A/N: Here is the FINAL CHAPTER. It's been a lot of fun exploring these characters through the wishful thinking of this story, and I hope you've liked it, too. Thank you for reading!

Jaime, Part 2

The bright afternoon slowly melted into a somber dusk, and the four finished taking stock of Winterfell's defenses. Sansa listened well to her battle-worn companions, and particularly to Jaime, who knew more than the others about warfare and therefore which walls and gates would be easiest for foes to attack. Daylight waning, they walked together into the godswood. Jaime looked longingly at the warm pools that sat beneath the windows of the guest house, but Sansa wanted to visit the heart tree.

His unsettled feeling and the plaguing thoughts of the Stark boy had faded after this morning, but now as he moved toward the tree he felt uneasy again. A godswood at dusk was a dismal and eerie place during the best of circumstances, but the weirwood's face really did look as though it had been weeping for a thousand years and more. He much preferred the sensible Seven, carved out of ordinary wood, wood that never wept or did anything remotely human. Sansa knelt quietly at the foot of the heart tree, folded her hands on her skirts, and closed her eyes. Podrick stood a polite distance away, stealing glances at her every now and then. Together, through snow halfway up their boots, Jaime and Brienne made a slow march around the pool and tree.

With the sun going down, the air had become distinctly chillier. Gooseflesh rose on Jaime's arms beneath his linen and woolen shirts, boiled leather, and cloak. Even the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He told himself again that there were no such things as ghosts; but even so he felt the heart tree's eyes following him, its mouth open as though it wished to speak. A breeze shook the blood-red leaves on its branches … and Jaime's heart began to palpitate.

His hand found his sword hilt at once. Brienne looked at him curiously but said nothing. He pressed his lips together and tried to slow the racing of his pulse; but there it was, the feeling he'd learned not to ignore: the feeling of being watched. He scanned the trees but saw no threat. Still, the feeling intensified, and he spun in a circle, trying to see what he hadn't seen before.

Someone was nearby. Someone … no, something … something other. His skin crawled and his stomach roiled, and it took every ounce of his self-control not to yell out. It was insane, but it seemed as though something wanted to hurt him. Something immense and ancient and far more powerful than he.

His sword was out before he knew what he was doing, and he flexed his knees, circling slowly, eyes darting all around him. He was dimly aware of Brienne catching Podrick's eye, and the lad took a step toward them as she found her sword hilt.

"What is it?" she whispered, now looking around as well.

Why would she not draw? Could she not sense something was wrong?

Jaime looked at the heart tree. Beneath it, Sansa's hair ruffled in the breeze, her shorn auburn locks twisting like the tree's crimson leaves. Her eyes remained closed, though, and she seemed strangely at peace under the sheltering arms of the weirwood, unaware of whatever silent menace Jaime sensed.

Finally Brienne drew her sword and countered with her back to his. The two of them circled together, their feet stepping in the same natural rhythm, and Jaime was certain the enemy would show itself, or flee. But it didn't. And Brienne didn't see it, didn't sense it. After a time, she lowered her sword and came around to face him, a worried question in her eyes.

He had the horrifying sense that the thing, whatever it was, only wanted him.

He backed away from her and raised his sword, balancing the blade over his right forearm as he tried to see deeper into the forest. His golden hand, nicked and dull and in need of polishing, seemed out of place here in the fecund twilight of the godswood. This was a place of wood and iron, of water and wool, of leaves and flesh, no place for gold or jewels or anything that stood for the significance of men.

There was no voice, but Jaime heard something in his brain, something indecipherable. He whirled about to face … nothing.

He spun again, heart galloping in his chest. Nothing. No one.

The craggy tree branches above loomed darkly in sharp relief against the orange and purple light of the setting sun. It was too quiet. The wind stopped.

And then unspoken words wove their way through his mind.

He shook his head, but the whispering went on, splitting his skull like the Smith's nails. A hiss, a murmur, a shout. The voice sounded like everything and nothing, like one person, like all of them.

"Show yourself!" he spat into the chill air, wheeling around at emptiness.

A mouth shrieked silently. Bloody eyes froze him mid-step.

The heart tree.

It was the heart tree, it had to be, even though some part of him knew that was madness. He was going mad.

At Jaime's shout, Sansa's eyes flew open and she came to her feet next to the weirwood, steadying herself against it with one pale hand.

The eyes still wept, the mouth still gaped, but it spoke, it spoke, though the lips did not move, though the words were incomprehensible.

Jaime sank into a terrified stupor. Never had such waves of dread and doom threatened to topple him. He trembled. His stomach clenched. His pulse pounded in his ears and he thought he heard the surge of the ocean, somehow. The blade in his hand shook and he had no choice but to lower it before he dropped the damned thing.

"Jaime," said Brienne firmly, stepping in front of him. He sidestepped her so he could keep the tree in sight, for all the good it would do him. How did one fight a tree, or a ghost, or one's own insanity, for that matter?

Cold sweat on the back of his neck made him shiver. His hand felt suddenly clammy, and the sword slipped out of it into the snow.

"Jaime!" Brienne placed her hand on his jaw and turned him to face her. He saw the alarm in her clear eyes, he did; but those other eyes, the red ones, were so much more insistent. He stepped around her to face them.

"I'm not leaving," Jaime hissed. He wouldn't be cowed by a damned tree, no matter how malevolent. Defenseless, he approached the weirwood and Sansa, who now stood in front of the trunk almost as though she were protecting it. "My place is here."

Something gripped his heart and squeezed. Unthinking, he moved to clutch his chest with his golden hand; but the rigid fingers wouldn't soothe his strange ache.

"Ser Jaime?" said Sansa.

The grip around his heart tightened, and he began to hyperventilate. At this rate, he'd have to sit down before he fainted, and a Lannister did not faint.

He drew himself up.

"I have pledged myself to – to – "

To whom? Only to Brienne, and he hadn't even knelt. He'd said it flippantly, invoking no gods, and even though he'd meant it, how was anyone to know? And to Sansa he'd said nothing, made no pledge. He'd said he would stand with her, but what did that mean, to her, to anyone?

He began to unstrap his golden hand, making the decision he should have made long ago, when he first knew.

He had no home. His place was here. This was his family now.

He knelt, feeling the eyes of the heart tree on his scalp as he laid the golden hand at Sansa's feet, and when he spoke, it was as easy as falling.

"Before the old gods and the new, Queen Sansa, I pledge myself to your service. I will give my life for you, if it comes to that. Any wealth I have is yours to do with as you wish, for the Lannisters owe your family a great debt." He swallowed. "I owe you a great debt. If this is agreeable to you, I will remain your willing servant for as long as you have need of me."

When Jaime stopped speaking, the grip around his heart released, and he breathed again.

A slow-building relief carried his fear away like ashes in the wind. He wanted to lie down and sleep. He wanted to laugh. He steadied himself on the ground with his hand and felt tears prickle behind his eyes. No weeping, he reminded himself, clenching his jaw. There's a limit to everything. But the reprieve he felt was close to divine.

How had he come so far from home, only to find himself again? Only the gods knew.

Jaime's companions were utterly quiet, and Sansa stood still as stone in front of him. He kept his eyes on the snow, observing how the dying light reflected off the glittering whiteness and imbued it with color, somehow – orange and blue and purple and red. He'd never noticed that before. Did all snow behave this way? Was there such beauty to be found even in winter?

Brienne's boots crunched through the snow and stopped next to his crouching form. He smiled and, still not looking up from the snow, wrapped his fingers around the back of her calf. He would wait politely for Sansa's response, but Brienne was his.

The sound of someone clapping broke the silence, and their heads whipped toward the wooden gate. A small man with a longbow slung over his back stood a short distance away, smiling and nodding. A two-pronged fisherman's spear, its handle thrust into the earth, towered over him.

"O-ho! The Kingslayer! Never thought I'd see the day," he said, still applauding.

For such a short fellow, his voice boomed like thunder through the cold evening, and his dark eyes were intelligent. He pulled up his spear and approached, boots of soft leather making his gait quiet and smooth; it was no wonder they had not heard him enter the godswood.

The intruder's words belied his friendly smile. "So the lion bows at last to the wolf."

Jaime realized too late that his sword was on the ground behind him. He quickly retrieved it while Brienne raised hers and Podrick drew his, but Sansa quickly said, "This is one of my father's bannermen. He bears the sigil of Greywater Watch."

Jaime then noticed the iron clasp, in the shape of a lizard-lion, which fastened the man's dark green cloak.

"Howland Reed," the man said. "Of the Neck."

Jaime's eyes narrowed and he kept his sword at the ready. This was Howland Reed? This unassuming little man? He knew the Crannogmen were small, and Tyrion had shown him repeatedly how even a little man can do great things, but this one couldn't have cut down the Sword of the Morning.

Sansa introduced her companions properly and Podrick and Brienne sheathed their swords at her urging. Although Reed made no movement to draw nearer, Brienne kept her hand on her sword hilt and Jaime still would not sheathe his. Sansa laid a hand on his arm. "He was my father's friend," she whispered, her eyes piercing his.

She was his queen. He would have to learn to obey. He replaced his sword in its scabbard.

"You killed Ser Arthur Dayne," said Jaime. Until he'd met Brienne, he'd never seen an equal to the Sword of the Morning. And this man had put an end to him?

Reed's eyes bore into Jaime's. "He was a brave man. But sometimes brave men must die for the greater good."

Jaime had heard all this before, even from admirers of Ser Arthur, so he ignored it. "He knighted me."

"Ah, well." Reed scratched his head, mussing his dark hair further. "He must have seen something good in you."

Jaime watched Reed, wondering how his slender wrists could wield even the narrow spear he carried.

At fifteen, the world had been at Jaime's feet; he'd known in the core of his being that there was no trouble too great for him, nothing he couldn't overcome. He was potent, immortal, with an equally powerful young woman by his side, secretly urging him on. Dayne had seen the boy's worth, his unsurpassed confidence, and had offered Jaime an identity his own father would never have deigned to give him.

And Reed had cut Ser Arthur down.

"Do you accept Ser Jaime's pledge, Lady Sansa?" asked Reed quietly, not taking his eyes off Jaime. "Or should I say, my queen?"

"I do," she answered.

Jaime looked at her then, and something passed between them. It might have been a grudging acceptance, perhaps even forgiveness, though Jaime wouldn't have expected or desired it. But the air that separated the two seemed clearer somehow. Jaime nodded, and Sansa gave a curt nod in return.

Reed chuckled and shook his head as though he'd never witnessed anything stranger. Finally he said, "From where I stood, it sounded like you sensed something we didn't." He shared a knowing smile with Jaime, who faced him warily. "My son sees things from time to time. It's no blessing, let me tell you that. Are you a greenseer, Ser Jaime?"

Jaime stared at him, struck dumb for a second or two. "No, I'm not a greenseer."

Podrick snickered, but stopped when Jaime glared at him.

"Well, that's good, I suppose," said Reed, raising a dark eyebrow. "The sight has its uses, Jojen told me, but it's not always reassuring. I wouldn't want it, myself."

"I don't have it," said Jaime.

"Good on you, then," said Reed.

A sudden grin revealed a mouthful of good teeth and transformed his sharp, shrewd angles into a visage of simple, cheery familiarity. Jaime began to wonder what other skills this diminutive man might possess, besides the ability to murder the best knight in recent memory. He decided to tread carefully.

"You received our raven?" asked Sansa.

Reed faced her and his expression softened. "Yes, your grace. And I am here to offer our protection. No one will pass the Neck without our leave, or our deaths."

"You are very kind, my lord," said Sansa. She appeared somewhat dazed, perhaps afraid to be too gladdened by the good news.

"Why do you travel alone, Lord Howland?" asked Brienne. Jaime knew that tone, and it meant she was still suspicious. He was about to ask the same question.

Reed looked up at Brienne approvingly. "It's well you should ask, Lady Brienne, for there are many who wouldn't wish for more war in times like these, and would do anything to stop it. Even some of your Northmen." His eyes flickered toward Sansa. "No, I'm headed to the Wall, myself, seeking the Lord Commander, in fact."

"J-Jon?" sputtered Sansa, her cheeks growing pale.

Reed moved no closer to her, but it seemed that his next words were directed to Sansa alone. "He needs to come south."

"But he took the black," she said, confused.

"So he did, so he did, with your father's blessing, indeed. But there are colors greater than black," he said with a heaviness in his voice, "and a time to take off every cloak." This last he said to Jaime.

"I've never been fond of riddles," said Jaime, "so if you have something to say – "

"Lord Howland," interrupted Sansa, stepping forward, "we would be honored if you would sup with us, and rest here for as long as you wish. Our larders are meager, but we would share what we have gladly."

"You honor me, your grace," said Reed, bowing slightly. His eyes swept over Jaime once, just before Podrick and Sansa led him to the guest quarters. Jaime and Brienne followed, sharing a wary glance between them.


While Podrick prepared the evening meal Sansa chose a room for her bannerman, then left him alone to rest before supper. Sansa then went to talk with Podrick while he worked. Jaime and Brienne retired to their room for a few minutes to wash as best they could over the basin, then don the cleanest clothes they had in their packs, which were still unspeakably grimy, despite a recent washing Podrick had done for them.

As he splashed water onto his face, Jaime reflected that it was almost unsettling how quickly the terror he had felt in the godswood had subsided, as if the same entity that had engendered the fear had then removed it, as easily as a maester might remove a chancre. In its place now sat a peacefulness Jaime hadn't known since … well, had he ever known peace? All his family's wealth and privilege hadn't afforded him that. Not that he would ever complain about wealth and privilege; he wasn't an idiot. But a quiet state of mind, that was worth more than all the riches of Casterly Rock. As Brienne helped Jaime on with his woolen shirt, he breathed in the calm silence that seemed to surround her whenever they were alone together and smiled to himself.

Later, when they had all settled together in Sansa's room over their small plates of roasted quail, potatoes, and turnip greens, she and Reed chatted about her family. Jaime's golden hand lay on a table next to the bed, looking dull and used. It was strange seeing it there, but somehow Jaime didn't feel the lack of it. He supposed someday he'd have a wooden one made. It would be lighter and less ostentatious, certainly, and would help protect his stump during battle. But for now he felt fine without any such adornment.

Podrick continued to play servant to all of them, but when he wasn't fetching necessities he sat at Sansa's right hand, taking his meal with them all, as usual. If Reed took note of the arrangement, he said nothing. Jaime would have to remember to discuss with Brienne the possibility of knighting the young man, and soon, for queens simply did not have squires so publicly attentive. A knight would still raise eyebrows, though perhaps not as many. And Podrick had proved his mettle, after all.

He knew they'd been friends, but Jaime was nevertheless surprised to see the depth of affection in Reed's eyes when he spoke of Ned Stark; and Sansa's typical cool demeanor dissolved into one of rapt attention as she listened and questioned her guest in return. Jaime remained guarded in Reed's presence, and was glad to see that Brienne was not so easily won by the little man's witty banter and flashing dark eyes.

Was Lord Howland flirting with her?

It seemed absurd, and normally Jaime might have chuckled at such fruitless flirtation, particularly when Brienne's silent responses included cool stares and flared nostrils as she held her tongue; but his mind seemed ruled by doubt now, even though Brienne had given him no cause to question her devotion. Even tonight, she seemed to be glancing his way more often than usual, and there was a different kind of light in her eyes when she looked at him. But the fact was that they hadn't spoken the words, and no oaths of any kind bound them together. Besides which, it wouldn't do to have whisperings about Brienne's honor. Jaime frowned. It was time to rectify that. His heart began to pound, whether from fear or anticipation he couldn't be sure.

Jaime's attention came back fully to the conversation when Sansa asked Reed about Jon Snow. He remembered the young man, his brow dark and brooding as he sat at the far table in the great hall. He'd been elevated quickly to Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, so he must have some worth. And Tyrion had liked him.

"Lord Howland, why do you say Jon needs to come south?" asked Sansa.

Reed again cast his eyes toward Jaime and was clearly reluctant to speak. "After the news I share with him it may be – if he agrees to come – that we can end this war immediately."

Sansa waited for him to explain, but Reed shoveled an overlarge bite of potatoes into his mouth. "Delicious," he mumbled through the food to Podrick, who bobbed his head and muttered his thanks.

There followed a short, awkward silence, during which everyone seemed to be trying to think of what to say, or whether to ask more about Ned Stark's bastard son. For his part, Jaime couldn't imagine how a bastard could alter the events of the war, unless … unless he wasn't Ned's bastard at all. His gaze shifted slowly to Sansa as his mind began to whir.

"You recall my children came here to offer the support of Greywater Watch and the Neck," said Reed after he'd swallowed, and his change in tone let everyone know that he wouldn't speak further about Jon Snow. "I haven't heard from them since Winterfell was sacked. Have they sent you word, your grace?"

Sansa paled, and her eyes softened. She put her fork down when she spoke. "No, my lord. I am sorry to say I haven't heard any news about them."

"Ah," said Reed with a sad smile. "I thought as much. Still, one cannot fault a father for asking. And asking. And asking again." He chuckled bitterly and took another bite, chewing silently and staring at the center of the small, scrubbed table.

Sansa, blinking away tears, seemed to be trying to decide what words of comfort to offer when Podrick said, "My lord, if I may, Sansa – my lady – her grace, I mean – would offer whatever food and supplies we can spare from Winterfell to aid you on the rest of your journey."

Sansa smiled quickly at Podrick and said, "Yes, Lord Howland, in appreciation of your loyalty, however we can help you, we will do it. It is decided."

Reed cleared his throat and said, "Thank you, your grace. I won't need much."

"Game may be scarce as you travel farther north, my lord," said Podrick.

"Game will be the least of my troubles," replied Reed gently, "but I thank you for the warning."


Howland Reed insisted that he would depart in the morning after breaking his fast and trouble them no more than he already had. He bid them all good night, conspicuously forgetting his weapons in the corner of Sansa's room as he bowed and turned to amble down the corridor. He certainly had a dagger or two in his boots, but the gesture was a noble one. Even though they would still take turns on watch as they always had, Brienne released a sigh that it seemed she'd been holding throughout supper.

"It is good to have the Neck secured," said Sansa, and Podrick nodded and gave her a small smile before standing to pick up several plates to take to the small kitchen and servants' station in the center of the guest house. "Though I wish Lord Howland would tell me what Jon has to do with the wars. The brothers of the Night's Watch are sworn not to involve themselves in political affairs."

"I think seeing a Lannister in Winterfell may have sealed his lips," said Jaime. "Even though you told him your plans, and he claimed to see the sense in them, he can't be certain I'm not a spy for King's Landing."

"People can think whatever they like," said Sansa firmly. "I trust you."

Jaime's throat tightened with sudden emotion, but he managed to bow his head and say, "Your grace."

The title still felt strange on his lips, but he would have to grow accustomed to it. Things would escalate quickly, now that the ravens had been sent. Besides, he'd made his oath: Sansa was his queen now.

"How can we be sure Lord Howland isn't trying to lead us astray, to lower our guard?" Brienne asked.

"It may be that Jon Snow isn't who we think he is," said Jaime. "He may be a bastard, but he may not be Ned Stark's bastard."

"I thought of that tonight," said Sansa, and she became very quiet. "That had never occurred to me before. Father never spoke of where Jon came from – never spoke of it at all. We all just … made up our minds about him. I never forgave Father for that, for betraying Mother, and now – if this is true – " Sansa swallowed, her eyes dark and far away. "I've been so wrong about so many things."

"If Jon has a legitimate claim to the Iron Throne," said Brienne gently, "he could assure that Winterfell remains yours, and that you are Queen in the North."

"No more bloodshed," whispered Sansa. She rose from her seat and looked at Brienne with such faith in her eyes that Jaime thought his heart might crack in two.

"We can hope," said Brienne, smiling.

"But we must prepare," said Jaime as he stood. "I've found that hope flowers best when nurtured by a pessimist's plans, so I suggest we continue as though Howland Reed had never planted that little seed tonight. Your grace."

Brienne's smile turned into a smirk and she stood, as well. "By your leave, your grace." And, not wearing skirts, she bowed as a male knight would.

Jaime bowed, too, and they entered their room, shutting the heavy wooden door behind them. Brienne lit an oil lamp and set it on a small table near the bed, and its dim, comfortable light seemed to warm the room even more. They could hear Podrick enter the room again through the corridor entry, load more plates and serving dishes on his tray, and shuffle down the hall toward the kitchen, clinking and clanking as he went.

Leaning against the door, Jaime sighed. After the day's events he suddenly felt, to use Tyrion's expression, as though he'd been dragged through a keyhole. And it would only get worse from here, that he knew. They might have a few quiet days between now and the inevitable conflict, but the day would come when they'd have to make their stand.

Strangely, that made him happy, and he realized he was smiling. A man without a purpose was no man at all. Perhaps that was true for women as well, for Brienne seemed oddly at peace.

She shut their corridor door and leaned against it. For a time they simply looked at each other in the flickering light, each leaning against a door as though wild animals prowled outside. Jaime began to laugh, and Brienne joined him. It was inexplicable, what they were doing: the absurdity of going against the tide of the war, and the conviction that they two would undoubtedly change the world for the better. Sometimes it struck him hard in the face, and all he could do was laugh about it.

"Come here, wench," he said, and she did, allowing herself to be enfolded into his arms completely.

They leaned together against the door and he buried his face in her shoulder, inhaling the familiar musky scent of her sweat and nuzzling the smooth skin of her neck until she shivered. She pressed languidly into his manhood, and he hummed, wanting to savor the feeling of his growing arousal.

"I am proud of you," she whispered, leveling her gaze at him.

"For what?"

A flush blossomed on her cheeks. "You finally pledged your oath."

"Ah, yes," he said. "Honor is a difficult opponent to defeat. One must almost always surrender to it, in the end."

Brienne's mouth on his brought an end to his jape, and he reveled in the taste of her.

And now we will be together, he thought. Our paths are one. I'll never leave your side, nor you mine, not until we're dead.

But if they survived?

He pulled away and looked at her squarely. "What will we do after Winterfell?" he asked again, probably for the fifth time since the miller's house. "And don't say, 'Whatever you like,' because I haven't told you yet what I'd like to do. It might be something horrible, and then where would you be?"

He knew he was asking the wrong question, but still he raised his chin and cocked a challenge at her, waiting for her to sputter and flush as she often did. But Brienne had a way of surprising him when he needed it most.

"I'd be with you," she replied simply.

For the second time tonight his throat tightened around a lump of emotion. He swallowed and nodded, feeling suddenly like a young schoolboy. "That's good," he whispered.

Brienne smiled, and her eyes glimmered again in that new way he'd seen tonight, just before she pressed her lips to his. His body responded immediately, but he forced himself to remain at the door instead of pushing her backwards until they fell onto the bed. He didn't trust himself not to ask for too much these days, because his need for her had grown practically unbearable.

As if sensing his hesitation, Brienne took charge of him, pulling his shirts over his head and unlacing his breeches before steering him to sit on the edge of the bed, where she removed his boots and stockings and tossed them against the wall. She then slid her hands up his thighs and began to work down his breeches and smallclothes.

When his manhood was freed, Brienne dove upon it and took it into her mouth, moving with a skill that she was rapidly perfecting as she learned what drove him to the brink of madness. Jaime watched her movements, groaning with every slide of her tongue and lips around him, gasping as she gripped the base of his manhood to stiffen him even more.

He grasped the collar of her woolen shirt and tugged roughly. She released him and stood to disrobe, which she did quickly, kicking off her own boots while her breeches were still gathered around her knees. She stepped out of them and strode toward him with purpose, her body strong beneath its unexpected curves. He loved every bruise on her muscled thighs, especially the ones he'd placed there with his overzealous mouth and fingers during their silent, frenzied nights.

Jaime shifted backward onto the bed and had to bite his lip as she straddled him and slid her sex up his cock … but she kept crawling upward until her blond curls and lovely cleft were right over his face. He wrapped his arms around her hips and buried his face in her maidenhood, kissing and licking and sucking there as though he were a starving man. Brienne braced herself on his shoulders and shuddered and moaned as he found the actions he knew she liked best.

He'd made her climax this way before, and he'd always loved it, having the power to unravel her so absolutely; but she placed her hands on his arms and removed them from her hips so that she could slither downward again. He was expecting her to rub herself over his cock, as she loved to do; but this time she grasped him with her hand and, very slowly, lowered herself onto him.

Her body was exquisite oil and muscle, heat and pleasure. A quiet hiss slipped through his teeth, and he kept his eyes locked with Brienne's. She bit her lip and unhurriedly began to ride him, steadying herself with her hands on his chest as she figured out how to move over him. The vulnerable yearning in her eyes made him want to crumble. He groaned and reached for her, pulling her body down onto his and clinging to her tightly as he plunged deeper into her, eliciting another gasp as her body adjusted to the penetration of his. After so many nights of silence, the sound of her voice as she moaned and sighed without reservation nearly sent him over the edge; but he held her hips so she couldn't move too quickly.

Her calves hugged his hips as she moved, and her elbows remained planted on the bed on either side of his face. But her fingers combed through his hair with the same tenderness he'd come to expect from her, and his chest throbbed with a new sort of longing. He was whole with her, as he'd never been before, and relief and clarity opened something in him.

Brienne was his, his at last, and he'd be damned if he'd let anyone or anything pull them apart. His thrusts took on a determination of their own as he held her to him, unwilling even to allow her to sit up to slide over his manhood the way she seemed to wish to do, for that would put her body farther from his; so their movements as they clung tight and slammed into each other were small, intense, and focused. She kissed him and kissed him again, never taking her eyes from his, and over the blood thundering in his ears he realized she was whispering his name over and over again: Jaime … Jaime … Jaime …

He forced himself to slow down, to find the perfect undulation of his hips as they rocked into hers, and before long he saw the look on her face changing to one of quiet, transported concentration, the most lovely look he'd ever seen on anyone. A line appeared between her brows, meaning she was very close now, and so he reached down between them and began to circle his thumb over her sex, and felt a glorious clenching of her body around his, a sweet milking of his cock that made him want to explode into her. And when it happened now, it felt like he'd been made for this, for her body; it was as if the same pair of divine hands were squeezing and pounding the two of them into each other, making each of them more than they'd been a moment before. He moaned and pulled her tighter with his arm, keeping his hand between them to make sure every ounce of pleasure had been wrung from her before he released her. She cried out his name, and her head fell forward and she bit his shoulder. His mouth found her neck and he whispered her name there, wishing that the word could mark her as his somehow.

They stayed that way for a time, as their panting returned to normal breathing and their sweat began to cool and make them shiver. Finally they disengaged, crawled under the covers and furs together, and lay facing each other with their heads resting on the same pillow.

It's settled, Jaime thought. You're mine. I'm yours.

"If we die tonight," he said, "it won't be the Maiden who meets you."

And Brienne laughed heartily, no doubt remembering what she'd bemoaned – and what he'd offered – the first night he'd kissed her in the barn so long ago, the night they were certain they faced hanging in the morning.

"I suppose you want thanks for that?" she said, though her eyes beamed as she wiped tears of mirth from them.

"I want – " But he stopped himself. He wanted so much, and he could not allow a jape, however personal it might be to the two of them, to cheapen it.

He turned his head toward the sound of Podrick pacing the corridor of the guest house and tried to picture him, sword at his side, growing taller and broader each day, choosing his fate and making peace with it, whether it would lead to glory or death. Or both.

"So, what will we do after Winterfell?" asked Brienne, suddenly serious. Her eyes were wide and dark.

Jaime looked back at her. The silence between them deepened, and he felt himself dropping into place, finding the fit snug and perfect. "Perhaps we should pay a visit to Tarth. I'd like to meet your lord father."

Brienne snorted. "I'm not certain he'd want me without a gown, or a husband."

A thrill coursed through his body and he thought, The things I do for love. And when he spoke his next words, it was as easy as falling, as exhilarating as flying.

THE END