Right, so here's the continuation of the previous chapter, picking up directly where it left off. As promised – more angst, more talking, more kissing, all in one long, 5000+ word segment. I still have no idea where this is going. If I'm remotely brave enough I might do a reimagining of the feast scene and all ensuing consequences in the context of this canon-divergence, but honestly, I did not even plan this far so *shrug*. I kind of like the idea of this being a massive middle-finger to everything from "The Long Night" onwards, so we'll see!
Jaime finishes his account, a little jumbled and confused as it comes back to him, and shakes off the memory.
"I must have been dreaming about it when you woke me," he concludes.
Brienne is staring at him, her face blank with shock, her hands still pressed against his chest. She cannot recall such a moment in the battle, one tide of monsters much the same as the last, rats or otherwise, and she has no recollection of Jaime calling out to her or him moving towards her. She knows that the tower collapsed, that at some point they found themselves cornered in the courtyard, but much of the battle is a haze of noise and movement in her memory now.
"You could have been killed," she says eventually, accusingly. "Gods, Jaime. What were you thinking? You know better than to leave yourself open like that."
"I wasn't thinking," he admits. "Not about myself. I was acting on instinct, trying to keep you safe. If those things had gotten to you, there was no hope of survival – there were hundreds of them, they would have killed you in a heartbeat. I'd have done anything if it meant not losing you." He sighs, knowing how much it sounds like an excuse for his idiotic bravado. "My life means nothing, in the greater scheme of things. A one-handed Kingslayer, a disgraced knight well past his prime. But you… this world needs you, Brienne, and so many more like you. True knights, worthy of the title. If that meant giving my life for yours, it's a sacrifice I would have made willingly."
Brienne is silent for some time, her mouth set in an unhappy line, quietly seething as she tries to tamp down the absolute fury that is pounding through her veins. She is angry beyond words – at Jaime, at his blasé acceptance of imminent death, but even more so at a world that has caused him to believe his life has no value. Her eyes are shimmering with the force of her rage.
"Your life is not worthless," she tells him, her voice low and urgent. "Not to me. Not to your brother. Even if we're the only people who can see it, isn't that enough? To have two people who care for you, who would mourn for you?" She shakes her head in exasperation. "I know you can't see it, but you are a good man."
He flinches as though she has struck him. "I've done terrible things," he says. "Things you should hate me for."
"You don't get to decide how I should feel," she snaps, her frustration bubbling over, and immediately regrets it when Jaime seems to recoil into himself in response. She breathes slowly, in and out, considering carefully how to make him understand. She will fix this, even if it takes all night.
Brienne extricates her hands, now warm, from within his shirt, so she can gently cup his face between them. He tries to avoid her gaze but she holds firm until he relents; even then, there's a strange emptiness in his eyes, almost like he is looking straight through her. His arm is slack and heavy against her side.
"I love you, Jaime," she reminds him gently. Some of the darkness leaves his expression, and she perseveres. "You do understand that, don't you?"
You shouldn't. The words are on the tip of his tongue, but her earlier admonishment is ringing in his ears, so he keeps them at bay.
"I… I do," he says, but he shakes his head a little, between her hands. "I just… I don't think I know what that means."
Her heart aches in sudden understanding; she wants to cry; she wants to seek out every person in his family who made him feel like this and exact revenge on his behalf. Anger and protective devotion are warring inside her, and if not for the fact that it's a winter's night in the North and she's still exhausted from battle, she would be riding off to Kings Landing right now to tell Cersei exactly what she's thinking. Gods, she'll even find Tywin's tomb and give it a good kick. She feels helpless, momentarily unable to see any way of making Jaime understand. She's not exactly an expert in giving or receiving love, but at least her experiences have been mostly positive, failed betrothals aside.
Loving Jaime has been like falling from a cliff into the ocean, drowning, resurfacing, and learning to breathe again. She's never considered what it means, on a greater level, but she tries to explain and hopes he will understand.
"It's… it's acceptance," she offers. "It's compromise. It's knowing your flaws and wanting you in spite of them. But it's also… Jaime, it's a promise – an oath, freely given. Only a few hours ago you spoke of marrying me, and what is marriage except for vows and promises?"
He does not respond, but is considering her words, so she continues.
"Whatever you may have done in the past, I know that you had your reasons. You're not intentionally cruel. Cruel men act indiscriminately, out of malice, because they enjoy hurting others. That's not you."
Her thumbs stroke gently across his face, and his eyes close. He nuzzles into her hand, pressing a kiss to her palm, unperturbed by the callused skin that she wishes was smoother. When he opens his eyes again, his expression is soft and familiar; she feels safe enough to withdraw her hands and clasp them in front of her.
"Everything I've done," he says, "was for love. For the people, for my family… for her. So many things in protection of our terrible secret, to keep our children safe, even though I was never able to claim them as my own… for all the bloody good it did. Some might say Joffrey had it coming, but he wasn't always like that; he was moulded into the ruler Cersei wanted to become. Myrcella was too good for this rotten world. She died in my arms, but she knew who I was and she was glad of it. And Tommen… he was so young. I could have prevented all of that, and I should have left as soon I learned what Cersei had done."
"I didn't know about Myrcella," she admits. "I'm sorry."
She remembers Tommen: just a boy when she had seen him last, but he was innocent and good, made a pawn too soon in the devastating game that has split the world in half. She doesn't mention it, the pained look on Jaime's face telling her all she needs to know.
He shakes off the memory, and his arm tightens around her waist; he is back with her again.
"For love of you, I came here," he reminds her. "And for you, I can be better."
"Just promise me you will never do something so reckless ever again," she demands fervently. "I… I can't lose you, Jaime. Not now. Not when I've finally known how it feels to love someone and have it returned."
He smiles, in understanding, perhaps in sympathy, and gently tugs her closer.
"Ordinarily, I would say that was an impossible promise to keep," he says, "but I am so tired of this war. If Tyrion's Dragon Queen really can bring peace to this realm, I'll bend the bloody knee without a second thought."
"Do you really believe she can?"
"Honestly? I have no idea. She could be her father's daughter in every possible way, or she might prove me wrong. Either way, someone has to end this fight, sooner rather than later. I'm ready for peace now."
Brienne is sceptical of that, and she smirks in amusement as she suggests: "I think you would find it very tedious if you weren't fighting for your life every now and then."
"No, I assure you – I have this all planned out," he says. "When all of this is over, we will go to Tarth, and I'll marry you, and we'll have a small army of children, and live out the rest of our days together."
"A small army?" she asks incredulously.
"Well, maybe two or three. Or four. Seven? Ten?"
"Oh, stop," she interrupts, burying her face against his shoulder to hide her blush, as the implication of what he's saying hits her a little too late. She's never really given thought to children, but the picture Jaime paints feels close enough to touch. It has always been her eventual plan to return home, but she never envisaged having company; now, she cannot imagine anything else.
Jaime presses a kiss to her temple, emitting a soft chuckle as she raises her head again to the pillow. She studies him, mulling over his words more seriously.
"Is that really how you see your future?"
"Our future," he corrects her gently. "I've considered it thoroughly. Nothing would make me happier, Brienne." She cannot quite rein in the expression of mild disbelief on her face, and Jaime looks concerned. "If that's not what you want, I'm sure we can reach some other agreem—"
"No," she interrupts, and then realises how that must sound. "I mean, I do. Want that. It's just…"
She tries to translate the jumble of images in her head into something she can verbalise, as Jaime gazes at her patiently. Whatever reasonable plans she might have had for her future are scrambled, her wildest and most fleeting hopes becoming suddenly more tangible in their stead. She starts in a place she can recognise, hoping the rest will fall into place.
"I didn't anticipate this," she begins. "Any of it. After Kings Landing, I expected the next time we saw each other to be from opposite sides of a battlefield, and only if either of us survived that long… and then you arrived at Winterfell and I realised I'd been grieving, without even knowing it. If I seemed aloof after your trial, it's only because I was still coming to terms with your presence here – I'd had months to adjust to the idea of never seeing you again."
She expects him to respond to that, but he remains silent, listening intently.
"After that, every time we spoke was… surprising, and confusing. I tried to steel my heart, to remain focused, but it was useless. You came here to fulfil your sister's broken vow, knowing full well what the consequences would be, and that meant everything. When you knighted me, I thought there was nothing else in the world I could possibly hope for; to ask for more would have been selfish, but… Gods, Jaime, if I had not already loved you, I would have fallen then."
He nods gently, his recollection of the events very similar to Brienne's: burgeoning feelings finally clicking into place, a singular moment where they were the only people in the world. If they had indeed been alone in the Great Hall, he might have been brave enough to kiss her, to confess the words he should have said before the battle nearly tore them apart.
"If you think I did not have a similar awakening, you are mistaken," he tells her. "You were radiant. Someone should have knighted you a long time ago, but I was glad to be the one to do it. Even if that was the only good thing I ever achieved in my life, it was something I could finally be proud of." She is on the verge of chastising him for his self-deprecation, chewing on her lip to stop herself from interrupting, and he continues: "I didn't dare hope for more, either, but when I saw you across the courtyard, I knew I had to take the chance. Even if you could never reciprocate, you deserved to know."
She gives him a small, amused smile. "And even then, you didn't tell me."
"I tried," he reminds her, "but you wouldn't let me."
"Because I was scared," she confesses. "I didn't want you saying something you would only regret, if you lived to see the morning. That would have destroyed me, even more than if you'd not survived."
"Is that why you didn't believe me?"
She nods, a little embarrassed, and Jaime tightens his grip around her waist, dragging her closer towards him so he can press his forehead against hers. He cannot possibly imagine the hurts she must have endured before now, but he wants to erase them forever.
"Oh, Brienne… I won't regret this. I'll never regret you, love."
She has to swallow the lump in her throat, again, but manages to regain her composure quicker than usual. Jaime seems to have decided on that term of endearment for the foreseeable future, and she will gladly favour it over 'wench', so she ought to get used to it.
"Everything has just happened so fast," she explains quietly. "It's been barely more than a day since… since you kissed me for the first time, and now you have our whole future mapped out. How can you possibly—?"
"It's the only thing that's kept me going, all these years," he says. Brienne pulls her head away, the surprise evident on her face, and he tries to elaborate. "It was just a silly little dream, at first. I found myself thinking about you one day, and my mind started wandering. Then it became a habit… an escape. I nearly gave up so many times, on my way here. It's a bloody long journey on horseback, lonely and cold, enough to send even the sanest person out of their mind. It was the thought of seeing you that drove me onwards. No word of a lie, Brienne."
"I've had similar… wanderings," she admits. "I didn't like to dwell on them. The romantic dreams of a foolish heart."
Jaime studies her, as though he is trying to see those dreams for himself, and gives her a curious smile.
Her eyes widen in surprise. "I most certainly will not!"
He laughs. "I had a feeling you might say that. You can't blame me for trying."
"Tell me yours, then," she counters, "if you're so keen on sharing."
"Now, why would I want to just tell you, when I have every intention of showing you?"
The timbre of his voice has altered, the moment of frivolity dissolving; Brienne's focus is suddenly honed on the knot of tension in the pit of her stomach, which slowly unfurls and spreads like liquid warmth through her limbs. For the third time since waking, she feels her self-control grow tenuous, not helped by the fact that Jaime is so evidently aware of her predicament, with the barest hint of challenge in his expression.
Her eyes meet his; they are darker than the low light would account for, travelling over her features and settling for a long moment upon her mouth, before his gaze locks to hers again. He edges very slightly closer, but hesitates, waiting for her to make the final move. Brienne's knuckles are white from clasping her hands together so tightly, to stop herself from reaching out to pull him nearer; she has to force herself to unlock her fingers, tentatively extending her left hand to cup his face. Her right arm is bent a little awkwardly in the space between them, but she presses her palm to his chest to feel the steady thud beneath his skin.
He closes his eyes for a heartbeat as her thumb swoops across his cheekbone; when he opens them again, there's a flash of desire, unrestrained, and it sends a jolt straight to her core. Her astonishment is still tangible; she cannot quite shake her disbelief, the sensation that this is all a fleeting dream which will disappear with the morning light. Jaime's physical presence both grounds her and confounds her: whilst her mind could never have conjured up such a situation as this, the absolute impossibility of it is startling.
"Brienne." Jaime's voice drags her back to the moment, the look in his eyes unchanged, if perhaps a little more desperate. "Please, either kiss me or put me out of my misery, before I—"
She chooses the former, surging to meet his mouth, because Gods she's been wanting to kiss him for what feels like hours and it's only some niggling sense of propriety which has prevented her from doing so; it didn't seem polite to interrupt him when he was laying his heart bare. Whatever Jaime was going to say is muffled, his interrupted words turning into a satisfied groan.
The kiss is frantic, clumsy, messy, a ridiculous battle for dominance borne out of sheer relief – Brienne still fraught from tending to his injury and learning its origin, Jaime's nerves on edge after his unexpected remembrance of it and how close he had been to losing her – and the need to breathe is what finally breaks them apart. They resume a second later, but it's Jaime who slows things down: his handless wrist against her chin nudging gently to adjust the angle of her mouth against his. He draws her bottom lip between his teeth, nipping tenderly, before chasing her tongue with his.
Brienne melts into him, boneless, shuffling closer with her hand burying itself in his hair. His arm drifts back to encircle her waist, tugging her with him as he rolls onto his back, and with his left hand now free he reaches up to caress her face. Their legs tangle together, his knee hooking around hers, the evidence of his need pressing against her. It's surprising, still, but familiar.
She is suddenly, acutely aware of her own weight bearing down on him; she may be a maid still but she's certainly no delicate slip of a girl. She tries to brace herself on her arms, but as soon as she moves away Jaime's right arm clutches at her back possessively, preventing her from escaping. She tries again, the kiss breaking as a minor scuffle ensues, Jaime trying to hold her in place and her hands scrabbling for purchase wherever she can reach, and she's half-considering tickling him as a last resort to get him to cooperate when he suddenly seizes up and cries out in pain. She freezes, terrified, before she realises that her right hand against the mattress has caught his injured side on the way down.
She supports herself on her left arm, hand against the pillow beside his head, and moves her right hand up as well. Framed between her arms, Jaime's face is contorted in a grimace, whilst her own is a mask of remorse.
"Shit. Fuck, that hurt."
"I'm sorry, I didn't intend—"
"It's… it's fine, just give me a minute."
He focuses on his breathing as the pain slowly subsides, the throb of agony eventually dwindling to an ache and an occasional sting. Brienne holds herself away from him, looking as guilty as if she had caused the injury herself rather than merely aggravating it.
"Are you— Is it—"
She fumbles over her words, and Jaime reaches up to cup her face, his thumb brushing against her mouth and effectively quietening her.
"I'm fine, Brienne. You just knocked the wind out of me, that's all."
She nods, and he withdraws his hand, but she will not be satisfied until she knows for certain. Still bracing awkwardly on her left arm, she lifts the hem of the shirt to inspect the damage. The bandages are still clean and she breathes out in relief. Jaime winces a little as Brienne tugs the shirt down again, but he catches her hand in his before she can return it to the pillow, pressing a kiss to her knuckles.
"Come back here," he orders her gently. "I wasn't finished kissing you."
She smiles, but is still wary of crushing him, particularly after exacerbating his physical fragility.
"Can we at least—"
She tries to disentangle their legs so she can move away, but Jaime only tightens his grip.
"You're not going anywhere," he says. "Come here."
He is slowly wearing her down, not that she would admit that. Her arm is starting to ache and tremble from the effort of holding herself up, particularly with the weight of Jaime's arm trying to pull her down; it's futile to hope that he hasn't noticed, and there's a mischievous glint in his eye that she almost misses before he turns his head towards her hand. He presses a kiss to her wrist and starts to move up her forearm, nosing her shirt sleeve out of the way, until he reaches the crook of her elbow. The warmth of his lips and bristle of his beard against the sensitive skin are enough to make her arm give out, dropping her inelegantly onto his chest. That winds him, too, but he recovers on a laugh.
She rights herself, bracing her forearms lightly against his chest to lift herself up, bringing them face to face. They stare at each other for a long moment, the firelight casting flickering light patterns across their respective features; the crackle in the hearth and the howl of the storm beyond Brienne's window the only sounds to encroach upon their safe haven. The furs have become dislodged during their tussle, and she cannot tell if the shiver down her spine is because of the chill, or the look on Jaime's face.
He lifts his hand to her cheek, caressing her skin with his thumb.
"I love you." A quiet sigh. "If you still don't believe me—"
"I do," she assures him, but shakes her head with an amused smile. "I honestly suspect you might be insane, but I believe you."
"Well, Lannisters are not exactly known for making level-headed decisions," he agrees, both of his siblings coming to mind, as well as some of his own more questionable choices. "But in this, I assure you, I am in possession of all my senses." He adopts a more serious tone: "If I ever cause you to doubt my devotion to you, then you can assume I have lost my mind. Only a fool would give you up, Brienne."
She gives him a fond, mildly exasperated look, before leaning down to bridge the meagre space between them, favouring actions over words. They have always been able to communicate with nothing more than a glance, speaking through silence; in the battle it had been imperative to know what the other was thinking; now, the eager press of his mouth against hers is just as effective as any gesture. Jaime kisses her tenderly, his hand sinking into her hair; she tries to mimic his earlier technique, drawing his lower lip between hers, gratified when he hums contentedly.
She toys absently with the loose ties of his shirt, her fingers occasionally travelling to seek out the warmth of his skin only to disappointedly recall that most of his torso is covered by bandages; when she lays her hands flat she can feel his heartbeat thudding strong against her palms. Jaime's right arm moves gently down from her waist to her hip, then up again, nudging the hem of her shirt out of the way. His handless wrist caresses the bare expanse of her back, tracing a path up her spine and igniting a shudder throughout her entire body, an involuntary moan rumbling from her throat. In response, Jaime kisses her harder, his hips rolling upwards.
A wave of sudden, unprecedented panic overwhelms her, causing her to break the kiss; she half-expects Jaime to pull her back down towards him, but instead he allows her a moment to recover, his hand disentangling from her hair to cup her face instead. His gaze locks to hers, pupils blown so wide she can barely see the green, and she knows full well she must be similarly afflicted.
Blinking rapidly, she takes a breath. "Jaime…"
"I know," he says, interrupting her before she can launch into a rambling explanation, and predicting her words with a knowing smile. "We need to stop."
She bites her lip apologetically. "I'm sorry, it's just—"
"You don't have to explain," he reassures her. "Besides, I'm a man of my word. I promised to wait, and I will." His thumb caresses her cheek. "I just hope you know… how badly I want you."
Brienne is unable to prevent the flush that colours her features at his affirmation. She has no answer to give; she wants to kiss him again but fears neither of them would be able to rein in their self-control. Perhaps sensing her hesitation, Jaime reaches instead for one of her hands, pressing a kiss to her knuckles, before finally releasing her from the confining hold of his limbs.
She clambers off him carefully, wary of knocking his injury again, and settles on her side next to him, his left arm extending to wrap around her as her head comes to rest against his shoulder. It's different to when she was facing him; she can see the slow rise and fall of his chest as he breathes, practically hear his heartbeat beneath her ear. She extends an arm across his stomach, hoping that he feels as safe in her hold as she does in his.
Jaime turns his head, pressing a kiss to her temple, and she thinks maybe he does.
"You need to find the Maester in the morning," she reminds him quietly, and he only chuckles in response. "I mean it, Jaime. You need someone who knows what they're doing to take a look at those stitches. Anyway, the sooner you heal…"
She trails off into an embarrassed silence, hoping that he will not press the matter.
"Yes? Come on, Brienne, out with it."
He will not drop it, she knows, and after a brief moment to summon her woman's courage once more, she continues:
"The sooner you heal, the sooner we can…" She still cannot bring herself to finish the suggestion.
Jaime pretends to consider her offer very thoroughly. "Hm, well, you certainly make a compelling argument. I'll have to give it some serious thought."
She indulges in an eye roll and pokes him in the chest. "Jaime, just see the Maester, or I'll drag you there myself."
"Yes, fine. But rest assured, I'll be coming straight back here as soon as he's finished with me. I never want us to be parted again."
"That's a lovely sentiment, but there's so much still to do on the morrow," she considers. "They'll be building the pyres from sun-up; we've a funeral to attend. Lady Sansa will be keen to start rebuilding, and the Queen will waste no time in regaining her troops."
"There's also the feast," he adds. "To commemorate our great victory. We have so much to celebrate, and you're sorely mistaken if you think I'm going to do that on my own. I want us to march into that Great Hall together so I can lay claim to you in front of everyone… especially that bloody Wildling."
Brienne is flattered, and more than a little surprised, that he wants to announce their new arrangement so soon. Still, there are others within Winterfell who care for him, and she is wary of stealing all of his time.
"You should dine with your brother. It might be the only chance you have, at least for a while."
"After sharing quarters with him, I've had my fair share of listening to his drunken ramblings," he japes. "Still, I suppose you're right. There's no harm in you joining us, though, Brienne. I'd like it if you could get to know each other better. Don't let all the bawdy humour and sardonic wit deter you; he's actually quite pleasant, underneath all that."
"It's almost like you're related…" ponders Brienne, a hint of irony colouring her words, and Jaime huffs out a laugh as they lapse into silence.
It feels odd to admit that she's already grown used to his presence in her bed, when only two days ago they had barely even spoken to each other since his arrival. She has no idea how to broach the topic of him staying beyond the morning, or whether she should even assume that he would wish to do so. They have already broken any existing rules of propriety, and if Jaime really does intend to wait, it seems likely he would prefer to do that away from her.
She approaches the issue cautiously.
"You can't keep sleeping on your brother's floor," she says. "I could… speak with Lady Sansa on your behalf. You helped to defend her home; it seems only right you should be offered quarters of your own."
Jaime does not immediately respond, and she can practically hear him mulling over her words. Already, she wishes she had not brought it up.
"I'm not suggesting that you're incapable of vouching for your own wishes," she adds quickly. "Of course, you should ask her yourself, I only thought—"
"No, it's not that. I mean, I will speak to Sansa, if you think that's best, but…"
"Why cause all that inconvenience, when I could just stay here?"
Her heart feels lighter almost immediately. "Is that what you want?"
"Very much so."
Relieved, elated, Brienne leans up and over, kissing him soundly. He smiles against her mouth and is still smiling when she withdraws.
"Stay, then," she demands of him softly.
"For as long as you'll have me."
As she settles against his shoulder again, the relief turns to exhaustion. It must be the middle of the night, by now, and they've a long day ahead in the morning. She reaches for the furs at the foot of the bed, where they ended up during the impromptu wrestling match, tugging them up again. Cuddling up to Jaime, she lets out a contented sigh and presses a kiss to the underside of his jaw. He nuzzles against the top of her head, his arm tightening around her shoulder.
In the quiet and the orange-hued shadows of her chamber, warm and safe and loved, Brienne allows the pull of sleep to drag her under and her still-foolish heart to run free. She knows that the old songs and stories are untrue, but she has always believed in happy endings. There's another battle still to fight and the war is not yet won, but none of that matters, for now; as slumber claims her, the final thought to cross her mind is as comforting as it is implausible:
I'll have you forever.
A/N: I'm leaving the eventual chapter count on this story open-ended, just in case it decides to jump back into my brain, but for the meantime, let's call that the end. I got there eventually: they simply would. not. shut. up.
In furtherance of using these two as my guinea pigs, I'm practicing writing about kissing, so, er… yeah, fingers crossed it wasn't too awful! (*insert "I have no idea what I'm doing" GIF*)
Since this has kind of turned into a post-Long Night AU of sorts, I attempted to fix the whole "doing-hateful-things-for-Cersei" nonsense by having Jaime admit that he's done things for love, and Brienne point out that he's not, by design, a malicious person who is just needlessly cruel for no reason – and just, you know, having them actually talk to each other whilst sober for more than five minutes.
I'm trying not to throw too much "fixing" into this story because there's still a lot of ground to cover in the next (hopefully final) chapter of "The Things We Do", and I don't want to ruin all of my hard work in bringing it to fruition. This was more about fixing the mess before it ensues, rather than after.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed. =)