The early morning fog still curled around the trees when Brienne rolled from beneath the heavy blankets of her large bed and padded towards the kitchen to flick on the coffeemaker. Grumkin joined her, pushing his wiry head against her hand until she scratched the spot just behind his ears. Through the window, she could make out the scraggly shape of pines and the autumnal-hued leaves of the other trees tracing the lines and curves of the valley nestled in the heart of the mountains, and she breathed deeply. No matter how long she spent in King’s Landing, the mountains and coasts of Tarth were a balm to her tired soul.
Eyeing the coffeemaker--ancient and slow, but somehow she never thought to replace it when she was here--she headed back into the bedroom to change into her running gear. By the time she had done the length of the long drive and back, the coffee should be brewed and she’d be awake enough to shower and begin work on her draft. Grumkin followed her out of the small, once-modern cabin and down the hard-packed dirt, a mile down to the road and back.
The sun had begun to lighten the sky from grey to blue and burn away the heavy fog, leaving the air cool and damp as she ran. From her left, a startled bird burst from the long grass, and deeper in the trees other songbirds fell silent as they waited to see what threat disturbed them. Months could go without anyone coming up here, and even then they rarely stayed more than a few days. On mornings like this, it was easy to believe she was the only one who had ever seen these trees, bathed in the creek that ran down the mountainside.
Back in the cabin, she showered quickly and turned on her phone as she poured her coffee. There was an email from her editor--some minor feedback on her latest chapter--and one from Jaime.
Thinking of you, it said, I hope your writing is going well, I miss you. They were soft words, tempered by distance, and she was filled with a sudden longing to hear his voice, amused and sharp through the phone. She replied to her editor and closed Jaime’s message with the intention of responding in the evening when she could tell him more, take the time to describe the silence of the cabin, the way it was easier to breathe here. Perhaps she’d phone him, if she finished early enough.
Grumkin knew the routine, and when Brienne sat at her desk, strewn with her notes and copies of police reports, he grabbed a bone and sprawled before the enormous unlit fireplace. Her desk faced the wall of windows that ran the length of the east side of the cabin, so she could watch the sun as it rose over the mountain peaks. They’d break midmorning for food and a game of fetch, and again mid-afternoon before she worked through until hunger made her finish up for the night.
She was deep into the suggested revisions on one of the earlier chapters when she heard the very distant sound of a motor; she dismissed it at first, because there was no reason for anybody to come this far up the road, until Grumkin lifted his head and thumped his tail. A moment later the churning sound of tires on dirt reached her, and she saved her files and locked the laptop. There was a nondescript truck tucked beside hers, and as she swung open the screen door she saw a familiar figure unfold from the cab.
She smiled and jogged down the stairs and across the grass, expecting him to greet her with his radiant smile. But his step was too heavy, too slow, and as they met in the middle of the yard he raised his eyes to meet hers. It had only been a few weeks, but the lines on his face seemed deeper, his eyes darker.
“They found her, Brienne,” was all he said.
“Come inside,” she replied. “I have coffee.”
Jaime had been to the cabin half a dozen times, when Brienne wasn’t here to work, but he stood in the middle of the living room with his hands at his side, looking entirely out of place.
“How’s the book?” he asked. “I’m sorry, I know you really needed to--”
“No,” she said. Awkwardly, as if… “I’m glad you came.”
He nodded, a vague sort of bob of his head, and moved towards her desk.
“There’s nothing new, I’m afraid,” she called over her shoulder, heading into the kitchen. Bypassing the hours-old coffee pot, she pulled a bottle of whiskey from a cupboard and grabbed two tumblers.
When she came back out, Jaime’s head was bent as he read one of the papers on her desk, his knuckles white as he gripped the edge of it. Grumkin sat beside him, looking like a silent sentinel to his turmoil.
“Drinks,” Brienne said.
“I don’t…” he said absently, and then turned to her. “I know one of the officers. From the arrest report. We were…”
“At the academy together,” Brienne finished, setting aside the whiskey and glasses and moving towards him. “This is why you didn’t want to know any of the details before I published, remember?”
The details were a critical exposé of the King’s Landing Goldcloaks through the events of the Stark sisters’ disappearance. Jaime had left the force by then, of course, but there had been a time when the men she wrote about had been like a family to him, one he’d spent too long trying to believe the best of. He’d been more supportive than anyone about the project, had put her in contact with people who knew people until she’d had a contract in hand, but he’d tried to avoid knowing the whos and whens.
Jaime rubbed his hand over his face and sighed. “I know. I just…”
“Do you want to talk about it?” She nodded towards the enormous couch by the fireplace, an old quilt draped over the back. Jaime crossed the small room, Grumkin following, and sat down, rubbing his hands over his knees; she could think of only a few times she had ever seen him like this, so out of ease she could read it in his body. She picked up the whiskey and brought it over, pouring them each a drink and handing Jaime his before stepping over the dog to settle next to him, aware of his body against hers--the press of thigh against thigh, shoulder against shoulder. They were of a height like this. An idle, ridiculous thought, but better than…
Jaime drew a long sip of his whiskey. “Last night, I got a phone call from a friend out by Dragonstone. A hiker was exploring one of the old cave systems and found… remains. They haven’t made an official identification, but some of the jewelry… It’s Rhaella. It has to be.”
She laid a hand over his, enfolding his fingers and squeezing gently. “I’m sorry.”
“I guess I thought--” he scoffed. “I guess I never stopped hoping that she really had left him.”
“You were barely more than a kid,” Brienne said softly. “The police failed her, and--”
“I was the police.”
“I know. But the stuff that made Aerys untouchable… that’s more than one person could fix, Jaime.”
Beneath her fingers, his hand tensed and then relaxed. He’d stayed too long in the force, believing that if he did long enough he could change it and found it changing him instead; the guilt he carried was a heavy burden, even now, but she’d seen it too.
She wished she was better with words in moments like this--to write it was simple, to humanise and sympathise, to give innocents a voice… it was easier to do it on the page than to find the words to say, easier than resisting the long-engrained urge to run and hide, but perhaps this--the press of body against body, the understanding… perhaps this was enough.
They drank in silence. The slanted light of afternoon had turned the sky grey once more and the crickets had begun, a hazy sort of comfort that cocooned them, until Jaime finished his whiskey and set his tumbler aside.
“I couldn’t sleep, after I heard. I just…” He sighed.
“Come lie down, then,” she said softly. “Take a nap. I’ll join you.”
“Don’t you have to…” Jaime gestured towards her desk.
“I’m ahead of schedule, taking the afternoon won’t make a difference.”
She wasn’t, but it didn’t matter. With a soft stay to the dog, Brienne took Jaime by the hand and pulled him up from the couch, then led him through to the bedroom.
Her bed was still unmade from the morning, but Jaime kicked off his shoes and pulled off his sweater before collapsing onto it sideways.
“Scoot over,” she said, pulling off her jeans. He gave a disgruntled mumble as he moved to lie the right way, and she smiled as she climbed in beside him.
He wrapped his arms around her, resting his head against her shoulder and giving a gentle sigh. She stroked his hair, watching the grey-tinged gold slide through her fingers until his even breaths told her he had fallen asleep.
Brienne dozed as the sunlight warmed the room; it was not by much, this time of year, but the windows faced west and it was enough for the rays to feel like an indulgence. She could move, now that Jaime was asleep, head into the other room to work on her book or turn on her phone to see if she could pull up more about the body on Dragonstone, years of being driven by work and guilt hard habits to break, but she stayed instead. Felt the slowly creeping light warm her legs, the small movements of Jaime at rest.
She had thought, once, that home was a fortress to carry with her, unassailable as the walls of her ancestral home. To love someone was a risk, and no matter her courage the prize had never seemed worth the price. And then she had met Jaime, entirely by chance, and he’d had his own walls; they had both, in the early days, fled behind them at the first sign of emotion, good or bad, but they’d always stepped back out afterwards, hands raised, trying again. It had been a choice they’d had to make, trusting-- She loved him for so many reasons, but none more than that.
As if sensing her thoughts, he stirred, peering up at her with half-opened eyes, his brow furrowing as he remembered where he was, why he was here. She stroked his cheek, the sharp line of his jaw, drifting her thumb over his lips. They were warm, and dry, and softer than even her memory had supplied her with these weeks apart, when he moved up and kissed her.
His breath was stale from sleep, from his journey here, but there was a sweetness in that, in the familiarity of his lips moving against hers, his hand rising to cup her neck; she slid her own hand against his side, feeling the rise and fall of his chest through the sun-warmed cotton of his shirt. Smiling, she rolled over, putting a knee either side of his hips and pulling away just enough that he could look up at her; half his hair was askew and his eyes were still half closed, and the raw openness of seeing him like this meant more than all the polished moments combined.
“What?” he mumbled, and she shook her head.
“Nothing important,” she said, leaning down to nuzzle his ear, the curve of his throat, breathing in the warmth of his skin as she slowly unbuttoned his shirt, pushed the fabric aside.
Time hung suspended in the room, as pale and delicate as spider’s silk, the afternoon sunlight making the whole room golden as Brienne kissed down his chest, lingering in the spots that made him laugh or gasp, her hand slipping ahead to strip them both, to feel the weight of his cock against her palm. She took it in her mouth, running her tongue along its underseam, until he made a small noise of protest, pulled her up to kiss her again.
They fit together so well like this, chest to chest, cock in cunt; moved so well together, every slow roll of hips, every sure grip pulling pleasure between them like warmed seaside taffy. She could continue just so, the nearness pleasure enough, but he slipped his hand between them, brushed her clit just so until she gasped against his mouth, sat upright to ride him better. She closed her eyes, letting the warmth of the sun and the intimacy of the moment roll over her, slow and inevitable and utterly perfect.
It was late when she woke again, and her stomach grumbled. Pulling herself from Jaime’s clinging hold--they did not often sleep entwined, but under the circumstances she was loath to deny either of them this modicum of comfort--she tugged on underwear and Jaime’s sweater, the nearest things to hand, and headed into the living room. Grumkin leapt up when he saw her, and she grabbed some leftovers to put in the microwave and then headed to the door to let him out. He promptly ran to the treeline, barking gleefully, and she stood on the porch to await his return. When her legs turned too cold to remain outside and the microwave dinged, she gave a sharp whistle and waited for Grumkin’s loping gait to bring him back home.
Brushing leaves from his coat, they headed back indoors where she fed him his dinner and grabbed a fork to eat her own. She moved towards the window wall as she ate; the moon was nearly full and sat heavy in the sky, and the lack of light pollution meant she could see more stars than she ever could in the city. She watched clouds race across the vast firmament, mapped constellations she’d learnt at her father’s knee; so distracted by her stargazing, she didn’t notice Jaime’s approach until he wrapped his arms around her waist, leaning up to rest his chin against her shoulder..
“I like this on you,” he said in his sleep-rough voice, tugging the hem of his sweater. It only fit her because he liked to put several layers beneath it, but she bit back the impulse to tell him so. He liked it on her; the whys did not matter, or change the fact he did.
“It was cold,” she said instead.
“Mmm,” he agreed, breathing deeply. “I can smell it on you.”
His hands had slid down, skimming against her thighs. His thumbnail traced the edge of her underwear, not pushing beneath it, and he pressed soft, open-mouthed kisses against her neck. Her eyes drifted shut, lingering in the brush of his lips, his beard against her skin. She turned in his arms, flicking her eyes over him--the mussed hair, the breadth of his bare shoulders and chest, the way her pyjama pants hung against his hips.
“What?” he asked, smirking.
She looped her arms around his neck rather than answer, leaning in to kiss him. His breath was warm, familiar, and she smiled into it. His hands crept higher, the width of his palms spanning her hips, his fingertips digging into the flesh; it was never possessive, the way he held her, and never uncertain. She caught his bottom lip between her teeth, growling softly.
His fingers hooked under the edge of her underwear and pushed them down, grinning as he did so; it was a sharp, feral thing against her mouth, hungry, and she barely managed to step out of her underwear before he was walking her backwards until she was against the window, the glass cool against her back. The sweater was pulled off next, his eyes glinting as he tugged it up and over her head and tossed it aside before kissing her breasts, all warm breath against her flesh and then the flick of his tongue. She wanted to touch him, wanted to feel every movement; she laced one hand through his hair and set the other against his shoulders as she pushed him to his knees.
The moonlight shone into the room from over her shoulder, setting his face alight as he looked up at her--wet lips, blown pupils, the very picture of desire. He held her gaze as he slid one palm around the back of her thigh, guiding her leg over his shoulder, as he put his mouth on her. Her head thumped against the glass and he laughed, the sound vibrating against her flesh.
The broad swipe of his tongue, the careful, targeted flicks and sucks; he was fucking her with a single-minded devotion and she could barely hang on, her fingers anchored in his hair and her eyes screwed shut and this short, gasping ache in her chest, she was going to come and she needed, needed--
“Jaime,” she moaned, something, she didn’t know what it was she wanted, not when he was fucking her with his tongue, but he heard it anyway--holding her hips, he pressed her more firmly against the glass and rededicated himself to tipping her over the edge, faster now, stronger, so that when her climax hit, a punch to the gut that left her gasping and breathless, she was braced against the window and remained upright.
When he pulled away, mouth glinting in the silver of the moonlight, she slid her leg from his shoulder, slid to the ground, her back still against the wall and the floor cool beneath her. He moved to sit next to her, their heavy breaths the only sound between them. There was a bead of sweat at his hairline, a flush to his skin. She waited.
“Last night,” he said, after a few minutes, finally finding all the things he hadn’t been able to articulate before. “Last night, I couldn’t sleep. I got in my car, drove to Storm’s End, caught the ferry. Rented a truck at the other end. I wasn’t even thinking, not really.”
“Brienne,” he said, quiet but adamant. “All I wanted last night was this.”
“Seducing me beneath the stars?”
He chuckled. “No. And this definitely does not count as beneath the stars. I just…” Taking her hand in his, he stroked each finger, lingering over each knuckle and ridge until he reached the plain engagement band on her finger--titanium inlaid with Tarth marble and oak. “I wanted this. Somewhere to run to, finally. I don’t think I truly realised...”
She turned her hand, so that their fingers laced together, and leaned her head against his shoulder. “I’m glad,” she said quietly. “Are you staying?”
Once that question would have meant something else, some uncertainty of the future, but not now.
His cheek rested against hair, and his breath tickled when he spoke. “A few days, if you don’t mind. I have that conference next week, but I’m free until then.”
She breathed deeply, enough that she could smell the sweat of a long day against his skin, and let the wave of contentment wash over her. “I’m glad,” she repeated.
The smell of eggs and bacon woke Brienne up the next morning, and as she opened her eyes she smiled at the rumpled pillows on the other side of the bed. He’d told her once that he’d been a restless sleeper as a child, often waking head to foot or half off the bed. He hadn’t slept that well in years, he’d admitted then, and now every misplaced pillow or twisted sheet meant more than just a few extra minutes to make the bed. Not that she bothered to make it today--breakfast was waiting, and she pulled on a robe and headed towards the kitchen.
Jaime was cooking, still in nothing but a low-slung pair of her pyjama pants. The ones with little acorns on them, and the complete incongruity of it was charming.
“Morning,” she said, stepping up behind him to wrap her arms around his waist and press a kiss to his shoulder.
“Morning,” he replied. “Coffee’s on, if you would…”
She gave a low hum and pulled away from the warmth of his body to grab two mugs, pouring them each a coffee.
“I was going to take Grumkin for a hike today,” Jaime said, “but then I saw the state of the cupboards. Were you attempting to contract scurvy while you were here?”
Brienne laughed. She’d run out of fresh fruit and vegetables days ago, always intending to head into town instead of relying on increasingly dubious ready meals and tinned goods, but she never had. After a day of work, sticking something in the oven was about the extent of her cooking desires anyway.
“All island girls want to be pirates at least once,” she said.
“Mhmm,” he replied, one corner of his mouth curling up as he dished out the eggs and bacon. “Still, it sounds inconvenient. I’ll head into town for groceries, let you get on with your work. I’ve got some notes to run through this afternoon, but I brought my laptop. Won’t even know I’m here.”
Brienne handed him his coffee and took her plate, impulsively leaning in to kiss his cheek as she did. “I’ll know,” she said, “but I’d rather be alone with you.”
Outside, the trees and mountains were wrapped in fog, and she breathed.