“Go away,” Brienne said.
The genie shook his head. “Not until you make your three wishes.”
“I don’t want to make three wishes,” she said sullenly. “I don’t believe in wishes. I don’t believe in any of this.”
Wishing never did anyone ever good. She’d learned that long ago.
“No?” The genie stretched, flaunting his bare chest: muscles flexed distractingly under all that smooth golden skin, a light trail of hair leading down to the waistband of his gauzy harem pants –
Brienne tore her eyes away.
Save for bracers on his wrists, it was the only covering he had. That, and a thin golden anklet wrought with tinkling bells. He rang sweetly with every step.
“Well, I’m not going anywhere until you do,” he said. “It’s entirely up to you.”
She glowered at him. “The next time I find a glass bottle on a deserted beach, I’m throwing it back into the waves.”
“Come on,” the genie said. “You must want something. Anything.”
He snapped his fingers, and a handsome black-haired prince stood before her, all blue eyes and close-cropped beard.
“Oh, not him,” he said dismissively, “entirely wrong for you.” He snapped his fingers, and the prince was replaced by a burly red-bearded man wearing furs and carrying an axe.
“No!” Brienne exclaimed.
Another snap of the fingers, and the wildling raider was gone.
The genie looked at her. “A princess, perhaps?” he asked. “It’s all fine, you know.”
“I don’t want anyone,” Brienne said sullenly.
It was not – strictly – true. Her eyes kept straying to the dim shadows beneath his gauzy pants, and every time those damned bells rang a shiver ran down her spine.
But it was impossible to ask for things like that.
“Oh, fine!” Brienne threw her hands up. “I wish I had a magic sword.”
He beamed at her. “There, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Although – ” He frowned. “How I’m supposed to find enough Valyrian steel –”
“Aha! I knew it.” She pointed her finger at him accusingly. “You can’t do it.”
“I can do it,” he scowled, his eyes narrowed. He snapped his fingers, and a Valyrian steel sword appeared on the coffee table, the blade rippling black and red and the hilt shaped like a golden lion, with rubies for eyes.
She drew in her breath. Reverently, she lifted it, and found the balance was perfect. As if it had been made for her hand, and no other’s.
That night, the news reported a mysterious break-in at Winterfell castle, and the theft of House Stark’s ancient greatsword, Ice.
“You’re a fraud,” she accused him. “You had to steal someone else’s sword to make mine.”
He glowered at her. “Even I have to obey the laws of physics. Only death can pay for life.”
She blinked. “Well that makes – no sense at all.”
“Think of it this way. Everything has a price. Nothing for nothing.”
Of course. She might have known it from the start. “Now look what’s happened. When the goldcloaks show up asking questions about missing swords –”
“– I’ll tell them that I’ve got a genie who refuses to leave me alone until I make three wishes, and every one of those wishes will probably be double-edged –”
“Well, that’s what magic is!”
“ – and I’ve just been telling you, I never wanted anything to do with this! I was perfectly happy before I ever rubbed that bloody bottle and you came oozing out, with your perfect hair and your jawline and your – your harem pants –”
She squeezed her eyes shut and turned away.
She heard the bells of his anklet ring. She felt the warmth of him behind her. She felt his arms go around her in a cautious hug. He pressed against her, solid and warm –
“What do you want, Brienne?” he asked her. His voice rumbled in her bones. “All men – and women – are allowed to want. Even genies.”
“Wanting is not the same as having,” she said thickly.
“No.” He sounded – sad. As if he, too, had once made a wish that turned in his hand. “But surely there’s something worth reaching out for, no matter the price.”
She didn’t know what she wanted. She only knew –
She turned in his arms, and kissed him.