Note: This is shamelessly fluffy - about as fluffy as canon is super bleak - and I JUST DON'T CARE! Specifically, I like to think that this is basically all the fluff value of "I dreamed of you" stretched out over 1,300 words instead of packed into 4. :)
AAAH, THESE TWO.
It takes her longer to ask than he'd expected. They've been riding for hours in silence with a fair amount of distance between their horses, the other members of their party a small distance ahead of them. Personally, Jaime's quite a fan of all this distance. It will be awhile before he wants to spend another journey quite so close and personal on a horse with Brienne. No offense to the lady herself, of course. She bore it very admirably.
He closes his eyes. His head aches dimly; he can't remember the last time it didn't. It nicely complements the dull agony that's the stump where his hand used to be. Though he knows he'll be home to King's Landing soon – home to Cersei – he can't quite believe it. And what will come after? Nothing very good. The Kingsguard has always been so particular about its knights having two hands. Despite himself, he wonders if Cersei will be particular too.
He turns. Brienne urges her horse a few steps forward until they are side by side. It's still a surprise, hearing Ser Jaime instead of Kingslayer in her voice. He wonders if he really did beg her to call him by his name in the bathhouse; he had meant to only think it. If he did speak it aloud, then she's damnably considerate. He's never met anyone like her. He didn't know there were people like her.
"Lady Brienne?" he replies, drawing out her name mock-grandly.
"Why—" She pauses, then finds her courage. Her eyes meet his. She does have remarkable eyes. "Why did you come back?"
She is so earnest, frowning slightly, her short hair mussed by the wind. Her cheeks are pink; she looks healthier than she has in recent memory. Then again, she had not looked precisely unhealthy standing over him in that tub. She looked very—well. Healthy.
That's not the point. Of anything.
She is one of those rare women who looks so much better outside. Then again, who's to say all women wouldn't, given the chance? It's men who insist upon keeping them in pretty towers. Or bear pits.
She is still awaiting an answer. He finds he hasn't a damn clue how to give her a serious one. He decides to tease her instead. It's been much too long since he had the opportunity, unencumbered by little things like rape threats and dismemberment. "I thought you might like a heroic rescue to go with your pretty pink gown."
Her stare turns from curious to withering. Oh, he would have missed that glare.
"What?" he asks innocently.
"Nothing," she decides after a moment. She begins to steer her horse away, and he feels a pang of regret.
These days, his whole life consists of pangs of regret over Brienne of Tarth.
"I couldn't stand by and let you suffer." The words are out of him before he knows it. "Not after ..." You refused to let me die. "Everything," he finishes lamely.
She considers his face. He wonders what the hell she sees there.
"Thank you," she says at last. Her voice is without a bit of its usual stoicism.
"No need to thank me. You would have done the same."
She nods, a slight noble gesture. Lately when she does that, he finds himself questioning the sanity of a world that turns her into a joke when she's so clearly better than the whole bloody lot of them.
After a moment, she opens her mouth to speak, then thinks better of it.
"What?" he asks warily.
The corner of her mouth twitches in a very suspect way. "I wouldn't have jumped into the pit without a weapon."
It's practically an invitation to tease her mercilessly.
"I was acting on instinct," he protests. "Aren't you ladies supposed to find that dashing?"
"Not when it's foolish."
"Ah yes," he says, shaking his head in pretend dismay. "Just as I predicted. Barely three hours later, and I already wish I'd left you in the bear pit."
"Barely three hours later, and I wish I'd stayed with the bear," she retorts.
He laughs out loud at that. She even smiles, ducking her head as if she means to keep it secret. He's not sure if she's ever laughed. He wonders if she can. What would make her laugh.
He could make her.
It might take awhile to puzzle out just how to do it, but where Brienne of Tarth is concerned, Jaime is singularly confident.
"What are you thinking?" she asks, her voice still a bit warm with amusement.
About my newly hatched plan to make you laugh whether you like it or not doesn't strike him as a satisfactory response. Instead he says, quite pitifully, "You know, you're being very hard on me."
"Poor thing," Brienne deadpans.
"I didn't choose to jump in there after you. I just ... did."
He thinks he may have said something else to her about choices once. After he's spoken the words, there is something familiar to them. But there's been too much since to remember it clearly. The halcyon days of her walking him through hill and dale like a dog have become a haze. He does remember that he was bad at hating her even then.
She seems to have a sharper memory, judging by the look on her face.
"I'm glad you did," she says after a moment, sincere again. "I'm sorry I questioned your methods."
"No, no," he insists. "You were right on that count. My methods were very questionable."
"But brave." She meets his eyes again. Hers are especially blue against the grayness of the sky. He swears she didn't used to seem this ... this bright. He supposes it's the fault of the ridiculous dress.
For a stupid second, he imagines her serving as a knight of the Kingsguard. Not for Joffrey; that would never do. For a good king, a noble king, the sort of king who's always in songs but never bothers to exist. He imagines her always at his side, reminding him what it is to be brave.
King's Landing is no place for someone like her.
King's Landing isn't, and where the hell is?
In Lady Catelyn's service, he supposes. Bringing the Stark girls home. Keeping her promise.
She's still looking at him. It's official: no one should be allowed to have eyes like that. It simply isn't fair.
"Well, that's what we knights live and breathe for, isn't it?" he says. "Bravery."
For a moment, he thinks he's got her at we. She makes a small noise – like a laugh and not a laugh at all. More of a breath, or the very slightest cry.
She recovers quickly. It's Brienne, after all.
"And selflessness," is all she says.
Before he would have taken it as an insult, but now he suspects it is only honesty. She let him throw her to the dogs and asked for nothing but a promise.
It's the stuff true knights are made of.
"Now," he begins briskly. Otherwise, this sentimental staring contest threatens to go on forever, and neither of them wants that. He's quite sure. "What do you plan to do when we've reunited the Stark girls with their lady mother?"
"I'll think of that after I've— we've done it. Until then, fulfilling that promise is enough."
"Well, you're very boring. Come on. Something. Anything."
"Fine," she surrenders, rolling her eyes. "I'd like a change of clothes."
"What? But that dress is so becoming on you, my lady."
"No, I mean it. I think even the bear was smitten. It only wanted to hold you closer! And to think I interrupted—"
"Oh yes, that's right." Brienne sighs. "You don't shut up."
He knows he'll have to shut up soon. Leave her be and return to what remains of his life. But for now, this is enough.
And so Jaime takes her words as an invitation, and keeps on talking.