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Symbiosis

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The legal documents were all neatly stacked on the desk in their own perfectly placed piles, their austerity only offset by the outlandish fountain pen laying in front of them; the object literally had the golden head of a lion carved into its crimson cap, each eye jeweled with a ruby. She smiled as if none of it fazed her, but the beauty all around her made her feel much less so.

“If you’re trying to intimidate me, it’s not going to work,” Brienne told him. “Dr. Stark drew up that will herself and accounted for every imaginable loophole your lawyers could possibly use against it. I am their rightful legal guardian.”

Tywin leaned back in his chair, examining her.

“Who said anything about the children?” he asked, feigning confusion. “We’re here to talk about your future with Baelor Hospital.”

Whatever trap he was laying, she wanted no part of it.

“I’m not one of your employees, nor do I ever wish to be,” she declared. “I’ll be entering private practice next year.”

He smirked.

“Major Tarth, you are keenly aware of your situation and your rights, I’ll give you that,” he said evenly. “I was told you are a loyal creature, and I respect you for it, despite to whom that loyalty may be.” He leaned forward, his smirk evaporating. “I was also told that you are intelligent, and willing to protect the ones you love at any cost. Was I poorly informed?”

Her gut clenched, but she swallowed hard and steadied herself, meeting his stare.

“What do you want from me, Dr. Lannister?” she asked bluntly. “I would hate for you to underestimate my ability to handle candor based solely on my gender.”

The older gentleman all but grinned.

“Very well,” he said with an air of pleasure. “I’m sure you’ve heard of the scandal surrounding my family in recent months...?”

Who hadn’t? It was all over the news; she saw something about it at least twice every time she checked her social media accounts, and their faces were on every newsstand in D.C. Just that morning, as she had driven to the hospital for the meeting Tywin himself had requested, she had heard a newer, more salacious rumor of an incestuous relationship she’d rather not think about. A person would have to be both deaf and blind to have missed it all.

It had started a few months before, when Tywin Lannister’s illustrious daughter, the untouchable Cersei Baratheon, had been arrested for trafficking and using oxycodone, along with her eldest son, Joffrey. While she had made bail, Joffrey had not due to his juvenile status, and the entire situation was only exacerbated by the fact that she was the First Lady of the United States. Though Brienne hadn’t been in touch with the Baratheons since Renly’s funeral, she was well aware of the press coverage Robert was receiving, and how poorly he performed under pressure. Her father had even said he’d be surprised if something worse didn’t happen to the man before the year was out.

Why was Tywin Lannister, of all people, mentioning this to her?

“I am aware of it,” she confirmed, “but I still don’t see how that gives me a role to play at this hospital.”

Tywin stood, attempting to look casual by placing his hands in his pants pockets.

“There will come a time when the world forgets the rainy, slippery pavement that claimed the lives of Vice President Stark and his wife last week,” he purred. When she almost rolled her eyes, he gave her a look of warning. “Their eldest and youngest sons were an unfortunate loss, and while you may not believe it, they were never meant to be involved.”

“But you’re admitting that you were involved.”

A tense moment of silence passed between them.

“The circumstances surrounding the situation can only be improved,” he said calmly, though she could tell he was livid at her comment. “The three remaining Stark children will need support, and as restitution for their losses, I will hire you as my Chief of Surgery. Your every need will be met, and your salary more than enough to support your new family as well as your father.”

Her breath caught in her throat; how did he know that she had decided to move back into Evenfall with her father so he could help her with Bran?

“And why would I agree to that?” she inquired instead.

“Because you’ll be doing me a personal favor.”

She furrowed her eyebrows in doubt, crossing her legs and leaning back in the ridiculously comfortable barrel chair. Her unaffected response ruffled his feathers; it was evident in the way he took his hands out of his pockets, glanced at the ceiling, and pressed his knuckles into the surface of his desk.

“Last week, my son was discharged after twelve months of inpatient rehabilitation,” Tywin persisted, grinding of his teeth. “It would seem he has his problems under control for the time being, but he will require another year of licensure probation before he can practice.”

Oh, no. She did not like the way this was going.

“During those twelve months, Jaime will continue his rehabilitation through outpatient programs while assisting on surgeries as a surgery technician. It is my belief that exposure to his field will encourage him to remain on his path to recovery,” he finished.

“You want me to babysit the Kingslayer while I do the real work.”

Tywin smiled.

“Though your expertise is renowned in the army, Major Tarth, your reputation is lesser known amongst those of us at a civilian level,” he explained. “You would benefit from some publicity. This arrangement would lend you the reputation you need in order to earn a reasonable living for your family. Without it, you might find your circumstances... Well, let’s just say some things might be more difficult to bear.”

The threat in his words certainly wasn't veiled; it was wearing a goddamned tiara.

“Why would I risk losing my license to defend a Lannister?” she questioned. “There must be other, more qualified people to take care of this for you.”

His face dissolved into a frown that thundered through to her very marrow.

“I fear I’ve given you the wrong impression,” he began. “This arrangement is meant to protect my reputation and my family. Jaime is the future of this hospital and this corporation. His surgical skills are among the best in the country. If the public sees him working with you, a military commander with an established connection to the Starks, the storm surrounding both the accident and my witless daughter will eventually fade.” At this comment, he paused for breath; apparently the idea of his daughter’s treachery weighed more heavily upon him than let on. “It is the ideal connection for my family, and it would be easier on the Stark children if things were more quickly forgotten.”

She couldn’t argue with the end of his statement, and she hated him for it. Despite that truth, she felt a hint of rebellion pulse through her heart.

The Starks wouldn’t need her if Catelyn were still alive.

“And what would happen if I said no?” she dared. “What would you do?”

Tywin merely blinked.

“In the next hour, I could call in a few debts, and ensure that you would never serve in our military again by lunchtime,” he said with restraint. “You’d get to keep the Starks, of course, but without a veteran’s income or a surgeon’s license, their livelihood would be at stake. Social Services would have to get involved, especially since the boy has such a debilitating handicap.”

When his gaze turned back to her, her fury alone could have powered the city for a night.

“And if your son fails?"

“Don’t let him,” Tywin said simply. “And believe me, he’ll try. I’ve never met someone who craves failure as much as he does.”

“I’m sure he’d be glad to know you have so much faith in him,” she said with a scoff.

He narrowed his eyes at her sarcasm.

“You’re a surprising specimen, major,” he mused. “Former Senator Tyrell certainly taught you well.”

“Olenna taught me a few things,” she agreed, “but the army taught me more.”

Tywin raised his eyebrows before stepping forward and offering her the ornate pen. She took it, noticing the weight of the barrel in the ligaments of her wrist.

“One year supervising him,” she attested, “but do I remain Chief of Surgery when he returns? Or do you set me aside like the tool I am in this situation?”

He barely restrained a sigh.

“I may not be the most amiable man, major, but I do consider myself to be a smart one,” he conceded. “Jaime has more experience, but he is impulsive and irrational. You, however, are not. The position will be yours for as long as you want it.”

For the first time since she’d entered the room, she considered him. He was as tall as her, his black suit and Baelor Hospital red tie likely the second-most expensive things in the room behind the pen she was cradling in her fingers. His formerly golden hair was now white and thinning with age, combed back in a way that drew attention away from the wrinkles years of bitterness had etched onto his face.

“Shall we go left to right?” she suggested shortly, reaching toward the stack of papers on the left corner of the desk.

His nostrils flared in repressed excitement as he gracefully sat behind his desk, placing his glasses on the edge of his straight-edged nose and organizing everything for her to sign. After a few minutes, they found an easy rhythm; he would hand her the next papers, explain what they meant, and she would sign them. It was excruciatingly simple, but after several more forms, she was losing the mental capacity it required of her, and there was still another half-stack for them to sift through.

They were so focused on their task, in fact, that they hadn’t heard the door open behind them.

“I take it she said yes, then?” a smooth voice sounded from behind them.

She watched as Tywin regarded the intruder over the rim of his glasses, but made no move to greet him.

“What can I do for you, Jaime?”

Though her body didn’t move away from the paperwork, she glanced over her shoulder at him.

He really was as handsome as the media made him out to be. Despite how much she and her family hated the Lannisters, Margaery would even make the occasional offhand comment about Jaime’s chiseled features when his face would sometimes grace the evening news during their weekly dinners. His ear-length hair was a dark blonde that was only complimented by his maroon suit jacket, and his eyes were an unfair shade of sea-foam green that made her miss the grasses of Tarth.

But when she saw his face screw up in dismay at what was no doubt her appearance, she turned to face Tywin again as he handed her another packet of stapled papers. There were more important things for her to worry about than the opinions of the man scowling behind her, namely three children who would be depending on her from now on.

“Is that a woman?” she heard him ask incredulously.

Brienne gritted her teeth against the insult, even though she could feel Tywin’s emerald green eyes on her, gauging her reaction.

She is your new Chief of Surgery,” he stated, his deep voice rumbling through the air. “Major Tarth will be supervising the entire department beginning Monday, and you will be assisting her in any capacity she deems necessary.”

Oh, she liked the way he said that. Olenna had mentioned Tywin was a master with words.

“When exactly will I be returning to that position?” Jaime probed, stepping forward to stand over Brienne as she ignored him.

“You won’t be,” Tywin proclaimed. “Major Tarth will remain in this position for as long as it suits her. After the mistakes you’ve made, I’m sure you’ll understand why I trust her judgment and abilities over your own.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jaime’s fists clench, his knuckles going white.

“And what will I be to this organization once I have my license back?” he bit out. “A puppet? Or another pretty face to grace the billboards along the interstate?”

She could feel her face flushing in embarrassment as Tywin removed his glasses to stare at Jaime; it was obvious she shouldn’t be witnessing this exchange, so she kept her eyes fixed on the line above which she should have been signing her name.

“You are my son, and you will do as I see fit,” Tywin said in a raised voice, “provided you can stay sober long enough.”

“I’ve been sober for a year,” Jaime spat, stepping so close to the desk his legs pressed into the mahogany edge. “Ninety days in rehab, nine months in a fucking halfway house... How much longer will it take to prove to you that I’m done with it?!”

“A lifetime!” Tywin finally boomed, startling her from her work altogether. “Do you really think rehab is all there is to it? That weekly AA meetings will solve all of your problems?” The older man held out his hands, gesturing to the room around them. “This organization will be yours someday. Everything I’ve ever worked for will rest in your hands. I only hope that before I—”

“I won’t do it,” Jaime said emphatically, jamming a finger down on the desktop, right next to the dwindling stack of papers. “I refuse to drown behind this desk while the world moves on around me, and especially not when my family needs me most.”

“And what family would that be?” his father accused coolly. “I see no ring on your finger. No wife by your side. No children to speak of...”

The younger man gulped down the hateful words he meant to retort with, his eyes falling to the floor as he seethed with silent rage.

“Someday, if you’re lucky enough to find those things, you’ll understand the importance of power,” Tywin said with ease. “With power comes reputation, and with reputation, safety. Without one pillar, the other two crumble. Your sister should serve as the perfect example of that.”

Stealing a glance at Jaime, she saw the way he set his jaw, forcing himself to calm down.

“Cersei has lost her reputation, and with it, her power,” Tywin lectured. “If she isn’t careful, she may lose her safety as well. You however, have already hit the bottom, and are more than aware of the only direction that lies before you.”

For a long moment, the two men said nothing as they stared at one another, and Brienne was made terribly aware of the fact that she hadn’t signed a paper for a few minutes when Jaime’s eyes met hers. They were filled with agony and resentment, but he held his right hand out to her anyway, and she put down the pen and took it nonchalantly, noticing the strength and confidence in his grip.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Tarth,” he said in a hollow tone. “Congratulations on your new job.”

“Yes, congratulations, major,” Tywin corrected, giving Jaime a scolding look more appropriate for a mortified preschooler than a grown man.

“Thank you,” she said with a flush, releasing his hand more quickly than she needed to so she would be free of the uncomfortable situation. “I’ll see you Monday at six.”

With one last glare at his father, he nodded at her, storming out of the office and shutting the door more loudly than necessary behind him.

“I apologize for my son’s behavior,” Tywin told her, the weariness of his voice hardly giving her any reason to doubt him. “The arrest of his sister has challenged his sobriety in a way none of us imagined it would.”

“I understand,” was all she said in response, taking the last few papers and signing the lines he had highlighted.

She closed the pen with a satisfying click and stood, holding it out to him.

“If that’s everything—”

“Of course,” Tywin agreed, taking the pen and moving to stand, his eyes now level with her own. “You have a lot to do. I should hope four days is enough time for them to get settled...?”

“More than enough,” she affirmed, eager to go home and prepare the house. “Thank you.”

“I’ll see you Monday, then.”

Brienne grabbed her bag and, bowing her head in acknowledgment, made to leave the room. As she opened the door, she suddenly spotted the sizeable portrait hanging by the bookcase and felt her breath drawn from her lungs.

An ethereal woman was sitting in the same barrel chair Brienne had vacated only moments ago, her breathtaking eyes overshadowed only by the small, vulnerable smile that graced her lips. She wore a necklace whose delicate lion’s head pendant bore emeralds for eyes, unlike the ruby ones of the pen she’d used. Her features were undeniably stunning, yes, but Brienne could also see kindness there, and an unyielding strength.

She was so captivated by this portrait she had failed to notice Tywin standing beside her.

“My late wife, Joanna,” he said proudly. “She worked as a charge nurse at this hospital for sixteen years. It was how we met.” He took a deep breath. “I had this commissioned shortly before she died from surgical complications.”

As Brienne observed him, she realized he was speaking in earnest for the first time since she had stepped into his office.

“What sort of complications?” she murmured, curious as to what could have killed the woman who’d stolen the heart of such an infamous beast.

Tywin’s shoulders fell a little, a tired sigh spilling from his mouth.

“My youngest son, Tyrion, was born of an emergency C-section,” he told her, his eyes unmoving from those staring back at them. “She hemorrhaged halfway through the procedure and died on the operating table.”

God, what a terrible thing it must have been to witness life and death occurring in the same room.

“At least you have your son.”

Tywin chuckled; an empty, resounding sound.

“Yes,” he jeered, “I have Tyrion. A drunken, lecherous little fool who’s resented everything I’ve ever given him.  I was able to save him, but I couldn’t save her.”

It was then she understood with perfect clarity: Tywin had been the one to perform the surgery, and was unable to save the person he loved most in the world. Of all people, Brienne knew how that felt.

A thousand unwelcome memories flitted through her mind in an instant; Renly, charred and obliterated, gasping his last breath in her arms under the desert sun; Margaery’s deafening wails when she’d learned of Loras’s suicide; the funeral a few days ago, and how red Sansa’s face had remained through the service...

Though she loathed the man standing beside her for what he’d done to the Starks, she could finally understand how he’d become so cold.

“Nothing’s more hateful than failing to protect the ones you love,” she breathed at last.

He looked at her in mild surprise, but didn’t speak. Instead, he bowed his head at her, stalking back toward his desk chair. With one last glimpse at Nurse Joanna, she walked through the door and out of the lion’s den.