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A Story Without End

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They had only known each other for a few days, but already Brienne had fallen madly in love.

Days, hours, seconds… what did those words mean? For Brienne, the passage of time seemed to unravel for every sigh he made, sweeping into the mystical flow of daylight and sunsets, following the divine beat of his metronome heart. Within those precious moments, time started to blur into a radical dissolve composed of sound, heat, and light. She had discovered a new measure of time, one that she found on the night she gave birth to her second child, a son.

A son that would never meet his father.

The wheelchair was stationed next to a window inside the maternity ward, boasting a striking view of the Bay. It was a crispy blue February morning, and Brienne Tarth was both eager and dreading to take her new son home.

Home.

Whatever that means.

Seated in a wheelchair while wearing old yoga pants and a faded KLU sweatshirt, Brienne caught a glance of her reflection in the window and was surprised by what she found. She looked  a mess. Her hair was greasy; dark circles had gathered below her eyes, and her skin seemed haggard and pale under the glare of florescent lights. And yet… she had felt no shame by what she saw. Brienne liked her body; she liked it whenever she held her son.

For a long time, she meditated over one of her favorite quotes in a book she once read while still an undergrad student. It was an infectious line that circled her head whenever she cradled her child, a little boy she had christened as Leo James Tarth-Lannister. Brienne remembered being fixating on that quote while her son was being conceived inside a sunny hotel room at The Regency. Had it been any other man’s child, she might have winced at her reflection in the window, feeling shamefaced and self conscious. But now, with that tiny weight lying snug in her arms, with his incredible warmth and the fragrance of sweet, wrinkly newborn, Brienne smiled at her reflection.

She liked her body whenever she held her son’s body. It was the one part of Jaime that lived on.

A soft knock disturbed the quiet spell of the room. Barely turning her head, while watching her newborn sleep, Brienne told her visitor to come in without a glance up. She had been expecting Catelyn to show up any moment following her discharge from the hospital. Propped next to her wheelchair was a diaper bag filled with nearly a dozen letters addressed to Leo. Most of the letters were folded inside of Jaime's battered camera case. The rest of the letters were tucked inside a book he never got to finish. Vowing to finish the novel for him, Brienne kept true to her word and read the book four times throughout the course of her pregnancy.

Again, the gentle knocking continued. Drawing up her head with a contented sigh, Brienne gasped once she noticed the visitor standing at her entryway. It wasn’t Cat standing at her door.

It was Hyle.


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The cab ride to Brienne's apartment was an unexpected exercise in social graces between a freshly divorced couple. Her ex looked sheepish once he explained his presence at the hospital. By chance, Hyle had bumped into Cat in the city two days prior. Gradually, the two started talking. Hyle wanted to know how Brienne's pregnancy was going, and before he knew it, he found himself asking Catelyn if it would be all right if he could be the one to help Brienne home instead of her.

At first, Brienne wanted nothing more than to strangle Cat, but during the cab ride, she began to notice how nervous her ex seemed. Hyle behaved much like he did when they first started dating, when they went from friends to something more, punctuating every one of his comments with an odd laugh and a weak smile, wiping sweat from his palms and fidgeting with his hands. Sometimes, he’d worry his lower lip while humming a random tune. All through this, Brienne noticed that Hyle would relax whenever his eyes landed on Leo's sleeping face.

He’s always been a softie around babies. Brienne sighed with a pang in her chest as she remembered the day Joanna was born, Hyle laughing through tears, beaming with his megawatt smile all day. Brienne watched him now, smiling at Leo while blinking back sudden tears.

Perhaps he sees this as our chance to settle our differences.

Hyle grew quiet once the cab pulled onto Brienne's street. He fussed over Leo's blanket while Brienne stared out the car window, with her heart wrung tight in remorse.


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Her apartment was on the fifth floor of a newly constructed building that most hipsters deemed as a ‘gentrified eyesore.’ Hyle made a soft comment that he could still smell fresh paint down the halls while Brienne fumbled for the keys. She grumbled at her doorknob with a jaded smirk, complaining that the lock always seemed to stick.

“I’ll call the super once you’ve settled in if you want,” Hyle said. Brienne turned to face him after they stepped inside, amazed, baffled even, at his support of her new life.

A life that didn't include him.

Once she flicked on the lights, Hyle's thoughts about the door lock quickly fell by the wayside. He had never been inside the apartment before, and he was now surprised to see that her living room bore more of a resemblance to a storage unit rather than a cozy nest for a mother bringing home a newborn. The would always meet in the lobby whenever it was his week with Jo.

"Were you planning to have the baby sleep in a sock drawer, Brienne?” Hyle said half-joking. He saw her redden, looking ashamed of her home, and he regretted his rotten timing at attempting to be funny. Brienne shrugged while smoothing a tender hand over the baby’s head.

“It’s... been a bit rough start. Between the doctor visits, meetings with the lawyer and work, I haven’t found a lot of time for unpacking.”

Hyle stared at his ex, his face impassive. “I see.”

Somewhat annoyed by his comments, Brienne led the way towards the nursery through a small maze of cardboard boxes, carefully stepping over sheets of crumpled up newspapers and deflated bubble wrap. As soon as she led him to the door of the nursery, Hyle was suddenly filled with relief. Though her whole world had been turned upside down, Brienne had managed to pour all of her devotion into creating a beautiful room for Leo.

The nursery felt like an oasis to Hyle; the room had a nice view of a brownstone across the street along with a handsome row of bare trees lining the sidewalk. Brienne had painted the walls in a soft blue, accented by billowy white clouds. Instead of hanging pictures of garish cartoons or cloying teddy bears, Brienne had hung framed maps of the world instead. There were dozens of stuffed animals lining the shelves and bookcases. At one end of the room, she had hung a large, beautifully framed photograph on the wall. Once Hyle caught a glimpse of it, a shadow of hurt began to fall across his face, knowing who the author was.

As soon as Brienne tried laying the baby down, Leo awoke and started to emit a ferocious, high-pitched wail. Feeling anxious, she tried humming the baby back to sleep, but nothing seemed to work. “Here,” Hyle extended his arms offering to take over, obvious to him that Brienne was starting to unravel. “I can watch him, Brienne. You need to take a shower and change your clothes.”

Her face started to soften in relief. “Really? You’d do that?” Hyle nodded, extending his arms once more for the baby. “Thank you, Hyle… that’s—” Brienne choked back on a hot sob and remained motionless in the center of the nursery. She was incapable of stringing a coherent thought together over the wailing pitch of Leo's screams.

“Brienne? He’ll be fine.” Leo continued to cry while Hyle started to tap his hand over the baby's tiny back. “Go. Leo will be here when you get out.”

Perhaps the hormones were to blame. Perhaps it was her guilty conscience that suddenly made her want to cry. Sporting a red face that crumpled up into a hot stream of tears, Brienne nodded and walked out of the nursery after she kissed the top of Leo's head.

“I'll be back in a minute.”

_____________________________________________________________________________________

 

The hot shower had felt like a miracle. Once Brienne padded out of the bedroom wearing clean yoga pants and a baggy hoodie, she was soon astonished by another blessing.

Leo was no longer screaming.

Brienne tiptoed down the hall until she found them. The baby was sleeping in a bassinet in a corner of the room, while Hyle flipped through the instruction manual for a new bookshelf that she had bought a while back, but never had time to assemble. As soon as Brienne caught his eye, Hyle got up and walked quietly by the baby at the same time that Brienne wrapped both arms around her waist and spoke to him in a theatrical whisper.

“What’s your secret?” Brienne had always been impressed with Hyle's natural ease with children. Holding back a breathless laugh, Hyle winced at his ex with shrugged shoulders and an amused look.

“I think he likes dancing. He fell asleep after a few minutes into a slow dance.” Brienne shook her head at Hyle in awe. “Leo was eager to lead but I insisted, and eventually he started to doze off.”

Holding back on a faint chuckle, Brienne motioned Hyle to the living room so they could have a moment to talk.

“How’s work going?”

Hyle didn’t reply, giving her only a tight smirk with an odd crease lining his brow followed by a slow, methodical look. Brienne wanted to cringe; she couldn’t think of anything interesting to say.

“How is Jo?” Their daughter had been with Hyle once Brienne had started to have the first contractions.

"Fine. She seems to be suddenly keen on baking. She said she wants to send you a batch of ‘Jaime cookies’ to try and cheer you up.” Hyle said the last sentence with a grim stare.

Brienne couldn't help but wince at her daughter’s request. She was surprised Jo had remembered Jaime, much less baking cookies with him when he had first visited them in King's Landing. After she returned from Braavos, Brienne had to swallow the lump in her throat while she explained to her daughter why mommy was so sad. Dreading to hear the excuse Hyle might have offered, Brienne explained she was sad because her old friend Jaime had to go away on a long trip and he would never come home. Later that night, Jo tried to cheer her mom up by making a batch of sugar cookies with rainbow sprinkles mixed into the batter.

They were the same cookies Joanna made with Jaime after his father died.

It pained Brienne to hear Hyle speak Jaime's name. Feeling uncomfortable, she combed nervous fingers through her wet hair and slowly turned around. It was then when she noticed something was off. All the boxes in the living room were neatly lined up against the wall, and a few had been already unpacked. One box labeled ‘winter clothes’ had a tidy stack of sweaters, gloves and mittens placed on the dinner table while another box labeled ‘kitchen’ was halfway unpacked with whisks, serving spoons and a pasta strainer lined up on the kitchen counter.

“I--I hope I'm not … creeping you out. I just thought you could use some help around here, maybe have one less thing to worry about now that you’re hosting a tiny human here full time.” Hyle said embarrassed.  Brienne didn’t respond; she was too busy gaping at all of the clean space that had magically appeared in her living room.

“No! No, I’m just…” Brienne hesitated. Floundering for a response, she crossed her arms tightly with an embarrassed smile. “Thank you. I mean it Hyle. I’m grateful to you, for--” Brienne raised her arms in a helpless gesture, “Thank you for everything. I really don’t know what to say.”

Hyle raised his eyebrows with a small smile. “Well, I think we both said our fair share at the divorce trial.”

“Look, Hyle,” Brienne licked her lips while her heart began to slam in her ears, “I want to apologize to you, again. Had I known then, I don’t think--”

Hyle swiftly interrupted her. "I'm tired of apologies Brienne. We both know that you would’ve had regrets otherwise. You would’ve regretted staying married to me and over time, you would’ve started to resent me.” Brienne's mouth tightened into a line while he continued. “You might have consoled yourself with Jo, but I think it’s fair to say that you would have spent the rest of your life upset with me. It would have pissed you off to accept the fact that I wasn’t him, and that you were stuck with me.”

Incapable of an immediate response, Brienne gave a shuddery inhale. She remembered her dreams with Jaime. In the secret version of her happily ever after, her mind was always quick to replace Hyle's face with his. But she didn't want to admit to her ex that he was right about everything, and she tried desperately to change the subject.

“How are things going with Pia? Is it getting serious?”

With a shy grin, Hyle nodded. Brienne felt a corkscrew of pain start to twist and mangle her heart. Not because she was jealous, not really. But because Hyle having someone reminded her of everything she had lost, everything she didn't have.

Jaime.

I miss you so much.

Choking back on a lump, she returned his grin with a false cheer. “That’s really great, Hyle. I mean it, I’m happy for you.”

Hyle brushed off Brienne's words with a shrug. “It’s too early to introduce her to Jo right now. The therapist said she probably needs more time to process the divorce. Its best for us to take things slow right now before we take things to the next step.” With a tender voice and looking into her wide blue eyes, Hyle softly continued.

“Look Brienne, do you think we can start working together as a team? I want us to have an amicable divorce. I think Jo deserves to see a positive example of divorce rather than seeing all the negative ones.”

Wiping back tears from her eyes, Brienne nodded her head in quiet solidarity. A soft, rueful chuckle filled her chest while she dabbed at the corners of her eyes with her sleeve.

“Yeah… well. I’m sure, by now, you’ve had some regrets about marrying me.” Hyle stared at her, failing to return Brienne's quip.

"I'll never regret marrying you, Brienne. You made me happy, and you gave me a beautiful daughter. There's nothing to regret about that."

Brienne dabbed her eyes with the corner of her sleeve. “You’re a good man Hyle, and you make one hell of a father. You deserve to be happy. Always.”

Touched by her words, Hyle offered her a smile of gratitude. “We all have our regrets, Bri. Gods know I have mine. But when I look back on my life and begin to count my mistakes, I know that marrying you wasn’t one of them.” Despite her sadness, Brienne felt a smile start to form on her lips while Hyle continued. “Deep down, I think I knew you would never be really mine. I knew that, even when I proposed to you. It was obvious to me that, in so many different ways, you would always be his.”

Brienne crinkled her brow in curiosity. “So why did you propose to me, Hyle?”

Hyle searched for words but eventually gave up. “Because... if I didn’t, I would’ve spent the rest of my life in regret for not proposing to you", he murmured with a distant look on his face. "Maybe that’s where fate and destiny are supposed to meet, Brienne. Life is too damn short to torture ourselves with all of the ‘what ifs.’ Maybe we should spend less time suffering with the past and spend more time asking ourselves: ‘Why not?’”


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Taking a much needed break from her marathon feeding session with Leo, Brienne decided to take a small stroll around the apartment with the baby in tow. Patting his tiny back with a burp cloth over her shoulder, she was content in humming a silly song while she paced back and forth down the main hall.

Just as Hyle had guessed, Leo was fond of dancing. After his diaper was changed and he had a successful burping, he turned fussy while Brienne began to panic before remembering Hyle's advice, and Brienne was amazed to see Leo fall asleep within minutes into a slow waltz inside the kitchen. As she made their way back to his nursery, she kissed her baby’s sleeping head and thought of Jaime.

Your father would have loved dancing with you, sweetheart. He would’ve danced with you every day.

In the hours that followed Jaime's death, Brienne met with his supervisor in the hospital lobby to make funeral plans and transfer arrangement for his possessions. When she had received his belongings in King's Landing, Brienne was horrified to see how little was left of Jaime. Someone so beautiful, so complex, and to see his whole life condensed to a wooden crate, two shipping boxes and a brass urn.This is all that’s left, Brienne thought with a muffled sob. This is all that’s left of him. This is all I have.

From all the objects that Brienne inherited, there had been one item she was dreading to see. On the morning after Jaime's memorial, Brienne received a thick mailer from the Westerosi Press. It contained hundreds of photos that were found on Jaime's camera during his last assignment. For almost a month, Brienne stared at the envelope lying in her desk drawer. She had been assured numerous times that she would find no images of Jaime in his final moments. But still, she hesitated.

Reluctant and teary eyed, Brienne became angry one day after a grueling morning with her divorce attorney. She and Hyle had finally agreed to sell the beach house but they still couldn’t decide who would keep their home. Pouring herself a cup of tea, Briene had taken a deep breath and finally leafed through the photos. She saw pictures of women and children lining the streets with fear in their eyes. Protesters as they were interviewed by the press. A charred Humvee belching black plumes of oily smoke. Tucked between scenic shots of a street in Skagos and pictures of sunbeams rising through an empty spice market, Brienne gasped and felt the goosebumps on her skin when she flipped to the next picture.

Tucked inside, she unveiled a photo of something that was both strange and rare: it was a picture of Jaime. He had taken a photo of himself in the bathroom mirror of his apartment in Braavos. Brienne couldn’t believe it; Jaime had always been offended by the notion of selfies. He thought they added nothing of value to the medium of photography, the "symptom of a lonesome, self obsessed culture that was battling with low self-esteem," he had said despondently many times.

In the photo, Jaime was dressed in a white field shirt over a blue t-shirt and low slung khakis. Oddly enough, when he snapped the photo of himself, Jaime had one hand waving to the mirror while smiling with a boyish grin.

Were you planning to send me this photo, my love? Did you think of me when you took this?

Brienne paused. Perhaps she’d been right all along. Perhaps there were some things we know without knowing them. Maybe he didn’t know it at the time, but what if this was his way of saying goodbye?

In the months that followed, Brienne was grateful she’d received Jaime's final photo. In the days following his death, she had struggled to remember the laugh lines on his face, the smell of his skin or the taste of his mouth. Instead, all she could see were the last, horrifying moments he spent trapped inside a broken body. Instead of a smile, all Brienne could see when she closed her eyes, were chapped lips taped to a breathing tube shoved down his throat. Instead of seeing his beautiful emerald eyes, all she could see was his swollen face with black-and-blue eyelids. Brienne tried to recall his comforting scent, but all she could remember was the stench of disinfectant and the copper sting of blood.

But now with his final portrait, Brienne was able to push back all those horrible memories to the back of her mind. Instead, she was left with something that became precious to her. Jaime had managed to capture the spirit of a man who had fully embraced life. It was his final testament beyond the grave, and every time she looked at his photo, she started to recall the sound of his voice, the salty taste of his skin. She could remember kissing those soft lips once more, while swallowing the sweet, infectious hum of his laugh.

Though Jaime's happiness was evident in the picture, Brienne also saw evidence of something else. She saw the price he paid for the choices he made, the whispers of trauma that lined his handsome face. He had become a first hand witness to a world filled with unspeakable violence and unimaginable hate and Brienne knew that the gaunt lines of his cheeks, the bags under his eyes and the silver hair dusting his temples, were his battle scars. But nothing had faded his beautiful smile, and he had caught in that photograph a rare glimpse into the great divide that joined tangible shadows to impalpable light.

Inside the nursery, Leo began to shift in her arms. Once more, Brienne stared at the framed photo that hung in the nursery, taking a final minute to appreciate the legacy Jaime left behind.  Filled with both pain and mirth, Brienne returned Jaime's smile in the photo, lifted her hand and gently touched his face.

Allowing her tears to fall freely, she turned her back on Jaime's picture and walked towards the window. Swaying the tiny bundle in her arms, Brienne comforted her son with the slow, steady metronome of her heart. She looked out the window and searched the streets, looking for the faces and names that she would never see again after the attacks on Kings Landing. Much like the city, Brienne was forever touched by senseless tragedy and incalculable grief.

She had been injured, but she wouldn’t be defeated.

She was forever changed, but she would never be broken.

As she watched the sun start to set over the proud skyline, Brienne tucked Leo closer to her chin and smiled. She breathed in his sweet scent and she murmured her love. As the sun finally set, she lightly kissed his forehead, and whispered goodnight.

 

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 Dear Leo,

I’m looking at you now while you’re sleeping next to me. Everything feels so surreal to me, like nothing is quite truly there. But you are my darling, because if anything, your arrival has marked a new beginning, a new chapter in my life.

It would have been so easy to continue on as I did before. I could have pretended that nothing ever happened between your father and me. Even on the plane ride home, I decided that my husband, Hyle, would never know the truth about your real father. He would’ve believed that you were his own, and he would have no reason to think otherwise. Everything would have been fine.

Except... it wouldn’t have been fine.

I had already lied enough times: to Hyle, to myself, to my daughter. Keeping this secret would have also meant lying to you too, sweetheart and that wouldn’t have been fair to you.

Seeing Hyle at the airport with a conciliatory smile on his face, I could tell he was willing to forgive and forget the fight we had before I left to be with your father at the hospital. Seeing him at the airport almost changed my mind. But when he started to speak of all the plans he had for you and started to suggest baby names, I knew it had to be done.

When we got home that night, I told him the truth. I told him about your father and how I never truly stopped loving him. As much as it pained me, I told him about our time at The Regency too. I told him that I falsely believed it would be some sort of payback, that being with Jaime would become my revenge when I assumed he was unfaithful to me even though we were legally separated. But Hyle was never unfaithful, and I think deep down I always knew there was an explanation for the cryptic texts on his phone. It was to a realtor about a beach house he was buying for our anniversary. I chose to think the worst because our marriage was broken, and no amount of beach houses could put it back together again.

Hyle is a good man, but he never knew me. The real me.

The truth is, your father and I  could never let each other go. I believe now that we were meant to be because you, Leo, were meant to exist. I told Hyle all of this while we sat there, a look of incredulity stitched on his face, but also a confirmation of something he had always known to be true.

I expected shouting from him; I expected screaming, tears and rage. Instead I saw disappointment and an overwhelming sadness fill his eyes.

That look on his face hurt me more than anything I could’ve imagined.

While you were growing inside me, I had to deal with the divorce. I had to tell your sister about her parents separating, explaining why her whole world was being torn apart. I hated myself then, for bringing so much hurt to the person I loved the most. But it had to be done. Lying to her and to Hyle, keeping this secret, was too much for me to bear. But most importantly, it would have been cowardly to keep the truth from you, Leo.

You deserve to know who your father was. And you deserve to know how much I loved him, and how much he loved me.

Hyle and I have reached a sort of truce in these last months. We’re not friends, but we are civil for Jo's sake. And when you were born, he did something so unexpected: he went to pick me up from the hospital and brought me home. It was such a decent thing for him to do after the way I had hurt him. But Hyle has always been a decent person, and I did love him in my own way.

I think you should know that also.

I have so much to tell you about Jaime Lannister, your father. There’s so much you have to know about him and our time together. I think that if it were not for your sister, I would have gone with him to Braavos when he asked, after that night at The Regency.

Maybe he would still be here, with us.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps nothing would have changed

But I do know this, my beautiful baby boy: He would have loved you, and he would have been a fantastic father. My biggest regret is that he never got a chance to know about you. I whispered to him that I was pregnant when he was lying motionless in that hospital bed, while I held him in my arms until he took his last breath. I tried to tell him, but he was in a place where I could no longer reach him.

I like to think that he did hear me. That he might have understood what I said.

It brings me some comfort to believe that.

I read the book your father started, the one I promised I would finish for him. Every page I turned, I imagined reading it out loud to him and to you. I imagined telling him all about it, how the book spoke to me about hope and sorrow, love and heartbreak. I imagined telling him that I loved him, and how I will love him for the rest of my life.

I have so much left to tell you, sweetheart. There were so many pages that were left blank in your father’s book. Together, you and I, will finish his story. We’ll finish it with the laughter we’ll share, the smiles we make and the stories we’ll tell.

Your father’s life, my life; yours and ours.

It’s a story that we can re-read, time and time again.