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The Gift

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Brienne hangs their stockings by the cardboard cutout of a chimney with care, and then turns to look expectantly at Jaime. “What do you think?”

Jaime considers his roommate's handiwork. It's his first Christmas not spent with his family – his father has finally disowned all of his children, Cersei had leapt on the chance to spend the holiday somewhere warm now that she was free of the obligation of attending the Lannister Family Dinner, and Tyrion inevitably spends Christmas starting on his end-of-the-year drunken spree. When Brienne had found out, she'd stepped in to save his Christmas as quickly and enthusiastically as he expected.

Brienne is always stepping in to save Jaime, over and over, as though they'd signed a lease agreement together on an apartment and her section had Jaime Lannister's General Well-Being as part of her contingency to get her deposit back. Jaime thinks he helps her, too, but it's tough to help Brienne when she's so quick to shove him aside to jump in front of the train he's trying to protect her from.

It frustrates him, because the one thing he's always been good at in his life is taking care of his loved ones, and he very much loves Brienne. Desperately. Agonizingly. He loves her shy, proud smile now as she waits for his approval, and he loves the dark annoyance in her eyes when he says, “How's Santa going to come down a fake chimney?”

“You should be grateful he's not real or you'd be drowning in coal,” she mutters and Jaime tucks his arm around hers, tugging her to his side. He tortures himself like this constantly, these friendly touches that she melts into even when she's annoyed with him. She's tall and solid and radiates her uniquely Brienne vibe and he wants to be surrounded by it – by her – at all times. But they're friends and roommates and she knows what he looks like when he's snot-nosed and sick, the way he leaves too little cereal in the box and forgets to tell her to pick up more, what he sounds like waist-deep in self-pity over a break-up. Jaime's gotten addicted to being himself around her, the heady rush of not having to play any role except Jaime, and it might kill him years early from the combined soul and physical blue balls, but he's not going to lose that just so he can also add “being surrounded by Brienne in bed” to their relationship.

Though he wants that, too. He has thought of it more frequently than is likely decent, and he tries very hard not to, but he's not a great person. He's not sure he's a good person. He's definitely an okay person.

He's certain Brienne would insist he was a wonderful person, would probably even forgive him for the dream he had a few months ago about her pushing him up against the wall after they'd laughed over that movie poster making the internet rounds. There had been biting involved, and things Jaime's not sure Brienne even knows how to do, though he'd be happy to teach her. That image had lived rent-free in his head for weeks; he'd had to avoid being near her in small spaces for the first few days after, which had made taking the elevator together an event.

No, he's not a great or a good person, but he's at least okay, so he leans over and kisses her cheek quickly. “I love it,” he assures her, and her happy, relieved smile is a gift.

A week before Christmas, they host their annual Friendsmas party. It's a tradition that started before Jaime and Brienne moved in together, and though he'd been dismissive of it the first year – he'd been dismissive of anything good that first year, except Brienne, the best exception Jaime's made in his life – he looks forward to it now. Her friends have become his, too, and he greets them eagerly at the door in a Santa hat.

“Merry Friendsmas!” he says, first to Loras and Renly and Margaery, then Sansa when she arrives, and finally Podrick.

Sansa gives him a hug and a beaming smile when she walks in. “Merry Friendsmas,” she says, before leaning in close to whisper, “any luck?”

Jaime glances over at Brienne and shakes his head, no. He's been struggling with what present to get her this year, has enlisted Sansa's help to pick the perfect thing, something with meaning and weight, but they've both come up empty.

“You?” he asks her.

“Nothing,” she moans. They're in this boat together, at least, flailing around on their individual paddles trying to get to some magical, perfect-gift-giving shore. “I might have to do a donation in her name, even though I did that last year.”

“She loved it. She's still got the card in her room.”

Sansa sighs deeply. “Of course she does.” Jaime understands that feeling completely. He wouldn't be surprised if Sansa was in love with Brienne, too.

“We'll figure it out,” she says, tugging on the little puffball at the end of his hat. “Come on, Santa, I need a drink.”

They're halfway through the evening when someone suggests board games.

“I'll get one!” Brienne offers immediately, but she's been on her feet most of the party while being a good hostess, so Jaime gently but firmly shoves her back to the couch and stands himself.

I'll get it,” he says. “You relax for a minute.”

“I can do it, Jaime.”

“I know you can, Brienne,” he says, inflecting her name in the way that makes her lips twitch. He loves her mouth, the way her full lips express all the things she never says. He's had several daydreams about how they might express all the things she wants, too. He shakes his head a little and tears his gaze away. “But I am actually capable of this one small act.”

She looks like she's going to protest so he leaves quickly, and is relieved when she doesn't get up to follow him. Their games closet is also a towel closet and a “there's nowhere else to store this so I guess this will do” closet and it takes him a minute to paw through things before he finds what he's looking for.

He also finds something he wasn't looking for: a crimson gift bag with a sparkly tag that has his name written on it in Brienne's sturdy handwriting.

Jaime stares at it, trapped by indecision. She would kill him if she knew he looked at her present ahead of time, but if he knows what she's getting him, it might help him figure out better what to get her. It's not really selfish if he's doing it to help her, is it? Surely not.

He's still telling himself that as he takes the package down from where she'd clearly tried to shove it in the back of the closet, peeks around the door to the living room to make sure she's still staying put, and then opens up the bag. There's a black box inside, blank on top. When he pulls it out, there's a picture of a beautiful glass candy cane on the front with the word Icicles and underneath: Hand-Blown Glass Massager.

Jaime stares at it, his brain trying to process what he's seeing. When he opens the flap to read the description – Each hand-blown Icicle glass wand is sleek, unique, and made to play hard among the words body safe and Toy Cleaner – he drops even further into a sort of shocked stasis.

Is this--

Did Brienne get him--

“That's a dildo,” Loras says over his shoulder, and Jaime nearly screams and fumbles the box, catching it before it crashes to the ground.

“What the fuck,” he whisper-shouts, breathing hard. “You scared the shit out of me.”

Loras raises one eyebrow, clearly uninterested in any distress he's caused. “You looked confused, I was only helping.”

Jaime stares at the box in his hand. “It doesn't look like a dildo.”

“Jaime. Please trust me when I say: I know my dildos. And that is definitely something meant for someone's ass. Or vagina, I suppose. You could put it in your mouth, too, if--”

“Stop,” Jaime begs. “I get it.” The box weighs a hundred pounds in his hands. “You're sure?”

Loras nods solemnly. “That's a dildo cane.”

Jaime shuts his eyes. “Please don't call it that.”

“Whatever you call it, you're about to have a very good Christmas. Who'd you get it for?” Loras' brown eyes are alight with curiosity.

Jaime shoves it back in the bag and tucks it away in the closet. “No one. It's an old white elephant gift. I think someone didn't know what they were buying.”

“Or maybe they did,” Loras says, grinning wickedly.

Jaime grabs the game and swiftly shuts the door. If only, he thinks. He'd let Brienne use that candy cane on him whatever way she wanted. But there's no way she bought it except as an accident, no matter how fervently he wishes otherwise.

She's saved a space next to her on the couch for him, and when he returns she pats the cushion and all he can think of are her long fingers wrapped around the handle of the glass candy cane.

The night is torture – some sort of karmic payback, he thinks, for peeking early at his Christmas present. He knows she didn't buy it on purpose, but his heart – and his dick – keep asking: but what if she did? He can't ask her, not just because he'll have ruined her surprise, but because his brain is convinced she's simply made some sort of mistake. In fact, it's probably a gag box, and inside is something entirely different, like a handmade shirt or tickets to a concert he's wanted but could never get. That would be a very Brienne thing to do and it's just his dirty mind and burning heart that are twisting something funny and sweet into... this.

That has to be it. Now he just has to make it one week to find out that it is.

“What's got your knickers in a twist?” Bronn asks him two days later at their weekly Sunday brunch. The Men Who Brunch, they call themselves: Bronn, Tyrion, and Jaime, sauntering into a different restaurant and cafe every week to eat fancy meals, drink mimosas, and talk shit about each other.

“Nothing,” Jaime says, pouring himself another mimosa from the pitcher. The food here isn't his favorite, but the mimosa pitcher is a big plus this morning.

“You don't usually get drunk before you've finished your poached eggs,” Tyrion notes. “Spill.”

Jaime blames the mostly-empty pitcher when he says, “What would you think if someone got you a sex toy as a Christmas present?”

The other two men go still, look at each other, and then look back at Jaime.

“Is this for Pia?” Tyrion asks solemnly. “I know you don't work for our father anymore, but I don't think you should be buying your ex-assistant sex toys.”

“What?” Jaime blinks hazily at his brother. “No! I didn't buy a sex toy for someone else; someone bought one for me.”

“I see. That puts a different spin on things. Was it a gag gift?” Tyrion asks, leaning forward. Tyrion loves mysteries and he especially loves gossip and he's had at least half of the missing mimosa with Jaime.

“What if it wasn't?”

“Then someone wants to fuck that pretty ass of yours, Lannister,” Bronn says. He burps and pats his mouth elegantly with his cloth napkin. “'Scuse me.”

Jaime knows he's blushing, but he glares at Bronn nonetheless. “Why do you assume it's a dildo? There are lots of types of sex toys.”

“Aye, but if I were buying you a sex toy, I would definitely buy something to peg you with.”

Tyrion snorts and Jaime drops his head into his hands. “I'm regretting so much about this conversation right now,” Jaime groans.

“You're not the only one,” Tyrion sighs. He pours himself the last of the mimosa mix and then gestures at their server for another.

“What?” Bronn says, offended. “I'm just telling the truth.”

Would you fuck my brother?” Tyrion asks curiously, and Jaime thinks about pouring the next mimosa pitcher straight over Tyrion's head.

“Sure, if I swung that way. He's nice looking enough. Probably eager in the sack.”

Eager?” Jaime says, lifting his head. “That sounds like I'm a puppy. I'll have you know--”

“If you pull any of that 'I'm a Lion of Lannister' bullshit, I'm not paying for my part of brunch,” Bronn warns him. “And I'm sticking with 'eager.'”

“I hate you,” Jaime says, shoving his slightly-burned toast in his mouth.

Bronn makes kissy noises at him and Tyrion rolls his eyes. “We're overlooking the truly important question here,” his brother announces. “Who gave Jaime a sex toy for Christmas? Was it Pia?”

“What is your thing with Pia? I'm not interested in her.”

“She's interested in you. Have you seen the way she looks at him, Bronn?”

Bronn takes a dainty bite of avocado toast. “Every woman looks at him like that. Most men, too. Bloody annoying.”

“Try growing up with it. Fine, so it's not Pia.” Tyrion folds his hands on the table. He'll fall out of his chair if he leans forward any more. “Was it Sansa? I thought you were just BFFs.”

“We are just friends and no, it wasn't her.”

“A joint gift from Loras and Renly?” Tyrion asks.

“Margaery,” Bronn says, smacking the table. The silverware clanks loudly and Jaime jumps. “She looks like she knows her way around a dildo.”

“Are you just going to go down the list of all the people in my life?” Jaime says, crunching through more toast.

“If we must.” Then Tyrion leans back in his chair, his eyes going wide. “Wait. Was it Brienne?”

Jaime chews extra hard, hoping his non-answer is taken as no, but Bronn's barked laugh shows Jaime for the fool he is.

“Holy shit,” Bronn says. “Maybe Santa is real, if he answered that Christmas wish for you.”

“What do you mean?” Jaime asks, very cool and collected and not spilling toast crumbs down his shirt.

“Come off it, Lannister, everybody knows you're in love with her.”

“In love with-- What? No. Be serious. There's no way-- How could you even--” He snorts, and accidentally inhales toast crumbs. His nasal passages are burning. “I am not in love with Brienne.”

“Very believable performance,” Bronn says dryly.

“Award-winning,” Tyrion says, giving him a golf clap.

“Fuck off,” Jaime mutters.

“Brienne bought you a Christmas dildo,” Tyrion says, his voice full of wonder. “This changes everything.”

“You think?” Jaime asks. He's thought the same thing almost nonstop since Friday night, and then swiftly followed it with every denial he can. Right now it's Schrodinger's Dildo: the box both does and does not contain a sex toy, and Jaime will have a very different Christmas depending on which one it is when he opens it Christmas morning.

“What if it's a gag gift?” Bronn asks. “Did you look inside?”

“No. I didn't have a chance when I saw it, and when I went back later to check, she'd moved the present somewhere else.” That had been a particularly dark moment: three in the morning trying to quietly paw through the entire hall closet and coming up empty-handed. Jaime's not sure he's ever felt that close to the edge of hysterical laughter.

“You have to find the present,” Tyrion tells him, folding his hands over his stomach like some sort of wise sage.

“I know,” Jaime sighs. “I can't last five more days like this.”

“What if it is a gag gift?” Bronn asks. “You still gonna tell her how not in love with her you are?”

“No way.” Jaime's thought about that, too. If it's not, then he'll just keep his mouth shut for the rest of his life and be grateful she's his friend and love her from afar.

“What if it it's real?” Tyrion asks. Jaime appreciates the quiet, serious way his brother says it, the empathetic curl of his smile.

Jaime's tried to play out that version of Christmas morning, and he's been entirely unable to get past opening the box to find a glass candy cane inside. What would he say? What would she say? His brain is incapable of imagining it. He's spent enough of his life hoping for great things only to fall short time and again. He cannot bear it with Brienne. That's a disappointment Jaime's not convinced he'll survive, so he focuses on all of it being a gag, a mistake, not at all what he wishes it really were.

And he ignores the tiny, fluttering butterfly in his heart.

“Don't laugh,” Sansa says when they're out shopping three days later, “but what if I get her a scarf?”

Jaime gives Sansa a bland look and she makes a teenager-worthy “ughhhhh” of despair.

“Why is your girlfriend so hard to buy for?” she asks, tossing the silk scarf back down onto the pile.

“She's my roommate, not my girlfriend,” he says a little too sharply. It's sort of a joke between them, because though they haven't talked-talked about it, Jaime's certain Sansa knows how he feels about Brienne. Of course, according to Bronn and Tyrion, everybody knows, except Brienne. Jaime's not in the mood for joking about his relationship with her today, though.

He's spent the five days since he discovered Brienne's present for him in an increasing state of whirling anxiety and steadfastly-ignored hope. His sleep has been terrible and he's barely been able to eat, and it's only the fact that Brienne's got extra volunteer hours at the shelter this week that she hasn't been hovering over him wondering what's wrong. When they do cross paths he can see the worry in her eyes, and she's asked him three times already if he's sick. But he's pulled it together enough – and his temperature was fine when she took it – that she's let it go. So far.

“You're awfully Grinch-y today,” Sansa notes as she idly flicks through a rack of blouses that Brienne would hate.

“It's been a long week.” Jaime picks up a painted statue of a cat and then sets it back down again.

“You've been weird since Friendsmas. Did something happen?”

Leave it to Sansa to have noticed his behavior that night. “Not really,” he hems, though now that he's brought it up with Tyrion and Bronn, he finds he wants to discuss it with Sansa, too. “Actually, that's a lie – something did happen.”

Sansa puts back a shirt that looks like a florist's shop exploded all over it, and turns to face him. She looks almost relieved. “Let's get froyo and you can tell me all about it.”

Half an hour later, they're sitting at a wobbly table in the corner of the extremely noisy food court. Sansa's got a lemon frozen yogurt drowning in marshmallow sauce and sprinkles; Jaime's gone the “little bit of everything” route and is currently working on a bite of birthday cake-chocolate-cookies and cream-strawberry.

“So. Why are you in such a mood? And is it the same reason you have bags under your eyes?”

Jaime presses his fingertips to his face; they're cold from being wrapped around the bowl. It feels nice; he'll have to put on his cold mask when he gets home. “I found out what Brienne's getting me for Christmas. Or rather – the box that whatever it is comes in.”

He explains the entire mess to Sansa, who looks more sympathetic by the second.

“Schrodinger's Dildo,” she says and he nods unhappily. “What are you gonna do about it?”

“There's nothing to do. If that box is still in the apartment, I can't find it anywhere.”

“You checked her room?” He nods. “The bathroom? The closet again?” He nods more. “The kitchen?”

“Even the freezer. I've looked everywhere. Which means I just have to wait.” He sighs and takes another bite. Lemon-vanilla-triple berry-peanut butter. Jaime makes a face and shoves his bowl away.

Sansa takes a big bite of her own, watching him thoughtfully. “You could just tell her you've seen it. Save yourself two days of all this,” she gestures at him with her spoon, “and come clean. It's Brienne, how mad could she get?”

Considering how much they'd argued with each other when they'd first met, Jaime knows the answer to that question better than Sansa thinks. But those tumultuous early days have long since passed. They still snark, and sometimes bicker – and very occasionally shout – but it's borne of long acquaintance, of living together, of fondness. He knows Brienne cares for him, that's never been in doubt. It's the unresolved question of whether that care is platonic or something else that haunts him.

“I'll manage,” he tells Sansa, then drags his bowl back. It's a terrible concoction, but he's actually hungry for once.

“Do you need to hide at my place until Christmas? Because – lovingly – you look like shit.”

Jaime snorts, but he smiles. “No, I'll suffer through. In case what's in that box isn't a dildo, I want to enjoy my two last days where I might still have a chance.”

Sansa covers his hand, squeezing it gently. “I know Brienne plays her affection close to her chest, but I also know that she adores you, Jaime. Everyone sees it.”

“Adoration isn't love, though. And I want--” The immensity of what he feels for Brienne, what he hopes she feels for him, chokes him it's so big, feelings that have been snowballing for months into an avalanche in his heart.

“It'll be good to know, won't it? Either way, you can move on with your life. Look at you. This isn't good for you. And I promise I'll be there if it doesn't go the way you want.” She squeezes his hand again and he pats it, grateful. “But honestly, I think your chances are good.”

“Yeah?” The butterfly in his chest is an eagle now, huge wings beating hard.

“Yep,” she says, lips smacking on the p. “I think you're getting pegged for Christmas.”

“Oh my god,” he says, dropping his head to the table.

Jaime makes it through the next two days by the skin of this teeth. Every time he and Brienne are home together, he hides in his room or acts like he's completely engrossed in the book he's reading, even though he wouldn't be able to tell her the title if she asked. But she knows the sanctity of a good read and she leaves him alone, brushing her hand gently over his shoulder once, kissing the top of his head as she heads out for a last shift on Christmas Eve.

“I thought we could open presents tonight when I get back?” she asks, her eyes big and blue and hopeful.

That was sooner than he'd planned, but he wasn't going to sleep at all tonight anyway. “Looking forward to it,” he tells her, smiling wide. Brienne's teeth tug at her lip and she makes a small, jerky move like she's going to do or say something different, but she nods, smiles just as widely at him, and then leaves him alone to wait.

Jaime did finally get her something – a breadmaker, because she's been making noise about wishing they had one, as well as an entire box full of starter ingredients and recipes and two aprons so she knows he intends to make it with her – but even he knows it's not enough. It had been a desperation move. There's no present that will paper over the hole in his heart if her present isn't serious, and if it's what it says on the box....


Then it won't matter what he got her, because he plans to drag her immediately to one of their bedrooms and spend the rest of Christmas there instead.

Hours later, Brienne is home, they've eaten – rather, she's eaten and Jaime's picked idly at his portion – and they're sitting across from each other on the floor by their fake fireplace. She looks tired, sitting there in the soft glow of the lights from their Christmas tree, the other lights in their house dimmed low or off entirely. There's Christmasy piano music playing softly over the speakers, and they're both dressed in the ugly Christmas sweaters they'd picked out a couple of weeks ago. They'd spent an afternoon scrunched together on the couch, laughing as they scrolled through awful sweater after awful sweater. Jaime remembers they'd had hot chocolate after, that it had snowed that night and he'd dragged Brienne out the next morning to have a snowball fight with the neighbor kids. The kids had won, but they'd gone down fighting.

There are a thousand moments with Brienne that Jaime can recall just as easily – two summers ago when he'd taken her on a whirlwind trip back to Tarth after she'd looked sad following a call from her father; last fall when they'd gone apple picking and both gotten so muddy he'd had to have his car seats professionally cleaned; earlier this year when he'd had a rough day and she'd known without even having to ask, had ordered pizza, brought out beers, and let him pick the movie. Everything is so easy between them, even when it's not. He loves her so much and she's put together this Christmas for him and he can't go on not knowing what Brienne feels about him, but he's also not sure he wants to know if she really does only love him as a friend.

“Open mine first,” he says quickly, shoving the carefully wrapped package her way. It buys him ten minutes while she unwraps it, exclaims happily – “Jaime! It's exactly what I wanted!” with a smile like he's given her the moon – and then goes through the box and sets up the breadmaker in the kitchen.

“Should we start a batch?” he asks hopefully, but she bites her lip again and shakes her head.

“No, you still have to open your present and I don't...” She smiles a little. “Well. You should open your present first.”

“Okay.” Jaime tries to be excited about it, but it feels like a death march following her the short distance back to the tree, sitting down and taking the familiar bag she holds out to him. It is and is not his heart's desire all at once. He swallows hard and pulls the box out of the bag. The same candy cane photo, the same mind-blowing descriptive text. Jaime glances up at Brienne and she is very, very still, watching him. “Is this really what you got me?” he asks. He aims for light-hearted, but he only manages to hit “just finished crying after watching Old Yeller an hour ago.”

“Open it and see,” she says, her voice soft.

Jaime struggles for a minute with the tape along the top and it's weird, he thinks, that she doesn't offer to help, but he finally gets it open and slides out the protective packaging that, indeed, holds a glass candy cane sex toy inside.

“Huh,” he says. He has no idea what else to say.

“It says it's a massager,” Brienne says quickly.

His mouth drops open and he looks up at her, down at the candy cane, then back to her again. “What exactly do you think this is massaging?”

“I-- I mean...” She's deep red – candy cane red. Her hands are folding and unfolding in her lap and her mouth is twisted like it doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. He hears Sansa say she adores you, and Bronn's chiding everybody knows, Tyrion's quiet what if it's real?

“Brienne,” Jaime says, and he's proud of himself that his voice doesn't crack at all on her name. “You bought me a sex toy for Christmas.”

She can't even look at him but he's still not sure if it's because she's mortified or nervous.

“I did,” she says very quietly.

“Did you mean to?” he asks her. He watches her intently, looking for some sign. It's out of the box, but it's still an enigma, and he can't seem to read Brienne at all now, there are too many things happening in her eyes and on her face to track any one of them.

“I did.” Somehow her whisper drops so low they're barely words at all, but to him they're clear as bells tolling loud on a silent morning.

“You bought me a sex toy for Christmas,” he repeats and, timid as a deer, her eyes dart around and then up to his. Whatever she sees there, it pulls her chin up, brave and proud as always.

“I did,” she says once more, with feeling.

Jaime slides the candy cane out of the packaging; it really is good quality, smooth and solid in his palm. His blood is rushing wildly in his body, but it's starting to gather in a particular direction as all the possibilities start to fall away, leaving just the real meaning behind Brienne's gift.

“Were you hoping I'd use it?” he asks. “On someone?”

He's worried for a moment he's pushed this too hard the wrong way – she jerks back a little and seems at a loss, but she recovers and the small furrow that he adores appears between her brows.

“I... I was hoping that I could use it on, on you,” she stammers. Brienne squares her broad shoulders. “I thought you should finally know how I feel about you.”

“That you like my ass?” he says, and the lightness is easy this time; hell, he feels like he might float away if the candy cane dildo weren't holding him here.

“No,” she snaps, and then smiles a little sheepishly. “Well, yes. But... we've been friends for a long time now, and it's unfair to not tell you that I... that... Jaime, I--” Brienne inhales and he knows exactly how she's feeling in this moment – the terror and hope and about-to-jump-out-of-a-plane breathlessness – because he's feeling every bit of it, too.

This time, he saves her.

“I love you, too, Brienne,” Jaime says, leaning nearer, giving her a last chance to push him away. She sighs, a deep, relieved exhalation, and meets him halfway.

It's a tender kiss, the kiss of two people who already know everything else about each other and are simply adding this new experience, like the last puzzle piece to complete the picture they've spent years building. Jaime's surrounded by Brienne – her taste, her smell, the feel of her mouth telling him everything she wants. Her hand wraps around his on the candy cane and he can't quite bite back the moan that rolls from his chest.

“Does this mean you like it?” she whispers into the corner of his mouth, and he uses his free hand to pull her even closer and show her exactly how much he does.

They're both gasping when they pull away, their hands still wrapped together around the glass toy. The sight of Brienne's long fingers circling the candy cane's length make Jaime nearly dizzy with want.

“It doesn't seem fair you get to be the only one to use your present tonight,” he tells her, looking up at her from under his lashes. She'd told him when they were drunk once that it was his least fair look because of its potency, and she shoves him a little with her free hand before climbing to her feet, pulling him up with her.

“We do want to be fair,” she says, kissing him hungrily again. Jaime's not sure for a moment they'll even make it to his bedroom, except the lube is there.

“Come on,” he says, leading her back. “Mine first, and then yours later.”

“And then?” she asks, pulling off her ugly sweater and leaving it on the floor of the hall. She's smiling in a way he's never seen, and he marvels that there are still new discoveries ahead of them, including the long stretch of her body hiding under her tank top and pajama pants. He's seen all of it – thanks to an early-days shower accident – but never in enough detail, not with her eyes scorching him with their desire as he takes her in in return.

“Then maybe I'll write Santa a long apology letter for not believing in him,” Jaime says, smirking a little. She wipes the smirk off his face when she pushes him down to the bed, taking the candy cane out of his hand entirely. She taps it against her thigh and Jaime's brain shorts out for a moment.

“Jaime.” Brienne's face is calm, but serious; her lips are wet and the set of her mouth is soft. Loving, he thinks. It's impossible to miss. “I do love you.”

What if it's real? he'd wondered, fretting through the long days and longer nights. He knows the answer now: his life will be better than he could have ever possibly imagined.

“Will you show me?” It's needy, but she knows that about him, too. He's still just Jaime with her, just like he's always been, and she loves him because of it. She smiles, a thrilling mix of wicked and fond.

“It's gonna be tough to beat this next year,” she says as she kneels down on the bed, helps him tug his own sweater off.

“Well,” he murmurs, kissing her neck, her shoulder, the line of her clavicle. “These aren't the only kinds of sex toys we can buy.”

This close, he can see the swirling patterns of the blood rushing over the pale skin of her chest.

“Now,” he continues, “come give me my present.”

Brienne pulls out the bottle of lube from his drawer – he should ask her later how she's so certain of where it was – and asks, “You're sure?”

This is who Brienne is: strong yet still a little uncertain, always concerned about Jaime's well-being. She's herself with him, too; he sees the masks she puts on even when their friends come over. The intimacy of it is like watching a lover get dressed for dinner. Jaime rubs his thumb over her wrist and hopes she can see all of his love and desire for her in his smile, all of his trust and admiration in his eyes. Her lips part a little and he can see all of hers for him, too, and there may never be a better Christmas than this, but he doesn't care because now they've got every other day of the year together and nothing will top that.

“Yes,” he tells her. Their friends were right. Maybe he'll thank them, too, if he doesn't die from too much happiness or rapid loss of blood to the brain. Brienne is surrounding him, her fingers pressing warm on his stomach, sliding down to the band of his pants. “This is exactly what I wanted.”

Her fingertips curl into his belly and he's already trembling. She sets the candy cane down and runs her hand through his hair, a movement she's done hundreds of times, but his scalp still tingles at her touch.

“Are you sure?” he asks, and it's not even for himself. He sees how often she's brave for him, how sometimes she needs cajoling to be brave for herself.

She pauses, leans down and kisses him sweetly. “Yes,” she whispers. “All I wanted for Christmas was you.”

“Then I think you cheated,” he says, grinning slyly up at her. She stops what her hands were doing to his hips and narrows her eyes.

“What do you mean?”

Jaime folds his arms under his head. “Every year you get me the perfect gift, and ever year I can never compete.”

“Because it's not a competition,” she says. She's breathing hard and he can see her heartbeat at her neck. He rises to press a kiss there and tastes it, too. “Are we really going to talk about this now?” Her voice is a greedy whine.

“I think it's important that you admit that you got my present for yourself this year, that's all,” he says into her skin before lying back down.

Brienne raises her eyebrows and, okay, he's regretting a little having stalled this, but it's worth it for the look of utter shock and growing offense on her face. “You realize this is the worst possible time to have this conversation, don't you?”

“I could think of worse times,” he says, nudging his pelvis up against her body straddling him.

They hold each other's stares and he sees the amusement crackling under the mild irritation. “Fine,” she admits. “I got your present for both of us. Happy?”


“May I continue?” Brienne's trying to be serious, but her mouth can't hide her own joy.

“Please do,” he tells her grandly. They both strip naked, and then they kiss for a long time, their hands roaming with growing urgency. Jaime discovers his palm fits the span of her ribs, that her mouth is just the right size to cover the v of his throat, that their legs slide together in a perfect tangle. Other things he's not surprised by – how they move in time, the way she laughs when he tickles her inner thigh with his nose, the carefulness with which she slowly enters him. It is all more than he knew and utterly familiar, discovery and reminder, setting off and coming home.

By the time they're done, he's sweat-soaked and limp and so content that his bones might actually have melted with pleasure. Brienne seems no better off where she's collapsed half-on top of him.

They doze and then wake and curl around each other as tightly as the stripes on a candy cane. “Brienne?” he whispers. She stirs a little, opens her eyes to look at him under sleepy lids. She's soft and pliant in his embrace, her hand rubbing gently over his chest. All he's ever wanted, here in his arms. How did he get so lucky? He'll tell her that later, and again tomorrow, and every day after that.

“What?” she asks when he just keeps staring at her. He loves her, and she loves him. She already knows what she's getting into.

“You're welcome for your awesome gift,” he says, and he doesn't stop laughing until she smothers him with kisses.