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What is True, But Not Ideal

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If the world went according to plan, then the night that Brienne met a Lannister, it would've been Jaime. They would have both been in the exact wrong place at the exact wrong time. They would've become odd companions. He would've suffered a grievous injury. She would've stuck by him. Things would unfold, their friendship, their careers, eventually their lives spilling one into the other.

But Brienne missed her bus. Jaime decided to finish what he was working on in the office. Instead of fortuitous collision, Brienne walked to the next bus stop to catch a later bus. It wouldn't arrive for an hour. The bar behind had a single light on. It was open, but apparently blessedly quiet.

She stepped inside. The place didn't reek of smoke as she expected. Instead there was a hint of wood polish and soft breeze from a lazy turning fan. Classical music was playing, something violin heavy and slow. There was no one behind the bar or customers crowding the tables. The lone occupant was very small man, seated at a booth with a laptop open in front of him. He looked haggard and harassed in the cold light of the machine, giving her a narrow glare.

“Um, I’m sorry I thought the bar was open.”

“So did I,” he shrugged. “And yet.”

They stared at each other for a long moment. Finally he sighed.

“If you want something, you’ll have to mix it yourself. My entire staff was hired out from under me. Again.”

She frowned, glancing around the bar. The decor was much more upscale than she’d expect for this part of town with some kind of brocade fabric covering the barstools and paintings that looked like they might be worth something to someone who knew about these things. It didn't look like a place where she might be ambushed and murdered for what was in her duffel bag.

“I can pay,” she offered.

“Don't bother. Just make one of whatever you're making for yourself. There’s fresh bread somewhere in the kitchen too if you want something to eat,” he rested his chin on his palm. She wondered if he was drunk. He was listing a little to the left even as he typed.

After a last hesitation, she headed behind the bar. Everything was sensibly enough laid out. There were fancier ingredients than she was used to, but drinks were drinks. She wasn't one to go out, but she could make a competent whiskey sour for herself at home.

“Any preferences?” she asked him.

“Something strong,” he clicked something on the laptop.

She made them both whiskey heavy sours and located the bread in the small kitchen in the back.

“Do you mind if grab some of this butter?” she asked, eying the rose shaped pats set in the fridge.

“Please.”

There was a tray, so she loaded it up and brought it to his booth, setting down his drink and taking the other for herself. He grunted a thanks, and kept his attention on his laptop. So she pulled out a paperback and read while she ate. The whiskey was good, the bread was better, and she was ready to chalk it all up to an odd night out.

“Can you make any other drinks?” he asked once he’d emptied the first.

“Martinis,” she considered, putting her finger in the book. “My father liked them occasionally.”

“You’re reading Proust. For a class?”

“I’m working my way through the classics. It passes the time on the bus.”

“From where to where if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Work to home,” she frowned.

“Do you like what you do?”

“It pays the bills,” she said neutrally.

“You didn't dip into the cash box while you were back there. Or take anything. You even asked about butter instead of assuming.”

“I’m not thief!” she sat up straighter. “Why would you-”

“Because the world is an unkind place more often than not. I’m sure you know that.”

She bit back an angry retort. He wasn't saying it to be cruel, she determined. Just making a point to which they could both agree,

“I've noticed.”

“My father wants me run back home and fail,” Tyrion gestured around the bar. “He has enough money to bribe away my staff. I can pay you a generous salary to be my bartender if you’ll sign a contract promising to stay for a year.”

“That’s insane.”

“He’s a little insane.”

Brienne jumped out of her skin. Another man had appeared seemingly out of thin air. He had a ragged look about him even though all of his clothes were in perfect repair.

“Bronn, this is my new bartender.”

“I am absolutely not,” Brienne crossed her arms over her chest. “I have a job already. And I don’t even know how to mix drinks. Or like bars.”

“Small issues at best,” her presumptuous companion waved it all away. “You clearly don’t like your current job much. YouTube can teach you how to mix drinks and I don’t care if you aren't the fastest gin slinger in the West. I need someone that won’t leave because more money gets waved under their nose.”

“If I say yes to you, that’s exactly what I’m doing,” she pointed out.

“Ah, but the difference is that you’ll like working here.”

“I really doubt that.”

Bronn pulls up a chair, not too close to her. There was enough room for her to get out and away if she had too.

“You just might though,” he was chewing on a toothpick. She thought that was something people only did on TV. “It’s dead quiet here. If you’re like this one, you can just read when you’re not working. Be good to have someone that doesn't look like they’ll fall to pieces if someone starts a fight.”

“I’m no bouncer,” she protested.

“But you know how to fight,” Bronn said without hesitation. As if he could see the ribbons from martial arts competitions hung neatly in a row in her tiny living room by staring into her eyes.

“You’re assuming-”

“You've got torn knuckles. Wary eyes. You probably favor your right side, but you’re not lazy enough to let anyone get the drop on you on your left.”

“Bronn is a connoisseur of ass kicking,” the bar owner offered with a lazy wink. “So. What’s it do be?”

“I don’t even know your name. You don’t know mine.”

“Brienne Tarth,” he spun the laptop around. It displayed her locked down Facebook page with the profile picture of her at a competition mid-kick. Her father had taken it. “The cameras have facial recognition software. The insurance company insisted when I decided to hang the paintings. From what I can tell you had a stellar academic record, but had to drop out for family reasons and you can’t afford to go back.”

“That’s none of your business,” she clenched her fists. “I’m going. Thank you for the drink.”

“Brienne,” he raised her hand and she couldn't say why, but she stopped. “We just met, I’m a strange man making a strange offer. You should leave. But, I think you and I have a lot in common. I need good help. You need a way out of a rut that life has handed you. Think about it.”

She left. She didn't even say goodnight. The last image of him, exhausted in the glow of the laptop light stayed with her. It stayed with her as she did her job, diligently totaling up inventories. It followed her to practice where she taught as well as learned these days. It followed her home again, where she sat in her sweatpants on the same bed she’d slept in as a girl. The house was hers alone now, echoing with the silences of grief.

She should have been caught up in an adventure now. She knew it somehow, in her bones. This person that she was meant to be that had never quite crystallized. But maybe adventure wasn't always a quest. Maybe it was a lonely man in his lovely bar, who thought she was the answer to a question she hadn't heard asked yet.

He was alone again a week later when she walked in. This time it was late afternoon and she could see the gold lettering floating in the window. The Lion’s Tale had a three star rating on Yelp that seemed mostly aimed at it’s inconsistent openings and closings. There were no stickers on the door to indicate reviews or credit cards taken, just pristine glass and a brass handle.

The owner was seated at the bar this time, laptop still open. There was a couple in one of the tables by the windows. They looked like they were too in love to notice that the bar was barely open.

“You’re Tyrion Lannister,” she opened with, coming to a stop beside him.

“I imagine that was an easy enough Google search,” he smiled brightly at her. He had a boyish look to him in the daylight, despite the bags under his eyes.

“It was a lot to catch up on,” she stood, feeling awkward looming over him. For his part, Tyrion seemed not to notice or care. “Why do you even own a bar?”

“That’s a question I get with surprising frequency. It’s a place where I can drink as much as I like and no one can kick me out. What’s not to enjoy?”

“Sticky floors. Taxes. The risks of running any small business?”

“I like businesses,” he shrugged. “I suspect if you give it a chance, you might like bartending.”

“I don’t like people.”

“Let me like them for you then. I can host. Just make drinks. Heat up appetizers. You can read your classics when things are slow.”

She raised an eyebrow, “Are things ever not slow?”

“You’d be surprised.”

She really would be. The couple didn't even have drinks. She considered her options and turned her back on Tyrion, heading to their table,

“Can I get you anything?”

The man wanted a scotch, the woman asked for something Brienne had never heard of. She got behind the bar. There’s a small well thumbed book ‘1001 Cocktails’ sitting neatly by the sink. There was a recipe on page 125 for what the woman wants. She followed it and the results look fine. No one complains. They leave a tip on the way out and Tyrion told her to pocket it.

“You can clean the glasses like this,” Tyrion leaned over the bar, showed her how the water would flow up when she pressed the lip of the glass down. Where to set them to dry. She made him a whiskey sour. She went to the kitchen and found chicken wings in the fridge with the heating directions on them from a catering company. It had a sticker on it shaped like a lumpy wolf.

They ate the wings together. Tyrion had strong straight teeth and he was impressively able to separate all the meat from the bone and get virtually no sauce on his fingers.

“I teach on Thursday nights,” she dropped a bone onto the plate. Her hands were slathered in sauce, of course. “And the last bus runs at 1am so I need to leave then.”

“Bronn could drive you home.”

“1am,” she repeated.

“Yes, he does have that effect on women,” Tyrion sighed. “All right for weekdays, but Fridays and Saturdays we don’t close until 2. I’ll pay for your cab.”

She nodded, even though she couldn't recall the last time she was up until 2am let alone working.

He handed her a small stack of papers that turn out to be a contract. She had never signed a contract for employment before. Let alone one that includes an NDA about him and all his dealings. There’s even a non-compete clause.

“I’m going to be a bartender, not your financial manager.”

“Of course, I’m my own financial manager,” he tapped on his mousepad, but she was starting to suspect he was good at using the machine as a prop. “But I told you, my family keeps hiring away my staff. If you sign that, then you’ll have some serious legal issues if you go the same way.”

“I’m good to my word,” she frowned.

“Sure, so are a lot of people I’m sure. But I don’t know you really and frankly, it’s beginning to hurt my ego that I’m a lousy judge of character.”

The salary was listed at the bottom along with a bulleted list of benefits.

“...you don’t want me to run drugs or something do you?”

“Alcohol only,” he tilted his head. “Why?”

“This is more than I've ever made. And I know it’s not a typical salary for this kind of job. Especially before tips.”

“I believe in paying a fair wage. Late hours, drunk patrons, you’ll earn it.”

She signed. She never told him that she’d resigned from her other job that morning. It had felt like a daring leap walking into her manager’s office and handing over her letter of resignation. A risk, a freefall. For a man that gossip rags had only nasty things to say and a bar with fine art on the walls.

“What made your mind up?” He asked, taking the contract back to sign the bottom. It occurred to her that maybe he hadn't been so sure. That the confidence and knowingness in his look that first night had been partially bravado.

“You’ll think it’s silly.”

“Maybe,” he allowed. “But I promise not to laugh.”

She nodded and after a deep breath she pointed to the portrait that hung directly across from the bar itself. In the past, Brienne hadn't been much moved by art. She liked museums because they were quiet and people were looking at the walls instead of other people, but she didn't frequent them.

So she had been surprised by how taken she was by the lady in the gilded frame. The style was impressionistic, the woman painted as if she were submerged in water with her features delicately blurred. She was a little heavyset and her nose was large, hooking off to the left. But the artist had clearly cared for their subject. Her expression was quietly joyful and very fond, her blue dress a match to her eyes. Her hair was rendered painstakingly in a long fall across one shoulder. Her gaze was to the viewer, her mouth slightly open as though she were just about to speak.

“Why her?” Tyrion asked, his voice pitched low.

“I liked her. She looks happy. Calm,” Brienne’s hands wound around each other. She felt exposed and vulnerable. When she looked at Tyrion, she was surprised that he looked like maybe he felt the same. “I thought I’d like to look at something like that painting while I worked instead of concrete walls.”

“I should hope so,” he closed his laptop. “When can you start?”

Chapter Text

The night Brienne started it was a quiet Thursday, after she’d finished teaching. She watched YouTube videos and did test runs of the more complicated drinks. Tyrion sat at the bar, tasting each of them and giving color commentary while Bronn disappeared into the kitchen.

“Did you muddle this or beat it to death?” Tyrion sipped an old fashioned with a grimace.

“What’s muddling?” she scrolled back the video to see what she’d missed.

“Ugh don’t make me come back there.”

He did wind up behind the bar. He stood on an upturned milk carton with a set to his jaw like he was preparing for a punch.

“Where’s the mortar and pestle?” she asked setting a clean glass in front of him.

“Should be to the left of the sink.”

He had quick hands, and once he warmed to his subject he was a good teacher. Perhaps the sips he’d been taken had added up to pleasant tipsiness.

“Yes, exactly!” he cheered when she served him a third version of a Long Island Iced Tea.

“I made pancakes,” Bronn emerged with a tall plate of dripping with butter and syrup.

“Why?” Brienne asked, taking a sip of the drink. It wasn't her kind of thing, but it tasted like success.

“Because it’s the only thing I know how to make and I’m fucking hungry,” Bronn set the plate down.

They ate pancakes and Brienne made shots until Tyrion and Bronn were leaning against each other like fallen trees. She kept her own head clear, taking the satisfaction of layering the liquors so they stayed separate and crisp like tiny flags in their glasses.

It didn't prepare her for her first Friday night.

It was already busy when she came in at six (a mistake she’d never repeat, five o’clock or earlier so she’d have time to prep) and Tyrion ceded the bar with ill concealed relief to make way. The lady in the painting watched over her as Brienne was put to the test pulling beers, pouring shots, and mixing drinks. Food orders came in fast and furious too, and she was continuously ducking into the kitchen to heat them up then losing track of the bar.

“I’ll help tonight.” Bronn warned, storming into the little kitchen. “But never again, you hear?”

“I hear,” she said as gratefully as she could.

The luxury of the bar was quickly buried in bodies, all talking and laughing, and milling around. Tyrion was somehow in the middle of it all, computer nowhere in sight. He mingled with practiced ease, stealing away empty glasses and bringing back full ones, chatting with everyone as if they were old friends.

The night spilled on, and near midnight, she was just starting to get an idea of the flow. There was a dance to it, a weaving that her old boxing instructor might reluctantly give an approving nod.

“You fucking bastard!” the words rang through the din. She turned hackles already raised, the tone of an insult one of her many sore spots.

The fist flew hitting its target, sending a young man cascading into the crowd. It was a match in an oil spill. The raucous fun ignited with rage heated by booze. Brienne didn't think, her body happy to take over. She leaped over the bar and into the fray, dealing out decisive punches and shoves.

The crowd parted around the main combatants. They were both men, but not particularly big specimens. It was easy enough to pick them both up by their shirt collars and separate them, their attempts at swatting her away utterly impotent.

“Gentleman, I have to ask you to take your fight outside, please,” she said as politely as she could manage.

“Fuck you, bitch!” the instigator yelped and attempted a punch that missed wildly.

Tyrion emerged from the edge of the crowd. He raised his phone and the flash went off.

“I’ll be adding them to our ‘No Entry’ list,” he explained. “Brienne, please see these men out. If they give you any trouble, I’m happy to call the cops.”

“Of course,” she frogmarched them both to the door and ejected them into the cold night air. Maybe it would sober them up.

When she turned around, the entire bar broke out in applause, even those that had been in on the brawl. She flushed scarlet and stepped back behind the bar to finish pouring the beer she’d started before the punch. The woman that had ordered it took it with her jaw hanging open,

“I wish I could do that.”

“Mike’s Gym has self-defense every Thursday night,” she muttered, wondering if she could actually die from too much staring. She felt every eye in the place boring into her.

“Here,” Bronn elbowed in beside her and handed her a glass of water. “Think you earned a break.”

She went into the alley and sank down next to the dumpster. Adrenaline still thrummed through her and she almost wanted to start another fight just to burn it off.

An orange ember flared to her left. Tyrion offered down a lit cigarette.

“I don’t smoke,” she protested.

“Neither do I,” he shrugged. “But sometimes it’s just the thing.”

She took it from him and sucked once on the end for politeness. It tasted awful, but there was something terribly nice about the burn that came after.

“That happen a lot?” She ventured to ask.

“Mm, once or twice a month. Usually Bronn breaks them up, but as he likes to point out early and often that’s not what I pay him for.”

“It’s not what you pay me for either.”

“No, but I’m guessing by your look when you ejected those buffoons that you’d do it for free.”

She stared down at the little orange flame, “I can include it under ‘other duties as requested’.”

“Excellent,” he didn't light another cigarette for himself. She remembered the kids from high school that would huddle at the tree line, a clan bonded by addiction. How they’d passed their smokes around. It seemed unhygienic, but she offered it back to him.

“Thanks,” he held it between two fingers, like an old fashioned movie star. Blew the smoke out of his nose like a dragon. “Saturday we have live music you know. Much louder.”

“Oh,” she said faintly.

His laugh echoed through the alley.

The live music wasn't what she expected. A Celtic group played frantic romps and went into the crowd to encourage dancing. There was foot stomping and wide grins along with a rampaging fiddle. Tyrion climbed onto the bar during their last set and did an impressive jig while everyone clapped and whistled. She winced for him though, as more than one person shouted something that sounded like ‘leprechaun’.

“Doesn't it bother you?” she had to ask when he finally came down and hid behind the bar, sitting on the milk crate she now thought of as his.

He rested his head against a shelf, looking up up up at her, “There’s nothing they can say to me that’s worse than the things I've already heard from people that I care more about. Height is just a fact. If they said I was a shitty dancer, now that I might take to heart.”

She wasn't sure that she believed him. She passed him a cold water instead of the requested drink. He made a face, but drank it down anyway. A woman approached the bar. Her hair was dark and her eyes liquid. Brienne had noticed her in the crowd. She seemed to have come with no one, making easy conversation with everyone.

“Is our dancer with you?” she asked, those liquid eyes darting around. Brienne shrugged.

“What can I get you to drink?”

“Can you give him this?” A napkin with a number. A name. Shea.

“Yes, m’am. Anything to drink?”

“Some woman’s left her number for you,” Brienne told him after seeing Shea off with a glass of white wine.

“Was she pretty?” He asked.

“Probably. The men in here seem to think so.”

“Give it here.”

Brienne handed it down. It had been a long night and she’d been handling a lot of drinks. The ink smeared, the last few digits hard to make out. Tyrion stuffed it in his pocket where it was further deteriorated, and finished his water.

She never did see the woman with the liquid eyes again.

The music changed each week. Polka, a Journey cover band, a two person ukulele team, paraded through. Her first month ended with a small swing band that had Tyrion ordering chairs and tables moved so a couple of hired dancers could teach basic moves to the crowd. Brienne watched a little jealousy as the dancers were swept around. No one would ever be picking her up like that, suspended in the air as if in flight.

“My Ned used to be quite a dancer,” the woman drinking vodka on the rocks all night, sipping it like it was fine wine hadn't spoken until then except to order. Her voice was feebler than the strength of her face suggested. “When we were very young.”

Brienne made a noise of agreement. After a month, it had slowly occurred to her that most people just wanted someone to listen when they told her their problems. An occasional sign of life was all that was required from her.

“I don’t know why I came here,” vodka on the rocks went on. “It’s just memories now. But I saw the sign and I thought...but this is the wrong one. He doesn't know.”

Vodka on the rocks was staring at Tyrion, who was currently engaged in a heated conversation with someone over a crossword puzzle while flirting outrageously with someone else, their hand tangled in his curls.

“Doesn't know what?” Brienne asked, her whole body pricked at attention.

“The Lannisters stole my children,” the stare moved from Tyrion to Brienne, “but not this one. I want them back safely.”

She left abruptly, leaving coins clattering behind her on the bar. Brienne didn't bother to count them, unsettled.

“Don’t mind her,” Bronn was sliding into the seat the woman had vacated. “She’s in here all the time spotting the same bullshit.”

The bullshit, according to Bronn, was that sinister Lannister corporation had acquired and gutted one of their rivals owned by the late Ned Stark. They’d in the process driven Ned to suicide (“She claims it’s murder,” Bronn chewed on his toothpick, “might even be right. I wasn’t there.” ) and scattering his children across the country. Some to distant relations, some seeming to disappear.

“But it’d be all over the news, wouldn’t it?” Brienne chewed on her bottom lip.

“Not if they stole them by convincing the oldest to get engaged,” Bronn shrugged. “It’s all over the gossip rags. The youngest is getting an education paid for by the Lannisters because they cherish the oldest so much as a future daughter in law. And the Lannisters can pay to keep faces out of papers. So Stark thinks her kids are stolen. The Lannisters say it’s all on the up an up. Young love, ain’t it grand?”

“So who’s story is true?”

“Probably neither,” he picked up Stark’s half-finished vodka and threw it down his throat. “Rich bastards got so many levels of secrets none of them remember what the truth looks like.”

“I hope you’re not including me in that assessment,” Tyrion emerged from the crowd. She wondered how he could hear above the music and other conversations. Or perhaps he had already been close by. He wouldn't have missed Stark coming and going.

“What should I say to her if she comes in again?” Brienne looked to the door though Stark was long gone.

“Whatever you want,” Tyrion said, the fatigue that seemed always to linger just under the surface rising. “I don’t own your words.”

“But the things she’s saying about your family...”

“They probably deserve it. The truth barely matters.”

“I bet it matters to those girls.”

Tyrion gave one sharp nod, “A point, Brienne. A sharp and deadly point.”

Weekdays were quiet, free of hollow woman with vodkas, free of live music, free of the delicate potential for violence. At first Brienne used the quiet to figure out making drinks, but after awhile when she was sure Tyrion truly didn't care what she did if there weren't customers, she did start to bring her books. She read leaning against the bar, stretching her legs and sometimes doing simple calisthenics to keep from freezing up.

“You know,” Tyrion looked up from his computer on Wednesday night. The last customer had left at ten, but they technically didn't close until eleven, “You never get a chance to dance on music nights, locked up behind the bar.”

“I don’t dance,” she said firmly. “So that’s fine.”

“So what were you just doing?” he asked mildly.

“Stretching.”

“It was very rhythmic stretching.”

“I was counting.”

“That’s dancing. Keep a rhythm, move your body.”

“I’m sure that’s how it works for other people.”

He tapped away and a brisk rock song started playing over the house speakers.

“Come on then,” he moved to the center of the room where there was just enough room for two people to move around.

“No.”

“Why not?” he gestured at the empty room. “There’s no one here to see.”

“Last I checked, you had eyes.”

“They don’t even match, it hardly counts.”

“I wasn't aware that affected your sight,” she scoffed.

She could practically see him switching tactics, “You have to unwind sometime surely. Do you relax when you’re home?”

Her house was a hall of memories. It was a comfort, but also a strangulation. A reminder of the echoing void where her family should be.

“Depends what you mean by relax.”

“I could get you the dictionary definition, but let’s agree that you mean ‘no’. What harm is there?”

The song gave way into something she recognized. An energetic pop song from the decade she was born,

“Tyrion...it’s ridiculous.”

“Ah, you mean that you and I dancing together is ridiculous,” he raised a finger. “So let me ask you this, who gives a flying fuck?”

She opened her mouth then shut it again. She came around the bar. He laughed and took her hand. If anyone could see, it would be a little ridiculous, but he showed her steps and they weren't so different from other things she could do well.

And really, who was there to laugh? Maybe a passerby would see them through the windows, but it was cold and dark. People hurried by. And inside the music was loud and infectious. She danced with him and for a little while, didn't think about anyone else at all.

If it became a small tradition at the end of very quiet nights, that was fine. It was lumped in with other new traditions. The cigarette they shared after a fight. Sometimes Bronn joined them, once with blood on his teeth so vivid in the moonlight that they insisted he kept the cigarette to himself. There was their discussions of what she was reading when she’d neared the end of some work or another. Tyrion’s arguments were hard for her parry, elaborate kingdoms of words, but she learned that he was willing to listen to her fumble through her thoughts.

“I just don’t understand why she’d go back to him,” Brienne had her hand on Jane Eyre, now firmly closed. “Turning down St. John...he was horrible in his own way, but Rochester was a monster. Keeping that poor woman locked in an attic.”

“I think it’s meant to be romantic,” Tyrion had pushed aside his computer. “That their situations are reversed. He needs her the way she needed him.”

“But they aren't, not really. He still has all the money, all the power. And being needed isn't romantic.”

“They loved each other.”

“Do they?” she gazed up at the lady in the painting, who’s gaze was so fond. “They both seem miserable about it.”

“That’s gothic romance for you.”

“I think it’s not for me. I’m going to move on to the Russians.”

“Oh, Brienne, I have such terrible news for you,” he laughed.

She started arriving a little earlier on weekdays too. The delivery boy that brought their catered food came at four and if it was left to Bronn, the food was shoved haphazardly around the fridge. She preferred a system to make it faster to retrieve. One Tuesday night, tucked in with the usual bulk orders were two dinners sealed in takeout tins.

“It’s silly for you to have eat so early and then take a break to have dinner when we’re just getting busy,” Tyrion said breezily. “This way you can eat when you get here.”

‘There’s two.”

“It’s rude to make a lady eat alone.”

The way he talked animatedly over the food about whatever political point had gotten him twisted up that afternoon (Tyrion had strong opinions about politics that Brienne had learned to give her bartenders ‘mm’ too) made it clear that it wasn’t her eating alone that concerned him. At least not entirely.

They ate under the watchful eye of the painted lady. Her place of honor, Brienne had slowly realized, meant that she could be seen from any point in the room thanks to her crisp reflection in the mirror over the bar.

Dinner was part of their traditions too. Bronn rarely joined them for those, stumbling downstairs only around opening on the nights he was ‘working’. She was never clear what he was doing for Tyrion and didn’t ask.

Chapter Text

“What do you think of this?” Tyrion showed her a print out of a painting while they ate. She’d been there for four months now and grew used to sharp turns in conversation.

“It’s a painting?”

“Yes, thank you for the verification, but I was hoping for something a little deeper.”

“I don’t know much about art.”

“I don’t care about the technique. You’re good at picking up on the feelings in a work. Just tell me about that.”

She’d only ever offered a single opinion of art to him and he very well knew it, but she obliged. It was a scenery, done in dark colors. It was a realistic style, it almost made her feel like she was there in the gloomy woods.

“I hate it,” she decided abruptly. “It’s cold. Mean.”

Tyrion turned it back, studying the image.

“I hadn't noticed that at all, but you’re right. It’s like it’s closing in on itself. Well, you just saved me a lot of money.”

“Why? Were you going to buy it?”

“I was going to try. The opening bid was higher than I thought, and it seemed a good moment for a second opinion. What about this one?”

He passed her another sheet. It was a still life, a jug rendered crystalline and a jumble of fruit around it.

“It’s fine? It doesn't make me feel like anything.”

“Pass,” he agreed. “This one?”

It wasn't until curious Google search later (working for Tyrion sometimes felt like a long series of looking up things), she realized he’d been considering a huge auction at Christie’s. Some of the works she’d dismissed were worth hundred of thousands of dollars. With widening eyes, she started searching for some of the paintings hanging in the bar (not the lady, that one she couldn't find). It became clear why they needed such advance security systems. There was one of an ugly squat dog on the wall near the bathroom that she hated and apparently that was by Manet, She’d had to go for a long run to get away from that knowledge.

The traditions piled up, grew layers, mutated, and after about six months, it was her birthday all at once. She didn't mention it, but of course it was something she’d written down on some piece of paper or another so she could get a paycheck. When she came in, Tyrion lit a single candle on a miniature cake. Small enough that there were two respectable slices to be carved out of it. The frosting was thick and a delicate hand had managed to squeeze in ‘Happy Birthday, Brienne’ in a gunmetal gray on top.

“It’s not much,” Tyrion sat down a small box beside the cake. “But I didn’t think you’d want something larger.”

“Thank you,” she said thickly, blowing out the candle before he could get it into his head to sing.

It was the first birthday she’d celebrated with someone else in four years. She picked up the present, and paused to admire the patterned paper, textured under her fingers.

“Don’t get the wrong idea,” he said quickly. “Totally platonic piece.”

It hadn't even occurred to her otherwise and she wondered if that was her being cruel to herself or to Tyrion or maybe...maybe it was something else entirely. She didn't really wear jewelry and was already trying to think about how to get out of wearing it when she pried open the velvet box. It was a watch. The band was almost a bracelet, loops of metal chain-mailed together. The face was practical, the numbers large enough to see even in the late night dim of the bar. There were deliberate gaps, so you could see the cogs doing their work just beneath the surface.

It was just....correct in a way she couldn't articulate. She put it on immediately and it seemed like it belonged there.

“I...thank you, Tyrion. It’s too much.”

“Just cut up the cake,” he snorted. “It’s nothing.”

They ate the cake and then dinner. Then coffees laced with Bailey’s and rum as the rain started to come down heavily, cascading down the street and drowning out the soft music.

The cake, the watch and definitely the coffee, loosened her up enough to finally asked,

“Are we friends?” It sounded foolish out loud though she’d wondered it for months. Was it friendship if one of them paid the other? Even if it wasn't to have dinner and talk about books?

But maybe asking wasn't foolish because for a brief moment, Tyrion’s face lapsed in the blank sad fatigue. Like maybe he wasn't sure what friend was these days anymore than she was.

“I hope so,” he said quietly. “I’d like that.”

“So would I.”

She had other friends, of course. Sort of, anyway. A few people from college that kept up with her on social media. Some of her father’s old friends that had partly become hers with so much time spent together near the end. And Renly. Maybe even Loras.

There was a brunch once a month or so, in Renly’s house. He hired someone else to cook it, and invited pockets of interesting people. She always went though she never felt entirely comfortable. It wasn’t her circle, people that Renly had met long after her. They had known each other so long that their friendship was more a fact that refused to become an untruth then anything nurtured between them.

“I've heard you've become good at mixing things,” Loras said when she arrived (early because punctual was early with Renly’s other friends). “Would you mind helping with the mimosas?”

“Of course,” she stepped in to pour and watch the bubbles rise through thick orange pulp.

“How’s self-defense going?” Loras asked casually as he twisted an orange half into the juicer.

“Good, we have about fifteen students now. A few of them have asked about continuing on.”

“That’s good, that’s good,” he picked up another orange, but just held it in his hand. “I’m going to propose to Renly today.”

“Oh,” A giant invisible hand clenched around her in the same grip she had on the champagne bottle. “Congratulations, I know he’ll be thrilled.”

He would too. He loved Loras without the casualness that permeated the rest of his life. Their love was undeniable and floral as the gardens they tended in their backyard. If it made Brienne jealous and sad, that was her own problem and she tried hard to never show a lick of it.

“I hope so,” Loras smiled down at the orange halves. “I’m telling you because it seemed like..well. It would be an unpleasant thing to surprise you with.”

“I’m happy for you both,” she said with as much emphasis as she could.

“He’ll ask you to be his best man...woman, you know what I mean.”

“Why me?” she topped of one spindly glass and reached for another. Her fingers looked enormous against the thin stem. She tilted her wrist so she could look at the cogs in her watch, moving precisely the way their maker had intended. “I’d think his brother maybe.”

“Please,” Loras rolled his eyes. “He’d choose one of the dogs over Stannis.”

The proposal wasn't what Brienne would've wanted. There were over thirty people in the living room when a blast of a French horn silenced the crowd and Loras strode in, dressed in a white suit with a bouquet of roses. He said a lot of words that the blood rushing in her ears blocked out. Renly actually started crying, the first time she’s seen that since they were in middle school and a bully had called him an awful word in front of the entire cafeteria.

She’d awkwardly comforted him under the lone tree on the football field, patting his shoulder and wanting badly to do more. More of everything. She wanted all of him, but she was bad at being greedy and good at letting go of things she couldn't have.

Now today, she had just a little less, an immeasurably small amount about as heavy as the flashy ring Loras put on his finger.

But she hugged him and told him she was happy when it was her turn. Renly took one of her hands in his,

“You’ll stand up with me, won’t you?”

“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be on the day,” she assured him. It would mean wearing a dress, probably. Putting on makeup and being looked at, spoken of behind hands. There would be photos. Loras’ gossipy relatives happy to make hay of her straw hair and awkward gait in heels.

And for a long time, she would've said she’d much rather stand where Loras would be. Childish dreams for a childish girl, she reminded herself and let the crowd carry Renly away to the next well wisher.

Normally after brunch, she would walk a few miles to the bus station, taking the time to enjoy the neighborhood with it’s tidy gardens. If the weather was poor, she’d indulge in cab. But today the thought of going home, watching television while she folded her clothes left a bitter taste in her mouth.

She took out her phone and changed her mind a dozen times before texting, Would you be interested in getting very drunk with me today?

It was a Sunday. The bar was closed on Sunday and Monday and Tyrion did...whatever it was he did until she saw him again on Tuesday night. She hadn't ever asked and he hadn't ever offered. For a brief, entertaining moment she imagined him going to church.

It’s before noon. he replied swiftly.

It can wait an hour.

It absolutely cannot. Day drinking can only be done correctly if it’s before noon. Come around the back, I’ll let you in.

She got an Uber and was there in a half an hour.

He opened the door wearing a red silk dressing gown, tied over striped pajamas.

“Really?” she asked at a loss.

“I know, I know, I’m a stereotype of myself.” He turned his back to her, padding back in on bare feet.

She assumed that they would drink in the bar, but he opened the door from the alley and then the door to the basement, but instead of taking the flight down into the crate filled darkness, he headed upwards. She’d known that Bronn lived above the bar, mostly ignored the other set of stairs to give him some privacy. They passed a closed door on the second floor that must've been Bronn’s apartment, then continued upward.

Tyrion had lived here long enough to make adjustments. The banister up to the third floor had been lowered. The knob on the door at the top of the stairs would've banged her on the thigh.

“We don’t have to drink here,” she said aloud, giving him the out. “The bar is fine.”

“It’s our day off, let’s pretend that means something,” he waved her a way, fished a key out of his dressing gown pocket and opened the door.

“It’s a library!” she blurted.

And it was something like one. The room was a wide generous space, a wall of windows looking out onto the streets. The three other walls were lined with bookshelves that came up to her shoulders, absolutely crammed with books. They spilled out onto the floor in piles and the coffee table groaned under the weight of more. At her eyeline and above there were paintings. They were hung with Tetris precision, as eclectic as the collection downstairs.

In the center of it all was a comfortable looking couch that faced the windows. An archway led to rest of the apartment, the suggestion of a kitchen and more doors. It was clear though that someone spent most of their time here, on the couch with their feet up.

“It’s something,” Tyrion laughed and headed through the archway. He returned with two clean, mismatched glasses and an enormous bottle of whiskey. “Now, what are we toasting too?”

She sat down on the end of the couch that didn't have a worn patch on it, “The engagement of my friend.”

“Ah,” he opened the bottle, the seal cracking with ease. He poured her a glass almost up to the rim. “Don’t worry, this isn't the good stuff. Swill away.”

It wasn't exactly cheap either, probably too good for how quickly she finished her first glass and set it down. Tyrion refilled it quickly, “That must've been some engagement.”

She took the second glass, watched him fill his own.

“I knew he’d never love me back. He’s been with Loras for years,” she looked out the great windows. A sliver of the river crackled at the edge of the view.

“But the heart wants what the heart wants?” he raised his glass to her. “To foolish hearts then.”

She touched her glass to his and for once matched him drink for drink until she spilled from the couch to the floor. Her head was spinning and remembered why she didn't like to get drunk.

“The ground is hard,” she complained. “Why don’t you have carpets? Don’t your feet get cold?”

“I have a very nice rug in my bedroom,” he was sprawled out on the couch, one end of the tie to his dressing gown brushing over her cheek. “And these are original hardwood floors.”

“So very old wood.”

“The oldest,” he agree solemnly. “Wood so old it doesn't even dream of being able to get it up.”

It took her a moment then she laughed, too drunk to care that she sounded a bit like a donkey, “That’s horrible.”

“Isn't it? I dread the day,” his empty glass rested on his sternum. “What’s life without pleasure?”

“Still better than being dead?”

“Most likely.”

From her new vantage point, she could see odd smudges on the floor. They were colorful, blues and yellows, not the sedate dark green that peeked out in the few thing strips of exposed wall.

“Do you paint?” she asked, glancing up at him.

He stared blankly down at her, as if she’d asked something difficult. As if she’d surprised him.

“I used to,” he said eventually.

“Do you miss it?”

“Did you have a hobby as a child that you gave up?”

“I used to ride horses,” she pressed her hand to the floor, trying to root herself.

“Why did you stop?”

“My horse died. He was old. I was in college. It didn't make sense to get another.”

“And now?”

“Impractical.”

“But you miss it?”

She closed her eyes. She could imagine the wind in her hair. “Very much.”

The booze was carrying her under, but she half-remembered him saying something. Something about painting and the way we lose track of the things we love.

They’d started drinking so early that when she came too, the sun was just setting. He’d tossed a blanket over her at some point, something heavy and soft that smelled like cedar. There were faint sounds coming from the kitchen, so she heaved herself upward to investigate. Her body felt heavy, but she didn't have a headache at least.

The kitchen alcove had more large windows, a small table shoved up against them. Tyrion was at the stove, one eye entirely bloodshot, but otherwise apparently entirely fine and potentially even sober. The entire kitchen was designed for him and she felt the disorientation acutely, like she was a bumbling giant just down from the beanstalk.

“My specialty: grease and carbs,” he waved his spatula at one chair and she sunk into it gratefully. “Hangover foods. I can’t cook anything that won’t harden your arteries.”

“I didn’t know you could do anything except press microwave buttons, so I’m already impressed.”

“You’re catty when you’re hungover,” he slid bacon onto toasted slices of bread. Her stomach rumbled irritably. “I like it.”

“Thanks for letting me pass out on your floor,” she mumbled.

“What are friends for?”

“Is that a Tyrion question or a rhetorical one?”

“I mean I thought it was rhetorical, but now I want to know what you mean by a Tyrion question,” he cracked an egg into the pan.

“You ask open ended questions and then fish information out of the other person,” she waved her hand loosely, “you know that thing you do to get customers to tell you their life story.”

“Is that what I’m doing?”

“See, that. Right there. Because you want me to answer, read into your motives and then you’ll know more about me somehow and you don’t have to tell me anything. It’s annoying.”

He slid her a plate, “I’ll try not to do it to you.”

“Thanks,” she bit into the greasy pile, “double thanks. That’s really good.”

He had his own plate, but he wasn't eating, more mashing it to death with a fork.

“I’ll take the next bus home,” she assured him. “Get out of your hair.”

“You’re fine,” he shrugged. “I didn't have plans. I was thinking of going to the movies.”

“To see what?”

“Whatever superhero thing is out now.”

“Not a black and white art house masterpiece?”

“Sometimes the only thing you want is the greasy breakfast sandwich of cinema. You want to come?”

Her hangover succumbed to his cooking and the large popcorn she bought for herself. Tyrion stole from it without apology. He was an awful movie watcher, critiquing character’s choices and commenting on cinematography choices. At one point he blatantly took a nap through a series of action scenes.

It was hysterical. She was still grinning when she got home. It wasn't until she’d showered and got into bed that she remembered how her day had started. Her heart still hurt a little, but as she lay in the dark accessing the damage, she found it not so deep as she had feared.

Life moved on. She started running again regularly to build up endurance for an upcoming meet. She took a new route and passed a house with a car outside, for sale sign clear in the window. She didn't need a car exactly. Between buses, Ubers, and Tyrion’s insistence on weekend taxis, she got around fine. There was a grocery store on the end of her block.

But the car was old, probably not too expensive. She was making enough money.

It was a convertible. This could not be overlooked. An old one, not a luxury brand, but it looked like someone had kept it well. It wasn't painted a flashy color, just a pale silver. The soft top was a sensible black. The seat would go back far enough to accommodate her.

She drove it to work two days later with the top down even though it was probably too cold a day for it. The wind ran through her hair, tousling it. With her sunglasses on and her body encased in metal and speed, she felt...

She felt like herself. Whoever that was.

She parked a block down, but that wasn't far enough to avoid detection. Bronn was out on the street with a wild grin, investigating before she’d put one foot on the sidewalk.

“A proper beast,” he declared.

“I like it,” she locked the door firmly.

Tyrion ambled up behind Bronn,

“You just need a silk scarf in your hair.”

“Why?” she kept her hand on the door, listening to the engine tick as it cooled.

“People in topless cars should always have scarves in their hair to trail dramatically behind them in the wind.”

“Convertible, not topless.”

“You say car, I say metaphor for stripping,” he winked. “What’s its name?”

“Cars don’t need names.”

“Probably not,” he headed back to the bar. “But there are so many things we don’t need to do.”

It was around that time that Stark, Catelyn as Brienne had come to know her, stopped her irregular appearances altogether.

“I hope she’s all right,” she scrubbed at a stubborn spot on the bar with a wet cloth.

“I doubt she is,” Tyrion sighed. “I heard she’s moved to be closer to her son. They’re probably up to something foolish.”

“Like what?”

“Any retaliation against my family is foolish.”

Brienne considered the vodka. Catelyn had been cold and sometimes unkind, but her pain was palpable. She poured in a shot of vodka to a larger glass. She mixed it with a cordial or two, just thinking about what might go. She spiked it with a sprig of rosemary, a lonely flag of green in the clear drink.

“What’s that?” Tyrion took it from her.

“I don’t know I just made it,” she thought of her nameless car.

“It tastes good. You should add it to the repertoire.”

“It’s the Stoneheart,” she decided.

After that, it seemed easy to break away from the broken-spined copy of ‘1001 Cocktails’ and helpful videos. She experimented on weekday nights, making her own recipes. Tyrion indulged her without acknowledging it, ordering unusual ingredients that would pop up behind the bar without explanation. A typed list appeared, edited as she invented.

Each one she made with someone in mind. The Stoneheart was joined by the Sword, a heavy hit of gin tempered only by a dram of lemonade for Bronn. For the musicians that played her favorite songs on a rough Friday night, she built a pomegranate martini with seeds at the bottom glowing like gems. There was the well dressed bald man that took the corner booth and always had a flurry of lookers around him, leaning in for his secrets. For him, she mixed a drink that was entirely clear, very sweet, but had a surprising punch of heat as an aftertaste that she called the Spider.

“I want you to interview some people with me,” Tyrion tapped the slowly growing menu. “For the kitchen.”

“I can handle it.”

“Sure, but you don’t have to. We’re busy enough without you having to disappear back there,” he frowned at his computer. “Of course, I can’t hope some honest soul wanders in my door again at just the right moment. One cannot have two miracles in a short span.”

“What about the delivery boy?”

“Who?”

“The one that works for the caterer. He only gets a few hours a week there. He’s asked a few time if we have work here,” she’d been annoyed by the earnest question in the middle of busy moments, but there was utility in earnestness.

“What’s his name?”

“Podrick,” she said, surprised. He usually knew everyone. It was nice to be the one that knew something.

“Let’s give him a try. If he gets hired away then at least we bettered his circumstances.”

Podrick wasn't quick, but he learned and he did his best. When Tyrion warned him about offers of money, Podrick just shook his head,

“But I like working here, sir.”

Tyrion stared at him then up at Brienne, “Did you make him a lab? Rub a lamp? Reproduce yourself through parthenogenesis?”

“Sometimes, there are just nice people in the world.”

"I think the lamp theory is better."

Podrick’s drink was mango puree, lime juice and ginger beer. He was only nineteen, after all. She called it the Squire and it proved more popular than expected. She added a few more non-alcoholic mixes to the menu after that.

She made one for Renly, of course, though he had never come to the bar and she doubted he ever would. The Black Stag was rye, rose-tinged simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, and bitters.

It took her awhile to make one for Tyrion. He didn’t ask, but she could tell he was a little hurt by it. Still, she wanted to get it right and it came to her on a busy night as he wove his way through the crowd. He paused, for just a moment, still as he rarely was on such a night. He looked entirely like the lion that he’d named the bar for just then.

She muddled cherry and coffee bitters at the bottom of the glass mug, a shot of the bourbon he favored as the last drink of the night, another of rum, and then splashed the sides with chocolate syrup before pouring in a full cup of hot strong coffee. She kept it black, but dashed cinnamon across the top. It wasn’t quite right, so she fished under the register where she shoved the more ridiculous things he’d bought and she had no use for.

She crushed the gold leaf in her fingers and watched it drift down.

“Here,” she passed it to him without ceremony the next time he circled around to the bar. He took a curious sniff.

“And what is this one called?” he blew across the surface, cinnamon and gold flecks dancing in the suspended darkness.

She waited until he took a sip and then another.

“The Lion in Winter.”

He looked at her over the glass, steam rising before his eyes, “I like it.”

“I’m glad.”

Chapter Text

Later, she’d marvel at how long it took her to meet the other Lannisters. A near year in Tyrion’s orbit and none of them had shown hide or hair. He talked about them as if they were omnipresent, lurking just out of vision. She’d looked at pictures of them, studied the shapes of their faces in case they tried...something.

There had been an attempt to hire her once. She never bothered to tell Tyrion. No one came down from on high or anything. A customer asked her if she’d considered working catering events, she’d said no. He came back the next time and asked her about working private parties. She said no thank you. Then he came back with a check with a lot of zeros on it and a vague threat.

“Sir,” she leaned down across the bar until their faces were mere inches away. “Take your money back to your boss or I will shove it so far up your ass that you cough pennies for weeks.”

He left and that was that. She assumed that they decided she was too much effort for too small a problem. Maybe that was even true.

After all when Jaime Lannister came through the door on a warm autumn evening, he certainly wasn’t looking for her. The crowd was packed, but Tyrion was holding court in a booth, showing a bevy of young women how to look like you were drinking without consuming a sip.

Tall, movie star handsome, and moving with force, the crowd parted for the man yelling,

“Goddamnit Tyrion!”

“Look, ladies, it’s my brother! Jaime, good evening. Care for a drink?”

“Where is it?”

“Where is what?” Tyrion raised an eyebrow. “There are many things in the world.”

“You know what, Tyrion. Father is an absolute fury....I can’t talk to you about this here.”

“Here is where I am, so that’s a shame for you,” Tyrion turned back to the women. “We close in an hour. Have a drink on me if you want to wait.”

He stormed towards the bar and Brienne squared her shoulders.

“What’s worth drinking?” he demanded.

“That depends on your taste,” she tossed the most stained copy of the specials menu at him.

“I can’t be bothered, just...pour me a beer, wench.”

She seethed and considered ignoring him or giving him a mug of the cheap stuff the college kids nursed, but she couldn’t bear to give him a less than stellar impression in case in reflected on Tyrion. Not that Tyrion seemed to care. She’d thought Jaime was the one family member he still had some regard for, but she couldn’t see why.

He got the good dark stout and as she set it down, he was studying her face. There was the sibling resemblance stronger than mere similar features, the calcultating gaze without mercy or shame.

“I know you from somewhere.”

“I doubt that,” she said tartly and moved on to the next customer.

She tried to forget about him, but he held down the corner of the bar as everyone else left. He didn’t take out his phone or fidget like most people did when they had to wait. He drank slowly, he watched her, and glanced over his shoulder at Tyrion.

When his glass was empty she poured him another and set it wordlessly down in front of him.

“You won the Regional MMA Championship five years ago. They changed the rules after that so women couldn't compete against the men,” he nodded, apparently pleased. “What was it...Bethany? Brittney?”

“You might as well keep on with wench because I won’t answer to anything you call me,” she sneered.

“Is that right?” he laughed and it sounded rough.

She cleaned the bar diligently, closing out tabs like her life depended on it. When she glanced up to see who was left, Tyrion was disappearing into the kitchen with two women.

“Oh you absolute asshole,” she said under her breath.

“I’ll wait,” Jaime leaned back in his stool. “Another beer, wench.”

“I can’t serve you. Local laws, no liquor sales after hours.”

“You’re not selling it to me. Tyrion said it was on him.”

“He said one. You’ve had two.”

“And he’s making me wait like a petty asshole. He owes me.”

“Maybe, but that’s on him.”

“Did you really threaten my father’s man that you’d make him shit pennies?”

She started counting the cash. He started saying random numbers to throw her off.

“Were you born this horrible or did it take time?” She grimaced. “I don’t know that you’re waiting around for. Whatever you think he has, he’s not likely to give it up.”

“I don’t think it’s here, I just think he might know where it is. He always seems to know.”

“He pays attention, he’s not omniscient.”

“What about non-liquor? Is there anything to eat? You won’t deny a hungry man some food, would you?”

“The kitchen is closed,” she said with some satisfaction and stepped into it to dismiss Podrick for the night in case he’d overheard the request and started to be over helpful again. If she hid in the kitchen, reading a paperback, that was her business.

Eventually Tyrion did come back downstairs, the ladies departing in a cloud of perfume and sweat out the back, blowing kisses to him.

“Brienne, why are you still here?”

“As if I’d leave him alone in there.”

“He’s hardly going to ransack the place,” Tyrion ran a hand through his hair. “It’s Lannister business. You don’t have to be here.”

“Do you want me to leave?”

He pushed into the bar without answering. She followed him.

“Thank you for gracing me with your presence,” Jaime hadn't moved, didn't seem bothered really by the wait. It only made her more irritated that he seemed so calm.

“I was in the middle of something,” Tyrion took the seat next to him. Brienne stationed herself behind the bar. Jaime glanced between them.

“How does that work?” He asked.

“With a milk crate and creativity,” Tyrion said dryly. Brienne flushed darkly, but before she could get annoyed, Tyrion went on, “And entirely not what you think. Get your mind out of the gutter and tell me what has you here of all places.”

“Joffery’s birth certificate is missing,” Jaime bit off.

“And what? You think I absconded with it?” Tyrion rolled his eyes, “Brienne if you would be so kind...”

She started making him a Lion in Winter, taking her time about it. She was aware it brought her closer to the pair since the coffee machine was right before Tyrion. He was drawing her in. Why? To show Jaime she could be trusted or to have an ally?

“Not many have access to the family archives.”

“Not many, but there are cameras everywhere.”

“We’ve got no idea when it went missing. Tapes are being reviewed, but there are gaps. Normal ones. Power outages, repairs.”

“You know the county will just give you another if you ask.”

“Tyrion,” Jaime said it like it was heavy. Like his name had a thousand words behind it.

“I can do what was done before. I’ll see if I can find out who might’ve made off with it, but the work was good. They won’t be able to prove anything with a piece of paper.”

“Not casting aspersions on your deft hand, brother. But you know no one will be satisfied until it’s returned.”

“Does Cersei go by ‘no one’ now? Charming name change.”

“Yes, well,” Jaime frowned as Brienne crumbled the gold leaf over the top of the coffee and handed it Tyrion. “What in the hell is that?”

“A night cap,” Tyrion smiled faintly down into it.

“It looks ridiculous.”

“And yet I have a drink and you don’t. I’m guessing you couldn't keep a civil tongue in your head?”

“To a bar wench?” Jaime snorted and got to his feet. “Why bother?”

Tyrion sipped his drink once, he seemed to be looking somewhere else entirely. Through her, the bar, looking elsewhere in time and space. He made no reply.

“Because then you might have a drink and a civil goodbye,” Brienne bit off.

“Do you still fight, wench?” Jaime narrowed his eyes. “Or do you use that ungainly body just to serve drinks? I wonder if you were ever even any good. Or did they just pity you?”

“I’ve taken down men like you a thousand times,” she forced herself to keep eye contact with him. His eyes might have Tyrion’s shape and some of their cleverness, but she didn’t see her friend there at all.

“There are no men like me,” he lifted his chin.

“There are always men like you,” she said shortly.

Tyrion snorted, apparently returning from wherever he had been, “Please don’t compare my brother to Loki, that would make me Thor and I think we can agree that I’m ill suited to swinging a hammer around. You would make an excellent Captain America though.”

“Thank you,” she said mildly.

“The two of you deserve each other,” Jaime declared. He slapped Tyrion on the back, “Good night, brother. Wench. Maybe we’ll meet in a match one of these days.”

“You best hope not.”
When he was gone at last, sending a blast of chill air from outside as he held the door open a second too long.

“And that,” Tyrion lifted his mug to her, “Was the most agreeable of my relations.”

“How did you get out alive?” she slumped forward to lean heavily against the bar.

“By leaving pieces of myself behind,” he pat her hand. “My apologies. I suppose a different man would've defended your honor.”

“I can defend it perfectly well myself,” she poured herself a glass of water.

“It’s late. At least stay here tonight. I’d feel terrible if you drove off the road because my family dramas kept you late.”

“I don’t think I can fit on your lounge.”

“Take the bed, I doubt I’ll sleep much tonight and if I do, the lounge will fit me fine.”

She wanted to protest, but she did feel exhausted. Partially from the hour and partially from the encounter.

“Thank you.”

“Brienne, very honestly? No, thank you.”

She went to her car and retrieved her gym bag. She could sleep in her track pants and old t-shirt just fine. Tyrion pointed her through his kitchen when she stepped into the apartment.

“The bedroom is to the left, bathroom to the right. Lock the bathroom door if you’re using it. I’ll doubtless forget I’m not alone and we can spare each other that bit of embarrassment.”

“All right, good night, Tyrion.”

“Good night.” He ensconced himself on the couch, some tome or another open, a thick blanket draped over his lap. He looked comfortable enough that any guilt about displacing him was eased.

The bathroom was larger than she would’ve guessed. There was an enormous bathtub set into the floor and a shower stall with a bench in it. Everything smelled like cedar.

As she entered the bedroom, she recalled what Tyrion had been up to just an hour or so before and her stomach flipped. She didn’t want to sleep on filthy sheets. But somehow the bed was neatly made. She could see a hamper slightly over flowing in one corner and a warmth of gratitude. Without taking much more of a look around, she climbed in. In typical Tyrion fashion, it was very soft and ridiculously over-sized. She could stretch out entirely and her toes only just reached the end of the bed.

Being in a strange bedroom should’ve kept her awake, but everything caught up with her at once and she fell into a deep sleep. She felt muzzy when she woke, unsure of the time. She could smell coffee, and sat up, scrubbing at her face.

In the light of day, his bedroom was more like the bar than the crowded living room. Aside from the bed with literally dozens of pillows that’d she’d shoved off as she slept, there was only a wardrobe and a single bedside table with a lamp, and a restrained three paintings.

Each picture was clearly picked with more care than the living room clutter. A dreamy scenery above the bed depicted a castle so far in the distance that it was almost a suggestion of lines where it sat perched at the edge of an enormous cliff. To the left of the door was a more realistic depiction of the same scene, the castle closer now and in focus. The light was fading from it, an autumn scene. Though it wasn't in ruins neither did it seem occupied. A rise of the tide, crashed against it's cliff as if nature herself were close to reclaiming it.

The last painting was on the left wall, just in the place where someone lying down or waking up would see it immediately. It was enormous, nearly the same length as the bed, but most of it set in shadow so that the center of the painting almost glowed against it. In that dreamy style was a woman laying on a bed, her eyes just barely open and one hand outstretched. She was naked, a sheet pooled at her waist. It was intimate and not quite erotic, the hand reaching out to someone just out of frame, beckoning them back to bed.

Brienne’s breath caught in the back of her throat. She knew this woman. Had looked at her every working day of the last near year. The hook to her nose, the set of her shoulder, even the adoring look on her face. There was even her blue dress, now discarded on the floor in a pile with other more formless garments.

A suspicion (probably long overdue) began to grow in her mind and she stood, stepping to the painting. It was hung much lower than convention and she had to bend to find the signature. It wasn't a flourish like she’d anticipated, but small monogram, the T and L so closely married that it looked more like a single mutant letter. It was gold. Of course.

She unbent and studied the picture again, the line of the woman’s arm, her expression. She wasn't sure how long she stood there when she heard the door creak open.

“Damn, I knew I’d forget...” Tyrion stopped dead. His hair was wild, pressed flat on one side. “Sorry, I just meant to grab my pants.”

“Who is she?” She asked, sitting back down on the bed.

“Would you be very angry if I said I don’t want to talk about it?” He asked hopefully.

“I assumed you didn't since you didn't even tell me you painted the first one.”

“That I thought you knew. Or I did. I thought you were flattering me at the time. I didn't know that you didn't do flattery yet,” he slipped his hands into his robe pockets.

“I like this one better,” she folded her hands in her lap. It should feel awkward, looking at a painting of a naked woman together. One that Tyrion had clearly known, but instead she just felt sad. “She looks very happy.”

“I used to think she was,” he took a step toward her, turning as if to see if he could catch the same angle as her.

“You don’t have to tell me.”

“Let’s at least have breakfast like civilized people first.”

He poured a dram of whiskey into his coffee and she let it go unremarked. It was raining outside, the damp lashing against the windows. It could've been any time of day at all. There were bagels, delivered perhaps while she slept, still warm and cream cheese.

They ate slowly, watching the clouds pass over their city.

“I haven’t even spoken her name to another person in years,” he leaned back in his chair when not even a crumb remained.

“You don’t have to now,” she shifted uneasily.

“But you’ll wonder if I don’t. The human mind abhors a vacuum.”

“I can stand it. I have stories I’d rather not tell.”

“Let’s exchange then. A story for a story.”

“So that we’ll both be miserable?”

He tipped his whiskey into her cup too,

“Let’s adjourn to the living room. We can be miserable in comfort and surrounded by beautiful things.”

“I’m beginning to think that’s your motto.”

“Just beginning? Brienne, really. Catch up.”

It pained her to think of a the tale she’d have to tell him. He already knew, at least sideways, about Renly. And while her life had been a series of small humiliations, only one other was long enough to count as a story. She sat on one end (her end, now, she visited him here often enough for that) of the couch.

“I met Hyle in my sophomore year of high school,” she started.

“Hold on, I thought I would get the honor of humiliating myself first,” he protested.

“Oh-I-”she paused and then laughed, impulsively kicking at one of his feet with her own. “Shut up.”

“Shutting up,” he mimed zipping his lips.

She hesitated, trying to make sense of the old wound all over again, “He was a senior, part of a group. Not popular, but you know...not unpopular?”

Tyrion nodded, so she went on, “He was on the lacrosse team, they practiced at the same time as my field hockey team-”

“You played field hockey?” Tyrion’s eyebrows went up, “Your team must’ve won every game.”

“They benched me,” she said, and she was surprised by how bitter she still was about it. “I was red carded too often. I never did anything outside the rules. It wasn't my fault I could hit harder and move better.”

“Of course not,” he tsked. “So you were warming the bench unjustly and?”

“And the lacrosse team would practice on the other field. I’d watch their games sometimes instead of ours. No one cared. They noticed. Invited me to practice with them,” she sighed. “They didn't hold back either. It was the first time anyone my age respected what I could do and didn't tease me for it.”

She’d told him about this father’s gym before, how she’d squared off at fourteen with veterans of all styles and held her own. She missed the gym, sweat sock stink and all, almost as much as he missed her father himself.

“A heavy drug,” Tyrion tapped his fingers against his thighs. “To be understood.”

“I never thought of it that way. It just felt good,” she shrugged. “I was younger and dumber. I appreciated the compliments. I don’t even know when Hyle started actually flirting with me, but he did it slow enough that I didn't smell a rat. Then he asked me to go to a pep rally with him. As a date.”

“Do pep rallies still exist? I thought they died with our grandparents.”

“Didn't you go to them?”

“We didn't have them in boarding school.”

“Huh,” she took a sip of her laced coffee. “We got there and it was fine. I was so excited and there was a bonfire and he took me behind the bleachers and kissed me.”

“What a romantic.”

“I thought it was then. I don’t know. He started pressuring me though. Touching me. It was my first kiss and that was enough for one night.”

“Very prudent.”

“It was a good thing I did. I went to the bathroom to get away and get my head right. There was a girl inside, I didn't even know her name, but- she was nice about it. Explained how the entire team was betting on who could-” she pressed her lips together. “You can guess. He'd set up a video camera to prove that he'd won.”

“I apologize on behalf of all men everywhere, we’re a terrible lot,” he sighed. “I’m so sorry, Brienne.”

“I never told him I knew,” she took another sip. “I dropped out of field hockey, avoided him until he graduated. He tried to see me at the gym once. I had to tell my father what he did because he kept saying I should give him a chance. So he knew. No one else.”

“What about Renly?”

“Never!” her stomach flipped even now considering it.

“I guess it would've been salt in the wound, no matter how he reacted,” he frowned. “It seems that no matter how different you and I seem, we’re cut almost wholly from the same cloth. If I’d had half your sense, our stories would be almost exact.”

She probed the wound again, the memory fresh again in the retelling. But now it struck her how long ago it all was. Maybe she could have a little more pity for that girl, who wanted what most people wanted.

“Her name,” Tyrion inhaled and exhaled, but barely met her gaze, “was Tysha and she was my wife.”

“I didn't know you’d ever been married.”

“In the eyes of the law, I never was,” all of the suppressed fatigue gathered under his eyes and rasped his throat. “Jaime and I were on a road trip, a sort of last hurrah before he went overseas. We were at rest stop, but the bathrooms were taken, so I just went around the back...do you ever think about those moments? Those cross-hairs of fate?”

“I’m the maker of my own fate,” she shrugged.

“I go back and forth,” he put down his mug and she realized his hands were shaking. “She was laying in the grass, I almost didn't see her. They’d torn at her like animals, left her bleeding. She refused to let me call for help. She didn't live that far from there, in a rundown barn in a field. The kind you’d never notice. Never think someone maybe lived at all.

“I told Jaime that I’d met a girl and he was so thrilled that he said he’d wait for me back at the hotel until I was ready to leave. I stayed the night with her and in the morning...I knew I couldn't bear to ever leave her again.”

“How did you know?” she asked, bewildered. “From one night?”

“I was seventeen and didn't know how to stop at a kiss,” he shrugged. “She was beautiful to me and she told me I was handsome as if she meant it. Do you understand that?”

She could only nod, a lump in her throat.

“I told you that our stories were alike. We got married in a chapel after two days. I told Jaime to go on without me, but not why and he obliged. It was the beginning of summer, no one expected me anywhere until September. For two months, we lived together there. I painted every day. We talked about everything. Had a ridiculous amount of sex. It was heaven.”

She almost wanted to beg him to stop. To not tell her. To let her imagine her friend young and happy in a barn in the sun. But that was unfair, probably to the both of them and she stayed silent.

“My father sent Jaime instead of himself. He took me outside and before I could tell him how happy I was, he told me that it was all a lie. Tysha was a sex worker and he’d staged the scene for me to lose my virginity. He thought it was good that’d I’d run off with her, but marrying her had been a bridge too far. It was time to come home.”

“But surely she couldn't have pretended for so long?” She protested.

“Jaime took me to a seedy motel. She’d gone out for the day and he wanted to show me what she was doing. There were a line of men, employed by my father...it was brutal. Bloody. Relentless. And father made me watch while she cried until...until she couldn't anymore.”

“He was there?”

“Through Jaime. It wouldn't work now, but then Jaime was so terrified of him. We all were. I...I probably would've done the same if our positions were reversed.”

“You wouldn't,” she said staunchly.

“Thank you. But I would've. I pray you never meet the man himself to find out why. I don’t remember much after. I was blackout drunk for two weeks and when I was lucid again, I found myself back at school as if nothing had changed. The marriage was annulled. My signature is on the paperwork, declaring it a fraud. It all vanished, except for my paintings. Jaime saved them all somehow.”

“Why would he do that?”

“I asked myself that over and over. I kept them locked away, considered burning them. Then I grew older. And maybe a little wiser. My sister made a mistake, one I had to cover up and I went back to look at some accounts, including Jaime’s. Back and back...and it was strange. There was no fluctuation in his accounts before or after I met her. Not in my father’s, not even in some of the men who did their dirty work. Not in all the shadows our money has ever hidden in. So I cornered Jaime and I asked him. To his credit, he didn't lie.”

“She wasn't a sex worker,” she guessed, heart in her throat.

“No. It had been real, all of it. And some poor girl who had just loved a boy that was kind to her had her life ruined. All because my father didn't want me to marry someone poor or worse, be tricked into thinking I was loveable at all. Jaime kept up the story. He was worried I’d kill myself otherwise.”

Brienne reached across the couch. She took one of his shaking hands in his.

“I’m glad you didn't.”

“Most days so am I,” he laughed mirthlessly. “I did punch Jaime, if that makes you feel better. I suspect it hurt my hand more than his stomach.”

“I’m sure I can find a reason to give him a black eye.”

“Don’t get arrested over it,” he shook his head. “That’s when I decided I had to leave. I’d been loyal for my entire life. It took me some time to amass enough money under my own name, but here we are. I dug out the best of the paintings and hung them and you saw her and you stayed. So that’s the story.”

“It's much worse than mine.”

“All pain is from the same well,” he squeezed her hand. “Who cares how deep it’s drawn from?”

“Did you ever look for her?”

He nodded, “But there’s nothing to go on. She’s either dead, homeless, or found a way to hide herself.”

“And what about revenge?”

This smile was more genuine and far toothier, “My dear, I thought you’d never ask.”

Chapter Text

Not two days later, she got a chance to give Jaime Lannister what he so rightfully deserved and she didn't even have to come find him. It was Thursday night, so she was at Mike’s gym in the main classroom with fifteen women in varying styles of yoga pants and determined expressions. And Podrick. He’d asked her to teach him some moves and hadn't been deterred when she told him he’d have to start here like everyone else. After the first week, he had also bought yoga pants though he wore gym shorts over them.

This was apparently very endearing though Brienne thought he looked ridiculous. The other students crooned over him until the boy was more red than white.

“Today we’ll work on an assailant who grabs you from behind,” she announced once they’d done their stretching. “Who can tell us what our priorities are?”

“Escape, run, hide,” Missandei spoke up. She’d been in the class the longest and Brienne was hoping she’d take the suggestion of continuing on. “Fight if you have to.”

“Exactly. I hope to give you all the tools to fight off an attacker, but in a real situation, you’re only goal is to stay alive. Today we’ll work on breaking holds.”

She was halfway through the first demonstration, letting Missandei mime stepping on her toes when she noticed a flicker of gold hair in the doorway. Jaime was leaning in the doorway like a king surveying his lands, a smirk on his face.

“Can we help you, Mr. Lannister?” she asked as soon as the move was successfully demonstrated.

“I doubt it, wench. I came looking for a spar, but you seem occupied.”

“Her name is Brienne,” hissed a student. Brienne was surprised to see May, who was barely a hundred pounds soaking wet and usually quiet as a mouse taking a step toward him.

“Is it?” Jaime shrugged.

The tenor of the room changed. Half the class were staring daggers at him and Jaime shifted the weight on his feet. The king had misjudged his battlefield badly. It was embarrassing enough to be called out, but the ferocity of her students took her off guard and made her pause. Just a long enough to hear a tiny voice in her mind that sounded suspiciously like Tyrion in her ear.

“Class, I think we’re in luck,” she inclined her head to Jaime. “Mr. Lannister has been a regional MMA champion for the last several years. I’m sure he can take what we can dish out. If he can spare his time, he’s a good height to be our attacker for the evening.”

“I’m not-” Jaime started. May curled her hand around his bicep, looking up at him.

“It’d be useful to have a live dummy,” she said innocently.

“Unless you’re worried about them mussing your hair?” Brienne raised an eyebrow.

“All right, wench,” he stepped to the front as if he wasn't being towed along. “Show me what you've got.”

“Not me,” she gestured at the class. “Them. Right, let’s start with knee kicks. Don’t hold back, this is your chance to see what you can do.”

To his credit, Jaime at no point tried to flee or hand out nasty insults. He even corrected a few of their forms when Brienne was helping someone else. Infuriatingly, the students had thawed to his dubious charms by the end of the night, most of them thanking him as the headed out.

“Good night, m’am,” Podrick saluted, the last one to go. Jaime was sitting on a mat stretching his knee. Usually she’d go and find one of the veterans for a spar before heading to the showers, but it felt wrong just to leave.

“Thank you for being gentle with Tanya. She 's the most sensitive of the students.” she settled on.

“Those aren't students,” he groaned, his knee giving a quiet ‘pop’, “they’re a pack of feral wolves that you've trained to tear men to pieces.”

“I think you’re trying to insult me, but I can’t think of a better outcome.”

“What do you have against men?” he rolled his left shoulder where Missandei had elbowed him with particularly viciousness.

“As half the species? Nothing. As individuals who judge a woman's worth on their looks and use their strength and privilege to use them? A lot.”

“I doubt anyone’s tried to use you,” he sneered. “Is that where it comes from?”

The hot flare of anger rose in her.

“I would rather be alone for the rest of my life then let anyone like you touch me for longer than a handshake.”

“So fight me,” he got to his feet. “You know you want to kick my ass. Do it yourself.”

And it was there, tempting to put his smug face to the mats with her fist. She wanted to so badly.

“No,” she said crisply.

He deflated like a balloon, “No?”

“No. My shift starts in a half hour. “

“Tyrion won’t care if you’re late.”

“You don’t speak for him. You certainly don’t speak for me,” she headed for the door. It pricked her to turn her back, but it also weirdly felt like victory. “Anyway, I only spar with friends these days.”

“Have a lot of those do you?”

Podrick was waiting for in the hallway, looking uncomfortable and stalwart. He mouthed ‘You ok?’. She gave him a stiff nod.

“More than I thought.”

She almost didn't tell Tyrion about it, but he was having one of those nights where he was threatening to buy a Monet because he was melancholy. If nothing else, it would distract him from trying to get in the way of his own plans.

“Tell me the part where Roz crushed his instep again,” he leaned in.

“Oh, tell him how Sarah bit him!” Podrick leaned in from the kitchen.

“Is he even supposed to be working tonight?” Tyrion frowned.

“You make up the schedule,” she pointed out.

“Do I? When did we decide that? Did I agree to it?”

“I thought you were good at business,” she shook her head.

“Part of being good a business is outsourcing,” he protested. “Tell me about the biting part.”

She started to, but apparently wasn't making it exciting enough, so Podrick took over. There were a lot hand gestures and more swearing than she remembered.

“And then Brienne told him that she wouldn't spar with him and he looked like a kid with no dessert.”

“He’ll be back then,” the woebegone ‘buy all the things’ expression had vanished. “I can hardly wait for the sequel.”

She’d snorted and gone back to her book. The Russians were mostly behind her now and she was on the Great Gatsby and had been for the better part of two weeks.

“How many classics are books about horrible rich people doing horrible things to each other?” she grabbed her ankle, stretching out her thigh.

“A disturbingly high amount,” Tyrion leaned his chin on his palm. “So are most tabloids for that matter. In fact, I think that'd be a good title for my memoirs. Would you rather read about horrible poor people?”

“I’d rather just go back to adventure books. At least someone is doing the right thing in them.”

“No one’s forcing you read these,” Tyrion gestured at the blue cover with it’s creepy eye.

“Do you like mysteries?” Podrick piped up.

“I haven’t read one in a while. Why?”

He lent her the first in the Rizzoli and Isles series. Brienne was hooked. She might've stayed up far too late reading the second one and devoured the third instead of going for a run like she’d planned. The series carried her straight into the following Thursday and she was already fearing the future bereavement of having none left. There was apparently a television show which she was already considering how to watch without bingeing.

Missandei was waiting outside the classroom door for her, “He came back.”

“Who?” Brienne asked, but she already knew who. “Is he bothering anyone?

“He told us we could ask him to leave,” she shrugged. “We figured it was up to you.”

She took a deep breath and stepped into the room. Jaime was standing at the front of the class, but off to one side. He’d mirrored her outfit this time, track pants and a loose t-shirt. Podrick was hovering closest, trying to look firm. It was a bit like a kitten hissing at a bear.

“Mr. Lannister,” she heaved in a breath, “have you enrolled?”

“You mentioned last week that you were going to work on breaking holds,” he said mildly. “I thought you might need a second pair of hands.”

He wasn't wrong. And while she was suspicious of his motives, it would be a help. She turned to her students, “Mr. Lannister is volunteering for another round. If you feel uncomfortable with a man holding your wrists, or this man in particular, step to the left. We’ll demonstrate, then practice.”

It divided the class neatly in half.

“Good, now what’s the first thing you should do if someone grabs your hands, wrists or arms?”

“Yell?” May asked. “Even if you can’t see someone, there might be someone else around.”

“Exactly,” Brienne gave her an encouraging nod. “Unless you think making noise will further endanger you, it’s always good to try to bring attention. Many attackers are relying on your silence and fear. What next?”

“If you have a hand or leg free, use it strike as hard as you can at a weak point,” Missandei put in. She was on Jaime’s side of the class, making vicious eye contact with him. “If you don’t, try to headbutt them in the nose, throat or stomach.”

“Anything else?” She surveyed the class.

“Go limp,” it was Jaime who spoke, his expression lacking all teasing. “Even if you’re small, humans are hard to carry and drag around. Drop all your weight on them and they might have to adjust their grip.”

“Good point,” she glanced at him, but he was looking at the students not at her. “Whatever it takes to get away. What we’re practicing today is if all else fails and you have to break a hold another way. As always, we’re looking for ways to use our bodies against them. Mr. Lannister, if you’d grab my wrist?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” there was the teasing again, his eyes alight as he wrapped his fingers around her. His hands were warm and calloused.

His eyes were very green this close and she could see the small wrinkles at the corners of his eyes that betrayed his age.

“The first thing is to try to turn your wrist of you can so that your thumb is to the weakest part of their grip where the forefinger meets the thumb,” she tried to turn his wrist, but he was holding her hard. Not even close to demonstration pressure. She gritted her teeth and twisted, with one easy motion she pulled loose with a hard yank. He grinned at her. “All right, let’s practice and then we’ll regroup to talk about kicking.”

That set the tone for the rest of the class. He was an amiable instructor with his half of the class, listened patiently while she taught, then grabbed her with too much intent during the demonstrations.

“Good work,” she clapped her hands together to bring the class back together. “We have two more sessions left in this class. We’ll do body throws next week.”

“Sounds exciting,” Jaime’s smile looked stolen from a magazine. “Can’t wait.”

“Are we going to throw him?” Missandei asked eagerly.

“If he wants to come back, then yes.”

“But how?” She frowned. “The mass...”

“Are you calling me fat?” Jaime asked amused.

“We can do a quick demonstration,” Brienne decided. “Podrick, come stand here in front of Mr. Lannister.”

The boy scrambled to obey. Jaime made to grab him, apparently anticipating where she was going,

“Good, now Podrick, grab his wrist. You’re going to bend from your hips and shove back against him hard. Then pull. The key is to to push back hard enough that you’re throwing him off his center of balance. Go!”

Podrick startled, but did as she’d instructed and a satisfying moment later, Jaime was on his back.

“I did it!” Podrick’s eyes went wide.

“Good job, pup,” Jaime laughed, then kicked out with one leg, knocking Podrick on his ass. “But remember what the wench said. Don’t hang around once you get someone down. Run.”

“Right,” Podrick rubbed at his tail-bone.

The class filed out and Brienne went with them. Jaime didn't say a word to her which made her feel even more unsteady.

For better or for worse, she didn't have much time to spare for him. Almost as soon as she was out of the shower, her phone rang.

“Brienne!” Margaery chimed as she picked up. “I’m so sorry I waited so long to call. How are you?”

“Fine,” she started to dry herself off balancing the phone as she fumbled for her clothes. “You?”

“Just marvelous. My spring show is ticking along and I’m absolutely buried in fabric. Which reminds me, you should come by for a fitting.”

“Of what?” she stopped with one leg in her pants.

“For your wedding outfit,” Margaery laughed. “Don’t panic. I know your tastes, no frilly dresses await you. I’m thinking since we’ll be on opposite sides we could do something matching. The boys have gone for black and gold as their colors.”

“Of course,” she finished pulling on her pants. “You don’t have to make me something, I’m sure I could-”

“It would be my pleasure, truly. But! That’s not why I’m calling. The boys have decided they want a joint bachelor party. It makes our job much easier, don't you think? I'm going to organize a wine tasting, I have a few contacts at the vineyards. Maybe a club in the evening? If you want to take that part, I could give you some contacts.”

Brienne slipped on her undershirt and realized that for the first time in her life she could say, “No need. I know a guy.”

“Oh! If you’re sure. Just let me know if it’s available on the 3rd? I think that’d be a good day.”

As soon as Brienne got into work, she sat next to Tyrion instead of across the bar.

“I heard my brother came back to plague you,” he raised an eyebrow.

“I’ll tell you about his many bruises later. I need your help.”

“For what?”

“Planning a bachelor party. For Renly and Loras. I hate parties, but I want theirs to be memorable. Margaery is already planning a wine tasting for the afternoon.”

He put his hand to his heart, “I would be honored to help you make a Tyrell party look like an outing to Chuckie Cheese.”

“That isn’t actually my goal.”

“It should be.”

There were apparently a lot components of party planning that she hadn't thought of and she was grateful as Tyrion went to work, making phone calls and plans as she got ready for the evening’s work.

“I’ll be invited, of course,” he’d started a guest list while she was still slicing lemons. “If I’m doing the planning, I want to reap what I sow.”

“You do remember this’ll be mostly gay men?”

“Good, I’ll get to try out different flirting skills,” he grinned and winked. “And get snubbed by a whole new set of people.”

“You don’t get snubbed that often.”

“Mmm, amazing what money can do.”

Between watching her new show, planning the party and trying to fend off pleas from Margaery to get a fitting, the week flew by. This time she wasn't surprised to see Jaime already at the front of her class. It was almost irritating how well they worked together and how the students had warmed to him.

“Tomorrow is our last week together,” she reminded them all. “If you’re interested in continuing, plan to stay a little later and we can discuss your best options.”

“What other classes do you teach?” May asked.

“Just this one,” Brienne shrugged.

“Oh,” she looked a little crestfallen. “I don’t know if I want another teacher.”

“This is the only time slot they have for me,” she said apologetically as if it didn't gall her. The gym had begrudgingly given her the time slot as long as she didn't get paid for her efforts. Their classrooms were in high demand for more intensive, more lucrative types of training and she refused to charge their usual rates for her class.

“So why not go somewhere else?” Jaime butted in. “There are other gyms in town.”

Because this was her home in a way her house never had been. This was where her father had mostly lived, where she could still almost see him walking confidently through the halls.

“We’ll see,” she said vaguely.

“Do you still have room in your next class?” he went on.

“Probably, it doesn't usually fill up,” she hadn't checked the roster yet anyway. The room could fit thirty, she’d never had that many.

“Do you think you could take a child on?”

“That depends on how old,” she said warily. “Why?”

“It’s my niece,” and there again went all his teasing as if it was a mask he could discard. Perhaps the sincerity was a mask too, but she had a hard time believing it. Maybe it was that his solemnity looked so much like Tyrion’s. “She’s only twelve, but she has the Lannister looks and a good deal of naivety.”

“You worry about her.”

“Constantly. I know she’s young, but anything you could teach her would be a help. A favor to me.”

“I’m not interested in doing you favors.”

“I can pay-”

“Or you money. But I’ll do it for her. Every little girl deserves to know how to protect herself.”

“Thank you,” he smiled at her. “I had a feeling you’d say that.”

With that in mind, she went to check the roster on her way out of the building. To her utter shock it was full, the very last slot written in beautiful script ‘Myrcella Baratheon’.

“We've had a few more inquiries too,” Mike told her, leaning out of his booth. “I’ll start a waiting list.”

“Thank you,” she nodded to him and went on her way.

Podrick was waiting outside the door, “Um, can I get a ride?”

“You’re not on the schedule tonight.”

“There is no schedule and anyway, the bar is closer to my house.”

She and Tyrion had reached a bit of a loggerheads on that point. Both of them refused to believe it wasn't the other one’s job to make up a schedule. Since Brienne just came in every day they were open she didn't need one and Tyrion lived there. For the last week Podrick had just shown up every day, apparently amused by their inability to send him away once he was there.

“Fine, let’s go.”

Of course Podrick bounced into the bar ahead of her and immediately started telling Tyrion about her class filling up.

“Were you eavesdropping?” she accused.

“It’s the only way to learn anything interesting,” the boy said without shame.

“You’re teaching him your ways,” Brienne accused.

“Don’t pick fights in front of the child,” Tyrion grinned. “You’ll damage his fragile psyche, my dear.”

“I’m only making decaf tonight.”

“Your cruelty surely knows no bounds.”

“That’s what you get for buying a coffee machine you’re too lazy to figure out how to work.”

She’d noticed something speculative in his eye, but let it go. Sometimes with Tyrion you had to let him play out his games or he’d pout for days.

This one didn't even take long to reveal itself. It was late on Saturday night and she had just poured the last of their clientèle into an Uber. Before she could get back inside, Tyrion blocked the door,

“It occurred to me that our contract will be up in a few days.”

“Will it?” her heart seized in her chest. She was outside in the dark, and the bar seemed very far away.

“Oh don’t have look at me like that. I’m not going to fire you or anything like that. I thought we might make some amendments to our agreement, that’s all.”

“What amendments?”

“Follow me,” he stepped down onto the sidewalk and moved a few feet to the storefront to the right. It had been closed as long as Brienne had worked there, the windows soaped over and a ‘For Rent’ sign in the window. It wasn't odd. The neighborhood wasn't exactly booming.

Tyion pulled out a keycard and swiped it across a recessed reader near the door. He pushed the door open and went in,

“I bought a few other buildings when I grabbed up the bar,” he explained as he fumbled in the dark for a moment before turning on a light switch. It flooded the space.

It was a single room that might have been a retail store once, judging by the holes in the walls where shelving had been ripped away. The floor was a bland laminate and everything else was white. It smelled musty from disuse.

“The apartments on the other floors are easy to rent, but I can't find a taker for this.”

“Why not turn it into an apartment then,” she turned around slowly accessing it.

“I’d thought about it, but it’d be big renovation. For awhile I thought about breaking through the wall and expanding the bar. Maybe having more of a restaurant. But then I remembered I barely liked having a kitchen as it was. So.”

“So?” she prompted, aware he was going for points in dramatics as he flung his arms wide.

“I was thinking instead of a raise for this year, I would lease this space to you as part of your contract. For your classes.”

“I couldn't,’ she stood in the center of the empty room. Unwillingly, she could see how easy it would be to convert. Mats on the floors and walls. There was probably a back room that could become a bare bones changing room. “It’s too much.”

“How so? I've heard you’ll be training my niece after all. She probably won’t want to be in a space with grown ups. This way you could expand your classes. Have one for teenagers, intermediate sessions. Knowing you even if I made you charge, you’d probably waive half the fees. If you have the space for free, you won’t have to worry about it.”

“Tyrion-”

“The space is empty,” he touched his hand lightly to hers. “And I think the world could use more people that know how to protect themselves, don’t you?”

It was impossible to say no after that.