Brienne struggles, at first, to keep from crying as she watches the sun rise over the lake. Then she gives up and lets the tears fall; there is no one here to mock her for it, except the dog, and he's too busy licking his balls to care.
When the sun finishes its ascent into the sky, she scrubs at her face with her hands and then goes to put her coat on. At the door, she pauses and looks back into the beautiful, weird house in which she'd lived for a year. Stripped of the drapes that had framed each floor-to-ceiling glass wall, and all the furniture, the view through it is practically unimpeded. It appears to hover over the lake, with only its slender, stork-like supports interrupting the vista over God's Eye's silver-blue water.
From her coat, Brienne draws an envelope.
"Time to go," she says to the dog.
He is thoroughly disreputable-looking, despite how she tries to keep his beigey-brown fur trimmed and clean. She decided a while ago to just give up and let him look like a hobo. He gets to his feet and plods after her. They walk to the mailbox. It is unusual in that, instead of the more typical black box with red flag on its side, it's bright red and the flag is black. Brienne isn't sure if that signifies anything, but since she is moving out that very day, it is no longer her concern.
She licks the envelope flap, presses it closed, and puts the letter in the mailbox, then raises the little flag. She makes a show of dusting off her hands, more for the symbolism of the action than to clean any dirt off.
"Well, Sandy, that's that."
The dog, unimpressed, uses a hind leg to scratch his ear, but willingly enough follows her to her car and hops in. She runs a careful eye over the car's contents, to be sure she has everything, before sliding behind the wheel.
"Okay. Here we go. On to our next adventure."
Sandy curls up on the seat, gives his balls one last lick, and goes to sleep.
Traffic gets more dense the closer Brienne comes to King's Landing. The apartment building she pulls up in front of is on a narrow little street named Eel Alley. What the neighborhood lacks in space and cleanliness, it more than makes up for in picturesque view: from this high on Visenya's Hill, she can see clear across the city to the Red Keep and the Blackwater beyond it.
Plus, it's close enough to the train station to make her commute easier, and extremely cheap. First-year residents make far less than people like to think a doctor earns. And it's practically-new construction, so the odds of black mold or cockroach infestation are low.
Brienne opens the car door so Sandy can go water a shrub, and begins to haul things from the car.
King's Landing General Hospital is bustling, chaotic, and loud: in other words, a typical big-city medical facility. Brienne introduces herself and is directed down a maze of corridors to her new boss, one Catelyn Stark, MD.
Dr. Stark's keen blue eyes give her a once-over, then a brisk nod. "Good to meet you. You've got twenty-two patients today. Here."
She dumps a tall stack of files into Brienne's arms.
"Twenty-two?" Brienne repeats, feeling the first twinge of alarm.
"Yes. Slow morning, thank the Seven. If you get into trouble, page me, but only if it's dire."
And that is Brienne's welcome to her residency.
"Excuse me." Desperately lost, Brienne stops a plump young man who looks reasonably doctor-like. "Where is Radiology?" She gazes around at the signs, the different-colored lines on the floor directing people to various departments, and then back at him.
"Wrong floor," he says kindly. "You need the next floor down." At her impatient huff, he smiles. "Takes a while to get your bearings. I'm Sam Tarly. You're the new resident, right? Where'd you do your internship?"
"A little community hospital, by Storm's End."
"Ah, right by the sea! Nice! Well, just think of this as a little community hospital, only with more gunshot wounds."
He smiles again as he walked away. Brienne does not feel any more reassured.
When Brienne's first shift winds to an end, she is profoundly grateful.
"A dazed state of near-panic is normal for the first few months," says Talisa, another resident, in the locker room as Brienne changes from scrubs to street clothes. Brienne smiles politely in reply, too tired to form actual words.
"You should come with us to The Dragon Pit," Sam pipes up. "The beer's cheap and they don't mind when the residents cry from exhaustion."
"Another time," she hedges. "I'm wiped, and still have unpacking to do at my new place.”
They don't seem offended by her refusal, for which she is glad. With a wave, she flees the locker room at the fastest pace she can manage, eager to fill her lungs with fresh air after ten hours of the stale recycled mess she'd been breathing, but the snootful of car exhaust she gets upon stepping through the sliding doors reminds her that she isn't in the Riverlands anymore.
At home, Sandy lunges at her, looking as relieved as a mutt of uncertain lineage can look.
"Yes, I'm back, sorry, sorry," she tells him, giving him many pets and hugs and then snapping his leash onto his collar so she can take him for walkies. Outside, he squats to poop while maintaining intense eye contact the entire time, watching her with an expression of deep reproach. Was it for keeping him cooped up all day? Was it for having no actual furniture yet, and being forced to sleep on a futon on the floor?
Probably for taking him away from heaven-- the lake house, with its beach frontage and open space and clean air-- to hell. King's Landing is a bustling, exciting place, but even after only one day, she can tell it is going to fall short in so many ways when compared to Harrenhal's rural peace.
Back inside, she puts on water to boil for dinner, which will consist of ramen and instant coffee, then spoons smelly dog food out of a can for her roommate.
"Dinner of champions," she mutters, and begins unpacking the first box. "We're champions, Sandy."
He gives the contents of his bowl a disdainful sniff and shoots her a skeptical look before starting to eat.
Jaime backs his pick-up as close to the jetty as possible, given how little vision he has past the towering mound of belongings burdening the vehicle. Getting out of the truck, he stands and looks past the dented old tin mailbox at the house for a long, silent moment.
I'm home, he thinks, and he knot in his stomach eases for the first time since he'd begun the process of buying the place.
After wrestling the larger pieces of furniture into the house, Jaime is tired and decides to pick up some needed things before he is too worn out to get the job done. He drives the familiar road to the little general store his family had always frequented, when they'd lived at the lake house in his youth, and is swept by nostalgia when the bell over the door tinkles with his entrance.
But the person behind the counter is not the affable older man he recalled; instead, it's a tallish woman with striking crimson hair and the kind of flawless bone structure that even his sister Cersei would have envied.
"Take a basket," the woman says. "Holler if you can't find something you need."
Jaime smiles and obediently grabs a basket. It takes little time to navigate up and down the few short aisles, and soon he is lugging the full basket to the register. It is, he was pleased to see, the same old manual register he recalls from before.
"New to the area?" she asks as she begins to ring up Jaime's purchases. "I'm Melisandre."
"More or less," he says with a faint grin. "Jaime."
"I'll get you some boxes to put all this in," says Melisandre, stretching up to reach a shelf laden with boxes. As she reaches, he can see the curve of her pregnant belly.
"No, let me," he says. "I'm taller."
Once the boxes are procured, she goes about ringing up his purchases.
"Find everything you need?" she asks, glancing down at the items as she packs them in a box. "What about dog food?"
"Nope, I'm good." Over her shoulder, he sees a variety of mailboxes and decides to get one; the old one at the house has been the victim of one too many games of mailbox baseball, and if he's making a fresh start, it should be a fresh start.
"Which one do you think I should get?" he asks her, gesturing at them.
She peers at him for a long moment, and he thinks-- but can't be entirely sure-- that the ruby pendant at her throat flashes. She smiles and turns to survey her selection.
"This one," she says, very sure as she points to one that is red with a black flag.
It's different. Striking. Its irreverence goes with the house.
"I'll take it," he says, and reaches for his wallet.
Back at the lake house, Jaime pulls to a stop and brings the groceries inside before heading back down the jetty to switch out the mailboxes. He realizes, belatedly, that he'll need some concrete to fix it in place so it won’t keep wobbling, loose, in the post hole. It'll do for now, though, and he gives it a satisfied pat.
He carries the old mailbox to the curb for trash day and tosses it in. On his way in, walking past the new box, he frowns a little to see that the flag, which had been down as he installed it...
There's no point to checking, but he looks anyway, and is a bit stunned to find a letter inside.
He's curious, but first things first: he puts away the food and slaps together a sandwich for dinner. Popping the cap off a beer, he parks himself in his scuffed leather armchair, tugs the chain on the old brass floor lamp he'd positioned nearby, takes a bite, and thumbs open the envelope while chewing.
Dear New Tenant, it reads. Welcome to your new home and congratulations, et cetera. I know you'll love living here as much as I have. The post office will be forwarding my mail, but I wondered if you could send on to me anything that might slip through. I'll compensate you for any costs it might entail. My new address is below. Thank you! Sincerely, Old Tenant (Brienne Tarth)
P.S. Sorry about the paw prints by the front door. They were there when I moved in, as was the box in the attic. I think it belongs to the owner.
Jaime stares at the letter, then puts his sandwich down on the plate and stands, making his way to the front door. No paw prints. Then he fetches a flashlight, goes to the pull-down hatch to the attic, climbs the ladder, and stares into the space. It is utterly vacant, lacking even insulation (no wonder it's so chilly; Jaime makes a mental note to do something about that ASAP).
He closes the hatch, drops the letter into the garbage, and goes back to his sandwich. Hauling furniture around and another beer has him feeling sleepy and he goes to bed early. By the time he falls asleep, he has forgotten the letter ever existed.
The next morning, Jaime dives into work feeling better than he has in a long time. Waking up at the lake house goes far in lifting his outlook for the day. Inside the office trailer, he prepares for the day while his secretary, Ros, argues with suppliers on the phone.
Then he goes out to the site and bickers with his foreman until the man organizes the workforce more efficiently so they could actually be on schedule. At the end of the day, about to leave, Jaime spots a few half-full cans of paint and instead of discarding them, decides to bring them home.
Once back at the lake house, he sweeps the jetty clean and applies a fresh coat of paint to the weather-beaten boards. When he's done, he surveys his work, hands on hips, pleased with the result. He begins to clean the brush but his attention is caught by the arrival of a dog trotting up the road. Its fur is matted and it looks skinny; a stray, then.
The dog, unconcerned by Jaime's presence or the smell of the paint, saunters right up the jetty, over the wet paint.
"Hey!" Jaime shouts, and runs after it.
The dog gives a startled yelp and bolts away, toward the house. Jaime, stupidly, had left the door ajar and the dog shoves it open with his snout, running frantically away from Jaime's futile attempts to capture it. After a few frustrating moments, the dog finds the door again and pelts outside to freedom.
Jaime stands there, fuming at the paint tracks on the floor... and then goes still as he remembers the letter and runs to the garbage. He digs through it, nose wrinkling at the smell and feel of what he is exploring, and when he is shoulder-deep in the bag finally finds what he seeks: the former tenant's letter.
He unfolds it and rereads its contents as best he can through the smears of mustard it has acquired from being in the trash can.
That morning had promised to be unseasonably temperate, but when Brienne leaves the hospital for the nearest park, intent on eating her lunch in the sunshine, she's disconcerted by how warm it is. She unzips her coat to let cooler air in and makes her way to the fountain on the far side of the park. She likes sitting there, watching the children run around and old men play chess, and with the temperature hovering around 60 degrees, the fountain isn't frozen and she can enjoy the soothing gurgles of the water as it splashes.
"What's with the damn weather?" one of the old men gripes. "60 degrees on Valentine's Day!"
"It's global warming," says the other sagely.
She has just unwrapped her sandwich and lifted one half of it to her her mouth when a grinding squeal of brakes catches her attention. She looks around with haste, searching for the source of the noise. About fifty feet away, a bus is trying frantically to stop but a man is standing in the street, directly in the bus' path, and there is nothing to be done.
The bus strikes the man. He flies in a weirdly graceful arc about fifteen feet before crashing to the pavement with a grotesque thud.
Brienne is already on her feet by the time he lands. As she runs toward him, she pulls out her phone and presses autodial and the numeral 'one'.
"Ambulance to Aegon's Park, Sowbelly Row, right by the fountain. Bus vs. pedestrian."
She stuffs the phone into her pocket as she shoves her way through the gathering crowd.
"I'm a doctor," she keeps saying, and finally is able to fall to her knees beside the man. His limbs are twisted, and his head is bloody. She can see at once that the right side of his face is broken, temple and cheekbone caved in, and knows there's little she'll be able to do. But she still feels for a pulse, leans down to listen for any breaths he might miraculously be taking. Dimly, she hears the ambulance siren as the EMTs arrive.
They kneel on the other side of the fallen man to assist Brienne with CPR, working intensely, but soon one of them sits back on his heels and shakes his head.
"He's gone," he says.
Brienne keeps working as if he hasn't spoken. The EMT puts his hand on her shoulder, gives her a gentle shake.
"Doctor," he says. "He's gone."
Brienne gives one more chest compression, then stops. She swipes a wrist over her sweaty forehead and stands while the EMTs pull out a gurney and begin to remove the body from the street.
Brienne's hands are still shaking as she tries to pour herself coffee in the hospital break room. Coffee spills over the counter in a rivulet not unlike the path of the dead man's blood on the street. She closes her eyes, leaning on the counter, and takes a deep breath. When she opens her eyes again, her hands are steady once more.
And she realizes Dr. Stark is standing a few feet away, watching her.
"I heard about the park. EMTs said you fought hard for the guy."
"Yeah, I really knocked myself out," Brienne replies. She hears the sarcasm, the self-loathing, the impotence, in it, but can't hold back.
"I had a case, once," says Dr. Stark, after a pause. "Routine heart surgery. No indication anything would go wrong. But he died on the table. His body just... chose that time to go. It was no one's fault, nothing I could have done differently or better. But I couldn't sleep for weeks, after it."
Brienne knows what she is doing, and appreciates it. "Thanks. I'll be fine."
She turns to go, but Dr. Stark stops her with a word.
"Brienne? You have anyone in King's Landing? Family, friends?"
Brienne shakes her head. "A dog. That's it."
"Do me a favor. On your next day off, go someplace... else. Away from here. Where you feel happy."
Brienne nods slowly. It's not bad advice.
Jaime, on his way to work, slips a note into the mailbox and raises the flag.
Brienne pulls up to the general store. Through the window, she can see the redheaded shopkeep, Melisandre. As Brienne enters, the other woman blinks as she recognizes her.
"Haven't seen you in a while," Melisandre says. "How's King's Landing? What are you doing back here in the boonies?
"It's okay," Brienne replies with a faint smile. "Just needed to get out of the city. When it's warm like this, you've got to."
"Isn't the weather crazy? I can't believe-- what is it, sweetie?" Melisandre stop and bends to pick up the toddler who has just run behind the counter to her.
The toddler replies in a spate of unintelligible babbling. While mother and child are distracted by each other, Brienne escapes to the farthest aisle to do her shopping.
Jaime is surveying the job site while eating a sandwich. It's cold and windy and his face feels chapped. Ros walks up to him carrying a paper bag full of the lunch she has just purchased for herself. She looks around at the overcast sky and grimaces.
"God, it's really miserable. Don't catch a cold or anything on me, all right?
Jaime grins at her while chewing the last bite of his sandwich, then leans back over the blueprint spread out over the folding table before him. "I never get sick."
She looks frankly skeptical. "You find a place to stay yet?"
"Yeah, just outside of town, up the shore a bit, right on the lake."
"Up the shore?" Ros thinks hard. "You don't mean that weird place with the glass walls, on stilts...?"
"That's the one."
"That's not on the lake, that's in the lake! It's been empty for years. Decades. Why'd you choose that one?"
Jaime balls up the sandwich wrapper and walks to the nearest dumpster to toss it out. Ros follows, then curses as her pumps get stuck in the mud, one foot pulling free. She puts her hand on Jaime's shoulder for balance as she wobbles on the other. He extracts her shoe and tries to clean off the mud before handing it back to her. She crams it back on and tiptoes out of the danger zone.
"Thanks," she says with a smile.
"Get some boots," he tells her.
She only smiles wider.
On the beach, Brienne throws a stick for Sandy, smiling faintly as his ears flap in his frenzy to fetch it, but her attention drifts to the lake house, visible in the distance. It's just as vacant and empty as it had been when she moved out, months earlier, and she can't help but make her way closer as the minutes pass, until she's standing at the end of the jetty, right by the mailbox. With a start, she realizes the flag is up.
An impulse forms to check inside, see if her letter is still there. She opens it and sees an envelope, but it's not the one she had left. She removes it and blinks to see it's addressed to her.
I got your note, it reads in a slashing hand. Is it supposed to be some kind of joke? If so, I don't get it.
She frowns. Joke?
I'm not the previous tenant. There was no previous tenant. The house was vacant for almost twenty years before I bought it a week ago. Sincerely, Only Tenant (Jaime Lannister)
P.S. How did you know about the paw prints?
Brienne can't stop frowning, confused. She digs in her bag for pen and something to write on.
Jaime pulls his truck up beside the end of the jetty and turns off the engine. As he walks past the mailbox, he notices the flag is up and wonders if his letter back to the 'previous' tenant is still in it. He looks inside and sees a folded sheet of paper. He takes it out and begins to read as he enters the house, but his attention is diverted when eighty pounds of dog leaps at him.
"Fuck! Down! Get down!"
The dog had refused to go away so Jaime gave up trying to make it, and accepted his fate as a new pet owner. Odd how the woman at the general store had tried to get him to buy dog food, almost like she had known…
The damned thing won't stop launching himself bodily at Jaime every time he comes in the door, however. Probably he should make some effort at training the creature.
Bored now that the excitement of Jaime's return has faded, the dog ambles away, and Jaime stoops to pick up the paper he had dropped.
I'm not sure what I wrote that was funny enough to be a joke. I promise you, I only want you to send on any mail that the post office might miss in forwarding to me. Again, my address is 298 Eel Alley, King's Landing. Sorry for any trouble I may cause you.
Jaime perches on the stone ledge of a sculpture platform outside the architecture department of Baelor University, waiting. When Bronn finally emerges, Jaime grins at him.
"Ah, so the prodigal cunt returns," says Bronn and walks toward him, hand extended. "Thought you were too busy making money like the soulless hack you are."
"You're one to talk," counters Jaime. "And I'm never too busy to look up an old friend and buy him a drink."
" Only friend," says Bronn. "And I'm touched." His smirk is wry. "Why are you really here?"
Jaime laughs. "Had an errand or I wouldn't be within ten miles of this shithole."
"Where'll we drink?" asks Bronn. "The Dragon Pit, like always?"
Jaime's about to agree when the door behind Bronn opens and an older man comes out. As he begins to descend the steps to street level, he sees Jaime and their eyes catch. Jaime's breath stutters as his father freezes and they stare for several moments.
Then Tywin walks on, as if he hadn't noticed Jaime at all. Jaime's fists clench as he watches him leave.
"I can really use that drink," he says.
At the Dragon Pit, Jaime hunches over a grease-dripping burger, gaze distant, only half-listening as Bronn talks about his doctoral thesis. There are few people in the world less likely than Bronn Blackwater to be earning their PhD in architecture, but Bronn's been obsessed with castles his entire life and wants nothing more than to design huge stone buildings that hearken back to yesteryear. Jaime's long since given up on trying to understand him or anyone else. With how insane his own family is, he has no right to expect normalcy from others.
"So how's life in condo world?" Bronn asks him, dragging Jaime from the mire of his own thoughts.
"Can be tough, managing such a large project. Lots of logistics to plan for."
"Just tell me how much money you're making."
"At least give me a hint."
"I bought a house," Jaime admits. "On the God's Eye lakeshore."
Bronn whistles. "That much? What am I still doing here? Could have quit after the master's, like you, and been swimming in dragons by now."
"Don't be too impressed," says Jaime. "I'm mortgaged up to my eyeballs."
"Still," says Bronn wistfully, "a lake house. Guess that makes selling out your dreams and betraying your talent and family legacy totally worth it."
Jaime eyes him in a not-entirely-friendly manner. Fucker .
"Yeah," he says at last, and clinks his beer bottle against Bronn's. "Totally."
"So you never think about coming back, finishing your thesis?"
"Never," Jaime lies.