A/N: Hello and welcome!
This is a post-episode 8.02 story, which was inspired by "Walk Me Home" by P!nk, though for the life of me I have no idea why. I can only blame the fact that "Hurts 2B Human" was released at a similar sort of time to season 8, and thanks to being trapped in an irretrievable ship spiral I had reached a point where every song I owned reminded me of Braime. Some of the lyrics are kind of appropriate, I think?
In the interests of killing two birds with one stone, it's also very loosely based on a stunning piece of artwork entitled "Before We Die", by LionessOfTheNight on Tumblr, which you should all go and check out. I can't link it here, but I have reblogged it on my Tumblr (I have the same username everywhere) or you can PM me if you want a link.
This is part of my 'first kiss' headcanon series, but I've also attempted to link it (albeit subtly!) to events of 8.03 and 8.04. It can possibly also tie in with my post 8.04 story, "The Things We Do", if you squint.
I have a further theory that the "Long Night" is what we would refer to as the Winter Solstice, i.e. the shortest day of the year when we get the least hours of sunlight (and thus the most hours of darkness) – that seems an appropriate time for the Night King to strike. On that basis, I've made an assumption that the knighting scene takes place fairly early in the evening, with the battle itself starting around midnight / the small hours when the night is darkest.
Anyway, everyone loves a post-knighting story, right? Particularly as today marks the first anniversary of the knighting scene and thus almost a year since this fandom (and this pairing) completely destroyed my sanity.
Please enjoy. =)
They find each other, afterwards, quite by accident: approaching from opposite sides of one of Winterfell's courtyards. Both deep in thought, they almost walk straight past each other, until some identifying factor – Jaime's distinctive gait, or the blue glint of Brienne's armour – alerts them both. It is Jaime who stops first, veering off his path to place himself deliberately in her way, so she is effectively forced to do the same before she collides with him.
The first flurries of snow are circling in the air, an indication of what will likely await everyone for the battle ahead. It is still relatively early in the evening, the sun setting in the North within only a few short hours of its arrival, and the air is bitterly cold once devoid of its meagre daytime warmth. Brienne had given thought to retreating indoors to the familiarity of her chambers and the generous blaze in her hearth: to try and sleep, or at least to wait out the night in relative comfort. Instead, she finds herself pausing, trying to identify the expression on Jaime's face. It is not dissimilar, she thinks, to the one had he worn only an hour or so before in the Great Hall, after gifting her with her new Knighthood. She could not determine it then, and likewise cannot do so now.
"Ser Jaime," she greets him, feeling the need to fill the silence.
"Ser Brienne," he responds, with the barest nod of his head.
Her stomach lurches strangely, in surprised acknowledgement of her new title. It is the first time she has properly heard it aloud; her companions had chanted it at her immediately after the event, but much of the noise in the room had faded into the background, those words she had never thought to hear repeating in her brain. Arise, Brienne of Tarth… A knight of the seven kingdoms. Hearing the honorific now makes it seem realer, somehow: a firm reminder that she is not dreaming.
If Jaime is aware of her predicament, he makes no indication of it, other than the slightest upturn of his mouth into a knowing smile. She straightens her spine, the new status making her feel even taller than her already considerable height, and Jaime's gaze does not falter. He follows, even though he has to lift his head to do so.
"What finds you out here?" she asks, more formally than she would like. Formality is easier, under the circumstances.
"I felt the need to clear my head," he explains. "You?"
"I hope your efforts have been more successful than mine."
"Sadly, I suspect not."
"My brother may have the better idea," he suggests. "When your head is full of wine, there's very little room for anything else."
"I wouldn't know," she responds, a little tersely, and Jaime is struck by the sudden desire to discover what his ordinarily straight-laced wench might be like after a few cups of fine Dornish. He does not give voice to the idea, knowing that she will not appreciate the humour of it, but he cannot quite keep the smirk from his face.
"I prefer to be in possession of all my senses," she adds, "especially if we're to have any chance of survival later."
Brienne's light, disapproving admonishment of Tyrion's preferred manner of whiling away his time before the battle quickly sobers Jaime again. There's a very real possibility that any one of them might not live to see the dawn – that the dawn itself might never arrive, if the army of the living is unsuccessful. The prospect feels as certain as the ground beneath his feet, and Jaime is overtaken by a shudder of cold dread that wracks his entire frame before he can curb it. Brienne's eyes widen slightly in alarm.
"You didn't exactly prepare for this weather, did you?" she queries, believing his shivering to be a reaction to the frigid temperature. Nonetheless, the sternness of her tone is belied by the concerned expression on her face; she is genuinely sympathetic to his plight.
Jaime shrugs, as if to say it is of no consequence that he might freeze himself solid before the battle arrives.
"I defy anyone to be prepared for this weather," he gripes. "Anyway, I'd rather be cold and alive than warm and dead."
At that, Brienne rolls her eyes impatiently, having no tolerance for his facetious attempt at wit, and for the briefest of moments Jaime is transported back in time to the earliest days of their first adventure: barely amicable, a sullen and silent Brienne dragging him along behind her. She had reacted in a similar manner then to his efforts at conversation, and to his japes and insults. Her lack of reciprocity did not seem terribly important, at the time, as long as she got him to the capital – the place where everything in Jaime's life would return to normal.
Yes, life had been good in Kings Landing, or as close an approximation as it was possible to achieve with Tywin Lannister as a father. Despite the secrecy and lies, despite the very real danger that he and those closest to him might be executed if the truth came out, everything had seemed so much simpler.
With a blink, he is back in the courtyard at Winterfell in the hastening snow. His previous life seems a thousand years ago, the history of someone he does not recognise. When he thinks of Kings Landing, or Cersei, there is nothing but cold dread and anxiety curling in his gut, a gnawing guilt that he did not do enough to stop his sister's descent into madness, that he could not act fast enough to prevent her from following such a destructive path, that he chose instead to fight beside her sworn enemies. All that is currently good in his life is standing a scant distance away from him – two inches taller, with cobalt armour and a Lannister sword and striking sapphire eyes, wearing a troubled expression as she attempts to interpret his sudden silence.
Jaime clears his throat, distracting her, and tries to change the subject.
"Actually, I was considering heading back inside."
"Yes," she agrees. "So was I. We should try to get some rest before the battle."
"Walk with me?"
She nods briskly and, together, they make their way towards the castle. Despite the weather, their pace is slow, unconsciously extending the time they can spend in each other's company.
An unexpected wind buffets through the courtyard, whistling through the distant trees and whipping tendrils of snow particles on the air. This time, Jaime shudders out of genuine discomfort, burying his left hand beneath his right arm to stave off the permeating chill.
"Gods, this cold," he gripes. "I will never understand how anyone can live in this place."
"You get used to it," she mutters, hesitating for a brief moment before coming to a halt beside him. She regards him thoughtfully, then reaches a decision. In one smooth movement, she unclasps her outer layer of fur and swings the heavy garment around, draping it over Jaime's shoulders. The cloak retains the heat from her body, enveloping him in warmth. Brienne fusses over the clasp as she tries to secure it in place, oblivious to Jaime's stunned expression and the way it slowly alters to a genuinely grateful smile. A low chuckle escapes his throat, drawing her attention away from the task in hand.
"What?" she asks, lifting her eyes to his.
"Thank you for cloaking me, my Lady. Am I now under your protection?"
She tries to make sense of his words, and as the realisation finally sinks into her brain, her cheeks flush a deep pink and her fingers relinquish their grip on the clasp as she takes a step back. The cloak remains in place despite being unsecured. Unable to formulate a response, Brienne can do nothing except stammer at him awkwardly.
"I… I didn't mean—"
"I was only… you were shivering and I—"
"Brienne." He repeats her name more firmly, and she quietens enough for him to explain. "I'm sorry. It was a jape – badly timed and made in poor taste, as usual. Regardless, there may be some truth to it – I am certainly in need of your protection in this Godsforsaken place. Other than Tyrion, yours is the only friendly face I've encountered since my arrival."
She cannot argue with that, though the injustice of it stings her heart.
"You're here," she points out. "That's enough for me, and it should be enough for everyone else."
"If only it was that simple."
She huffs, frustrated. "If there was more time, I'd—"
"What," he scoffs, "list my many virtues? You might as well do it now, if you can find anyone willing to listen; I don't imagine you'll need more than a few seconds."
She bites her tongue against arguing with him, fixing him with a perturbed expression until the silence between them extends enough for them to pretend the conversation never happened. They are both more than aware that Brienne vouching for him is the only reason he continues to draw breath; by rights he should be nothing more than a charred corpse.
A part of him childishly wishes that she had been the first sight to greet him on his arrival at Winterfell, rather than the very embodiment of his worst deeds. Bran Stark is an enigma, unrecognisable from the mischievous ten-year-old boy with a penchant for climbing that Jaime remembers, though he has spent the intervening years trying his best not to remember.
He has always done rash and stupid things for love; bestowing a knighthood is by far the least destructive.
With an incline of her head, Brienne indicates for them to continue indoors, and he follows her with a nod, shrugging further into the borrowed cloak as they move and fumbling awkwardly with the clasp himself until the garment is properly secured.
The crunch of their boots in the snow is the only sound, the crackle of torches as the castle draws nearer. In only a few hours, the peace will be disturbed by the cacophony of battle. Brienne can almost hear it already, echoing through her head: the clash of blades, the ground-shaking rumble of booted feet, shouting and screaming and swords rending flesh and shattering bones, a dragon's deadly shriek and the thunder of hooves. She is so distracted that she pays no attention to where her legs are taking her, and is brought sharply back to reality by Jaime yanking on her arm to prevent her from colliding with an approaching wall. She stumbles and quickly rights herself, but Jaime's hand lingers against her arm, his face a mask of concern.
"Is something troubling you, Brienne?"
"No, nothing," she lies, shaking her head, but he gives her a firm, no-nonsense expression, and she concedes defeat. "Fine. If you must know, I… I'm worried about the battle."
"That's entirely understandable. You'd need a heart of stone to be unafraid of what's coming."
"I'm not scared," she clarifies. "I wouldn't be much of a fighter if I was. But I… I'm supposed to be leading the left flank and I'm not even sure I know how. I'm not a strategist… and even if I was, nobody really knows what we'll be facing tonight. This enemy is unpredictable – indestructible, if the rumours are to be believed. How am I supposed to prepare for that?" She sighs, swallowing uncomfortably. "I could be leading my men straight to their deaths without even realising."
Jaime squeezes her arm reassuringly before releasing her again.
"I've seen you fight," he says. "Your instincts are superb. If attacking isn't an option, move to defence – keep them away from the walls, beat them back. Do what feels right. Lead by example, and the men will follow. If they don't, they'll learn the hard way to do as they're told."
"And if I get them all killed?"
"It's war. Men will die," he explains matter-of-factly. "There's no point in softening the blow. It would be an injustice to lie to you about that."
"No, that's not what I…" She trails off, and then lets out a grunt of frustration before continuing. "I won't have you serving beneath me, Ser Jaime."
He hesitates before answering, his tone light. "I was joking about you protecting—"
"I need you," she blurts out, silencing any further attempt at sarcasm, and in the stunned silence that ensues she regroups her thoughts and tries to explain. Jaime, to his credit, remains quiet and allows her to continue. "I'm not a commander; I've never led troops. But you have. I will not let you join this fight as another nameless sword, when I can make use of your skills and prevent so many meaningless deaths."
"You can't just… defer responsibility."
"I'm not," she says. "I'm asking that you back me up. Challenge me if my decisions are wrong. You placed your faith in me tonight when you laid your blade across my shoulders, and I… I want to return the favour. I trust you with their lives as much as I do with my own. If we're to have any chance of surviving this, I need your support – as my equal, and nothing less."
He can do nothing for several seconds except stare at her, mouth slightly agape. After a long hesitation, he moves suddenly, quickly, to draw his sword and drop to one knee, resting the blade horizontally across his golden hand. His gaze does not break from hers; when he speaks, his tone is more sincere than she has ever known.
"I will shield your back and give you my counsel, Ser Brienne. I swear it, by the Old Gods and the New."
She feels the onset of tears stinging her eyes, and wills herself not to cry, not wanting to appear weak at such a moment as this. Breathing slowly, deliberately, she manages to regain enough composure to respond.
He nods, similarly unable to speak for a long moment, before sheathing the sword once more. Brienne extends an arm downwards, grasping firmly to his hand to haul him upright, as she would for any fallen comrade or sparring partner. He skids a little from the ice underfoot, before finding his footing and correcting his stance, the movement bringing him closer to her than before.
He cannot tear his gaze away; her eyes are bright in the torchlight, snowflakes glittering where they melt into her hair; her grip loosens, as if to let go, but his hand makes a desperate grasp for hers, holding on for a few more precious seconds. His thumb moves of its own volition to lightly caress her hand; neither of them are wearing gloves – a stupid decision, given the weather - and her breath hitches in surprise at the contact.
The moment feels charged with an unexpected tension that Jaime recognises, but he is wary of acting on it. Brienne is still, her hand slack in his, her breath billowing in the air in short bursts; her face is impassive, but a frown is edging onto her brow. He has her cornered, trapped by the sudden intensity between them. He should let her go, release her hand and allow her to escape – but he has no desire to watch her walk away.
Somewhere in the wilderness beyond, a wolf's familiar cry carries on the wind, shattering the tense atmosphere like fragile glass. Brienne blinks, taking in a frantic lungful of air, and shakes her hand free of Jaime's grasp. She takes a step back, and the world feels colder.
"I… I should go," she says, abruptly. "Goodnight, Ser Jaime."
With that, she turns on her heel and stalks away, disappearing beneath a stone archway leading into the castle. It takes him longer to react than he would like; the wolf cries again, a second howl joining the first in an eerie harmony, reminding Jaime all-too-clearly of whose territory he has voluntarily ensconced himself within. The human-shaped wolves within the castle have blunter teeth, it's true, but their bite can be just as deadly; Brienne may not be a member of their pack by blood, but her loyalty to the Starks is unquestionable, and they will protect her just as fiercely as their own. He cannot afford to lose the only person who cares enough to redeem him, and he will not spend his last night in the world regretting a badly-timed moment of indecision.
With a new-found determination, he strides after Brienne, hoping to catch up with her before she disappears within the labyrinth of corridors. He follows the sound of her footsteps until he rounds a corner, finding her already halfway along the passage.
Her steps falter at the sound of his voice, and she slows, but does not stop. Jaime continues, quickening his own pace to close the distance between them.
"Please," he implores, "just listen to me."
She pauses, at that, half-turning towards him; what he can see of her expression is troubled.
"I must return to my chambers to rest, if I'm to be of any use in this battle," she explains. "I suggest you do the same."
Her tone is final, and she heads off again without waiting for a response. Defeated, Jaime draws to a halt, staring at Brienne's retreating back. He does not know what to say to get through to her, so he utters the first thing to come into his mind.
"I never did explain," he says, "why I came here."
To his surprise, his words give Brienne cause to hesitate, her determined stance dissolving. Her shoulders slump and she turns, a little cautiously, to face him fully. Heartened, Jaime carefully makes his way towards her, taking her silence as a cue to continue; she will make it clear when she has heard enough.
"I tried to convince her," he begins, knowing that Brienne will understand who he means, "but it was a futile effort on my part. She had no intention of joining this fight. When I refused to do her bidding, she threatened to have me killed. Something stopped her, but… but I knew then, I had to make a different choice. I had to try."
He is close enough now that he could reach out and touch her, if he thought she would allow it. Some of the uneasiness has left her face, but she regards him cautiously.
"I have no reason to believe I'll live to see tomorrow," he continues. "If Cersei had any say in matters, I wouldn't even be here now."
"What are you trying to say?" she asks, a confused frown edging onto her brow.
"I'm saying that… that death is inevitable. That if I'm going to die anyway, I'd rather it be here."
"Here? In the freezing north, surrounded by people who barely tolerate you? That seems—"
The words leave his mouth almost beyond his control, and whatever Brienne was about to say is lost. Her expression is level, wary, more patient than he deserves.
"I came to Winterfell," he explains, with more certainty, "because your words to me after the meeting in Kings Landing affected me far more greatly than I wanted to believe. As they always have. You're the only person in this entire world who has ever seen goodness in me. Just once, I wanted to prove you right."
"You don't need to prove anything to me, Jaime," she reassures him, only realising a second later that she has forgotten the formality of his title. It imbues the moment with a greater level of intimacy, a subtle change to the atmosphere that Jaime must sense also, as he takes a slow, measured step forward and moves closer into her personal space.
"Oh, but I do."
Brienne does not recognise the look on his face, but something about the way he draws nearer to her sparks the barest twinge of panic, and she finds herself retreating backwards. Her progress is hindered by the wall of the corridor, and she presses back against it even as Jaime continues his deliberate movement towards her. He stops mere inches in front of her, as close as he had been outside after pledging his sword and his support. Her heartbeat is thundering within her ribcage and she is certain he must be able to hear it.
He gazes at her so intently that she cannot focus on anything else, trying in vain to decipher his expression, and when he raises his hand to her face, his palm chilled against the warm skin of her cheek, she feels her breath hitch in nervous anticipation.
"What are you—"
She cannot finish the question, effectively silenced by the gentle pressure of Jaime's thumb against her mouth and the barest shake of his head.
"You need to let me speak," he tells her, "while I still have the courage to do so."
Still, he waits for her nod of agreement before continuing, and when he is certain she will not interrupt, he alters the position of his hand: his fingers scarcely brushing the hair behind her ear, his thumb grazing the line of her cheekbone. Brienne is unable to speak, her throat dry and all words abandoning her at the unexpected tenderness of the gesture.
"I went for a walk tonight to try and stop myself from doing something very impulsive and very stupid," he explains. "You know better than most how very stupid I can be sometimes. I wanted to be wholly level-headed and sensible about this, but it's not in my nature, and I don't think there's even the time." He takes a breath, releasing it on a sigh. "My journey here gave me ample opportunity to think about my past regrets, and I don't wish to add any more to the list. If this is to be our last night alive, then I… I need you to understand."
When he does not continue, the silence extending, Brienne summons a bravery she did not know she possessed: a woman's courage, Catelyn Stark would have called it. She believes she can finally interpret the look on Jaime's face, now; it is only unfamiliar because it has never before been directed to her. This discussion is terrifying, exhilarating, and despite the protective wall of cynicism she has constructed around her heart, nonetheless it flutters with a girlish hope that she is not mistaken about what she sees in his eyes.
"What must I understand?" she asks, hoping it will encourage him to carry on.
He seems surprised by the question, as though the answer must be obvious; when he finally replies, he stumbles over his words, no longer capable of eloquence.
"That I… Before we die, I wanted to—" His gaze locks to hers, casting him into silence again, but he is determined to finish what he has started. "Brienne… before we die…"
He gives up the effort, shaking his head in defeat, and then surges upwards to press his mouth to hers. Brienne hums in surprise, frozen in shock for a brief moment and utterly unresponsive; Jaime's palm moves reassuringly against her face, lightly caressing her cheek, until she finally relaxes and allows her instincts to take over. As she returns the gentle pressure of his kiss, he moves imperceptibly closer, his golden hand resting against the jut of her hip.
She can feel the tension in him, as though he is holding back, and wishes that she was brave enough to do something about it, to encourage him somehow. She is too consumed by trying to control the maelstrom of information swirling in her brain; that this is her first kiss and it's Jaime Lannister who's kissing her, the man she's hopelessly and ridiculously in love with beyond the point of sanity, and for that reason she's absolutely certain it cannot be real, so she must have died on the battlefield, or any second now the horn will sound and she will wake up in her chambers absolutely alone—
The distant slamming of a door within a nearby corridor is what startles her back to reality, the sound affecting Jaime in a similar manner, as he jolts in surprise before gently pulling away from her. For a long moment, all she can do is stare at him in silence. Despite his hand still resting against her face, the weight of his golden hand at her hip, she cannot fully grasp what has happened. She wants to reach out and touch him, just to be certain, but her hands are shaking too badly.
She takes a deep and calming breath, in an effort to regain some control over her still-erratic heartbeat, but when she finally manages to speak she is uncomfortably aware that her voice is trembling almost as much as the rest of her.
"Please tell me that was real," she implores. Jaime looks perplexed and a little concerned, but before he can respond she continues on, desperation edging into her tone: "Tell me it was real. That you meant it. That it wasn't just—"
He kisses her again, firmly and with intent, his hand sinking into her hair so he can tilt her head just so, altering the angle of his mouth against hers so he can finally kiss her properly. His tongue lightly grazes hers, and at her tentative reciprocation, he presses himself closer to her, the tension finally melting out of him. Their armour clashes awkwardly, harsh in the deserted corridor. Conscious that the noise might bring them unwanted attention, Brienne raises a hand to clasp his right arm in an effort to edge him away from her – but in response to her hesitant touch, Jaime kisses her with more intensity, stealing her breath like a man drowning.
By the time he releases her again, she feels light-headed and breathless. She opens her eyes after a second or two, hoping to find some kind of answer to the many questions swirling in her mind, but closes them again a moment later as Jaime leans forward to rest his forehead against hers. At such close proximity, she can feel the warmth of his breath against her face; can almost hear the erratic thud of his heartbeat in time with hers.
They remain like that, quiet and still, before Jaime straightens and takes a step away from her. He is close enough that he could kiss her again, if he wanted to – and if she is reading his expression correctly, it seems he very much does. His gaze flits across her features, lingering on her mouth before raising his eyes to hers; she finds herself moving closer almost beyond her control; but then his hand drops away from her face to gently reach for her own where it hangs limply at her side. He insinuates his fingers between hers, squeezing reassuringly.
"I hope that answers your question."
All she can do, for the moment, is nod in silence; his actions have rendered her mute and his absence has made her suddenly bereft.
Eventually, she eases herself away from the wall, effectively forcing Jaime further back, though her hand does not let go of his. Whatever course the rest of their evening may take is entirely her decision, but her still-addled brain is not capable of weighing up the choices ahead of her. She needs some time to think, but she does not want to abandon him, not after this.
"I… I wonder if you would mind walking me back," she suggests carefully, and Jaime's face lights up with a genuinely delighted smile.
"It would be my honour, My Lady."
Their hands linger together for a few steps as they head off, though the presence of others within Winterfell cause them to separate, mutually self-conscious. They traverse the corridors in silence, Brienne navigating the veritable maze with an ease that Jaime envies as he matches her pace step-for-step.
They pass a darkened alcove along the way, and Brienne wishes that she had the courage to take a swift step to the side, to drag Jaime with her and be bold enough to initiate another kiss. For now, alas, her bravery has abandoned her, though she wonders if Jaime is thinking the same thing as his gaze flits briefly in the same direction.
They reach her assigned chambers: a wooden door as unassuming as all the others in this particular stretch of hallway. Brienne grapples with the iron handle and pushes open the door, which swings inwards with a creak; a wave of heat from her hearth rushes into the corridor, enveloping them both in warmth. She steps over the threshold into her room, but Jaime does not follow without an invitation. She turns to him in surprise, and he merely smiles in response: a silent indication that they must part ways.
Instinctually, habitual propriety coming to the fore, Brienne stands in the doorway and half-closes the door.
"Thank you… Ser Jaime."
She feels suddenly awkward and bashful, too nervous to omit his title, though she does not miss the flicker of disappointment that crosses Jaime's face as she says it. After a brief hesitation, he reaches for her hand and raises it to his lips, pressing a tender and courteous kiss to her knuckles.
With that, before any words of encouragement for the battle ahead can be exchanged, he is gone, swept off down the corridor to his own destination. Brienne stares at the vacant space in front of her in a daze, not quite certain if she should chase after him or call out for him to come back, but mere seconds later the choice is made for her: Jaime suddenly reappears, looking sheepish.
"I… I almost forgot. Your cloak. I am grateful for the use of it, but you should have it back."
He reaches up to loosen the clasp, but finds it a struggle one-handed. Brienne quickly raises her arms to assist him.
"Come here," she mutters, fidgeting with the metal fastening and stepping nearer, bringing herself closer into his personal space. "It keeps jamming. I should really get it replaced one of these— aha!"
Finally, it releases, and only then does she realise that Jaime is staring at her. She knows that look on his face now, and it makes her heart race in anticipation. The moment breaks just as quickly as Jaime takes a breath and removes the heavy fur from his shoulders, haphazardly bundling it up and holding it towards her. She takes it from him and they are caught, again, in an instant of stillness.
"I should… probably go back to my quarters," he suggests, and Brienne can only nod in agreement. "Well, not mine, but bunking with my brother is far preferable to the barracks or the dungeons." He cannot seem to stop talking, needing to fill the silence. "We've been taking it in turns to sleep on the floor. I tried sharing the bed with him, as we used to do as children, but he snores when he's drunk and shouts in his sleep when he's not. It's still better than—"
"You can stay here," she blurts out, cutting him off mid-thought. "If you want to. I can't guarantee my floor will be any more comfortable than your brother's, but I've spare pillows and if I put some furs down then maybe—"
"Yes," he responds, interrupting her own ramblings. "Please. If it's no trouble."
She hugs the bundled cloak closer to her chest, swallowing uncomfortably. "With what we're going to face later, I… I'd rather not be alone."
Jaime nods in understanding, and Brienne breathes out in relief and steps aside, allowing him entry into the room. Her arms are full so Jaime closes the door behind him, the latch clicking neatly into place, and he makes a beeline for the fire blazing in the hearth, standing within its welcoming glow so that the heat can finally leach the cold from his bones.
Brienne unfurls the cloak, droplets of thawed ice still clinging to the fur, and hangs it to dry. She has to suppress a laugh as she turns back to the room, finding Jaime still as a statue before the fire, the only movement his outstretched hand waving gently before the flames.
"Better than your brother's, I take it?" she asks, pouring herself a cup of water from a pitcher and offering Jaime another.
"Much," he says, taking the proffered drink. "He's very stingy with the wood. I suppose, when there's the constant threat of a dragon breathing down your neck, fire is the last thing you want near you."
She acknowledges that with a hum, moving to Jaime's side and staring into the orange flicker of the flames. Within the abstract shapes, an image begins to form: a horde of undead soldiers marching onwards, some of them barely more than skeletons held together by shreds of greying skin and sinew, their claws sharp and their weapons sharper, their number unaccountable. They draw closer and closer and closer still, gnashing their teeth and waving their blades with unnatural precision, every man in their path a mere obstacle to be defeated—
"Brienne, are you all right?"
She comes back to herself with a start, suddenly aware of Jaime's concerned tone and his hand against her arm. How long has she been staring into the fire, for him to be looking at her with such a worried expression?
"Yes, I'm… I'm fine."
She shakes off the nightmarish images, downing the water from her cup and trying to clear her head through activity. First she divests herself of her sword, leaving it within reach of the bed. Then, moving to a chest in the corner of the room, she draws out a number of furs of different sizes and patterns – the dark sable of a bear, the mottled greys of a wolf – and scurries Jaime out of the way so she can lay them down on the floor before the hearth. She retrieves another from her bed, for him to use as a cover, and a spare pillow for his head, then steps back to admire her handiwork.
"There. I doubt it'll be comfortable, but it's the best I can do."
"It's more than enough," he reassures her. "Thank you."
"Try to get some rest, if you can."
"I've slept in worse conditions. At least I'll be warm."
She should offer him use of the bed, she knows, and take the floor herself, but he will only persuade her otherwise and she would rather save them both the effort of arguing. They both know that the conversation is a ruse, a means of distracting them from the events of the corridor, only a few minutes ago. Brienne is still burning with a hundred questions; she is assured that his actions were authentic, that they came from a place of genuine affection for her, but beyond that she is none the wiser as to his intentions. She wonders if his kiss was merely the final act of a condemned man – a parting gift for the only person to extend a hand of friendship since he rode North. He seems truly convinced he will not survive to see the morning.
She wonders if he knows: that he was her first, that he will be her last. She hopes fervently that there will be an in-between.
Jaime watches her as she watches him, neither of them willing to broach the topic now that the moment has passed. The fire crackles in the grate; beyond the window, a gale is picking up, the blizzard growing stronger. There are only a few short hours to spare for sleep.
Before her courage can desert her, Brienne steps forward and presses a kiss to his cheek, withdrawing with a shy smile and averting her gaze to the floor.
He does not answer, and when she finally looks up again she is surprised to note that his eyes have closed in response to the chaste brush of her lips against his face, his expression somewhere between contented and accepting of his imminent fate. She moves away towards the bed, his gentle reciprocation barely audible.
She sits to remove her boots, stowing them neatly by the side of the bed, as Jaime similarly removes his sword-belt and places it nearby before settling himself on the floor. Once the horn sounds, there will be no time to waste in re-armouring themselves; they will have to sleep as they are. It is possible, but not ideal; there is a knack to finding the right position so the plates do not dig in uncomfortably. Brienne shuffles and shifts on the mattress, pulling the furs up to her chest, trying to empty her mind so she can sleep.
From the floor, there is a series of muffled clanks as Jaime tries to get comfortable, the furs offering little protection from the stones. He cannot settle for more than a few seconds without having to move again, creating another disturbance. By the fourth time, Brienne has lost patience, throwing back her fur cover with a sigh and manoeuvring herself from the middle of the bed to the side furthest from the fire.
"I know, I know, just give me a moment—"
"For Seven's sake, just come here." He ceases his efforts and raises his head, finally noticing the expanse of comfortable bed that Brienne has made available. "There's more than enough room."
"Are you sure?"
"If it means I don't have to listen to you rolling around and complaining, yes, I'm very sure."
Jaime considers her offer carefully for a moment, before rising from the floor. He reaches for the pillow and makes his way over, slowly and cautiously, staring at the empty side of the mattress with a slightly dubious expression. If word gets out about this, Brienne's reputation will be in tatters; allying herself with the Kingslayer is one thing, sharing her bed is something else entirely.
She levels her gaze at him, as though reading his thoughts, and he can see there is no point in arguing. With a grateful sigh, he sits on the edge of the bed.
"Boots off," she orders. "I don't want mud in my bed."
He complies with a light chuckle. "As you command, Ser Brienne."
He lies back, Brienne to his left a respectable distance away, and stares at the ceiling. He shifts a little from side to side, repositioning his limbs until the borrowed Northern armour is no longer quite so uncomfortable, and lets out a contented breath. He reaches across with his left hand until he finds hers, his palm coming to rest over the back of her hand.
"Thank you," he says, hoping that she understands he is not just referring to the shared use of her bed. Brienne turns her wrist so she can entwine their fingers, palm to palm, and he thinks that perhaps she does.
He rests his heavy golden hand across his torso, trying to relieve the weight on his arm, and Brienne turns her head to face him, either the movement or the reflection of the firelight attracting her attention.
"You don't have to wear that, if it's uncomfortable," she tells him, and he tenses at the suggestion, hesitant. She squeezes his hand reassuringly. "I've seen it before. It doesn't… offend me."
He deliberates for some time, before finally releasing her hand and sitting up to loosen the straps securing the prosthesis to his arm. He places it down on the floor beside the bed, along with the soft, brushed leather lining designed to prevent the metal from chafing his skin. Brienne watches the process, her eyes following the movement of his arm, eventually settling on the puckered scar at the end of his wrist. He feels self-conscious beneath her scrutiny, but remains silent, resisting the instinctive urge to hide the wrecked appendage from her sight.
"It looks better," she comments. "Better than I remember, anyway."
He acknowledges her with a sceptical grunt, and she does not make any further observations. If she thought he might allow it, Brienne would reach out to place her hand over the gnarled stump in a gesture of comfort, but he is more likely to jerk out of her grasp instead. Still, he does not remove it from her eyeline, and they reach a silent impasse.
Satisfied that Jaime is comfortable, Brienne closes her eyes in an endeavour to sleep. After only a moment, however, she is disturbed by a soft sigh and a less-aggressive shifting of armour, and on opening her eyes again to investigate she finds that Jaime has rolled onto his side to face her, fixing her with a searching expression.
"What's the matter?" she asks, and Jaime surprises her further by extending his handless arm towards her. He is hesitant, drawing short at the last second from touching her, second-guessing her reaction. Brienne rolls over, mirroring his position, reaching carefully for his foreshortened arm and giving him a nod. After what feels like an eternity, Jaime drapes his arm loosely across her waist.
When she rests her own hand over the place where his should be, he takes in a sharp breath, and she wonders if this is the first time anyone has touched his maimed appendage since Qyburn tended to it, since she herself had cleaned the infection from it. The flesh is calloused in places, the edges of the scar uneven and unfamiliar, but she can feel his pulse beneath her fingers, and his skin is warm against hers.
He continues staring at her in reverent silence and she exercises the utmost patience whilst he finds the words to express whatever it is he wants to say. She can no better interpret his expression now than she could at any point earlier in the evening. She lightly caresses his wrist, feeling goosebumps rise up on his arm, the fingers of her other hand squeezing reassuringly as his own seek blindly for hers against the mattress.
Jaime gives a light, disbelieving shake of his head, and when he finally speaks his tone is sincere: no room for dishonesty or the cover of sarcasm in such close quarters as these.
"I… I wish I could hold you. Just once, without this armour between us."
There is a sudden tightness in her throat which prevents her from responding; she finds herself desperately blinking back a wave of tears. More than anything, she wants to reassure him that the battle ahead will turn in their favour; she knows it will, despite Jaime's bleak outlook, but she cannot explain why. She has received so many unexpected gifts this evening, and she refuses to believe that the future can be anything but bright. She cannot entertain pessimism when her heart is trying to beat its way out of her chest with hope.
He will not hear it tonight, she knows: his mind is set on a predetermined fate and there is little point in debating the issue. Instead, she releases his arm so she can cup his face, heartened by the surprised look that floods his features.
"Maybe after," she says, and although he is evidently sceptical, he does not say anything further. "Try to get some sleep."
At her suggestion, Jaime nods, and she retrieves her hand. As she returns to a more comfortable, prone position, she is aware of his eyes upon her, even as she tries again to chase some sleep. His hand squeezes hers once more, and eventually the crackle of the fire and Jaime's steady breathing at her side lull her into slumber.
The horn sounds, rousing her suddenly after what feels like mere seconds, but must be a few hours given the dwindling flames in her hearth and the full-scale blizzard now buffeting against her window, the wind rattling the panes within their leading. She must have been deeply asleep, but feels barely rested at all, and does not wish to drag herself from the bed. The first alarm is an early warning – there will be a few minutes yet before everyone must answer the second call to arms.
She turns her head to find that Jaime is still asleep, on his side as she had left him. She allows him a moment before gently brushing the hair back from his forehead, her hand lingering until he wakes. He stirs, but does not open his eyes, acknowledging her with a sigh.
"Is it time?"
"I'm afraid so."
"I hoped that sound was a bad dream."
Brienne would dearly love to remain where they are, but duty calls. She moves her hand to his shoulders to shake him further awake, before forcing herself out of bed. Jaime rolls onto his back with an audible groan, pausing for a moment to gather the energy to propel himself upright.
Brienne replaces her boots and adds a log to the fire to keep the blaze from extinguishing. If Jaime questions her motives in doing so, he does not say as much, focusing instead on his own boots. She heads to the small table on the other side of the room, retrieving a large chunk of stale bread, spread with a layer of bacon fat, and breaks half off for Jaime. It is barely enough for both of them, but better than entering the fray on an empty stomach. He takes the proffered breakfast gratefully and they both chew slowly, the dry and meagre ration doing down with some difficulty. They share the final cup of water from the ewer.
As they both re-adorn themselves with their swords, it feels almost ritualistic. Brienne feels whole with Oathkeeper at her hip. Jaime is slower, struggling with only one hand, but his sword-belt has been designed with his difficulty in mind. She hesitates to offer any help, not wishing to draw unwanted attention to his predicament.
The golden hand, however, is a different matter, and when Jaime resorts to using his teeth alongside his remaining hand to try and secure the straps, Brienne steps forward without ceremony to assist him. He does not resist, allowing her to ensure that the fit is tight enough to keep the prosthesis in place without cutting off his circulation or chafing uncomfortably. She wonders if he had removed the hand at all since leaving Kings Landing, until her gentle persuasion a few hours ago.
Satisfied that the hand will not cause him any more difficulty or hindrance in the battle, Brienne adjusts his sleeve to conceal the straps and cuff, unaware that Jaime is staring at her until she finally refocuses and meets his gaze. The intensity of it startles her into silence, and as he lifts his left hand to her face she cannot tear herself away, despite her still-instinctive desire to flee.
"Brienne," he begins, and then hesitates, carefully choosing his words. "If I don't say this now, I… I'll regret it for the rest of my life, no matter how brief that may be. I gave you only half the truth as to why I travelled North. It wasn't just because your words gave me cause to pick the better side. I came here because of you. For you. Because I—"
Overtaken by sudden courage, she leans forward to press her mouth to his, cutting off his words before he can utter them. Emboldened by the subtle caress of his hand against her face, and his slight movement closer towards her, she tentatively deepens the kiss. A noise rumbles from Jaime's throat and she feels it all the way down to her toes.
The sound of shouting and booted footsteps, rushing past her doorway in the corridor beyond, is what causes her to pull away, knowing that the second alarm will be imminent. She rests her forehead against his, seeking a final moment of closeness before joining the others.
"After," she says with conviction. "Tell me after."
"You keep saying that," he mutters as they separate. "How can you be so sure there'll even be an 'after'?"
She fixes him with a slightly crooked smile as she steps away, reaching for the door.
"I can't. But surely it's better to have something to live for?"
Before she can turn the handle, Jaime's hand grasps tightly to hers, halting her.
"After?" he asks.
She nods. "After."
"I'd better try and stay alive, then," he ponders with a wry smile.
"If you don't, I'll never forgive you."
With that, she wrenches open the heavy door, pulling Jaime with her into the crowd already trooping towards the battlements. He tugs the panel closed behind him, the weighty thud lost amongst the cacophony. As he follows Brienne to their post, as he tries to remember some of the men around him even though he cannot name them, as the blizzard outside stings his face and the cold sinks deep into his bones, as the Dothraki gallop off fire-laden into the darkness, as the dragons shriek and the wights descend, he remembers his pledge to support his commander, his Lady Knight, until the very end.
Until after becomes today.
A/N: ...I may have rushed that ending slightly in a bid to get this story posted today. I had hoped to finish it a LOT sooner so as to have time to edit it, but meh, life happened. Also: this was supposed to be a short story, and here we are 8K words later!
Anyway: what I was trying to do here was give some context to one of my favourite moments of episode 8.03, namely that part where Jaime seamlessly segued into commander-mode in the middle of the battle and he and Brienne were both shouting orders from either side of the gate. That gave me so many feels and I still can't explain why. Honestly, I was so disappointed that Daenerys didn't use Jaime's knowledge and skills when planning the attack on Kings Landing – a missed opportunity (one of many, apparently.)
I also wanted to leave the ending a little ambiguous in terms of whether either of them would actually confess their feelings later down the line, which is where it sort of ties in with "The Things We Do" – but YMMV and I left it deliberately open in that regard.
I cannot promise that I will be any more productive than usual during this current period of COVID-19 lockdown, because I am still actually working my day job, albeit remotely from my house. That does mean my travel time is significantly reduced (i.e. to none) so I am hoping to get some more words done on "The Things We Do" at some point since I'm no longer spending hours of my day stuck on public transport. It has been slowly and steadily percolating this entire time and it's just a case of getting it to cooperate. I'm very excited to share the ending and I'm hopeful it will be worth the wait. I am painfully aware that I have not posted an update since November, believe me.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this little tale; please do let me know what you think.
And: Happy Knightaversary! (Or should that be AnniSERsary?)