- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Huddled against the doorjamb, she watched Coach Stark search through a stack of papers.
“Here,” Coach Stark said extending her hand, a yellow sticky note flapping from her thumb.
Brienne stepped forward, plucking the note from the coach's delicate fingers. “Thanks.”
“You didn't get that from me,” Coach Stark said sternly. “And I didn't get it from the assistant football coach. No one in the athletic department knows anything about it. Got that?”
“Yes,” Brienne said softly, turning to leave. “Thank you.”
She turned back from the doorway, watching a look of pity slide over Catelyn Stark's features.
“Good luck,” Coach Stark said.
“Thanks,” Brienne mumbled, leaving the office and heading down the hall to sign in for her study hour. In the blinking fluorescent bulb of the hallway she looked down at the yellow note, now stuck to her own enormous finger. A King's Landing number followed by a single name.
Varys, it read.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
“She'll be moving in this evening.” Varys's smooth, high voice hummed over the phone. “Remember, your father owns that very nice house you're living in one block off campus.”
“Fuck you. And fuck my father, too. Tell him I said so.”
“Now, now, Jaime. You'll catch more flies with--”
Jaime hung up.
Fucking meddling, interfering--
“Hey man, where do you want all this bedding?” the delivery man asked.
Jaime shrugged. “With the bed, I guess. Fuck if I know.”
He ran into the kitchen and dug in his wallet for a tip as he dialed Cersei.
“Yeah?” Gods he missed her, even her clipped, annoyed tone.
“Time difference, Jaime, I'm at dinner,” she said. He could hear the buzz of the restaurant behind her. He tried to picture her in whatever passed for a hot spot in Volantis. The picture in his head did not show her eating alone, wherever she was.
“Just wanted to hear the sweet sound of your voice,” he said, wishing the sarcasm was real.
He heard the muffled sound of something covering her phone. “It's just my brother,” she stage whispered to someone.
“Tell them I just called so you could talk me off,” he said.
“Fuck you, Jaime,” she said, but he heard the small smile in her voice. The promise to do just that later.
And she was gone. He stared down at the black screen of his phone.
"Hey man,” the delivery man called from the front hall, “we're all done here.”
He dug a ten dragon note out of his wallet. “Yeah, just a sec...”
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
“Yes?” He answered the door shirtless, wearing nothing but tartan flannel pyjama bottoms and a sneer. It was six in the evening.
She knew who he was, of course, everyone did. Jaime Lannister: star quarterback. She'd seen him around campus and before that she'd seen him on the news, on the front page of the tabloids. There had been a betting pool on her floor; five gold dragons and you could circle a date on a calendar, your prediction for when he'd make the announcement he was entering the draft. Brienne only overheard about the bet. No one ever invited her to take part--not that she would anyway, she hated football. And she hated Jaime Lannister. The rumors about the fate of Aerys Targaryen had been everywhere. She'd heard them long before Renly had recruited her for Riverlands. Long before she'd ever thought she'd stand at Lannister's front door. Anyone who would injure--let alone kill--another athlete out of spite and envy was beneath contempt.
“I'm Brienne Tarth,” she began, swallowing the sudden dryness in her throat. “I was hired--”
“Yeah, I know why you were hired.”
She stared at him. He didn't move to invite her in, just stood in the opening of the door looking her over. Her grip on the nylon strap of her bag slipped a bit as her palms began to sweat. This would be just like dealing with the guys on the swim team. Just like dealing with the jerks who'd made the bet.
Brienne the Beauty.
She matched his sneer; she wasn't the monster here. And she needed this job.
“Maybe I should wait for you to get dressed,” she said, looking over his state of undress. Her gaze kept getting caught. On the waistband of his trousers riding low on his hips. On the strangely disconcerting hair on his chest. On the stubble dusting his jaw that seemed to whisper dark, heavy things her mind couldn't quite comprehend. On his jagged, more-green-than-hazel eyes that seemed to cut right through her attempt to hide her uncertainty. On the hair on his head that looked like it hadn't been combed in two days, but still looked better than hers had in her whole life.
“Excuse me?” he scoffed. “Who the fuck do you think you are?”
“According to Mr. Varys, I'm your new babysitter. Mr. Varys said to tell you: if it isn't me, he'll just send someone else.”
He laughed. “Mr. Varys? That's the first time I've ever heard that chinless, bald mothball called Mr. Varys.”
“I'm supposed to move in tonight,” she said.
“Are you asking to come in my house?” He narrowed his gaze.
“Okay, fine. Come in. I'll humor my father. And Mr. Varys.”
He turned away from the door, leaving it to swing wide open as he sauntered back into the house.
She stepped inside and closed the door behind her, left standing in the empty front hall. To her left, the front room was empty except for an easy chair and a suit of medieval armor in the corner. To her right was a dining room that contained only a treadmill.
“Where would you like me?” she called down the hall in the direction he'd disappeared.
“Kidding. Upstairs. The bedroom that isn't mine. They delivered all of that shit this afternoon.”
She was already at the top of the stairs and could see, through an open door, the bed he'd clearly just rolled out of. The bathroom door was ajar. Behind the remaining door she found a brand new mattress still wrapped in plastic with packages of bedding piled on top.
Gathering the packages in her arms, she stomped back downstairs and went looking for him down the hall. She found him in the kitchen.
“Tell me you have a washer,” she said, watching with disgust as he poured multi-colored cereal into a bowl big enough to hold a head of cabbage.
He pointed to a closet in the corner. She began to unwrap the packages and stuff the sheets in the machine while he sat at the kitchen table loudly crunching his cereal.
“Is that your dinner?” she asked, looking him over, wondering how he could eat that crap and still look as good as he did.
No. How can he eat like that and be an elite athlete? Looks have...nothing to do with it.
“Yes,” he said, his mouth full.
“Mr. Varys authorized me to do your food shopping. He said he suspected you ate like an emancipated pre-teen.”
“Varys. Fuck. It's just Varys. And since I've met you, you've insulted my wardrobe and my diet. Anything else you'd like to fix, Mary Poppins?”
She glanced at him. He was glaring at her as he chomped his childish cereal.
“Your summer class schedule, online registration is in the morning,” she said.
“No. I already told them, I'm a full time student and that's good enough--”
“It's a condition of my employment, Mr. Lannister.”
“Mr. Lannister? What? How old are you?”
“Well, even if you are some freshman infant, you don't need to call me mister. I'm Jaime.”
She shrugged, turning away from him to hide her discomfort. She pretended to busy herself starting the wash and closing the closet.
A phone she hadn't noticed on the table beside him began to vibrate violently. She glanced over and thought she saw a picture of a joint pop up along with a name she couldn't make out before he answered.
“Hey. Oh, really? No, I'm eating dinner, if you must know.” He looked up at Brienne, a smirk on his face when he saw she was eavesdropping on his conversation.
“Actually, you'll be interested to hear there's a woman in my kitchen,” he said, looking Brienne up and down. “Woman, right, Brienne? You are an actual woman?”
Brienne knew she was turning red and wanted to leave, but felt like she'd be conceding a victory she didn't want to give him.
“If you were here, you'd understand,” he said into the phone. “How tall are you anyway, Brienne? Height is of extreme interest to my little brother.”
If she hadn't been blushing before... “Six feet, three inches.”
That was how tall she'd been the last time she let anyone measure her height. And if that had been a few years ago, well--
“Bullshit. I'm six-three. You're six-five or six-six.”
“Yeah,” he said into the phone. “And she's built like a tank. She's a total beast.”
“You're the beast,” she said, grabbing the phone out of his hand and slamming it into the cereal bowl.
He watched his phone sink into the milk, a look of bemusement on his face.
“My father will love you,” Jaime said, using his spoon to raise his phone from the depths of the bowl. “He has a real soft spot for impulsive, irrational behavior.”
She was fired. She already knew it. “I'll put my behavior up against yours any day. I'm the one who hasn't been on trial for murder.”
His eyes went cold for a moment, then his features settled back into the now familiar sneer. “It was an inquest, and they cleared me.”
“Cleared you to take the recently vacated starting quarterback position.”
He narrowed his eyes and glared at her. “You think I don't know who you are? Do you think there are giant women with torn up faces just milling around everywhere? You're the swimmer who was with Renly when that car plowed into the sidewalk. Your coach was fucking my back up QB. I know all about it. Loras says you tripped Renly while you were diving out of the way to save your own ass.”
“That's a lie. I was trying to pull him out of the way. His shoe caught--”
“Yeah. Good one. That's what you should say at your inquest.”
She tried not to think about the movers Mr. Varys had hired who would be showing up soon with her four meager boxes of stuff. Tried not to think about the fact that it was nearly summer break and her life had fallen apart and she had no other options. No other way to stay in school, to keep training, to try to get her times back where they needed to be, to get the scholarship bump Renly had promised after her first year, to have a hope of getting back to Nationals, let alone finally make the Games. She tried not to think about her father being gone. Tried not to think of Renly's dying face.
“Why? You're right, they'll just send someone else and at least you and I know where we stand.”
She stopped and looked back over her shoulder at him. “Your father wants you to finish school.”
“I will, eventually. I've got a whole year to go, I red shirted.”
“He doesn't see what your athletic career has to do with your academics,” she said, remembering every word Mr. Varys had told her. “He isn't happy with the idea of you as a fifth year senior.”
“And there's the matter of your major--”
“Sports Management is not--”
“Sports Management. Which is a completely legit field--”
“According to Mr. Varys, your father had something more substantive in mind for your bachelors degree, considering your future in business school--”
“Yeah, fuck that. I'm going to be too busy playing professional football and not being so bored I want to put razor blades through my eyes in grad school.”
“I'll take the summer classes. I'll take more than twelve credits next semester--”
“I'll take enough to graduate--which I won't be able to do if I switch majors. So you're just going to have to let that one go.”
“It's not me you need to convince,” Brienne said.
“No. It's my father. But he doesn't really care. He's negotiating with me. He wants me to graduate so I won't embarrass him. He's saying I need to switch majors and go to business school so I can refuse those demands, as a salve to my pride, then in the interest of meeting him halfway, he knows I'll see to it I graduate next year. And in case I get off track, he's outsourced overseeing my graduation to Varys, who has outsourced it to you. I may have no intention of getting my MBA, but trust me, my whole life has been business education.”
She stared at him. Was that all true? The way Varys made it sound, she was simply babysitting a grown man and reporting back if he stepped out of line, but something in the way Jaime had described the situation left a bad taste in her mouth.
All she really wanted was to get away from him. “I'm going to the supermarket.”
“Good,” he said, blotting his phone on his pyjamas. “I need cereal, beer, and frozen pizzas.”
“I'm not buying any of that. Do you think that's how a professional athlete eats?”
“My father's not paying you to be my nutritionist,” he said, glaring at her.
“No. Mr. Varys made it clear I did not need to assist your athletic career in any way.”
He gave her half a smile. “Ok, nutrition fascist, I'll eat your way. If only for the satisfaction of knowing my father will accidentally be helping my football career.”
His relationship with his father made her incredibly uncomfortable. She edged out of the room and down the hall without another word.
What had she gotten herself into?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
She returned with a loaded bag in each hand. He supposed he should have offered to drive her, since it was after dark and the mid-spring night had a bite. But then she gave him one of her judgmental looks as she passed the kitchen table and he was glad he hadn't done anything to help her.
Fuck her, in her track trousers and hoody, with her awkward giant body and her chewed up face. What sort of person took this kind of job anyway?
He peeked over the top of his laptop while she put things away in the fridge. Her name was printed on the back of her sweatshirt, along with the name of her high school.
“Where is Evenfall High?” he asked.
“Tarth,” she mumbled, darting a concerned glance his way.
“Tarth--like your name?”
“Like my name.”
He googled it. “So you're from the middle of nowhere in Shipbreaker Bay. Is the whole island full of giant beasts like you?”
“Why aren't you going back there for the summer?”
“I...my father was killed last fall and I don't... I'm in training. I need to be here, where I have decent facilities available.”
Something in the way she talked about her father gave him pause. She glanced at him with big blue eyes he realized were full of misery. She'd looked that way since he'd first opened the door to find her hulking presence on his front step.
“Sorry about your father.”
“Thanks,” she mumbled, her back to him while she folded the shopping bags and returned them to the drawer where she'd found them. Then she turned around to face him, squaring her shoulders. “So summer term registration opens at eight o'clock in the morning--”
So much for being friendly.
“I know. I don't need you looking over my shoulder.”
“I'm supposed to take the same classes you do.”
“Fuck that,” he said, slamming the lid of his laptop closed. He'd been studying for finals for two days solid and his grades were always decent. This whole thing was so insulting. “You're not going to follow me around--”
“That's exactly what I'm being paid to do,” she said, glaring at him.
“Wouldn't you be happier being paid to flip burgers?” he asked. Then he deliberately looked her up and down. “Or, move pianos or something a beast like you is more uniquely suited for?”
“No wonder everyone hates you,” she said. “You're the only beast I see here.”
“You need a mirror, then,” he said, wondering why he was allowing her to get to him. She basically called me a murderer. That's why. Fucking Aerys.
The sideways glances, the whispers, he'd gotten used to them, but he wasn't excited by the idea of being harassed with rumors by someone with whom he would be sharing a bathroom.
“If you're not awake in time for registration tomorrow, I'll drag you out of bed,” she said, her face a snarl as she pointed her index finger angrily his direction.
“Can't wait to wake up to your ugly face,” he said, standing, his chair scraping back across the tile floor. He thought she might punch him in the face.
She sneered at him for a moment, and he knew she was thinking about decking him, but she seemed to think better of it, turning away and clomping down the hall before stomping up the stairs.
Fuck, he thought. What was he supposed to do, call Varys and say the nanny they'd hired was too mean? He laughed. He couldn't even call Cersei or Tyrion to vent, because the beast had drowned his phone.
He walked down the hall to the foot of the stairs and in the voice he used to call signals on the field, yelled up to her. “After registration, you're going to go buy me a new phone, Beast!”
“Good luck with that!” she called back down.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -