A/N: This was going to be the last chapter (albeit I would have left it open-ended), but I think I actually know where this story is going now! I can't say how many more chapters there will be, but I don't think it will be epic – maybe four remaining, at the most. I just need to let my concept for the plot percolate a bit longer, but it will continue in the theme of being a self-indulgent season 8 reimagining. Such being said, there may be a bit of a delay in the next chapter arriving whilst I figure out where to go next (not that I am any good at writing to a schedule in the first place…)
In the meantime, here we have the longest chapter so far in this tale (it's about twice as long as any of the others), where you will find a pinch of angst, a tonne of fluff to make up for the last chapter (by which I mean a LOT of kissing) and a slightly different aftermath to the post-battle celebration than in canon – though in keeping with earlier chapters, I have tried to incorporate some similar elements and I couldn't resist stealing one line in particular. It picks up a few short minutes after the end of the previous chapter, i.e. Brienne and Jaime leaving the feast.
I hope you enjoy. =)
[Re-uploaded 26/08/2020 with a few minor corrections / omitted repetitiveness.]
"Seven Hells, Jaime, it's freezing out here!"
He's brought her outside, despite her protests when she realised where they were heading, in the hopes of shocking some of the alcohol from her system. He has to bite back a laugh at her disapproving expression and her uncharacteristic cursing, though the latter sends an unprecedented shudder down his spine. (After all, wasn't it just the same thing that compelled him to travel North in the first place?)
"Yes, I know," he agrees. "It'll help sober you up. Trust me."
"You could have warned me," she mutters.
He does laugh, then. "I did. You refused, and I ignored you."
She rubs her arms against the outside chill, realising to her utter chagrin that the shock of the frigid temperature has indeed cleared some of the fuzziness from her brain. Not that she would admit it to Jaime's face.
"Well, when it comes to drinking, I have to concede that your expertise vastly surpasses mine," she observes with faux-seriousness. "You've clearly had more opportunity to practice. Some of us have found better ways of spending our time than being..." – she prevaricates, waving a hand as she tries to find the right word, then gesturing to encompass his general person – "drunken reprobates."
"I'll assume that's the wine talking, and let that comment slide." He huffs, breath billowing in the cold air. "Anyway, Tyrion is definitely more of an expert in this particular field. I have no idea where he puts it all."
Brienne's linen shirt and leather jerkin offer little protection from the elements and she shivers, appraising Jaime warily – he is not dressed for the weather either, and it's strange for him not to complain about the frozen temperatures of the North.
"How are you not cold?" she asks him, unable to keep the incredulity from her voice.
"Wine," he responds jovially. "Warms the blood. Keeps you toasty."
"Actually," she adds, her eyes narrowing suspiciously, "how are not drunk?"
"Believe me – I am. You must be drunk if you think I'm not."
She tries to make sense of his words and fails utterly, though she's not sure if that's because her own brain is half-pickled or because Jaime is making even less sense than usual. Giving up, she surveys their surroundings instead, trying to work out where they are. In her inebriated state, she cannot quite get her bearings, other than to acknowledge that they are not on ground level. A stone balustrade looks out over the main courtyard of Winterfell, peaceful now after the earlier activity of the day. She hopes fervently that Jaime knows his way back to her quarters from here.
She approaches the edge, iced-over snow crunching underfoot as she walks, and leans her hands against the wall, taking in a deep lungful of frosty air. It helps to settle the nausea roiling in her stomach.
"At least it's not snowing," says Jaime as he approaches.
"Small mercies," she responds grumpily. "My head feels clearer. Can we go back inside now?"
"We could," he agrees, "but it's such a clear night, it seems a shame to waste it."
He's exaggerating; the sky is not completely clear, but after the blizzard its inky blackness is streaked with blue-grey clouds, bright pinpricks of stars peeking through; a full moon, half-hidden, illuminating the haze from within. It's undoubtedly pretty, more aesthetically pleasing than any winter's night ought to be, but it's hardly worth the effort of freezing to death.
Brienne is just about to suggest as much when Jaime draws up close behind her and wraps his arms around her, enveloping her in warmth. It transports her back to the hours following the battle, sunrise slowly dawning, heartfelt confessions in the morning light. She surrenders to a contented sigh, tugging Jaime's arms tighter and shimmying backwards, further into his embrace.
"Very well, Ser – I am persuaded."
"I had a feeling you might be," he says, a low chuckle resonating from within his chest. He settles his chin upon her shoulder and stretches to press a kiss to her cheek.
How long they remain like that, neither can say. The night is peaceful, the silence punctuated only by the distant cry of wolves as they prowl the wilderness, the hoot of an owl somewhere in the Godswood. One day in the not-so-distant future, this could be Tarth on a summer's night, the crash of waves, the singing of crickets and night-birds – or the squalling of a new-born babe. Jaime's chest rises and falls on a sigh, echoing Brienne's own yearning thoughts.
She is generally not one to dwell on daydreams of how her life might turn out, especially when they are so outlandishly romantic, but Jaime's own vision of their future has continued to play out in her head, filling her with hope. She can forget, for a brief moment, that the war is not yet over; she can pretend that Jaime is hers alone.
All too soon, the current surroundings and the situation they are yet to face encroach into her reverie, her contentment at Jaime's presence warring with her need to distance herself, to steel herself against inevitable disappointment. She shifts away from him, not abruptly, though he releases her with a jolt of surprise nonetheless; when she turns to face him and furthers the distance between them, he does not protest, though the dejected look on his face pierces straight to her heart.
She hesitates a moment, unable to find the words to explain even if she wasn't sluggish from wine.
"I'm just tired, Jaime. That's all." She offers him the barest of smiles. "I'm not used to drinking – it's gotten the better of me."
He concedes with a nod, and straightens his posture as if to lead the way back inside, but something makes him pause. It takes Brienne far too long to realise that Jaime is staring at her with an appraising eye, and perhaps it's the alcohol making her braver than usual, but she does not feel the immediate need to hide away. The gifted jerkin from Sansa is made to measure, lightly cinching in her waist and giving her a more feminine shape, creating the illusion of womanly curves. The stars are embroidered by hand (by Sansa herself) and embellished with tiny glass beads that glitter in the moonlight. Without a full-length mirror in her chambers, Brienne did not have the benefit of assessing her own appearance before leaving for the feast, but from the look on Jaime's face she can only assume the effect is pleasing.
He closes the space between them and lifts his hand to her shoulder, fingertips lightly brushing over one of the stars, his touch hesitant. The warmth of his hand radiates outwards, provoking a shiver down her spine as his thumb just barely touches the sensitive skin of her neck.
"Is this new?" he asks. "I've never seen it before."
She manages to nod, using the motion of her head to swallow nervously, her throat suddenly dry.
"Yes. It was a gift from Lady Sansa."
His hand inches away and hovers for a moment, indecisive, before dropping to the dip of her waist.
"She has good taste. Tell her I approve."
Brienne rolls her eyes, at that, because impressing Jaime Lannister was probably the furthest thing from Sansa's mind when commissioning the garment. A sarcastic riposte is on the tip of her tongue, but it does not reach fruition, as Jaime's hand slides around to the small of her back and he moves in closer, his eyes never leaving hers. She indulges in the temptation of insinuating her hands inside the open front of his jacket, seeking some reprise for her frozen fingers.
Jaime cannot tear his gaze from her face, the moonlight illuminating her eyes to a darker but no less fascinating shade of blue, the wine and the frost raising a delightful pink tinge to her cheeks and nose. He leans in, Brienne's eyes drifting closed in anticipation as he stretches up to meet her mouth—
"Oh. Excuse me!"
A low voice in the doorway jolts them apart, Brienne almost leaping away from him as though scalded, and they turn towards the interruption. To their mutual relief, it's Tyrion standing in the archway, goblet still in hand and an apologetic look on his face.
"I was hoping I might find you out here," he says. "My sincerest apologies for the intrusion, Jaime, Ser Brienne – but I thought it best to inform you. Tormund saw you leaving the Great Hall together, and it seems an excess of ale has made him thirsty for vengeance. You'd best make yourselves scarce."
Brienne looks positively appalled by this new development, either at Tormund's persistence or inadvertently causing him heartache, possibly both.
"Thanks for the warning," says Jaime.
Brienne nods in agreement and heads back towards the corridor, Tyrion stepping aside to let her through into the passage behind him. As Jaime follows, he finds himself momentarily halted by his brother clasping onto his wrist, just above the cuff of his golden hand.
"What is it?"
"Nothing. It's just… good to see you happy, brother." Tyrion smiles. "It's been a long time coming, though I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little jealous."
If Jaime was more sober, he might attempt to impart some words of encouragement in return, though he doubts they would be very enlightening. Instead, he claps Tyrion on the shoulder in gratitude, squeezing gently, before releasing him and following Brienne into the darkness of the passageway.
They meander slowly back to Brienne's quarters, side by side, fingers linked together; Jaime had sought out her hand immediately on catching up with her, and since then she has held firm and not let go. There's no danger of anyone seeing – the majority of the castle's inhabitants are still celebrating in the Great Hall, and those that aren't will doubtless be sequestered away somewhere more private.
Somehow, Brienne seems more certain of her surroundings now they are indoors, though to Jaime every corridor in Winterfell looks much the same as its neighbours. Brienne is steadier on her feet now, too, the outside air having achieved its intended purpose, though a part of him regrets that he has no further excuse to drape an arm around her waist.
The labyrinthine thoroughfares are dimly lit by torches in sconces, just about adequate to see where they are going. The spaces between are populated, alternately, by ornate tapestries depicting direwolves and bare trees, or empty floor-to-ceiling alcoves built into the wall. Jaime can vaguely recall similar spaces, elsewhere in the castle, housing plinths and imposing statues of former Starks, though on this level they are mostly vacant, ready and waiting for future generations to be immortalised in stone.
Passing one such alcove, Brienne hesitates momentarily, casting a glance towards the darkened space with a curious smile, but they continue on. At the next, she stops completely, Jaime only becoming aware from the resistance against his arm, and he takes a step back to draw level with her.
She is distracted by whatever has captured her attention and he takes a light approach to try and draw a response from her.
"Hoping they'll build a statue in your honour? I think you'd have to change your name first. I wouldn't worry – they're bound to memorialise you on Tarth at some point."
"Oh… no, it's not that," she mutters absently, refocusing. "I was just remembering something."
She doesn't answer straight away, chewing on her lip for a moment before deciding to share her thoughts.
"Before the battle," she reminds him, "after you'd kissed me and we were walking back… we passed one of these on the way, and I briefly considered…"
She lets the thought trail off, but Jaime has a fairly good idea of what she had been about to say. He gives her time to finish, but self-consciousness overtakes her and she averts her gaze to the floor.
"Well?" he prods.
She lifts her eyes to his again, then takes a step backwards, tugging him by the hand as she manoeuvres herself into the recess with her back against the stones. She releases his digits, but only so she can reach for the front of his jacket and yank him further into her personal space. The light from the sconces either side is barely enough to see each other, the darkness of the alcove hiding them almost entirely from sight of anyone passing. In the torchlight, at such close proximity, there's a mischievous glint in her eye that Jaime is certain he's never seen before today.
"This?" he questions.
Brienne shakes her head and gives one final, firm tug against his jacket, dragging him flush against her, before pressing her mouth to his. The wine has made her bold, her kiss firm and demanding; he rises up on his toes to better give her what she wants, sinking back down again as she melts into him. Her lips part instinctually for Jaime's searching tongue and a satisfied moan escapes his throat – it feels like an eternity since the armoury and he's been wanting to kiss her since the feast. During Tyrion's game it had taken every ounce of his self-control not to vault across the table and claim her mouth, propriety and caution be damned. Her joyous laughter and relaxed smiles had ignited a spark that could not be quenched, pitching him headlong in love with her even more than he already was.
Just as abruptly, she pulls away again, leaving him breathless and stunned.
"That," she clarifies with an amused tone.
For a second, all he can manage is a strangled, "Gods," leaning his forehead against hers whilst he catches his breath. He pulls back with a shuddery exhale. "Why didn't you? I certainly wouldn't have complained."
"I wasn't sure if you'd want me to."
"Brienne, I'd half-considered doing the same thing myself."
"So why didn't you?"
"I didn't want to scare you off."
"You could never—"
Jaime cuts her off by pressing his hand over her mouth, quietening her with an urgent expression. Her confusion is obvious, at least until a familiar, booming voice echoes from around the nearest corner.
"Where are you, Kingkiller? Try to steal my woman, would you? Come out and fight me for her, if you've got the balls!"
As Tormund's heavy footsteps grow closer, Jaime huddles in tighter and hopes that the darkness will be enough to hide them. The wildling continues ranting as he passes, weaving unsteadily from side to side from the substantial amount of ale in his system, disappearing down a staircase at the other end of the passage. There's a distant clatter as he stumbles down the final few steps, swearing at whoever tries to help him back up, before he stomps away and the noise finally subsides.
Brienne lets out a breath as Jaime withdraws his hand, then emits an inelegant snort of laughter which raises a delighted grin on Jaime's face.
"I could take him on, I think," he ponders.
"It wouldn't be a fair fight," she suggests.
"I'm much better with my left hand these days."
"That's not the point. He's brute strength with no finesse, and he doesn't follow the rules in the best of circumstances."
"You sound like you're speaking from experience," he teases with a slightly envious tone.
"I am," she says. "Trust me; I've tried sparring against him and it's not worth the effort. He nearly took Podrick's bloody head off, swinging his sword around like a fool after he'd knocked me into the dirt. He's an overgrown child." She shakes her head in disapproval. "Anyway, you don't need to fight for me."
"Don't I? He seems a persistent sort."
"He can be as persistent as he wants. I'm yours, Jaime." Just like that, things are serious again, both of them sensing the change in the air. She raises both hands to his face, ensuring his gaze remains focused on hers so he can see the truth of her next words. "You have me. Heart and soul and… and everything."
She is not usually like this, open and vulnerable: Jaime is keenly aware of that. On the battlefield, or training the men, she is harsh and unyielding, wearing her armour like a protective shell, but beneath the metal plates there beats a maiden's heart. Jaime has seen both sides to her, and feels privileged to be one of only a few who have been witness to the latter. Softness should not become either of them, hardened warriors in the midst of a war, but in moments such as this they fall into it easily. He has known her gentleness and her strength, and he loves her for both in equal measure.
He is overwhelmed by a rush of emotion that he cannot impart in words; all he can do is bridge the remaining space between them to kiss her tenderly. Her hands drop away as her arms slide up and over his shoulders, and the movement brings her closer to him, creating enough space between her back and the wall for him to wrap his right arm around her. His left hand sinks into her hair, keeping her where he needs her to be.
It's almost an echo of their first kiss, standing in an abandoned corridor in Winterfell after coming in from the cold, but there's no armour between them now and Brienne has a much better idea of what to do with herself. His sense of imminent doom has lessened significantly; there's far less urgency without an army of the dead looming on the horizon. Still, when he considers how much time they've wasted, Jaime curses himself for perhaps the hundredth time that he did not just kiss her at Riverrun and be done with it.
They drift apart again slowly, their embrace loosening but not entirely separating from each other. Brienne's hands drift to his shoulders, then his chest, as he disentangles his fingers from her hair and moves to cup her face instead.
"If you are mine, then… then I am definitely yours," he tells her, and it sounds like wedding vows but he doesn't care, because he needs her to know. "You have me, too, Brienne. You caught me at Harrenhal and you've had me ever since."
It's a testament to how much she's had to drink that Brienne does not immediately disbelieve him. Instead, she merely smiles, a rare smile that reaches her eyes. Jaime is lost in their deep blue depths, as he has been countless times tonight, entranced by the reflection of flickering torchlight. His thumb moves almost of its own volition to brush against her mouth, words tumbling forth from his own before he has a chance to think about them.
Her smile falters, brow furrowing as she studies his face, and before he can react she has twisted out of his hold, squeezed past him back into the open corridor and stalked away from him. Jaime wastes no time in trying to figure out the reason for her reaction, hoping he can get to the bottom of it after he's caught up with her.
He is not far behind as he follows her down the passageway, not quite able to keep up with her brisk pace, and she ignores his every effort at getting her attention, steadfast and determined to reach her destination. Within moments she has reached the door to her chambers, pushed it open just enough to slip inside and closed it behind her again with a heavy thud. Jaime almost collides with the door, Brienne's haste creating the effect of it being slammed in his face even though he is certain that was not her intention.
By rights, since they share this room now, he could just walk in. There's no sound of a key being turned – the door is still unlocked. He hesitates to follow that instinct, not wishing his only safe haven in the North to be tainted by an inevitable argument. No, first, he will fix whatever is wrong.
Jaime raises his hand and knocks tentatively against the panel. A muffled "Go away!" emanates from within, close enough that she must be directly on the other side of the door.
"I just want to talk," he calls back, "and to apologise, if it's needed." He has to raise his voice to be heard, anxious that it will bring them both unwanted attention. "I'd rather not have to shout. At least open the door so we can speak properly – unless you want all of Winterfell to know our business."
In the silence that follows he is absolutely certain she will refuse, try to ignore him until he goes away – but of course he is far too stubborn for that, he'll sleep on the floor outside her chamber if necessary – until the door opens just enough for Brienne to emerge. A tendril of warmth from her fire escapes through the gap, reminding him that Winterfell's corridors are almost as cold as everywhere else in the bloody North, and increasing his determination to end the evening as happily as it began.
Her expression is wary and guarded, and it feels like a knife in his gut that he was the one to cause it, when only moments ago they had both been laying their hearts bare for each other. Now that he has the opportunity to speak to her, he realises he has no idea where to start.
"You're a liar," she accuses him, and words from years ago come flooding back into his brain – curse me or kiss me or call me a liar – and he almost wants to laugh because she's managed all three in the space of less than an hour.
"On what grounds would you make such a heinous judge of character?" he asks, perhaps less serious than he should be, hoping that a charm offensive might do some of the work for him. Brienne's expression does not falter, but at least the wine has made her less reticent than usual, and she gives him an answer rather than waiting for him to figure it out.
"You said I was—" She cuts herself off, stumbling over the word, and averts her gaze to the floor.
"Yes," he agrees, in a softer tone. "Explain how that makes me a liar."
It takes her some time to respond and she looks far away for a moment, lost in memory; her reaction had been instinctive, and she has to search for the root cause before she can reply. Once she has managed to formulate the right words, she bravely lifts her head to look him in the eye.
"My whole life," she explains, "that word has been used against me: to mock me, to hurt me, to hammer into me that it was everything I would never be." Her chin quivers, just slightly, before she regains control with a measured breath. "I learned to rise above it, eventually, and those who sought to insult me grew bored when I stopped reacting. I'd hoped those days were behind me."
"I wasn't trying to mock you," he says in a reassuring tone, "or to hurt you. That was the furthest thing from my mind." He feels a rush of savage protectiveness and a sudden desire to locate every single one of the worthless shits who made her feel this way so he can beat some manners into them, whilst understanding perfectly well that he was among them, once upon a time. "Have I ever used that word against you, as you suggest?"
"No, but you had plenty of other choice words to throw at me. Or have you forgotten?"
He flinches at the recollection.
"I was lashing out," he explains. "I know that doesn't excuse it, but I said and did plenty of abhorrent things back then. It's to my shame that you bore the brunt. You were only following orders." He shakes off the memory. "When I spoke of Harrenhal earlier, I was not exaggerating. It changed everything – not just between us, but inside me."
She fixes him with a thoughtful expression. "Had you told anyone else your secret, before me?"
"Only my brother," he says. "And Cersei, once, but she was so heavily into her cups that she did not remember the following day. I try not to make a habit of… reliving it."
"Because I trusted you," he reminds her, "and because I knew… I hoped you would believe me. Because I saw in you everything I once aspired to be, and I thought… if I could only gain your trust, it might go some small way to restoring my honour, even if my name was forever tainted."
"You didn't need me for that, Jaime."
"Maybe not, but you definitely gave me a shove in the right direction – and I don't just mean literally." He smiles, and tries to move the conversation back to the topic at hand. "Brienne, I swear, I had no intention of causing you pain. My words came from a place of good intent. I may not have planned to say them, but… I meant them."
She evidently still does not believe him, as she scoffs and rolls her eyes. "Well, if you're not lying, then you must be drunker than I thought."
"Oh, indubitably," he agrees. "I am very drunk and very, very much in love, and both of those conditions have loosened my tongue." Brienne relaxes a little, the corners of her mouth turning up very slightly, the wall slowly crumbling: his feelings are familiar, even if his compliments are not. "Do you know, I have never seen you smile as much as you did tonight? You should laugh more often, Brienne. It suits you."
"I could say the same for you," she tells him.
"Am I forgiven, then?"
"I'm… considering it."
"Could you possibly consider it whilst I'm on the other side of that door?" he implores. "It's really quite cold out here."
"It'll sober you up," she says, outwardly serious but her eyes sparkling with amusement, and Jaime's heart unexpectedly skips a beat, his breath hitching in his chest.
Before he can speak – not that he had figured out what to say, exactly, other than a litany of romantic nonsense, no doubt – Brienne's eyes suddenly widen in alarm. He does not get a chance to question why: she opens the door fully and drags him inside, hastily closing it after him.
She silences him with a hand over his mouth and gestures towards the door with her head. For a second or two, he has no idea what Brienne has heard, but then the familiar sound of heavy, booted footsteps becomes apparent, and Tormund's voice once again resounding down the corridor. He seems maudlin now rather than angry, his words more slurred than they were and mostly indecipherable through the thick wood of the chamber door. There's a metallic clang as he staggers into the wall and dislodges one of the torches, followed by a muffled thud a few paces later.
They remain, motionless, until Tormund has well and truly disappeared and the corridor is silent once more, and Brienne's hand drops away. She leans back against the door, sagging in relief, reaching with practiced fingers to turn the key and lock her chamber against any intruders.
"He doesn't know where you sleep, does he?" asks Jaime with genuine concern.
"No, thank the Gods. I've made very sure of that."
His brow crumples in alarm. "You don't think he'd—"
"No. I don't believe— Not without consent." At that, Jaime relaxes a little, and she continues: "I don't know much about the free folk, as they call themselves, but they are not savages, and King Jon has them under control. I just… really did not relish the prospect of him trying to persuade me."
Jaime approaches her with careful steps, slowly closing the distance.
"If I'd realised you had an admirer, I would have come here much sooner."
She shakes her head fondly. "You're here now, Jaime. That's what matters."
He is within arm's reach, Brienne's slumped posture against the door making them of a height.
"So, returning to the small matter of whether you've forgiven me…"
"I'm still considering it."
He takes the final step, leaving only the barest of space between them, and lifts his hand to sweep an errant strand of hair away from her face, her usually neat arrangement looking delightfully tousled from their earlier activities, his gaze fixed to hers. His fingers are chilled as they trace a path behind her ear and down to her nape; she shudders, gasping in a breath in surprise, and Jaime presses his advantage by leaning forward to capture her mouth in a soft, languid kiss.
Brienne melts, immensely grateful for the sturdy presence of the door at her back, keeping her upright; her instinct is to reach for his shoulders for support but her arms will not cooperate, hanging limply at her sides. Jaime's thumb caresses her neck and jaw, wherever he can reach, his hand slowly warming from the contact with her skin.
Her head is starting to spin, only partially from the wine, the world becoming slightly blurry around the edges, just as Jaime pulls back from her entirely. He gives her a moment to recover, waiting for her eyes to drift open again before speaking. When she refocuses, his face is serious, but his eyes are smiling.
"What about now?"
She lets out a groan. "Gods, if I say 'yes' will you please stop talking?"
"Well, at least one of us has to talk, otherwise the conversation would be very boring."
"Fine, yes, I forgive you," she mutters, exasperated, and before he can say anything else she reaches for him and pulls him flush against her, finally forcing her wine-slowed limbs to function as she drags him into another kiss. Jaime stumbles and has to brace himself against the door with his good hand until he regains his balance, belatedly remembering Brienne's injured shoulder and not wishing to cause any further discomfort by crushing her with his unsteady weight.
Brienne is clumsy in her eagerness, their teeth clashing and foreheads almost knocking together from the awkward angle; Jaime eases her away gently with a hand against her face, smiling as an embarrassed flush slowly spreads across her skin. Brienne bites her lip, suddenly bashful at her own boldness, and that will not do at all. He leans in to claim that lip between his, kissing her slow and deep, his fingers burying themselves in her hair. Her hands clench for a moment around the open edges of his jacket, where she had seized it to bring him closer, before her arms drop and snake inside to wrap around him.
He feels the barest sting as she brushes against his still-healing wound, through the layers of bandages, shirt and jerkin. The poppy milk in Tarly's poultice had worn off several hours ago, but the alcohol and the cold have taken some of the edge off. He can withstand a little pain if it means enjoying the strength of Brienne's embrace; maybe he does jolt a little, though, because a moment later her arms drift lower, settling just above his hips instead.
He moves nearer, until Brienne is thoroughly trapped between him and the door, almost every inch of them pressed together. With the heat from the fireplace at his back, Brienne's warmth along his front, Jaime finds himself wearing too many layers for comfort. He has to disentangle his hand from her hair, to try and divest himself of his jacket – it's enough of a struggle ordinarily, nearly impossible when he is so reluctant to stop kissing her. Brienne seems to guess his intention and reaches up to assist him, pushing the heavy garment off his shoulders. He manages to free his left arm, but the jacket snags on his golden hand, and he tears himself away from her with a frustrated growl.
Unperturbed and forever practical, Brienne helps to tug the sleeve off his right arm. He throws the jacket somewhere off to the side before she can try and tidy it away, utterly unwilling to let her escape, though it seems her focus is elsewhere – her fingers move instinctively to the straps securing his false hand, but she hesitates, suddenly unsure, lifting her gaze to his.
He responds by pressing his mouth to hers, because at least five seconds have elapsed since he had to separate from her and that's five too many. She allows him the indulgence for a brief moment before pulling back again, evading him when he tries to lean in again and pressing a hand to the centre of his chest to hold him at bay.
"I need to see what I'm doing, you fool," she reminds him fondly, and he gives her a nod. She bows her head, both hands returning to the task. It takes much longer than usual, inebriation making her fingers uncooperative and Jaime's insistent lips nuzzling against her temple proving something of a distraction, but eventually she manages to loosen the straps enough for the golden hand to come away. It drops to the floor with a thud, forgotten. His forearm is mottled with bruises – two days old, blurring together in shades of blue, another reminder of the battle – and she soothes them with her thumb, following them like a constellation, until she reaches his wrist and carefully traces the uneven scar where his hand had once been.
It takes her a moment to notice that Jaime has become still, and when she lifts her head again she finds him gazing at her, glassy-eyed and silent. He looks on the verge of tears, and her concern must be reflected in her face because he gives her a gentle shake of his head, communicating that nothing is wrong, before resting his forehead against hers. He breathes out, a little shaky, his tone grave and serious when he finally speaks.
"I love you."
Brienne raises her hands to encircle his face, easing him away from her, and she tries to inject some lightness in her voice.
"Good," she says, "because there's nobody else I would rather be with. Only you, Jaime. Always."
In response, he pulls her into a crushing embrace, his arms encircling her waist as he clings to her. One of her hands cradles the back of his head in a soothing gesture, her other arm holding firm across his back. A relieved shudder courses through him and he squeezes her tighter, his breath fanning across the juncture of her neck and shoulder. He breathes deeply, exhaling with a contented hum, and when he speaks again she realises that whatever darkness had temporarily overtaken him has passed.
"Gods, you smell wonderful."
She is unable to control her blush, not just from his words but the timbre of his voice so close to her skin.
"I, um…" She clears her throat and tries again. "Scented soap. I honestly did not think I would ever use it, when Sansa gave it to me – it seemed very impractical."
Jaime loosens his constricting hold on her, his hand and stump settling against her waist, but he keeps his cheek pressed to hers, speaking in a low tone.
"It appears I have much to be grateful to Sansa for. Remind me to thank her later."
Before she can protest – because she can think of nothing more mortifying than such a conversation ever occurring – Jaime moves to press a kiss to her face, just below her right ear, then to her cheek, to the corner of her mouth. He brushes her upper lip, then her lower, gently teasing before moving away again, but he is diverted from his intended path by the impatient tug of Brienne's fingers against his scalp, and he relents to give her what she wants. They kiss languorously for a long moment; Brienne finds herself once again pressed against the chamber door; her hands drift aimlessly, to Jaime's face and his shoulders and the front of his jerkin, but her limbs feel like lead weights and she gives up the fight, allowing them to drop to her sides.
She is pliant and unprotesting when Jaime pulls back from her again and continues where he left off, his mouth finding her left cheek, then the curve of her lower jaw. Eyes still closed, Brienne lets her head fall back against the door, giving him more access as he kisses his way down her neck. Nosing the loose neckline of her shirt out of the way, he finds the pale, raised edges of the scars on her shoulder; he'd caught a glimpse of them only a few hours before, during his accidental intrusion, and has been tormented by thoughts of kissing them ever since.
When he does, Brienne jerks in surprise, then immediately dissolves again; Jaime splays his fingers at her waist, holding her steady. Her hands clench at her sides, fingernails scraping against the wood behind her, and she sighs out his name. Her heart is thundering in her chest, echoed in the erratic beat of her pulse where his lips are still pressed to her neck, and he cannot help but feel a surge of pride, as his usually stoic and composed warrior woman is reduced to a trembling mess in his arms.
The long-healed claw marks extend further, spanning Brienne's left shoulder, but Jaime is thwarted in his efforts to follow them by the constricting fit of her jerkin. He does not have time to ponder on how to overcome that dilemma, because she reaches for his face and directs him back to her mouth, a distraction he is powerless to resist.
His hand travels almost of its own volition, from her waist to the small of her back, fingers skimming the length of her spine, her scapula, up and over her shoulder until his palm rests over her heart, his thumb tracing the line of her collarbone. She shivers from the contact but does not flinch away.
Jaime is not entirely conscious of his actions, as his hand finds the uppermost clasp of Brienne's jerkin and he fumbles to release it from its hooked fastening. It's only when both of her hands raise to cover his that he realises what he's doing; for the briefest of moments, with a sinking sensation, he fully believes she is trying to prevent him from continuing, until she bats his hand away and works on the clasp herself.
He pulls away from her, in surprise, and stills her movements with his own hand, to her evident confusion.
"Please," he says, quietly imploring. "Let me."
She gazes at him searchingly, then nods and allows her hands to drop away.
He can't not kiss her, for that, a brief and tender touch that soon devolves into another passionate melding of mouths, which only increases his fervent need to get her out of the damned jerkin before they both die of old age.
It transpires to be tricky, focusing on kissing her whilst making his left hand cooperate – it's difficult enough when sober, near impossible after so much wine – but he tries valiantly to achieve both in tandem. The first clasp works free after an infuriating amount of time and effort, and he moves on to the next. Brienne is evidently fighting the urge to help, her arms held rigidly by her sides for a moment before she moves them up to encircle his face in her hands. As her fingertips scrape his beard – surely she must know by now what that does to him – he falters in both of his intended purposes and temporarily abandons the jerkin to kiss her more deeply, savouring the lingering remnants of lemon sugar and Arbor Gold on her tongue. A moan rumbles from her throat and Jaime has to pull away, head reeling, to try and regain some control.
He certainly had not intended on any of this, but Brienne has continually managed to surprise him tonight and he would be the world's biggest idiot to even think of dissuading her. Brienne is certainly more than capable of letting him know when to stop, and he's desperately curious to see just how far he can push her.
Still, the obstacle of her jerkin remains, and he lets out a disappointed sigh.
"Regrettably," he informs her with faux-seriousness, "I need to concentrate on this… contraption." He taps his fingers gently against the third clasp. "If I still had both of my hands, this would be much quicker."
"Are you sure you don't want me to—"
"Very sure," he responds, setting back to the task before she can argue any further.
It's definitely easier now he can see what he's doing, though it feels a little awkward and overly deliberate without the preoccupation of kissing her, especially with her watching him. Halfway through, he lets out an aggrieved laugh.
"Gods above, how many of these bloody things are there?"
"Why do you think I was so late to the feast?" she asks with a smirk. Jaime chuckles at that and carries on. "Still grateful to Sansa?"
"Hm, now you mention it, I may have to take that back, just for the inconvenience. Even if it does make you look ravishing."
She falls silent at the unexpected compliment, unsure whether to take it seriously. Jaime is so focused that it takes him a moment to realise, but as the quiet extends he lifts his head to find her looking thoughtful, even hesitant.
"What?" he asks.
"Did you mean that?"
He does not answer immediately, returning his gaze to the remaining few fastenings on the jerkin, but Brienne does not miss the knowing glint in his eyes before he looks away. Finally, the bottom-most hook releases from its accompanying catch, and Jaime insinuates his hand inside the leather to wrap around her waist. She hitches in a surprised breath at the contact, the heat from his palm almost searing through the soft linen of her shirt.
"Brienne." He raises his head, leaning in closer and beginning a fresh trail of kisses from her cheek to her shoulder, peppering her skin intermittently as he speaks: "If you have not yet worked out … that I find you utterly beguiling … and thoroughly distracting … then I am clearly doing something wrong."
Without the constricting leather barring his path, he is able to nuzzle the collar of her tunic out of the way and press his lips to the full length of the scars at her shoulder. Her knees buckle and she almost collapses into him, stopping herself from toppling completely by bracing against his chest, and a noise escapes her that sounds almost pained, causing him to pull back with a sense of panic.
"Did I hurt you?"
She shakes her head, trying to catch her breath. "No, Gods, don't stop."
His face lights up with a delighted grin.
"As my Lady Knight commands."
There's a pause. A hesitation, silent but for the crackle of the hearth, where the world suddenly stops and creates a flash of mutual uncertainty, which neither of them can quite find the courage to voice. The past few minutes have flown past in a blur and Jaime takes a moment to breathe and backtrack, to figure out how they got here.
He torments her – there's no better word for it – by the door for an indeterminate period of time, until she finally grows impatient and drags his mouth back to hers. Regaining the upper hand, she pushes him further into the room, divesting him of his own jerkin in the process and not protesting when he returns the favour. (He allows her to separate from him long enough to ensure that Sansa's gift does not end up in a heap on the floor, immediately reeling her back in once it's safely draped on the back of the nearest chair.) When he seeks to tug the hem of her tunic from her breeches, she does not stop him, and their kiss breaks as she helps him to yank it over her head. He groans in frustration at the thin cotton shift she wears beneath, his disappointment tangible, and she smirks and reminds him that it's the North, it's winter, and it's probably just as well she wore an extra layer since some inconsiderate person dragged her out into the freezing cold less than an hour ago, and then she kisses him again and he decides not to argue. Anyway, he can still feel the shape and warmth of her through the shift, and she allows his hand to wander wherever it pleases, and maybe he can persuade her out of it later.
They end up at the bed, somehow, whether by accident or design, one of them leading the other or perhaps an unspoken, silent agreement, kicking off boots and almost tripping over them as they go. Brienne's knees hit the mattress and it topples her off balance onto her back, bringing Jaime down with her. His weight knocks the air out of her as they land, and he moves away just enough for her to recover and find a more comfortable position against the pillows, before crawling the length of the bed to rejoin with her. He braces himself on his right arm as they kiss, keeping his one hand free to roam; Brienne's shift has become untucked from her breeches and he can finally indulge in the warm smoothness of her skin. His fingers drift over the taut expanse of her belly and the outline of her lower ribs, her stomach muscles clenching in surprise before she relaxes into his touch. Before he can move any higher, she bats his hand away and pushes him back, compelling him upright. When she follows, sitting up as he settles on his knees, he realises it's not a rejection or a signal to stop, but a means to an end: she tugs his own shirt from his waistband and drags it over his head in one smooth movement, and is leaning in to resume kissing him when something makes her pause.
And now, here they are: both halted by the remembrance that Jaime's torso is wrapped in bandages and he is still recovering from a near-fatal injury. It cools them down as effectively as a bucket of ice water over their heads.
It's not that they'd forgotten, necessarily, just that they were too distracted to bring it to mind. To make matters worse, their brief flurry of frantic movement has aggravated his stitches and there are a few spots of fresh blood creeping through – nowhere near as bad the previous night, but the sight of it causes Brienne to bite her lip in concern.
The gravity of what was about to happen settles like snow in the space between them, the air heavy with expectation. It would be the easiest thing in the world to just bridge the gap and kiss her again, but there's the barest hint of guilt creeping onto her face and Jaime somehow finds the willpower to be sensible.
He reaches out to place his hand over hers, where they are clasped anxiously in her lap. It distracts her from worrying, her gaze shifting to his face rather than the bandages beneath his arm. He lets out a sigh.
"I can't quite believe I'm about to suggest this, but… maybe we should wait."
She stares at him for a long moment, trying to make sense of his words, then nods absently.
"I… yes, you're probably right." Her gaze flits to the bloodstains – they have not spread any further, a small mercy. "Maester Tarly… did he say how long—?"
Jaime thinks back to what Samwell had instructed that morning. "With the poultice, if I do as he told me… it should heal enough to remove the stitches in a sennight, maybe longer."
He hesitates to mention that even after that, Samwell has warned him off doing anything too strenuous, effectively making both sparring and manual labour impossible. If Daenerys does not want Jaime's expertise in the war effort and he is unable make himself useful elsewhere, then has no idea how he's going to pass the time.
Brienne nods again, then averts her gaze. She fidgets beneath his palm, hands wringing together, a subtle indication that she is giving serious thought to something.
"Is there any way…" she begins, and hesitates, and finally lifts her eyes to his again. "Couldn't we just… be careful?"
Her suggestion strikes him like a sword to the gut and leaves him reeling. He drags his hand over his face and curses under his breath, trying to hold onto his last remaining shred of resolve.
"You will be the death of me," he tells her, taking in a deep and cleansing breath, and his next few words pour out in a rush. "Yes, we could be, and I would be, but the truth is I'm actually very selfish – I want you to touch me and I want to feel every inch of your skin against mine, and neither of those things can happen whilst I'm… like this." He expects her to be shocked, but her gaze does not falter. "I would also prefer both of us to be considerably more sober," he adds with a hint of irony.
"I'm not so drunk that I don't know what I want, Jaime," she tells him, irritated.
"That's not the reason," he explains, and reaches to caress her face. "You deserve… better than this, frankly. At the very least, a one-handed fool who's not quite so clumsy, which is unfortunately the best I can offer."
Her expression softens and she raises her own hand to cover his.
"Clumsy or not, you're my one-handed fool." Drawing his hand away from her face, she links their fingers together and squeezes reassuringly. "Truly, if that's your best, it's still far better than any previous offer I've had."
"Idiots," he says dismissively, "every last one of them. They had no idea what they were missing."
He casts his gaze over her appraisingly. To her dismay, Brienne feels a note of self-consciousness creeping back in, now that the fervour has died down, but she somehow resists the urge to hug her arms around herself. To do so would also mean letting go of Jaime's hand, the only thing currently anchoring her in the moment; without it, she would be utterly adrift amidst thoughts which are already running away from her. The merest tendril of doubt is weaving into her mind; she tries to ignore it, but it takes root and will not be dislodged.
With a sigh, she averts her face, staring into her lap. Jaime can evidently sense that something is bothering her, but he allows her the time she needs to verbalise it rather than trying to coax it out of her straight away. They have been nothing but honest with each other tonight; she owes him that much.
"You don't have to spare my feelings," she says. "I have lived in this body my whole life and I'm more than aware of its limitations. I don't need empty compliments, especially not from you. If you love me as you say, I know it's not for my—"
"If!" he repeats incredulously. "If I love you? Gods, Brienne, how many times must I say it? What more can I do for you stop doubting me?"
She falls silent, chastened by his outburst, continuing to stare downwards.
"It's not that I doubt you," she explains. "It's just that I'm fully expecting you to realise what you could have had instead."
"What I left behind, you mean?" he guesses, and she gives him the barest of nods. His tone is firm when he speaks again, trying to make her understand. "That's over. It's done. If I never set foot in Kings Landing again, it will be too soon. There's nothing for me there – nothing that would ever compel me to return. I have everything I need, right here."
With Brienne's fingers still clasped tightly in his, he has no choice but to use his stump to lift her chin; as her eyes raise to his, they are sparkling with unshed tears. He does release her hand, then, so he can pull her into his arms. She does not resist, but equally does not return the gesture, too focused on trying to rein in her emotions. He can feel her trembling as she tries to keep control.
"I can't go back," he says, keeping his voice low. "Not now I've known how it feels to be valued for who I am, instead of how much use people could make of me. That's what you've given me, Brienne."
He lets her go, lifting his hand to cup her face; she blinks, tears escaping despite her best efforts to quell them. Jaime wipes them away with his thumb, as best he can. From her intent expression, he knows she has been absorbing his words, and he should probably just keep quiet now and let her think, but his mouth is running away with him in his determination to make her understand.
"I could give you a thousand reasons why I love you," he tells her. "Your strength, your courage, your skill with a sword, the way you dote over Podrick. Anyone who can put up with my brother for more than ten minutes, when he's so far into his cups, is worthy of at least a little respect." She cracks a smile at that, just barely – more of a smirk than anything, but he'll take it. "Your laugh. Your eyes – if you didn't know, they're your best feature, even when you're rolling them at me – yes, just like that. The fact that you don't flinch away from this" – he holds up his handless arm – "and the way you kiss me, Gods, do you have any idea how long I've wanted that?"
Her smile widens a little and she tries to interject, but he has more he needs to say.
"I could go on, but the point is…" He sighs, refocuses. "More than any of that, you see me. You know me, better than I know myself, at times. You make me feel like the person I wanted to be, before I killed a king for the greater good and gave the world a reason to hate me. Tell me, how could I not love you, Brienne?"
Her eyes are watery now for a different reason, the quiver in her chin belying her emotions, just before she leans forward to press a kiss to his mouth. They sag against each other in relief, some of the tension leaving the air. She pulls back after a second or two, Jaime's hand drifting away from her face as they separate. She takes a breath, steadying herself.
"Jaime, I… I don't have a speech, or a list. I can't even say when it started, not really, because falling for you was the easiest thing in the world. I did doubt you, at first, and sometimes this has felt like a dream that I'm terrified to wake up from. At any second, I could open my eyes and find you gone." As she deliberates over her next words, Jaime's fingers link with hers once more, a physical contact to prove his realness. With her free hand, she reaches up to his face. "I know that you love me, but I…" – she shakes her head, frustrated with herself – "I am so scared of disappointing you."
Jaime stares at her for a long moment, saying nothing, and she hopes fervently that he understands her meaning, because if she has to explain it she will probably combust from embarrassment. Just when she's considering that she might have to summon the courage to do just that, Jaime surges towards her, kissing her tenderly, but with purpose.
He pushes her backwards, his right arm wrapping around her back to cushion her descent as he presses her down to the mattress. He supports his weight on his forearms, his left hand sinking into her hair, fingers gently combing against her scalp, before it travels downwards – skimming the side of her face, her shoulder, her upper arm and then the dip of her waist. He holds it there for a while, his thumb rubbing circles on her skin beneath the edge of her shift until she relaxes, and then continues on: to her hip and then her thigh. With the merest pressure, he encourages her knee to bend, shifting himself into the space it creates. He rolls his pelvis towards hers, slow and deliberate, and is rewarded with a strangled moan and a shudder that wracks her entire body.
Somehow, he musters the self-control to drag his mouth from hers, though it grows ever more tenuous as Brienne's eyes flutter open and she locks her gaze to his, pupils blown. His hand lingers at her waist, unable to resist the feel of her skin beneath his fingertips even though he's certain it's not helping either of them, before returning to the pillow at the side of her head so he can hold himself far enough away that he won't be tempted to just kiss her senseless again.
"Do I seem disappointed?" he asks. Brienne huffs out a breath and shakes her head. "Good – because disappointing me is the very last thing you'd be capable of. Please do not underestimate how much I want this, Brienne."
She studies him intently, searchingly, and he watches her expression change as she tries to make sense of everything. She lifts a hand to his face, and when he instinctively leans into the touch it's as though the final piece clicks into place, the stars aligning and the universe making sense.
"I love you," she tells him, and it feels like the first time all over again, a sense of relief and completeness washing over him. He turns his head, nuzzling a kiss into her palm, and then moves off her, dropping himself down beside her on the mattress. He chooses her left side, deliberately, so his one remaining hand is not trapped beneath him.
When she rolls to face him, he mirrors the position and leans in to press a lingering kiss to her forehead. His arm drifts to her side, his hand gently trailing along the curve of her spine; he intends it to be comforting, grounding, but he doesn't miss the way her breath hitches. Her gaze is fixed, once more, on the spots of blood beneath his arm; there may be a few more, now, but he cannot regret his actions if Brienne is finally convinced of his intentions.
"A sennight?" she asks him absently.
"At least," he reminds her.
"Then maybe we should sleep, and get a head start on tomorrow," she suggests.
He would argue, but now that they're both lying down he finds he does not have much inclination to get up again, and their latter conversation has left him drained. Even the smallest movement is tugging on his stitches, and Samwell's herbal concoction has most definitely worn off.
"That sounds very sensible," he responds.
A slightly awkward silence descends, where they stare at each other across the pillow, until a particularly aggressive crackle from the fireplace distracts Brienne's attention.
"The fire's burning out," she informs him. "I should put another log on."
"Very diligent," says Jaime with an ironic smirk.
"I'm not the one who's always complaining about the cold," she points out, and clambers off the bed to attend to the hearth.
Jaime watches her the entire time, as she restokes the fire, visibly resisting the urge to tidy up the scattered clothing on the floor. As she returns to the bed, she urges him to shift until he's beneath the furs, retrieving his discarded tunic before sliding under the covers. She sits up to pull the shirt over her head, in a vain effort to retain some modesty, but Jaime's hand reaches out to still her.
"Is that really necessary?" he asks. "We've already established I'm not going to ravish you."
"Do you remember my wish, before the battle?" Brienne thinks back, but she can't quite recall, and shakes her head. "To hold you," he reminds her, "without armour between us."
The memory comes back to her: a moment of rare vulnerability in the hours before the fight, all the more poignant for the fact that he was so convinced he would not live to see his wish be granted. Somehow, she had known even then that he was not only referring to the metal plates. After a brief hesitation, she lowers the garment again; Jaime takes it from her entirely and casts it aside, before shuffling into a more comfortable position and lifting his arm in invitation. Brienne huddles further down under the furs and into his embrace, cushioning her head against his shoulder. He tightens his hold on her, sighing contentedly.
His hand traces the length of her arm, a trail of goosebumps rising in its wake and the slightest shiver running through her in response. Eventually, she grows more accustomed to his touch and starts to relax, her breathing becoming slower as she succumbs to sleep. Jaime allows himself the indulgence of enjoying the weight of her in his arms, the clean and subtle scent of her hair.
The next seven days may well be the longest he has to endure in his entire life, but if they can spend every night just like this, he cannot bring himself to complain.
A/N: So, uh, does this warrant a slow burn tag?
Okay, first off: I know the Stark statues are down in the crypts but I needed an excuse for the alcoves, so for the purposes of this story it's the Kings in the North who are down in the crypts and, like, slightly lower ranking Starks in the castle, or maybe Starks who have performed notable deeds. IDK, just go with it and enjoy the mood. :P
For what it's worth, this chapter was an absolute bastard to write (the sequence in Brienne's room particularly) – I had it perfectly visualised in my head but the words were uncooperative, to say the least. At one point I was averaging maybe a paragraph a day and constantly editing because I wanted to get the atmosphere just right, and then THAT LAST SECTION, oh my god, it just wouldn't get where I needed it to go. Angst gonna angst regardless of my intentions, apparently.
Anyway, what I was trying to do was tread a fine line between awkwardness, tenderness and sexual tension, peppered with their usual level of banter – so hopefully I managed that! Honestly, I have literally never written anything quite like this before and I have been staring at it far too long to be remotely objective, at this point. So, let me know if it works, or if I should just quit while I'm ahead and go back to my comfort zone of fluff…
On that note… TBTWP will happen eventually in this 'verse, I swear! Whether I actually write it, however, remains to be seen. This story has been a (s l o w) learning curve of tentative word choices and waiting for the world to implode every other sentence, so… don't hold your breath, is all I'm saying, because it is 75% likely to be a fade-to-black.