my mom forever. He loved her so much. I loved her so much." Another tear sneaks out the side of her eyelid. "Gods, I'm a terrible person, aren't I?"

"Brienne." Jaime shifts next to her, reaching out until he can rest his knuckles against her upper arm. "Demanding that your dad break up with Goody would make you a pretty terrible person. Giving them the silent treatment or having a tantrum about it would make you a terrible person. I'm sorry to burst your little bubble of self-flagellation, here, but having some trouble making adjustments to a pretty big change in your dad's life--and yours--doesn't make you terrible, it just makes you human."

She considers that, and after a moment, she gives a watery laugh. "I thought I was a tank."

"Hey," he says, his voice warm with laughter, "tanks have feelings, too. Don't limit yourself to such narrow-minded definitions of strong female characters."

That gets a real laugh out of her, bubbling out of her chest. "You do take notes, don't you?"

"More often than you think," he says, and it sends a little trickle of heat down her spine.

"How was your day, by the way?" she asks, before something more dangerous comes out of her mouth. "We were kind of too busy dealing with the lovebirds down there to get much into it."

"It was fine," he says, apparently willing to roll with the subject change. "Third-wheeling it with Addam and Dacey wasn't the least awkward thing I've ever done, but watching him trip over his own feet every time he looked at her kind of made up for it."

She chuckles. "I can only imagine. Well, if it's any consolation, I know Dacey well enough to know when she's interested in someone, and she's definitely more than a little interested in Addam. So I feel good about his chances."

"Good," Jaime answers. "Addam's the best, so he might almost deserve her."

Brienne grins. "Good."

There's a long pause, long enough that Brienne would think he'd fallen asleep if it weren't for the steady rhythm of his knuckles moving up and down, up and down along her arm. It's giving her goosebumps. She doesn't ask him to stop. If she doesn't say anything, maybe the gods won't know it's happening.

"I texted my dad today," he says after a while, and that's more than enough to bring her wandering brain back into sharp focus.

"Oh yeah?" Based on the tone of his voice, she's pretty sure she knows the answer, but she asks anyway, "How did it go?"

"He didn't answer," Jaime says quietly. "So. About like I expected."

"Then he's an asshole." It comes out more vehemently than she intends it to. She's not sorry. If she ever meets Jaime's dad, she's going to show him the meaning of the word tank.

Jaime makes an indistinct noise, the shadow of a laugh. "No argument here."

The resignation in it goes right to her heart. It's probably a bad idea, but she squirms a little, moving herself sideways until her shoulder is resting against his forehead. He makes another noise, one she can't interpret this time.

"Are we adding another proficiency, here, Tank?"

"Is that a problem?" she asks, thready with the breath she's holding, waiting for him to tell her thanks, but no thanks and decamp to the floor.

"I'll allow it."

She has exactly half a second to begin spiraling over the lukewarm response before he starts doing some squirming of his own. Before she knows it, he's got his chin hooked over her shoulder, his head tucked into the crook of her neck. Three of his fingers are splayed out along her upper arm, his thumb resting on her tricep. She can feel his breath through the thin material of her t-shirt, and she hopes to all the gods he can't feel her heartbeat, which likely wouldn't be restful to him at all.

She tips her head, feeling his hair soft against her cheek. "Seriously, though," she says, because it's important for him to know, even if she has to say it over the sound of her own blood in her ears. "Your dad's loss is our gain. And I don't know anyone who's met you here who would disagree."

"Well." When he speaks, his mouth is so close to her collarbone that she's not sure if she can feel his lips or if it's just her imagination. "Thanks for letting me crash your festival."

"Are you kidding?" she manages. "Between all the madness with the feast and my dad's little emotional firebomb, I can't imagine having gone through this without you." She says it without thinking, distracted by his nearness. But as soon as the words are out of her mouth, the awareness of them jolts through her, and it's a struggle to keep the tension out of her body.

I can't imagine having gone through this without you. She repeats it in her mind, inspecting each syllable carefully, looking for any cracks in the truth of them.

She doesn't find any. And it terrifies her. It's not so much that she's let herself depend on him so much in such a short time--though that in itself is unsettling--but that when she tries to look out toward the next year's festival, and the next, and the next, she sees Jaime's face there every time.

He re-settles his head, his fingers curling around her arm just above the elbow. "You okay to sleep?" His voice is starting to go slightly slurred.

"Yeah," she answers, trying to force the word out around her heart where it's lodged in her throat. "Yeah, of course I am." This whole time, she's been telling herself that the expiration date will save her. The problem is that apparently, if it's the right person, that expiration date can be nearly as dangerous after a week as after a decade, and that the only difference is the size of the piece it's going to take with her when it passes.

Somehow she's waded too far out into the water, and now the current has her; there's no going back.

Jaime's breathing goes deep and even, his chest rising and falling against her arm. Brienne just stares at the numbers on her clock ticking over, wondering what the hell she's supposed to do now.

* * * * * * *

The whole of the next day, those same words are still lurking at the back of her mind, and end up popping to the forefront at the most inconvenient times. They're there when she sees her dad and Goody at the breakfast table together when she comes downstairs in the morning, their heads bent close, murmuring softly to each other. They're there when she sees Addam's soft eyes and Dacey's atypical blush as they revolve around each other throughout the day's activities. Worst of all, they're there nearly every time she sees Jaime, from the moment she wakes up with his arm tucked over her waist, through all the moments she sees him cheerfully guiding various kids through their projects in the craft tent, right up to the moment when they dismiss the crowd for a couple of hours so that they can all prepare for the evening festivities.

Everywhere she looks, it feels like Jaime's there. And every time he's there, she starts to imagine the space that his absence would leave--will leave--and feels it like a scar from a wound she hasn't received yet.

She keeps herself as busy as she can, which isn't difficult; the centerpiece of the Day of the Crone is an evening ceremony where they light bonfires along the banks of the river, and everyone who wants to--adults and children alike--can bring a paper lantern with them and set it afloat in the water, carrying their wishes for the new year out to the sea. Brienne and Jaime and their volunteers spend the day helping the kids make as many as they can, and the festival's artisans either sell or donate the rest. It's long been one of Brienne's favorite traditions, and despite the general feeling of being knocked off her axis, she's pleased by how delighted Jaime seems by it, too, tromping down to the river next to her with his lantern cradled carefully in his hand.

"So what happens to the lanterns after they're set free?" Addam asks from her other side as they make their way towards the banks. He's been helping with the concessions duty most of the day, so he'd missed the details of the ceremony. Possibly because Brienne had explained them to Jaime during what was supposed to be their collective lunch break, only Dacey and Addam hadn't shown up to meet them at the appointed time. In fact, they'd only appeared near the end of the hour, looking distinctly rumpled.

Brienne is very much looking forward to giving Dacey shit about that as soon as she can get her alone.

"The lanterns go to the Crone, obviously," she tells Addam in the meantime, smiling, like her dad had always used to say to her. He grins back.

"Obviously," he says. "But what happens to their corporeal form?"

"The paper is water-soluble," Jaime volunteers. That had been another thing that had caught his enthusiasm; as soon as she'd relayed it, he'd immediately dunked one of the pieces into a glass of water just to watch it slowly melt until the paper was gone and the water was tinted rose-red. He doesn't seem to be feeling any of Brienne's inner turmoil; on the contrary, he seems to be throwing himself into the day with a kind of determined enthusiasm.

"And the fuel is just little bits of dried-out driftwood, soaked with enough oil to make them catch," Brienne finishes, for Addam's benefit. "Within a few months, there shouldn't be much left of them."

He smiles, inspecting the lantern in his hand. "Cool."

They've reached the riverbank now, and Brienne lets her eyes drift over the slowly-assembling crowd, trying to pick out some of the lanterns she'd helped make. Addam, she sees, is checking out the crowd as well, though Brienne's pretty sure he's not looking for arts and crafts. Sure enough, as soon as Dacey's dark head appears, he clears his throat.

"I'm gonna go check out the, ah, view," he says, edging in that direction.

"Tell the view we said hi," Jaime puts in, deliberately bland, and Addam flips him off before making his way over to Dacey.

Brienne can't help watching them for just a few seconds; they're adorable, for one thing, and she's deriving far too much enjoyment from the way that Addam's face goes bright red every time Dacey smiles at him. As a fellow fair-skinned person, she feels for him, but fortunately, Dacey's eyes go soft every time he does it, so she's pretty sure it's working in his favor.

But part of her also wants to keep an eye on them just to… see how they do it. See how they could meet, and spark, and be together, just like that, without knowing what's going to happen next. She knows, intellectually, that it happens all the time, to other people at least. It's just been a while since she's had a front-row seat to it, and she finds herself wanting to inspect all of its pieces and figure out how they fit together.

"That seems to be progressing," Jaime observes, having drifted closer to her in Addam's absence.

Brienne looks over at him and works up a smile that she hopes looks more natural than it feels. "That's one word for it, I guess. Good for them." She can see Sansa and Margaery, too, further down the bank, their hands entwined as they move together toward the water.

The sun has lowered almost to the horizon. The sky is mostly grey, though the clouds are shot through in a few places with streaks of silvery purple. Around them, the lanterns are starting to glow, one by one, as they're lit by eager hands.

Jaime's lantern is cradled in his palm. "Here," she says, crooking a couple of fingers around his and bringing his hand close enough that she can dip the long-stemmed lighter inside the little paper shell and ignite the driftwood. She does the same with the lantern in her own hand, and watches them both glimmer. Jaime had chosen red, of course, just as she'd chosen blue; she knows from their Dance of Dragons games that they both have a weakness for their family's historical heraldry.

"Now what?" Jaime asks, with the light from his lantern shining in his eyes.

"Now we wish." Brienne drops down to her heels, bracing herself with one hand on the wet ground. The river is rushing by in front of her. Jaime sinks down next to her. He's close enough that if she leaned sideways just a little, she'd be leaning against him. She knows exactly what he'd feel like, solid and warm.

She leans forward and sends her little lantern on its way. Jaime does the same, and they watch them drift along, carried away by the current.

"What did you wish for?" Jaime asks after a long moment. She's afraid to look at him, but when she risks a quick glance sideways, he's only staring after their departed lanterns.

Mom, was what Brienne had thought as she'd set her lantern in the water. Mom, tell me what to do.

There hadn't, of course, been an answer. But for just a moment, here among the twinkling lights and the promise of the new year, Brienne had let herself imagine it anyway: Jaime's laugh winding through the regular game nights she hosts for her friends. The heat of his arm around her shoulders, his thigh beneath her hand while they watch a movie. The taste of his mouth if she turned to him right now and kissed him senseless.

"You can't say your wish out loud," she tells him as their lanterns disappear from view. It comes out hoarse. She wraps her arms around her knees and rests her chin on them, watching other people's hopes float by. "If you do, it won't come true."

* * * * * * *

That night, they share the bed again, though he doesn't make a move to touch her, and she doesn't reach out, either. She tells herself she's glad about that, that waking up with his arm tucked around her again would have been just one more piece of the net that she'd have had to untangle. Any space--physical or otherwise--between them at this point is for the best.

She tells herself that, and she tries with all her might to believe it.

* * * * * * *

"Hey, stranger," says Jaime, appearing out of nowhere at her side as she stands near the wall, watching the Day of the Stranger masquerade swirl by. "Or should I say Stranger?" He traces a capital S in the air with his finger.

Brienne snorts and turns to him, though she knows she's risking ruin by doing so. Even with his face half-covered by a mask, Jaime looks entirely too handsome tonight. Not that he's not equally handsome in hoodies and jeans, but something about his maroon-colored suit and black shirt makes him seem a little bit new and therefore newly tempting, like a ship she could pass in the night instead of a rocky shore she's going to founder on.

She's wearing her best suit, too, the deep blue one she'd saved up for months to buy, the crisp white shirt open at the collar. She's been trying all night to shake the way that Jaime had looked at her when she'd come down the stairs wearing it, that expression like he'd been knocked on his ass and was realizing he liked it.

"Haven't seen much of you today," Jaime goes on. That had been deliberate on Brienne's part, as well; the activity for the day had been mask-making, which had given her ample excuse to keep at least a few tables' worth of eager kids and glitter between them as often as possible. The problem had been that she'd had trouble keeping that distance, finding herself drawn toward him and then having to pull herself away, a tide drawn to the moon and back.

"So many kids," Brienne says, by way of explanation. By way of excuse.

"So many fake rhinestones," Jaime agrees. His own mask has several, and in not-entirely-logical locations, no doubt thanks to the kids' suggestions. Brienne can hardly stand how endearing she finds that.

Jaime tugs at his collar with a rueful grin. "Want to get out of here for a minute? I'm boiling to death in this suit, and I figured you might be too."

He does look like he's got a little sweat gathered at his temples underneath the black elastic of the mask, and she thinks she catches the sheen of it in the hollow of his throat, too, when he re-settles his collar. She is uncomfortably warm, come to think of it.

"Sure," she says. She'll be less exposed out there anyway, in the darkness. There are far too many lights in this room, even if they're mostly dimmed. "I know a place near here."

She leads him to one of her favorite spots: a bluff that overlooks the ocean, with the lighthouse a faithful sentry in the distance. Of course it's too dark to see more than the occasional flash of white foam that catches the moonlight, but Brienne finds the sound of the water soothing anyway. She'd used to come here a lot as a kid, after her mom had died; some irrational part of her wants to share it with Jaime, even if she never tells him why.

"I love the sound of the ocean," Jaime tells her with a contented-sounding sigh, because of course he does.

She sighs a little, herself. "Me too."

When she doesn't say more, Jaime crosses his arms in front of him, staring out in the direction of the waves. "So," he offers. "Back to reality tomorrow."

She swallows past the lump in her throat. "Yep. I guess so."

His smile flares in the near-dark, and he turns to look at her. "I think I figured something out, though."

"Oh yeah?" Her heart starts to thud against the inside of her ribcage.

"Yeah. I think… well." He wrinkles his nose a bit. "Tyrion told you how I quit my dad's company, right?"

Relief and disappointment twine together in her stomach. "Yeah. Yeah, he mentioned that."

"I'm sure he did," Jaime snorts. "Well, I've been sort of drifting ever since. As you might have noticed, since I've been stopping by more often to annoy you."

He says that last with a slightly sheepish grin, one that renders it utterly impossible not to grin back. "I have noticed that, yeah."

"So." He clears his throat. "Working with the kids this week, and watching the way you run the shop when you're there--I've got some money that came to me when I turned twenty-five, and even my dad can't take it back now, no matter how pissed off he is at me for leaving. I thought I might use it toward some sort of after-school program for kids in King's Landing. I mean," and he huffs out a laugh, "not that I have any idea what I'm doing with that, but there must be good programs already, and they're always underfunded, so I figure that if I show up with a big check, they'll have no choice but to let me hang around, right?"

"Jaime." The hell with distance; she turns to him, lays a hand on his arm. She can't read his face with the mask obscuring half of it, but she thinks she'd recognize those eyes anywhere now. "That's incredible."

He ducks his head a little, his smile flaring again like the lighthouse lamp rotating. "I was just thinking--my dad worked so many hours when I was a kid. I would've liked to have had a place like that to go, you know? And that was with a nice house to go back to, even. If I hadn't had that..."

When he trails off, she squeezes his forearm. "If there's anything I can help with--see if I can get some donations from the shop or anything--just let me know."

He nods, considering. "I might take you up on that."

"Good," she says firmly. She realizes she's still holding on to his arm, and lets her hand drop. She turns back out toward the water.

"I also wanted to thank you," Jaime says.

"I should be thanking you," she answers, because it's true, and she owes him that much. "I do thank you. You've…" She can't quite make the jump, not with him so close. "Boyfriend Jaime has gone far above and beyond the call of duty, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. Everyone..." She hesitates again, then goes on, "Everyone here is going to miss him."

"Boyfriend Jaime is pretty awesome, isn't he?" he says with exaggerated awe, like he'd surprised even himself.

She can't help it; she laughs.

"But seriously, Brienne," he says, his voice lowering. He takes a step nearer. Something in her wants to step away; something much louder and much, much more persuasive wants her to sway toward him. She doesn't do either, just keeps her gaze straight ahead. "I can't remember a Sevenmas that I've actually enjoyed since my mom died. Definitely not one like this. I know it's cliche, but… if we're supposed to be looking into the unknown, this is the first time in a long time that I've actually been looking forward to that."

She wishes with all her heart that she could say the same. Wishes that she were the kind of person who could turn to him, take him in her arms, relish all that warmth and possibility pressed up against her. She wishes she could do all that without knowing that she'd only be making the inevitable end worse for both of them.

"Brienne." He reaches out to take hold of her elbow, and gently turns her to face him. She can feel her pulse in the side of her throat now, feel heat rising from the pit of her stomach and melting through all her limbs. He slides his hand up her arm until he's cupping her jaw. "I've been wanting to ask you." The sides of his mouth curve. "Kind of desperate to ask you, if you want to know the truth. Can we add a new proficiency?"

Something flips over in her chest. "Wouldn't we just be amending an existing one?" she asks, hardly aware of what she's saying. She knows she should stop this, end this, but she can't seem to make herself pull away. Maybe the masks will protect us, she thinks wildly. Maybe the Stranger won't be able to find us, just for one night.

He leans closer to her. His laugh is low and breathless; she can feel it against her mouth. "Such a stickler for the rules."

It's funnier than he knows, when he's making her want to break every rule she's ever made for herself. "I'm just saying," she starts, and then she loses words entirely, closing the last infinitesimal gap between them and pressing her lips to his.

It's not her first kiss. It's not even her fiftieth. Yet as soon as she touches him, it's like she's unlocked some sort of teleportation spell and found herself in undiscovered country. He's surrounding her on all sides, making her dizzy: the heat of his mouth against hers, the slip of his thumb along her jawline, the sound he makes in his throat when she curls her fingers into the fabric of his coat and pulls him closer. She lets the tip of her tongue slide over the seam of his lips; he lets her in with a moan that sounds like relief. He wraps his arm around her lower back and draws her in until their bodies are aligned from hip to shoulder. More contact should satisfy her, she thinks, but the more she touches him, the more she craves touching him, yearning opening up inside her chest like a jagged canyon. The edge of his mask catches against the edge of hers, and he leans back just long enough to toss it away impatiently, then slip hers off and send it flying into the darkness. Then he's kissing her again, fervent, hopeful, and his cheekbones are sharp and beautiful under her hands, and there's nowhere to hide, nothing to protect her, and the need that rises up inside her is so huge and so vivid that she tears herself away.

"I'm sorry," she says, struggling to breathe through the tightness in her throat. "I'm sorry, I can't. I can't."

There's just enough light that she can see the way his jaw tightens. His mouth opens, then closes, still slightly sheened with their saliva. "Are you--are you sure?" he asks after a few seconds. Her chest aches so much it's like she's bleeding there.

"I'm sorry," she says again, miserably. She'd give anything if they could have their masks back on so she couldn't read the expression on his face, see the way the frustration and hurt slides slowly into resignation.

"Okay." He takes one step backwards away from her, then two. She doesn't want him to go--not like this.

Not at all.

"Jaime, believe me, if it was going to be anyone, it--"

He holds up a hand to stop her. "Hey, look, I get it." Each consonant seems to slice through the air between them like a knife. "I told you not to fall in love with me; you're just holding up your end of the bargain."

Then he tucks his hands in his pockets and walks away.

* * * * * * *

"Where's Jaime?" her dad asks in surprise when she finally makes her way downstairs in the late morning.

Brienne sighs. "He left earlier. Caught a ride back with Addam." She'd come back to the house the night before to find Jaime curled up in the blankets on the floor of her room, as far away from the bed as he could get. She'd eventually fallen into an exhausted sleep, and had woken up just before dawn to find him already dressed and tying his shoes.

"I didn't want to just bail without saying anything, because I thought your dad would get suspicious if I didn't come back last night," he'd told her. His face had been pale and set, as shuttered as she'd ever seen it. She'd never fully realized how expressive it was until now, when there was an utter lack of it. "You can tell him I had to work, or there was a family emergency, whatever."

"Jaime--"

"We don't need to talk about this," he'd interrupted flatly. "You told me what the deal was from the beginning. I should have listened."

Tears had been burning her eyes, but she'd blinked them relentlessly back; the last thing she'd wanted was for him to feel like he'd hurt her, when she'd been the one to hurt them both. "I'm sorry," she'd said. Uselessly, she knew, no matter how true it was.

"Hey, I'm all good, just like always." He'd given her a twist of a smile, then risen to his feet and caught the handle of his closed-up suitcase in his hand. "Tell your dad I said goodbye, okay? Tell him--" He'd paused, then dropped his chin to his chest with a noise that would have been a laugh if there'd been any amusement in his face. "Tell him if he's ever in the city, the first round at the barcade is on me."

The tears had overflowed then, but Jaime hadn't seen them--he'd already closed the door behind him.

In the kitchen, Brienne pours herself a cup of coffee, carries it over to the table and stares into it while she slumps into a chair.

It's a long moment before her dad speaks. "Brienne." Her dad's voice is so gentle that she thinks she might cry again. "Sweetheart, what happened?"

Fuck, she is going to cry again. "Dad, I have to tell you something." She forces herself to meet his eyes. "Jaime and I--we never were really dating." Her dad's jaw drops, and she rushes on before he can say anything and derail her. "He was a friend, a customer at the game shop, and his brother overheard me saying that I couldn't come home for Sevenmas by myself again, and so he suggested Jaime, and it all just… happened."

His brow has been gaining more furrows with every word. "You're telling me... you lied to me? Both of you?"

"It isn't Jaime's fault, Dad." She can make that clear, at least. "He was just doing what I asked him to do. Please don't be mad at him." She winds her foot around the table leg like she'd used to do as a teenager, just trying to anchor herself in a world that kept changing without her permission. "I just. Every year you seem so disappointed when I don't bring anybody. I was tired of disappointing you."

At that, her dad leans forward and pulls her free hand away from the coffee mug so he can grip it tightly in his. "Brienne Alys Tarth, I have never in my life been disappointed in you. I'm not thrilled with you right now, mind you, but even now, I'm not disappointed. How could you think that?"

"What was I supposed to think?" she exclaims, the tears well and truly running now. "You bring it up every time we talk! You've tried to set me up a million times!"

"Because I wanted you to have a partner," he insists. "I wanted you to have someone who could be to you what your mom was to me, what Goody is to me now. And maybe…" He shakes his head a little. "Maybe I wanted you to find someone so badly so that I could finally tell you about me and Goody and know that you wouldn't feel abandoned."

"Dad," she says, exhausted and exasperated and overflowing with love for him. "I know you'd never abandon me. You're allowed to have your own life, regardless of what mine looks like."

His face settles into the stubborn lines that she inherited directly from him. "I know. But I'm your father, and I get to be irrational about you sometimes. It goes with the territory."

"Dad." Her chest hitching with sobs, she stands up out of her seat and wraps her arms around him, feels his come around her. The angle is awkward and she's pretty sure she has snot on her face and she couldn't care less about any of it.

"Disappointed in you," he scoffs gruffly. "You're the best thing in my life, don't you know that?"

Brienne squeezes her eyes shut and holds him tighter, a watery sort of bark-laugh emerging from her throat. "I don't feel like the best of anything right now."

He strokes the back of her head. "I can see that. It doesn't change a thing, in my opinion. I'm still proud of you, Brienne--the way you've made your own way in the city, the way you've found your own home. I've always been so damn proud of you. I'm sorry if I haven't told you that enough, but it's been true every day of my life."

It's too much, and she can't help it: she buries her head in his shoulder and sobs.

Her dad has never quite known what to do when she's crying, but he's had a little practice over the years, and he does well enough now, patting her softly on the back and murmuring, "It's all right, sweetheart," in her ear. Eventually, when she can't hold off blowing her nose any longer, she releases him, grabbing a napkin from the holder at the center of the table before collapsing back into her chair.

When she's stuffed the crumpled-up napkin into her pocket, she lets herself slide down until her head is resting against the top of the chair back. She feels hollowed-out and drained. All she wants to do is crawl back into bed. All she wants to do is somehow find Jaime there waiting for her.

"So what happened?" her dad asks quietly after a minute. "With Jaime, I mean."

She shrugs, feeling helpless and furious about it. "He wanted to try things for real, and I… couldn't. I freaked out."

His mouth opens, and then closes, and then he takes a breath. "I know I haven't exactly been your best source for romantic advice. But can I ask you something?"

"Sure." Why not? Whatever he has to say can't possibly make her feel any worse than she does now.

"You know how much I loved your mom," he says. "Love her still. Right? And it's the same for you, I know it is."

They've had this conversation a hundred times, but there's still a small, fresh wound in her heart every time. "Yeah, of course."

"And it destroyed us both to lose her," he goes on.

"Why are we talking about this?" she demands as the memories of it scrape over her already-raw nerve endings.

He leans forward, elbows braced on his knees, blue eyes intent on hers. "Because I want to know if you'd trade it," he says. "Even knowing how it would end. Even knowing how much it hurt. Would you wish you'd never had her in your life? Would you wish that I could go back in time and never meet her, just so we would never lose her?"

The shock of it is so sharp that she can't breathe for a second. It's not that she's never asked herself that question before, but hearing it from her dad, who'd been her shining example of both what she wanted and what she feared--it feels like someone presenting her with a magical key to a precious door, but only after that door has been boarded up and sealed. She closes her eyes; tears trickle down her cheeks in what's becoming a frustratingly well-worn path. "It's too late, Dad," she tells him, her voice thick. "I fucked it up."

"Bullshit," her dad says, and her eyes pop open in surprise. "You made a mistake. It might be that he won't forgive you, it might be that he will. Either way, you'll never know unless you try." He clucks his tongue. "I just finished telling you that you should reach for whatever you want. If Jaime is what you want--not need, because I know you don't need anyone, but want--then go get him. Or at least stop making excuses for yourself about why you won't." With that, he stands up out of his chair, and pats her on the top of the head on his way to refill his coffee.

* * * * * * *

Brienne does try to text Jaime: Hey, just wanted to make sure you got home safe. When he doesn't respond to that, she adds, And I wanted to say I'm sorry.

All he sends back is, You said that already. Message received.

Can we meet up somewhere? she replies, her thumbs shaking as they hover over the screen. I know it's a lot to ask. But I screwed up, I realize that, and I was hoping we could talk about where we could go from here.

Just let it go, he says. You were right, I should've just stuck to the plan. And I don't really want to talk to you about anything right now, Brienne.

She's never, in all the time she's known him, wanted to hear the word Tank quite so much.

I understand, she types back, or at least she hopes that's what it says; her eyes are too blurry to know for sure. If you change your mind, I'll be here.

She probably checks that same, sad little set of messages several dozen times over the first couple of weeks of the year, torturing herself by scrolling further up to see where he'd been asking her questions about the setup for the masquerade, and the two photos he'd sent her that same day: one of Sansa and Margaery slow-dancing together in a corner of the kitchen during a quiet moment, and one of a carrot that looked like it had testicles.

That one still makes her laugh, but it also kind of makes her want to cry, which isn't a reaction she'd ever expected to have to a photo of a phallic carrot. Still, as the days pass and she still doesn't hear from him, she starts to resign herself to the situation. She's not going to be one of those people who view relationships as a game where certain actions will entitle them to a certain outcome, who won't respect a no when it's given. She'd had her shot, and if she never sees him again, it will only be her own fault.

Still, she can't help looking up hopefully every time the door of the shop opens. She knows Ygritte sees her doing it and is probably shaking her head internally. But after having pried the story out of her not long after Brienne had come back from her vacation, Ygritte hasn't mentioned the whole debacle once, just invited Brienne to hang out with her after hours and play deck-building games until her brain is so full of mana and arcana that it can hardly hold anything else.

And then one day the shop door opens, and Brienne looks up, and it's Tyrion.

"Miss Tarth," he greets her solemnly. Weirdly enough, she's missed his, well, weirdness.

"Hi," she answers. "I wasn't sure you'd be back."

"Neither was I," he admits. He comes close to the counter, climbs up on the stool she still keeps out, and busies himself inspecting the newest minifigures they've got on display under the glass.

Ygritte is in the back, leaving Brienne alone with her racing thoughts and the brother of the person she most wants to see in the world, and she manages to make it almost a full minute of his silent perusal before she finally cracks and blurts out, "How is he?"

Tyrion looks up at her, large eyes blinking innocently. "Who?"

"Tyrion." Brienne manages to keep the growl out of it with some struggle. It's not Tyrion's fault that she's in this position. "Please. I just…" It's only a few seconds before she decides to throw both caution and pride to the wind. "I really miss him, Tyrion."

"Ah." He steeples his fingers and nods like a sage on a mountaintop. "I was wondering about that. He feels the same, I think, though he won't admit it. Judging by the way he keeps moping around listening to sad bastard music, though, I think it's safe to assume."

Brienne laughs a little, though the image is as guilt-inducing as it is strangely adorable. "I don't know what to do," she says. "He's made it pretty obvious he's not interested in talking to me."

"He'll talk to me, though," Tyrion points out.

"I don't want to put you in the middle of anything," Brienne says uneasily.

He spreads his hands out in front of him. "I've already got a sad bastard sleeping on my couch three nights out of seven, Brienne. I'd say that ship has sailed."

"So what do you think I should do?" She doesn't need psychic powers to see that he very much wants her to ask him. "I'm not going to stalk him or show up anywhere uninvited. I would really like to talk to him, though, if he's willing."

"Well," Tyrion says. "I could carry a message for you. Tell him how depressed and pathetic you looked." She narrows her eyes at him. "What? I already told you what a sad bastard Jaime's being. It's only fair."

"Why am I starting to get the sense that there's something in this for you?" Brienne asks, crossing her arms over her chest.

Tyrion's smile spreads slowly across his face. "Well, there is the remaster of Age of Dragons coming out…"

"Tyrion." Brienne sighs. "I'm not going to bribe you to talk to Jaime for me, that just feels wrong."

"Fine," he pouts. "Let's wager for it, then." He nods toward the containers of dice on the counter. "Same as last time. Ten or less, I talk to Jaime and you give me the early access code. Higher than that, I offer my services free of charge."

She tilts her head at him. "So you'll talk to him either way?" She's a little surprised by that.

"He's on my couch, Brienne," Tyrion tells her, overdramatic hand to his chest. "He's absolutely massacring the vibe."

That makes her snort. "Okay." She reaches for her favorite dice again, the ones that remind her of home. She shakes the D20 into her hand, sends it clattering onto the counter. As it spins, she thinks of how she'd watched it on his same path a few weeks ago, and how she'd had no idea what was waiting for her. She watches it carefully, watches it rattle and tumble and finally come to a stop.

The number 3 is staring up at her.

Again.

"Tyrion," she says slowly. It doesn't make any sense, but the suspicion is suddenly too strong for her to overcome. "Did you… did you rig my dice?"

"What?" He blinks at her again, but he can only maintain it for a few seconds before his mouth stretches into a smug grin that reminds her just a little bit of Jaime. "You always use the same ones," he informs her. "I knew you wouldn't trust mine, so I made a little substitution to yours. Ygritte may have helped."

Her jaw drops. "Ygritte is in on this? What the hell? Ygritte!" she yells toward the back room. There's no response, of course, thanks to the general lack of fucks in that vicinity.

Though apparently Ygritte has found a few fucks to spare for conspiring with Tyrion to send Brienne and Jaime off together, which Brienne finds simultaneously highly inappropriate and bizarrely touching.

"Look at it from our perspective," Tyrion urges. "Watching you two dance around each other for months, without even realizing that you were doing it, was exhausting."

Well. That's going to be something to talk to her brand new therapist about. "I--" she starts, and has no idea where to go from there.

Tyrion doesn't seem to mind. "I'll talk to him," he says, hopping down off the stool. "What happens beyond that will be up to him, and you."

She just stares at him, speechless. What the fuck has been going on here all this time?

As he turns to go, he hesitates, then turns back. "He does miss you, Brienne," he says quietly. His expression is as serious as she's ever seen it, all of his usual irony dialed down to just the barest glint in his eye.

She takes a deep breath and answers his honesty with honesty of her own. "I know I fucked up," she says. "I'm just hoping he'll be willing to give me a second chance."

Tyrion nods. "To be honest? So do I." He starts toward the door. "I'll be looking forward to getting that code," he calls over his shoulder.

Brienne barks a laugh and clutches the stupid rigged die in her hand, the corners of it digging into her fingers. After Tyrion disappears down the street, she watches the space where he'd been for a while, watches the pedestrians strolling by like little lanterns, making their own currents. She sighs, and swallows hard, then tucks the die into her pocket and prepares herself for a very pointed conversation with Ygritte.

* * * * * * *

During the next week, her door-watching game reaches all new heights, or rather, lows; she's actually starting to get a sore neck from it, and the looks that Ygritte keeps giving her are growing more and more pitying. Brienne takes it as her penance for hurting Jaime, for lying to her dad, for ever choosing to listen to Tyrion Lannister in the first place.

Ygritte is on her lunch break and Brienne is on a step-ladder, stuffing the topmost shelf with overstock, when she hears the door open behind her.

"Be with you in a second!" she calls out, tipping the last of the game boxes onto the shelf.

"Hey, I thought you were the ladder," comes Jaime's voice from behind her, and she almost falls right off the step.

He looks… he looks exactly as she remembers, which is a ridiculous thing to think given that it's only been a few weeks. She'd thought of him so often, though, and seen him so little, that he'd almost begun to seem like something she'd dreamed up. But there he is: standing with his hands in the pockets of his hoodie and stubble dotting his cheeks, and a wary look in his eyes that makes her want to do anything she can to ease it.

"Jaime." She scrambles down with a lot more haste than grace, wiping her suddenly-sweaty palms on the front of her jeans. "It's... " Gods, she'd had a whole speech ready, and right now there's nothing in her brain but the fact that he's here, right in front of her, finally. "I'm really happy to see you," she says, taking a few steps closer.

"Yeah." He lifts a shoulder a fraction of an inch, his mouth curving vaguely, his eyes skipping to the side. Noncommittal.

She guesses she had that coming. "I have something for you," she tells him. At least she'd been able to anticipate her own tongue-tied state enough to write some things down; points to Past Brienne for that. She goes to where her backpack is braced on the floor behind the front counter and pulls out a piece of paper. When she straightens up, Jaime has more or less followed her. He's still keeping the counter between them, but he's there, waiting for whatever it is she's got to say.

She takes a deep breath. "Here," she says, setting the piece of paper on the counter between them. "I made a few modifications."

She watches his eyes track over it. It's the character sheet they'd put together back in her room, back in her house, before everything had gone sideways. At the top, she's crossed out Girlfriend Brienne, and written Actual Brienne instead. She's also given herself scores for all her attributes--high on strength, constitution, and intelligence, middling on dexterity, lower on charisma, and a giant zero next to wisdom. She's also added an attribute of her own at the bottom: courage. That one gets a zero as well.

Jaime's gaze flickers back up to her. "Brienne." His eyes are the green of the sky just before a hurricane. "What are you trying to say, here?"

"I'm saying I'm sorry." It's such a relief to finally be able to say it to his face that she doesn't even stop to think about what he might say in return; the words just fountain out of her like water through a crack in a dam. "I'm saying that I like you--that I care about you--and it scares me. I'm saying that I'm messed up, and I'm trying to get better. I'm saying that it killed me to push you away that night, and it's been killing me ever since."

His hurricane eyes are wide now, and his jaw is still clenched tightly. She's not sure what that means. She pushes on anyway.

"I'm saying," she continues, her heart pounding so loud that it almost drowns out her words, "that I want to propose an amendment to the rules."

One eyebrow arches up, and he tucks his tongue into his cheek. "What did you have in mind?" There's something flirting with one corner of his mouth that she desperately, recklessly hopes is a smile.

She spins the paper back, grabs a pen from the mug near the register, and scribbles on the blank line underneath his neat writing: Dating. For real this time.

He looks at the character sheet. Looks up at her. Looks back at the sheet. "I have an amendment, myself," he tells her.

Lead seems to settle in her stomach. She thinks of her dad saying he might forgive you, he might not. "What's that?" she asks, because she's not going to back down now.

"I think you went a little low on the charisma," he tells her.

Relief and shock spiral through her veins, leaving her knees weak. "What?"

The storm in his eyes is coalescing now, shading closer to heat. He takes a couple of steps, enough to bring him around the side of the counter. "Charisma means force of personality. Why the hell do you think I call you Tank?" Brienne's fingers knot in front of her; her eyelids want to flutter shut at the nickname, but she doesn't want to miss a second of the expression on his face.

Jaime takes another step. He's fully behind the counter now. "And if it means drawing people to you," he goes on, his voice lowering, "well, I've been failing that saving throw since the day we met." He reaches out and takes her restless hands in his.

"I'm sorry," she says again. "Have I mentioned how sorry I am?"

"You have," he says, smiling softly. "You could mention it again, though."

"I'm sorry," she repeats immediately, "I'm so sorry, I--"

"Tank," he interrupts her, "just kiss me," and so she does, catching his face between her hands, her tongue delving eagerly into his mouth, her body seeking his in a way that's highly inappropriate for the workplace, and she doesn't care. He tastes like possibility, like a risk worth taking. She holds on to him as tightly as she can.

When he finally pulls back from her, it's only to rest his forehead against hers. "I missed you. All of these past few weeks, no one made me sleep on the floor even once."

She laughs, helplessly, and slides her hands down his arms to tangle their fingers together. "My dad's gonna be so relieved when I tell him we're back together."

"Look, I love your dad, but can we not talk about him right now?" Jaime asks plaintively, which sends her off into another bout of snickering.

She leans in to kiss him again, but before she can, he puts a hand to her shoulder. "Hold up."

She can't imagine what could possibly be more important than her kissing him right at that moment, but he reaches behind her to the counter to pick up her character sheet. As she watches, he folds it up and puts it in his back pocket, then tucks the pen behind his ear.

"I just figure we're gonna need some more addendums soon," he explains, his eyes bright with mischief and with promises, and she laughs and kisses him with all the proficiency she's got.