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.
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,
“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.”
“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'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?”
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.
“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.
“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,
“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.”
“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.
“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?”
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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.”
Content Warning: This is the chapter that contains mentions of rape, suicidal thoughts, and black out drinking.
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,
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
The day of the bachelor party came too quickly. It had rained three solid days in a row and Brienne knew if she didn’t some exercise in before being trapped in a limo with too many people, she might do something regrettable.
With a sigh, she headed for the gym. She hated running in the indoor track. The regulars would leave her alone, of course, but there were always new people ready to gawk at her in her shorts and well-worn sneakers. She waited until after peak time and was relieved to find very few people on the track. For the first few minutes, she had it entirely to herself. Her music was set low, just enough to help her keep pace. she was really warming up, getting into it when another runner entered her peripheral vision.
Damn. She put on a little more speed, hoping to give them the message that she wasn’t interested in keeping pace. The other runner sped up.
She groaned under her breath. He was wearing ridiculously short shorts, the kind that showed off every over articulated muscle in his thighs and a maroon tank top with the Kingsguard logo on it.
She ran faster.
He kept pace and then as if purely to spite her, surged ahead of her.
There was only so much a person could take. She gritted her teeth and let loose, catching up easily and passing him by. For a moment any way.
Neither of them could keep the upper hand, gaining and falling behind. Brienne could feel sweat pouring down her back, sticking fabric to her skin. To her satisfaction, Jaime’s pretty mane of hair was starting to wilt and hang limp around his face.
It was lucky that Mike came over the loudspeaker, asking people to clear the track for an incoming practice or they might have kept on until one of them dropped to the floor. Instead they came to a shaky halt by the doors.
Jaime bent over, hands on his knees breathing hard and grinning like a wild man.
“So those legs are good for something besides kicking men in the nuts,” he wheezed. “How come I haven’t seen you here before?”
“I usually run outside.”
“Same. How about tomorrow at 10 at the park off Main?”
“Why would I want to do that?” she asked between breaths, hoping she at least sounded less winded then him.
“I always run faster when I have pacing partner. Don’t you want a challenge now and then?”
“Maybe,” she allowed.
“I’ll be there either way. See you later, wench.”
She checked the time and panicked, kicking into high gear to get showered and changed in time to meet Margaery outside.
“Brienne!” Of course she was in a gorgeous dress with a plunging neckline and her hair pulled into a complicated updo. Brienne felt shabbier than she even expected, her face still bright red from excursion and her slacks wrinkled from their time in her gym bag.
“It’s good to see you again.”
“Yes, isn’t it?” She was summarily pulled into a hug that smelled like the coast on a warm day.
“Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. Can you imagine it being all those men and just me?”
“Yes,” she said with a small smile. “I remember you preferring that.”
“When I was a silly girl, and even then, certainly not men who were more interested in each other than me! Come on; wait until you see the limo.”
The limo was opulent without being overstated. The leather of the seats was buttery under her hands and there was champagne chilling in a bucket tastefully inset into the seat.
“Tell me about your spring show,” Brienne turned to her as the car started, sure that that would get the conversation flowing without much input from her.
“We can talk about that later,” she put her hand on Brienne’s arm, eyes sparkling. “Did my eyes deceive me or were you up to something with Jaime Lannister? I saw him leave just before you and he looked like someone had gotten him hot and bothered.”
“No! No,” she was suddenly grateful for the flush of exercise to hide her blush. “I was going for a run and so was he. Pure coincidence.”
“But you work for his brother, surely you’ve met before?”
“Only a few times,” she swallowed.
“Did you like him?”
“I thought he was arrogant and nasty.”
“Hm,” Margaery’s excitement was apparently undimmed. “Too bad. He’s been voted King’s Landing’s most eligible bachelor more than once.”
“I can’t imagine why he’d be single,” she said dryly.
“I always forget how funny you are!” Margaery’s laughter sounded like bells.
They picked up the rest of the party at Renly’s house. Eight more people piled into the car, including Tyrion, who had apparently decided today was the day to experiment with a silk ascot.
“You look like you escaped from a period film,” she whispered as soon as he was settled next to her.
“This is Prada,” he protested. “Very trendy.”
“Hello, Tyrion!” Margaery leaned over Brienne to greet him, “I’m so glad you could join us.”
“Thank you for letting me invite myself along,” he shook her hand. “I can’t remember the last time I saw you. It’s been years.”
“You know very well it was at the Sotheby’s auction two years ago,” she shook her head. “I’m still mad at you for snatching that lovely Rodin drawing out from under my nose.”
“Ah yes, the dancer. You can visit her, if you like. She’s hanging in the bar.”
“I just might! I hear you have an excellent bartender,” she winked at Brienne, who had tried to press herself as far back in the seat as she could.
“You’d be welcome, of course. Did you design that dress? I heard you were showing in Paris this year.”
“In two months, can you imagine? I’ve been working my fingers to the bone,” and she was off at last and Brienne settled in to let the conversation flow over her. On the other side of the limo, Renly was chatting animatedly with one of his college friends with his hand casually on Loras’ knee.
He looked happy and when glanced up, she smiled at him and was pleased when smiled back. They didn’t chat until the third winery. She didn’t like wine much, so mostly wandered the grounds and snacked on whatever was meant to pair with their samples. Renly caught up with her while she lingered in front of a cheese platter trying hard not to look like she’d eaten half the plate while everyone else was talking.
“How are you?” Renly entered her sphere and despite herself, she relaxed.
“I’m good. Planning on painting the walls for the new space this week.”
“Maybe I should sign up for a class,” he patted his stomach which as always was only a few degrees off flat. “You know, the last few years I’ve been worried about you. Since your father died and that terrible bylaw change for the Regionals, you just seemed to go flat.”
“It was a hard time,” she frowned.
“But you rallied. Look at you now. New career, side business. You seem happy.”
“I am,” she realized. “I really am. “
“I’m sorry I couldn’t be more help when you weren’t,” he looked off. “You were there for me through so much. And I just didn’t know what to do.”
“You did help. You were there. You kept inviting me to things. That mattered,” she assured him. He’d noticed? He’d noticed and felt at a loss to comfort her, just as she had to him so many times. It unknotted some old pain she hadn’t known was still lodged in her chest.
“I hope so.” They stood in a companionable silence until he gave her a side look, “Margaery ratted you out. She says you’ve been avoiding a fitting.”
“I don’t need something special, really,” she groaned. “I can get something from the store.”
“She is really good at what she does,” he elbowed her, “just let her do her magic. If you hate it, I’ll buy you whatever polyester hellscape you want and defend it to her to the death. Ok?”
“Fine,” she sighed. “It’s your wedding, I want to look how you want me to look.”
“Thatta girl,” he laughed. “Oh hey, thanks for bringing Tyrion along. He’s hysterical. And that ascot! Is it Prada? I love it.”
“If you care about me at all, you will never tell him that.”
By the time Loras came to round them up for the next stop, they were laughing together and it felt like old times, but better. So much better.
“Are you two done?” Loras asked, a twitch of a smile at the corner of his lips.
“No,” Renly stuck out his tongue at him. “Not ever.”
Wine tasting concluded, they pulled up to the restaurant Tyrion had booked. It was French and there was a lot of food of undetermined ingredients to her, but she ate gamely and stuck to water as the rest piled on more wine. It was a very merry group that finally pulled up to the club. She had been bracing herself for it, and sure enough there was a blast of music as they entered a dark smoky room.
“Everybody give a big round of applause to our soon to be newlyweds!” The DJ yelled over the loudspeaker. A spotlight landed on a drunkenly stunned Renly and Loras. “Let’s give them a great big Martell welcome!”
The entire place seemed to shake with yells and a blast of dry ice spread over the stage as they were led to a table right in front. Five men walked out in various degrees of clothedness and the host slid out on his knees through the middle one’s legs,
“I hope everyone here is ready to party!”
It was barely controlled chaos from there on out. Brienne practically hid under the table as Renly and Loras received lap dances on stage so raunchy that she was fairly sure her toes were blushing.
“I didn’t know full nudity stripping was legal here!” Brienne shouted over the music.
Tyrion who had his head tilted to one side, watching one slightly shier dancer on the pole shouted back, “The Martells are married so deep into the force, none of them would dare raid the place. Does that guy look familiar to you?”
She glanced up at the flexing thighs and ass, “Not from that angle!”
Then he turned around, releasing two fistfuls of glitter out onto the stage,
“PODRICK!” they yelled in tandem.
“Oh, shit,” Podrick’s eyes went wide and he ran off the stage.
“I am never going to look at him the same way,” Tyrion said, proudly.
“I’m never going to be able to look at him at all!”
The music went on and blessedly, finally the evening drew to a close. Margaery was the only other person that didn’t seem completely wasted and even she was a little pink cheeked,
“Brienne! That was fantastic. We really pulled off a great party together,” she grabbed onto Brienne’s arm, maybe for a little stability which was a shame because Brienne already had a different drunk person (she still couldn’t tell Renly’s college friends apart) under the other arm like a sack of potatoes. “I haven’t seen that many firm butts in one room since I got to judge the Mr. Beefy competition!”
“Brieennnne,” Tyrion whined, “Carry me above these glittering peasants, I can’t find my feet.”
She sighed, and tried to figure out how to grow a third arm.
“I’ve got him, m’am,” Podrick stepped into their shambling group, properly clothed. “I..uh...started working here a few months ago. You know. Tip money.”
“How do you have the time?” Tyrion asked, leaning against him. “Or the glutes?”
“The glutes are from self-defense class!” He said proudly. “I worked out in between like Brienne advised us too. And I only work here on nights when I don’t think you need me there. They’re shit about schedules here too.”
“I’m so glad I could help,” Brienne muttered darkly, catching Margaery before she went headlong into a gutter and almost dropped her other charge.
“I’m not ashamed,” Podrick looked at her directly. “But I hope you don’t think less of me.”
“It’s not that,” she gave him a weak smile. “I was just surprised. I think of you as very young.”
“I’m nineteen. It’s on the up and up.”
“I remember being nineteen, that’s all,” Brienne sighed. “You're a smart kid, if you're happy then it's fine by me. Not that you need my approval.”
“You have mine!” Tyrion decreed. “I didn’t know I knew a male stripper. I feel enriched.”
Somehow they got everyone into the limo. Renly was asleep with his head on Loras’ lap. Podrick got into a conversation with Margaery about the finer points of tear away pants that Brienne tried hard not to listen too. Or notice when he got out at her house and continued the conversation up the walkway.
The others tumbled out at Renly’s, apparently planning some kind of drunken sleepover (or maybe orgy, Brienne hummed loudly as they made plans), except for Tyrion who somehow manifested a taxi in front of Renly’s house and shoved her into it before reclaiming the limo for himself.
Her alarm went off at nine the next morning. Her legs hurt from yesterday’s ridiculous run. Her feet hurt from standing at the wineries and her eyes had the dry crackling feeling of dehydration. She was in absolutely no state to run.
She would definitely stay in bed. She did not need to go satisfy the request (not even a request, the man hadn’t even had the manners to ask really ) of a petty nasty spoiled man child.
Even one who grinned when she nearly beat him at a footrace. Even one that pushed her past her comfortable limits. Even one who had hair the color of gold and eyes that gleamed or hands with calluses that held her like they knew her.
“No, Brienne,” she said sternly to herself as she got out of bed.
At ten she was standing in the park off Main, leaning down to tie her shoes when a shadow fell over her.
“Hello, wench,” he looked like a cat who had gotten the cream and the canary. “Ready to eat my dust?”
“I thought you wanted a pacing partner,” she stood up with a frown.
“Where’s the fun in that?” he grinned and then wrinkled his nose. “Why do you smell like a stripper? You have glitter everywhere.”
“Bachelor party,” she grimaced. “I’m the best woman for one of the grooms.”
“I’ve never been to one,” he said casually. “Was it fun?”
Even Brienne had been to other bachelorette parties. She hadn’t enjoyed them much, but she knew people. They got married. Jaime was easily ten years her senior. Maybe his clique were all single. That would make sense.
“Parts of it were,” she stretched since he seemed willing to wait. “I don’t really like a lot of noise and yelling. I didn’t need the glitter.”
“No one needs glitter,” he shook his head. “My niece used to be obsessed. I’d play with her for ten minutes and I’d still be finding bits of it in my clothes four days later.”
“She’s starting in the teen class this week. There’s a handful of other kids signed up.”
“Good. Maybe she can make some friends. She doesn’t seem to connect with the prep school crowd.”
“She and I have that in common.”
“Are you joking?” he rolled back onto his heels. “A Lannister, a Baratheon, two Tyrells? Who do you think they are?”
“Renly went to public school with me.”
“A pretty nice public school,” he scoffed. “Admit it, you may like to play at being a citizen, but you hang out with a highborn crowed.”
“Accidentally,” she sighed. “And none of them are snobs anyway.”
“Tyrion can be snobbish when he puts his mind to it.”
She didn’t want to say it, but he wasn’t needling her or at least not the way he had been. It was conversation. Maybe the banter was a little sharp, but not mean. So she gave him one,
“He wore an ascot yesterday. I didn’t even know those still existed.”
“See, that’s my snobby little brother,” he laughed. “Come on, enough delays, wench.”
He took off, but maybe he was feeling some of the burn from yesterday as much as she was and it wasn’t quite the battle it had been before. They fell into a steady pace, their feet hitting the dirt at the same time. It was interesting, doing something solitary with someone else.
The sun cleared out the last of the clouds. Jaime’s hair was unsettlingly bouncy. A traitorous part of her wanted to ask what hair products he used even though she knew none of it would do her any good.
“Same time tomorrow?” asked when they’d looped back all the way around.
“Maybe,” she shrugged one shoulder as if something else might come up. Like people were banging down her door to go out at 10am on a weekday. Wait. “Don’t you have a job?”
“You’d be surprised at the flexible hours in professional body guarding. See you tomorrow!”
“I said maybe!” she yelled at his retreating back.
This was how Tyrion explained his revenge plan: with a chess board, gloomy mood lighting, and two tumblers of scotch.
“This is very over dramatic,” she tsked.
“I’m about to reveal my evil plan,” he said plaintively. “Can’t you be a cooperative minion and be awed?”
“I’m not your minion. If you call me one again, I won’t be your friend either.”
“You ruin everything.”
“I can’t see what you’re trying to dramatically show me and this scotch tastes like a bog. Now I’ve ruined everything.”
He turned on the lights, but he made her drink the scotch.
“Right, where was I?” He steepled his fingers and she tried to keep a straight face. “My father looks at the world like it’s game of chess. Have you ever played?”
“I’m familiar. Some of my father’s friends like it. I’ve never been very good.”
He gestured to the board, “That’s enough. My father plays chess online constantly. He sees most people as pieces, especially his children. Cersei is a bishop. She’s forced to move diagonally because he has ridged gender ideas, but he knows she still has a connivingness that makes her most like him. Jaime is a rook, very straightforwardly useful.”
“Not a knight?” she said a little surprised.
“Jaime is my father’s blunt instrument. Oldest son, heir to the fortune and political power,” Tyrion shrugged. “It doesn’t suit my father to see that he doesn’t always fit that mold. Jaime probably thinks of himself as a knight though.”
“So you’re the knight?” she guessed.
“A pawn,” he touched the smallest piece ruefully, “useful, but disposable. Limited.”
“Your father is an idiot,” she said, not for the first time.
“An idiot that can be remarkably shrewd,” he smiled thinly. “But his low esteem for me works does work to my advantage. See, he figures that all of us are his pieces. We’re all invested in the Lannister name and wealth, we like the life it gives us so much and fear it’s removal to such an extent, that we will always fall in line. We will always be his pieces.”
“He made a mistake then. He made you hate him more than you love being a Lannister,” she determined.
“Just so,” he toppled the pawn over. “I’d used my trust fund to buy a few pictures from up and coming artists. I always saw them as sort of insurance. When the time came, I sold them off quietly and made an enormous amount of returns. Then I invested that. All those years of foisting the lowly job of family accountant onto me meant I had a better idea of the market then any of them put together. They still don’t know how much I have. They think the bar is actually how I’m making a living.”
She rolled her eyes, “They think you’re buying millions of dollars in art by owning a bar?”
“They have very little concept of what things cost. Honestly, so did I until I was on my own. I hadn’t had to buy my own groceries until two years ago. That was enlightening.”
“That...doesn’t surprise me,” she tapped the glass of scotch. “Considering you thought Netflix was free.”
“Everyone talks about it!” he protested. “I assumed it was like basic cable!”
She took a sip of the scotch then wrinkled her nose, “Why is tasting like mud a good thing?”
“Honestly I’m not sure,” he looked down into his glass with furrow to his brow. “Anyway, I’m not a piece anymore. I’m a player that he doesn’t know he’s against.”
“So what does that make me?”
He grinned widely at her, “My queen.”
There weren’t as many details to his plan as she would’ve thought. He shook his head when she pressed him,
“If I get to stuck in exactly how things should go, I can’t adapt as they change,” he hesitated then downed the rest of his scotch, “I actually almost just straight up murdered the man.”
“You didn’t,” she stared at him, but he seemed deadly serious.
“I have a gun,” he set down the glass. “Jaime took me to a shooting range a few times when we were children. Kidnappers saw me as a soft target. When Jaime confessed everything about..about her, I went to my room and got it. I could’ve done it.”
“So why didn’t you?” she frowned.
“I heard my sister’s voice in the hallway. She was saying something pointless, ordering around a maid maybe. I couldn’t tell exactly. It occured to me that Jaime wouldn’t forgive fratricide that easily and our dear sister would just be pleased that someone else had done it for her,” he gave her a weak smile. “No moral crisis, sorry. I just didn’t want to give her the satisfaction.’
“Do you regret it?” she asked quietly.
“Depends on the day,” he picked up the fallen pawn, replaced in gingerly. “But mostly not. Because now I get to do it the right way. And with you to glare at me when I consider immoral things, I may even escape prison while I do them.”
That conversation was very much on her mind the first night Myrcella attended the teen class. After some back and forth, Tyrion had agreed that frosting the front windows of the shop was important. Brienne wanted to protect her students more than she wanted to advertise what was inside.
Of course that meant she was watching the door like a hawk, unable to see who was coming until they were practically through the door. There were six teen girls in various stages of awkwardness, none of them quite ready to start a conversation with the other.
Had all girls felt like that when she was young? Had she missed it somehow in her surety of being cast out?
“And here we are,” Jamie flung open the door. He had his hand resting ever so gently on a girl’s shoulder. She looked very much like him with wide green eyes and golden hair. “Good evening, wench.”
“Mr. Lannister,” she rolled her eyes. One of the girls tittered behind a hand. “Thank you for bringing Mrycella. We’ll see you in an hour.”
“Oh, I thought I would be your test dummy again,” he smiled brightly, showing off all his dental work.
“It’s nice of you to offer, but for this first class I think it’s best if it’s just us. Some of the other parents are next door if you’d like company.”
“It’s okay, Uncle Jaime,” Myrcella took a tentative step forward. “I’ll be fine.”
“Bye now,” Brienne shut the door in his face with some small bit of satisfaction. He could push boundaries, but she could still push back.
“Good evening class,” she turned to face them with a smile. “Why don’t we all get to know each other and then we can talk about why we’re here.”
Slowly the tension broke as she did some of the tedious ice breaking games she used to loathe. She’d been worried about being eaten alive by teenagers, but they seemed to take her at face value. They started with how to safely punch someone. She was pleased to see Myrcella square her shoulders when Brienne held up the mat for her punch and land a good one.
“You’ve got a strong left hook,” she praised.
“Uncle Jaime practiced with me yesterday,” she admitted with a flush. “He wanted me to impress you because you’re the best.”
“The thing that impresses me is what you can do,” Brienne recovered after a beat of silence. “All of you.”
Parents trickled in at the end of the hour as they stretched to cool down, “And remember to practice, practice, practice. You need to build muscle memory.”
A few of the parents approached, asking nervous questions that Brienne tried to answer while sounding reasonably confident. They left in waves until it was just Myrcella zipping her coat by the front door and Jaime sidling up to her, mouth downturned.
“Wench, she can’t come if I can’t be here,” Jaime said quietly. “Her mother won’t allow it.”
“That’s a shame because she’s really good. Picked everything up fast,” Brienne shook her head. “But it’s not fair to the other girls. They already feel self conscious enough with just the other girls here.”
“Sure you’re not projecting?” he asked snidely.
She sucked in a breath and expelled. She thought about pawns and rooks and knights. About queens, “Why won’t her mother let her come alone?”
“You never know who’s here, who wants things from her,” Jaime shrugged helplessly. “If it were up to me...but she’s the parent.”
If the last was said bitterly, Brienne chalked it up to a bad parenting choice. She had never met Cersei, but from Tyrion’s stories alone she had a low opinion of her.
“If she just needs someone to watch her back...there must be some other teen girl that you trust enough to send with her. One that might even want to learn a little too? I wouldn’t even charge for it.”
“You barely charge as it is,” Jaime frowned, but he looked thoughtful. “I’ll see if I can think of someone.”
“Come ON!” Myrcella called, “Uncle Jaime, I promised Tommen I’d get him ice cream on the way back.”
“And of course you don’t want any yourself,” Jaime laughed, his mood flipped like a switch as he turned to face his niece. He nodded to Brienne and headed out.
She took her time showering in the renovated backroom and changing into her bartending clothes. Tyrion was sitting at a booth when she entered.
“I did something,” she sat down across from him. “I don’t know if it’ll work.”
She outlined the conversation, waiting for him to take her to task for going off script.
“And that’s why we don’t make certain plans,” he beamed at her. “Excellent. We’ll see if it bears fruit.”
“What if it doesn’t?”
“Then all you did was tell the truth.”
“Myrcella is really a natural though,” she frowned. “I’d hate for her to lose out.”
“I’m sure that’s exactly what she’ll tell her mother. And Jaime too. Now let’s see if my brother can pick up what you’re putting down as the kid’s say.”
“What kids say that? I know I’m not up on slang...”
“Just go make me a drink,” he groaned, but he winked at her with the green eye. The one so like Jaime’s and Myrcella’s.
She met Jaime for a run the next morning. Just as she had six out of the last seven days. On Sunday, she’d actually slept through her alarm and decided it’d be good for him not to expect her once and a while.
He’d run so fast on Monday that she could barely keep up and had to collapse onto the grass when they were done instead of stretching.
“Sorry I missed you yesterday,” he’d said casually, trying to pretend like he wasn’t winded and cramped. “I forgot about you entirely.”
“That’s fine,” she said stupidly, blinking up at him. Trying to fathom that this great big lion was attempting to lick his wounded pride. A wound she had somehow inflicted. “I overslept. It was Bronn’s birthday and he wouldn’t let anyone leave until they did a shot for every decade he’s been alive. We had to call cabs for half the crowd. I didn’t get home until 4.”
“And of course you were sober. Always the designated driver, huh?” he looked off in the distance. It was a shame for him really, that Brienne had been friends with his brother before him. She could see the tells they had accidently taught each other. The way relief broke open their faces.
So she’d kept up their routine since. This morning she beat him there and for a few stray minutes wondered if he was finally going to pay her back by no showing, but he arrived already running. He halted when he reached the gates, apparently thinking he wasn’t visible. He took a moment to run a hand through his hair and straighten his clothes. She pretended to be busy stretching when he sauntered up.
“Good morning, wench.”
It would almost be sad if he wasn’t such a dick. She smiled at her shoelaces.
“Good morning, Mr. Lannister.”
“How long are you going to call me that?”
“How long are you going to be an asshole?”
They ran. It felt good, the sun really starting to shine warmth down on them. Her limbs felt loose. They drew to a close without trying to kill each other with speed which was nice. She had her hands wrapped around one knee in a cool down stretch when he casually asked,
“What do you usually do about breakfast?”
“Oatmeal, fruit salad, and coffee at home. Why? Looking for tips?”
“Hardly,” he stepped into a lunge that threw every muscle in his leg into tight relief. “Just I noticed a new diner this morning. Looked interesting.”
“The Hot Pie?” She nodded. “I saw them working on the building.”
“Want to try it with me?”
She didn’t stumble as she switched legs, but it was a near thing. It was just breakfast. He was probably the kind of person that hated to eat alone at a restaurant. She did, after all.
They walked over, still sweaty. She was already regretting it, unsure what to say to him when they weren’t mid-exercise.
“So how’d you get into MMA?” he asked.
“My dad, you know. He was a champ,” she frowned. “After my brother died, there was no one else for him to teach and I just begged him until he gave in.”
“Funny, I got into it to spite my father,” he gave her a half-smile. “He hates anything hands on. He does exactly thirty minutes of cardio every day, no more, no less.”
She knew a little of his career in fighting. How he’d been one of the best for years. How he’d killed someone in the ring, and been banned for life. Tyrion didn’t discuss it, but her father’s friends did. He was a man with a stained reputation, but he had been really good. Or at least had been once.
“Why not football or something then?”
“I preferred using my fists and feet, then throw a ball around.”
The restaurant wasn’t crowded, not a surprise for a new spot on weekday morning. They were seated by a window, and immediately brought a hot crusty bread and butter despite the early hour.
“I played field hockey for awhile, never liked it,” she told him. It felt like a safe enough detail.
“Really?” he grinned cutting a slice of bread and buttering it. “You must’ve been fierce.”
“When they let me on the field,” to her surprise, he handed her the slice then cut another for himself.
“Just like the Regionals, huh?”
She bit viciously into the bread. It was really good. “I guess.”
“You know they only changed the bylaws because you were so good, right?”
“It doesn’t matter why. They took something from me because they could,” she shook her head. “They know there aren’t many women in my weight class. Most of them don’t even award medals in them.”
“But you go anyway.”
She nodded, “I like meets. The women are supportive for the most part even if they don’t all want to go up against me. You don’t go anymore.”
“I’m not welcome,” he finally tasted the bread himself. “This is really good.”
“From what I’ve seen, being unwelcome doesn’t stop you.”
He smiled wide, “Oh, but wench if you really didn’t want me you know how to show it. I liked the door in the face the other day. Very butch.”
“You can come and play dummy for my other classes,” she shrugged. “Just not the young ones. One of the things I’m hoping to work on with them is learning how to avoid unsafe people.”
“You mean men.”
“Women can be abusers too,” she reached for the menu. “Even if they don’t always use their fists. There’s more than one way to hurt someone.”
“Right, sensitive souls and all that,” he muttered. He looked harassed which was weird.
“You don’t have to be sensitive to want to be treated like you matter,” she said firmly. “To many of my students come to my classes because someone at home treats them like a possession. We are not objects.”
“Tyrion has you watching his Mad Max collection? He has such a hard on for Charlize Theron.”
“I loved it,” she smiled faintly. “More than a lot of the others.”
“So did I,” he said and it sounded almost confessional.
They talked about movies Tyrion had forced them both to watch as they ate an enormous amount of excellent food.
“Let me get it, wench,” he took out his wallet when the bill came. “You were going to go home to your oatmeal before I asked.”
She swallowed a protest down. He was right and it was hardly like a brunch would dent a Lannister pocket.
“Thanks,” she said instead. “I don’t think I would’ve tried this place on my own.”
“Me either,” he took out a credit card from a zip pocket in his flashy athletic shorts. “Have a good day, wench,”
“You too, Mr. Lannister,” she got to her feet and was surprised when he got up too. He walked her to the door and opened it for her.
She had to brush by him, caught the scent of his deodorant and sweat. He was very close, and for a strange and wild moment, she thought...but no. That was ridiculous. He definitely hadn’t leaned in. And he only said,
“Don’t kick anyone in the junk today unless they deserve it.”
“They always deserve it,” she said wearily and was pleased when he laughed, the honey-whiskey sound of it following her to her car.
That night in the quiet of Thursdays nights, she casually mentioned it to Tyrion.
“Your brother asked me to breakfast after our run this morning.”
“Did he?” feigned nonchalance filled the air and she suppressed a smile.
“Yes. He wanted to try the new place. Hot Pie’s? It was pretty good. The bread especially.”
“Just the bread?”
“I liked the waffles too.”
“Brienne,” Tyrion closed his laptop. “My brother has had breakfast with our sister every weekday morning since her husband died. It’s as ironclad as her prenup.”
“Maybe she’s out of town?” she shrugged. “He didn’t mention it.”
“Did he mention her?”
“Not that I remember,” she washed a few glasses. “Should he have?”
“Unless he’s been body snatched, he would,” Tyrion gazed at her. “This is fascinating.”
“It was just breakfast,” she turned them right side up to dry. “We talked about movies.”
“Did he pay?”
“He said he should because it was his idea.”
“Did he get the door for you?”
“Is it wrong that man opens a door for me once and a while?”
“Okay, this is really important. Did he try to feed you?”
“No! I mean not like put food in my mouth,” she pulled a face. “...he did butter my bread for me. That was odd.”
“Will wonders never cease,” he took her hand. “Brienne, I am so sorry.”
“Why? What? Did he try to poison me?”
“My ridiculous brother is trying to date you,” he pat her hand. “It’s a fate no woman has suffered in twenty years.”
“He is not,” she snorted. “I bet he barely sees me as a woman.”
“You’ll have to trust me. You are being woo’d.”
“I am not.”
“Are so,” Tyrion frowned. “We are going to have to find a way to protect you from Cersei and fast.”
“Your sister? Why?”
“Let me think about it,” he shook his head. “It’s not my secret to tell, but I’m not letting her eat you alive either.”
That was all she could get out of him. Jaime met her for a run the next morning without another word about breakfast and that was fine by her. It certainly didn’t leave her wondering through another busy weekend and right up to her next teen girl class.
The other six students arrived on time. They had all put their hair up out of their faces as she’d suggested last week, she was pleased to note. She waited until the last minute so start. Her gambit had failed. No Myrcella.
Then five minutes past the hour, halfway through their warm ups, the door burst open,
“I’m so sorry we’re late!” Myrcella chirped, shedding her shoes by the door. “Uncle Jaime couldn’t find a parking space.”
And it was a we. No Jaime, but a slender tall girl, several years older than Myrcella. She had flaming red hair pulled up into a bun. In her black leggings, she looked more like she’d gotten lost on her way to a ballet class.
“This is my brother’s fiance,” Myrcella explained. “Uncle Jaime said she could come to.”
“She’s certainly welcome,” she stuck out her hand. “I’m Brienne Tarth. I’ll be your instructor in self-defense.”
“Thank you,” her voice was soft, her eyes lifting only briefly. There were the remains of yellow around her eye, a fading bruise. “I’m Sansa.”
“Welcome, Sansa. It's a pleasure to meet you. Please join the other girls, we're just getting warmed up”
And though she knew it was silly, she thought about Tyrion’s chess board. The queen meets the queen. Now they had to see if they could take her.
As it turned out, when Brienne meet Cersei for the first time it was without whatever protection Tyrion was dreaming up, without the safety of the bar between them.
Instead, she was in Margaery’s work room and barely dressed. It was a beautiful space with wide high windows looking out on a miniature rose garden that was full of transplants from the family estate. There was a work table neatly laid out with the tools of her trade and shelves piled high with a rainbow of fabrics.
“Now, you’ll have to use a little imagination,” Margaery gave Brienne a little shove toward the three way mirror with its pedestal.
“If I stand on that, my head will be over the mirrors,” she pointed out.
“It’s movable,” Margaery lifted it out the way, showing off a bit of tone to her arms that usually looked very soft and willowy. “Just stand where it was.”
“And stare at myself in my underwear?”
“I mean, with the design I have in mind you’ll have to lose the bra, but you can keep it on for now.”
“So what did Renly threaten you with to finally get you here?” she asked, all pearly smile.
“He just asked me too,” she shrugged. “It’s his wedding. It's about him not my insecurities.”
“You’re a good friend,” Margaery stood up onto the pedestal herself bringing them almost level.
These days Brienne didn’t waste much time mourning over her reflection, but there was something uniquely painful about being in her underthings, looking as awkward and ungainly as she could in this land of delicate things posed next to their mistress. All of the wedding pictures would be like this, her like a giant out of a fairy tale with Margaery playing delicate princess besides her.
“I try,” she dug out the dregs of a smile.
“Honestly,” Margaery gave her shoulder a gentle slap then started with her measuring tape. “I wish Loras had a friend like you. I don’t mind being his best woman or whatever, but even one friend that isn't related to him would be good.”
“He sort of keeps himself to himself,” Brienne realized. She had known that the brunches were filled with Renly’s friends and then sometimes Loras’ family. It was easy to assume that Renly’s friends were Loras’ too. “He has Renly.”
“Oh, don’t tell me you’re a ‘my lover is my best friend’ sort?”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! I say that to Loras all the time, but he never listens. If your lover is your best friend, who do you confide in when your lover is being a dickhead?”
Brienne snorted, “Uh, in my experience, your bartender?”
“Oooh, that’s true, you must hear so much good gossip.”
“Most of the time it’s just a little sad,” she admitted. “People mostly have the same story. They feel alone. Misunderstood. Sometimes it’s their fault, sometimes it’s just bad luck.”
Margaery jotted down her measurements in a little book, “You could blackmail half of the town, I bet.”
“I forget what they said half the time.”
“Ugh, Brienne, really?”
“That’s the same face Tyrion makes,” she acknowledged ruefully.
“Did the boys tell you about their plans for flowers? Grandmother talked them into an enormous rose arch. It’s going to look like a parade float.”
It’s easier to talk to Margaery alone than Brienne remembered. They’d both grown up, she supposed, and maybe Brienne had learned that not every conversation was a minefield of traps just because the woman was pretty. Teaching self-defense had helped with that. She mourned a little for the potential friendships she had missed because of the few cruel apples poisoning the sauce.
And the cruelest apple of them all swanned in without even knocking while Brienne was barely wearing a weird toga of black silk held together with a thousand pins over old practical underwear.
“Margaery! We have to talk about my gala outfit, I just found that half the crowd will be wearing blue, I simply can’t just blend in!”
Cersei Lannister was unmistakable. The long mane of gold hair, flashing green eyes and the same strong chin as both her brothers. She was wearing a gorgeous dress, swirling around her ankles and a PA trotted behind her holding a designer bag, a cup of coffee, and tapping urgently into a phone.
“Cersei!” Margaery’s voice went sweet, like she had just seen her best friend in the whole world. “I didn’t know we had an appointment this afternoon.”
“You must make time for me,” Cersei cast aside some fabric from a stool either missing or not caring about Margaery’s soft sound of protest. “We have to fix this immediately."
“I’m in the middle of a fitting.”
Cersei glanced up, taking in all of Brienne in a moment and just as quickly dismissing her, “I’m sure you can do your charity work later. The gala is in a month and we have to scrap everything.”
“I don’t have time to make you something new,” Margaery tilted her head to the side, her voice very 'of course you know this'. “Fashion Week is bearing down on me. I can re-dye the dress, but we can only go darker blue or into purples at this point.”
“You guaranteed me something fresh and new. It would be such a shame if I had to go to a new designer,” Cersei purred. She held her hand back and the assistant put the coffee cup in it without looking away from the phone.
“Like you said, it’s a month until the gala,” Margaery turned her back on Cersei and Brienne winced for her at the look that crossed the lioness’ face. “It might be difficult to find someone else, but I can recommend a few names. I know the Hills are interested in more mature models. Someone with a motherly look.”
“We have a contract," it was the exact same tone Tyrion used when a distributor tried to raise prices on them last month.
“That I fulfilled,” Margaery picked up another length of silk and draped it over Brienne’s naked shoulder. “I provided you with a beautiful one of a kind gown. I still think that it will make you stand out on the red carpet. They’ll do a line up of who wore the color best and it will be you if you stay with my design.”
“And if they don’t, I’ll be sure to tell that it’s your design.”
“Of course,” the pin stabbed through the fabric with steady accuracy. “I stand behind all my designs.”
“What on earth are you even doing with this....woman?” Cersei tilted her head.
“Steady,” Margaery said quietly, Brienne unclenched her left hand that had been gathering into a fist. Then more loudly, “Planning my brother’s wedding as it happens. Loras mentioned that you turned down your invitation. Shame, Highgarden is really beautiful in May.”
“I have other engagements,” Cersei was already standing, ready to dismiss them both. But the gears must’ve been turning. A finger pointed at Brienne, “I know you. You’re my little brother’s employee. Father showed us some photo of you in some rag.”
There was only one article, a pleasant review in the city’s nightlife magazine ‘Whispers’. It had called her cocktails ‘inspired’ and the atmosphere ‘enchanting, if rowdy’. They’d taken their picture with Tyrion sitting on the bar, leaning on the taps in a black vest and a white v-neck t-shirt with a bowler hat tilted askew on his curls like an old-time gangster. The photographer had Brienne lean against the bar behind him, polishing a glass. Tyrion had said something funny, so the camera had caught her laughing, eyes squinting.
It wasn’t a terrible photo. She’d even wordlessly allowed Tyrion to frame it with the review and hang it by the door. At least they both looked happy in it.
“I tend bar for him,” Brienne agreed. She kept her eyes on the mirror, watching Margaery’s quick fingers and blank face.
“And how does a bartender afford a House of Tyrell creation?”
“It’s on the house,” Margaery said cheerfully. “She’s standing up at the wedding for Renly. And we’ve been friends for absolutely ages.”
“Since high school,” Brienne agreed, even if they’d been more like acquaintances back then.
“Is that so?” Cersei’s eyes narrowed she took a step closer. “What was your name again?”
“Brienne Tarth,” eyes forward, don’t acknowledge. Don’t engage.
“Bri- you’re the one that’s been working out with Jaime?” Cersei’s tone went from playfully nasty to something so cold and dead that the small hairs on the back of Brienne’s neck rose up.
“We go running sometimes,” she said vaguely. “He needed pacing partner.”
“I thought he was using one of his security grunts for that. Though you do have broader shoulders than him.” For a moment, Cersei is only an elegant flicker in the mirror like a modern horror movie monster.
“Genetics,” Brienne said as neutral as possible. She tried to think of all the things Tyrion had told her about his woman, and all the other things that Jaime’s silences filled in.
“Yes, they did let you down, didn’t they? Tarth...you’re alone, aren’t you? The last of your name.”
“The last of my name,” she agreed. Margaery had gone on working, pinning with precision, but her entire body was pricked like a fox listening for dogs. “But not alone.”
“Oh, friends are well and good,” Cersei pat Brienne’s arm, her nails barely touching her skin. “But it’s family at the end of the day that keep us company.”
“If you’re lucky, you’re friends can become family,” she covered Cersei’s hand with her own. “I guess if I was lucky enough to have your family I’d feel differently.”
Cersei pulled back as if she’d been burned and somewhere in the vicinity of Brienne’s thigh, Margaery stifled a bark of laughter.
“It would be a cold day in hell before someone like you joined the Lannisters.”
“Oh,” Brienne said as vapidly as she could. Move on, no one home here. “I thought you were a Baratheon now? Renly speaks of you like you’re family.”
Maybe the kind that you’d disowned, but that counted. Cersei sucked in a breath like she'd been slapped and opened her mouth for a doubtless scathing retort.
“Is there anything else I can help you with, Cersei?” Margaery stood, her felt rose stuffed with pins in one hand and her shearing scissors in another. “I’m simply crammed full today.”
“I’m done here,” Cersei spat. “You’ll never make me another dress again if this is the kind of service I can expect. I’ll tell everyone I’ve brought in never to come here again.”
“Of course,” Margaery bowed her head. “I understand. I will miss working with you and....well. I’m sure I’ll think of the other clients when they disappear from my appointment books.”
Brienne’s heart sank as she watched Cersei storm out, assistant running to catch up. She hadn’t thought about the money and Margaery’s business. While she was busy avoiding being put in a dress, she’d lost sight of what an enormous monetary favor this must be. Margaery’s dresses were worth thousands, works of art in their own right. And here was Margaery not only doing this for free, but losing business to protect her.
“I’m so sorry,” Brienne started just as Margaery chorused the same thing. “What are you sorry about? It’s my fault she made such a scene.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Margaery chided, setting down her shears. “The only fault here is Cersei’s and maybe mine for not being firmer with her before. Grandmother has been suggesting I try to date the oldest son. That odd one with the pointy face?”
“Joffery,” Brienne’s eyes widened. “Don’t, please. He’s already dating Sansa and even if he wasn’t, he’s an abusive piece of shit.”
“Now I know you’re ruffled. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you swear before.”
“My nanny used to say if I couldn’t look or act like a lady, I should at least talk like one,” she flushed.
“Your nanny was horrible. I remember her picking up from school. Used to look like she’d sucked on a lemon.”
“Yes, that was her.” She snorted, but wasn’t deterred. “You didn’t have to lose business over me.”
“Brienne, please. I wasn’t saying it just to be cutting, Cersei’s hasn’t brought in a single other client. Maybe she would’ve when she a hot young thing, but she’s alienated her entire circle to much to get the grace of being an older trendy woman. There isn’t one socialite in all of King’s Landing that would believe her blacklisting me. And even if it all that wasn’t true, you’re my friend. Those are worth more than cash.”
“Thank you,” Brienned swallowed thickly. “I don’t think I’ve been a very good one to you in the past.”
“Or me to you,” Margaery picked up her pins. “But we’ll change that from here on out, won’t we?”
“Yes, absolutely,” She watched a few pins sink in. “Actually, I have...I don’t know you’re so busy and it’s not your usual thing, so maybe not.”
“No, no, now I’m intrigued, tell me,” Margaery smiled encouragingly at her.
“I wanted to make some gear for my classes. Tyrion thinks it’s a good way to make a little money since I use a sliding scale for the students,” Brienne bit her lip. “I don’t have any logos or colors or anything. I want everything to be practical, but maybe you could come up with something better than just mass ordering t-shirts with pocket logos? I could pay you. Over time, maybe?”
“Do you know how hot athleisure is right now?” She grinned. “You can definitely pay me, but I don’t need money.”
“Okay? What do you want?” Brienne frowned. “I can’t give out free drinks. Tyrion has a whole lecture about free liquor and it’s very boring. There are three references to Ayn Rand and he doesn’t even like her or agree with her as far as I can tell.”
“I-ok no that’s interesting and I want to hear more about that later,” she slid a pin in at the leg. “I was thinking letting me join your classes.”
“Oh! Of course,” Brienne nodded. “But I’d let you do that for free.”
“Well I’d design you a few t-shirts and pants for free, so we’re even.”
“What you do is art though. I’m just teaching people how to hit things. You could learn that anywhere.”
“But you can’t learn it from an Amazon with a heart of gold anywhere,” Margaery stood up and adjusted a few things. “Now, what do you think? I’ll add just a hint of gold along the seams, I think.”
“I think-”she’d barely been paying attention to her body despite staring straight at it. With all the background and worry it had faded away. “You are...really really good.”
“Wait until it’s done.” Margaery leaned against her with a grin, looking at them side by side in the mirror. “No one will be looking at the grooms at all.”
In her new Lannister dominated life, she divested herself of black silk and was onto the next lion.
“It sounds like you held your own at least,” Tyrion raised a glass to her over dinner.
“I think she was a little drunk.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised or assume that dulls her edge,” Tyrion look at his own glass of wine and set it down abruptly. “I would say that I love drink and my sister hates life without it. She even has our cousin trailing after her with her Coffee Cup of Plausible Deniability at all times.”
“She’s very protective of Jaime.”
“Possessive,” he corrected, skewering a piece of tortellini with his fork. “Jaime was always good to me. Protected me from father, from bullies... but when it came to Cersei, he just folded like wet paper.”
“She’s horrible, I almost folded and I could probably stuff her in a suitcase with one hand tied behind my back,” Brienne mused, pleased when Tyrion’s melancholy was broken with a laugh.
“There’s an image. She’s got a mean spirit. Jaime thinks it got worse over time, but I always go the ugliest parts of her,” he shook his head. “Anyway, you didn’t let her cow you.”
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“Remains to be seen.”
The next morning, Jaime didn’t appear for their run. It was the first time he hadn’t shown. By now, she had his number in her phone (under Mr. Lannister mostly to annoy him when he stood at her shoulder watching her type it in) and she stared at it, weighing her options. On the one hand, he might just be being a dick and texting him would give him the upper hand. On the other, the timing seemed extremely suspect.
And they were friends now, weren’t they? In their own way.
Her fingers twitched slowly over the keys, Hey, hope everything is okay. Much slower without you.
The reply came when she was in the shower, pinging through her quiet bathroom,
Sorry, wench. Family thing.
“What are you looking doom and gloom about?” Bronn set down a case of wine then pulled a bottle out for himself to take upstairs.
“I’m worried about someone,” she slice a lemon thin, careful, but quick. Maybe she’d try to candy some, a new drink formulating in the back of her mind. “I don’t know if they need help or not.”
“Way I see it, is you never rush in unless there’s a payout.”
“Never get you heart involved?”
“Never say never, but unless you know them well enough to know for sure it’s trouble, better off keeping your nose to yourself.”
She waited for Bronn to leave then approached Tyrion,
“Do you think your brother is okay?”
He raised an eyebrow, “Right now or in general? Because the man has several ongoing issues. Honestly if any of us could get over ourselves enough to see a therapist we could keep them singularly employed for years.”
“I meant right now,” she said shortly.
“Then...I have no idea. I mean Cersei is hellbeast that lives on other people’s tears, but he’s usually exempt from that.”
“Is he?” Brienne pressed. “Really?”
“No,” Tyrion looked down at his food. “Probably not. But we are not going in to rescue him. He’s an adult who most definitely made his own bed. You’ll have to trust me on this.”
On her break later, she called Renly.
“Uh, hey? You okay? You never call this late. Or at all. Are you dying?”
“No,” she buried her face in her hands. “This is stupid. I’m sorry. I just- do you ever have a feeling someone needs help, but everyone else is telling you to not help them?”
“No? I- wait...ok ok, here!”
“Hey, Brienne,” the phone had apparently changed hands.
“My sister told me what happened the other day. Thanks for sticking up for her.”
“You’re welcome? She did most of the sticking up for me.”
“Not how she todl it.” There was some muffled conversation then Loras started talking again. “You’re worried about the tall gorgeous asshole Lannister?”
“Give me five minutes.”
Five minutes later on the dot, her phone buzzed with a text from Renly’s phone, Creepy Tyrell gossip chain says Jaime slept at the office last night. They see, all they know all. <3 you, hope you’re ok. Fwiw, you always rescued me when I needed it.
Jaime was at the park the next morning for their run. He looked like himself. He ran like himself, keeping pace. When they stretched, he was quiet, but not weirdly so.
He was fine. It was probably all fine.
She touched her phone.
“That’s Mister Lannister to you, wench. Apparently.”
“Jaime,” she said softly, shocked by the way his head snapped up, pinning her with emerald eyes. “I’m sorry if...if I did something to aggravate your sister.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Jaime laughed, and that did sound all wrong, rubbed raw. “I know her. Very well. You couldn’t have done anything right. Not because of you. Just because of the way she is.”
“Still. If you...if you want a place to crash. I have a guest bedroom. It’s not very much, but it’s got a bed.”
He held her with his gaze. She tried to keep her face as blank as she could, not sure if she was managing. She waited for his jokes or a dismissal.
“I have to get Myrcella and Sansa to their lesson, but the regular driver could get them home. It’d just be for a day until I figure something out.”
“Yeah, I mean yes. Of course,” she ran a hand through her hair.
It wasn’t until he was following her up the small path that it felt real. The house looked small and shabby all of a sudden even though it was large compared to the average King’s Landing home. His sleek Lexus even made her lovely convertible look a little less exciting when parked next to it in the garage.
“Thanks,” was all he said though when she showed him the guest room. It had been her brother’s room once, but all of his things had long ago been packed away. Now it was just a nice room with fresh white paint and clean blue sheets. A window that looked out onto the dock framed the sickle moon.
“Bathroom is down the hall. Kitchen is to left of where we came in,” she twisted her hands together behind her back.
“Thanks,” he said again, duffel bag sliding from shoulder to hit the floor with a thump.
“Good night, then.” She took a step back, then another. All the way back to her own room, she listened, but she never heard him move.
For all she knew, he was still standing there in the faint moonlight looking at nothing as she drifted into an uneasy sleep.
He was at her kitchen table in the morning. It was bizarre to hear someone moving around in there and for a brief, drowsy moment she thought it must be her father somehow. He would always wake up before her, already drinking his second cup of coffee despite her own early hours.
Instead there was Jaime, one of her blue and white striped mugs in his hand steam rising as he looked at something on his phone. She was in her pajamas, but they covered more than her workout clothes anyway. Nothing to be embarrassed about.
“Good morning,” she stepped into the room.
“That shirt must be older than you,” he glanced up and she glanced down, cheeks reddening. It was a warm tattered thing, holes at every seam, all the lettering long washed away.
“My father brought it home for me when he won Nationals. They only had extra large sizes left I guess. It went down to my toes at the time.”
“Fits you now. Except for the fact it’s more holes than shirt.”
“My house, I get to be comfortable as I want.”
“Hey, some of those holes are in interesting places,” he shrugged. “I’m not complaining, just commenting.”
Sometimes she wondered if she could set her hair on fire with the force of her embarrassment. That’d be something.
“Was the bed ok? It’s been awhile since anyone’s slept in it.”
“Oh, never had Tyrion over for the night?”
“Once or twice. But he likes my couch,” she gestured out into the living room. The couch was obscenely large, posed in front of the television. She rarely turned the thing on.
“Not your room?” he asked, the study of nonchalance.
“Why does everyone think that just because a man and woman are friends, they must be together?” she sighed. “It’s not Harry Met Sally.”
“Is it because he’s...”
“No!” she leaned against the corner. “No. If we were interested in that, we’d figured it out, but we’re not.”
“I guess I don’t understand why then.”
“That’s because Lannisters are apparently congenitally unable to understand friendship,” she decided.
“Why do you say that?” he looked up at her sharply.
“Your brother thinks he has to buy loyalty, your sister has apparently alienated everyone, and I thought for awhile that you might have some, but then you’d be in their guest rooms right now instead of mine.”
“I might have some,” he folded his arms over his chest. “Maybe you just offered first.”
“Name one. Please. I would actually really like to be proven wrong.”
“There’s Addam. We’ve been friends since we were kids. We still work together.”
“Good,” she pressed her coffee mug to her temple. “That’s good.”
“He’s in Thailand. Has been for the last three years. We email here and there.”
“Right,” she expelled a deep breath. “There’s a good running trail by the shore. Up for it?”
Running made sense. She watched him adjust to the give of wood slats instead of dirt and then they were fine. This was fine. The sun was up, but it was windy, whipping their hair wildly around as the waves beat loud on the shore. A few of the ambling walkers waved at her and she raised a quick hand back.
“Do you know everyone?”
“I grew up here,” she took a slight jump, skipping over a missing plank.
As they closed back in, he pointed to the dock, “Is that part of your property?”
“Was,” she said between breaths. “Dad sold it when I went to school to the city. I can still use it, if I want.”
“With what boat?” she laughed.
He headed down anyway, so she trailed behind. She didn’t come down much, anymore. They’d modernized it a little when the city bought it and it wasn’t the rough hewn planks of her youth anyway. Jaime sat down on the end of it, feet dangling over the water. After a moment, she sat down beside him.
“I should never have moved back in with my family,” Jaime said after a long pause. “I knew it was a bad idea, but when Robert died, I wanted to be near the kids. Near my brother, not that that worked out.”
“You own a piece of that,” she reminded him.
“He told you?” Jaime glanced at her. “Of course he did. Saint Brienne, patron of lost souls.”
“Hardly,” she looked out over the water. “Just one of them. So you moved home.”
“It was awful from the get go,” he leaned back on his palms. “Joffery’s been allowed to run wild and no one can reign him now that he’s old enough to be dangerous. Keeps his girlfriend locked up in the house and barely goes to school. My father keeps trying to entangle me in the business, so he’s free to run for mayor again. At least the Myrcella and Tommen are all right.”
“But you were staying there. Sticking it out for the kids?”
“I’ll still have to,” he frowned. “I’ll have to go back. Cersei will make it impossible for me to see them if I move out.”
“I think you’re overestimating anyone’s ability to control teenagers,” she said mildly. “But okay.”
“Aren’t you going to ask?” his eyes cut to her.
“About what happened. Why I’m here sleeping in your dusty guest room instead of on my own silk sheets?”
“No,” she got to her feet.
“I don’t care what your deal is with her. I’m sorry that it hurts you and I hope you can find a way to end it. If you want my help, I’m here. If you want to tell, I’ll listen, but don’t think it’s because I’m waiting on the edge of my seat for the big reveal.”
“Most people would be dying for the story.”
“Most people don’t hear a dozen sad stories a day,” she bounced a little on the balls of her feet. “Or know quite as many Lannisters. I’ve met four of you and each and everyone of you is a total drama llama.”
“Drama llama?” his eyebrows flew up.
“Drama. Llama.” She repeated. “Your sister thinks she’s going to get a Oscar for doing villain monologues, your little brother literally built an entire bar for maximum mood lighting, and Myrcella told me the other day that she was ‘pining for a young man’ in her class. And you literally tried to start a fight with me in front of a group of people so that I could publicly kick your ass.”
“How do you know you’d win if we sparred?” he finally stood too. “Is it because you’re younger than me? I still have a lot of tricks up my sleeve, wench. I can take you down right here, right now.”
“Drama,” she poked him in the chest, “llama. First one back to the house gets the first shower.”
She took off before he could retort and happily took the steps up to the house two at a time with a pleasant lead. She was in the bathroom, in the shower, before he could make it into the kitchen.
Humming, she lathered up shampoo and was fully immersed in getting clean when she heard the door open.
“Get out!” she groaned. “What part of that sounded like an invitation?”
“I have to piss,” sure enough there was the sound of the seat going up.
“There’s another bathroom!”
“Oh, is there?”
At least the shower curtain was opaque enough.
“You’re the worst. Do not flush the toilet. The plumping in here is anc- AH!”
He’d flushed and the water went momentarily frigid.
“Screaming over a little cold water? How dramatic,” he drawled and shut the door behind him.
“And that would be when you kicked him out?” Tyrion guessed when she was done recounting the morning’s antics.
“No, that’s when I made her breakfast and she told me I could stay as long as I needed to,” Jaime speared a potato off her plate. She slapped at his hand with the flat of a butter knife. “St. Brienne here couldn’t bear to see me off.”
Tyrion stared at her.
“What! He looked all,” she waved her hand in Jaime’s direction. “I don’t know. He did that eye thing. The one that makes you both look like kittens abandoned at birth in the rain or something.”
“I have no idea what look you mean,” Tyrion glanced at Jaime. “You do know he’s got enough money to buy a hotel let alone stay in one, right?”
“I hate hotels,” Jaime muttered, munching mournfully.
“Look! Right there!” Brienne pointed at him with the butter knife. “Drowned kitten.”
“First I’m a llama, now I’m a kitten. Are you secretly a furry, St. Brienne?”
“I think I preferred wench.”
“I for one, am deeply disturbed by all of this,” Tyrion possessively grabbed his plate closer when Jaime started eyeing his potatoes. “There’s more in the kitchen, you monster.”
When Jaime got up to go hunt down the remaining side dishes, Tyrion leaned in, “You really don’t have to house him. I can clear out a space.”
“It’s all right,” she shrugged. “He’s a pain the ass, but he’s a pain that I understand. I think tormenting me is taking mind off his problems anyway.”
“Where do you want to store him on Saturday?” he lifted an eyebrow. “Or do you trust him alone in your house?”
The wedding! It came crashing back to her. But Jaime would probably be fine in her house. He would most likely be a terrible snoop, but there wasn’t much to poke through. Anything of her family’s that she’d wanted to keep she had on display for the most part. There were no skeletons to be found in her dishes or laundry.
Maybe he would even be gone by then. Surely he could figure something out by Saturday?
She picked up her phone, Anyone cancel on you?
The answer was immediate, Why? Are you canceling? YOU CANNOT CANCEL I NEED YOU
Deep breath. All fine. Just wondering if you need a seat filled.
YES as long as they aren’t going to drink half the bar. Did you know Loras’ grandma is called Shots by her bridge club? I’m terrified.
It’s the only Lannister that probably won’t drain you dry.
Her phone abruptly started ringing. Jaime sat back down, raising an eyebrow as she picked it up. His plate was piled high with potatoes, but he made a show of returning one to her plate.
Tyrion gave her a flat look.
“I have to get this!” She blurted and answered as she walked to the back. “Hi.”
“You have a date!” Renly yelled in her ear.
“No, I have an annoying house guest that will probably short sheet my bed if I leave him alone.”
“He’s staying at your house! Bri, you have the city’s most eligible bachelor sleeping in your house?”
“In the guest room,” she said firmly.
“I don’t care if he pitched a tent on your lawn,” Renly paused then snickered. “Okay, I’d care about that, but that’s not the point. The point is that you can definitely bring Lannister McHot Pants as your plus one.”
“Tyrion is my plus one remember? You asked me to ask him because everyone liked him from the bachelor party.” Tyrion had been pleased about that for days. And vowed to wear an ascot to the wedding because he was a monster.
“Your plus two then, it’s fine. One of the hoard of Tyrell cousins already came down with the plague. More will probably follow.”
“Okay, thanks,” she sighed. “How’s everything? You doing okay?”
“It’s a mad house here,” he said, but he sounded elated. “Loras has been arguing with the florist for an hour about tea lights, I have ten boxes of champagne bottles on my deck, and Stannis keeps texting me about how Shireen is practicing her flower girl walk and he wants me to approve her gait.”
“She’s not a horse!” she laughed.
“I know that, you know that. Shireen definitely knows that, but she’s sweet about pleasing her Dad even if he is anal retentive.”
“You know she might get a kick out of my girl’s class,” she realized. “She’d be the youngest, but not by a lot.”
“I’ll ask Stannis,” he agreed. “Maybe if she could karate chop him a few times, he’ll treat her like she isn’t made of glass. What’s that? No dear, I don’t think it matters if the chain is bronze instead of copper...I- sorry Brienne, wedding emergency apparently.”
“That’s okay, thanks again and I’ll talk to you later.”
“Stop using your authority voice, you know what that does to me” she heard Renly faintly before he ended the call.
Brienne returned to the table. Her plate had several more potatoes than before. The brothers were talking quietly, but stopped as soon as she sat back down.
“So? Is my brother your date?” Tyrion raised an eyebrow.
“Your my date. He’s the tag along.”
“Date to what?” Jaime frowned. “I don’t need to be a third wheel.”
“It might be good for you. See how the other third lives,” Tyrion teased.
“To Renly’s wedding,” Brienne shoved a potato chunk in her mouth, suddenly ravenous. “It’s on Saturday. You’re invited to come with us, if you want.”
“Why would I go to a wedding for someone I barely know and probably hates me on principle?”
“Because the alternative is officially joining the chapter of The Lonely Heart’s Club that eats ice cream on their friend’s couch alone,” Tyrion said mildly.
“It’ll be nice. I mean, it’ll be really ridiculously over the top, but nice,” Brienne offered. “I think there’s going to be a fire eater. Either that or they’re having a bonfire. Loras keeps sending out weird group texts to the wedding party.”
“Fine, if only to see the complete anarchy of a Baratheon-Tyrell collision,” Jaime declared. “And only if you promise to dance with me at least once and not talk with your mouth full ever again. You look like a cow with cud.”
“Have you ever actually seen a cow in person?” Tyrion challenged.
“I’m not dancing with you.”
“Why not?” Jaime’s eyes went wide. “I’m really good. Years of enforced lessons.”
“I don’t dance.”
Tyrion coughed into his fist.
“You barely have to do anything to dance at a wedding. I know you can walk in a circle while holding someone’s hand.”
“Are you ashamed of me?” he asked, hand to heart. “Is it because I’m old and decrepit?”
“Fine! Fine, one dance. I get to pick which one and we’re standing at the very edge of the dance floor. No showy moves.”
“No showy moves.”
Tyrion shook his head, “Brienne, you folded.”
“It’s the eyes!”
Jaime was a surprisingly easy housemate. He tidied after himself and was respectfully quiet when she went to bed even though he seemed to barely sleep. After the second day, someone brought over a few suitcases, but he kept everything in the guest room, not spilling over into her space.
He was up to run with her every morning, but seemed to drift off to his room for a nap after breakfast so she could enjoy her afternoon routine solitary. It was almost comforting having someone else in the house, not the invasion she would’ve pictured.
“Ready?” she called out on Saturday afternoon. She had her outfit in the garment bag Margaery had carefully zipped it up into.
“I’m here,” he stepped out of his room with his own bag. He was already half-dressed in black pants with a sharp crease and black leather shoes polished to a gleam. His white shirt was open at the neck by several buttons. It was a look not without resemblance to the cover of a romance novel. Not that she read such things when she was too tired for mysteries.
“You sure you don’t mind waiting while the do hair and makeup on me?”
“I can amuse myself for a few hours. And it’ll be easier to get back here with one car.”
“All right,” she squared her shoulders. “Let’s go.”
The wedding and fate taking back what it is owed.
Highgarden swept into view as they traced the shore upward, wind whipping through their hair. It was layers of house all in white and absolutely covered in greenery. The wedding had been timed to catch the first bloom of the roses and even from down the road, the heavy perfume of thousands of flowers caught in the air.
“I hope no one has allergies,” Jaime snorted. “Good grief, what an overdone bit of architecture.”
“It’s prettier than Casterly Rock, isn’t it?”
“The Rock isn’t supposed to be pretty,” he grumbled as she pulled up to a wrought iron gate. She hit the buzzer after she spied it tucked into the greenery. After a short, crackly conversation with some unseen guard over an intercom, the gates opened wide and she drove up.
The tent was already set up to the left of the house. It was an enormous effort of fabric and poles. Dozens of people were swarming in and around it, carrying furniture, lights, flowers and food. There were already a fleet of cars parked along the drive. A harried mustachioed man greeted them,
“I’m so sorry Ms. Tarth, the valet service is late. Would you mind parking at the gate and walking up?”
“Not a problem,” she said quickly before Jaime could open his mouth.
It was easy to park on the secluded street and the walk was pleasant. Jaime only made one snarky remark about disorganization, before they were welcomed into a massive front foyer with a chandelier that looked more like a threat then a piece of art.
“Brienne!” Margaery leaned over the banister at the top of the stairs. “Up here. We’re having mimosas. Jaime, the men are having cigars or something horrible on the back veranda.”
“Something horrible for me then,” Jaime grinned. “And lots of female bonding time for you, wench.”
“Shut up, Mr. Lannister.”
When she got up to the second floor, Margaery led her down a hallway and into a beautiful light filled sitting room. The furniture was from a bygone era, sweeping woods and a thick patterned carpet under foot. Olenna was ensconced in one chair by the window, a full tea service in front of her. An array of cousins festooned the other chairs and the youngest had set up a game on the floor that Brienne had to step around.
“Hello again, Brienne,” Olenna rose, holding out her hands. When Brienne got in grabbing distance, she was pulled into a hard hug. “Come, sit. The stylist team wanted to start with Loras. A waste, if you ask me. He’ll run off as soon as they’re done and it’ll all be a mess.”
“He’s not a boy anymore,” Margaery said with a smile. “I’m sure he’ll let them do their work and respect it.”
“Mm,” Olenna picked up a green bottle and poured a glass of champagne, handing it to Brienne. “I’ve heard you’ve been busy.”
“Busier than I used to be,” she agreed. “It’s good to feel useful again.”
“I remember how you used to help set up the chairs when Renly would throw a party. You’d stand in a corner looking gloomy all night, but you were the first to pick up a broom if there was a spill,” she nodded approvingly. “I’m not a useful sort myself. I always preferred to be decorative.”
“I know you’ve done a lot of amazing charity work,” Brienne reminded her.
“Don’t dispel my fanciful notions girl, it’s rude,” Olenna winked at her. “I heard you brought an interesting date.”
“Just my temporary roommate.”
“What are his abs like?” Olenna grinned. “I swear you could bounce a quarter off that bum in trousers, but I’ve never seen him shirtless.”
“Um,” Brienne flushed. “He has them? I think he works out a lot.”
“I’ll bet,” Margaery’s grin was Olenna’s mirror. “You go running together, right?”
“How’s his stamina?” Grandmother and daughter chorused.
“Fine?” Brienne laughed. “He really is just staying with me while he figures things out, I swear.”
Loras came through a door on the far side of the room. He was quaffed with in an inch of his life.
“Next victim,” he stepped neatly over two girls that were braiding each other’s hair. “Hi Brienne.”
“Hey, you look good.”
“If they sprayed on one more layer of hairspray, I’d look like this forever.”
“Poor baby,” Margaery teased.
They took Olenna in next which was a relief. Margaery pulled out her phone and showed Brienne some of her preliminary ideas for the gym's merch,
“But you still need a name.”
“I have one,” she hesitated. “I don’t know if it’s any good.”
“Oh, you have to tell me. I won’t laugh.”
“I was thinking of calling The Beauty’s Revenge,” she smiled faintly. “With you know, ‘Self-Defense Martial Arts’ written under it.”
“I love it!” Margaery said at once, putting her hand on Brienne’s arm. “It pairs nicely with The Lion’s Tale too. I’m thinking a really soft t-shirt, v-neck in a bright blue.”
By the time Olenna came out, they were in agreement about two of the five pieces.
“We can take both women of honor now,” the stylists called out.
When Brienne took her chair, she held in an annoyed huff at the the critical look the stylist gave her. The woman touched her hair, then took her chin and turned it side to side.
“Right,” she dropped her hold on Brienne’s chin. “You’ve got some nice gold undertones. We can work with those, bring out the cheekbones. Give you a nice smokey eye to draw attention to those baby blues. I’m going to show you a great trick for filling in lips. My partner is going to work her magic and get some waves into your hair. All you need is to follow directions.”
Brienne nodded mutely. Margaery gave her the thumb’s up.
After what felt like hours of being poked with sponges and q-tips and a thousand brushes, her hair was let out of it’s roller prison and a few finishing touches were taken.
“PICTURES IN TEN MINUTES!” someone screeched on the other side of the door. “WEDDING PARTY TO THE FRONT LAWN!”
“Let’s throw our clothes on, I know there’s a lot of pictures to get through” Margaery jumped to her feet. They had fussed over her just as long, but to Brienne she looked like she usually did with a little more color to her cheeks and slightly more complicated braids in her hair.
“Right,” Brienne reminded herself that this wasn’t about her. Renly wanted her in the photos, so she would be in them. Just like the stylist, follow directions and keep your chin up.
She ducked into a bathroom to change even though Margaery started stripping down right in front of her grandmother, chatting all the while. Even the bathroom was gorgeous, all marble and gold finishings. With care, she stepped into the silk jumpsuit and pulled it up. She unhooked her bra and tucked it into the garment bag, then slipped on the low heels that Margaery had insisted on. It probably didn’t matter. She was already a half foot taller than both grooms, what was another inch or so?
When she walked back into the room, Olenna clapped in delight, “What a wonderful garment Margaery. Brienne, you look like an film star from my childhood. Gorgeous.”
“Thank you,” she murmured.
“Here, let’s go down together and knock ‘em dead,” Margaery held out a hand. In the end, Brienne let her take her arm as they went down the stairs. Margaery had made herself a dress in the reverse color scheme to Brienne, gold with subtle black trim with the skirt cut to mimic the wide legged jumpsuit.
The photographer took a shot as they descended.
Renly and Loras were on the lawn. Their tuxedos were both black velvet with golden embroidery on the lapels. They were laughing, and Renly looked incandescently happy. Brienne smiled. She could do this. Maybe once upon a time it would’ve broken her heart, but today she could be happy.
The photos flew by, to her surprise. There wasn’t time to think about what was happening as the photographer directed them through different poses and groupings. Loras flat out refused to do a piggy back shot with Renly on his back and Renly laughed, sidling up to Brienne,
“What about you?”
They probably looked ridiculous, but maybe Tyrion had finally taught her to be a little ridiculous was not the end of the world.
When they really started losing light, the photographer graciously dismissed them and Renly directed everyone to the back of the house. The back of Highgarden was the true display of roses. They were laced through lattice in a dozen delicate shades. There was something of a maze of them to the left, but in the center of the grounds they made a clear lane right out to a cliff with a spectacular view of the churning ocean.
At the end, lit up with dozens of strings of fairy lights was a delicate archway with only white roses. A string quartet played everyone into their seats. Brienne sucked in a breath and let it out, then started walking down the aisle with Margaery. In front of them, Shireen was gleefully threw petals moving at a perfect pace to the music. She could see Stannis sitting at the front tapping his knee in time.
Jaime and Tyrion were sitting in the back row, whispering like naughty children. Their heads whipped round when she coughed quietly. Jaime’s eyebrows flew up and Tyrion elbowed him hard. She missed whatever the joke was, determined not to get distracted form her walk.
At the front, the split and Brienne took the right side. She could feel the press of eyes on her ,but their attentions was soon diverted by a change in the musics. Renly walked up on his own, chin held high and came to stand next to Brienne.
“Won the coin toss?” she whispered. It had been a matter of some debate at the rehearsal dinner who got to walk the aisle first.
“Five times in a row,” he winked.
Olenna marched Loras up to the dais, dabbing at her dry eyes with a tissue. Everything went dreamy and soft after that. There were words and rings and tears. The sun kissed the sea and the sky turned pink and purple like it had been paid to do it. Then there was a kiss and cheering and more rose petals from somewhere. There must not be a single rose left in all of King’s Landing.
“You clean up well,” Jaime strolled up to her as the party made its way towards the tent. There was already a band playing, and in the growing dark, the tent looked like a glowing island in a sea of grass.
“Thank you,” she resisted the urge to pull the deep v-neck of the jumpsuit closed for the thousandth time. “It was a nice ceremony, don’t you think?”
“I wasn’t paying attention,” he cleared his throat.
“Margaery should pay you for wearing that thing,” Tyrion caught up with them. There were petals in his hair. “You look smashing.”
“You don’t look so bad yourself,” Brienne fended off. Tyrion looked surprisingly traditional in his tux. Until she noticed that the was carrying a top hat in his left hand.
He popped it over his petal strewn curls, “What? It’s formal wear.”
She sighed, “I guess it’s got a certain charm.”
“What about me?” Jamie tossed his hair.
“Yes, you’re all very pretty,” she rolled her eyes. Even if he did look particularly good in the lean cut of his jacket and dark patterned vest.
There were waiters circulating with flutes of champagne. Brienne found their table, and sank into a chair. Margaery plunked next to her and next to her,
“He’s my date,” Margaery grinned.
“Hi Brienne,” he said a little sheepishly. “You look really good.”
“Thank you,” she drank half her champagne in a swallow. “You clean up well.”
“Don’t worry about the age difference,” Podrick said cheerily. “I can see you thinking about it, but it’s fine. She’s just using me for my body.”
“Good job, Pod,” Tyrion laughed, raising his glass to him.
“It’s true,” Margaery agreed. “He’s going to walk in my Paris show. I wanted to have one male model, but most of the professionals are too lean for my style. I like someone with good shoulders. OH! Look they’re announcing them!”
The band leader announced Renly and Loras with their new hyphenated last name. Some pop song that had passed her by played while they danced. Loras was leading and Renly stepped on his foot. They laughed and Brienne hid her smile behind her glass.
“I didn’t think you were a romantic, wench,” Jamie leaned over the back of her chair, a glass of water dangling from one hand.
“I can appreciate it when it’s genuine,” she shrugged. “Can’t you?”
He took a drink of his water then set it beside her champagne, “I don’t know. How can you tell it’s genuine?”
Renly handed Loras off to Olenna, but stayed at the side of the dance floor, smiling like he couldn’t stop if he wanted to.
“Does that look fake?” she gestured.
“I don’t know,” he said softly and he was leaning so close, she could feel his breath over the back of her neck.
“And now, our Women of Honor would like to make some toasts!” The band leader declared.
“I thought those were after dinner!” she protested.
“Change of plans!” Margaery said brightly, tugging her up. “I thought if you knew when it was, you’d just worry the whole time.”
“So you lied?”
Tyrion pulled the speech out of his vest pocket and handed it to her, “I dispense of my duties for the evening.”
“Thank you,” she took it her hands already shaking as she followed Margaery onto the dance floor. Thankfully they handed Margaery the microphone first. Brienne had time to take a few shaky breaths and remind herself that this would all be over soon. Tyrion had promised that very few people would remember anything of her speech at all as long as she gave it with confidence.
People applauded and aww’d as Margaery finished her talk with a heartfelt hug around both grooms. Brienne looked over the crowd, her blood turning to ice until they reached her own table. Where Tyrion was mouthing ‘knock ‘em dead’, Pod was giving her a cheery encouraging smile, and Jaime was already raising a glass with a short nod.
“Good evening,” she started, surprised by the riotous ‘good evening’ in return. “Um, so. My name is Brienne, but you already know that.”
She swallowed hard then took another deep breath and looked down at her folded paper.
“I met Renly when we were in middle school. There were these bullies that usually harassed me, but started to pick on the new kid. I punched one of them in the face. I was suspended, but I spent all three days on suspension at my new friend’s house. We were inseparable. Renly has always had a kind and open heart. He drew people in. In high school, he asked his brother to DM a game of Dungeons and Dragons for us. I didn’t think anyone else would want to do it, but he talked two of the coolest kids in school to showing up every Friday night for two years.
“And lucky for all of us, I saved those character sheets in my basement for just such a moment.”
“No!” Renly squealed, hiding his face into Loras neck.
“Don’t worry, I’m just going to do the highlights,” Brienne beamed. “First Margaery, who I think only came because Loras had the car.”
“True,” Margaery laughed. “And the snacks were good!”
“Margaery had a human bard named Fairheart, who she described as ‘kind of like Leonardo Dicaprio, but hotter and plays a lute or whatever’.”
“He’s still hot,” she insisted, smacking her brother’s bicep when he snickered.
“I was an orc paladin and because it’s my speech, I’ve been told I don’t have to embarrass myself further than that,” she smiled down at her paper when a few people laughed. “But I’ll say that Loras was also a paladin, but better in every way. His elf ‘Aaron, the Shining Knight’ was apparently, ‘loyal and cunning, fair and upstanding’. He has a very thorough backstory that includes a tragic lost love and several dragon fights.
“And that’s still the Loras I know. He’s loyal to his family, smart in his business, and always fair.
“But the best is Renly, who choose to be a cleric, a half-elf that he called George the Stag. George was our savior, healing us after every battle, and making jokes along the way. He described George as, ‘robust, fun loving and entirely without a sense of direction’. All true of Renly.” There was another faint laugh, so she barreled on. “ It was Renly who wanted us to play together. See, he already knew, all the way back then that Loras was the one for him. He told me when we were just sixteen, even though Loras and he were just friends then.”
“He said, ‘Bri, I’m going to be with him for the rest of my life, so you two better start making friends now’. I didn’t think he was serious. I didn’t think he would wait so patiently and calmly to make sure Loras understood the same thing. Watching them fall in love,” her voice caught in her throat, surprising her, “knowing that these two nerds who pretended to be heroes in a damp basement for years and then grow up to be amazing men has been one of the great privileges of my life. And I’m so so happy for you both.”
It was Loras that embraced her first and she wasn’t sure they had ever touched for more than a handshake before. His grip was fierce and when he drew away, he dashed his sleeve over his face for a moment. Then he disappeared from view as Renly gave her a hug,
“Not bad for the girl who vomited before every presentation in high school,” he pulled back beaming up at her.
“I practiced. A lot.” she admitted. “But I meant it. Especially the part where you’re a nerd, George.”
“Shut up,” he laughed. “Come and dance with me. You’re legally obligated after that.”
She didn’t protest. The song was slow and he just led her in slow circles around the floor.
“Congratulations, Ren. Really.”
“Thanks, Bri,” he squeezed her hand. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
Before she could exit the dance floor, Tyrion appeared. He had a weird looking scooter with him,
“One of the Tyrell cousins broke her foot, so I borrowed this from her,” he stepped up onto it, so he came up to her shoulder. “See? Now I can ask for a dance.”
“You could’ve asked without it.”
“But now you can roll me around, and I don’t have to stand on your feet like a child,” he waggled his eyebrows. “C’mon, roll me.”
“How much have you had to drink?”
“Not enough to forget, but enough not to feel any shame. An anesthetic amount of champagne. Come on, don’t leave me hanging.”
She rolled with him around the floor which was rapidly filling with dancing pairs. He told her about his bargaining with the broken-footed cousin and how he had to fetch her drinks for the rest of the night, but he hardly minded given how pretty the Tyrells all were ‘to a disconcerting degree.’
“Ren always said it’s something in the water at Highgarden,” Brienne nodded.
“You did good with the speech. Very heartwarming,” he told her. “But now what embarrassing thing will you say when Margaery makes an honest man of our Pod?”
“I don’t think Pod is ready to settle down,” she pointed discreetly where Podrick was dancing with flushing young woman while Margaery led her brother around the floor, showing off years of ballroom dancing lessons. “But I’m glad they’re enjoying each other.”
“All these trappings,” Tyrion shook his head, “I got married in a church with peeling paint in front of two strangers.”
She squeezed his hand, “It doesn’t make it any less valid.”
“If I could have the lady next?” Loras stepped in and Tyrion gave a bow.
“Can’t refuse the groom, I think it’s in the rules. Did you want the chicken or the beef, Brienne? The waitstaff looks like they’re swooping in.”
Loras took up her hand as Tyrion left with her order.
“I can’t do anything fancy,” Brienne warned.
“Please,” he rolled his eyes, hand resting lightly on her waist. “I’ve seen your footwork when you’re going in for the kill. Just follow my lead and don’t think too hard.”
She tried and found her body remarkably able to cope with his footwork as long as she didn’t get ahead of herself. They didn’t talk as they spun around. Yet, it felt as though they had. Brienne remembered long ago dances where she stood pressed to the wall, trying to make herself small. How Loras had always hung at the edges of Margaery's group, cool and desirable, but apart. How sometimes he’d wind up right next to her at the wall, looking out over everyone else while Renly danced with every pretty girl. Singular and silent, together.
“Congratulations,” she said when he released her.
“Thank you,” he smiled, wide and honest for just a wild moment, then turned and took up Renly again, sweeping him into the crowd.
She started to head to her table.
“Oh no, you don’t,” Jaime cut through the crowd. “You promised me a dance, wench. If you sit down you’re going to refuse to get back up.”
“I would not,” she protested. “I always keep my promises.”
“So keep it now,” he held out his hand.
She took it. It was so familiar to her now, after nights of tumbling him to the mats. She could feel the strength that held her wrists, that helped her stretch her right ankle after a run. He drew her in. Unlike the others, he put his hand at the small of her back, bringing her in close. She rested her other hand on his shoulder.
This close she could see all the fine lines around his eyes and mouth, the way his hair shadowed over his forehead, and how his eyes were mostly sea green, but shaded darker near the pupil to a deep emerald.
The band leader started crooning about their darling being unforgettable. Jaime didn’t lead her into twirls in dips like Loras or make her laugh like Tyrion. Instead he did something far more insidious. Something she could probably never forgive him for.
He made her feel desired. He held her like he wanted her, staring at her face like it was something beautiful to behold. When the song melted into another, he didn’t let her go and she couldn’t bring herself to remind him she’d only agreed to one song. If dinner hadn’t been announced, she wasn’t sure she ever would’ve stopped.
As it was, he didn’t fully let her go. He held one of her hands in his as they went back to the table. Tyrion had moved seats to apparently interrogate Podrick, letting Jaime settle in next to her.
“I-” she started, but had no idea where the sentence might have led. She let it die in her mouth.
“The night’s still young, wench,” he gestured to the waiter for more water. “And I think I might have to fight someone for more dances.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
But sure enough after she’d eaten, Podrick asked if she’d dance with him. He was good and full of cheer as they danced through something peppy. Then ‘I Need a Hero’ came on and Margaery insisted that Brienne had to dance with her.
And then...and then..it was dizzying. People wanted to talk to her that she’d never met, complimenting her speech and her clothes. Shireen shyly asked for a turn around the floor, and asked if she really could come to Brienne’s classes.
It wasn’t until nearly midnight that Jaime grabbed hold of her and they were dancing again. Everything smelled like roses and rich food. The music floated around them, filling the air. She felt giddy and light.
Eventually Renly and Loras were farewelled into a waiting limo, whisked away to the French Riviera. The serious revelers headed for the house where there was a promise of further drinking and dancing. Tyrion, top hat once more purchased on his curls, was in the pack along with Margaery and Podrick.
“Do you mind if we go?” Brienne asked Jaime.
“That’s fine. I’m no fan of drunken parties either,” his eyes were on hers and she had to swallow down a rising feeling that perhaps there was something real in their dancing.
The harried man from the beginning of the day, delivered her coat, apologizing once more that they had to walk to their car. She waved him off and headed down the driveway. It was a little harder in heels and Jaime offered his arm,
“Not an insult, wench,” he laughed at her expression. “I figured you shouldn’t end the night stumbling in the dark.”
With a huff, she took it and it was a little easier to wend their way down the driveway, out through the gates. The car wasn’t far down the road, but the street was much darker now. There were no streetlights. The abundant greenery of the house added to the shadows, leaning out over the sidewalk. Her heel caught in a gap in the sidewalk. Jaime tightened his grip and kept her steady.
“Stupid things,” she sighed. “I’m throwing them into the donation bin on my way to work tomorrow.”
“That’d be a shame,” Jaime laughed quietly. “They show off your legs.”
“Jaime,” she stopped walking, “I’d prefer if you didn’t do whatever...whatever you’re playing at.”
“Who says I’m playing, wench,” he took a small step closer, bringing them as close as they’d been when they were dancing. “I take you very seriously, you know.”
“You do not,” she protested. “You mock me constantly.”
“But it’s a very serious mocking.”
Before she could challenge him, there was a change in the air. A prickle at the back of her neck. They weren’t alone. Jaime must’ve sensed it too, taking a step back and scanning the darkness.
“I told you boys that if we went fishing around this wedding we’d catch a big fish,” a man emerged out of the darkness.
He had a gun. And friends. They emerged from the shadows circling them. All of them were carrying, muzzles catching the moonlight.
“Woah, woah!” Jaime held his hands up. “We’re just headed for our car.”
“Take a step back,” the leader gestured with his gun, indicating Jaime closer to the street.
Rough hands grabbed Brienne’s wrists, forcing her back into the shadows, “This one’s a woman! We’ll get our money and a little fun, huh?”
They have guns, she reminded herself. There were at least five of them. She had to let this play out a little, look for an opening.
“You idiots,” Jaime sneered. “Don’t you know where you are? This is Highgarden. There are cameras everywhere.”
“Aw, rich boy,” the leader clucked his tongue. “Even cameras have blind spots. Toss me your wallet, that nice watch, and whatever else you have on you. Maybe everyone walks away.”
“Don’t hurt her,” Jaime said firmly. “She’s a personal friend of the Tyrells. You touch her and they will scorch the earth to find you.”
“They can try,” the leader sounded slightly less sure.
“They will. And so will the Lannisters.”
Shit. The leader stepped closer to Jaime, the muzzle of his gun pressing into his chest.
“A Lannister. Should’ve known. Forget the watch. We’ll just take you. Good ransom on a Lannister.”
“My father won’t pay you a dime,” Jaime shook his head. “You’re better off with the watch. He's always said he'd never pay ransom for any of us.”
A car came down the street, headlights up and Brienne willed them to see, but it sailed on in the dark, oblivious.
But the light had passed for long enough. Jaime had seen the leader’s face. Shit shit shit, if they were halfway intelligent then,
“Ah. Damn,” the leader laughed. “Too bad for you, Lannister. Guess we can loot a dead body just as easy.”
The gun came up. Brienne went limp, going as heavy and dead weight as she could. Her captors fumbled her wrists. She dropped and then she sprang forward. A shot went out. Jaime screamed. Screaming was good. Screaming was alive. She kicked the leader in the groin, dropping him to the ground.
Four other guns were trained on her when she stood. Jaime was on the ground behind her. The odds were very bad. For a brief, unsettling moment, she thought that if she had to die at least it was on a night where she’d been happy. Go out on a good note.
“Bitch!” the leader groaned. “What you are you morons waiting for? Shoot-”
Gunshots rang out. She dropped to the ground, tried to make herself small as possible. Maybe she could still get to safety somehow.
The shots stopped. She opened her eyes. The entire gang was on the ground, not moving. A phone flashlight turned on in the dark, ten feet up the street.
“That was brave,” Bronn stepped into sight. He had a pistol in his other hand. “Stupid, but brave.”
“That’s what I do for Tyrion,” he stuck his gun back into a holster at the small of his back.
“I’m not Tyrion,” she laughed a little hysterically.
“No,” he put his hand out for her and she took it. “But close enough that I think I’d be fired for not looking after you. Get out your phone. Call 911. If they ask who took out the gang, you didn’t see ‘em, right?”
“Right. Thank you,” she held his hand tightly. “Thank you so much.”
“No need. Just getting my paycheck,” he winked at her, let go and was gone again into the darkness.
She dropped back down, fumbling out her own phone. He was breathing when she brought her ear down to his mouth. There was blood on the back of his head, but his eyes opened when she leaned in.
“My hand is on fire,” he commented, distant and confused. “Did we kiss? We were supposed to kiss.”
“Just...shut up,” she spilled light over his arms.
His right hand was covered in blood, a hole burned through the wrist of his beautiful jacket. She dialed 911 as she fumbled his bowtie open. She made a rough tourniquet as she talked to the dispatcher.
“M’am, are you hurt?” the woman asked after Brienne described Jaime’s injuries.
“No, no I’m fine.”
“You’re not,” Jaime slurred. “Got blood on your face, wench.”
“Oh,” she lifted her hand to her forehead. It came away sticky. The motion re-played itself. Leaping forward, the sounds of shots. “I think I got grazed.”
Sirens sounded in the distance. She took Jaime’s uninjured hand in hers and sat down to wait.
The chairs in the waiting room were hard and cold underneath the thin layer of black silk. The bandage on her head partially obscured the vision in her left eye and the painkiller the doctor had given her made her limbs feel heavy. The fluorescent bulbs hummed through her skull.
She turned and there was Tyrion, still in his tux pants and button down shirt, jacket over his arm.
“Hi,” she said and choked on the word, overcome with relief just to see him. “They have Jaime in surgery.”
“I know, got the full report from the doctor as we were driving in. Sorry it took so long, they weren’t sure where you were and the signal in here is terrible.”
“It’s okay,” she rested her head against the wall.
“How’s your head?” he got into the seat next to her, laid a concerned hand over hers.
“Hurts,” she swallowed hard. “But it’ll be fine. Probably just a small scar. I got lucky.”
“Jaime is the one that got lucky. Bronn said you saved his life.”
“He got shot.”
“But he would’ve been shot in the head if you hadn’t done what you did.”
“I did it all wrong. I teach this stuff, and I did it all wrong. I should close the gym.”
“Please,” he scoffed. “That doesn’t sound like Brienne to me. That sounds like opiates and shock.”
“I messed up,” hot tears pressed behind her eyes. “I know I did.”
“Now, now, none of that,” he pulled out his pocket square which turned out to be a proper handkerchief, monogram and all. “Wipe your face. Your mascara is running everywhere and you look a telenovela character.”
She wiped her face, smearing thick makeup all over the clean white handkerchief.
“The police talk to you yet?” Tyrion asked. She shook her head. “Good. Bronn is typing up a statement on your behalf. When you’re ready, you can read and sign it. We’ll give that to them. If they need to ask you more questions, you wait until we have a lawyer.”
“What? Why? I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I know that, you know that. But lawyers protect the innocent as much as the guilty. Not to mention I don’t think you need to relive all of this a hundred times.”
“Okay,” she clenched the fabric in her hand. "Does Bronn...is that really why you hired him?”
“He’s mostly a bodyguard. I told you what my family was capable of, and I’m not interested in playing a game with my life on the line without protection. It prefer going to an orgy with enough condoms for everyone.”
“Yeah, thanks, got it without the metaphor,” she glanced up as a doctor walked, but didn’t slow as he passed them.
“It’s going to be at least an hour,” he shook his head. “Oh! I almost forgot. Bronn retrieved your bag from this morning, so you’ll have a change of clothes soon.”
“I forgot all about that,” she sighed, then paused, “No one told anyone at the wedding right? I don’t want to ruin anything.”
“We didn’t say anything,” he assured her. “But we’ll have to in the morning. This is a public hospital, someone will notice a Lannister getting a bullet removed. You don’t want them finding out from social media.”
“I’ll call Margaery in the morning,” she decided. “She can decide who to tell what. I’m sorry to take you away from the party.”
“Brienne,” he rolled his eyes. “I was there for you. Flirting and drinking were just nice additions.”
“Oh,” she sniffled again. “I-ok.”
“Just use the hankie.”
She blew her nose, and tried to take a deep breath. The monogram was in red, splashy against the white of the handkerchief. It was the same way he signed his paintings, the conjoined letters with the circle.
“Why do you circle the letters?” she asked, ready for a distraction wherever she could find it.
“Ah, an affectation,” he waved a hand in the air. “When I thought I might become a great painter.”
“I think you’re great.”
“Thank you. But I wanted to be a master, have my work in prestigious galleries. When I was twelve or thirteen, I visited a museum with my class. Our art teacher that year was one of the better ones. When the other children were looking at Monet, she took me aside and showed me this one painting. A portrait of a strong jawed woman in profile.
“‘This is the work of Toulouse-Lautrec’ she told me, ‘if you ever need proof that someone of small stature can do great things’. I read a biography about him as soon as I could get to the library. Lautrec wasn’t a dwarf, but he’d broken his legs in childhood and they’d stopped growing. Probably some genetic quirk from too much inbreeding. His paintings were special, not just to me, but to the art world. His posters defined commercial art at the time and made contributions to impressionist movement that are hard to measure. He felt most comfortable in brothels, painting sex workers and their internal lives, their affairs. He died of alcoholism.”
“Your teacher could see the future, huh?”
“Very funny,” he gave her a wry smile. “Who’s to say if I would’ve become this without knowing that? Probably. But having a role model was helpful. Anyway, he had a monogram like that. The T and L joined though his had an F as well. I started copying it when I was young.”
He got out his phone and started showing her some of his favorites. It passed a few minutes looking into the window of the past, seeing the images of long dead women dancing and drinking.
Tyrion looked up, phone sliding away as the doctor approached them.
“That’s me,” he lifted his chin. “What’s the news?”
“The bullet pierced your brother’s wrist here,” the doctor pointed to the midpoint of his own wrist. “Unfortunately, it fragmented. We were able to remove all of it without any further damage. It will take a lot of physical therapy, but he should retain some limited function in the hand.”
“No amputation?” Brienne blurted. It had been her worst fear when she saw how ugly the wound was.
“No,” the doctor gave her a tight smile. “We’ll keep him here for a few days to monitor for infection just in case, but we didn't have to remove anything. Please understand that there will still be severe mobility issues, some permanent most likely. He’s also severely concussed. Has he had any head injuries in the past?”
“Not that I know of,” Tyrion frowned. “It’d be in his records, right?”
“Most likely,” the doctor allowed. “He’ll have to be more careful from here on out. Any future head injuries should be checked by a specialist.”
“When can we see him?”
“Once he’s out of recovery and in a regular room. I’ll have someone let you know.”
Not long after, Bronn turned up with her bag and Brienne gratefully took it. He waved off anything she tried to say to him and disappeared again by the time she’d changed in the tiny bathroom stall. The jumpsuit was banished into a corner of her bag. It was stiff with blood in a few places and it made her stomach turn to touch it.
Tyrion found a crossword puzzle from somewhere and made her do it with him to pass the next stretch of waiting. He also produced a piece of cake wrapped in napkins.
“You took wedding cake?”
“What? They’d just throw it out. No one is cheaper than a wealthy man, you know.”
So they ate wedding cake and scribbled all over the crossword until a nurse came by with a room number.
“He’s very groggy from the concussion, anesthesia and the painkillers,” he warned. “Don’t be surprised if he asks the same questions or can’t recall things. It’ll improve.”
It was a private room, of course, with a view of the ocean. The early dawn was just creeping over the world, casting a grey light everywhere. Half of Jamie’s right arm was buried in bandages and some kind of splint. They bed was pushed to a semi-seated position and he blinked sluggishly at them as they came in.
“Heeeey,” he slurred. “Bro. Bro. I got shot.”
“I know, Jaime,” Tyrion took one of the chairs, “how are you feeling?”
“I dunno. Dizzy. The room is moving.”
“It isn’t,” Tyrion smiled at him. “Is it better if you close your eyes?”
Jamie closed his eyes like a child pretending to be asleep, “Nooo, no. That seems worse. I’m going to open them.”
Only one eye opened and then the other in some kind of reverse wink. “Wench! Hi!”
“Hi,” she reluctantly took the other chair, uncertain if she belonged.
“I think I’m going to miss our run today,” he confided. “I got shot!”
“I know,” she said gently. “I was there.”
“You were?” he looked her bandage. “What happened to you?”
“I also got shot.”
“No! Tyrion! You let her get shot?”
“I’m not sure how I’m supposed to stop her from saving your life.”
“It wasn’t Tyrion’s fault,” she assured him.
“What wasn’t?” Jaime blinked. “My head really hurts.”
“You have a concussion,” Brienne explained.
“From getting shot?”
“Your head hit the ground after you got shot.”
“Ouch,” he said sympathetically like it had happened to someone else. “You looked really hot tonight.”
“Um,” she glanced at Tyrion, who was the opposite of helpful, smothering a laugh. “Thank you.”
“No,” Jaime put his unbandaged hand on hers, “Thank you. I like the old t-shirt too. Wanna poke my fingers in all those holes.”
Brienne’s face was literally on fire. Tyrion was full bore covering his mouth with both hands, making an awful wheezing noise.
“Are you still dizzy?” she asked, desperate for a diversion.
“Wedding was pretty. You want to get married? I’d marry you. We’d make enormous babies.”
“Jaime, please,” she pleaded. Tyrion was coughing now. Maybe he’d choke to death and then there’d be no witnesses to all this.
“I think I’m going to throw up,” Jaime said thoughtfully.
She lunged for the call button.
All in all, when Tyrion recovered enough to suggest she take a cab home on his dime and return later, she agreed wholeheartedly. Jaime frowned when she said goodbye.
“Can’t I go home with you?”
She couldn’t help herself. She reached down and brushed some of his hair out of his eyes, “When the doctors say your well enough, you can recuperate at my house if you still want to, okay?”
“Okay,” he gave her a sunny smile. “Bye!”
A shower, a meal and a nap helped considerably. Tyrion emailed over the statement for her to sign and give to the police. He mentioned that the force didn’t seem particularly concerned. Apparently the gang had quite a record. Margaery called, clearly upset on her behalf, but willing to promise not to bother the newlyweds with it until they were home from their honeymoon,
“Even if they will be furious with me. We’ve already put in new cameras and grandmother is sending you an enormous care package. Are you sure I can’t come over and keep you company?”
“I’m going back to the hospital now. Tyrion probably needs a break.”
“All right, I could come there?”
“No, it’s fine. He might have other visitors anyway.”
There weren’t any. Tyrion did take off once she was settled with promises to return shortly. Jaime was sleeping, so she pulled out her book and tried to distract herself with the dashing female lead chasing down a serial killer.
There was no one for a long while, then a soft knock on the door. Brienne looked up, bracing herself for Cersei.
Instead, bundled in a soft looking sweater and leggings was Sansa. She was holding a small bouquet of daisies.
“Hi, I-um. That is the family couldn’t get away. Cersei suggested I visit instead?”
“Come in,” Brienne moved over so Sansa could take the chair beside her. She took the flowers and after some indecision just lay them on the bedside table. “You don’t have to be here if you don’t want, really. He’s mostly sleeping.”
“It’s okay, I don’t mind,” Sansa gave her a small smile. “I spent a lot of time in hospitals after my brother broke his back.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. How's he doing?"
“I wouldn't know. I don’t talk to my family anymore,” she glanced at the door, where a nurse was walking past. "They were toxic for me."
“All right,” she frowned. Sansa had a second small bag which proved to have yarn and a crochet hook. “I didn’t know you were close with Mr. Lannister.”
“It’s a work in progress,” Brienne decided on. “How are you and Joffery doing?”
Sansa started moving her hook, yarn flying around her fingers, “We’ve decided on a long engagement. We’re so young, you know? But the Lannisters have been very kind to me.”
“I hope you don’t mind getting roped into the self-defense classes.”
“Not at all. Myrcella is very sweet,” that was said with a little more sincerity. “I’m not much of a fighter. My sis- well. I don’t think I’m built for it, but it’s always interesting to learn new things.”
Brienne glanced at Jaime’s face, but he was definitely still asleep. He issues a soft snore occasionally, his good hand twitching.
“Sansa, I know you have no reason to trust me, but I hope you’ve seen that I’m someone that cares about my students.”
“Yes,” she replied, eyes on her work. “Of course.”
“So believe me when I say that if at any time, you feel like you need a break or to...just take a step away, just tell me. Okay?”
“Take a break from what?” Sansa asked blankly. Neat chains of stitches rained down from her hands, perfect soldiers. “I’m happy.”
“I know you are,” Brienne sighed. “But even if you’re just having a bad day. There’s a locker in the changing room. Top left. Just give it a look, ok?”
“If you say so, but really, everything is fine. What are you reading?”
And that’s how Tyrion came back to find Brienne reading a chase scene to Sansa as the girl worked diligently on what was apparently a shawl.
“How cozy,” Tyrion said brightly. “I have dinner, I think we can stretch it to three if you’d like to stay Sansa.”
“Please,” Brienne set aside the book. “I’m not very hungry and it’d be a shame if it went to waste.”
Sansa made light conversation with Tyrion, seeming to ease when it became apparent there would be no questions about the rest of his family. Instead, Tyrion asked after her crafting with some apparent knowledge.
“If they haven’t cleared out my old bedroom, you’re welcome to whatever supplies are still under my bed,” he offered her. “I think there are some pastels and good pencils at least.”
“I wouldn’t want to take them from you...”
“Long since replaced,” Tyrion waved her off. “I’d rather know someone was making use of them. Pastels can be tricky, but rewarding.”
“Thank you,” she said mildly. “I’ll take a look after school tomorrow.”
Soon after, Sansa said her goodbyes and left, leaving behind a sweet perfume in the acrid hospital air.
“She’s a child,” Brienne sighed.
“Old enough to make choices,” Tyrion carefully packed away the leftovers. “And in the end, if she does the right thing then we’ll be helping, not harming her.”
“I know, I know.”
“Tyrion?” Jaime stirred on the bed.
“Ah, he wakes. How are you feeling?”
“Like someone knocked me over the head and shot me,” Jaime groused. “How do you think I feel?”
“I can get the nurse,” Brienne stood up. “You’re probably okay to take another painkiller.”
“Wench, wait,” He stared at her. “The things I said before.”
“It’s fine, you had a lot of stuff in your system.”
“I meant it.”
“No you did not,” Brienne crossed her arms over her chest. “You probably don’t even remember what you said.”
“I know that I meant to kiss you.”
“Why? As a joke?”
“No!” I mean it,” he held his hand out to her. “Come here and stop glaring at me like a magnificent Valkyrie. It’s going to do things to my blood that shouldn’t be going on while I have a head injury.”
“You’re confused.” She didn't budge.
“Then I’ve been confused for weeks.”
“Do you think I’m an idiot, Jaime? I know that you just went through a break up. I’m convenient, fine. But I’m not interested in being anyone’s convenience.”
“What do you mean a break up?” All the playfulness drained away, leaving only a cold evaluation.
Tyrion, trapped between them, wasn’t laughing now.
“I know that you have something going on with-” she waved her hand, remembering at the last minute that the room only appeared private. “That’s why you left. You had some falling out.”
“How much do you know?” Jaime glared at Tyrion.
“I said nothing,” Tyrion defended.
“He didn’t,” Brienne lingered at the foot of the bed. “But I also have eyes and ears in my head. I don’t- I don’t care about that. I’m glad you’re away from her, it seemed like an unhealthy relationship. I’m...I love being your friend. I meant it. You can stay with me as long as you want.”
“The children are mine,” he said like an accusation. Like she had been party to it. “Or did you guess that too?”
“The first day we met you were upset about Joffery’s birth certificate,” she reminded him gently. “It’s hard to forget how upset you were. You don’t get that worked up about much of anything. I put two and two together eventually.”
“And you don’t care? That I've done something so horribly unnatural?”
“It’s not my place to care!” she stared him down. “You made it clear that what you wanted was someone to fight with. I don’t mind fighting and running and dancing with you. You can’t just...I’m not here to be convenient or easy.”
“Easy is the very last thing you are,” Jaime shook his head. “Fine. You don’t believe me because you don’t trust me to know my own heart?”
“I don’t trust you not to break mine!”
The silence settled around them, suffocation thick. Tyrion cleared his throat, “I think Jaime needs those pain meds, don’t you? Yes. Absolutely. I’m going to go be not here immediately.”
He slipped past Brienne, leaving her hanging awkwardly around the doorway.
“Just...come here,” Jaime growled. “I can’t get out of this damn bed without alerting the whole building, so please. Come here.”
Reluctantly she went to him, sat down beside him.
“You love her.”
“She’s my twin, I’ll probably love her until one of us kills the other,” he agreed. His eyes were pinched with pain and she felt a guilty twist for having pushed him. “But time changed us both. We’re not codependent kids. I lived with this dream of who she was for a long time. Until I moved back in and found out she was screwing half the city. She’s still the only woman I’ve ever been with and I thought...I thought that meant something to her. But it was just another way to keep control over me. We haven't had sex in two years and I don't intend to ever again.”
“No, my turn now. Quiet down,” he stared out into middle space. “I didn’t think I could ever care about anyone that wasn’t blood. According to my father, that’s more than enough. Too much. When I met you, I did just want to spar. You’re legendary. I wanted to test myself against you. Guess that won’t happen now.”
“Yes it will,” she interrupted. “You think I’m going to let you go moan in a corner?”
“Quiet, wench,” he scolded, some of the ice thawing out of him. “My point is that might be how it started, but then I got to know you. How ruthlessly kind you are. You give everyone so many chances to fail and you keep giving them a hand back up. You give pieces of yourself away and aren’t diminished. You saved my goddamn worthless life, which by the way I’m angry about, you ridiculous woman. You’re worth ten of me.”
“Not done. I also found out through repeated exposure that you may not be generally considered beautiful, but I’ve wanted to see you naked since the first time I saw you in a sports bra and jogging shorts. You’re built like a brick wall I want to crash into.”
“Ah, I almost forgot you had a concussion for a second.”
“It’s true!” he said petulantly. And then he looked entirely like Jaime. Like her Jaime, and not like Mr. Lannister at all. “I want you to give me a chance to show you.”
She picked up his good hand in hers and remembered how it had felt at the small of her back. Her thumb rubbed a small circle over the top of his hand, felt the bumps of vein and bone.
“Okay,” she whispered.
“Okay,” she confirmed.
“Even though I’m a rude prick with a dark and sinful past that wants to pick fights with you?”
“Maybe a little because of that,” she allowed. “But I prefer the dancing to the fighting.”
“Lies,” he teased.
She brought his hand to her mouth and kissed his knuckles once, briefly.
“Maybe we need a little of both.”
The first few days Jaime was back from the hospital, he mostly slept. Brienne gave him medication on a timer, woke him up to eat meals and left him alone otherwise. He seemed okay enough that she went to work and just kept her phone in her pocket in case.
On Wednesday, the sun woke all the way up and the air conditioning kicked on for the first time. Jaime rose with it, shambling out to eat breakfast at the table.
“Do you want to come sit on the dock?” Brienne offered, passing him a yogurt. “I was going to go for a swim. You could probably use the fresh air.”
“All right,” he yawned and itched his beard. It had grown in with surprising ferocity.
She unearthed an old beach chair out of the basement and sprayed off the cobwebs with the garden hose. Her bare toes flexed in the grass, enjoying the warm dirt beneath them. They walked down together after Jaime had wrestled himself into gym shorts and a clean t-shirt. The t-shirt was hers, the neck half coming away with age. She had a bit of a collection of old shirts and they were easier for him to get on himself then his own tighter ones. He'd refused help getting dressed or showering, but it came with a lot noise and swearing that reached her wherever she was in the house.
The sea was still, glistening a deep blue. She set up his chair at the end of the dock, handed him her phone, then tossed off her cover up. Her suit was a practical one piece. Nothing that should invite the hunger in his eyes as he looked her over.
“Where do you go in?” he glanced away to the rocky shoreline.
She smiled and dove off the end of the dock. It was only ten or so feet above the water which hit her cold and clear as she pierced through it.
There were boats dotting the horizon, but none close enough to concern herself with. She swam in long powerful strokes, then flipped onto her back and floated, eyes closed, bobbing like a cork. She could make out a faint shadow of his figure, leaning back in the rickety chair.
Eventually, she headed back in and caught one of the ropes left dangling into the water. She pulled herself up hand over hand and flopped onto the warm wood beside him.
“Scared the shit out of me,” Jaime said mildly.
“I learned to swim by being thrown off this dock,” she laughed. “My brother tossed me in every day the summer I was five. Then he’d jump in and help me, taught me how to stay afloat and dive.”
“What happened to him?” Jaime leaned forward, casting a shadow over her.
“He was on the crew team. They capsized unexpectedly. He was a strong swimmer, but it was a bad year for rain, the river was wild. Do you know crew teams don’t require life jackets?” She sighed. “It was a week after my sixth birthday.”
“It was a long time ago,” she ran a hand through her damp hair, gritty with salt.
“Losing Mom was hard enough. I can’t imagine if Tyrion had died too. They thought he might for awhile, you know.”
“Really?” She thought of a world without Tyrion in it. It would certainly be a less interesting one.
“He was born prematurely. Mom had some kind of complication. I remember she was sick the last few months, and a specialist came in. Cersei always blamed Tyrion. We were children and it was easy to think, I guess. But she would’ve died even if he was a genetically typical kid.”
“How old were you?”
“My mom died when I was three. I don’t even remember her.”
“I do,” Jaime sighed. “Not sure if that’s better or worse.”
“I think we can just say it’s equally bad and leave it there,” she pushed herself up onto her elbows and looked out over the water. “When my father died, I felt like all my strings had been cut. You and Tyrion talk about your family overshadowing your life, being present in every part of it. For me, it’s just gone. I’m the last Tarth.”
“No one to judge you though,” Jaime said after a long silence. “Or find you wanting.”
“Or to be proud of me,” she gave him a crooked smile. “I think Dad would be proud of my little gym, but I’ll never get to hear him say that.”
“My father has never once been proud of any of us,” he kicked her gently in the ankle. “We’re never smart or focused or loyal enough.”
“Tyrion hates him.”
“Probably deserved,” Jaime smoothed down the edge of his bandage. “I don’t. I don’t know if I love him, exactly, but he’s still Father somehow. Blood is thicker than water, whatever whatever.”
“There’s another version of that one, you know? ‘The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.’ I think it means the bond of soldiers is closer than family.”
“Huh,” he looked down at her, the sun making a halo of his fly away golden hair.
They ate lunch outside too, crumbs from their sandwiches feeding the ants on the back porch. When Jaime started yawning, they went back and spread out on the enormous couch. She pulled out a book and he sighed.
“Can’t we watch something?”
“Yeah if you want.” She dug out the remote. “I don’t know what will be on.”
He flipped through the channels until he found an episode of NCIS. After the first few minutes, she set her book aside. Hours slid by as one episode melted into another. She dozed off and woke with a start.
“I have to get going,” she got to her feet.
He frowned, fiddling with the remote until he could mute the television. “Could I sit in tonight? I know it’s the girl’s class, but I don’t think I’m very threatening right now.”
“I’d like to see Myrcella,” he looked down at his hand. “If she even shows without me to prod Cersei about it.”
“Yeah, yes. Fine.” she stumbled over her words. His daughter. She’d known, before, but now she really knew and it was different. “You can go sleep on Tyrion’s couch if you get tired.”
Myrcella and Sansa and all the other girls were there. In fact they were waiting on the steps even though it was early when Brienne arrived.
“There she is!” The girls spotted her and suddenly she was surrounded by a wall of teenage affection, getting hugged from every direction.
“We were so worried about you!” One of the girls squealed. “Mom said you might not have class today, but we all texted and decided to show up anyway.”
“I’m fine,” she laughed, trying to move through them to get the door open. “I’ll just have an interesting scar.”
“Uncle Jaime!” Myrcella threw her arms around his waist. “Mom said you were still in the hospital!”
“She must’ve gotten confused,” Jaime leaned down to hug her back.
“You should’ve texted me,” she scolded. “So I could visit you.”
“It’s fine, honey. The hospital was awful anyway.”
She finally got the door open and the girl’s poured into the studio, talking over each other as they took off their shoes and found their places on the mat.
“Let’s all sit down,” Brienne decided as Jaime settled on one of the chairs. “Bring it in.”
The girls made an untidy circle around her, and she sucked in a deep breath, “So if we don’t talk about what happened, you’re all going to be distracted aren’t you?”
A dozen heads nodded. She launched into a simplified version of the story.
“Now, here’s what I want you to know. I was scared, very scared. I made fast choices and they weren’t all the best choices. I hope none of you ever have to know that fear, but I also want you to know that no matter how many classes you take with me or anyone else, you might still make the wrong choices. That’s not your fault. It is NEVER your fault. The people that choose to scare and hurt you are the ones to blame.”
“Even if you got yourself into the bad situation?” one of the girl’s piped up. “My friend’s mom stays with this guy that hurts her.”
“It’s still not her fault,” Brienne frowned, thinking over how to phrase it. “Abusive people are really good at keeping their victims close. Sometimes they’re even nice for really long periods of time to trick their victims into thinking that the bad things won’t happen again.”
“Sometimes you love them,” Jaime offered and a dozen heads whipped around to him. “Sometimes they’re the most important person in your life. That doesn’t mean that they’re good or kind or someone you should be around. Love doesn’t conquer all.”
Myrcella and Sansa exchanged a wordless look that Brienne just barely caught.
“But your guys were just thugs or whatever,” a girl with a high ponytail pointed out. “So it’s different.”
“True. But they had a guns and they were pointing them at me and someone I cared about. They had the upper hand. If it had been any of you in the situation, I would’ve told you ‘Don’t move! Don’t struggle!’ Wait until they’re distracted and run. Fear made me make fast choices.”
“What would you do if you had to do it again?”
She glanced at Jaime, and shrugged, “The same thing probably. You’ll have to make your own minds up if it was the right thing or now.”
She let the session become a Q and A, figuring the girl’s needed answers more than punches just then. The topic strayed away entirely from her and Jaime into the muddied territory of teen relationships, but Brienne thought she managed all right. A lot of the girls hugged her again on their way out and she managed to hug them all back. They giggled at Jaime who had fallen asleep with his head lolled to one side as they went.
Myrcella went to his side and shook him a little, “Uncle Jaime, I’m going.”
“Oh,” he started awake, blinking at her, “I wasn’t sleeping.”
“Uh huh,” Myrcella laughed and for a moment, all Brienne could see in her was Tyrion. “Can you call me or something so I know you aren’t dead?”
“Yeah, I can do that.”
Brienne hung back to let them have their moment. She heard the toilet flush and Sansa emerge composed from the bathroom. She had her handbag and slipped into her shoes,
“Come on, Myrcella. Let’s not keep the driver waiting,” she said softly.
“Okay! Bye Brienne!”
“Bye, girls!” She turned to Jaime. “Can you stay awake for dinner or should I send you upstairs to Tyrion’s for a nap?”
“I can always stay awake for food.”
He could, but barely. He let Tyrion and Brienne carry the conversation then went dutifully upstairs to nap.
“How’s he holding up?” Tyrion asked as she started slicing her lemons for the night.
“He seems okay. He’s got his first PT appointment on Friday. That’ll be a real test, I think.”
“Working hard isn’t something he’s a stranger too,” but there was worry caught in the corners of Tyrion’s eyes.
“But not with his body, not really. You and I are used to it. The way people are when you don’t fit,” he shrugged. “Jaime’s always been handsome and whole and normal on the outside. Even when his reputation went south, he still got everything he wanted. This’ll be different.”
“It’s just a hand,” she said uncertainty.
“A hand that will probably be more like a claw for a long time,” he reminded her. “Maybe forever. People will notice. They’ll stare. Those quick little glances that wear you down.”
“The whispers too,” she watched her knife carefully.
Bronn came down the stairs, looking more pressed and cleaned up than usual.
“Where are you off to?” Tyrion raised an eyebrow.
“Man can have a social life, can’t he?” Bronn gave Brienne a cheeky salute. “Saved this one’s life, figured I earned a night off.”
“Of course,” Tyrion nodded. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Try not to get into too much trouble.”
He walked off into the night.
“Do you think he has a date?” Tyrion pondered. “That poor girl.”
“Be nice to him for a little. He did save my life. Even if he probably didn’t have to kill all of those men.”
“Mm, he’s more of ‘if you’re a hammer, then every problem is a nail’ type.”
Brienne started on the limes, then allowed, “If it’s a date, he must really like her. That’s the cleanest I've ever seen him.”
“I think he was wearing cologne,” Tyrion agreed, wide eyed.
“Hey,” she asked faux casually. “What are we going to do about Jaime and your evil plan?”
“What about them?” he tilted his head.
“...you do realize if you’re the architect of your father’s downfall and keep it a secret from him, he’ll never forgive you? Or me.”
They sat with that for a long moment.
“If I do tell him, he may try to stop us.”
“I guess you have to make a choice then: Is your revenge worth more than your relationship with him?”
“Brienne, don’t you have to ask yourself the same thing?”
“I made you a promise to help. My promises mean something to me. If part of helping you is keeping from him and...and losing that potential, then it is what it is.”
He stared at her then shook his head, “You are truly more than either of us deserve. I’ll think about it.”
She thought about it a lot too as Jaime struggled his way through his first PT session. She sat in the waiting area, but she could see him working as the therapist tried to determine his range of motion. Saw the way the sweat beaded on his brown and his teeth gritted. Saw in a whole other way that she was the one sitting here. Not Cersei or Tywin. Neither of them had called or even texted as far as she knew.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” he sunk low in the seat on the way back to the house.
“Good thing you don’t have a choice,” she shrugged. “I’m going to drive you to every appointment and sit there while you do it.”
“You’re very mean, did you know that?”
“Mm. What happened to my ruthless kindness?”
“Honestly, you’re just proving my point right now.”
The day was warm and the air was sweet. The web of Lannister secrets was closing down around her, but for that moment she didn’t feel stifled by it. It was its own kind of embrace. Almost as good as the one he gave her when the got back to the house. The kiss was just a single soft press of lips, his arms wrapped gingerly around her. So small, so simple. So overwhelming that she stayed on the front steps in shock while he went inside, humming to himself.
Brienne almost cancelled the whole outing when Tyrion opened the parasol. And it was definitely a parasol even though it was black and didn’t have lace on it. It was obvious even it’s furled state that it could repel not a single drop of water.
“What?” Tyrion frowned. “I burn!”
“That’s what sunblock is for!”
“Oh hey, is that Cersei’s?” Jaime looked at it. “When did you steal that from her?”
“It’s not stolen if the owner doesn’t know it’s missing.”
“That is 100% untrue,” Brienne sighed. “I just wanted to eat food outside. Why is this happening?”
What was happening was that apparently Lannisters did not know how to just get a blanket and some deli sandwiches. Or maybe they were both anxious about having Myrcella and Tommen to themselves for an entire afternoon and had gone completely over the edge. There was an enormous picnic basket that had real silverware and porcelain plates stowed in it. Brienne suspected there were probably also wine glasses and a bottle. Podrick had hefted it up, looking ready to carry the entire world on his back if it meant he got to come.
Jaime meanwhile had made some kind of late night Amazon purchase that had been delivered in an enormous box that he refused to open until they go there.
They managed to get it all into Jaime’s Lexus because there was no way it would get into the convertible and leave room for four people. But Jaime wasn’t actually cleared to drive yet, so Brienne wound up taking the whole party to the park where she and Jaime used to run. Would run again, she assured herself.
She unfolded the large wool blanket for them to sit on, the only thing she’d been allowed to contribute. A town car pulled up as Podrick started pulling up food and the doors opened to discourage an adorable looking boy and Myrcella. Following more sedately and carefully was Sansa.
“I hope I’m not intruding,” she said quietly as the kids rushed over to Jaime and Tyrion, Tommen chattering a mile a minute.
“Not at all,” Brienne smiled at her. “It’ll be nice to have another non-Lannister here. And I think Tyrion ordered enough food to keep an army going.”
They sat on the corner of the blanket and Podrick gave Sansa a shy smile as he offered her a plate of grapes, “There’s other stuff too, but I’m still unpacking it.”
“Pod, you aren’t getting paid today,” Brienne reminded him. “Just sit and enjoy the sun.”
“Are you sure?” he glanced back at Tyrion, who was listening earnestly as Tommen described something to him.
“I’m very sure. Let them handle it, come and sit.”
He plonked down next to her, looking expectant, it took her a moment and then she snorted, “Oh, of course. Sansa, this is Podrick. He helps out at the bar. Podrick, this is Sansa, she’s one of my students.”
“Hi,” Pod popped a grape in his mouth. “I like your sweater, did you make that yourself?”
“I did,” a small smile crossed her face. “How’d you know?”
“Oh, I’ve been learning stuff about textiles,” he grinned. “My friend Marge is a designer and she’s always going on about fabrics. She’s a big fan of handmade materials.”
“You cannot call Margaery ‘Marge’,” Brienne said scandalized. “There is nothing Marge about her.”
“You know Margaery Tyrell?” Sansa leaned forward. “I follow her on Instagram. She makes such beautiful things.”
“Doesn’t she? I got a sneak peek at her fall line and she’s doing some really interesting things with hand painted silk,” Pod grinned, and suddenly Brienne felt very superfluous to the conversation. She feigned interest in the food and removed herself, leaving the two to chat happily about fashion.
Jaime was attempting to open the Amazon box with a knife and one hand. Tyrion seemed content to let him struggle with it, only surreptitiously steadying it on the bottom with one foot.
“Give me that,” Brienned rolled her eyes and held out her hand. “Don’t set your PT back by a week over packing tape.”
Frowning, he handed it over, “I could’ve done it.”
“Yep,” she stabbed into the box. “Didn’t have to though.”
The box split easily open and Jaime did gently push her aside to draw out the contents. He produced two enormous kite kits. One with a gigantic cat face and the other a delicate ombre rainbow.
“Uncle Jaime, I’m too old for kites,” Myrcella pouted, even as Tommen hugged the cat face to his chest.
“My dear,” Tyrion clicked his tongue. “There is absolutely no such thing and I’m offended that you’d say so.”
“Oh, are those kites?” Sansa looked up from her conversation, interest alight in her eyes. “I haven’t flown one since- it’s been such a long time.”
“You can help with mine,” Myrcella said immediately. “I’ve never flown one before.”
“Never?” Sansa got up, a little stiffly. Brienne caught the faintest wince, but then she was off as if all was well and Pod followed, quietly helping Tommen open his.
The four youngest of the party were quickly preoccupied. Jaime watched them with something tight in his expression. She wondered how many years he had tried to pack into moments like these. Days, like today, when he was sure Cersei was out of town or stolen moments when there was no one around to see.
“Want a glass of wine?” Tyrion offered. He’d opened his parasol. Stitched messily across it in white thread was written ‘Fuck Off Sun’.
“...you’ve been trolling me.” She realized. “All this time. Was it because I was mean about your ascot or did you just start with the ascot?”
“I have no idea what you mean. White or red?”
“How did you even do that?”
“I did the embroidery myself. A total bitch, but worth it, I think,” he grinned and opened the bottle of white.”You can learn almost anything on YouTube these days. Find ascots, top hats...”
“Jaime, your brother is being mean to me,” she complained.
“Tyrion, stop breathing, you’re annoying her,” he said absently.
Tyrion threw the cork at his head, watching it bounce off with a grin.
Which was how when the kids got tired of their kites, they trooped back to find the three ostensible adults covered in torn up grass, dirt clods and entirely innocent expressions as they drank glasses of red wine. The white had been lost when Brienne kicked out in defense of her ticklish spots.
“It was horrible,” Tyrion said straight faced, still red in the cheeks from exertion. “The lawnmower attacked us.”
“Did the lawnmower eat all the brie and crackers too?” Podrick looked forlorn into the basket.
“There’s still the cheddar?”
They all sat down to eat, the sun steadily climbing. Sansa shielded her eyes, and she was clearly starting to pink up, possibly just from the heat of wearing a sweater, but she didn’t remove it.
“Here,” Tyrion handed her the remarkably still intact parasol. “You red heads just go up in flames in the sun.”
“Thank you,” she took it gratefully, angling it carefully so that Myrcella and Tommen wouldn’t see the embroidery. “Did you do that yourself?”
“Yes,” he said proudly. “A bit of a hack job.”
“I can fix it,” she offered, finishing of her sandwich.
“Don’t trouble yourself, but thank you,” he smiled at her. “It was a silly joke and I know you’re talents probably far surpass it.”
Sansa seemed to be weighing him in her mind, but she said nothing and turned back to her lunch. Food decimated, Jaime produced a checkers set out of the Amazon box and gleefully challenged Tommen to a game.
“Brienne, can you show me that left hook again?” Myrcella asked.
So Brienne got to her feet and they worked it through. Before long, Pod joined them and the three of them went through a few forms before Pod gently sparred with Myrcella, stopping periodically for Brienne to correct their forms.
“Brienne?” Sansa stood. “I was going to go for a walk, but I don’t know this path.”
“Oh, I can go with you,” she decided. “Pod, show Myrcella that undercut that I taught you last week.”
Sansa picked up the parasol and held it over her head. Even her very modern crisp khakis, t-shirt and thin sweater, it gave her an air of a bygone era. Maybe it was the intense melancholy that draped around her like a cloak.
“I’m glad you came today,” she offered as they left the blanket behind them.
“Me too,” she paused. “I took those things that you left for me.”
“I know,” Brienne gave her a tight smile. “You don’t have to do anything with them if you don’t want to.”
“But I did,” Sansa smoothed down a hair that the wind had picked up, tucking it back in with the others. “So now I need to know what you want them for.”
Brienne told her.
“What if I say no?” Sansa looked out over the trees, the parasol twirling slowly in her hands. “You’ve placed all your chips on me without knowing if I’d agree. You have no reason to think that I would.”
“Then we’ll figure something else out. Tyrion is very clever and he’s been thinking about this for a long time,” Brienne shrugged. “I agreed to this version because...honestly it seemed the most honorable one.”
“Honor?” Sansa peered up at her, face a blank. “There’s no honor in this city. There’s only the quick and the dead.”
“I have it. And I mean what I say. If you want to go home, then I want to bring you there. What will happen after that is only what is deserved. But if you’re truly more happy with Joffery-”
“I want to leave now. Tonight,” Sansa stood up straighter. “Myrcella knows a little of what’s going on. We’ve become friends going to your class which I never...it’s been very helpful. She can tell the servants that I felt sick and decided to stay with you to keep them from catching it. No one will ask anything further.”
“All right,” Brienne licked her lips. “All right.”
When they returned to the blanket, Brienne tugged Tyrion aside.
“Now or never,” she hissed, explaining quickly.
“You know that if you hadn’t come along, I never would have told him,” Tyrion said seriously. “He’s a liability.”
“But I did.”
“But you did,” Tyrion squared his shoulders. “Wish me luck.”
She would never know what Tyrion said to Jaime that afternoon under the summer sun while the youngest Lannisters tumbled around like puppies. She did know that after some coaxing, Sansa let him see some of what she had collected and Jaime’s face turned white as a sheet.
They wound up back at the bar once the children were whisked away back to the Rock and Podrick cheerfully went to get ready for his other job.
“Marge made me a new costume!” He said delighted. “I’ll send you a picture.”
“Please don’t,” Brienne pleaded, but she doubted that he heard as he went whistling down the street.
Jaime cornered Brienne in the kitchen, standing in the doorway, “You knew. All this time.”
“For awhile,” she agreed, folding her arms over his chest. “You’re angry.”
“Furious,” he growled. “This is my family you’re fucking with. And you let me believe-”
“Believe what?” she growled right back. “That I supported a man who had an innocent girl repeatedly raped to punish his son? Who left her for dead? Who doesn't care if his children have sex with each other as long as they do their jobs? Who ruins lives to protect a family legacy? And for what? For money? For power? He doesn’t do it for you, Jaime. Certainly not for Tyrion. Cersei? Is that who this is all for?”
“No, my turn,” she said viciously. “Your son is a monster, who beats and torments a girl for existing. I’m not going to sit here and soothe your feelings about it or whimper for forgiveness or understanding. I might have started this because Tyrion asked me, but I have my own stake in this now. I have to protect that girl.”
“Because you couldn’t protect yourself?” Jaime sneered.
“Because your family eats people alive and stamps on their corpses,” she snapped back. “I-I care about you. I want you in my life, but not at the expense of closing my eyes and pretending everything is fine.”
“Everything between us was fine!” He ran his hand through hair. “But you were hiding this from me.”
“Does that make you trust me less?” she leaned heavily against the counters. “Does it change who I am?”
“No,” he admitted sourly. “It’s all very...Brienne of you. You don’t even know the Stark girl.”
“I don’t have to know someone to care about them,” she shrugged. “I know you do. That’s always going to be something we argue about.”
“Always?” he raised his eyebrows. “You think there’s still us after this.”
“That’s up to you. I’d like there to be. But frankly, if you’re going to break up with me over this then you’re not the man I thought you were anyway.”
She shoved past him back into the bar. Her hands shook a little as she picked up a rag and held it under the tap. With single minded focus, she wiped the bar clean. Sansa sat on the end, nursing a lemonade.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I know you like him.”
“Don’t be,” Brienne perched a thin slice of lemon on the edge of Sansa’s glass. “I’d rather feel good about who I am and what my choices are then have a boyfriend.”
“I wish I’d felt that way when I met Joffery. It would’ve spared everyone so much pain.”
“You were a child,” Brienne sighed. “You won’t like me for saying, but you basically still are. You’ve had to grow up fast, but as far as the law is concerned you’re not even old enough to vote.”
“I feel like I’m a hundred,” she shook her head.
Jaime was gone next time Brienne ducked into the kitchen. She tried not to let that hurt.
The night had to go as most nights did. Sansa tucked herself up in Tyrion’s apartment to get a cat nap while customers flowed in and out. Brienne mixed drinks, her mind an unpleasant maelstrom.
When they finally closed down, she wiped the bar down carefully. Just in case it was the last time. She fetched her go bag from the gym, slinging it over her shoulder. She checked the locks and tightened the blinds. Then she headed for the convertible, tucking her keys in her pocket.
Tyrion was already hefting his back into the trunk. Sansa was sitting tight lipped in the front seat, her hair swept up under a knit cap, almost invisible.
“Ready?” Tyrion looked up at her. “You can still opt out if you want.”
“No, I can’t,” she set her bag next to his.
“Why even offer?” Jaime asked from behind them. They turned and Brienne instinctively took a step in front of Tyrion.
“Because it’s the right thing to do apparently,” Tyrion said wryly.
“Not something you usually care about,” Jaime was holding the handle to a wheeled suitcase. It was bright blue with cartoon wolves prancing on it. “I went to the Rock. Gathered her things.”
“Jaime,” Brienne breathed out.
“She’s just a girl,” Jaime looked away. “I’m not a monster.”
“I know,” she held her hand out for the case. “I know you’re not.”
“I wish you had told me earlier,” he passed the handle into her hand, their fingers touching briefly.
“Would you have tried to stop us?”
“I don’t know,” he let go. “Be safe, Brienne.”
“Stay at the house for me?” She studied his face. “I’d feel better knowing someone was watching over it.”
“My things are there so,” he shrugged.
“So,” she cleared her throat.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” he grabbed her t-shirt, drew her in and kissed her hard. She held him tightly back, stumbling a little when he pushed her back. “I’ll see you in a few days.”
“Okay,” she clutched the stupid suitcase handle, her heart racing. “Jaime...I...”
“Nope. This is dramatic enough even for me. No last minute declarations.”
“I was going to say you have PT tomorrow and I’ll know if you don’t go.”
“Wench,” he laughed. “Go.”
She loaded the suitcase into the trunk and closed it. Tyrion had slipped into the tight backseat, stretching out. He lifted his hand up to wave at Jaime, who reluctantly waved back. Brinne slid into the driver’s seat and looked in the rearview mirror. Jaime was walking back to a waiting cab, his shoulders hunched.
Her lips were still warm from his kiss as she drove away.
They switched cars outside the city limits. Tyrion directed her to a garage through a yawn. She parked the convertible reluctantly inside.
“It’ll be safe here,” he assured her as they transferred their bags over into a sedan that could've belonged to absolutely anyone. It had the personality of an uncooked potato.
“When did you get this?”
“It’s always good to have a burner car. I didn’t have it modified for me. Too much of a red flag, so you’re our driver.”
“I can drive,” Sansa offered. “My dad taught all of us in case of emergencies.”
“How old were you?” Tyrion’s brow wrinkles.
“Twelve, but I’ve practiced since.”
“Do you have a license?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Tyrion shrugged. “She can’t use it. Incognito, remember? If we get pulled over then the jig is up.”
“Jig?” Sansa mouthed.
“He memorizes dialogue from gangster movies,” Brienne explained, taking the driver’s seat for now.
“That’s slander, see!” Tyrion grinned. “This broad is out for my good name.”
“This broad wants you to buckle your seatbelt,” Brienne said dryly. “If we’re trying not to get pulled over.”
“Mm, good point. Avoid the highway for now. They have speed cameras. It’s unlikely that anyone will start looking for Sansa until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest, but we don’t need to give them clues to follow.”
Obeying ever traffic law stringently, they left behind the skyline, wound their way through the suburban sprawl and finally into the woods and away. It was the farthest Brienne had been from home since she returned from college.
“I don’t think I’ve left the city in years,” Tyrion commented from the back seat. “The last time was for Winterfell too.”
“You visited?” Sansa’s hands were busy with her crochet hook, her eyes were on the dark road.
“Briefly. A good will tour, you might say. Not that it engendered good will in anyone. It’s a lovely place. A little remote. Cold.”
“I miss the winters,” Sansa looked down at her hands. “Is that strange? I hated the cold since I was a baby.”
“There’s nothing strange about missing the things that remind you of home,” Brienne said firmly.
Brienne finally gave in to fatigue as the sun crested over the mountains. Sansa switched places with her, proving to be a capable driver. Her hands were fixed on the wheel, but otherwise she betrayed no nerves as the car wound through tiny back roads.
Sleeping the car was uncomfortable, even if Tyrion let her set the seat all the way back. She rested uneasily, threads of sunlight rousing her. At some point, Sansa started to sing very quietly. Her voice was lovely, high and melancholy. Tyrion snored lightly in the backseat and her song barely crested over that sound.
Just a girl, Brienne closed her eyes tightly, listening for all she was worth. Just a girl with strong fingers and a clear voice, who could survive. When the song ended, Brienne made a show of waking up. It was noon now and her stomach rumbled irritatedly.
“Have a granola bar,” Tyrion passed her one. “There’s a rest stop about twenty miles away. That’s the one we need.”
“Rather not say,” Tyrion said sheepishly. “I’m not sure he’ll hold to his end of the bargain.”
Brienne’s phone buzzed before she could follow up on that,
What are your feelings on cats? Are you allergic? It was from Jaime. She frowned at it,
Tommen found another stray. A picture came through. It was a handsome looking animal, a cream long hair with bright blue eyes. One of the ears looked a little ragged like something had bitten it and there was a scar over the nose that looked fresh. She reminds me of you.
Should I be offended?
She’s very proud and a good hunter. Has a fondness for me.
you had me until that last one.
ouch. Can I keep her? Just for now. Tommen would be broken hearted if we gave her away.
I’ve never had a pet before.
Guess I never had a real boyfriend before either. Might as well keep them in the same place.
He sent back a line of smiley faces, hearts, and then an eggplant.
“Your brother shouldn’t be allowed to use emojis,” she decided.
“I’m impressed he’s texting at all, considering.”
“He’s using his left hand. He balances the phone against his knee and stabs it with his finger. I keep thinking he’s going to crack the glass.”
“Is that a cat?” Sansa glanced over.
“Apparently it’s my cat,” Brienne shrugged. “Or at least for now. Tommen found it apparently.”
“He likes cats,” Sansa said, a little fondly. “He’s a very sweet kid.”
“Let’s got on the highway here,” Tyrion directed. “The rest stop isn’t far.”
The rest stop was a sprawling truck stop complete with laundry and showers. The car was neatly hidden in the shadows of hulking trailers. They used the ever moving crowd to their advantage. Tyrion produced a well worn baseball cap with a Batman emblem on the front, pulling it low over his eyes as the split up to use the bathrooms.
They ate greasy pizza and sucked down rocket fuel coffee under fluorescent lights, trying to make their odd party as inconspicuous as possible. Tyrion had warned her, months ago, that this would be dangerous. That if they were spotted, if one person took a picture with their phone and sent it to the wrong place, then Tywin wouldn’t wait around to see what they were up to. Some agent would be deployed and they would be killed with ruthless efficiency. He’d explained it again to Sansa before they left and she’d only said grimly,
“At least I’d die trying.”
“Ah,” Tyrion said softly and Brienne tensed. “There’s our man. Let’s get some snacks, shall we?”
They walked into the convenience shop. It was small, but slightly less crammed with humanity then the food. At the end of the chip aisle was a man so massive, that the ebb of the crowd was visibly parting around him.
“The Hound?” Brienne came to a dead stop. Crouched at his feet was a wild eyed child, going through the flavors of Combos, but her head whipped up at the sound of Brienne’s voice.
“Arya!” Sansa’s face went white, tears in her pretty eyes standing out.
“Little Bird?” The Hound blinked slowly, taking them in.
“Sansa!” The child that was apparently Arya got to her feet.
“Rocky!” Tyrion said with a grin. They all turned to glare at him. “What? I was feeling left out.”
The sisters embraced fiercely, Sansa weeping openly over her sister’s dark hair while Arya stood stock still and let her.
“Out of here,” the Hound determined quickly and Brienne agreed. They maneuvered out of the store into the parking lot. A mud spattered pick up truck had parked next to their car. The Hound leaned against it, eying them all suspiciously.
“Thank you,” Tyrion said as the sisters conversed in whispers. “For keeping her safe.”
“Didn’t do it for you,” the Hound crossed his arms over his chest.
“But my money helped,” Tyrion shrugged. “In any case, we can take her from here.”
“Like hell. You going to all squeeze into that shit box?”
“Sandor,” Sansa ran up to the Hound and threw her arms around her waist. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
“S’fine,” the man said gruffly though he gently pat her back with one enormous hand that spanned between her shoulder blades. “Not the first feral animal I’ve carted around.”
“Watch it,” Arya bared her teeth. “I’ll bite you again.”
“Probably already have rabies.”
“I thought you were still on the circuit,” Brienne put in, cutting off that escalation. “Didn’t I see your name in the tournament last year?”
“Disqualified,” the Hound...Sandor apparently to some, shrugged, “no loss. Bounty hunting pays better.”
“Fascinating,” Tyrion said dryly. “I take it you're not willing to just let us go on our way? Formed at attachment, have we?”
“With that thing? She promised to murder me seven times over,” Sandor shook his head. “But I figure the Starks might feel generous when we get there.”
Brienne followed his gaze to the two girls. Arya had her arms crossed protectively over her chest, leaning against the car. She was mirroring Sandor’s body language perfectly. While Sansa was biting her lower lip and listening, her whole body bent towards her.
“Whatever it takes to get them home safe,” Brienne decided.
After some discussion, where both parties refused to concede their Stark sister to the other, they decided on caravaning with the girls texting each other to keep everyone on track. The Hound conceded with ill grace, but brightened when Sansa decided they should at least switch.
“Sounds like you two have fought enough for one lifetime,” was how she said it and Arya went grumbling into the car. She slunk into the backseat.
She was a very different companion than Sansa. Silent and watchful as they drove back into the warm afternoon sun. Brienne was very aware of her, just out of her direct line of sight. Tyrion didn’t seem to notice the change, fiddling with radio, and making idle chatter. Or maybe he did know. The nonsense talk made Arya huff, but subside.
Tyrion winked at Brienne, before launching into a monologue about the first and last time he’d gone camping. There was an angry raccoon and broken sleeping bag zipper involved.
It was late in the evening when they stopped for dinner at a battered roadside restaurant. The sisters had agreed via text that as a party they were simply too obvious, so they staggered their entrances by a good half hour in pairs.
Brienne sat down to eat with Arya in the last shift. The restaurant was busy, no one had time to notice a woman and girl eating hamburgers. Arya ate quickly and neatly, food disappearing at prodigious rate. Then she froze, eying the door warily.
“What?” Brienne asked casually, reaching for her water.
“Two guys,” Arya whispered. “Tall, broad. Ex-military. They’re scoping the place.”
“Eat your food, don’t show any sign that you’ve noticed them,” Brienne murmured.
After a tense moment, the men walked past them. They were carrying, distending their unseasonal jackets subtly. Brienne dropped cash on the table, waited until they’d moved a few feet past and jerked her head to the door. Arya moved with speed and grace, slipping outside with the door making no sound. Brienne moved more slowly, intentionally keeping her pace even.
“Spotted ‘em?” Sandor was crouched behind a car in a handicap space, some kind of knife in his hand.
“Yes,” Arya said immediately, darting in beside him. “I recognized the one with the black hair. They’re Lannister men.”
“I don’t think they knew we were there,” Brienne watched them order through the window. “But they must know we’re in the area, they were looking.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Sandor decided. “I’ll ambush them when they come out.”
“So they stop talking to base?” Brienne snorted. “If they’re reporting to someone, silence will be worse.”
They considered each other in the quiet night air. Arya glancing between them.
“You’re right,” Sandor conceded. “But we need to change up the cars.”
It turned out that somewhere between King’s Landing and the middle of nowhere, Arya had learned how to hotwire cars. She got a minivan going over Brienne’s protests.
“A stolen car report isn’t going to help us,” Tyrion chipped in.
“I switched out the license plates with the ones on your car,” Arya buckled herself into the passenger seat. “That’ll buy time.”
“That was smart,” Sansa said with a nod.
“That doesn’t sound like my goody-good sister.”
“I have a different definition of good now,” Sansa folded one leg under the other and would speak no further.
They drove through the night, switching drivers and stopping once for gas. Arya fell asleep, cheek pressed against the window. Sansa shrugged off her sweater and covered her with it. When Brienne next looked, Sansa was asleep too, swathed in a flannel shirt cut for a very large person.
“What?” Sandor grumbled when he caught Brienne looking.
“People used to talk about you like you were the meanest dog in a shelter,” she shrugged. “I never believed it. I heard what they said about me. But it’s good to know that I was right.”
“I am mean,” Sandor snorted. “But I’ve got my limits. Guess mine are further out than most.”
“I’m almost glad I never got a chance to fight you.”
“Well, it would’ve been interesting.”
“Huh. Guess it would’ve. I was in the audience when you kicked the shit out of that blowhard, the one with the mohawk. Impressive shit.”
“Thanks,” she smiled down at her knuckles, the places where there were still hairline scars from landed punches.
Spring had just reached this neck of the woods, lagging behind the warmer clime of King’s Landing. As the sun rose, Brienne could see trees starting to bud. A herd of deer lingered in the woods, watching them go by.
How’s my cat?
Slept on my face Jaime texted back right away. going to run to the grocery store. Re-stock. Need anything?
Preferred brand? Light or heavy flow?
Whatever is on sale, light flow please
On it. What were the name of those cheesy crackers you got last time?
They went back and forth making a grocery list and by the time she had to take her turn to drive, she felt warmed through and through.
There was another close call at noon. They’d stopped at a cut in the road so everyone could stretch their legs and maybe find a convenient tree. A black sedan rolled by them, then cut a quick u-turn after someone inside caught sight of Sansa coming back out of the woods. Brienne ran toward her, colliding into her and bringing them both down to the ground before a shot rang out.
Someone returned fire with a vengeance, shattering the windows on the driver side and puncturing two tires.
“Get in the van!” Arya yelled, a gun perfectly steady in her hand. Tyrion was on the ground behind her, looking stunned.
In a few moments of utter confusion, they all piled into the car as someone stumbled out of the sedan, cursing and shooting at them wildly. Sansa wound up behind the wheel and she peeled out onto the road then floored it until the sedan was out of sight.
“We dump the car in the next big lot we see,” Sandor said grimly. “We’re close now.”
“Is everyone all right?” Tyrion asked shakily.
“I’ve got a few leaves in my hair,” Sansa gave a tremulous smile. “And some interesting grass stains. Thanks, Brienne.”
They pulled in at a mall. Arya found and hotwired an SUV. No one argued with her this time. No one asked where she’d gotten a gun. When they went through a drive through for lunch. Tyrion bought her the largest milkshake they had on the menu and handed it over to her solemnly,
“A down payment on a debt.”
She glared at him, but she did suck the cup dry.
It was near sundown when they crossed into Stark land. The signs were carved in wood, paint flaking off, but there was no mistaking their meaning. Here the reign of the lion ended, here the wolves took up the mantle.
Sansa and Arya were both sitting ramrod straight now, their eyes pointed forward. Their hands interlocked, bound tightly together. It was night when Winterfell came into view. A thousand pinpricks of light in the darkness.
They rolled to a stop at the gate. A guard looked up bemused,
“Are you expected?”
Arya poked her head around the driver’s side window, “Hey, Johnny.”
“Arya?” The guard held out a flashlight, nearly blinding her. “Holy shit, Arya!”
“Yeah, let us in, okay? And don’t let in anyone else tonight, unless they’re family. Shit is going down.”
“Yes, yes,” he hit the button to open the gate. “I can’t believe it. Never thought I’d see you again.”
Sandor rolled the car through the gate. It closed behind them with a satisfying thud. The driveway was lit right up the massive front doors of the estate. Just as they were coming to a stop, the doors flew open.
Catelyn Stark, the woman Brienne thought of as iron, looked like a frantic faded copy of herself.
“Arya?” She asked, tremulous. “Arya is that you?”
Arya threw open the sliding door and ran up the stairs to her mother. Sansa followed close behind, “Mom!”
“Sansa!” Catelyn gasped, her arms thrown wide then enclosing them both. “My girls, my girls.. I missed you so much.”
Sansa started sobbing, her thin shoulders wracked with it. Arya’s face was a blank, but her knuckles were white where she gripped her mother.
“It is them!” A dark haired man filled the doorway.
“Robb!” Sansa held out a hand to him and he joined the knot of Starks, rocking and crying on the front steps.
Brienne sat in the car, drained, but incredibly happy. Tyrion moved to sit beside her,
“I can see now how this was a better move then using her as blackmail.”
“I told you,” Brienne gave him a watery smile.
“Tarth, Lannister,” Catelyn came down the steps, the girls still within arm’s reach. “Get out of there.”
They scrambled to obey. Sandor smirked.
“You too Clegane, you’re far too big to be invisible.” He stopped smirking and got out of the car.
“Hello, Catelyn,” Brienne said quietly.
“You brought back my girls,” her gaze was as intense as Brienne remembered, skimming over their faces. “Why?”
“Because it was the right thing to do,” Brienne said firmly.
“And also because I want to destroy my father,” Tyrion said casually. “I think Sandor wants cash, but if I were you, I’d offer him a job. He’s excellent at security and he has a vested interest.”
“I do not,” Sandor growled.
“Thank you, anyway,” Catelyn shook her head. “We can figure out the details at a better hour. For now, come in. Let’s at least get you washed, fed, and in a decent bed.”
It seemed that dinner had already been in progress and extra plates were quickly produced. Brienne was happy to eat, let the Starks conversations ebb around her. The shower was very welcome. She opened her bag for the first time since she’d packed it weeks ago. At the top was a thick envelope with Tyrion’s graceful script spelling out her name. She opened it at sat on the bed.
It seems there is a non-zero chance that this mission of mine will bring harm on both our heads. I hope it’s mine and not yours. I imagine you reading this if that were the case. I sat down to write this without knowing quite what I wanted to say. You make me want to be honest with you which is very annoying.
I suppose I should start with the business end of things. In the case of my death, regardless if it’s from misadventure in this quest of mine or just the random happenstance of life, you’ll be getting the building the bar and the gym are in. Please do whatever you want with them. It can remain a bar or a become a bigger gym or simply an apartment building that funds whatever else you wish to do in life.
The paintings are all yours too. Sell them if you like or donate them to a museum. My own work, I leave in your hands. It’s worth little, except in sentiment.
The harder, more ephemeral thing is this: Thank you. Thank you for everything you’ve risked for me in doing this, but far more than that thank you for being the friend that I didn’t know I needed. I still want my revenge, may die for it, but you’ve reminded me that there is an honor in living through hard things too.
Also, I intend to come back from the grave to pester you. If you see the lights flicker on and off in your kitchen, that’s me and the afterlife does exist.
She tucked the letter carefully back in it’s envelope, tucking it in among her other things before changing into her pajamas. There was a careful knock on the door.
“It’s me,” Tyrion said. She let him in and his eyes dropped to her bag, “Damnit, I guess I’m too late. I was going to try to take it before you read it.”
“I’m glad you didn’t.” She sat on the edge of the bed. “You know that you changed my life for the better too, right?”
“I suppose,” he moved to sit next to her. He was in his silk dressing gown, slightly wrinkled from it’s suitcase travels. She felt momentarily overwhelmed by her affection for him.
“You don’t have to give me things, you know.”
“Oh come on, who else would I leave the bar too? Bronn? He’ll get plenty anyway. My niblings are the richest minors in the country, a few mementos are fine for them. Same for Jaime.”
“I don’t know anything about running it.”
“Eh, that’s what you hire people for if you don’t want to learn.”
“It seems morbid to talk about it. We made it. We’re alive.”
“True. Now to see if Sansa will follow through.”
“I think she will.”
“I do too. She’s a strong girl. Don’t let me forget to tell Catelyn not to go to any Frey events for awhile. I heard the name get bandied around, but that family has been in my father’s pockets since time immemorial.”
“I’ll remind you.”
“You know, the bar thing...maybe waiting until I die is overrated. What good did sitting on a pile of money ever do for my family?” Tyrion glanced at her.
“I don’t want to own a bar.”
“Not the whole thing. But a partnership,” he smiled crookedly at her. “You can still work like you do now. But I can teach you the books and such. You can re-invest your half of the profits into the gym and buy me out of that part eventually. Fair and square, just like you like.”
“I don’t think you handing me half of a business is fair.”
“Wouldn’t still have it if it wasn’t for you, so I think it is,” he elbowed her. “Come on. You know you want it. Say yes, Brienne. Be my life partner in serving booze.”
She thought about it, but not for very long, “All right. Yes. I will.”
“Amazing. Just promise me that when Jaime asks you to marry him, you’ll tell him you said yes to me first?”
“I can’t even start with how much is wrong with that question,” their laughter filled the room, trickling down the hall to where a pile of Starks listened to Sansa and made their decision.
At nine am, on an otherwise unremarkable morning, a YouTube channel with only a long number for a name sprang into existence with a single video posted. ‘The Truth about Joffery Lannister’ might have gone entirely unnoticed, except that a single reporter received an anonymous email with the link. She wasn’t a big time hard hitting journalist.
Her bread and butter was a gossip column for the King’s Landing Times that had a small, but strong following. (Three years ago, she met Tyrion Lannister at a party in a loft of a distant friend. He’d spent the night giving her enough material for twelve articles about the bedroom antics of half the socialites in King’s Landing. It jump started her career. )
She clicked the link.
Within a half hour she’d written up a breathless article, including an embedded video for the website, woke up her editor and the head of the site. They both read it, consulted the site’s lawyers and decided to run with it, delaying the printing of the morning paper by an unprecedented hour.
Cersei had invested a lot of time cultivating Sansa’s fairy tale love story with Joffery. For the last two years, the couple had graced dozens of magazine covers. It was perfect, Joffery picking her out of near obscurity (more realistic sources pointed out that the Starks were a very rich, very old, hardly reclusive family) and made her his princess. When her father was tragically killed by a drunk driver, the Lannisters took the girl in and protected her from the ravenous media.
They were too young to get married, everyone agreed, but they could keep her safe. The Starks were messy in the press, Catelyn not crying enough or verbally attacking the beautiful and vulnerable Cersei. Robb came off like a madman, demanding the Lannisters release Sansa. He even claimed they knew where Arya was and were hiding her from their own family. Everyone knew that Arya was a wild child and had been reported missing by the Lannisters themselves. Her face was posted, wide eyed and vulnerable on billboards across the city.
Release Sansa? The public could hardly believe it. They had watched the romance unfold before them and wasn’t Sansa herself there live on their laptops, saying that the Lannisters were her new family? If she looked sad and lost, her whole life had just turned upside down.
Think pieces were written. Critics commented on her age and that people grieve differently, that the Lannisters were essentially kidnapping the girl, but they were roundly ignored.
Sansa was still photographed going about her life. Look how happy she was here in a cafe, talking with Joffery and eating a salad, Cersei at a table over, smiling benignly over at them. The young golden couple, gleaming in the sun. Look at her choosing a new dress for her junior prom, her hair done up just like Cersei’s.
The video posted that morning was not a fairy tale. It was only five minutes long. The footage looked like it had been taken in high resolution with crisp audio, but at the angles of a security camera. There are dates and times stamped in the bottom left. All the footage is taken within the last two weeks.
It began in silence. Sansa was sitting to the left of the frame, reading. Joffery walked into the room. He casually smacked the book from his hand as he passes by. She leaned over to get, stiffly. Joffery kicked the book further away from her.
“Crawl for it, dog.”
Sansa, expressionless, got down on her hands and knees. He kicked her viciously in the stomach, then laughed, walking out of the frame.
That was the first ten seconds. The next two minutes are similar episodes of violence over the next several days. At minute three, Joffery slapped her casually and said with painful clarity, face pointed unknowingly right at the camera,
“I should’ve reversed over your father again and held your hands to the wheel. Then I could just blame his murder on you. Wouldn’t that be hysterical?”
Sansa buried her face in his hands. Joffery laughed.
In the bowels of the KDPL offices, a police officer received a link to a private video.(The officer had gone to a report of a drunk and disorderly several years ago. Tyrion had been surprisingly charming for someone so sloppily drunk. He’d introduced the officer to a beautiful woman and instead of arresting Tyrion, the officer got a phone number. The woman was now his wife.)
The officer’s video was substantially longer. Joffery’s crime was detailed right out of the horse’s mouth as Sansa sobbed, the tears apparently egging him on. The officer watched, eyes wide and called his supervisor.
The YouTube version of the video left Sansa’s room. It cut into an upscale office, the view of a skyline in the left corner. Tywin Lannister is centered behind a desk. Cersei sat in a chair across from him.
“It’s time for you to remarry.”
“Father,” Cersei sits up. “No, I won’t-”
“You absolutely will. I don’t care what you do in your personal life, but for the sake of the future of the family, we must appear inviolable. One of the Tyrell boys maybe.”
“None of them are even close to my age,” she spat. “Except the married one.”
“You’ll take whomever I give you and smile about it.”
“I want to get rid of Sansa then,” Cersei countered. “If I’m going to have a wedding that should be spectacle enough. We can free Joffery up to find someone else.”
“The girl is a nusiceance at this point. We’ll set her up to be discovered with another man. That should discredit her enough that she’ll take a marriage as an out. We’ll have to keep tabs on her,” Tywin mused. “But Joffery doesn’t get another plaything. That boy has risked more than we can afford. Maybe after his heartbreak, he can go into the military.”
“No!” Cersei was on her feet, “You are not putting my son out there to get slaughtered!’
“You think I don’t know what he gets up to?” Tywin shook his head. “He needs rigor. He needs a man’s guidance. Leaving him with just you was a mistake. You’ve been weak with him and it shows.”
Cersei reeled back as if he struck her.
The video jumped forward a day but remained in the office. Tywin is talking to someone on his phone,
“I don’t care what money you have to move around. Take it out of the foundation, if you have to, just make sure the story doesn’t break.”
He stared resoutley forward as the person on the phone replied.
“We’ll put it back when we get the profits from next quarter, just make it happen.”
An email slid into the box of a forensic accountant, who worked for the city’s police force. (When the accountant had still been in high school, he’d taken a summer job driving Tyrion up north. They’d talked more than the accountant had expected. He prefered silence to hide his stutter. But Tyrion had gotten him talking anyway, learned of his love of of math and the law. It jump started his ambitions and gave him a solid gold reference.) There was a video, but also documents. Many many documents and spreadsheets.
The accountant read them over quickly. He called his supervisor. A file was opened and a team formed.
The YoutTube video cut back to Sansa. She was kneeling on the floor. Joffern made a gesture and a gruff large man reached for her neatly pressed shirt and ripped it from her. There were other people there, out of the camera’s view. They laughed nervously. The large man undid his belt. He lashed it over Sansa’s naked back, over and over.
The action only stopped when Tywin walked into the frame. Several figures could be seen leaving abruptly. The large man retreated out of view. Tywin lectured Joffery while Sansa tried to gather her shirt back around her. Tywin gave her no notice and briskly walked away when his message was apparently delivered.
“You won’t be so lucky next time, whore,” Joffery spat at her.
She glared up at him and in one smooth move, punched him hard between the legs. He fell down with a squeal. She got to her feet and kicked him in the stomach just as he had done to her at the beginning.
“I don’t care what you to do to me now. I just needed to make you hurt once the way you hurt me,” she said thoughtfully. She stepped on his hand as he lashed out to grab her ankle. “I want you to know that I always could’ve done this. That I only didn’t for the sake of my sister, for my family.”
“I can still hurt them. I will,” Joffery hissed. “You’ll pay for this.”
“Probably,” she took aim and kicked him square in the face, listening to him scream. She turned on her heel and walked away.
Two hours later, she would be at a picnic, sheltered by a black parasol.
Chaos swept through King’s Landing.
In Winterfell, they sat down to breakfast. There were two enormous dogs sprawled in front of a fire. The younger brothers that Sansa had mentioned in passing had arrived. Bran wheeled to the table with Rickon cavorting around him in incoherent joy, tugging at Arya’s short hair and crowing in against Sansa.
“You’ll need to have a press conference,” Tyrion bit into his hamburger, chewing appreciatively before continuing. “To get ahead of the story.”
“Sansa has had enough exposure,” Catelyn said bitterly. “I’m not going to thrust her in front of cameras.”
“I want to do it,” Sansa said firmly. She was carding through Rickon’s wild mop, setting it to rights. “They have a PR team. They know how to spin things. I don’t want to give them a chance.”
“I don’t know-”
“Mom,” Sansa sighed. “You have to trust me. Tyrion may have edited the video, but I’m the one that lived through it. I know what happened. I was there. I set up the damn cameras.”
“Language,” her mother scolded, only half-heartedly.
“I can make a few phone calls,” Robb’s fingers beat against the table. “I-I need to do something anyway.”
Brienne had her hand on her phone. She’d texted Jaime before the video was sent. Warning him that everything was about to happen. He hadn’t texted her back. She got up from the table and went for a walk. Her input had no use here, among cleverer minds then her own.
The grounds of Winterfell were beautiful, even in their half-awake state. Fat black birds hung on the branches of slumbering trees like ripe fruit. There was industry on the grounds, people moving about with purpose, a tractor being driven somewhere. Brienne was careful to stay out of their way.
She came across Sandor sitting in a clutch of trees. He looked, if not at at ease, then at least like he belonged there among gnarled trunks, fallen leaves and enormous boulders. He was hewn by the same hand as the pitted rocks.
“Can I join you?”
“Free country,” he shrugged his massive shoulders. She sat down on a neighboring rock, looking down over the enormous house. In the distance, she could just make out mountains that were still snow capped.
“There’s going to be a press conference later.”
“Figures,” Sandor picked up a stick, thick as her wrist and idly broke it in half. “People like them, a hangnail is a story.”
“This is a little more than a hangnail,” she frowned. “Or do you think Sansa should keep quiet?”
“I think she’s adult enough to know her own mind,” Sandor broke the stick into fourths. “If she wants to do it, she should do it. Just saying that we’ve seen shit, but if you don’t have cash, no one cares.”
“Were you there? When he started being like that to her?” The question had itched at her as the timelines stitched themselves together.
“He didn’t start. That rotted bastard has never been anything but like that,” he found another stick, thinner, but snapping more resoundingly. “But they owned me. Like they owned everybody. Blocked it out when I could. Drank when I couldn't.”
“But you did leave. You took Arya with you.”
“I left because I thought...” he shook his head, his hair falling into face. “Doesn’t matter what I thought. It was too much. But the feral thing was already gone. I ran into her on the road. Just happened. I was always bringing her here, but I knew Tyrion was a crafty bastard. Figured I’d see what he’d give me to do what I wanted to do anyway.”
“Sounds like he’s not the only one that’s crafty.”
They sat in silence for a long time. Shining white vans with numbers blazed on the side came up the road, headed for the house, stopped at the gate and fanning out. Dozens of them.
“We should go down there,” Brienne decided, getting to her feet.
“What ‘we’? I’m no face for a camera,” Sandor didn’t budge.
“Neither am I, but she’d probably appreciate the support of her friends.”
“Not that either,” he picked up another stick. Standing, Brienne could now see the pile discarded between his legs. He must’ve been there for hours.
She walked back into the house. Tyrion gave her a salute, “Got your clothes washed and ironed. We’re a go in twenty.”
The conference was set up right at the gates. The reporters clustered in front of the iron bars, crew aligned behind them. They talked over each other, and their steaming cups of coffee as the Stark guards dragged out a podium and someone fiddled with some wires.
The microphone sparked to life. Sansa walked quietly out from the house. She wore a dress in dark blue, lined with white. Her hair was in a crown of braids. The heel of her white boots made a soft click as she stepped up to the podium.
It had been agreed that her family had been too slandered in the media to take center stage. They hovered just in frame, a nervous clutch in dark colors. Instead, Tyrion stood to her right and after a quick tug at her wrist, Brienne moved to stand next to him.
“Is this appropriate?” she whispered as they adjusted the microphone for Sansa. No one ever realized how tall the girl was.
“They know I’m a Lannister, it gives her credibility. And she trusts you, she deserves to have someone she trusts at her back.”
Which may be why, at the very last moment, Sandor came out of the woods. He had on a bulky jacket, a knit cap jammed over his hair. He stood next to Brienne, arms folded over his chest, his cars facing away from the hungry lenses. Sansa caught the movement and turned to give him a crooked smile before turning back to the reporters.
“Good morning,” she started, then glanced down at her papers. “I-- I’m Sansa Stark. But I guess you all know that already.
“A video was released this morning, depicting a small part of what my life has been like for the last two years. I want to say first of all that I didn’t release it and I don’t know who did,” which was not a lie. Tyrion had sent it to an old army buddy of Bronn’s, who posted it in an internet cafe halfway across the world then disappeared back into anonymity. “After the last incident in that video, I knew I had to leave immediately. I was fortunate to have friends that helped get me back to my family where I belong.
“I was very much in love with Joffery when we met,” she looked into the distance, over everyone’s heads, “But I’ve learned over the past two years, how good abusers are at making you love them. How they can reel you in and make you stay. Joffery terrorized me, beat me, blackmailed me, and when my father tried to find a way to free me, he made me watch as he murdered him.”
The reporters started whispering among themselves.
“I don’t know if Joffery will ever pay for my father’s murder. I know that his grandfather will use every avenue possible to prevent it. Evidence will disappear, witnesses will forget what they know. It will be suggested that I’m at best a silly girl or at worst a monstrous vindictive woman who turned on a family that’s been so generous to her. He may not suffer a single day for making me sit there and watch as he ran down my father, but I want the world to know that id happened. You can choose not believe me, but it did.
“Joffery told me he had my sister. That he was keeping her and he would kill her if I made a single peep. I couldn’t risk her life. But he didn’t have her at all,” she held out her hand and Arya stepped onto the podium with her, holding tight. “My sister is smarter and more resourceful than me, she always had been. She knew something was wrong and she got out. I’ll never be able to thank all the people that helped her stay alive because many of them were nameless strangers. People that listened when she begged them not to turn her in. So I’ll say now, thank you to everyone that helped her, that help other children like her escape from bad situations.
“There are other victims too,” she looked straight into the cameras. “If you’re being abused, and you need to get out, please call the domestic abuse hotline number.” she rattled off the digits, “for the next year, I will be using the money from my trust to fund every person that needs to escape their current living situation that calls that hotline. I’m hoping to establish a foundation in the future that can continue that work.”
She took and let out a breath, “I’ll take questions now.”
For the next fifteen minutes, she answered questions with a quiet, sad confidence. She kept her chin high, even when her eyes occasionally looked a little wet. Arya stayed beside her, but refused to approach the microphone.
“Why is Tyrion Lannister here?” Someone finally asked.
“I met Tyrion through Brienne Tarth. I was fortunate enough to take her self-defense classes. I hope I did her teaching proud.” Brienne gave her a sharp proud nod, her heart aching. “Her gym is connected to Tyrion’s bar. He had some awareness of his family’s business though he doesn’t have contact with most of them. When I was ready to leave, I asked Brienne and she promised me that Tyrion could help. He did.”
“Help how?” Another reporter shouted. “Did he post the video?”
“He didn’t,” Sansa said firmly. “But he put himself on the line to help me.”
“Seems like a convenient coincidence,” someone towards the front drawled. “That a Lannister should wind up helping you.”
“A family shouldn’t be judged on it’s worst members,” Sansa smiled faintly. “Or we would all be condemned.”
“Isn’t Tarth the woman that saved Jaime Lannister’s life?”
“Yes,” Sansa nodded. “Jaime suggested that his niece take her self-defense class. That’s why I was able to go at all. The other Lannister children are innocent of any wrongdoing and I hope the media will respect their privacy going forward.”
There were a few more questions, then Sansa made an exit, walking back up to the house, her family falling in around her. Brienne heard her own name called as she followed them, but she didn’t turn around.
It wasn’t until she was safely stowed away in her assigned room that she dared to check her phone again.
There was a single text, You look like a statue on tv. A very scared sexy statue.
I don’t know how Sansa managed it. It was awful and I wasn’t even doing anything hard.
We’re raised to do it well. When are you coming back?
I don’t know. Soon, I hope.
The next few days passed in a series of headlines.
SEARCH WARRANTS SERVED AT SIX LANNISTER PROPERTIES
Three hours after the explosive video appeared online, police swarmed Lannister owned properties including Casterly Rock. It’s estimated at least three hundred pieces of potential evidence have already been seized. So far there has been no statement from the family.
The police came to Winterfell by late afternoon. They took statements with grim faces. Brienne hated lying, but they mostly asked her things she could tell the truth about and she was quickly dismissed.
Tyrion was in with a pair of weathered men for four hours. He emerged looking pale, but steady.
“It’s good,” he assured her, pouring himself a very tall glass of red wine. “They’re being thorough.The truth is the best lie in this case.”
JOFFERY LANNISTER ARRESTED
The seventeen year old was taken into custody at noon today, after allegations made by his former fiance. He is expected to post his two million dollar bail shortly.
Sansa was a minor. They allowed her to have her mother and her lawyer with her. Sandor stood outside the door, immovable and unspeaking for the full two days. At the end, Catelyn did reluctantly offer him a job on the Stark security team. He took it without negotiation.
“I don’t trust him,” Catelyn muttered after the Hound had lumbered away.
“If I were you, I’d find it hard to trust anyone,” Brienne sighed. “But he had the least motivation to get the girls back to you and here they are.”
“Don’t underestimate money,” Tyrion drawled, but he gave Sandor’s retreating back a curious look.
TROUBLE IN THE FAMILY
Despite long having being the richest family in King’s Landing, apparently the Lannisters can’t make bail. Or maybe they don’t want to? Joffery Lannister, 17, remains in the county jail where he is being held as a suspect in the murder of Eddard Stark, previously ruled an accidental death by misadventure.
“You want to spar with me?” Arya asked, her eyes gleaming.
“Of course,” Brienne offered with a smile.
She hadn’t had to work so hard to win a fight in a long time. Sweat dripped from her as they agree, breathlessly to a draw. Arya’s hair was plastered to her forehead and she was grinning from ear to ear.
“Can you teach me that one kick?” Arya asked.
“I don’t know if I should,” Brienne laughed helplessly. “I think it’s the only reason I’m not on the floor seeing stars right now.”
But she did show her. And she asked no questions.
SHOCKING EMBEZZLEMENT CONFESSION
Petyr Baelish, 51, made a public statement at the courthouse today confessing to massive embezzlement for the non-profit foundation he has run for years. The foundation funds several efforts to prevent sex trafficking and aiding it’s victims. Baelish has close ties with the Lannister family, who have given generously to the foundation over the years. He refused to comment on their involvement.
A somber young man with dark curls arrived through a back entrance. Only Arya ran out to greet him, embracing him fiercely.
“That’s Jon,” Sansa explained, coming to stand next to Brienne and Tyrion to observe the reunion. “Jon Snow. I never knew what to think of him before. Mom hated him. Dad loved him, I think.”
“There’s enough hate going around,” Brienne said gently.
“Sansa,” Jon came to a stop in front of them. “I came as soon as I heard. I’m so sorry...I wish I’d been there to help.”
“You had a job to do. And you’re here now,” she took a tentative step forward. “Won’t you hug your sister?”
Jon looked up in surprise, but he did embrace her, Arya half squished between them to her squawking protest.
BARATHEON UNCLES BAFFLED BY ACCUSATIONS AGAINST LANNISTER FAMILY
“We didn’t have much contact with the children after Rob died,” a somber Stannis Baratheon, 57, offered when reached for comment. “Perhaps that was our mistake.”
“You knew about this?” Renly’s voice was tinny, as far away as the moon. “You should’ve said something to me.”
“What would you have done?” Brienne asked, wincing. “You don’t have a relationship with those kids.”
“Yeah, because they’re not my brother’s kids,” Renly snorted. “I’ve got eyes. I don’t know who Cersei banged, but come on.”
“Nice,” she rolled her eyes, curled up in the borrowed bed. It was raining outside, hard. Lashing against the windows. “So that’s why I didn’t tell you. You didn’t care.”
“Are you saying I should’ve?”
“I don’t know. You know I don’t have any family. I don’t know how any of that works.”
“Hey!” Renly protested. “You’ve got a family, Bri. Come on. I’m sorry I got upset. I do feel bad for the younger ones.”
“So take them out to lunch or something. Somewhere the press can’t follow. Myrcella is a sweet kid and she already knows Shireen if you bring her along.”
“Like Stannis will lend me his daughter.”
“Just ask Shireen and tell her to ask her dad.”
“Devious,” he laughed. “I like it. Ok, fine. How are you doing?”
“All right,” she tucked her knees up under her chin. “It’s a lot of emotions going on.”
“Brienne Tarth!” Margaery yelled into the phone. “You sly fox! I cannot believe you were more involved in the prime time drama of the century than me. I want details!”
“Um, which ones?” she smiled down at her feet.
“All of them you, you terrible person,” she shrieked as apparently Renly wrestled the phone back from her.
“Why don’t you come by for dinner when you get back?” Renly laughed. “That way we can satisfy our curiosity and I can tell you about married life. Margaery can show you the mock ups she has of your clothes.”
“I’d like that.”
LANNISTER PATRIARCH ACCUSED OF CONSPIRACY IN COLD CASE
Gregor Clegane, 49, confessed to a triple homicide last night after accusations made by Oberyn Martell. Martell told reporters that he had been trying to get attention for his sister and her children’s case for years. An anonymous call was placed on Friday morning, encouraged him to try again and directed him to a key piece of physical evidence. When taken in for questioning, Clegane confessed to the killings and told police that he was acting on the request of his then employer, Tywin Lannister. The Lannisters have not yet issued a statement about this or any other accusations aimed at the family.
“Did you know?” Brienne stared at Tyrion.
“Of course, but I couldn’t prove it,” he pulled a face. “It was one of those moments that father would brag about to prove a point, but stay just vague enough that you couldn’t pin him down.
“It’s amazing any of you survived to adulthood even somewhat sane.”
“Which of us do you mean?” Tyrion smiled thinly at her. “Because I’m not sure any of us did. I do wonder who made that call though. I owe them a bottle of wine. I suppose dear old Dad had no shortage of enemies.”
“Neither did Gregor,” Brienne shuddered. She remembered his bulk at matches. The men he had given lifelong injuries because he only fought to win.
“Now that’s an interesting point.”
LANNISTER LAWYERS WALK OFF CASE
The defense for Joffery Lannister quit yesterday just before a critical hearing in the case. Bolton and Bolton could not be reached for comment as to why they withdrew. A popular gossip column suggest that their retainer fee has yet to be paid. Bail has still not been posted for Joffery Lannister and the legal troubles for the family keep piling up.
After two weeks, Jaime called her,
“Are you ever coming back?” he whined. “The siege has ended here. I scared off the last desperate paparazzi by showing them my flesh wounds.”
“I really doubt that worked,” Brienne had learned a lot about paparazzi the last few days.
“You’re right, I bribed him to fuck off. So when are you coming back?”
She stared at the ceiling. Part of her wanted to stay with the Starks, to watch over their splintered family. Something deep and fierce with teeth inside her wanted to keep them safe. But there were other people that needed her. That missed her, apparently.
“Tomorrow,” she decided.
“Oh good,” Tyrion said in the morning. “I’ve been missing my own bed. How do you feel about helicopters?”
Sansa gave her a hug that was a shade too hard, “Please be safe.”
“I’m not afraid,” Brienne assured her though she knew that wasn’t quite the same thing. “You can...you can call me. If you want. I’d like that.”
“So would I,” Sansa smiled up at her. “And tell Myrcella thank you for me.”
Then Sansa dropped to her knees and gave Tyrion an equally hard hug. He pat her back with mild confusion.
“Thank you,” she said firmly. “I know you had your own reasons, but you gave me a choice. I’ll never forget that.”
“You’re welcome, dear girl,” he sighed. “When you’re twenty-one, swing by the bar and all your drinks are on us for life.”
Arya watched them go, wordless, but thoughtful. Catelyn nodded to them both, “A debt is owed.”
“Pay it back to her,” Tyrion gestured at Sansa. “We don’t need it.”
And Brienne could only agree.
Considering how they’d arrived, leaving in a helicopter seemed almost dreamlike. Brienne watched the manor grow smaller until it was a mere dot in the great woods that surrounded it. It was too loud to talk comfortably and that was almost a relief. They set down on the outskirts of the city. Bronn was already waiting for them on the tarmac, leaning against the hood of Brienne’s car.
“Two of you caused a whole lot of trouble. Had to stay in unless I wanted the damn reporters picking over my bones.”
“How sad for you,” Tyrion laughed. “How much of a dent did you make into the liquor?”
“You have a distributor coming to restock,” Bronn slapped him on the back and tossed Brienne her keys. “Gassed her up. Get yourself home.”
“How are you getting back?” she clung to the keys. The cut into her palm, so immediate and real, that she felt she almost could’ve dreamed all of it.
“Called a car,” Bronn waved her off. “Get lost.”
“Come around the bar when you feel comfortable.” Tyrion pat her hand.
“Tomorrow,” she said firmly.
“Tomorrow,” she repeated.
“Tomorrow,” he agreed with a smile. “I’ll have the paperwork ready.”
She drove through familiar streets, watching the sunset behind the skyline. It was dark by the time she pulled up in front of the house. There were lights on in the front room. The top of a golden head was visible, and a cat sat on in the sill surveying her with mild interest.
Brienne stepped into her house, the familar smell of it rushing out to embrace her. Jaime looked up at her from the couch,
“There you are,” he got to his feet. “I thought maybe you wouldn’t come back.”
“I was always coming back,” she stood there, standing stockstill in her own doorway. She forgot while she was away, how beautiful he was and how he smiled in that annoyingly knowing way of his.
He didn’t hesitate, crossing the space between them to slide his arms around her waist. He kissed her, soft and sure. Tension knotted at the back of her neck for weeks unravelled. The fingers on his injured hand flexed at the small of her back.
“You’ve been going to PT.”
“Myrcella,” he explained with a slight smile. “I put her in charge of the dates. Gave her something else to think about.”
“How are they holding up?”
“Best that we could hope for,” he didn’t release her, instead seemed to come closer so they were pressed together from knee to shoulder. “It’s been rough.”
“I know, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. You did the right thing,” he sighed. “It’s all coming crumbling down now.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll still be your girlfriend even if you are penniless,” she teased. “Already living here rent free.”
“I’ll have you know that I’m an excellent cat sitter.”
“I didn’t even have a cat when I left!”
“That’s how good I am, I made a cat appear,” his voice was strained behind the jest, but she let it be. There was time for all of that.
“Jaime,” she said quietly. “I’d like to go to bed.”
“Of course, you’re tired,” he took a guilty step back.
“No-I mean. Yes, a little. But...” she bit her lip. “I was thinking that you could-we could...”
“Oh..oh!” his eyes went wide. “Why now?”
“I just want to,” she flushed. There had been a lot of time to think at Winterfell. Too much time. And she had missed him terribly. “But it can wait.”
“It absolutely cannot,” he denied. He took her bag from her and flung it in the direction of the couch. The cat went running, diving somewhere out of sight. “March, Tarth.”
The bedroom door was already open and the bed was unmade. She was sure she had made it before she left.
“It’s nicer than the guest bed,” Jaime said unabashedly. He sat down on the edge, and opened his arms to her.
She moved between them, setting her hands on his shoulders. He tipped his face up to her. He still wanted this, wanted her. She leaned down to kiss him.
They were gentle and slow with each other. Jaime made her laugh when she got too nervous, tickling behind her knees until she almost kicked him off the bed. It was more playful than she had imagined and contained none of the roughness her long ago nanny had prophesied. Afterwards, Jaime entwined his hand in hers and kissed each knuckle, her wrist and up her arm to nuzzle at her shoulder.
“Can I stay?” he asked in a hush.
She didn’t respond, except to draw the blankets over them, sheltering them from the moon’s unwavering gaze.