Saturday morning came and with it, the hot sunlight that filtered through the tall window in her bedroom. The rays poured down on her, caressing her skin through her oversized shirt, down her legs – warm, warm, so very warm. Brienne didn't even stir, immersed in dreams of a golden man with dark thoughts and darker feelings. It was almost noon and she'd vowed to wake up early, just as she always did – right after dawn. She had always been one to keep her vows, but the exhaustion on her body pulled her into a deeper slumber, fighting voraciously against all arguments her consciousness would feebly present.
Suddenly, she felt a tickling on her sides – the warmth extending beyond her skin, deeper and deeper into her soul – seizing, drowning, overpowering the very protests of her limbs as she reached out and pinned two bodies down, pushing them farther into the mattress until they erupted into a fit of giggles. She allowed a content smile to seep through her visage right before opening her eyes. Her arms relaxed above them and two heads of shiny, soft, golden hair peeked out with curious, impish eyes.
“G'morning, midgets,” she greeted them and they crawled up to kiss each of her cheeks. “What trouble are you up to now?”
Cadogan hid his head under her chin, his breath hot and sweet on her neck. Tehila, on the other hand, stood clumsily on the bed and, after balancing herself over her mother's form, threw a leg across her stomach and settled atop Brienne, gently straddling her.
Cade had her bashfulness, her blushing cheeks, her hesitant smile; but Hillie – Hillie was her father's daughter, Jaime, all Jaime.
“My birthday is coming,” Hillie said, looking Brienne straight in the eye.
“Mine too!” Cade timidly echoed and pressed his childish fingers against his mother's shoulder blade.
“Well, duh! Not the brightest crayon in the box, are you?” Hillie tilted her head as she contemplated her twin. “Your brilliance is truly outstanding, Cade. So much so that I claim the right to deny any parentage that may associate us, from this moment on, as permitted by law.”
Brienne turned her head and muffled a sharp bark of laughter against her pillow. “Your brother is smart, Tehila,” she heard herself say - the subdued veneer of her voice doing nothing to placate her daughter's innocent mordancy.
“Yes, yes. He has emotional intelligence, as aunt Mag says.” Hillie turned dismayed eyes at him and drew a hand to the expanse of skin over her heart, affecting her voice with mock concern. “You know that emotional intelligence is just a way to qualify the Hufflepuffs of the world, right?”
“Tehila!” Brienne called out.
“I'm not dumb,” Cadogan whispered as his fingers climbed up her neck and settled on her jaw. He turned Brienne's head to him and drew his lips to her ear. “I'm not dumb. Right, mum?”
Before Brienne could utter the answer vehemently toying with her tongue, Hillie dismounted her and tickled the boy's stomach until his eyes were coated in tears of mirth. “You're not dumb,” she told him, “but you have mother's heart. You can't give away your candy to every kid that looks like he wants one. What will happen when mother dies? You'll squander your inheritance and I'll have to offer you a place under my roof. I don't plan on living with you any more than is strictly necessary, Cade.”
Brienne was going to scold Cade for sharing his candy. Every week, she'd meet an angry parent complaining about her son and giving her a lesson on the way to administer sugar treats within a kid's diet. “Is aunt Mag still trying to turn you into a barrister?” Brienne asked instead.
“Yes!” Cadogan clapped excitedly. “And aunt Sansa says I have the soul of an artist. The next Rachmaninov, she calls me. Says my songs will turn into the soundtrack of epic love stories featured in the greatest films of all times.” He closed his eyes and smiled, and Brienne couldn't help but smile right back at him as she shuffled his hair affectionately. All of a sudden, Cade opened his eyes and the joy previously present on his face drained out of it. “You're not going to die, are you?”
“I don't plan to...” Brienne answered and her eyes twinkled with delight. “I have to see those movies after all.”
Cadogan pursed his lips and looked at Tehila for some sort of confirmation, though Brienne couldn't quite decipher what was it he seeked aproval for. They were smart, her children, and sly, too – much like their father had been. She found her cheeks pulled taut by the oncoming grin, the veil over their silent conversation lifting off to hit her with a coy realization.
“Your birthday,” she said amused, “is approaching.” The twins turned to look at her, their eyes widened in surprise and something more – hopeful anticipation, she guessed. “And you broke into my lair with an express demand at the tip of your devious little tongues, didn't you?”
Tehila nodded her head once, twice – all impetuousness and poise. Cadogan looked torn between crawling out of bed and backing up his sister. A moment of hesitation, his eyes flickering between the two females, and he took his side, clutching his sister hand and squeezing once, twice – all loyalty and honour.
“We're ready to meet dad,” Cade said. Brienne didn't know whether it was his implicit request or the fact that he had voiced it first that surprised her, but surprise her it did.
“We're going to turn twelve and I know you said it wasn't safe, we trust you when you say it, but we want to meet him, mum. And maybe... he wants to meet us too,” Hillie hastened to add. There was such a conviction in their voices, such a sweet innocence, a bitter longing. Brienne kissed their heads and enveloped them in a hug, drawing them to her, trying to melt them together - to go back, back, back.
We all have a song, Brienne. Life may play it for us, but we draw the notes on the music sheet. You will write the introduction to Cadogan and Tehila's songs. One day, though, their fingers will itch to write their own music and you'll have to let them, she heard her father say in her head.
Maybe the time had come.
She knocked on the door. Behind her, Cade and Hillie swung at each other with twigs and yelled, and grunted, and laughed, but she couldn't hear them above the buzzing in her ears. The bags dangling from her hands had turned to lead, her mouth dried and her throat clogged up. She felt something pressing against her chest – fear, hot and violent.
“Come inside, kids!” she heard Margaery say. Brienne couldn't see her. She couldn't feel her children brushing against her legs as they pushed past her and Mag, and ran by Sansa – Sansa, who was standing in the hall, arms crossed against her chest and brow creased with concern. “Bourton-on-the-Water, what a godforsaken place! Yet, how dreadful must London sound to you right now.”
The redhead took a step forward and elbowed Margaery with newfound vigour. “You're going to be fine, Brie.” One of her slender, elegant hands reached her shoulder and drove the buzzing out. Margaery's eyes did the rest. “We're going to take care of them,” Sansa felt the need to add.
“She knows that,” Mag emphasized with a reassuring smile. “And she knows we'll protect them until our hair turns grey and falls out of our heads. You're not alone, Brienne.”
A loaded silence followed their exchange. Brienne nodded her head and hoped her eyes conveyed all the gratitude she felt. She hugged her friends and kissed her chidlren on their foreheads, and just as she was about to reach her car, Sansa, sweet Sansa, proper Sansa, spoke one last time.
“It's about damn time that Lannister learns what he left behind,” she mused aloud.