Tyrion couldn't really claim that he formed the team, in his opinion. It had been Walder Frey who figured out he needed a retrieval specialist, a hacker, and a professional thief to "recover" his stolen intellectual property from a rival. Tyrion's job had been to oversee the three of them, ensure none of them went out of bounds beyond the job they were hired to do. "One show only, no encores," as Brienne had put it.
Frey had found Brienne Tarth, Podrick Payne, and "Nymeria" aka Arya Stark as well as Tyrion, so really the team was put together by him. Then Frey had been the one stupid enough to try to double-cross them all.
The old man had been far too confident his trick would work and had not reckoned with a Stark hells-bent on revenge, or how little a Lannister would tolerate being used. But the four of them were on the run from the law after the warehouse explosion. Frey thought they were dead but would find out they weren't, and they needed a fresh face to get to him, someone Frey wouldn't recognize immediately.
And, frankly, Walder Frey needed to get what was coming to him, which meant Tyrion had no choice but to call the best grifter in the world.
The first job Jaime and Tyrion had ever pulled had been with Cersei, Jaime's twin, to take down their father, Tywin Lannister. Cersei and Tyrion had put aside a lifetime of mutual hatred for the sake of obliterating Tywin's reputation and stealing his money. Jaime had, with foolish optimism, hoped it was the start of a trend.
The morning after Tywin's arrest, Jaime was horrified when he learned the accounts they had put the stolen money into had been drained and Cersei had disappeared. But Tyrion had been smart enough to realize that Cersei had no intention of sharing equally with her brothers. He had rigged the wire transfer so that not all of it would go to the accounts Cersei had access to.
Their sister had vanished somewhere in Essos and hadn't been heard from since. Jaime took his share of what Tyrion was able to preserve and left Westeros, first for Dorne, then for different cities in Essos, and did his best to forget Jaime Lannister had ever existed. He was born to privilege, so it was easy for him to move in the same circles as rich people, especially rich people with good taste in artwork. He drank with them, dined with them, romanced some of them, and made off with his favorite pieces of their private collections one by one.
Jaime was celebrating a successful evening back in his hotel room in Braavos when the message arrived. He'd gotten into the good graces of the mark that night and secured an invitation to her next garden party, which would give Jaime the chance to scope the security around the painting in the mansion that was his target. But the message from his brother included the only words that would have made Jaime return to Westeros immediately.
"Jaime, I need your help. Someone tried to kill me."
He flew home the next morning. He hadn't always been there for Tyrion when they were young, so this was a chance to be the heroic knight for his younger brother. He planned to go back to King's Landing just long enough to help Tyrion and then leave again.
It was just one job, he told himself. Just one job.
Five years later
Jaime was sitting at the bar, nursing a bottle of ale, when Brienne dropped his burger in front of him. As usual at the successful end of a job, Tyrion had given her run of the bar's kitchen over Bronn's objections. Arya and Pod were already shoving fries in their faces and having their customary argument about the appropriate ratios of different condiments. Jaime's burger was covered in white cheese and bacon, exactly the way he liked.
Brienne settled next to him, her burger cheese-less and bacon-less, the heathen.
Jaime tried to pay attention to the hot deliciousness of Brienne's cooking, even something as simple as a burger, but his gaze wandered back across the room. Tyrion was in his favorite spot, where he could see the entire bar, speaking with their latest client to deliver the good news about her insurance company's "change of heart" about paying her claim. Arya had done a lot of the planning on this one, and Brienne hadn't even gotten a bruise. It had been a fairly easy job, all in all.
Except this client wasn't just some random soul who needed help against a powerful, crooked opponent. She was also the lost love of Tyrion's life.
Tyrion was beaming at Tysha, brightly enough to light up the entire place. His brother hadn't looked this happy since… the last time he had been with his first love.
Regret stabbed at Jaime, as it always did when he thought of what their father had done – what Jaime had helped him do – to scare off Tyrion's first girlfriend. Tyrion had forgiven Jaime for lying to him when Tysha disappeared (having taken the money Tywin gave her, on threat of her family's farm being destroyed), saying that Jaime had been under their father's thumb, as they all were, but Jaime would never entirely forgive himself.
Tyrion had rarely spoken about her in the intervening years, and he'd been married and divorced in that time, but it was obvious to anyone looking at them that he'd never forgotten Tysha, not truly. And now Tysha was here, in the city, in Tyrion's bar, and thanks to the crew she had the money her insurance company had owed her. A small fortune, enough to live on and pursue her writing full-time.
Which begged the question, what now?
Jaime would fight anyone who tried to take Tyrion's happiness away from him, but he was uncertain what the end of this particular job was going to mean for the crew. Tysha seemed as happy to see Tyrion as he was to find her again. Not everyone got a second chance like that. It was one thing to run cons on dangerous people when there was nobody waiting for you to come home at the end of the day. This wasn't a life you pursued if you were in a happy relationship.
At least, not unless the other half of your relationship was on your crew.
Brienne's leg pressed against his. She didn't say anything, just ate her burger and watched the children argue about ketchup-to-mustard ratios with the grumpy expression that couldn't quite conceal her amusement.
Her eyes moved around the room, the awareness of her surroundings something that she never could turn off, even here in the bar. In fact, the only time Jaime had ever seen her completely at rest was in their bed. That first night, in Winterfell, when she fell asleep facing him, he had laid there watching her sleep like a lunatic until he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer.
Now, he felt her knee, solid and warm, resting against his own.
He ate another bite of his burger and hooked his ankle around hers on her bar stool. Message received.
When the burgers and ale were gone, Arya put her finger along her nose and Jaime immediately followed. "Not it."
"Wha- not again!" Pod whined, as he always did when he was too slow to get out of dish duty. "Brienne!"
But Brienne's cell phone was ringing. "Sorry, I've got to take this. Goodwin, hi."
Pod complained, but he piled the plates and took them back to the kitchen. Arya and Jaime grinned at one another, but Arya went still, looking past Jaime. He turned to see Brienne pressing the phone tightly to her ear, her face as pale as the moon.
"Oh," she said into the phone. "I didn't know he was… when did he die?"
Tyrion watched the cab pull away, trying to calm his thundering heart. Tysha waved at him one more time. She had been going to walk home, until he pointed out the lateness of the hour and that she was now independently wealthy and could afford to take a taxi home. Her number was stored in his phone, and they had plans to see each other again in two days.
All the planning he'd been doing, the job at the White Sword Tower, preparing for moving on from the team, he had thought he had everything figured out. The love of his life walking into his bar needing help had not been part of the plans.
He was tempted for the first time in decades to say some prayers to the Seven. The timing seemed like it had to be divine intervention.
His phone rang as he went back into the bar. There were only four people whose calls he would allow to interrupt his basking right now, so unfortunately he had to answer Jaime's call.
"Big brother, where did you sneak off to?" At some point in the evening the rest of the team had disappeared. Tyrion hadn't even noticed until they were gone, that was how occupied his mind was.
The pause at the other end of the phone sobered him even before Jaime's voice came back, his tone grim. "I'm sorry, Tyrion, but we need you upstairs. It's Brienne."
An hour later they gathered around the monitors. Brienne sat in the middle of the couch, which was unusual. Jaime and Pod were on either side of her. Arya sat in the armchair opposite Tyrion's, her eyes glittering in a way that meant someone was getting stabbed with a fork in the near future.
A small, spoiled part of Tyrion was complaining about being diverted from his reunion, but he quashed it firmly. Brienne was family, and she needed them.
Pod had been frowning at his laptop for half an hour, muttering and typing at the speed of light, until he looked up and around before noticing the rest of them were waiting for him. He swallowed and nodded at the screen.
"Okay, so, Endrew Tarth, younger brother of Selwyn Tarth, passed away two days ago according to Goodwin, the ranch manager who called Brienne. He was the owner of Evenfall, the Tarth family property on the island. Endrew suffered a minor stroke about four months ago, had to go to a rehab facility for a while, and that appears to be where he met Roelle Rivers."
"She was your old nanny?" Arya asked the question aloud although, they all knew the answer. Tyrion felt his stomach curdle, remembering what Brienne had told them about this bitch. It hadn't been much but it had been enough. Jaime was now sharing Arya's stabbing energy.
Brienne was staring at the screen, her lips pressed together. She nodded, just once.
"He wouldn't have recognized her?" Podrick asked.
"Endrew was up in the north for years when I was a kid. He probably heard something about her from my father, but it was a long time ago," Brienne said with a veneer of calm that wasn't fooling any of them.
"Well, Roelle was working as a home nurse, apparently she visited Endrew a number of times," Pod continued. "About three weeks before he died, according to the records, the two of them got married. Endrew also changed the terms of his will and his insurance policy so that all of his property would go to Roelle if he died."
"Because that's not at all suspicious," Jaime drawled.
"His lawyer must have thought so because there's a sworn statement from a maester, Jon Quentyn, who was treating Endrew, declaring that he was of sound mind, which was filed along with the updated will."
"So Roelle meets Endrew, post brain injury, they conveniently get married just before he suffers a second, massive stroke, and Roelle ends up with everything while-" Tyrion cut his eyes to Brienne and then back to the screen, "Endrew's only surviving blood relation is left with nothing. It's no wonder the lawyer thought something was screwy."
"That can't be legal," Jaime muttered.
"I'm afraid it is. This isn't the Targaryen era any longer, estates can't be entailed to certain successors. Legally, the property was Endrew's, he had the right to will it to whomever he chose." Jaime flashed him a glare, looking ready to argue, but Tyrion held up a hand. "It's definitely unethical and shady, but any legal challenge is facing a big hurdle with the testimony from the maester." Allowing this harpy to walk off with Brienne's family estate wasn't happening, clearly. He was already formulating possible strategies when Arya asked his next question for him.
"Do we know anything about him?" Arya asked about the maester.
Pod shrugged. "Not much. I didn't find him on the Citadel's list of registered practitioners but they're not great about keeping the website up to date. I need to hack into the hospital in Storm's End and find out more. But I did find Endrew's attorney. He took over as the estate's lawyer about a year ago, according to some notices I found." Pod clicked the remote and a new photo appeared. "Ron Connington."
A loud crunching sound occurred as the water bottle in Brienne's hand crumpled. The metal water bottle, which she always used after ranting at the rest of them about the dangers of plastic bottles. She had clamped her fingers around it so hard she crushed it.
Jaime jumped at the noise. The water bottle in Brienne's hand was collapsed like a beer can, leaking on her lap. Brienne wasn't moving, just staring with wide, shocked eyes at the face on the screen.
Most of the time when Brienne did something to show off her physical strength, Jaime thoroughly enjoyed it. Not this one, though. Even as she kept her face blank, the clenched fingers of her hand told a tale of pain and hurt clearly.
Arya silently went to grab paper towels while Pod shifted his laptop out of the way of the water that was dripping onto the couch.
Jaime should have kept quiet, probably, and waited until they were alone to ask, but he never could learn when to hold his tongue, especially when it came to Brienne. "So, ex-boyfriend?"
If looks could kill, he would have been incinerated by Brienne's glare. She hadn't looked that angry at him since the early days of the team. Jaime winced.
She turned away and muttered, "We were in the same class in high school."
"Wait," Podrick interjected, his face now going purple with rage. "This is the guy?"
Jaime glanced at Arya and Tyrion, but they clearly had no idea what Podrick was talking about either. Brienne turned her glare on Pod, but the lad stared back at her without blinking. It was rare for Pod not to quail in the face of Brienne's fury, but this time he seemed too angry to care. "It doesn't matter," she said stiffly, trying to change the subject.
"Clearly it does," Tyrion put in, his voice dry, not letting her off the hook, "but we'll table this for later." When Brienne shot him a scathing look in turn, he raised one eyebrow. "I can't plan the job without having all the information. Pod, what else do we know?"
Pod turned reluctantly back to his computer. "Well, I think I know what Roelle's plan is. I got her cell phone records, and in the last month she's made nine calls to this number, which belongs to this guy, Randyll Tarly. He's a real estate developer, mostly of casinos, but his business in Westeros is in trouble."
"Stannis Baratheon's crusade?" Brienne asked.
"Yep," Pod said, clicking the remote again. "When Baratheon became the prime minister, they started passing laws cracking down on pretty much everything people do for fun. Tarly's empire took a big hit, especially after the investigation of underage prostitution at the flagship casino in Dorne. Rumor is Tarly is planning to move away from casinos into straight up resorts. He has one on the Summer Islands, one of those all-inclusive places where you pay and just stay in the resort the whole time."
"While the people who live on the islands starve to death," Arya sneered.
"Right. With the financial pressure from the government, he's trying to save his business by shifting gears and it looks like he intends to make Tarth his next investment."
Tyrion outlined the rest of the job aloud. "So Roelle was in touch with Tarly even before she married Endrew?" Pod nodded. "That explains it, then. She marries Endrew, gets ownership of the property plus some payback on the Tarth family, and she's going to turn around and sell it and take off with the money. Meanwhile, Tarly comes in and converts the museum, the ranch, all of it into a cushy resort," Tyrion summarized. His big brain was clearly already hard at work, playing out ideas.
"And it's all legal," Brienne said, bitterness curdling her voice.
Jaime put his hand on her knee and squeezed, half expecting she would pull away after him sniping at her earlier, but her hand came down on top of his and gripped tightly.
"Good thing we pick up where the law leaves off," Tyrion said. "No, this is a fairly simple job, actually. Jaime goes in as a rival developer, convinces Roelle he can make a better cash offer than Tarly, meanwhile we spook Tarly off so she has no other choice. Of course, she only finds out Jaime's offer is bogus after the paperwork is signed and he's long gone."
Jaime nodded. He didn't like the idea of being face to face with the bitch who hurt Brienne as a child, but if it would help get revenge on the cunt, he could do it. "How do we run Tarly out?"
"How old is Evenfall Hall again?"
Everyone looked to Brienne. "Parts of it date to the first Targaryen era."
Tyrion rubbed his hands together, the gleeful look in his eye that he always got at the start of a job. "Perfect! Let's go steal a historic landmark."
Jaime had never been to Tarth before and he was kicking himself for it. The island was beautiful, vistas in every direction between the mountains and the sea. Evenfall Hall was a towering structure of marble that had been well-preserved for centuries before it started falling into disrepair in the last decade. It was still whole enough that Jaime could almost envision knights and ladies strolling down the corridors.
According to Brienne, her father had had to close the museum during the recession, so the museum offices in the Hall were a good spot to set up shop once Pod had rigged the security system. The Hall was close to the ranch, which occupied what might have once been the tourney field near the castle. Evenfall Ranch and Resort was the primary business of the Tarth family now.
Brienne took them on a tour of the Hall and the museum. Most of the artifacts had been removed for safe keeping when the museum shut down, giving the empty exhibit spaces a spooky aura. The main gallery, including the case where the Blue Knight's armor should have been, just contained a massive manikin. The center of the room was dominated by a large case where Oathkeeper, the legendary Valyrian steel sword that had helped defend Winterfell during the Second Long Night, had been displayed before it had been packed away. The sword had belonged, according to the stories, to one of Brienne's ancestors, an Evenstar who ruled Tarth around the same time. Legend also said that Evenstar was the Blue Knight, the first woman ever granted the title of Ser in Westeros.
The sword featured a lion on the pommel, which was strange for a sword belonging to the Stormlands. When he had first learned about Brienne's ancestor, Jaime had entertained himself for a while coming up with suggestions about how exactly a sword with Lannister iconography ended up in the possession of House Tarth. Brienne had been in turns annoyed, then exasperated, and finally amused by his theories.
When Brienne pointed to Oathkeeper's case, Jaime felt everyone's eyes sweep over him. He had put the team in danger with the Widow's Wail job, and nearly broken the bond between them all. It had been four years, and he'd made up for it, but clearly none of them had forgotten.
"So where is everything?" Arya asked with a casual curiosity that didn't fool Jaime one bit.
It didn't fool Brienne either. She gave Arya a smirk. "In the vault, inside a custom safe my grandfather had built by Glenn-Reider."
Arya looked star-struck. "You have a Glenn-Reider? And a vault? Why didn't you tell me?"
"You didn't need the temptation."
Before Arya's habits could get the better of her, she and Jaime went to scout Evenfall Ranch and Resort, a hotel and vacation spot where guests could occupy themselves with horseback riding in the hills or long days on the sandy beaches below the Hall during the warmer months. It was dated, Jaime noted immediately, and things looked a bit shabby, but even in the slow season there were some families bundling off for a day on the trails and children grinning from the backs of the placid ponies walking around the paddock. At least one couple was probably on their honeymoon, based on the besotted expressions on their faces.
Brienne had wanted to avoid bringing Goodwin into the con but Tyrion had argued that they needed a diversion to get Roelle out of her office, so as soon as Goodwin called with some manufactured crisis he needed Roelle for, Arya was in position while Jaime took up a seat in the lobby where he would see Roelle coming back in time to give Arya ample warning.
Unlike the museum, security at the ranch was limited and mostly focused on the guest areas and the stables, even though the horses weren't exactly thoroughbreds anyone would be looking to steal. The cameras were mostly for liability reasons. Podrick had hacked into the feed and looped the sole camera that covered the hallway leading to the offices already, so all Arya needed to do was pick the physical lock, which took her less ten seconds.
Jaime listened as Arya planted Pod's spyware on the computer and took pictures of documents from the desk. Then Arya started rifling through the rest of the office before going to the painting of the full rigged ship on the wall. "Wow there's a lot of dust. I don't think anyone's touched the safe in a few years," Arya reported to them. Then her tone changed. "Aww, it's a Direwolf model," Arya cooed, having evidently uncovered the safe. "It's like old home week all around."
Jaime rolled his eyes.
"How long before you can crack it?" Pod asked over the comm.
"I can just give you the combination. I doubt Endrew or Roelle changed it," Brienne interjected.
Arya's pout was audible. "Where's the fun in that?"
"We don't have time," Tyrion ordered. Brienne rattled off the numbers and Arya let out a small hum of pleasure as Jaime heard the loud click of the safe opening.
"What was the combination?" Jaime asked Brienne quietly.
"My grandmother's birthday."
Arya came back on the line. "Let's see. Folders holding what looks like tax certificates, incorporation papers, deeds to the property, some insurance paperwork."
"Take it all," Tyrion instructed. "If the safe is that dusty, Roelle may not even know it's there, and she certainly hasn't been in there. We'll hang on to everything as a backup."
"Since when do we need backups?" Jaime asked, feeling a trickle of anxiety run up his spine.
"Take no chances with family business, big brother," Tyrion answered smoothly, in an echo of their father that made him grin. He could picture the flush on Brienne's face right then.
"Roelle's on her way, Arya," Jaime reported a minute later, spotting the horrible woman stalking angrily back from the stables. Poor Goodwin.
Arya extracted herself with nobody the wiser and she and Jaime returned to the Hall.
Podrick dug into everything on Roelle's computer. She was was nominally in charge of the ranch now, though she spent most of her time surfing the internet looking at beach homes in Essos. He also got the information for the ranch's bank accounts from Arya's photographs, plus Roelle's logins and passwords. In the evening, in between shoveling fish tacos into his mouth, Pod muttered, "Uh oh."
That was never a good sign. "What?" Brienne asked.
"Roelle's got a personal bank account, off-shore," Pod wiped his fingers off and started typing rapidly. "It looks like she's moving money, transferring amounts out of the estate's account into hers. Small enough not to raise alarms about the international transfers, but she's moved nearly 25,000 dragons so far."
Brienne growled and tossed her container of food aside and got up to go stare out the window.
"So she's embezzling money from the business and going to sell it to the highest bidder and then take off with all the cash?" Arya asked.
Tyrion looked thoughtful. "That's her plan. Pod, what bank is Roelle using off shore?"
Oddly, Podrick was grinning. "First International Bank of Lys." Pod had become intimately familiar with the banks on Lys during the Big Bang job a couple years ago.
"Excellent. That's our money source, then. When Roelle wants her up front cash payment, we transfer the funds from her account in Lys back into the ranch's account. We steal it back from her."
It was good news, but Brienne's mood remained grim. "I'm going to take a walk."
Jaime started to get up. "I can-"
"No," Brienne said, harshly enough that he flinched. She grimaced. "I'm sorry, I just, I need to clear my head."
Jaime nodded and she left. He sank back down in his seat, avoiding the gazes from the rest of the team.
Brienne had refused to tell him the backstory with Connington and Podrick was keeping mum out of solidarity, so that mystery remained. Jaime had checked into the ranch as a guest for his meeting the next day with Roelle, so he headed there when it became clear Brienne wasn't coming back from her walk any time soon.
He spent a restless night alone in his room, missing Brienne and also irritated with her for not trusting him enough, even now, to tell him what was bothering her.
He was tired and cranky when morning came. At least the coffee at the complimentary breakfast was strong. Arya was floating around refilling the cereal containers, in case Jaime needed backup during the meeting.
Jaime went through his usual preparations and forced his mind to focus on the job. Knowing what Roelle had done to Brienne as a child was one of the biggest challenges to his acting chops Jaime had ever faced. He breathed out, dug deep, and pasted the charming Jason Stone smile on his face as he shook hands with Roelle, who was startled by the meeting Podrick had hacked onto her calendar the night before.
She sat behind her desk while Jaime looked around the office, feigning interest in the painting hiding the safe. "I admit, Mrs. Tarth, I wasn't planning on being here just yet. My company has had its eye on the property for a while, but to show up so soon after the tragic loss of your husband, it seemed… uncouth." He channeled Tywin Lannister's patrician contempt into the last word. They had decided Jaime was going to play this as a more suave, sophisticated persona than Tarly, appealing to Roelle's greed.
Roelle's face was carefully neutral. Jaime could tell she wasn't sure what to make of his words. She was supposed to be a grieving widow to the general public, so if she contradicted him, it would look bad for her. She settled on, "Then why are you here?"
Jaime sat down, crossing his ankle over his knee, leaning back in the chair like he hadn't a care in the world. "Well, it's a good business habit to know what your competitors are up to, and my little birds said Randyll Tarly was already on your fair island."
Roelle went stiff. "Is that so."
Jaime gave her a sympathetic look, like they were on the same side. "Obviously you'd have to hear him out, a lady doesn't want to be rude." Seven forgive me for that lie. "But I cannot believe that after centuries of the Tarth family preserving this place, any of them, even by marriage, would get into bed with a crass huckster like Tarly. All the neon and the sequins? The scantily clad women bending over gambling tables with their… well, you know what I'm talking about." Roelle's forehead had creased and her expression turned stormy, so it appeared she remained as cruel and judgmental toward other women as she had always been.
Which opened her up to Jaime's pitch perfectly. "That's not Tarth. This place, it has history, and dignity, and class. It should be catering to the elite, a private island fantasy that doesn't take three plane rides to the Summer Isles to get. Not a chop house for the unwashed masses in Flea Bottom looking for a debauched weekend to waste their lives on booze and prostitutes."
In his comm, Tyrion grunted. Jaime aimed his resulting smile at Roelle. "Of course, I understand if I've been precipitate, so soon after Mr. Tarth's death. If the answer is that the property is to remain in the family, my associates and I will depart and leave you in peace. However, if the memories are just too painful for you to stay, I hope you'll give some consideration to our proposal before you sign anything with Tarly's circus."
"I haven't made a decision yet," Roelle said, automatically answering the question he had implied. Jaime still wondered at how people fell for that, giving away information so easily.
"Excellent. This is an overview of our work," he fished a beautifully illustrated folder out of his briefcase and handed it over. Podrick had outdone himself on the graphic design, including the fake business card. There was a website as well. "My number is on the card. I hope to be hearing from you soon." He stood gracefully while Roelle looked at the folder.
Impulse made him pause at the door and turn to look her in the eyes. "Oh, and may I add? You have my deepest condolences for your loss."
He had the satisfaction of watching her squirm as multiple emotions flicker over her face, including surprise and fear, before she nodded and Jaime left.
He made his way to the bar for the next step, where he would "accidentally" run into Tarly when he arrived shortly, to cement Tarly's disinclination to continue pursuing the real estate deal.
Brienne pushed hard at the memories that flooded her with every view of Evenfall. This had been her backyard growing up. She and Galladon had fought with toy swords in the training yard together. Her high school years had been spent working on the ranch and in the museum. She spent hours standing in front of the case that held what was supposedly the Blue Knight's armor, especially after Galladon died.
There was dust and cobwebs everywhere. Podrick had already started mumbling to himself about new technology to update the exhibits. She put the thought aside, as she had every thought of what happened if the job was a success and Evenfall became hers. There were too many what ifs in that scenario, with the team, with Jaime, and she couldn't think about all of that in the middle of a con, even if she was mostly pacing while running comms while hidden up in her father's old office.
She had imagined bringing Jaime to Tarth before, late at night when she couldn't quite keep herself from thinking about the future. They had been happy fantasies of showing Jaime the good parts of the island, maybe even showing him Oathkeeper, since she knew he would appreciate the sword the way she did.
Her hiding in a dusty office while Jaime worked his charms on a mark that happened to be her abusive old nanny was not what she had had in mind.
She resorted to doing push-ups to distract herself from listening to her boyfriend flatter Roelle. It was Jaime's gift; he could walk into any situation and fit in, whether it was high rolling gamblers at horse races or mob bosses at the docks in King's Landing. And he was so beautiful, nearly every woman and most men were willing to give him their attention, if not more.
That wasn't really Jaime, she knew that. He was more than the shape shifter who played whatever role was required. She knew how his voice sounded on a mark, and how it sounded in bed with her. But that didn't mean she enjoyed hearing it.
She was back on her feet once Jaime was done. She checked the current cameras again and saw that Randyll Tarly had arrived outside of the hall. He got out of the car for the meeting with that Podrick had hacked onto Tarly's calendar – without Roelle knowing, of course. "Tyrion, Tarly's here."
"Showtime," Tyrion murmured through her earbud.
Brienne watched on the monitors as Tyrion climbed down the main staircase rambling to Podrick, who was pretending to take notes. "The masonry in the solar is one of the best-preserved examples from the Heroic Era I've come across. It's a pity we don't have any sketches of the original configuration of the… oh, hello?"
They had crossed paths with Tarly, who looked at Tyrion with disdain that was visible even on the low quality image. "Randyll Tarly, I have a meeting with Roelle Rivers-Tarth."
Tyrion held out a hand, which Tarly pointedly didn't take, and launched into his gregarious professor routine. "Doctor Gerion Rayne, from the University of the Stormlands. I'm just here finishing up the last of the notes for the application."
"The National Register application?" Tyrion gestured. "The National Register of Historic Places? Evenfall Hall's owners have applied to have the structure listed as a historic building so it's preserved. It's a mystery to me why they haven't done it sooner, really. A place like this, it needs protection and care! Why, some contractor could come in a start tearing up the place right now! Imagine the loss to history if any old fool was allowed to bulldoze his way in here! This is a treasure trove of architectural movements, from the stonework in the cellars to the flying buttresses in the great hall…"
Tarly's jaw dropped open, then he all but growled, "Excuse me, I need to make a call." He stalked away back toward his car while Tyrion called after him about how expensive the glazing on the windows must have been.
Shortly after, Podrick was ensconced back in his chair in front of the computers. "Tarly's called someone but it wasn't Roelle. Went to voicemail."
"Can you ID who he called?" Tyrion asked.
"It must be a burner phone, no name on it."
"But someone else may be involved in the deal," Tyrion observed. "Jaime, stay sharp, there might be another player on the board." He turned back to Brienne. "Tarly has help? Someone on the inside?"
"One of the staff at the ranch?" Brienne suggested.
"Even someone as uncouth as Tarly," Tyrion said, making a face at Jaime even if he wasn't in the room to see it, "would have found out about Roelle and Endrew's 'whirlwind' romance after a basic background search. He might have reached out to other sources to cover his bases. It's almost a smart play."
A thought occurred to Brienne. "Do we know how Roelle and Tarly crossed paths in the first place? Which of them approached the other? We were assuming Roelle went to work conning Endrew on her own, but what if she had help?"
They pondered that as Jaime "ran into" Tarly, greeting him as if they were old acquaintances. Pod had found photos of Tarly at a conference two years ago and Jaime name-dropped it before he lowered his voice and insinuated that he was on Tarth shopping for real estate himself.
It still amazed her, watching and listening to how Jaime could change just his body language and tone of voice and come across as an entirely different person. He was going for sleazy businessman, someone like Tarly, to put the other man on guard.
Jaime kept the conversation short and then left Tarly fuming. But instead of going to Roelle's office, Tarly took out his cell phone and called the same number again.
A man answered, "Yeah?"
Tarly snarled into the phone. "What the fuck are you trying to pull, Connington?"
Brienne, Pod, and Tyrion stared at each other in shock. Tarly and Connington knew each other?
Connington protested that he wasn't pulling anything. Tarly barreled over him. "First of all, were you going to tell me about the fucking historic register application? Do you have any idea how impossible the regulations are for modifying a historic landmark?"
"What? I didn't know about this! Endrew must have done that without telling me."
"Well it sounds like a lot of things are happening without you knowing. I just ran into another real estate developer, Jason Stone? He already had a meeting with the Tarth bitch." Brienne clenched her jaw. She wasn't sure if she was more furious about the slur or hearing Roelle described as a Tarth.
Connington's tone shifted from angry to nervous. "I don't know anything about that. She must have contacted him without telling me."
"Look, you need to get that spiteful old hag under control, Connington. We had a deal, I get the land and you get the rest! Which is more than you deserve. And you know what I do to people who back out of deals with me."
"I told you, I don't know what the fuck is going on here. But I'll fix it," Connington added hastily. "I'll handle her. What about this Stone guy?"
"Let me take care of that," Tarly said, the threat nearly dripping from his voice, then he ended the call.
There was utter silence in the office for a minute until Pod said quietly, "Connington's calling Roelle." He tapped a few keys and they all heard the second conversation over the comms.
"I don't know what you're talking about!" Roelle's nasal voice came over the comms.
"Tarly just called me, he says Evenfall Hall is about to be added to the register of historic homes," Connington griped. "That fucking idiot Endrew, he must have filed the paperwork without telling me. And what the fuck are you doing meeting with another developer behind my back? I brought Tarly into this deal, I make the decisions, not you!"
Roelle gasped. "How did you know that? Are you spying on me?"
"You can't blame me for keeping an eye on my investment. Which is now in jeopardy because of you being a fucking idiot and meeting with a rival company!"
"I didn't know who he was until he was in my office! I couldn't exactly tell him the truth, could I?" Roelle screeched.
"Just watch yourself, you cunt. Without me, you never would've gotten this far! No judge would've allowed the will to be updated until I brought in that maester to certify Endrew wasn't out of his mind when he signed everything! You're only getting any of this because of me."
"Don't you speak to me like that, you asshole! Don't forget the property is legally mine. You can't do anything with it without my signature. You need me!"
There was a pause and the audible sound of teeth grinding. At length, Connington finally spoke. "All right. Let's just stick to the plan. Tarly is still interested. Just steer clear of this other guy. You'll get your check, I get my cut, and everyone walks away happy."
The line went dead. Brienne stared at Podrick and Tyrion in shock, unable to process everything that had just been revealed. Nobody spoke until Arya and Jaime came into the office.
"So this is a whole different thing now," Arya said, throwing herself sideways into a chair so her feet were dangling over the arm. "We thought Roelle was behind it, but her and Connington are both in on the scam, and Connington's got some sort of separate arrangement with Tarly?"
Jaime walked to Brienne and put a hand on her wrist. "How… are you okay?"
"I don't even know," she admitted. Too much was swirling in her head right now. Jaime wrapped his fingers around hers and squeezed.
Tyrion seemed to be feeling the same way. He mumbled to himself for a minute before he came back to the present. "Yes. All right. Pod, you and Arya go to Connington's office. Get everything you can."
"I'll go with them," Brienne offered. It would be a relief to go do something finally after a couple days of skulking in here.
"No, Jaime will go with them. Connington could recognize you and we can't risk it." Before Brienne could object, Tyrion added, "We need eyes on Tarly too, and he won't know who you are." She hated it but it made sense.
"What do you think Tarly meant? When he said 'I get the land, you get the rest' to Connington?" Arya asked, hauling herself back to her feet. "What's the rest?"
Brienne realized what the answer was, but her mouth was so dry she couldn't say it. Jaime did instead. "The collection. The artifacts from the museum. They're still here, and they're worth a fortune."
"Wouldn't Roelle know about that?" Pod asked without looking up from his laptop.
Everyone looked at Brienne. "I don't know. I don't remember her ever coming here."
"Maybe she thinks everything was gotten rid of when the museum closed?" Jaime suggested.
"But Connington lives here, he'd know what happened to the collection," Tyrion added. "I know you said the museum is owned by your family, but is the collection not public domain?" he asked Brienne.
She shook her head. "My great grandfather created the first version of the museum. He wanted to keep it private, to avoid it being at risk of being sold off. The collection belongs to the museum, but the museum is still all private property."
Tyrion nodded slowly. "So anyone who buys the land at its actual value, including the Hall, would need to pay a fortune. Connington and Tarly have likely convinced Roelle it's worth much less. Still a lot, for someone like her, but Tarly gets this for a song, relatively speaking."
"Roelle thinks Connington is getting a cut of the purchase price," Arya put in. "She thinks that's his payoff, but in reality he'd be wealthier than a Dornish prince."
Brienne closed her eyes. The anger was rising, roiling through her, and for the first time in years she wasn't sure she could stop it.
She didn't want to stop it.
"Can we use that?" Jaime asked his brother about Connington's deception. Tyrion demurred, then a silence fell. Jaime's hand tightened on hers. "Brienne?"
"I'm going to break every bone in his body," she growled. Ron fucking Connington, who had humiliated her and made her life a living hell, thought he could come in here and take her family's property, their legacy for himself? He thought he could make himself fat and rich on the bones of her father's life's work? "Then I'm going to kill him."
She opened her eyes. The rest of the team was looking back at her. Only Podrick looked a bit uneasy. Arya and Jaime were perfectly calm, which helped steady Brienne a bit.
Tyrion just tilted his head to one side. "One problem at a time. We need to get eyes on Tarly, and we need proof that this is what Connington is up to."
The last thing Jaime wanted to do was separate from Brienne, but Connington's office had far better security than the ranch and Pod had work to do on tech while Arya handled the break in, leaving Jaime as her back up in case things went south.
He had seen Brienne angry, murderously so, before. But he had never seen her that close to losing control of her anger.
"What I have to control," Jaime remembered her telling him once, standing in the boxing ring and looking down at him, sweating and disheveled and the best thing he'd ever seen, "it's in here." She tapped her fist over her heart. "Always."
They went with a fake fire alarm trick to get Connington out of his office. Pod got into the security cameras, covered Jaime and Arya sneaking into the loading dock area of the building and Arya getting into the ventilation system, and then triggered the alarm once Arya was in position. Jaime loitered on the third floor until everyone in the real estate office was out, then pulled a bag of popcorn out of his coat pocket and started the microwave.
The timing was a bit off but when the fire department showed up, Jaime was waving smoke from the burned popcorn out the window and apologizing profusely. The fire fighters shook their heads and left and Jaime ducked back down the hallway and into the opposite stairwell, meeting up with Arya on her way out of the duct. They were back in the car with no one the wiser.
"We were right," Arya said, offering Pod her phone and the photos on it. "Connington's doing research on auction houses and antiques dealers. He's prepping for his big score."
If nothing else, maybe they could let Arya break into that safe in the Evenfall vault. A team of professional thieves could easily make the museum's collection vanish before it could fall into Connington's hands. But Jaime had more faith in his brother than that.
They headed back to the Hall. Brienne was shadowing Tarly, who was at the ferry dock. It was late afternoon, so this was the last arrival of the ferry on Tarth for the day. "Three guys came off the ferry. Tarly's meeting with them," Brienne reported over the comms. "Looks like hired muscle. One of them, his boots are ex-Navy."
"You can tell a guy was in the Navy by his boots?" Podrick asked.
"They're very distinctive boots," Brienne shot back.
Tyrion and Jaime exchanged a look. "Well, Tarly said he was going to take care of Jason Stone. I guess we know what that means. Brienne, get photos of their faces with Tarly. Pod, get the radio frequencies for the Tarth sheriff's department." Tyrion looked at Jaime expectantly.
Jaime groaned. "Why do I have the feeling I'm about to become fishbait?"
He hated being right. A couple hours later, as the sun was setting, Jaime took an evening stroll away from the ranch. The wind was picking up as dark clouds scudded off Shipbreaker Bay ahead of an approaching storm. It would have been picturesque in other circumstances.
It wasn't too hard to pretend to be scared when a guy appeared behind him and he found his path blocked by two others. Hired goons, definitely.
"Woah, hey fellas. Look, if you want the watch, just take it. No need to get physical." Despite his words, Jaime attempted to hit the guy behind him and failed, taking a punch in the lower back for his troubles. Not that he expected anything else.
"You're outnumbered three to one, pretty boy. You really think you stand a chance here?"
Jaime laughed through the ache in his kidney. "No. But it gave my associate a chance to get behind you."
Brienne had emerged from the shadows where she'd been waiting. She was in her dark coat, with a knitted cap pulled down well over her ears, hiding her blonde hair. She gave the two men facing Jaime a moment to look behind them before she started punching.
The guy behind Jaime let go in surprise. Jaime rammed his elbow backward into the asshole's solar plexus, then grabbed the man's arm, twisted it, and kneed him in the ribs. He stopped after that, though. It wasn't often he got a front row seat to watch Brienne work and he wanted to enjoy it.
The energy of the approaching storm crackled through her, barely contained. Jaime knew she could've taken both the other goons out faster than this. She was drawing it out, letting them get back on their feet instead of delivering the knock-out blow. The larger of the two, the one with the distinctive Navy boots, squared off against her again.
Her fingers flicked at the man. "Come on."
He charged. The idiot. Brienne broke his arm and he fell, howling.
The last guy made a run at her and her forearm hit his windpipe just as sirens sounded on the road behind Jaime.
Brienne met his gaze and Jaime felt like he could see the lightning of the storm in her eyes. He drew closer to her, a moth to an open flame. "Come to my room tonight," he blurted out.
"We can all hear you," Podrick sing-songed over the comms.
Jaime ignored it. They had overheard worse. He fished the spare key card to his room out of his pocket and handed it to her.
Brienne merely nodded and then faded into the twilight as a car with flashing blue and red lights rolled up on the shoulder of the road. "Sir, put your hands up!"
Jaime raised his arms and turned around. "Officer! Thank the gods! These men attacked me!"
The sheriff was, unbelievably, taller than even Brienne. A relative maybe? He called for another car to come and Jaime went through the motions of being the hapless tourist jumped by a gang of thieves. He spun a story of a random stranger who happened by in the nick of time to save him, but bolted when the cops approached. "He was big, taller than me, wearing work boots and a cap. He looked like he maybe worked down on the docks or something?"
While giving his statement at the sheriff's office, he heard enough to know that Pod had gotten the pictures Brienne had taken of the three men with Tarly at the ferry dock to the sheriff. By the time he was free to go, a deputy was on his way to bring Tarly in for questioning.
"Are we sure about this?" Jaime asked when he was back at the ranch walking to his room.
"I want Tarly off the board for the moment," Tyrion said. "Our focus has to be on Roelle and Connington. We started with a King's Landing Bridge, right? Now we just upgrade to a Mereenese Two-Step, but with three people. I mean, we already did the first part without meaning to when Tarly warned Connington about Jaime. Connington is suspicious now that Roelle intends to cut a deal behind his back and take off. He's already on guard."
"And she's not feeling too warmly about him either," Arya put in.
"Exactly, and with Tarly tied up, we push Roelle into turning on Connington, and they bring the whole house crashing down on each other. Then we just need to call in some old friends."
Podrick sounded confused. "Which old friends? Do we even have old friends?"
Arya growled. "No. Not them."
Tyrion started to argue with her, "Do you have a better idea?"
Jaime had reached his room. He opened the door and went inside to find Brienne sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting for him. With Tyrion and Arya still shouting at each other, Jaime reached up and shut off his earbud and took it out. Brienne did the same, and they were alone.
The fist fight had taken the edge off her anger, at least. Brienne slipped away into the brush and rocks as the sheriff – it looked like it was still Edric, from his height and girth – arrived to take charge of the crime scene.
She took the long way around, climbing down to the beach and then following the trail up the steep hill beneath the ranch. She'd walked that trail a million times, which was good, as the storm was getting closer and blotting out the light. The rain started not long before she reached the top of the cliff.
Arya, Pod, and Tyrion left her alone. They could all overhear what was going on around Jaime, including his repeating the story of his attempted mugging and the random stranger who saved him. Other people wouldn't recognize the slight growl of his voice as he described his rescuer beating up the goons as lust, but Brienne did.
It was, after all, a very distinctive sound.
The fight and the climb had settled her enough that she made it into Jaime's room undetected. She was also cold, the rainwater having soaked her jeans and hair. A murmured request in her comm had Podrick bringing her bag down from the hall.
He stood there in the room, damp from the rain and shifting uneasily on his feet. "You should tell him. Jaime." Pod blinked his wide eyes at her, worried. She had told him about Connington and the bet when the team did the high school reunion job. It had just been her and Pod in the van at the time, and the lad told her about how he'd been bullied daily in high school for his stutter, for being a foster kid, and his love of computers. Brienne told him her own story out of solidarity, not thinking it would ever come up again.
She didn't pretend not to understand. She just nodded. Once Pod was gone she showered and changed into dry clothes.
The bet was a distant memory. She had been through worse since then, far worse, but somehow, all the physical punishment her body had endured didn't feel the same. Standing in the cafeteria in high school, everyone around her laughing at her, she'd felt powerless. Not because she wasn't strong enough, but because there was no way to fight back.
Tension was crawling up her spine again remembering it all. She'd vowed never to let herself be put in that position again. If somebody was able to beat her in a fight, fine. She would know she had done all she could. But giving someone enough trust so they could humiliate her, that she would never allow to happen again.
Jaime's voice in her ear interrupted her train of thought. A couple minutes later the door unlocked and he was there, staring at her. He took his earbud out and turned it off. Brienne mimicked him and watched as he shrugged out of his coat and hung it up in the small closet. Then he just stood there, staring at her.
Brienne took a step toward him. Jaime didn't move. She closed the gap between them and put a hand on his chest. He let her back him up until he was against the wall. Her hand slipped up to cradle his face and she tilted his head up and kissed him.
Jaime went lax against her as she pressed him into the wall, offering no resistance. Something fierce and possessive surged through her and she deepened the kiss.
It wasn't like this between them, not often. At some point, she had said something to Jaime about being more like other women than people expected. She had read the same stories, seen the same movies growing up as every other girl. Some part of her wanted to be treated like those women, but even the men who found her large frame appealing expected someone else, someone dominating and overbearing. There was nothing wrong with that, and sometimes she enjoyed it, but she didn't want to be that person all the time.
Jaime had gone out of his way since then to romance her frequently. He joked about wooing his fair haired lady love like a knight from an old song, but there was genuine heat and affection in the way he would bring her food or buy a book or a piece of art because it reminded him of her. He wasn't afraid to be tender with her and she craved every bit of it.
But she didn't need his kindness right now. She needed to vent the energy simmering in her blood, she needed Jaime to be hers.
She pulled away from kissing him and unbuttoned his shirt. Jaime stayed where he was, leaning against the wall, watching her undress him with glassy eyes, only moving when she directed him with her touch. When he was naked as his name day and her hand wrapped around him and started to stroke, he leaned his head back against the wall and moaned. But he didn't stop her, didn't object, just let her have her way.
She knew his body and stopped well before he could finish. Her own clothes were tossed aside hastily and she leaned her naked body against his, her hands on either side of his head.
Jaime looked up at her, and then tilted his head even more, baring his throat just a bit. The gesture, the trust, he offered her without hesitation, with his eyes and his body, nearly made her own eyes water.
She kissed him instead, hungry and claiming his mouth. She moved them to the bed, Jaime on his back, her kneeling over his hips, putting his hands where she wanted them on her, kissing and touching and riding him until his touch between her legs and his body moving inside of her vaulted her over the edge and she came with a cry she made no effort to silence.
He had asked Brienne, not that long before the White Sword Tower job, about retiring. Tyrion had been making noises about plans that had made Jaime start thinking about it himself.
Cuddling in bed with Brienne was almost better than the sex. Her skin against his, their limbs entwined, talking quietly about nothing and everything. That night she had her head on his chest. Jaime's fingers stroked her hair absently as she told him a story about asking her father for a wooden sword when she was a little girl.
"I wanted to be the Blue Knight," Brienne confessed.
"Of course. The most heroic and noble knight of the entire age of heroes? Who else could you be?"
She pinched him, but then her fingers stroked the side of his torso, down over his hip, in a soothing motion. He never wanted her to stop. "You were the one who said you wanted to be Goldenhand the Just."
"Yeah, well," Jaime raised his right hand, looking at the scar that ran along the back of it. "Hopefully this was as close as I come to losing a hand."
Her head turned, and she pressed a kiss against his heart. "I shouldn't have let that happen."
"Oh, no, we're not doing that again. I wouldn't still have a hand if not for you." He threaded his fingers through hers and squeezed. "I wouldn't still be able to do this if you hadn't been there to take care of me, after." He remembered the pain of the knife going through his hand, how he still kept talking about sapphires until Hoat hit him in the face to shut him up.
The entire Harrenhal job had been a cluster fuck from the start. He still had nightmares about it. He dreamed Hoat had cut his hand off entirely. He dreamed of being handcuffed while he had to listen to the entire gang rape Brienne. In other circumstances, even in a close quarters fight with guns, Jaime still would have bet on her outnumbered six to one, but even Brienne was no match for two tasers. She had been frighteningly disoriented and Jaime, sweating in sheer terror, had used a decade of experience lying to people for a living to sell the Brave Companions a story about Tarth's sapphire mines when it became clear they saw her as disposable.
Brienne had come out of her daze at the sight of his blood and kept the wound as clean as she could until they could get him to a hospital. It had only been Arya's quick thinking, calling her cousin who was a detective with the Watch and was willing to look the other way about where the tip came from, that had gotten them out of there.
Brienne was still gearing up to argue with him about whose fault it was, so he added, "And we wouldn't have gotten caught in the first place if I had kept quiet until we were back at the hotel." He drew her hand up and kissed the back of it. "You saved my life. Again."
She stretched up and kissed him. "We saved each other."
I love you. Jaime was glad his mouth was occupied with hers. It kept the words from coming out aloud. He'd been thinking it for weeks but he was afraid to say it, afraid Brienne would panic and bolt, again. He could wait until she was ready. He would.
They traded slow kisses for a minute before Brienne laid back down, still holding his hand.
"Do you ever think about the future?" he asked.
"After." He gestured vaguely. "I mean, someday we're going to be too old to run cons, and it's not like either of us needs the money. What would you do then?"
She was silent so long he thought she wasn't going to answer. Finally she said quietly, "I think I'd like to go home."
"When was the last time you were there?"
"The funeral. I wasn't… I didn't know my father was sick. I was on a mission and, when I got there, it was too late." She sighed heavily. "It was just too hard. After."
He had seen Brienne get beaten up by six men and stay on her feet. He'd seen her walk into a warehouse full of mercenaries and take them all out. And for five years, he'd watched as she slowly started to trust the team, to trust him.
"Hard" meant something very different to Brienne.
He ran his fingers through her hair slowly. "What about now?"
"We could go together," he said, trying to sound casual about it. From the slight tensing of her muscles he thought he failed, but then Brienne snuggled into his arms further.
He almost missed her reply. "I'd like that."
Lying sweaty and sated in the lumpy hotel bed, Jaime cradled Brienne's body against his and waited. The storm inside of her had subsided, but he couldn't rush her. One thing he'd learned above all else about loving Brienne was that he had to be patient.
The sex was always good, but Jaime relished nights like this when Brienne took control of things. He could let go, let her make all the decisions. He didn't have to watch her body language or study her words or her voice or do any work. His mind would go pleasantly blank and warm. He could just exist and be hers, that was all she needed. That was enough, and it thrilled him to his bones.
But he pulled his brain back to functioning as they sprawled on the bed, waiting.
After a few minutes she started talking, telling him about her brother's death, Roelle, her father's drinking until he overheard what Roelle was saying to his only remaining child and fired the woman on the spot. He blackened her reputation so thoroughly Roelle had left Tarth entirely. Brienne's father got help and stopped drinking but the hole left by her mother and brother was still there.
Jaime had known all of this, but only the basic details. Hearing all of it in one go, Brienne telling him freely, made his heart ache all over again.
She talked about spending all her free time in the museum or at the ranch, because she had no friends to go see, nobody to spend time with, all the way through high school.
She looked up at the ceiling, avoiding his eyes as she told him about Connington, the despicable bet, the lack of sympathy from the teachers until her father went to the principal.
Jaime could've gone straight out and killed both Roelle and Connington with his bare hands. He knew too well how many people didn't care about harming a child, he'd seen it with his brother. And he'd seen men treat his sister and his female friends as objects to be used, not human beings. But the heart of it was these two absolute cunts had hurt Brienne, and he would've burned the world down to get revenge for her sake.
But she could fight her own battles, as she'd reminded him so many times. So he put his anger aside and rolled so that he was facing her. "I'm sorry," he told her. "I'm sorry that any of that happened to you." Brienne turned so she mirrored him. "What can I do?"
She whispered two words to him, hard to hear and hard for her to say, he knew. Jaime wrapped himself around her in response and held on with everything he had.
Despite the late hour, Tyrion cajoled Arya into making the necessary call while Podrick kept track of Connington and Tarly. Tyrion retired to the couch he was sleeping on. Brienne wouldn't be back tonight, he was sure. She and Jaime had both silenced their comms for the day.
It was difficult having two of the people closest to you fall in love with each other. It was hard to know which of them to threaten with an appropriately sinister shovel speech, though Jaime had won the choice through a blood-relation default. Not that Tyrion was much of a physical threat to Brienne, but in this case, it was the thought behind delivering the speech to her that counted.
He was happy for Jaime, truly happy. His brother had been looking at Brienne like she was the sun and stars for years. It had taken their hitter a bit longer to realize what Jaime was feeling and longer than that to believe it was true. A few hours of observing Roelle Rivers provided something of an explanation about why. The other key was probably in whatever horrible bullying shit Connington had done to Brienne in high school. There was satisfaction in knowing if everything went well tomorrow, both of them would pay.
Alone in the dark, his thoughts drifted back to Tysha. He'd called, the morning after their dinner, to tell her he needed to postpone their date. "Family emergency," he'd said, truthfully. I'll call her as soon as the job is done, he promised himself. He wasn't going to screw this up or let anything get in the way with Tysha, not this time. His retirement plan was already in motion anyway, so there would never be a better moment.
Though if everything worked out tomorrow, he might not be the first person to leave the team.
In the morning, he suspected nobody had slept particularly well.
Jaime and Brienne were hiding in his room at the ranch. Arya went to take her place with the serving staff and reported seeing Goodwin go into Roelle's office. The plan was for Goodwin to let her know about the attempted mugging, since it happened to a ranch guest near the edge of the property, and let Tarly's involvement slip.
They listened to the conversation through the bugs Arya had planted. Tyrion felt a moment of regret they hadn't put a camera in Roelle's office. He would have enjoyed seeing her face curdle with the news.
Shortly after Goodwin left the office, they heard Arya. "Head's up. Guy sitting in the lobby, with a view to Roelle's office."
Podrick switched the cameras around, bringing the lobby camera to full screen. "Got him. Not a guest?"
"Haven't seen him before."
"He's watching the hallway and very badly pretending not to," Tyrion observed.
Podrick got a shot of the man's face and ran it through his hacked facial recognition program. "Ben Bushy? That's an unfortunate name. He's got a couple DUIs under his belt."
Brienne's voice came over the comm. "Was his lawyer Connington by any chance?"
"Give the lady a prize," Pod said. "Both times."
"They were friends in school. They go way back," Brienne explained, anger simmering in her voice.
"Connington's got his buddy watching Roelle just in case she gets the idea to double cross him," Arya surmised.
"Excellent," Tyrion said with satisfaction. "When the moment is right and Jaime appears for his meeting with Roelle, Bushy will call him. We won't even need to do the Dorne Spank bit."
"So when do we go?" Brienne asked.
"Patience," Tyrion said with as much calm as he could muster. He understood why everyone was anxious, but the timing had to be right. "Let Roelle stew, let the news get to Connington about Tarly's arrest. We need to get all the pieces on the cyvasse board into position. It'll be a few hours."
Predictably, Roelle called Jaime's number and offered to close the deal that day for a large upfront cash payment instead of a small sum on the promise of a larger payout later. The estate would have to go through a probate court process before the transfer of property was legal, so Roelle was clearly looking for a quick payout and a fast getaway now that her original meal ticket was in police custody. Jaime dallied a bit, stringing her out, taking great pleasure in the anxiety he could hear through the phone, bargaining down her price to exactly what she had in her off-shore bank account. When it was settled, he agreed to meet at her later that afternoon in the ranch bar to sign the papers.
He and Brienne slipped out of the hotel and went for a long walk along the cliff below the Hall, both of them restless with nervous energy, until Tyrion said it was time to put the final steps in motion. Brienne went to the Hall, Jaime back to his hotel room to transform back into Jason Stone.
When everything was ready, a few minutes past the hour Jaime walked into the bar and sat down across from Roelle and apologized for his tardiness.
Ben Bushy, Connington's spy and another ghost from Brienne's high school days, was hulking over a table in the corner and he immediately grabbed for his phone.
The timing was tricky. They needed to drag this out long enough for Connington to arrive but get the money moved before that happened.
Jaime had explained earlier that he couldn't get to a bank to get a cashier's check in time, but they could do a wire transfer. Roelle gave Jaime the information to send a payment to the Evenfall estate account, and at the appropriate moment, Podrick, who was seated at a table in the corner with the remains of a meal next to his laptop, transferred the money Roelle had stolen from her Lys bank account back to the estate. The notification on the estate account would show Roelle the deposit, but not the source.
Tyrion was at the bar, drinking an ale at a discreet distance. Not far enough that Jaime didn't notice how Tyrion enjoyed watching Jaime fumble with his pen, shuffle papers, and do everything possible to annoy Roelle and slow-walk the process, though she became more amenable after she saw the email notifying her of the wire transfer. Then Brienne spoke over the comms. "He's here."
Connington rushed into the bar. "What the fuck is going on here?"
Jaime enjoyed looking at Connington with umbrage. "Who the hells are you?"
"I'm making arrangements about my husband's estate," Roelle said to Connington, ice in her voice.
"Not without me, you aren't. I'm Endrew Tarth's attorney," Connington said to Jaime.
"And he's dead, which means what happens to the estate is no longer your concern!" Gods the woman's voice was sharp enough to make ears bleed.
"This wasn't our deal, you bitch!" Connington rounded on her. Jaime could see the panic in his body language. Not only was his payout disappearing, but if Tarly managed to beat the rap on orchestrating the assault on Jaime, he was going to be coming for Connington's ass.
Jaime stood up, wanting to knock Connington on his ass but mindful he had to still be Jason Stone. "Now see here, I won't tolerate that kind of language, ser." Connington rolled his eyes while Jaime turned to Roelle. "What does he mean about a deal? Was there some other arrangement made about the property in place already?"
Roelle, again, began to spill information he hadn't even asked for. "This complete idiot is the one who wanted me to sell my late husband's estate to that casino rat, Tarly. Who is now in prison! But I never signed anything official with him."
Connington's self-control snapped. "You fucking idiot bitch! I arranged for you to meet Tarly! We had everything arranged, before you even married your dear departed husband!"
He went on, essentially blabbing enough information aloud that the onlookers, including several of the ranch staff, were able to piece together what had really happened.
Again, Jaime was annoyed at how undeniably stupid these people were. Running a con on someone who was fine with incriminating themselves in front of an entire room full of people just wasn't that rewarding.
Over the sounds of them arguing, Brienne spoke again. "Guys, we have company." She sounded anxious.
Off that cue, Arya turned the volume of the televisions around the room up as the news report began. The news anchor filled every screen. "Good evening, we have a breaking story tonight with the arrest of a doctor at Storm's End hospital who has been alleged to have been practicing despite a revoked certification from the Citadel. The maester, whose real name is Jon Qyburn, has seen hundreds of patients at Storm's End over a period of four years. Sources inside the investigation tell us that Qyburn is also alleged to have taken bribes during this time in exchange for filling out medical paperwork, which is a felony charge."
"Guys," Podrick called. The team had been eating dinner and discussing how to deal with both Connington and Roelle simultaneously. "Remember when I said I needed to hack into the hospital to find out more about that maester, Jon Quentyn? Well, the reason Jon Quentyn isn't on the Citadel's roster is that it's an alias. This guy? His real name is Qyburn and he's not a maester, not anymore. The Citadel kicked him out four years ago for illegal experimentation on animals."
"Gods be good," Brienne muttered.
"And that's not all. When I was going through Connington's financials, I found a large cash withdrawal on the same day as Qyburn signed the statement that Endrew was of sound mind."
"He bribed him," Tyrion realized. "He bribed Qyburn to sign the statement. Connington used the evaluation and the statement from the maester to show his own due diligence for his client, but he arranged it all."
"But if this maester, whatever his name is, is practicing without a license, he'd probably be willing to make a deal with the feds to get a reduced sentence," Arya concluded, a wicked gleam in her eye.
Brienne stood at the side of the lobby in full view of everyone with Goodwin next to her, and watched Ed Tollet and Thoros Myr enter, their "federal agent" vibe obvious from a thousand leagues even if a forensic team hadn't swooped in behind them. The two agents had arrived in Storm's End that afternoon, thanks to a tip from their old friend, Agent Parker (aka Arya) and arrested Qyburn, then spent a good few hours interrogating the disgraced maester. Tollet had called Arya and crowed about the other crimes Qyburn had confessed to in order to try to save his creepy ass.
Including a bribe from one Ronnet Connington to falsely declare Endrew Tarth of sound mind so that his will could be changed.
Goodwin took charge of the forensic team, leading them over to the main offices, while the two agents went into the bar where Roelle and Connington had resumed screaming at each other. Brienne trailed in their wake.
After a couple of minutes of listening to the yelling, Myr turned to his partner and shrugged, "I think I've heard enough," just as Connington's sense of self-preservation kicked in.
He started for the door and ran into Tollet, who got a solid grip on him before he could bolt. "Mr. Connington, nice to meet you. We had an interesting conversation with your friend, Qyburn, down at the station a little while ago."
Ben Bushy tried to edge his way out of the room. Arya whacked him in the crotch with a drink tray so he couldn't take off.
Connington was trying to talk his way past the agents when he caught sight of Brienne. Roelle did a moment later, and Brienne enjoyed the way her skin went pale as a wight. Connington shook his head. "Well, if it isn't Brienne the Beauty. You certainly haven't gotten better looking with age, princess."
Jaime tapped on Connington's shoulder and when he turned, Jaime punched him right in the face. Connington fell at Myr's feet. Jaime looked at the two agents and shrugged. "Oops."
Myr glanced at Tollet and shrugged as well. He lifted Connington off the floor with one beefy hand, then turned him around and started cuffing him.
Brienne would have expected the same venom from Roelle but the woman just stared at her, stone-faced, while Tollet pulled her from her seat. She craned her head around to keep staring at Brienne as she was removed from the room behind a protesting Connington. Her eyes widened as Brienne settled against the bar with Jaime on one side, Pod, Arya and Tyrion on the other.
"But- wait! Wait, those people, they lied to me!" Roelle screeched as she was hauled out the door.
With an entire team of federal agents swarming the building, they couldn't stick around the ranch to savor the victory. Tyrion downed the rest of his drink and headed for the lobby, Podrick trailing a bit behind him and blending in with the rest of the staff. Arya gave Brienne a nod and departed for the back of the bar.
Jaime caught her hand and pulled her along the hallway toward the back exit until they rounded a corner out of sight. He needed to leave, and Brienne needed to go play her part of the confused, grieving family member, but as soon as they were alone, Jaime kissed her. Brienne held on to his waist, steadying herself, until the kiss ended.
"I need to-"
They shared a small smile.
"It's going to be a while before I can get back to King's Landing," Brienne said, though she knew Jaime knew that. And it wasn't a good idea for him to be too close to a federal investigation of fraud, so he needed to stay away.
"Call me tomorrow night?"
She nodded, blinked, kissed him one more time, and then he was gone.
She spent that evening and the next day saying all the right things to the investigators. She hadn't known Endrew was sick, had no idea about the wedding, was deeply upset to learn that people might have been conning her uncle out of their family home and so on. The best lies were rooted in truth so she stuck to that, but it was still exhausting.
Brienne called in a favor from Jaime's ex, Addam, who sent one of his colleagues to Tarth to help her sort out the legal matters. The court granted temporary ownership to her as the next of kin, given that it appeared Endrew's marriage was invalid due to his illness, and thus the will was also null. But it would take weeks for the probate court to clear things up officially.
Connington and Roelle had been arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, among other things. Randyll Tarly was also being held in custody as a flight risk. His initial arrest had sparked a wider investigation into other competitors who had mysteriously gone missing or withdrawn from other real estate deals after "accidents" arranged by Tarly. Apparently it was Tarly's go-to move when cornered.
News crews showed up to cover the scandal. It felt like every eye was on her, not just from the ranch but the entire island. Everyone was looking to her, the last of the Tarths, to take charge, and she couldn't let them down.
There were ghosts around each corner, too, and without the distraction of the job, it was more difficult to keep them away. Plus, Jaime wasn't there.
She thought of him a thousand times each day, her mind jumping too far ahead, picturing him walking around the ranch, charming reporters, handling the staff, going riding with her at sunset. She imagined him in the museum too, supervising the exhibits and the tours, helping her teach sword fighting classes in the training yards. She imagined him in other places too, in her father's old study, helping her with dinner in the kitchen of her father's house, sharing her bed while a storm raged outside the windows.
A knot built up in her chest, only slightly eased by her nightly phone calls with him. She resisted his attempts to persuade her into phone sex (at least at first), but every night he would sigh and say "I miss you, wench" and she had to bite her lip to keep from saying something that shouldn't be said for the first time over the phone. She should have said it earlier, but there seemed to always be some excuse to hide behind, the next job or a new danger that had to be dealt with first. She was tired of hiding from Jaime. He'd been patient with her for so long, he deserved better than that.
But the confidence she felt on Tarth bled out of her on the train from Storm's End back to King's Landing. She was fairly sure of Jaime's feelings, but there was a big difference between that and being willing to move to a podunk island for the rest of his life. Jaime was born to wealth and privilege and had traveled all over the world. How could he possibly be content on Tarth of all places? And with her, of all people?
It was sorely tempting to tell the cab driver to take her to her own apartment, but she gave him Jaime's address, clasping her hands in her lap to still their shaking. It was fairly early in the evening when she arrived at Jaime's building.
She knew the access codes to the security Pod had set up, of course, so she was knocking at Jaime's apartment door in short order. Her stomach felt like she'd swallowed a ball of ice.
"Brienne? You're back? Why didn't you tell me you were coming?" Jaime swung the door wider and pulled her inside. "I would've picked you up at the station."
"We got done earlier than I expected, so I was able to catch the afternoon ferry." Her eyes roamed over him. Jaime was dressed in an old pair of sweatpants and a faded t-shirt, his feet bare. It was unfair, she thought, not for the first time, how he could look like this and still be the most gorgeous man she'd ever met. Somehow, it felt even more overwhelming than him in a tuxedo, because he was soft and slightly rumpled and she had missed him so much.
"I had to see you," she started, but her voice came out in a whisper, and she swallowed and looked away, trying to gather her courage. She wasn't good at this, at talking about her feelings; she never would be. It was a lot easier to take a broken rib or a busted nose than open up her heart to be crushed into dust.
"Oh." When she looked back at him, Jaime's face was going blank. His body was stiff, and he looked like he was preparing to take a hit.
He thinks I came here to dump him.
That she was hurting him snapped her paralysis. She stepped forward and caught his hands. Her carefully prepared speech had vanished so she just blurted the words out. "No, no, Jaime, I love you."
For a long moment they stared at each other. Relief broke over his face and in a move reminiscent of their first kiss in Winterfell, he snatched her against him and buried his face against her neck. "Say it again?"
Brienne wound her arms around his shoulders. "I love you."
His sigh was explosively loud against her ear. "Gods, Brienne, I love you too. I love you so much." Jaime began trailing kisses against her neck and along her jaw. "Loved you for so long, I-" Whatever he was going to say next was lost as their lips met.
They kissed, long and slow and deep, for a long while, until Brienne finally pulled herself back from him enough to catch her breath. "Jaime, I need to tell you… I'm going back to Tarth. They need me to be there, and I can't run away from this. Not again. I know your family is here, and the team, and I know it's probably not what you were planning for and I'll understand if it's too much-"
"You're my family too," Jaime interrupted her gently, touching her chin. "If this is you asking me to go with you to Tarth, the answer's yes."
The wave of happiness going through her was so strong she felt dizzy. "Really?"
"Yes, really," he said, shaking his head at her fondly. He brushed her hair back behind her ear. "I'd go anywhere with you."
Then they were kissing again, and stumbling toward his bedroom. Jaime's shirt was discarded on the way, and he was busily unbuttoning her blouse as they reached the end of the bed. Brienne shrugged off her shirt and then sat down to unlace her boots.
Jaime ran his fingers through her hair. "We'll have to tell the others. And figure out what to do about the team, and-"
Her boots thudded to the floor, and Brienne pulled him in between her legs. "'I love you sex' now, planning later," she told him, grabbing at the loose waistband of his sweatpants.
The beaming smile he gave her could've lit up the entirety of King's Landing on its own.
Tyrion came downstairs in his condo to find Pod and Arya playing a LEGO video game on the monitors. The kids clearly knew what was coming when Jaime had called the team meeting via text message last night. Pod defaulted to LEGO games when he needed comforting.
Tyrion made himself a cup of strong coffee and valiantly didn't pour any extras in it, even though the conversation they were all about to have had him anxious in a way he rarely experienced.
He could bluff his way through being surrounded by armed mercenaries without breaking a sweat, but being honest with people he cared for about his feelings was terrifying.
His brother and Brienne arrived bearing a box of the fancy donuts, from the place over near the Dragon Pit that even on a weekday like this could take half an hour to order from. Another sign of impending emotions. Jaime would forever believe that chocolate could soothe nearly any situation. Which, admittedly, was likely a better option than Tyrion's usual choices.
For the first month after they reunited following the mess of the Widow's Wail job, Jaime kept leaving expensive imported chocolate bars in the kitchen.
The first awkward pause occurred after they were all seated around the kitchen island eating donuts without talking and everyone realized they were just stuffing their faces and not speaking. Brienne shot a panicked look at Jaime, who took another fortifying bite of his pastry to prepare himself. His fingers were twitching nervously, though.
Tyrion decided it was as good a time as any.
"I have something for you," he told Arya. She looked confused as he set an external hard drive on the countertop. "This contains all the data Pod downloaded during the White Sword Tower job. All the transaction records of all the banks and financial institutions that caused the depression, it's all there."
"But…" Arya trailed off and glanced around, realizing what Tyrion was really giving her. "Why me?"
"Because you see the world differently than anyone else. You adapt yourself to whatever circumstances you're in. That makes you the best suited to lead the team now. It's your time."
"You're officially retiring then?" Jaime asked, an understanding look on his face that had a lot to do with the woman sitting next to him. Once upon a time, Tyrion couldn't imagine his brother staying in any one place for too long, but that was a different Jaime.
"I am. I don't believe in fate, as you know, but I do believe in luck. Or at least in capitalizing on fortuitous circumstances. I lost Tysha once and made the mistake of not going after her. I try not to repeat my mistakes. Often," he added as his brother chuckled. "And of course, I'm available for freelance consulting, if needed." He looked down at the countertop. "I wouldn't be here without you, all of you. You've become my family."
Jaime's arm wrapped around his shoulders, and Tyrion swallowed, steadying himself. When he remembered what he'd been like, when old Walder Frey found him and hired him, well. It was true. He probably wouldn't have lived much longer going on that way.
"Are you okay with this?" Arya asked Pod, who was turning the hard drive over with a thoughtful frown.
"You mean you being in charge? Yeah." He grinned. "We both know I'm shit at coming up with plans. I think we may need some help, though, if it's going to be just you and me." He turned a pointed look at Brienne, who flushed bright pink.
Jaime reached over and put his hand on her knee. "Brienne and I are going to Tarth. An anonymous donor is about to gift Widow's Wail to the Evenfall Museum and reunited it with Oathkeeper, so the place will need to be renovated and spruced up before the grand reopening." It was an optimal way to channel Jaime's knowledge of art and history into a legal job, certainly.
"Who asked who?" Arya wanted to know.
Brienne grinned. "I did."
Pod looked at Arya. "Told you."
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, but I didn't take the bet, so, whatever."
Brienne glared at the two of them, though they all knew it was the "I can't believe I'm friends with you people" glare and not the "come on let me break you in half with my bare hands" glare. As usual, it had no effect on either Pod or Arya.
Jaime was still twitching, which was odd, until Tyrion noticed he had slipped a hand into the pocket of his pants.
Jaime stood up, drawing everyone's attention. "So, uh, there's just one thing left to sort out," he said, and then went down on one knee in front of Brienne, drawing the small velvet box out of his pocket. Arya gave an uncharacteristically girlish shriek and Pod's mouth dropped open in shock.
Brienne's eyes were wide and she was staring down at Jaime, who had taken hold of one of her hands. Tyrion had the irreverent thought that it was good she was sitting on the kitchen stool, otherwise Jaime's neck would crick from looking up at her.
Jaime looked up at Brienne, as he always did, like she was the sun in the sky. "I bought this a month ago, when we were in Dorne. I put it away. I thought maybe someday in a few years, I would dare to hope you would say yes. You surprised me, like you always do. You're the bravest person I know, and not because you put your body in danger to protect people. You put your heart at risk for me, and I don't ever want you to think that I don't understand what that took. I keep thinking I can't love you more than I already do, and you prove me wrong over and over again." He swallowed and darted a quick look at Tyrion. "I spent years running away from being Jaime Lannister. I don't want to be Jason Stone or Jorah Hill ever again, but I'm not Jaime Lannister any more. If you'll have me, I want to be Jaime Tarth, until the end of my days."
Brienne nearly fell to her knees bending over to frame his face in her hands and kiss him.
Jaime leaned back, smiling. "Is that a yes?"
"Yes. Yes! Of course, yes."
Jaime slid the ring onto her finger and they were kissing again until Arya made gagging noises and reminded them of their audience. Arya was grinning, though, and Tyrion held out his arms so he could hug his brother, while Pod seized Brienne in a bear hug while she smiled, bright and happy.
Pod was nervous, which he didn't think was unreasonable, all things considered. He trusted Tyrion's judgement, and Arya was razor smart, but she was even younger than he was. And the data on the hard drive, it was a lot. Very large, powerful companies, all over Westeros, any one of whom could be a dangerous enemy.
Arya had agreed they needed someone on the team to replace Brienne. Gendry Waters was a few years older than Pod, absolutely shredded, and taciturn even compared to Brienne's first days of the team. He also watched Arya's every move any time they were in the same place.
Pod had caught him doing it and met Gendry's eye. I see you and I know what you're doing even if she doesn't. Gendry had looked sheepish but hadn't said anything.
Arya had also agreed they needed a fourth person who was better at reading people than either of them were, even if finding a grifter of Jaime's caliber was going to be impossible. Arya insisted she knew the perfect person, but her perfect person was running late.
Pod was about to question this decision aloud when the door to their new office opened and a tall, thin young woman with bright red hair swanned in. "I'm so sorry I'm late, the traffic getting past Flea Bottom was awful."
Arya rolled her eyes. "Everyone, this is my sister, Sansa."
Gendry didn't react. Pod swung his gaze from Sansa to Arya and back to Sansa, who looked at the two men uncertainly, then raised the container she was carrying.
"Um, I brought lemon bars?"