Winterfell is a low-set, foreboding place, even decked out in lights and baubles for the new year’s celebrations, but Jaime hands his keys to the valet and breathes deeply. Mingling is second-nature to him, the legacy of Tywin Lannister even as he’d forged his own path far away from his father’s business dealings, and he knows it will serve him well tonight. Go in, meet some new colleagues, charm them. The head nurse on his floor, Pia, had asked if he’d be at the party, and he’s pretty sure she’s someone he wants on his side. So he’s going to suck it up and mingle, and make his escape shortly after midnight, preferably unkissed.
The first hour or so is fine. The Stark family have decked out what had once been the castle’s Great Hall with electric candles and silver decorations that catch the false glow, and the result is elegant but not entirely stuffy the way Lannister affairs often were. Seasonal instrumentals play in the background, a lovely soundtrack that does not overwhelm the tinkling laughter and warm chatter that fills the room. The masquerade masks Ned had insisted upon--tradition, apparently--are almost entertaining, though they do nothing to really hide anyone’s identity. When he spots Ned across the room in what is clearly meant to be a stylised wolf--subtle, Stark is not--he actually laughs. Jaime doesn’t enjoy himself, particularly, but he has spent the turn of the year in far worse ways and the canapés are good.
He has just slipped from a too-tense conversation with Jory Cassel--Cassel’s not happy that Ned has hired Jaime, and Jaime turns sharp without thinking--when he sees a woman moving across the room and his champagne flute freezes halfway to his mouth. She’s tall, and blonde, and there’s something in her gait that reminds him viscerally of Brienne.
She’s in his thoughts more often this time of year. It is not as if he spends all his free time daydreaming of a woman he has not seen in over a decade--twelve years, he knows, they’d crossed paths briefly at a café in King’s Landing airport not so very long after they’d split, though it had seemed a century back then--but the long nights of winter had always been their favourite, when the semester’s work was done and they had nothing to do but unwind until the new year brought with it new commitments. They hadn’t realised that last year that it was the last year--tucked on their ratty student couch and contemplating the howling Stormlands wind that rattled the windows, they thought they would last forever. Everyone had--Jaime and Brienne would finish their schooling, find some middle of the road jobs that kept them happy but didn’t consume their every waking moment, have two-point-three kids and a house in the suburbs. There was a betting pool. There was a ring hidden in a sock drawer. There was a dedicated PInterest board maintained by Margaery Tyrell, who took immense delight at wedding planning without having to enter matrimony herself. It was neat, logical, anticipated.
They’d loved each other too much to do it.
It wasn’t… He got his dream residency in Dorne. An intense two year program that meant he would barely have time to breathe. She got the only available spot on Catelyn Tully’s project on far north populations of old. Neither one had expected it, even as they’d believed the other would succeed. They certainly hadn’t imagined they’d both find themselves with their dreams before them, and all their discussions of compromises would be moot.
To say it now makes it sound like a neat, mature choice. Passionless. It hadn’t been. They’d been young and in love, and they had bargained and pleaded and sniped as they’d tried to find some solution. He’d defer a year. She’d take a job she was massively overqualified for and would bore her within weeks. They’d try long distance, even with several thousand miles and no free time stood between them. But by the spring, they’d known. They’d both cried, more than once, and the night before the movers arrived they’d barely stopped touching, had fallen asleep twined on that same cursed couch they’d spent so many winter evenings.
It had been a chasm, in the beginning, a great gaping hole in his chest when he allowed himself to consider it; perhaps if it hadn’t they might have stayed in touch. But time healed all wounds, and what time hadn’t taken care of ambition had--a car accident shortly after his residency had ended ensured his cardiac surgery plans were history, so he’d shifted his focus to oncology, to battle the great beast that had taken his mother. It had meant more long hours. He’d barely jacked off, nevermind dated, in those early years, but it had paid off. He had officially signed the papers to be the chief of oncology in the second most respected hospital in Westeros, and before forty.
None of which changed the fact the woman across the room made him think of Brienne. On second glance he can see differences--her hair is short where Brienne had kept hers long to hide behind, and she’s wearing a well-fitting tuxedo where Brienne would only eye suits longingly before cramming herself into yet another ill-fitting dress for whatever university event they’d had to attend. She wears her height better than Brienne had, and even behind the plumed black mask she has a commanding presence as she speaks to the other guests.
He’s interested. Intrigued, at least, and odds are good that the woman is associated with the hospital and it would do him good to ingratiate himself. So he begins to make his way towards her, smiling and glad-handing the guests who cross his path, charming and gregarious even as most of his attention is the woman halfway across the room. He is very good at this.
He’s still four guests away when she laughs, and his whole world upends itself.
He actually freezes, and it takes all his effort to turn back to the conversation he is having long enough to extract himself. It’s Brienne. He doesn’t… He’d known Catelyn Tully was married to Ned Stark in that vague, peripheral way, but he hadn’t--perhaps that was what brought Brienne to his mind so easily when he’d seen the woman, but he had no reason to… Part of him wants to cross the room, slide between her and whatever fool was speaking with her, and… he doesn’t know. Something. Anything.
His mouth is dry. His mouth is dry and Brienne is there, and it’s been years but he doesn’t know how he hadn’t known instantly because as he watches her it is… He’s close enough now that he can hear her telling her conversational partner about the study she’s working on, and it had been the right decision, for her to go, he can see it in the way she holds herself, but she shakes her head in just the same manner, and he knows those hands, long-fingered and so gentle in their strength, and maybe he’s just a romantic but he knows her, even now. He knows her and he watches, lets himself bask in her just for a moment--her long legs, the low pitch of her voice, her laughter--because he can. It doesn’t last long--he’s moving again after a moment, sidling next to her just as one conversation ends.
“Nice night,” he says.
She nods distractedly, barely looking at him before glancing around the room.
“Are you looking for someone?” he asks, wondering if she’s brought a date, or a husband, wondering if he is too late. She jerks though, and then her brow furrows and that too is familiar.
“Then we should dance.”
It’s a ridiculous suggestion. There are a few couples on the dance floor, at least, though most of the partygoers are too deep in conversation to pay the music much mind.
“We should dance,” he repeats, looking at her seriously. “What do you say, Blue?”
“What do you say, Blue?”
He’s looking at her, head tilted just so, and now that she knows… she doesn’t know how she didn’t see it immediately, even though it’s been over a decade and she had no reason to think that Jaime Lannister was anywhere near Winterfell. Oh, she’d thought of him when the man had approached--even with most of his face hidden behind a hunter green mask she had seen the sharp jawline, the blonde hair, and felt that strange, undeniable thrill of attraction and how Jaime had shaped her preferences all those years ago--but she hadn’t… she hadn’t looked close enough to see, and if there was a metaphor more apt for her romantic life she could not think of it. But of course it is him; she knows the curve of that smile that comes from beneath the metal filigree, knows the heat as he stands too close, the way his shoulder had always fit against hers. Knows the smell of his cologne--it’s a more complex scent than he had favoured back then, but the base notes are the same, sandalwood and vetiver. Remembers the year she had gone into the nearest department store and sniffed half the bottles of cologne, trying to find the one he used so she could buy it for his birthday.
She has a hundred questions for him, but he is watching her and there is that uncertainty in his eyes, the one he had always masked around others and let her see, and she decides that they can wait. She takes his hands--and these are different, she thinks, more callused, and there is a criss cross of scars on the back of one she wonders about, but they still fit into hers, still curl as they glide against her palm--and leads him onto the dancefloor.
It’s a dangerous game, this; as they move into position to waltz she is painfully aware of the closeness of their bodies and how the small distance is somehow worse than skin pressed against skin, the deliberate way they hold themselves apart. His thumb strokes the inside of her wrist, and then they begin to move.
It is silent at first, one two three, one two three, step and step, turn, familiar and safe, but there is no safety in this, not when he tilts his chin up to meet her gaze.
“I didn’t expect to see you here,” he says softly, sometime into the second song.
She doesn’t want to speak, doesn’t want to think beyond this glowing ballroom, the past and the future both dangling before her, but she cannot leave things unsaid. “I still work with Cat Stark,” she says, and then, “You? You’re a long way from Dorne.”
“I was offered a position, at the hospital.”
“So you’re…” in Winterfell to stay, she cannot bring herself to say. “That’s great.”
“We’re still based in WU, until the funding runs out.”
He smirks. “Do you expect it to?”
“Good,” he says. “You’d be wasted in the private sector.”
She feels her cheeks heat, and lifts her eyes to the ceiling of the Great Hall. His thumb is still stroking, she notices, back and forth so softly that it feels like a kiss.
“When do you start at the hospital?”
“End of next month. I’m only up here now to find a place to stay, and the dour Ned Stark felt morally obliged to invite me since I’d be alone on the new year.”
She snickers; Cat’s husband is precisely the sort of man who would hire someone he disliked and invite them into his home out of a sense of honour.
“And your family? Are they looking forward to the move?”
“Ah. I thought Margaery had said….” She knows Margaery had told her Jaime was seeing someone seriously, a few years ago now.
“Ahh, no. We were… she was a lovely woman, but it was just-- We didn’t love each other that way, in the end. It wasn’t going to…” He shrugs, and she wishes she could see him without the mask, read him better. “It’s just me. Unless you count the dog, but he’ll like all the trails around here.”
“I know some good ones,” she offers. “I take the girls out most weekends, when we aren’t out in the field.”
“Dogs or children?” he asks, with a sly little smirk beneath his mask that makes her stomach flip.
“Dogs.” And then, “It’s just me, too.”
It’s too casual. Too deliberate. It’s an invitation she’s not certain she should be making, but they are still on this dancefloor, one two three, one two three, and his thumb is stroking, and their bodies have not forgotten this. Their minds have not either--the dance continues and they talk, of the last years, their hobbies, the people in their lives, and beneath it all there is that invitation, It’s just me, stoking the embers of a fire she had believed long-extinguished. Finally there is a break in the music, and he steps back slightly, his hand still on her waist, his thumb still stroking her wrist.
“Fresh air?” he asks, a rasp in his words that remind her of many long, lazy mornings in bed.
She doesn’t trust her voice, so she nods. Steps from his embrace and keeps hold of his hand--it’s the scarred one, a car accident she knows now, one that had shifted his area of practice--as she guides them from the room. There is a library one corridor over, where the fire is always stoked and the doors are easily locked, and she doesn’t consciously choose to lead him there but it is where they arrive.
The tall arched windows let the moonlight in, a silver glow that falls across the dark wood of the desk, stretches across the floor. The room smells of old books and hints of firewood, as comforting as a lover’s embrace; or perhaps not quite, because Jaime’s hands are sliding up her arm, around the curve of her shoulder, pulling her closer until she kisses him, her nose bumping against his mask. She laughs, feels the curve of his lips when he smiles.
“May I?” she asks, oddly nervous as she plays with the ties behind his head, runs her fingers over his soft hair.
He swallows, the bob of his throat as he tilts his head back loud in the silence of the room. “Please.”
The silk ribbon unknots easily, and when she lifts the mask away she almost forgets to breathe. Whatever youthful boyishness there had lingered all those years ago has faded away, and the effect is lethal--this is the man she might have woken beside every morning, in another lifetime. The mask is surprisingly heavy in her hand--it’s real metal, all deep green whirls, and she almost makes a shaky quip about the expense for a last minute invitation but then his fingers are against her own mask and she freezes.
His hand drops away. “Sorry. I didn’t…”
“No,” she says, laying her hand over his. “It’s…” She swallows. She’d forgotten, until this moment, that she’d worn one at all. Her fingers tremble as she unties the mask and lifts it away.
Time and years of fieldwork in the far north have not been particularly kind to her, leaving her with perpetually chapped cheeks and lips, new scars. Nothing horrifying--small children do not scream when they see her, and she hadn’t selected her mask in some strange bid to escape notice, but she’s aware that the concessions gifted to her by youth have faded. His hand comes up to cup her cheek, his thumb stroking over the curve, and the soft look in his eyes is so fond that she smiles, a warm sensation bubbling in her chest until she laughs. She doesn’t feel like she’s 19 and about to have her first kiss, or 23 and saying goodbye. She’s who she was when she’d arrived tonight, who she will be in the morning--older, and more complicated, and still in love with a man she hadn’t seen in years. She can see that now with utter clarity. It hadn’t been their time, then, and she cannot regret that but she can hope… She ducks her head again, captures his bottom lip with hers, tugs, soft and playful, and he moans against her mouth, a sweet, needy sound that makes her cunt clench sudden and hard; her knees weaken, absurdly, but before she can fall his free hand is at her waist holding her steady, pressing her against him, keeping her safe.
“Chair?” he mumbles, and she nods, still not trusting her words. Then they are moving, a fumbling, messy dance, one two three, one two three, towards the enormous wingback chair by the fireplace.
By the time his calves bump against the edge of the seat, she’s unknotted his bowtie and dragged her fingers against the nape of his neck in the way he’d always liked, and felt his shiver beneath her touch; he has managed to unbutton her jacket and waistcoat, and unhooked one side of the braces beneath, his hand slipping into the waist of her trousers, tugging the underwear beneath and making her whimper. She pushes him into the chair in response, palm against chest, and smirks when he looks up at her, mouth parted. Leans down to kiss him again, firmer this time, and then slides her knees either side of his thighs to straddle him; it takes a moment for them to find their position, but then she’s pressed against him, rolling her hips to feel the hardness of his cock through their trousers.
“This would be easier in a skirt,” she mutters, and he laughs.
“Yes. But this suits you,” he replies, reaching up to tug at her bowtie. “The old you would have been too afraid of standing out to wear it and been miserable instead.”
She drops her head, presses her cheek against his so he cannot see her expression. Of course he… She exhales shakily, turns her head to kiss the lobe of his ear. His hand slides to her thigh but no higher, gives a squeeze.
It takes some more awkwardness, her rising up so he can get his hand beneath trousers and underwear both, the calluses on his fingers sliding against her clit, and with their free hands they push the trousers down, until they rest just above her knees.
“Comfortable?” he asks, his fingers teasing her languidly, and she sighs and rocks her hips.
“Don’t tease me.”
He teases her. Soft, sweet kisses, sweet touches; the dart of his tongue, the press of his fingers, there and gone, until she is aching for more. And then his fingers are inside her, curving to hit the place that makes her gasp against his willing mouth, and she rides him, slowly at first, then faster, her thighs straining at the awkward angle but it is not enough to stop it, the way his hand works her, matches her every thrust as if they have never been apart, and this his lips are at her throat and her fingers are scrambling against his shirt, tugging, seeking skin to dig her fingertips into as she rides, faster, faster, one two three, her pants digging into her leg but she doesn’t want to stop, she’s almost, almost--
She realises too late that they must be quiet, and buries her head against his shoulder to muffle her cries as she comes. His fingers slide out of her and she whines, then whines again when he lifts his fingers to his mouth to clean them. She presses her forehead against his, feeling the faint stickiness of sweat on heated skin.
“That was…” she begins, and finds there are no words.
“A more interesting end to my night than I expected,” he finishes, and she can hear the amusement in his voice. “Unless this isn’t the end? My hotel is only a few minutes away, if you wanted to....”
She leans back, pressing one hand against his heaving chest. Sees the outline of his cock straining against the wool of his trousers, and thinks of sinking to her knees, taking him in her mouth. Imagines the surprise on his face. Lifts her eyes to his face, sees the love there, echoing in her own breast with every heartbeat, one two three, one two three.
Her legs are trembling as she stands, and he keeps her steady as she pulls herself to rights, looking so gloriously dishevelled as he does. So open. So hopeful.
“My room is upstairs,” she says. “Cat offered to let me stay the night.”
His jaw drops slightly as he looks around the library. “You…”
She begins to laugh, so loudly she almost falls over on her still shaky legs. “Winterfell is huge,” she says, “and I really was not thinking about getting halfway across a castle.”
He rises, straightening his shirt and tucking the unknotted bow tie into his pockets. Grins as he slides his arm around her waist, and leans up to kiss her cheek.
“Well then, Blue,” he purrs, in a voice that elicits a thousand filthy thoughts all at once, “lead the way.”
And so she did.