Title: The Lion and the Maiden Fair

Author: PrettyPoppy

Summary: On the eve of battle, Brienne sneaks into Jaime's chamber at Winterfell to say goodbye for the last time, but Jaime wants more than a quick reunion and a fond farewell. Jaime wants Brienne.


It was the dead of night, and Winterfell's halls were as quiet as a tomb, as Brienne of Tarth stood before Jaime Lannister's door, trying to summon up the courage to knock. He had arrived less than an hour earlier, but by the time she had gotten word and had made it to the West Gate, he was already safely ensconced in the Guest House. The entire north was heading into battle in the morning, and they needed every last man they could get, even Jaime Lannister. For weeks, Jon and Daenerys had waited for word of the army Cersei had promised them, but word never came. Now, on the eve before the battle, Jaime was suddenly at Winterfell, no army in sight. Brienne didn't know what that meant, why he had come alone, but she needed to see him all the same.

And yet, she was reluctant to knock on his door. It had been weeks since she had seen Jaime, and even then, they hadn't been alone. This was the first time in a long time that she would share a private moment with him, and her heart trembled at the thought. A lot had changed since she and Jaime had first met. As the years had passed, they had grown closer, and she'd begun to feel an affection for him that went far beyond mere friendship. She loved Jaime Lannister as a woman loves a man. She loved him with all her heart and all her soul, and she feared, if they were alone together for too long, he might finally realize it, and that was the last thing she wanted. They were friends, comrades-in-arms. They were not lovers. They could never be lovers. And she didn't want Jaime to ever know the truth that was so deeply etched in her heart.

Brienne inhaled a slow breath, willing her heart to stop racing. She was tempted to turn around and return to her own chamber without a word. The coming day would be a long and difficult one, one she might not survive. She needed her rest if she was going to be in good form on the morrow. And yet, even if she retired for the evening, she knew her heart and mind would still be with Jaime. There was no avoiding it. She needed to see him, to talk to him, one last time before they both headed off into battle and near certain death.

Brienne's heart fluttered wildly as she lifted her hand and knocked on the door. She waited for an answer, but there was none. She knew it had been a long journey from King's Landing, and she feared Jaime was already asleep. If he were, she wouldn't see him until morning, and they'd never have a chance to see each other alone again. The next time she saw him would be on the battlefield, surrounded by thousands of men, the time and place for sentiment long passed.

No, if she wanted to see Jaime before the battle, it had to be now.

Brienne knocked again, and when there was still no answer, she slowly opened the door and peered inside.

Jaime lay motionless on the large bed in the center of the room. He was curled up on his side, facing the doorway, his eyes still closed. He was dressed in just a tunic and breeches, his boots and armor discarded on a trunk at the foot of the bed, along with his golden hand.

Brienne's heart caught in her throat as she examined him. His clothes were unkempt and caked with mud. His face looked haggard, and a thick growth of stubble covered his chin as if he hadn't shaved in days. He was as still and silent as a corpse, and she feared the hard ride from King's Landing had been too much for him.

Brienne glanced over her shoulder to make sure that there was no one spying on her in the corridor. Then, she silently slipped into the room, closing the door behind her.

With cautious steps, she approached the bed, holding her breath the entire time. She was tempted to retreat, to turn around and sneak back to her own bedchamber and forget all about Jaime. But she knew she could never forget about Jaime. No matter how hard she tried.

Brienne stopped beside the bed, staring down at the man she loved more than life itself, trying to summon up the courage to wake him. Finally, she managed a single word, "Jaime."

She said it softly, so softly, in fact, that he probably wouldn't have heard her even if he'd been awake. She shored up her resolve and said it louder this time, "Jaime."

He stirred at the sound of his name, and Brienne froze, suddenly terrified of what he might think if he awoke to find her standing above him. He obviously needed his rest. If she woke him, it would not be for his benefit but for hers. She was being selfish, and she knew she should just turn around and let Jaime get some sleep.

Brienne tried to step away from the bed, but her legs wouldn't move. She had never been selfish before, not in all her life, but there was a first time for everything. She knew she might die in the coming days, and all she wanted was one last moment with Jaime, just to talk, just to see his face and hear his voice and know that she meant something more to him than all the other soldiers who would join them on the battlefield. It was foolish and selfish, but she wanted it just the same.

With trembling fingers, she leaned over the bed and touched Jaime's shoulder. She shook him gently, trying not to jar him awake. "Jaime, wake up."

Jaime turned onto his back, and Brienne quickly pulled her hand away, not wanting him to know that she had touched him. She straightened her spine and watched as he struggled to regain consciousness, rubbing his eyes and looking up at her in confusion. It took him a moment to get his bearings, but finally, his eyes seemed to focus, and he asked, "Brienne? What are you doing here?"

The sound of her name on his lips made the breath catch in her throat. It was good to hear his voice again, to see his eyes staring back at her. Being so close to him made it difficult for Brienne to speak, but she knew she couldn't just stand there staring at him all night. She had to say something. "I heard news of your arrival, and I wanted to see you before Daenerys and Jon had you thrown out."

Jaime laughed. It was a rough sound, but it made Brienne's heart beat faster all the same.

He pushed himself up to rest against the headboard, his eyes still on Brienne. "I wouldn't be surprised if they did. If I were them, I'd throw me out."

"What are you doing here, Jaime?" Brienne asked, her tone serious. "By all accounts, you came alone. Your sister promised us an army, but—"

"There is no army. At least, not one she intends to share. They're not coming. I'm all you've got."

Brienne stared at Jaime in stunned horror. As the time for battle had neared, the inhabitants of Winterfell had begun to suspect that Cersei's promise had been a lie, but to know it for certain now, on the eve of battle, was frighteningly sobering.

"So you've brought no reinforcements," Brienne said, her tone incredulous.

"No, no reinforcements. Just me." With mock pride, he said, "I am here to offer my services in the fight against the Night King, to die with honor and glory, and to have minstrels sing about my brave deeds for centuries to come."

"You're not here for glory. You don't give a damn about glory. So why are you really here?"

He laughed again, though this time there was a pained expression on his face. "Cersei ordered the Mountain to kill me. That was enough to drive me from her once and for all."

Brienne's eyes narrowed on Jaime as she struggled to make sense of his words. "If that were true, you'd be dead by now. Unless, of course, you killed the Mountain yourself."

"Oh, I assure you, the Mountain is alive and well. Well, as alive and well as a reanimated corpse ever can be. I simply walked away, and the Mountain didn't follow."

"Then Cersei didn't truly want you dead. If she wanted to kill you, she would have killed you."

"I suppose you're right," Jaime said with a sigh. "But it doesn't matter. I know what my sister is now, and I have no use for her anymore."

As much as Brienne wanted to believe that was true, she knew Jaime too well to believe it. He loved Cersei Lannister with an unholy passion. She had been his world since the day they had both been born, and no matter what other women came into his life, he would always love Cersei above all others. She was his one weakness, his one great failing, the one thing Brienne didn't think she could ever forgive him for. Of course, Brienne understood, better than most, the misguided things that love could make a person do. But the things Jaime had done for Cersei went beyond mere folly. They were cruel, evil things. And Brienne was certain that as long as Cersei Lannister lived, Jaime's heart would always belong to her.

"You can say that all you want," Brienne replied, "but we both know it's not true."

"It is this time. I'm done with her. I'm here to fight for Westeros, not to spy for Cersei. I have every intention of dying in the coming battle, and I shall do so gladly. After all, what do I have left? My entire family is dead except for Cersei and Tyrion, and one of them despises me and the other doesn't need me. Better I should end my life doing something noble than sit at Cersei's feet and wait for her to finally develop a conscience. It won't happen. It's never going to happen."

Brienne shook her head. "You have plenty of other things to live for, but I won't argue the point. If you are here to fight beside us, then I'm glad. It's the first intelligent thing you've ever done."

Jaime laughed. "Yes, because jumping into a bear pit to rescue you was exceedingly foolish."

Brienne's cheeks warmed at the memory. Jaime had done her more than one kindness in the time they'd known each other, and she would always be grateful for it. But whenever he was near Cersei, his more benevolent instincts seemed to fail him and he lost touch with the better part of himself.

"Foolish," she replied, "but greatly appreciated. I will never forget what you did for me when we were taken by Roose Bolton's men. You saved me from more than one cruelty, and I shall always be grateful."

"You don't need to be grateful," Jaime said as he shifted on the bed to make himself more comfortable. "Gods know, at least I have some good deeds to weigh against all my sins."

"Still, I am grateful, Jaime. Thank you."

He didn't say anything in reply. He just stared at her, a serious cast to his eyes, and she would have given anything in the world to know what he was thinking. The silence dragged on awkwardly, and the longer it lasted, the more aware Brienne became of the situation they had currently found themselves in. They were alone in Jaime's bedchamber. He was half dressed and already lying on the bed. Had she been more of a lady and less of a knight, the situation would have been indecent. But then, they had once bathed together, so they'd already passed indecent a long time ago. Brienne wished things were different between them. For the first time in her life, she wished that she was a beautiful woman, dressed all in silks and lace, and that Jaime could look at her the way he looked at Cersei. Although Brienne had loved many men in her life – from afar, of course – she had loved no one more than Jaime Lannister. Not even Renly Baratheon, for whom she would have given her life.

"You're not the only one who is grateful, you know," Jaime said, finally breaking the silence. "Before I met you, I was a different man. Selfish, self-absorbed, cruel even. But you taught me that there was no shame in being noble or kind, and I will always be grateful to you for that, Brienne of the Sapphire Isle."

He said her name so softly, so sweetly, that it almost sounded like an endearment, and Brienne's heart skipped a single beat. She knew Jaime was exhausted and heartbroken over Cersei, but that was no reason for him to be looking at her the way he was looking at her now. There was a warmth in his eyes she hadn't seen before, a longing that was so foreign that she barely recognized it for what it was. Was it desire she saw in his eyes? If it was, she couldn't quite imagine why.

Brienne broke his gaze, suddenly discomfited by his stare. She took a moment to compose herself before looking at him again and replying, "Well, then I'm glad that our paths crossed because you do have goodness in you, Jaime Lannister, and I'm glad you are finally able to see that."

"I've been such a fool," he said as if the words were meant for his ears alone. "Such a fool. I've spent my entire life chasing after a woman who is incapable of loving anyone but herself. And the one time I find someone who is good and true and kind, I walk away from her and return to my shrew of a sister."

Brienne wondered if Jaime was talking about her. She had never expected him to say such a thing, and now, she was beginning to wonder exactly what he was thinking. She knew that she loved him and would gladly go to his bed if he asked her to. But was that what he wanted, or was he just rambling because he was tired and lonely and Cersei had turned her back on him? Did he really want her, or did he just want to ease the pain of losing the woman he loved?

"You have turned away from her now," Brienne replied, for want of something better to say. "And that's all that matters."

"Is it? Is it really?"

"Yes, Jaime, it is. You could have stayed in King's Landing. You could have remained by her side and watched the rest of us die. But you didn't. You did the dutiful thing, the honorable thing. You came north to join the fight, and in the end, that's all that matters."

He eyed her skeptically, as if he doubted every last word she had said. "But duty and honor aren't all that matter in this world, are they?"

"They are all that matter for a knight."

"But we aren't just knights, are we?"

"I'm not a knight at all," Brienne said, correcting him.

Jaime gave her a censorious look, as if admonishing her for even making the distinction. "We aren't just knights," he said. "I'm a man, and you're a woman, and there's something in this world that matters more to men and women than duty and honor, and we both know it."

Brienne was tempted to move away from the bed. She was overwhelmed by Jaime's words, and she wanted to run. But she held her ground because she was no coward. His words were powerful, yes, but they were just words, and they couldn't affect her if she didn't allow them to.

"I suppose you mean love," Brienne said, keeping her voice calm through sheer willpower alone.

Jaime smiled. "Ah, I knew you couldn't pretend forever. You are a woman, after all, Brienne of Tarth, and despite the sword you carry at your hip, you have a woman's heart."

"I've never pretended otherwise."

"Yes, you have. You loved Renly Baratheon, but you denied it bitterly. I suppose you thought it dishonorable to long for the man you were sworn to serve. But there was no dishonor in it. There's never dishonor in love."

Brienne wanted to argue with him – after all, there was great dishonor in being in love with one's own sister – but she held her tongue. She didn't want to talk about Cersei anymore. She wanted to know what Jaime's intentions were, what he wanted from her.

"Look," Jaime said, "you can't even deny it."

"Why should I deny it? Renly was an honorable man, and I cared for him a great deal."

Jaime snickered. "An honorable man? Renly Baratheon? He had no right to claim the throne for himself, and he liked men in his bed. There was nothing honorable about him. But he was pretty, I'll give him that. And women like pretty men, don't they? Even if those men don't fancy them in return."

"What is your point?" Brienne asked coldly, her patience beginning to wane. Nothing Jaime said could change her opinion of Renly. She had known what he was, and it had never mattered. Even now, she still cared for Renly, even though Jaime had long since replaced him in her heart.

Jaime shifted on the bed, leaning forward so that he was closer to Brienne. "My point is, you are more than capable of falling in love, Brienne of Tarth, and perhaps, Renly Baratheon isn't the only man you've ever felt an affection for."

Brienne swallowed the lump in her throat as she stared back at Jaime, his eyes keen with challenge. He wanted her to confess her feelings for him, didn't he? Brienne was certain that's what he wanted now, though she didn't know if she was brave enough to admit the truth.

"I have felt affection for many people throughout my life," Brienne replied, fighting to keep her voice steady. "My father, Renly, the Stark girls, and . . ."

"And who?"

Jaime stared at her with knowing eyes, and Brienne knew all she had to do was tell him the truth. But she was scared. She had never confessed her love for anyone before, and suddenly, she wondered if this wasn't all part of some cruel joke. She wondered if Jaime would laugh at her the instant she spoke the words. But no, no, she reassured herself. Despite the ridicule she had received all her life from handsome men, Jaime's question was sincere, his intentions honorable. She trusted him, with her heart and with her life, and so, despite the fear gnawing at her belly, she replied. "And you."

Jaime smiled. "See? Was that so terrible?"

"You know that I care for you. You have been a true and loyal friend—"

Jaime made a tsking noise with his tongue, cutting her off. "Really, Brienne? Have we come this far for you to simply play the coward now? Your feelings for me go far beyond friendship. Why pretend otherwise? Particularly when we both might die tomorrow."

Brienne inhaled a steadying breath. She knew now that Jaime wasn't going to let her leave the room without confessing her feelings for him. She didn't know why it suddenly mattered to him, after all this time. Maybe he was tired of Cersei and her games. Maybe he was just certain that he was going to die on the morrow and didn't want to spend the night alone. Whatever the reason, Brienne knew she couldn't run from the truth. To do so would be to take the coward's way out, and she had never been a coward.

"What is it that you want me to say?" Brienne asked.

"Tell me how you feel about me," he said with a halfhearted shrug. "How you really feel about me."

"You seem to already know, or at least, you think you know."

"Of course, I know. I'm a man, and you're a woman, and anyone who sees us together can tell how you feel about me. So I suppose the real question is, how do I feel about you?"

Brienne's heart thudded against her ribs. She hadn't expected the conversation to turn toward his feelings, and she wondered if that meant he was going to make a confession of his own.

Although Brienne had loved Jaime for what seemed like forever, she had never imagined him declaring his love. Just as she had done with Renly, she had held her love for him close to her heart, certain that it would never be returned. But now, Jaime was giving her hope, and had circumstances been even slightly different, she would have assumed it was a false hope. But she could see by the look in his eyes that he truly felt something for her, though she still wasn't quite sure it was love.

"How do you feel about me?" Brienne asked, forcing the words through the tightness in her throat.

"Lock the door, and I'll show you."

Brienne's eyes widened, and she stared at Jaime in stunned disbelief. She had never expected such a reply, and she simply didn't know how to react.

Jaime moved to the edge of the bed as if he intended to rise. "Perhaps you would like me to be the one to lock the door."

"No!" Brienne replied hastily, holding out her hand to stop him from leaving the bed. She couldn't disguise the hint of panic in her voice, but she did her best to cover it up by saying, "You're not well. You should lie down."

"Only if you join me."

Brienne stared at him again, unable to move. Jaime had already made up his mind about what he wanted, and it was only a matter of time before he wore her down and she found herself in his bed. Although Brienne had fought many men in her time, she had never been bedded by one before. She was still very much a maid, and despite her rough exterior, a maid's heart still beat beneath her breast. She wanted to make love to Jaime Lannister more than she had ever wanted anything before in her entire life, but she feared she wasn't brave enough to go to his bed.

Without allowing herself a moment to reconsider, Brienne turned around and walked toward the door, the blood thrumming through her veins, her skin flushed with warmth. She knew all she had to do was lock the door and her fate would be sealed. And she was terrified. In that moment, she would have rather faced an entire army of White Walkers than the man lying on the bed behind her.

When she finally reached the door, she stopped, her fingers stilling on the iron key already in the lock. She stood there for the longest time, completely motionless. She could feel Jaime's eyes upon her. She knew what he wanted. She just didn't know if she could give it to him.

"It's not that difficult, Brienne. Just turn the key in the lock."

She wanted to. She truly did. But she knew it was wrong. Although he had implied that he loved her, he hadn't actually confessed anything. In fact, all Brienne knew for certain was that Jaime still cared for Cersei. How could she lie with a man who loved another? It just wasn't right.

"I can't," Brienne said, her fingers trembling against the key.

"Of course, you can," Jaime said. "You're a grown woman, Brienne of Tarth. A beautiful woman. And it's well past time that you let someone love you."

Had he said anything else, Brienne might have remained unmoved, but the truth was, she had wanted to be loved all her life, and she couldn't deny herself any longer. Tears threatened behind her eyes, and she inhaled a sharp breath, determined to hold them back. Quickly, before she could allow herself to change her mind, she turned the key in the lock, the sound deafening in the quiet room.

The air stilled in Brienne's throat. There was no turning back now. She had made her choice, and whatever happened, she refused to ever regret it.

Slowly, Brienne turned around and looked at Jaime. He was sitting on the edge of the bed now, fully upright, his eyes transfixed on her face. She knew, in that moment, that he truly wanted her, wanted her as much as she wanted him, and she was finally certain that she had made the right decision.

Brienne walked toward the bed, and suddenly, Jaime was on his feet. He met her halfway, and they both stopped, staring at each other in silence, the air between them thick with tension. Brienne wasn't sure what to do. She had never been in a situation like this before, and she didn't know what was expected of her. Did she wait for him to kiss her? Did she kiss him first? Did she just start undressing herself? She was so terribly lost that she simply couldn't move.

It was Jaime who finally bridged the gulf between them. He reached out, taking the laces of her leather tunic between his fingers and deftly untying the knot that held it together, all the while keeping his gaze steady with Brienne's. As soon as the knot gave way, he began unlacing the tunic with startling grace for a man with only one hand. When he finally finished unlacing her, he pushed her tunic aside, his left hand and his right wrist both doing the work, urging the fabric apart and down over her shoulders until it dropped to the floor.

Brienne caught her breath. She wasn't exposed, by any means, but the way Jaime was looking at her made her feel as if she was already naked. He had seen her body once before, when they had bathed together at Harrenhal, but this was different. This time, he wouldn't just see her, he would touch her, and Brienne's entire body trembled in anticipation of what was to come.

Jaime gazed down the length of her in silent appraisal. When he looked in her eyes again, he said, "I'm afraid I've never undressed a woman wearing breeches before. If I had two good hands, I might be able to manage it, but as things stand," he held up his stump, "I may need your help."

Brienne was momentarily disappointed that he would not continue to undress her, but she understood. It was one thing to slip a gown off a woman's shoulders, it was another thing entirely to divest her of boots and breeches with only one hand to do all the work.

"Lie down," she said, "and I will join you once I am ready."

"Only if you allow me to watch you," he replied, a roguish smile on his lips.

An unexpected thrill pulsed down her spine, but she pretended to be completely unaffected by his words. "Lie down, before you collapse from exhaustion."

Jaime's smile widened. Before returning to the bed, he pulled his shirt over his head and threw it carelessly on the floor. Then, he quickly untied his own breeches, pushing them over his hips and down his legs, giving her an unobstructed view of his body.

Brienne stared at Jaime in silent awe, captivated by his beauty. She had caught a glimpse of his naked body once before, as he'd walked into the bath at Harrenhal without a shred of clothing, or shame, but he was even more beautiful than she remembered. He was lean and muscular, with just enough golden hair curling across his chest to make him look undeniably masculine. The shaft between his legs was already hard and ready for her and far more eager than the last time she had seen it. A burst of warmth rushed to her womanhood as she stood there staring at him, her heart and her body finally of one accord.

Brienne expected Jaime to tease her. She was certain that every last thought that had just passed through her mind was written clearly on her face. But he didn't. He just stared at her, his eyes smoldering with need, before finally returning to the bed. He lay down, leaning against the headboard so that he could watch her. He stared at her intently, as if he was keenly interested in her every move.

Brienne broke his gaze, knowing that if she continued to look at him, she'd never even get her boots off.

There was a chair in the corner of the room, and Brienne moved back a few paces so she could sit. She leaned down and worked on removing her boots, her hands shaking despite her resolve to remain calm. Once her boots were gone, it would be short work to remove her breeches, and then her tunic, and then she would be completely naked before him.

Brienne caught her breath as the first boot hit the floor. She hazarded a glance at Jaime. He was still watching her with unshakable interest. Quickly, she looked away again, forcing herself to remove the other boot and discard it beside the chair.

Brienne pushed herself up, her limbs trembling as she reached for the ties that held her breeches together. With clumsy fingers, she pulled them free, her skin flushing hotter with every second that passed. There was a deep, burning ache in the center of her womanhood that was driving her to distraction. She knew it wouldn't be long until Jaime quenched the fire burning within her, and she was half hope, half fear. She wanted him more than anything in the world, but despite her bravery on the battlefield, she was still an untried virgin. She knew Jaime would be gentle with her. She had no doubt about that. He knew what she was, better than anyone, but she was nervous all the same.

Without looking up at him, afraid she would lose her nerve if she did, Brienne pushed her breeches over her hips and let them slide down her legs. The soft leather puddled around her ankles, and she swiftly stepped aside, freeing herself from her breeches.

The linen tunic she still wore covered her from neck to knees, but she felt naked. She resisted the urge to cover herself. Yes, Jaime had seen her body before, but the circumstances had been decidedly different. This time, he wasn't looking at her with idle curiosity, he was looking at her with unabashed desire, and that made all the difference.

Determined to overcome her own insecurities, Brienne quickly pulled the tunic over her head and let it fall to the floor beside her. She closed her eyes for the briefest of moments, fortifying her resolve, before she finally looked up at Jaime again.

His eyes were on her body, caressing every curve and valley in silent wonder, drinking her in as if she were a prized vintage of wine. A warm blush spread across her skin wherever his eyes traveled. In Brienne's entire life, she had never once felt beautiful, but suddenly, she knew what it felt like to be admired by a man, and she could feel tears stinging her eyes.

When Jaime finally met her gaze again, there was a look of concern marring his perfect brow. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong. It's just . . . no one's ever looked at me that way before."

"Fools," Jaime said. "All fools. Every man who's ever looked past you and not seen your beauty. Including myself. If only I had realized it sooner."

"You realize it now," she replied, his words putting her more at ease.

"Thank the gods. And now," he said, holding out his hand to her, "let me show you just how beautiful you are."

Brienne's fear was slowly dissipating, the look in Jaime's eyes chasing away her doubt. She walked toward the bed, and he moved to the other side, making room for her to join him. He was sitting upright now, and Brienne sat down beside him, curling her legs to the side as she turned to face him.

Brienne didn't know what to expect now. She hoped, she prayed, that he would kiss her. It was all she had ever dreamed of. Although she was dying to make love to him, the truth was, her fantasies about Jaime Lannister had never gone that far. She had fantasized about kissing him, but never bedding him. Even a kiss had seemed far too much to hope for, so she had never dared dream beyond it.

Jaime raised his left hand, caressing her cheek, and she trembled beneath his touch. The gesture was so innocent, and yet, so intimate, and it made her heart swell beneath her breast. She feared the tears might come again, and so she closed her eyes and waited for Jaime to kiss her.

She felt him move closer, his breath fluttering against her lips. Brienne could hardly breathe. She didn't know what would happen when he made contact, but she desperately wanted to find out.

The seconds seemed like hours as she waited for him to kiss her. Just when she was about to lose all hope, he finally closed the distance between them and pressed his lips against hers.

A small gasp escaped her throat, and for a moment, she simply couldn't move. But slowly, surely, he coaxed her into responding, and finally, Brienne moved her lips against his, kissing him with a maiden's tenderness.

The kiss was sweet, gentle, and when it was over, Jaime pulled back, a strangled sob falling from his lips.

Brienne opened her eyes, staring up at him with concern. "What's wrong?" she asked, afraid that he had changed his mind.

Jaime withdrew his hand from her cheek, and he cringed as if he were in pain. "I . . . I don't know how to say this."

A sense of dread suddenly pierced Brienne's heart. "Just say it," she snapped, her fear getting the better of her.

Jaime's expression softened, and he looked at her with deep regret. "You're the first woman I've ever kissed who wasn't . . ." But he couldn't say the words.

"Her." Brienne finished the thought for him, refusing to say Cersei's name.

"Yes, her. There's been no one else but her my entire life. She was never quite so faithful to me, of course. I was such a damned fool," he swore, his voice little more than a whisper.

"You can still go back to her," Brienne said, the words sour in her throat. "It's not too late."

"It is too late. It's been too late for a long time. Because I don't want her anymore, I don't love her anymore. I . . ." He looked at Brienne as if he wanted to confess the true depth of his feelings but couldn't find the words.

She held her breath, waiting and hoping.

Finally, he said the words, "I love you, Brienne of Tarth. I love you. I have for the longest time. I was just too afraid to admit it."

Brienne couldn't speak or move or breathe. She had never imagined Jaime Lannister, nor any other man, confessing his love for her. Her heart beat wildly beneath her ribs, and she was certain if he didn't kiss her again soon, she would faint.

A half smile quirked Jaime's lips. "Nothing to say?"

Brienne didn't know what to say. She wanted to confess her love for him, but words failed her.

"Or perhaps," he said, "you simply don't believe me."

Brienne shook her head. "No, I believe you. Of course, I believe you."

"Well, then, have you nothing to say in return?"

Brienne knew what he wanted to hear. Tears stung her eyes, and her body trembled as she summoned up the courage to say the words she'd been longing to say for so very long. "I love you, Jaime Lannister. I love you more than I have ever loved anyone else in all my life."

Jaime's smile widened. "Was that so very difficult?"

Brienne laughed. "No, I suppose not. But that's only because I knew you weren't going to laugh at me."

"I'd never laugh at you," he said, his tone serious again.

"Not now, no. But there was a time—"

"I'd prefer it if we could forget about that time."

He reached up and gently stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers. Brienne leaned into his touch, hungry for the contact.

"I don't want to forget it," she said. "Remembering how we started out makes me appreciate just how far we've come."

"And how far we're about to go."

Jaime leaned in closer, and Brienne closed her eyes. He brushed his lips softly against hers, and she melted under his touch. She didn't want to talk anymore. She just wanted Jaime to love her as she'd always dreamed of being loved.

Brienne reached up, slipping her hands around the back of Jaime's neck and threading her fingers through his hair. She drew him closer, parting her lips and silently inviting him to deepen the kiss. She sighed contentedly when his tongue entered her mouth, exploring her depths and claiming her for his own.

What had started out as a gentle kiss, soon became passionate, and before Brienne knew what was happening, Jaime pulled her down onto the bed, covering her body with his. The feel of him pressing her into the mattress while his mouth devoured hers was more than Brienne could bear. She felt as if she were drowning in him, her senses overpowered by his passion. She clung to him for dear life, kissing him with a fervor that matched his own.

Soon, Jaime's hand began to explore her body, and Brienne moaned wantonly. His fingers skimmed over her breasts, across her stomach, down her hip, teasing and tantalizing with every new caress. The ache between her legs pulsed with need, and Brienne waited in breathless anticipation for him to touch the most secret part of her.

But he didn't. His fingers lightly traced her thigh but moved no farther before skimming upward again, retracing the path they had already tread.

Jaime's touch was driving her to madness, overpowering all her fears and inhibitions. Without thinking, her hands began to drift along his body, touching, caressing, exploring without shame. She broke away from his lips and kissed his cheek, his neck, his shoulder, lost in her own desire.

Jaime forged a trail of wet, hot kisses along her jaw, down her throat, and across her collarbone. When his lips neared her breasts, he wasted no time in kissing her there too, capturing one aching peak with a hungry roar.

Brienne arched off the bed, desperate to make deeper contact. She slid one hand up Jaime's neck and entwined her fingers in his hair, pulling him even closer.

He chuckled against her breast, then broke away, glancing up at her. "That eager for it, are you? You should never appear too eager for it, Lady Brienne. It might make a man think that you'd never done this before."

He knew she'd never done this before, and she didn't appreciate him teasing her about it. But then again, she shouldn't have expected anything less from Jaime Lannister. He was always teasing her. At some point, it had become the cornerstone of their relationship.

"You'd be surprised, Ser Jaime. There's a great, big wildling warrior who's taken an interest in me. More than once he's asked me to make large, fire-haired babies with him."

Jaime's eyes narrowed with concern. "And are you telling me that you took him up on this offer?"

Brienne almost laughed at Jaime's blatant display of jealousy. "No, of course not. How could I, when I have loved you for so long?"

And suddenly, just like that, the mood turned serious again. Without another word, Jaime leaned forward and kissed her with a passion that took her breath away. Brienne wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back, praying to the gods that she would never have to let him go.

But eventually, Jaime broke the kiss, his ragged breath fluttering against her lips in a warm caress. He stared down into her eyes as if entranced by the sight of her. Brienne had never felt more wanted or more loved. If she died on the battlefield the next day, she could die happy and fulfilled because Jaime Lannister loved her, and that was all that mattered.

When he finally caught his breath, Jaime leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss against her lips. Then, he moved lower, once again exploring her flesh with his mouth. He blazed a path from her collarbone all the way to her navel, stopping at her breasts just long enough to make her squirm and beg for mercy. He kissed the flat planes of her stomach, causing the muscles beneath her skin to quiver. And then, he moved lower still, placing a single, chaste kiss against the nest of golden curls between her legs.

Brienne held her breath as she stared at him in wonder. He raised his head, looking up at her with a mischievous glint in his eyes. Although Brienne was still a maiden, she was not ignorant of the ways of the world. She knew what men did to women when they were alone together in bed, and she knew what Jaime Lannister was going to do to her now. And she wanted him to do it. Oh, how she wanted him to do it.

A fresh flood of warmth pooled between her thighs at the very thought, and Jaime smiled at her as if he knew exactly what had happened. Brienne blushed, and Jaime finally turned his attention back to her sex.

He slowly eased her legs apart, and then, he knelt between them, getting his first unobstructed view of her womanhood.

Brienne's blush grew even deeper. She could barely breathe as she lay there watching him, waiting for him to move. She wondered what he thought, now that he had seen all of her. Was she different from Cersei? Did he truly find her attractive, or did he wish she was someone else?

No, Brienne could see by the way he was looking at her that he adored everything about her. He loved her and he wanted her, just as much as she loved and wanted him.

Without any warning, Jaime leaned closer, kissing the heated flesh between her legs. Brienne gasped at the contact, startled by just how pleasurable it was. Slowly, softly, Jaime began to move his lips against her, kissing her sex the same way he had kissed her mouth.

Brienne lay her head back against the pillow and moaned plaintively. She had never imagined any man kissing her in such a fashion. She had barely imagined any man kissing her at all. She had always thought she would lead a celibate life, and so it had only been on rare occasions that she'd ever allowed herself to fantasize about being bedded by a man, and those rare occasions had usually been moments of self-pity or weakness when she'd felt alone and unloved. But even when she had imagined such things, she had never imagined this. And certainly not with Jaime Lannister.

Jaime's tongue glided along her flesh, delving into her folds and making her whimper with need. Instinctively, she pushed her hips forward, urging him to go deeper, but he held back. Jaime knew what he was doing far better than she did, and he controlled the depth and pressure of his strokes with expert skill.

"Jaime, please," Brienne begged. "Please, give me what I want."

He pulled back then, and Brienne opened her eyes to look down at him, afraid that he intended to stop.

"What is it that you want, Brienne of Tarth?"

"You know what I want," she said, the words breathless, almost desperate.

"No, I don't. Tell me, do you want me to make you come now, or do you want me to be inside you first?"

Brienne didn't know how to answer. She was shocked by his bluntness. Although she was used to hearing men use such vulgar language, it was different to hear the words from Jaime as he stared up at her from between her own legs.

"Well, my lady?" he asked, cocking one fine, dark brow. "What will it be? I'm sure I can make you come twice if you'd like."

The heat in Brienne's cheeks burned hotter, and she was certain she looked ridiculous, but Jaime didn't tease her. He just stared back at her, waiting for her reply.

Brienne knew she couldn't stay silent forever, so she forced herself to speak. "I think . . . I think . . ."

"Yes?"

"I think I would like you to be inside me when I come."

A broad, satisfied smile spread across Jaime's lips. "As you wish, my lady." He dipped his head forward again, placing one last kiss against her womanhood before pushing himself up and crawling up her body. He hovered over her for a moment, staring down into her eyes with so much love and desire that she thought her heart might burst.

"You are so beautiful," he whispered, his voice so soft that it made her spine tingle. "So beautiful."

"You can't mean that." Even though she had no doubt that he loved her, she couldn't believe that he thought her beautiful. She wasn't beautiful. She was tall and awkward and unfeminine. No one had ever called her beautiful before without mockery in their tone.

Jaime shook his head. "You are the most beautiful woman I have ever laid eyes on, Brienne of Tarth. There is not a fairer maid in all the land, and no one I would rather spend this night with."

The look in his eyes told her that he meant every last word, and while she knew it was absurd, she couldn't help but believe him. He thought she was beautiful, and he wanted her more than he wanted anyone else in the entire world.

Suddenly, tears began to mist Brienne's eyes, but she didn't cry. She loved Jaime so desperately, and she didn't know what she had ever done to make him love her in return.

"I love you, Jaime. More than you will ever know."

He smiled at her tenderly. "And I love you, Brienne. And now, I'm going to show you just how much."

Jaime closed the distance between them and kissed her softly, sweetly, as he positioned himself between her legs. Brienne could feel him hot and hard at her entrance, but he made no move to thrust inside. He just kept kissing her, loving her, driving her mad with desire.

Brienne arched her hips off the bed, and the tip of his manhood slid between her folds. She groaned deep in the back of her throat, desperate to have him inside her.

Jaime smiled against her lips. He pulled back just far enough to whisper, "What did I tell you about appearing too eager?"

"I don't give a bloody damn about appearing too eager. I want you inside me. Now!"

Jaime laughed, but he didn't deny her. Without another word, he thrust his hips forward, driving into her with startling force.

Brienne had spent far too much of her life on horseback and in combat for her maidenhead to still be intact, so there was no pain when he entered her, just pure, unimaginable pleasure.

Jaime moved slowly at first, allowing her to become accustomed to him. He felt hot and heavy inside her, his thick shaft stretching her walls, filling her completely. She had never imagined that coupling would feel quite like this. Even though they were already intimately joined, she wanted more of him, she wanted to be closer to him.

Brienne wasted no time in showing Jaime exactly what she wanted. She held onto his shoulders and moved her hips against his, encouraging him to quicken the pace. Her eyes drifted shut, and all her senses focused on the feel of him inside her. She knew he was going to make good on his promise, she knew he was going to make her come, and she was desperate for it.

Jaime drove into her with reckless abandon, pushing her farther into the mattress with each frenzied thrust. For the first time in her life, Brienne felt small and vulnerable and feminine. Jaime was overpowering her with brute masculinity, and it was wonderful! Now, she knew how other women felt, she knew what it was like to have a man take command of her body and give her pleasure. It was everything she'd always dreamed of and something she'd thought she'd never have.

Brienne wrapped her legs around Jaime's waist, pulling him in deeper. Foreign noises escaped her throat as she fought for her release. She moaned and sighed and pleaded for Jaime to give her what she wanted. She knew she was close. She knew it was only a matter of time before he made her come.

"Jaime." The sound was desperate, pleading. "Jaime, please."

"Brienne." His voice was husky with desire, and it warmed the blood in her veins.

Brienne dug her fingers into his shoulders, her nails biting into his flesh. She had lost all sense of herself, and nothing mattered but the feel of Jaime moving inside of her. Every muscle in her body tensed as she hovered on the brink of something wonderful.

Jaime leaned down against her, the rough hairs of his chest teasing her breasts, his lips moving to her throat. He kissed her neck as he continued to thrust into her with wild urgency.

Brienne clung to him for dear life, striving desperately for release, until, finally, something broke inside her.

She screamed his name as her walls shuddered around him, a wave of pleasure bursting forth from deep within her womanhood. It spread throughout her entire body, leaving her warm and weak and trembling.

Still fighting for his own release, Jaime continued to thrust inside her, the movement causing little spasms of pleasure to radiate from her core.

Soon, Jaime's breath became ragged, and Brienne could tell he was close. She leaned forward, kissing his shoulder, his neck, letting her hands roam his body. And then, it happened. Suddenly, her name tore from his throat and he came hard inside her.

Jaime nearly collapsed on top of Brienne. He rested on his forearms, just barely able to keep himself aloft so that his weight didn't crush her, his head bent, his eyes closed.

Without thinking, Brienne reached up to brush a damp lock of hair from his forehead. He instantly looked up at her, his eyes glassy with sated desire.

Brienne's lips curled into a smile. She knew it was silly, of course, but she couldn't help it. She'd never been happier than she was at that very moment, and she had no desire to hide it.

A small laugh escaped Jaime's throat. "That good, was it?" he asked, his voice hoarse.

Brienne nodded. "Yes, it was. Even better than I expected."

"Oh, really? Have you often imagined what it would be like for you and I to make love?"

A fresh blush crept into Brienne's cheeks. "No, I can't say that I have."

"And why not? I've fantasized about making love to you before."

He said it without jest, and Brienne was startled to think that it might be true. She couldn't quite imagine Jaime Lannister lying in bed, dreaming about making love to her. The idea seemed absurd.

"Have you?" she asked, needing to know for certain.

"Yes, I have. Every night on the road from King's Landing. I told you I left the past behind when I left that wretched place, and I meant it." Jaime leaned forward then and placed a quick kiss against her lips. Then, he untangled himself from her limbs and collapsed on the bed beside her.

Brienne wasn't sure what to do next. She had never made love to a man before, let alone lingered in bed with one after the fact. She didn't know if she should get up and get dressed or snuggle up against him and fall asleep in his arms. She longed for the latter, but she didn't want to make herself look foolish. She knew so little about romance, and she had no idea what Jaime expected of her.

"Well?" he said when she failed to move. "Are you coming or not?"

"Coming?" At first, Brienne wasn't sure what he meant, but then, she turned her head and saw that he was holding his arm out to her. She didn't need any further prompting than that. She quickly turned onto her side and curled up against him, resting her head on his chest.

Brienne inhaled a long, slow breath, drawing in his scent. He smelled like horses and leather and everything masculine. He smelled like Jaime, and Brienne found it intoxicating.

She closed her eyes and exhaled, her entire body sinking into him. Jaime wrapped his arms around her and held her close. She felt safe and warm and loved for the first time in her life, and she didn't want him to ever let her go.

"I wish there wasn't a war coming," Jaime said, his voice soft and low. "I wish we had more time."

"Do you really think the Night King and his army will be victorious? Do you really think this is it?"

"I don't know what to think. But if this is the end, if this is all we have, I'm just glad that I finally got to tell you how I feel, to show you how I feel. I've wanted to for so long, Brienne. You have no idea. I've wanted this for so long."

Brienne opened her eyes and raised her head just far enough to lay a gentle kiss against his chest. Then, she settled back down again, content to lie in his arms until morning came. "I was never brave enough to want this. I didn't think I could ever have this with you, or with anyone else. But I'm glad we're here now. I'm glad we had a chance before it was too late."

They were both silent for the longest time, Brienne listening to Jaime's heartbeat thudding against her ear, wishing they could stay that way forever. She didn't want to leave his bed. She didn't want to venture out into the cold, cruel winter and fight to the death. She wanted to stay with Jaime. She wanted to be his woman, to be by his side, for all her days.

"I love you, Jaime Lannister," Brienne whispered, her heart overcome with emotion. She knew she had already said it, but she needed to say it again. She needed to make sure that Jaime knew she loved him now, not in the heat of passion, but now, as she lay in his arms, happy and sated and ready to drift off to sleep. He needed to know just how deeply she cared for him, how very much he meant to her.

Jaime's arms tightened around her. "And I love you, Brienne of Tarth. With all my heart and all my soul." He leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss atop her head.

Brienne sighed contentedly and closed her eyes again. There was so much more to say, but it was all better left unsaid. She didn't know what the future held for them. They both might die in battle, or they both might survive. Either way, they would be together, and that was all that mattered. Jaime Lannister loved her, and even if she didn't live to see another night, she was content. The gods had given her the greatest gift in the world, and even if they snatched it away again, they couldn't steal her memories and they couldn't turn Jaime's heart against her. He loved her, and she loved him, and together, they would face the Night King and fight to save Westeros from the darkness. And if, by some miracle, they both survived, the future awaited them, a future filled with hope, joy, and love.