They were sopping. The rain, hard and unceasing, had worked its way through their many layers and as the sodden horses struggled on the muddy path, their clothes squelched and sucked at their damp, goosepimply skin. Water dripped down the back of her neck, making Brienne shiver and shift in her saddle only for another gap to reveal itself to the wet. She sighed. It was cold and nearly dark and the rain had eroded any sense of Jaime's decency or charm over the last three days. When he spoke now, it was a bitter comment or a snide remark. At first she had reacted, but arguments did no one any good and now she was too tired to care. The last two nights spent out in the open had not been pleasant, she thought gloomily. As they breached a hill, the inviting light of a tavern made itself known.
"Wench. We are staying the night there even if it costs all the gold in Westeros," muttered Jaime. He ran a gloved hand over his face, leaving a trail of mud and dirt. Brienne decided not to tell him. Spiteful but somehow pleasing.
"We are not yet far enough away for it to be safe," she responded pragmatically yet again. It had been her constant refrain since they had slipped away from King's Landing in the midst of the chaos and confusion caused by the arrival of the Targaryens with their new so-called queen.
Jaime growled. "Seven hells, I'm the one the bloody dragon queen wants. You chose to come with me. You can choose to sleep outside if it makes you feel better. I'm going inside and getting dry, even if it's the last thing I do." With that, he kicked his horse forward and cantered the few hundred yards to the inn.
Infuriating bastard. There was never a question of choice. They both knew that. His loud banging on her door had woken her and with no care for manners, he stormed into her room with news of the invasion. Being caught would mean death for him, maybe even for her as a willing and active member of the regime. Getting out and staying free was now their only option.
Jaime was haggling with the stable boy when she caught up with him. Brienne ignored him and handed over the requested amount. To her relief, Jaime didn't argue. She heaved the saddle bag over her shoulder, and opened the door to the tavern. It was full of people. People who stopped talking and eating and drinking to stare up at the two figures: tall, strapping, dripping wet and grim looking.
"Two rooms. Ale and food. Hot water," ordered Jaime gruffly to the man behind the bar.
"We have only one room, sers…" He looked back and forth at the pair, before his eyes widened at recognising Brienne as a woman. "I mean… ser and my lady."
Brienne felt Jaime shift next to her. Even without looking at him, she could tell he was struggling between being the chivalrous knight he could be and a simple man, wet and tired.
"We'll take it. Have two sets of everything sent up," responded Brienne, taking the decision out of Jaime's hands. They would cross the bridge of who would sleep where when they came to it.
It was probably the smallest room in the place, or seemed so after Brienne and Jaime entered, both ducking through the door. But thankfully, the fire was burning brightly and it was warm. A small double bed was pushed up against a wall with the only window, leaving just enough space between the bed and the fire for a chair and an undersized table. Jaime dumped the saddle bags and sat down on the bed with a heavy sigh. Brienne was about to say something about the fact that he was getting the bedclothes absolutely filthy when the hot water and food were brought in.
"You wash first, if you want," said Jaime, his hands already busy with pouring the ale.
She stood silent, arms crossed. A raised eyebrow and an exasperated look in her eyes met Jaime's when he finally turned around to see why Brienne hadn't moved. She had always made herself scarce to do her ablutions before.
"Oh for god's sake, wench. It's not like I haven't seen you half clothed before, if you remember. But as you wish." He stood and turned the chair around, so its back was to the fire. "Better?" he quipped over his shoulder.
Brienne stood as close to the fire as she dared, letting the heat soak into her bones. She stripped the clanking armour and her heavy cloak off her, the fire hissing as it caught drips and drops of water. Her fingers were frozen, and she struggled with the buttons and buckles. She glanced at the blonde head of Jaime, but he was tucking into the food with gusto. When she finally got to the water, it was tepid but she didn't care. She was so focused on removing the grime that she didn't notice Jaime's stillness.
A handful of bread frozen halfway to his mouth, his attention was all on the sight in front of him. The window was acting as a sort of mirror: a broken mirror, flashing and trembling as the firelight hit its uneven surface. It was odd, creating a magical image of a Brienne who had no idea she was being watched. How different she was, sure in a way that she never was when eyes were upon her. Her long legs carefully extracted themselves from her wet breeches, muscles twitching beneath the surface of her skin as she balanced on one leg and then the other. More pale, firm flesh was revealed as she stripped off her doublet and shirt over her head, causing her whole body to stretch upwards in one graceful movement that he thought quite impossible to be hers. The firelight highlighted more curves than he remembered, her breasts not as insignificant as he recalled. Firm, generous buttocks only covered by thin briefs that stuck to her damp skin. Then her quick hands, long fingers encasing a cloth, moved swiftly and certainly around and over her body in a way that forced him to let his held in breath go and suck in another one deeply. He felt his cock stirring in the same way it had during their bath at Harrenhal. Then he had tried to ignore it; blamed it on his absence from his sister. Now though, he didn't want to, he couldn't ignore it.
She suddenly stood stock still, like a deer waiting for the arrow. Seven hells, he didn't want to stop studying her, he realised too late.
"You were watching me, weren't you?" Her voice was small, pained. In the window, Jaime could see her pointed finger directed at the glass and a dry shirt abruptly put back on to cover herself somewhat.
He had a million excuses ready, but all he wanted to do was get up, turn around and follow the path of that cloth with his lips.
"Weren't you?" accused Brienne, her voice breaking with frustration and fatigue. "Can't I even get washed and dried without someone staring, making fun of me? What is so wrong with me that I always appear like some sort of freak, even to someone who was supposed to be a friend?" Hot, burning tears pricked her eyes at his betrayal. It was a betrayal, she thought. She hoped, clearly illogically it appeared, that he respected her. That she had earned his respect.
Jaime jumped to his feet with a swiftness that showed no sign of his tiredness, and came so close that Brienne was forced backwards until she hit the mantelpiece. His body touched her crossed arms, self protection her new priority. She felt the heat of the fire burn the back of her legs but she couldn't move. He looked into her eyes, sparking in anger and sorrow.
"Brienne-" His gaze of longing was missed entirely. The shirt clung to her in all the right places and he groaned inwardly.
"No, don't even start." She pushed him away forcefully, her palms placed firmly on his chest. His arm quickly went round her waist, pulling her away from the hearth and nearer to him. She struggled under his grasp, but he kept her close. Her face creased in anguish and fury. "I've had enough gawps to last me a lifetime. Just leave me alone," she hissed at him, her face only inches away from his.
"I wasn't gawping. I was admiring."
A glimmer of confusion broke through her angry haze.
"What?" she snapped.
"You heard. Don't ever hide yourself from me."
She suddenly realised her hands were still on Jaime's chest and she withdrew them, stiffening at his declaration. She stepped out of his grasp towards the bed, eyes firmly not engaging his. "I want to hide. I like to. You know that. I'm not like other...women who seek the centre of attention." She spoke firmly but so softly that he had to strain to catch her words.
He watched her, hurt. He had broken whatever trust in him she had, he realised. Brienne might be as tall and broad as he was and fierce in battle, but she was as skittish and wary as a wild cat when it came to any matter of the heart. He had pushed her too far, too quickly with his honest words. Seven hells, he could have kicked himself. She would shrug off any further words or apologies from him so he said nothing as he watched her quietly climb into bed, her back turned to him. Jaime wondered faintly if he would get a dagger to his throat if he slipped in next to her. He thought he would take the chance: the floor was hard, the fire reduced to mere embers, he was tired to his bones and all he wanted was sleep.
But would sleep come to him? Would it hell. He turned from staring into the red remnants of the fire to the dark shadows on the other side, desperate to find a cool spot on his pillow, trying to breathe in and out slowly as he had done when he was a child and couldn't sleep. Memories of Brienne's pained face and accusatory voice haunted him as soon as he closed his eyes. He didn't want to hurt her, not ever. He was about to get up when Brienne whimpered in her sleep. It was a raw sound that hit something deep inside him. As she tried to catch her breath, she turned towards him. He didn't know why he did it, but he shut his eyes as if he was fast asleep, forcing his muscles into a relaxed state.
She had fallen asleep quickly but the dream had come to her almost immediately. It was always the same: Jaime in the baths at Harrenhal. She woke up hot and flustered to see him mere inches away and her heart flipped. She was glad to find her angry and frustrated feelings had dissipated; instead she felt the deepest affection – love even, if this was what love felt like – she knew to be the truth even if she could not show it. It was easier to contemplate Jaime when he was asleep, his handsome face tender and boyish despite the grey touches in his hair and soft lines at the corners of his eyes. No green eyes to flash in distaste, lust or whatever other emotion he was feeling at that time. Just long eyelashes, matching his blonde hair that flopped over his forehead. Her hand instinctively went up to sweep it back. Smudges of the dirt that he rubbed on with his glove remained on his cheek and she smiled faintly. She wiped it away with the pad of her thumb, feeling the stubble too. She followed the line of his jaw, brushing his lips with her fingers, waiting for a couple of warm breaths to tickle her skin before she moved away.
As soon as he closed his eyes, his other senses heightened in response; he could smell her still wet hair with its evocative and oh-so-familiar damp dog smell; her breathing quick and then gradually slowing; the radiant warmth of her skin. The sensation of her fingers on his face nearly made him gasp and snap his eyes open but he resisted moving, desperate to feel more of her touch that was both gentle and confident. Her fingers ran over all his highlights, his cheekbones and his lips. Gods, how he had to force himself not to kiss those fingers when they rested on his mouth. It was an unfair trick played by the gods if she could be so bold when she thought he wasn't aware. Or perhaps an evening up of the natural state of things considering his own gaping earlier that night. Her hand moved down his neck, her fingers brushing his Adam's apple, circling the hollow at the base of his neck.
He wore a shirt, but it was thin enough for her to feel his sleeping warmth and her light fingers ran down his arm and across his stump. Checking he still had the steady, consistent rhythm of someone asleep, she continued to feel the scars, the puckered skin on the tips of her fingers. Memories of that time flashed through her mind. The story of a fallen man who lost a hand and gained something even more important, perhaps. He had made a point of not concealing his injury from her and she felt guilty as his own words floated back to her about the way she hid from him. She felt unutterably sad at her inability to react normally, to accept and return his feelings towards her, to rejoice at his declaration without pushing him away as she had done with everyone – almost everyone – all her life.
Her life couldn't be just this, she thought, but if it was, then she had to do this now, when only the darkness could be a witness.
He felt her shift ever so slightly closer; her legs touching his, feeling her breath on his skin. A moment later a chaste kiss brushed his lips, her hand lying quietly on his cheek. She held the kiss for a heartbeat and then two.
She wanted to remember his warmth, his remarkable softness; to imprint it on her memory and carry it with her forever.
In that moment, he kissed her back. She couldn't hide anymore.