“It's too early to get a tree, Cersei,” Jaime says as he's stuck in traffic on his way home from the office. He's heading to his place, not his sister's, but she's called him with a demand anyway.
“It's three weeks until Christmas! Do you know the Starks across the way put up their tree a week ago?” She announces this like they've beaten her to a million dollars, not who can put up a dead piece of very flammable tinder in their home first.
“Good for them.” Jaime honks, even though the person who deserves his honking is probably twenty cars ahead and will never hear it. It's not even snowing yet, everyone just left early to try to beat the storm home. The lights stretching ahead of him are long stripes of red. Almost Christmasy, Jaime thinks wryly.
Cersei sighs – a long, loud, grieving noise. “Do you want the children to feel like we don't care as much as the Starks?”
He rolls his eyes. “If it's so important, make it a family excursion. I'm sure Robert will peel himself away from his very important work to remember what his children's faces look like.”
“You know he won't,” she says bitterly.
“Then take them yourself.” The cars start to inch forward again, and Jaime is excited to see the speedometer hit ten miles an hour before dropping back to two, and then stopping. “Besides, I'm stuck in traffic, it will take me forever to get there.”
“But that's perfect! You don't want to just sit there in your car for an hour for no reason. Go get a tree and by the time you're done, it will have cleared out.” Cersei sounds entirely too proud of herself. “You know how you get in traffic, Jaime.”
They both do. It was how she'd met Robert in the first place. Jaime had been driving Cersei back home from the airport one college summer break when they'd gotten stuck in a traffic jam. Jaime had gotten infuriated at the enormous Hummer that was taking up a lane and a half with the owner's shitty driving, and he'd discovered his voice carries rather well when everyone's windows are down.
He and Robert hadn't come to blows, but it had been a near thing, until Cersei had stepped in and charmed Robert into compliance. Jaime's still not entirely sure why she'd kept seeing Robert after that, but Jaime suspects it was at least partially because her husband had once been so easily mesmerized by her.
With the years and children, though, that seems to have faded. Jaime will not allow his empathy for the state of his twin's marriage to cloud his better judgment.
“Cersei, I'm in my Porsche. I can't carry a tree on it.”
“Of course you can. Just get one of those strapping young lumberjacks to help you figure it out. Don't get some Charlie Brown tree, either. I want something tall and proud. Expensive.” She's clearly already declared victory here, and Jaime huffs but allows it, just like he always does.
“I don't see why you don't just get a fake tree,” he grumbles, then puts on his signal to try to escape to the nearest exit. Jaime has no idea where the nearest tree lot is, but it won't be on the highway.
Cersei scoffs. “A fake tree. Do you think the Starks have a fake tree? The Tyrells? No. Do you know who has fake trees?”
“The Freys,” she agrees, her voice dripping with disdain. “Call me when you're getting near the house and I'll make sure Robert is around to help you.”
“You really think he's going to help?” Jaime slides into the tiny open space between cars and waves in the mirror at the person behind him who's gesturing vigorously in his direction.
Cersei makes a noncommittal hum. “I'm sure he'll find someone to help. You clearly can't lift it on your own, what with...”
His ruined hand, is what she means. It's what she always means when she trails off into uncomfortable silence. It's been a year and she still can't bear to say anything about it; she can barely even look at it. It hadn't even been her fault, though he wonders if she thinks that sometimes. She was the one who was supposed to be inspecting the job site for the proposed new offices last November, but had begged off because it would mess with her Thanksgiving plans.
“You go,” she'd told him. “You don't have anyone waiting for you.”
Harsh, but true, and he'd had no good argument against it, so he'd gone. Had foolishly rushed to the rescue when one of the workers had gotten trapped under heavy machinery; had injured his hand helping pull the guy out. The man's family has invited Jaime to every significant holiday since as thanks, but he's always turned them down. He'd received the invitation to Christmas dinner just a few days ago, and he's going to turn that one down, too. The man had lost his foot, but the way his family looks at Jaime makes him uncomfortable. Too grateful, on one hand; too full of pity on the other. It's easier to deal with his own family, who mostly just don't talk about it, like Cersei. Though it would be nice if she at least acknowledged it had happened.
“I'll call when I'm near the house,” Jaime tells her now, and hangs up. He doesn't bother to wait for her thank you, because he knows it's not going to come. His twin isn't cruel, just self-centered to an astonishing degree. Jaime's fairly sure he's not far behind, but at least he's aware of it.
He pulls over to the side of the road and enters 'Christmas tree lot' into Maps, sees there's one – Tarth Trees – about ten minutes away. He shrugs and gets the directions going, following the prim woman's voice.
It leads Jaime to a lot normally occupied by a farmer's market during the spring and summer, and which is currently decorated with strings of cheerful Christmas lights, and row upon row of tightly wrapped up trees. There are a few cars parked in the designated spots: an old, beat up truck, a minivan, and a nondescript sedan. Jaime pulls his Porsche into the nearest space and exhales.
“Here we go,” he mutters, opening the door and stepping out. It's chilly, but not as cold as it's going to be in a couple of weeks, and he can hear pleasantly inoffensive Christmas music floating on the night air.
There's not really a single entrance, and children are chattering loudly from nearby, so Jaime heads for the furthest row of trees, the sweet-sharp scent of pine swarming him as he nears. It reminds him of his childhood, a distant and pleasant memory. Jaime doesn't decorate his own apartment for the holiday – he's never really seen the need when it's just him there – and Cersei and his father go all out enough for an army of elves. He can soak up all the holiday spirit he needs from them.
His father has a fake tree, though, and Cersei's house somehow always smells like her perfume no matter what time of year it is. When they were kids, their mother always insisted on a real tree, and the scent would greet them every morning when they woke up, every afternoon when they came home from school before the break. His mother had loved the smell, had insisted they deal with all the hassle of a real tree just for it. He inhales deeply now and understands her a bit better. There's something primally soothing about the fresh scent.
The trees in this row all look fairly short, but Jaime pulls one up awkwardly with his left hand to check. It barely even comes up to his chin. He flops it back down with its brethren and continues on his way. The next row over is an entirely different type of tree, which he hadn't anticipated. He should call Cersei and ask her what type she wants, but he's fairly sure she doesn't know, either.
Well, he'd told her he didn't want to do it and she'd insisted anyway, so she can deal with whatever type of tree he gets. These are too short, too, regardless, so Jaime continues to the next row.
There's a third type of tree and now Jaime's sure someone's just fucking with him, a feeling that doesn't dissipate when he discovers there are actually six types of trees here. The lot is enormous, and he's starting to feel like he's stuck in some Christmas horror film, destined to wander through the maze of just-similar-enough trees to the sound of shrieking children until he drops dead.
That might be a slight exaggeration, he admits. But there are a lot of trees here. There's also what looks like a small mobile home in the middle of it, covered with more Christmas lights, and a broad-shouldered figure is standing with their back to him, hunched over to examine something on a table under a canvas overhang. Relieved to have found his Christmas minotaur, Jaime hurries over, and then nearly screams in surprise when the figure straightens suddenly and yanks their arm to start up a chainsaw.
At least the wail of the chainsaw is loud enough to have smothered Jaime's alarmed shout. He gives the man space, waiting ten feet away for him to turn and see Jaime and shut off the horrifyingly loud chainsaw so they can talk. The man moves to what looks like a crib with a tree in it, his straw-colored hair shooting out at awkward angles from under a Christmas-themed beanie. With swift, practiced movements, he slices off the end of the tree trunk, the wood falling harmlessly to the ground. He does it again, unerringly moving the chainsaw through the wood like it's no trouble at all, as simple as slicing a hot knife through butter. Jaime appreciates the smooth power of the man's back in motion. He's examining his work and Jaime's about ready to wave his arms or scoot around to the edge of the man's vision, when he finally does turn, chainsaw still in hand, and then jumps a little when he sees Jaime.
The chainsaw coughs to a stop and the quiet feels almost painfully loud with its absence. Jaime notices three things all at once: the man is a woman; her hands are rough-knuckled and long-fingered and enormous gripping the chainsaw; and when she pushes her safety glasses up she's got eyes bluer than the neon Christmas lights on the mobile home behind her.
“Hello,” she says in a shockingly soft voice. “Can I help you?”
“Uh,” he says eloquently.
“Yes?” She's still looking wide-eyed at him, and Jaime looks down at himself, worried suddenly he's left his fly open. That's when he remembers he came here from the office in his two thousand dollar suit.
“I need a tree,” he says, looking back up at the woman. “For Christmas.”
A small, amused smile flickers across her very full lips. “I should hope so, if you're here.” She sets the chainsaw down and the table shakes a little under the weight, even though she hadn't looked like it had been that heavy. But given the way her thick flannel shirt clings to her impressive arms, she could probably lift Jaime with that much ease, too. His mouth goes dry. “What kind of tree do you want?”
“I don't know,” he admits. “I didn't realize there were so many types. I just thought Christmas trees were... Christmas trees.”
“What do you like in a tree?” she asks curiously. “Smell, size, strength?”
Jaime thinks for a moment those are all excellent qualities in a woman, but clears his throat. “Smell, I guess?” Then, remembering who he's buying for, adds, “It needs to be big. My sister wants something impressive looking.”
The woman squints a little, considering. She scans the lot, and then nods. “A Nordman Fir is the way to go, then. The smell isn't as strong, but they look great at the big sizes. How big are you thinking – eight to ten feet? Bigger?”
“You have bigger than ten foot trees?”
The woman starts off, motioning for him to follow, stepping nimbly over the extension cords snaking around, the cut ropes littering the ground. Her legs are long and thick as tree trunks and Jaime trips over a stray branch he's so busy staring at them. “Just a couple, and mostly for businesses,” she's saying, not even looking back at him. “They're all gone except one now, though; it's late in the season to get the really large trees. I've still got a good selection in the eight-to-ten range, though.” She leads him confidently out of the maze, to a far corner where even she is dwarfed by the bundles leaning everywhere.
“Here you go,” she says, pointing at a line of trees. “I'm sure you'll find just the right one here.” Then she looks him up and down critically and he bristles a little at the judging cast in her eyes. “You probably don't have anything to cut rope, do you?”
Jaime does a quick mental inventory of his pockets – keys, wallet, phone, candy cane the receptionist had pressed on him as he'd left the office earlier. “No,” he says reluctantly.
The woman makes a face. “All right, let me get you some scissors.”
She leaves him there in the small bundled forest and Jaime idly starts poking at trees, tries to tug the thick white stringy rope binding one tree tightly together, but it's tied far too well. Even with two good hands he wouldn't be able to get it unwound. He's there for long enough that he's starting to wonder if she got lost, when she finally comes back.
“Sorry, had to answer some questions. Here,” she hands scissors over, handle-first.
He takes them tentatively. “So I just...?”
“Cut them open, get a look at their fullness, see if you like their shape.” Jaime heroically does not eye hers. “You know,” she waves her hand vaguely around and flushes. The red of her skin brings out the freckles under the bad lighting. “See if you vibe with it.”
“Vibe,” he says dryly. “With the tree.”
The woman ducks her head, shrugging. “People pick trees for different reasons. You can just go by size if you want.” Jaime extra-heroically does not make a terrible penis joke. “Feel free to cut open as many as you want to check them out. Shake them up, give them a feel. They'll all get opened and manhandled by the end of the season anyway.”
The innuendo opportunities he's just leaving there are killing him, but he doesn't want her to be mad at him, though he's not sure why it matters so much.
She glances back at him again and for some reason goes a little more pink in her cheeks. “I should finish what I was doing. Good luck!”
Then she's gone, leaving Jaime holding a pair of scissors in his hand, a strange, distant yearning in his stomach, and standing amidst a row of trees that he's certain he's not going to be able to manipulate on his own. He'd like the woman to come back and help him, to talk to him more in that remarkably gentle voice, to stand near enough he could figure out if she smells like pine trees, if she's really taller than him or if it's just her ridiculous legs that makes her seem that way.
Get it together, he tells himself, turning to the first tree. It's been a while since he's been with someone, but this level of distraction is uncalled-for. He fumbles with the scissors in his off hand, awkwardly slides them into the tree and cuts off a slip of branch instead of the tie.
“Shit,” he grouses, which is exactly when he catches sight of a young, dark-eyed cherub staring at him at the end of the row, her face shining with curiosity. She's got black, springy hair adorned with sparkly red and green bows, and she's dressed in a pink, fuzzy-lined coat, her hands shoved in her pockets.
“You said a bad word,” she tells him very seriously.
“No I didn't,” he futilely protests.
“And you lied,” she says with a heavy sigh. “Santa's gonna put you on the Naughty list.”
“You have no idea, kid.” She just blinks at him, unbothered.
“Are you a mean lawyer? Do you hate Christmas?”
Jaime huffs in surprise. “No, why would you think that?”
“You look like the mean men who hate Christmas.” She's so serious Jaime almost laughs, but he doesn't want to get this girl on his bad side.
“You mean like in movies?” She nods. “Don't believe everything you watch.” He remembers the candy cane in his pocket and is one second from asking her if she wants any candy when his brain screeches in alarm and shuts that down. “Uh, where are your parents? I'm sure they're looking for you.”
“Brienne's helping them with our tree.”
Jaime's brain goes back on alert. “Is Brienne the woman who works here?”
The girl nods. “She looks like a secret Christmas angel.”
“She does,” Jaime readily agrees.
“She could beat you up,” the girl says.
Jaime does laugh, then. “I'm a scrappy fighter. But,” he flexes his ruined hand and grins wryly, “I'm at a bit of a disadvantage these days.”
The girl just stands there, hands in her pockets, watching him. He hears the chainsaw again and figures that must be the girl's tree.
“You should probably get back, don't you think?” he says only semi-desperately.
“Mommy said it was okay.”
“Did she,” Jaime mutters. “Well, then maybe you can help me.” He eyes the girl, who looks to be a little older than Tommen, who's five. “You can use scissors, right?”
“Yeah,” she says in a tone that suggests Jaime is in fact as hopeless as she thought.
“Can you cut these ties for me? My other hand doesn't work.”
The girl comes a little closer. “What's wrong with it?”
Jaime looks down at his hand, the scarred tissue, the missing pinky finger. “I hurt it last year.”
“Can I see?” She's closer now, peering eagerly at him, and he holds his hand out to her. Every kid that's looked at Jaime's hand – even Cersei's – have responded more with interest than disgust, and this girl is no different. “You're missing a finger,” she breathes. “Why don't you use your other hand?”
“I'm not good with it yet.”
“Mommy says practice makes perfect,” the girl says sagely.
“That's true, but I'm cold and I'd like to just buy a tree and get out of here, not practice my cutting.”
The girl squints at him. “Are you sure you're not a mean lawyer?”
“Jeyne,” a woman says sharply. “Manners, please.”
The girl straightens and Jaime sends the woman a disarming smile. She's as dark-haired and round-faced as her daughter, but much more quickly charmed because her returning smile is swift and a little shy. Jaime's seen that smile on many people's faces when he applies himself.
“Don't worry, she's been a delight,” he assures the woman. “In fact, she was just about to help--” All of his words flee when Brienne comes around the end of the row, too, hefting a tidily netted tree over her shoulder. Her neck muscles are tense and marvelous. Jaime forgets momentarily how to breathe.
“Are you ready, ma'am?” Brienne asks the mother, and then she glances at the tableau of Jaime, the tree, and the little girl, and her brows lift in surprise. “Is everything all right?”
Jaime suspects that she's asking because she thinks he's causing problems and is fleetingly annoyed. “I was just getting some help from a Christmas elf,” he says hurriedly. “But it looks like Mrs. Claus needs her back at the shop.”
The girl grins at that and Jaime can see she's missing her two front teeth, the perfect picture of childhood innocence. “He needs help cutting, Mommy,” she informs everyone and Jaime is embarrassed that Brienne the Christmas tree angel is there to hear that. He should at least be able to open his own tree.
“I can manage,” he insists.
“His hand is broken,” the girl continues laying out his failings.
“Oh. Well, let me get this tied to their car and I can help you,” Brienne says. “Why don't you pick a couple of options so we can go through them all at once?”
She sounds so certain and without any trace of pity that he silently nods his acquiescence. The woman leads Jeyne and Brienne to her car while Jaime stares down at the scissors in his hand. Is he really going to be bested by a Christmas tree? No. He tries again, getting the rope cut this time at least, but it's a struggle to get it unwound from the branches. Halfway through, the tree careens to the ground with a snapping sound when it lands. He sets the scissors down and grabs the trunk with his working hand, wincing at the sap and sharp needles, and barely gets it righted by the time Brienne comes back.
Her gaze travels up and down the tree, then up and down his body and a quick glance at himself shows his suit is not faring well with this manual labor. A quick glance at the tree shows it hasn't fared well either.
“Do you need help?” she asks. “Or do you have it?”
Jaime looks at the tree, then at his pants again, and then back at Brienne. The tree's branches that were on the ground hang limply where they broke.
“I'll take this one,” he announces loudly.
Brienne narrows her eyes. “Really?”
Jaime turns the tree a little to hide the broken side. “Yep. It's perfect.”
She looks like she's going to protest but shrugs and steps nearer, and he leans away from her. “What are you doing?” he asks.
“I'm going to carry it the front to get it netted.”
“I can carry it.”
“Jaime,” he says for some reason. “My name is Jaime.”
Brienne eyes him like he's an expensive suit-wearing weirdo who has disturbed her otherwise peaceful evening. “That's an eight foot tree.”
He looks up at the top of it, then back at her. “It is.” His hand is starting to ache from where he's clutching the trunk to hold it in place.
“You'll need help.” He's about to protest when her hand snakes out and wraps around the trunk and, accidentally, over his. Her palm is hot and sweaty, a little sticky with sap. They stand there holding the tree together, staring at each other. “Let go,” she says.
“You let go,” he says for reasons he cannot fathom. He's starting to suspect all the pine smell has gone to his head and broken his brain.
Brienne exhales loudly through her nose. “Stop worrying about your ego and let me take the tree.”
He does drop his hand then, in order to fist it on his hip. “My ego?”
She crouches and grabs the bottom of the tree with her other hand, and then with a small, seductive grunt, stands with the tree grasped tightly like a deadlift bar in her hands, her arm muscles straining a little under her shirt. “Yes,” she grits out, and then shuffles off with his tree.
Jaime watches her walk away long enough he suddenly gets worried he won't be able to find his way out without looking even more helpless, and he hustles after her, jogging a little to catch up.
“It's not my ego,” he tells her, and she just grunts. She's sweating, and her temples are gleaming. “Might be yours, though. Do you need some help?”
She glares at him and keeps walking. “No,” she bites off. “I've got it.”
This time she's the one who trips over a branch on the ground and Jaime reaches out to steady her. He uses his right hand, of course, because thirty-plus years of instinct still trump everything else, and he winces when his hand uselessly bangs into her arm.
“Sorry,” he says, when she looks down at his hand. When her eyes lift to his again, he's relieved to see she still looks mostly annoyed, and not sympathetic.
“I've got it,” she tells him again and takes up her shuffling once more. She's breathing more heavily by the time she wrangles the tree into the crib, and he tries not to look smug when she glances his way. Brienne yanks her beanie off and wipes her arm across her forehead. Her hair is crazy – pale blond and wispy, some of it matted with sweat to her head, the rest looking like it's trying to escape. It's obnoxiously adorable.
She picks up the chainsaw and he laughs at himself. Adorable as a serial killer, maybe. A very competent, strong serial killer, he amends as she gracefully wields the chainsaw. He has the thought that he wouldn't mind being murdered by her, but stuffs it down with some consternation.
What the fuck?
That's what Tyrion would say if he were here. That and assuredly some comment about climbing her like a tree. Cersei would just stare in that way she has, where she's surprised and disappointed and disgusted and pitying all at once. His father would mostly want to know if Brienne only worked here or owned the lot.
Jaime wants to know her number. And how much she bench presses.
“Sir?” Brienne says, snapping Jaime out of his daydream. She's already done with the chainsaw, and the wrapping, and she's lifting the tree back up. “Your car?”
Jaime blinks at her, this strongwoman Christmas angel with the mussed hair and oversized features and murderously blue eyes.
“You do have a car?” she says very slowly.
“Right, yes. I do.” Jaime looks around, spots what he thinks is the row that got him here, and motions for her to follow. “This way.”
He leads her out of the lot, scrambling for something to ask her that's not too off-putting and only coming up with increasingly inappropriate questions, until they've made it to his Porsche in silence. He unlocks it, the alarm beeping cheerfully.
The trunk of the tree thunks loudly to the ground and Brienne stands, gaping. “You can't be serious.”
Jaime looks at his car and then at the tree and then at Brienne. “What do you mean?”
“Where am I supposed to put this?”
“On top, obviously.” He opens the door. “Can't you just tie it up there or something?”
She looks extremely dubious at this suggestion. “I'm not sure that's safe.”
“It'll be fine,” he assures her. “I swear I won't sue you if something happens. I promise I'm not a mean Christmas-hating lawyer.”
Brienne turns her furrowed brow directly on him. “What?”
“The little girl was convinced I was a Christmas movie villain.” He gestures at the suit and smirks. “I don't blame her, I suppose.”
“You do seem poorly dressed for this.” She eyes his car again and then sighs. “All right, stand back and let me see what I can do here.”
Jaime does as directed, and he watches her squat and lift the tree up with a forceful grunt, get it onto the top of his car with a few grimace-inducing scratching sounds, and then pull more twine out of surprisingly deep pockets on her jeans to start tying it down to his car. The entire thing leaves him with his hands folded awkwardly in front of his body and trying not to imagine her doing the same thing to him in a bed.
I need to get laid, he thinks desperately, which doesn't help anything. Hildy at the office is always hitting on him. Maybe he can give in this time and save himself from being turned-on by stubborn lumberjacks with soft hair and softer voices.
He wonders what her voice would sound like if he were to use his mouth on her in much more effective ways.
“There,” she says, but she doesn't sound at all confident of her work. “It's on, I guess.”
It takes him a second to return from the fantasy he's gotten stuck in, but he can finally focus on the tree hanging over the front and back of his vehicle. She's tied a ribbon to the end off the back, a long strip of red fluttering in the increasingly cold breeze. A few, anemic snowflakes start to fall. One sticks to her pale eyelashes.
“I didn't pay you,” he says far too breathlessly. Brienne just stares at him, obviously confused, less obviously something else, but her face is red from the exertion. “For the tree. And your help.”
“The tree is eighty-five. The help is free.”
Jaime pulls out his wallet and plucks out a hundred dollar bill, holding it out. “For both,” he says, and then when she opens her mouth – almost certainly to dispute it – he shoves it forward. “Use the extra money to buy candy canes for the kids if you must.”
That seems to convince her, because she carefully takes the money, her fingertips barely brushing his, and he gets goosebumps down his arm. She stares down at the bill. “You must be a lawyer.”
“I am,” he admits. “But not a mean one.”
“Mm.” When Brienne looks at him, her blue eyes are mischievous. “That's exactly what the mean guy in a Christmas movie would say to throw people off.”
Jaime laughs a little and tries to think of some other way to keep her here, but he can tell she wants to get back to the lot, by the fidgeting of her feet, the way she's nervously playing with the money. “Well. Thank you for your help.”
“Thank you for your purchase. Just turn the broken branches to the wall, no one will see them.”
“My sister is very good at hiding broken things,” he says, and the bitterness slips out, just as it always does. She'd been the one pressing him to adopt gloves as his new fashion statement, with an insert for his missing pinky so no one would know.
“Maybe you're the Christmas movie hero,” Brienne says abruptly, and then an engaging flush swirls all over her face and disappears under the collar of her shirt. The snow melts into her hair.
“Maybe,” he murmurs. “Jeyne did get you right, though.” Brienne looks wary and he tempers himself into friendliness. “She said you were a Christmas angel,” he tells her. “You've certainly been mine.”
That turns her so red he can only think of Rudolph, but he doesn't say anything, just giving her another bright smile and getting into his car before he does something truly idiotic like kissing her.
As he drives away, he can't see past the tree to tell if Brienne watches him go.
Cersei is, unsurprisingly, furious at the state of the tree.
“They ruined it when they put it on your car!” she screeches when she sees the broken branches. Jaime, like a coward, doesn't disabuse her of that notion, but does point out she can hide that part facing the wall.
“Obviously,” she scoffs. “At least it's tall enough, and not scrawny.”
In truth it's a beautiful tree – full skirted and adorned with fresh needles that don't come off when someone merely brushes against them. The branches are strong enough even for Cersei's beloved gold-plated ornaments, and it's entirely worth it when the kids stare wide-eyed up at its enormous height. He wonders if they'd look at Brienne like that, too, and shakes himself.
No more of that, he tells himself fiercely. It was fine while he was at the tree lot, when she was right there in front of him and impossible to ignore, but anything else is, frankly, insane. What does he know about her? She's tall, she's strong, she's very good with a chainsaw and lifting heavy items. She's got a sense of humor, and a willingness to help. She didn't look at him with disgust or pity once. Technically he only knows her name because a random little girl told him, and she doesn't know who he is at all.
As soon as Jaime leaves Cersei's house that night in the snow that never quite got its act together to be dangerous, he puts all thoughts of trees and Brienne out of his mind, and is very successful at it until the next morning, when he wakes up and sees the suit he needs to send to be dry-cleaned.
He takes care of that when he goes into work and hands the suit wordlessly to Peck, who takes one look at it with a silent yet very expressive eyebrow. Jaime's confidence that now he'll stop thinking about Brienne lasts three hours, when his father calls everyone into the lobby for the annual tree lighting of the office tree.
Once that's done, Jaime manages another Brienne-free hour, until he hears Peck's cell ringing and the ringtone is 'Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree.'
It goes like that the entire week. By the time Friday rolls around, Jaime's grateful to escape to his lonely apartment, where it's only him and no reminders of trees or muscular, blue-eyed women.
Or so he thinks, but Christmas is not contained just to offices and ringtones. It's everywhere: commercials, the morning paper, the music over the speakers at the local cafe where he normally has his weekend coffee and croissant. Even the lobby of his apartment building has a tree in it, and the doorman is wearing an elf hat when Jaime comes back from his run on Sunday.
Which is how he finds himself in Tyrion's office that Monday, saying, “Don't you think you should get a tree for your place?”
Tyrion's just staring at him, because Jaime almost never comes in only to chat, and definitely not to talk about home decoration.
“What sort of tree are we talking about?”
“A Christmas tree,” Jaime says, already annoyed with himself and Tyrion both that it's come to this. “It will impress Tysha if she sees you're putting in that kind of effort.”
“Perhaps,” Tyrion says slowly. “But why do you care what impresses Tysha?”
“You like her, don't you? You want to take it to the next level?”
“Yes.” Tyrion's still talking to Jaime like he's a man on the edge. Maybe he is. He certainly feels like his life is spinning quickly out of control. “What makes you think a tree will do that?”
“You know, shows how ready you are for domesticity, that you're interested in bettering your surroundings and not just living the careless bachelor life any longer.” It sounds like a stretch even to Jaime, but Tyrion nods thoughtfully.
“That makes a surprising amount of sense. I suppose I can get Pod to go out for me and--”
“I'll do it,” Jaime nearly shouts, and Tyrion recoils a little in his chair. “I know a place. I just got one for Cersei last week, it'll be no trouble.” Tyrion still looks too suspicious. “I don't want her to think I like her better because I'll help her and not you.”
Tyrion grins sharply. “Now that I believe. Fine, pick me a tree. Something homey, and not too tall. I don't want to look ridiculous next to it.”
“Got it!” Jaime chirps, smothering his relieved sigh. “I'll go tonight.”
The parking lot at Tarth Trees is much fuller this Monday, the sounds of families and couples wandering through the lot much louder. As far as he can see, Jaime is the only solo buyer here, but he refuses to let that bother him. He's been without a plus one for most of his life; beyond some sexual interest, he's never found someone he actually wanted to spend time with. Which has been fine with him – it's let him dive headfirst into his job, developing into one of the best defense attorneys in the city. But it does make holidays and parties awkward, especially now that Tyrion has someone to bring, and even more now that Jaime has his hand as a barrier.
He'd honestly thought it wouldn't matter as much as it has, but for all his good looks, people's eyes are always drawn to his disfigurement to the exclusion of everything else. He doesn't mind that people notice – it would be absurd if they didn't – but he hates that it's all people see about him now. He'd stopped presenting in court since the accident, suddenly convinced he was only winning cases because the jury felt sorry for him.
What he wants is to be seen for all the parts of himself.
And apparently a woman taller and broader than he is.
He weaves through the lot and hurries towards the center, inhaling deeply as he passes the first set of trees. There's a young couple examining two identical looking trees, a family with a wide double-stroller that Jaime has to press himself back into the scratchy inventory so they can pass. And there in the center of it all is the light-strewn mobile home, the canvas tent, and... no sign of Brienne.
Jaime frowns at the empty space. That's fine, he can find her. He starts to turn on his heel when she's there, right next to him, open-mouthed.
“What are you doing here?” she demands, and Jaime feels his excitement at seeing her again flame out with unease.
“I need a tree,” he says.
“My brother,” he explains. “Now he needs one.”
“I don't really have any more tall trees.” She wraps those exquisitely powerful hands around each other.
“That's okay; he only wants a short one.”
“Oh.” They're just standing there, staring at each other. One side of her face in shadow, the other in shades of red and blue and green. She's got her beanie on again, and a sweatshirt today, the sleeves shoved up to her elbows even though it's colder this week than last. Her forearms are spotted with dirt and scratches. The urge to run his finger down the tendons is almost overpowering. “Does he know what kind he wants?”
Jaime laughs a little ruefully. “Not a clue. He just said homey and not too tall.”
“He'll want a Grand Fir, then. They're sort of the traditional tree. Do you want me to show you?”
“Yes, please,” Jaime says quickly. He shoves his hands in the pockets of his pants. He's got a three thousand dollar suit on today. When he'd gotten dressed this morning, he hadn't intended to be so dressed up, but he hopes she appreciates it. Unless she thinks he's just trying to show off.
It doesn't matter, he reminds himself. I'm just here to buy a tree.
“Did you bring scissors this time?” she asks, and that small, amused smile is back.
“No.” Jaime shrugs. “Maybe next time.”
Brienne looks at him askance and goes to the table to grab a pair of scissors, then starts off down a nearby row and Jaime follows her.
“So, you work here?” he says, in what is possibly his worst opening line ever. Brienne, mercifully, does not laugh at him.
“Yes,” she says. “Tarth Trees is my family's farm.”
“You live on a farm?” he asks, his entire world shifting.
“I work on a farm,” she says. “I live not too far out of the city.”
Jaime's relieved to hear that, though he's got no idea why he should be. “So. Tarth. Is that a last name, then?”
Brienne stops in front of a row of trees shorter than he is, and faces them as she answers. “It is.”
“Do you have a first name?” Jaime asks gently.
Her gaze jumps to his and then away again, and she chews her bottom lip as she examines the trees in front of them. “Brienne,” she says quickly. “These are the ones you want. Looks like most of them have already been unwrapped; I don't know if you need me today.”
“I do need you. Your help. I need your help. Deciding. On which one.” He gestures at the row of trees, of which there are many more than the tall ones he'd seen last week. “I can't be trusted.”
“You did fine last week.”
“I got lucky.” He smiles with what he hopes is an appealing carelessness. She's barely even looking at him. “Besides, I'd hate to have a repeat of last time, if only for my clothing's sake.”
“I suppose I can spare a couple of minutes.” She sounds distracted and Jaime feels a little guilty for keeping her from her other customers. But he's a paying customer, too, and a repeat one at that. Taking up a few minutes of her time isn't that unusual.
Brienne pulls out the nearest tree and holds it up. “What do you think of this one?”
It's patchy at best, and she puts it back before he even says anything. “Never mind.” She furrows her brow at the row, and he can see her shift into seriousness, the way she rubs her chin as she examines her wares, her fingers sliding along the branches, checking the health of the needles. Jaime imagines this must be what she looks like when she selects a tree for herself, and then he wonders if she has someone with her when she does.
God, what if she has a boyfriend? Or a husband?
Jaime examines her hands, and though he doesn't see any ring or indication of a ring, given her work it's entirely possible she doesn't wear one regularly anyway.
Not that it matters, because he's only here to buy a tree for his brother. A fact he holds tightly to when she bursts into a wide smile and pulls a tree out of the pile.
“I think this is the one,” she says proudly, spinning it a little so Jaime can see. It's about five feet tall, and almost perfectly shaped, with a few stray branches at the bottom that can easily be clipped off. The top is a little crooked, but somehow Jaime thinks Tyrion will appreciate the imperfection.
It's exactly right, and Jaime hates it, because it means he's already done here.
“Well?” Brienne asks, turning it all the way around. Her eyes are so lit with hope that he can't bring himself to lie.
“It's perfect,” he sighs.
“Great!” Her smile dims when he doesn't seem to share her enthusiasm, and she lifts the tree easily with one hand. “Should I clean up the bottom for you?”
“Please.” He follows her to the central area again, notices a box of candy canes on the table while she settles the tree in its trimming frame. “I see you took my suggestion,” he says, nodding at the box, and she ducks her head, but can't quite hide her embarrassed smile.
“It was a good one. Besides,” her expression turns delightfully sly, “I found myself with the extra money thanks to a mysterious Christmas benefactor.”
“Sounds suspiciously like a Hallmark movie,” Jaime says.
“There were no sightings of a man who looked like Santa, so the jury is out.” She picks up the chainsaw and then pulls her safety glasses on. “You should step back, just to be safe.”
Jaime does as directed and watches her maneuver the chainsaw with admirable dexterity, shaving off the end of the trunk to make it even, gently cutting the excess branches from the bottom without injuring anything else. It's almost like a ballet, and far more hypnotic.
By the time the silence descends again and the music and distant chatter filter back in, Jaime's decided he's going to have to come back a third time for some reason. He'll just have to spend the next week figuring it out.
Brienne nets the tree up without talking and then leaves it there for a moment. “That'll be sixty dollars,” she says. “And we do accept credit cards.” She points at the little sign in the window of the mobile home.
“Do you live here?” Jaime blurts out, and he watches as the open welcome in her features shutters closed. “I'm just curious.”
Brienne shifts uncomfortably and he thinks about what a terrible question that is. If she says no, then the lot is unguarded at night; if she says yes, then she admits to being there, probably alone.
“Never mind,” he mutters. “I'll pay cash.”
At least that wipes the nerves from her lovely eyes; her shoulders relax, too, and when he hands over the hundred dollar bill, she manages a dry chuckle. “I'm sorry, I don't carry that kind of change.”
“I didn't expect you to.”
“Jaime,” she says, frowning, but his whole body lifts with a jolt of pleased surprise. She remembers his name. “I can't take a forty dollar tip.”
“Yes you can. Next time get hot chocolate. Kids will love that even more.”
“You have an awful lot of opinions about what children like for a Christmas villain.” She pockets the money.
“I thought I was the hero? I liked that better.”
Brienne snorts. “Even if you are, you're the one who's supposed to have no clue about family or the holidays. But you sound like there are kids in your life.”
Jaime knows he's reaching, but he can swear she sounds a little disappointed. “Just my sister's kids. I'm a confirmed bachelor. Not even a girlfriend.”
“Ah, a Christmas playboy.”
He bursts into startled laughter. “What kind of Christmas movies are you watching?”
Brienne's face goes pink and red like a melting candy cane. Her smile is back, though, and she looks younger than he initially thought, and entertained. “Just the normal kind! Come on, surely you see it? Big city lawyer with no family, forced to learn the meaning of Christmas. All you need is an ice skating scene and a snowy night.”
“Don't forget the perfectly bland leading lady. She probably owns a small-town bakery.”
“Yes,” Brienne agrees with a bright laugh. It reminds him of bells chiming. “You're on your way somewhere and stop in for a coffee.”
“Which she spills on my very expensive suit, of course.”
“Of course. She's adorably clumsy.”
Jaime grins. “Plus, it forces me to remove my jacket and vest. Much to everyone's deep dismay.”
“A tragedy for sure,” Brienne says dryly. “Now I'm wondering what kind of Christmas movies you watch, though.”
“As few as possible, truthfully. Not to play to type, but I don't do much for Christmas. My sister has a Christmas Eve dinner at her house and then my father hosts an absurdly overdone gathering Christmas day. That's enough for me.”
A line forms between her eyebrows and makes her look so serious he wants to soothe her. Her hand flutters towards him a little at her side, and then stills. “If it makes you happy, then do what you like.” She turns and grabs the tree. “I can help get this on your car again. I assume you drove the same one here?”
Jaime nods, leading her back to his Porsche without speaking. If it makes you happy, she'd said, and to be honest he's not sure whether it does. It's just the way his life has been. There'd been that brief period in college when he and Addam had decked out their rental each year, a tradition Jaime had genuinely enjoyed. They'd get a tree and too many lights, buy holiday-themed food and beers and throw a party for the other students who didn't want to go home over the break. Once they'd graduated, Jaime had gone off to finish law school and work for his father, and it felt too childish to try to recapture that. Addam's married now, with a kid of his own, and Jaime suspects he decorates extensively with his family every year.
He unlocks his car and watches Brienne efficiently lift and tie the tree to the roof. He's not a playboy, and Brienne isn't a cute little baker, and no one is going to learn the meaning of anything except perhaps the types of Christmas trees.
“All set,” she says when she's done. “This feels safer to me.”
“I got home just fine last time, but I appreciate your concern.”
Her cheeks pink a little again, but she nods. “Well... thank you for your return business, Jaime.”
He can't help it – he beams at her. “My pleasure, Brienne. If I have a sudden need for a third tree, I know where to go.”
“That would be a first, but we're open until eight on Christmas Eve.”
“You get a lot of last-minute tree buyers?”
She lifts one wide shoulder in a shrug. “Occasionally. We sell some other things, too. Wreaths, mistletoe. That's a big one, for people heading to parties. But it's usually pretty quiet. It's not a bad way to spend the day, and then I always get Christmas off.”
They're staring again, but Jaime doesn't know what else to say if he's not going to come right out and ask her if she's seeing someone, which he can't bring himself to do.
“I should get back,” she says softly, and he stifles a disappointed noise by clearing his throat.
“Thank you again for your expertise. If you ever need to defend yourself in court, do I know the lawyer for you.”
Brienne's face creases with her wide smile, and it's like watching the dawn breaking. Jaime basks in the glow. “I don't even know your last name,” she reminds him. “You keep paying cash.”
“Lannister. Jaime Lannister.”
She holds out her hand – her left hand, a casual thoughtfulness that steals his breath – and he takes it. They shake, very businesslike, even though his entire arm is tingling from the press of her strong, warm hand in his. “It's nice to meet you, Jaime Lannister. I hope you have a merry Christmas.”
“You, too, Brienne Tarth.”
Say something, he thinks. Say anything. But he just gives her one more closed-mouth smile, and gets into his Porsche. She starts walking back to the lot even as he starts up his car, but he catches her looking over her shoulder at him when he drives away.
Tyrion does, in fact, love the tree. This one Jaime can lift by himself, so he lugs it into Tyrion's apartment, leaving a scattered trail of needles behind him, and then he sets it in the bucket of water his brother has in one corner.
“You need a tree stand,” Jaime says critically, and Tyrion waves him off.
“Coming in the mail. This will do until it gets here. I also ordered lights, but I'm not sure what to do about ornaments. I'd like some of the ones mom used to use, but I don't know where they went.”
“Our father has them tucked away, I'm sure. You could ask him.”
“I'd rather buy new ones. Drink before you go?”
Jaime shakes his head. “I've gotta get back. Early day tomorrow.” He rubs his fingers along one of the smooth branches, and thinks about Brienne. “Do you think...” No, he knows better than to bring Tyrion into any of this. “Never mind. I'll see you at work. Don't forget we have that meeting with the potential Bolton client at eight sharp.”
“I'll be there, even though that's an offensive time for a meeting.”
“The man was adamant.” He heads for the door and Tyrion calls his name.
“How much do I owe you for the tree?”
Jaime smiles a little. “Don't worry about it. It was my pleasure.”
The Bolton case is horrific. If Jaime had had any Christmas spirit, the details of what the man asking for their representation had done would have driven it all away. Jaime spends three days talking with the man's father, reviewing the police records with Tyrion – which are even worse – and making a stop at the prison to meet the defendant before walking away feeling nauseous. Jaime may be the best defense lawyer in the city, but he cannot take this case, and he spends all weekend trying to decide what to do. His father insists he represent Bolton, that if Jaime starts making moral judgments he'll never stop, and it will ruin his career. Tyrion agrees with that, although he's kinder when he says it. Jaime doesn't try to talk it over with Cersei, and Addam is in a different city and busy with his own work and problems. Jaime doesn't really have any other confidantes in his life.
Sunday night, confused and restless, Jaime goes for a drive, and realizes he's ended up near Tarth Trees. As soon as he recognizes the road, he follows it to the lot and the brightly-lit sign, and parks. It's not too busy, five other cars, including the old truck he's seen the previous two times. He guesses it's probably Brienne's.
Jaime sits in his Porsche for a long time, getting slowly colder as the chill seeps in. He's not even sure what he's doing here. If Addam doesn't have time for him, Brienne absolutely doesn't. They're not friends. They're barely acquaintances. And yet, he feels like she would understand, if he explained his problem to her.
Go home, he urges himself, even as he gets out of his car and pockets the keys. A couple of the cars that had been here when he'd arrived have left, and the lot is peaceful, just Christmas music and a faint conversation from somewhere in the maze. The lot is much emptier than it was, big gaps in the rows where trees had been crammed in before, and even a few rows that are entirely empty. It seems like nearly every tree will be gone by next week.
This is so stupid, he knows it is, but he walks towards the mobile home, sees Brienne sitting in a folding chair there, a carafe on the table, with Hot Chocolate written in careful letters across it. There are paper cups stacked next to it, and an open bag of mini marshmallows. Brienne's got a cup clutched in her hands and she's blowing across the top when she glances up and catches his gaze.
She looks shocked, and then, like a soft blow to his heart, happy. “Jaime!” She stands, sets the cup down on the table. “What are you doing here?”
Jaime knows he can't lead with, I need to talk to someone and you're the only person I trust to be honest with me, given they've spent maybe an hour in each other's company up til now. So instead he says, “Turns out I have sibling envy, and now I want a tree, too.”
Which could not be further from the truth. There's no good place for it in his apartment, he has nothing to put one in, nothing to put on it, and he doesn't want to have to deal with it when it dies. But Brienne looks absolutely thrilled by the news, so he smiles anyway.
“I'm going to assume you don't have a type preference.”
“That would be correct.”
“Then what do you want in a tree, Jaime?”
“A good smell,” he says, and that, at least, is true. “I want it to smell like Christmas when I come home.”
Brienne's smile softens. “I've got just the tree.” She grabs scissors and waves them at him and he laughs a little. “I assume you want something pretty small, since it's just you?”
He nods in agreement and walks next to her through the rows.
“A Douglas Fir is the best smelling Christmas tree there is,” she says as they make their way. “I've got some juvenile ones in, three-to-four footers, beautiful little trees that will fit perfectly. I mean... I'm guessing. Since I don't know what your place looks like.”
“That sounds good to me. You're the expert.”
“That's me: Santa's little helper.”
“Little?” he says before he can stop himself, and Brienne stutter-steps, but then she laughs.
“Santa's enormous helper,” she amends, and Jaime thinks maybe coming here was exactly what he needed.
“You'd be a tremendous help around all those tiny elves.”
“Oh, god, like Elf,” she says with a charming snort. “No, thanks. I'm good helping my tall father with the farm.” And then she adds, so casually it feels forced, “Since it's just him and me running it. Nobody else.”
Jaime has no idea what to make of that. It's information he tucks away, in case it means what he thinks it does, and remains quiet. Brienne's face goes red and she picks up her pace.
Not too far away is a row of cute mini trees. They're exactly the right size, easy for Jaime to manipulate with his one good hand, simple to decorate with a string or two of lights at most.
“You're very good at this,” Jaime tells her, and Brienne looks so deeply pleased by that it makes his heart twist. “Can you help me find the right one? It helps having someone else spin it while I look.”
She agrees swiftly, and this time it takes almost ten trees before they find the right one. They carefully review and critique each small tree, Brienne leaves him for a short break to help one of the other customers, and then she comes back and they go through the process with a few more.
“Why are there so many more of these little ones left than the others?” he asks once he's settled on a tree. This time, he carries it back to the cutting crib himself, and she walks easily by his side.
“People don't like weird-sized trees.”
“But you said the big ones go fast.”
“They do.” She tucks a loose piece of hair up under her beanie. Their breath is puffing in the cold air. It's supposed to snow soon, if the forecast doesn't peter out on them again. It might even be a white Christmas, which Cersei's kids are hoping for. “But even those, we only bring a few from the farm. People like normal-sized trees. With pretty needles and regular shapes.”
Jaime glances down at the tree in his hand, at the woman at his side. “Not me,” he says. “I like unusual trees, with strong branches.”
Brienne makes a strange little noise but doesn't comment.
They get back to the mobile home without further discussion, and Brienne is quick with the chainsaw, taking a sliver off the end and leaving the rest of the tree untouched.
“You're good with the chainsaw,” he tells her, and instead of taking that as the terrible compliment it sounds like, Brienne looks proud.
“I do a lot of the cutting of the stock that we bring here. It's hard work, but I enjoy it.”
Now he's got an image of Brienne out in a forest of trees, stripped down to a tank top, flushed and sweaty and strong as Paul Bunyan and Jaime's starting to wonder about the formative influences in his life.
“You might be able to fit this one in your Porsche, if you want to try,” Brienne offers, apparently unaware of his newly-discovered lumberjack fetish.
“Uh, no.” He clears his throat. “No, thanks. I don't want to still be finding needles in my seats next summer.”
Brienne grins. “This tree is only thirty dollars.”
“A steal at any price,” he says, handing her another hundred dollar bill. She huffs and gives him a look.
“You can't tell me you don't have two twenties in there.”
“Sorry, I only carry hundreds.” That's not exactly true, and she probably knows it, but she takes the money. “I will take a hot chocolate, though.”
“That's an expensive hot chocolate,” she says, but she pours him one and offers him the bag of marshmallows. “You're welcome to as many of these as you want.”
“See? I paid for the VIP treatment obviously. Money well spent.”
He stands there nursing his hot chocolate while she helps another customer, carries their tree to their car. She doesn't banter with them, though she's polite and kind. Jaime stands alone by the mobile home, listening to the music, his hand heated by the cup he's holding, and thinks she's right: it's not a bad way to spend a day.
Especially when she comes back, her beanie half-off to expose her wild hair, her eyes glimmering with a quiet cheer.
“Is it all right?” she asks and he realizes he's drunk hardly any of the hot chocolate.
“I think I might have put too many marshmallows in. It's fine. I was actually wondering if I could ask you something.”
“Oh?” she says, and her voice is very high, her spine rigid. “What, uh, what is it?”
Where does he even begin? There's client confidentiality, first of all, and the matter of not wanting to fill her head with any terrible thoughts, second. “Say there's a Christmas movie,” he starts, inspired, “and the main character is a lawyer.”
“A random lawyer, hm?” She smirks at him, but he keeps going.
“Sure. And say in this movie, he's given a case that he doesn't believe in. But the client is paying a lot, and it's not the lawyer's job to determine innocence or guilt, just to present the case. Do you think the lawyer would be more a hero or a villain if he declined to take it, knowing someone else will, but keeping his own morals intact?”
Brienne hums a little, a curious, thoughtful sound. “Why doesn't the lawyer believe in the case?”
“Does it matter?”
“I think so,” she says seriously. “If it's because he doesn't like how the defendant looks, or because the defendant is doing something ethically right but legally wrong, then the lawyer is probably the villain.”
Her eyes are darker than he's seen them before, deep, concerned pools that Jaime can't look away from. “What if it's because the defendant has done something terrible? Truly, horrifyingly awful. And the lawyer doesn't think the man should get a chance to go free.”
Brienne's lips thin, she clamps them together so hard. “Then I think he's probably the hero. A conflicted one, and it might cost him something he loves in his career, but it will protect his soul, and that's more important, don't you think?”
Jaime swallows, nods, looks down at his hot chocolate. “I suppose you're right. This lawyer doesn't, uh, have a lot of people that he can talk to. Do you think it would be ridiculous if he talked about this with the, um,” he glances up at Brienne and she's still focused on him. “With the adorable baker?”
“I think she'd probably be happy to help him,” Brienne says quietly. “It is Christmas, after all. Anything can happen.”
“Yeah.” He sets the hot chocolate down and inhales deeply. “It is. I should get going. Get my tree in some water.”
Brienne blinks, pulls her head back a little, though he hadn't even realized she'd been leaning towards him. He realizes he'd been doing the same, and straightens, too. “Right. Let's get this tied to your car.”
They do, quietly, Jaime watching Brienne work, so certain in her movements, serene when she steps away and sees her handiwork. Everyone should feel like that, he thinks, when they look at the output of their days.
“Thanks,” he tells her. “For everything.”
“You're welcome. Good luck.”
Jaime thinks he laughs, though it's not very much or very loud. “You, too. Merry Christmas, Brienne.”
“Merry Christmas, Jaime.” She squeezes his arm before he gets in the car, and he can feel the ghost of her fingers the whole night.
Jaime's father is, naturally, furious when Jaime tells him the next day.
“You work for me!” he roars. “You will do what I tell you, or you'll be fired!”
It goes on like that all day, and the next day, and the day after. Tyrion gives Jaime sympathetic looks, because he's been the recipient of their father's ire most of his life, but he doesn't step in on Jaime's behalf, not like Jaime does for him. He doesn't blame Tyrion for that; it's easy for Jaime to deflect their father onto himself when Tyrion's the one being taken down. Tyrion doesn't have the same capital that Jaime does, although by the end of the week, Jaime thinks he probably has even less now than Tyrion does.
But he must be a better lawyer than he thinks, because he eventually wins against his father, too. As much as anyone can defeat Tywin Lannister at anything.
“I've given the case to Damion,” his father informs Jaime. “He was thrilled to take it on.”
Jaime is certain he was; the man was constantly at Tywin's feet, begging for scraps. “I'm sure he'll do the best he can with it.” It's a relief, somehow, to know Bolton will get representation that has no hope of keeping him out of prison for his terrible crimes.
“You can't choose your clients based on what sort of people you think they are,” Tywin tells him. “I thought you knew that.”
“I thought I did, too, but...” Jaime thinks about the satisfaction with which Brienne looked at her trees after she'd cut them, after she'd secured them to the roof of his car. “Knowing it and living with it are two different things.”
“Such a soft heart,” Tywin says with a sneer. “Maybe you should go be a public defender.”
The idea rings in Jaime's head, a shimmery promise. “Maybe I should,” he says quietly. He leaves his father's office still employed, but his thoughts whirring with the potential of the new year. It's worth looking into, at least, or expanding his portfolio to pro bono work. He's got the savings to more than make up for it, though if he keeps pushing back against his father's wishes, he might have to look for a job elsewhere. Olenna Tyrell runs a tight ship, and he's always thought for all her barbed snaps when he's encountered her, that she might at least respect his ability. It's worth considering, and something he wouldn't have even dreamed a few weeks ago.
Jaime spends all weekend staring at his little tree. It fits perfectly in his apartment, fills the space with the fresh, comforting scent of pine and Christmas. He's decorated it with a string of white, twinkling lights, and a bright star on the top, and the presents he bought for his niece and nephews under the tree. He'll deliver them Christmas Eve, get his own perfectly wrapped presents from them in return. Probably a tie from Joffrey, like every year; a book or piece of art from Myrcella; and some random lion-related thing Tommen will have found and wheedled Cersei into buying, because they're Jaime's favorite animal. Jaime keeps all of them on the bookshelf in his small home office.
He thinks about who else he might buy a present for, but has absolutely no idea what he'd even get her.
The weather station is reporting snow, for sure, on Christmas Eve, so when he's getting ready to head to Cersei's for dinner that night, Jaime bundles up warmly. Dinner is always at six exactly, and he leaves on time, but even he isn't surprised when he finds himself on the road to Tarth Trees.
The truck is in the lot when he gets there, and one other car. It's the coldest its been tonight, and Jaime wraps his scarf tightly around his neck, pulls on his gloves and long coat when he gets out of his car, shivering a little in the wind. Should have brought a hat, he thinks, hunching his shoulders and hurrying through the mostly empty rows where trees had been before. He passes a few scrawny specimens, a handful of wreaths, and a table with mistletoe. Jaime hesitates there, then grabs a bunch and continues towards the mobile home and Brienne at the center.
The music is peaceful – familiar tunes played on acoustic guitar – and the lights look especially bright in the crisp night air. He can hear Brienne's voice from not too far away, so he sits down in the folding chair and waits for her, pouring himself a cup of hot chocolate. Jaime checks his watch; he'll be late to Cersei's, but there's still time.
Brienne appears, carrying a mid-sized tree in arms, talking over her shoulder at the young woman that follows in her wake. Jaime hides his smile behind his cup at the starstruck look on the customer's face. He suspects he looks much the same every time he watches Brienne. She turns and finally sees him there and stops, staring.
“Finish what you're doing,” he tells her, and she nods silently, casting him curious glances as she works. The chainsaw is tooth-rattlingly loud as always, but Brienne is quick with it, and it's a privilege to watch her careful, prideful work.
“I'll be right back?” she says, like a question, and Jaime nods encouragingly.
The woman pays and then leads Brienne to her car with the tree; Jaime finishes his drink and relaxes back in the chair with a creak. It's a peaceful night, as content as he's ever been just sitting there in the cold, listening to Christmas music and waiting for Brienne.
She returns not too long later, her big hands shoved into her deep pockets, her face pink from the cold underneath her beanie. She's got an ugly Christmas sweater on, and a tentative smile. Jaime stands as she nears.
“What are you doing here?” she asks, and he laughs a little at the familiar question.
“I needed one last thing for Christmas, and you said you were open.”
“Oh.” She chews her bottom lip, then gestures around the lot. “Our stock is low, but can I help you find something?”
“I've got it already.” Jaime holds out the mistletoe, watches her study it, her shoulders slumping a little.
“Party?” she asks, taking it from him. Her fingers brush along his palm, and even through the glove he feels it. His hand trembles.
“No, I'm actually supposed to be going to my sister's for dinner. This is unrelated. It's... for a particular someone.”
Brienne doesn't look at him, just rings it up and hands it back. “Five dollars.” And then, she meets his eyes. “Don't you dare give me a hundred dollar bill for this.”
He chuckles and pulls out a twenty, which she takes with a small, displeased grumble, but she shoves it in her pocket.
Jaime can't stop looking at her, at her powerful body, her unusual face, her extraordinary eyes. “Do you want to know what happened, to the lawyer?”
She inhales sharply, but nods, yes.
“He turned down the case and managed to keep his job anyway, although he's thinking of a slight career change into public defense.”
“Oh, Jaime, that would be--” Brienne flushes and looks back down at their feet. “I'm sure the lawyer will be happy doing that.” She smiles at him, soft and dazzling. “I'm happy for him.”
“Me, too.” Jaime clutches his hand around the mistletoe when he hears a car pull into the lot. “You close at eight tonight?”
“Yeah. We'll get a fairly steady stream of people in until then.”
“You pack everything up tomorrow?”
“I spend tomorrow with my dad, but then after that we come back and clear it all out. It'll be like we weren't even here by the night after.”
That sounds terrible, but he doesn't know how to tell her that.
Brienne looks past him and her mouth curves apologetically. “I'm sorry, I need to go help these people, and you need to get to your sister's.”
“I should, yes.” He doesn't want to leave, but his only reason to stay is poking tightly into his hand and this isn't the time. “I suppose I'll leave you to it.”
She tugs her lip between her teeth again, her eyes intent on his. It feels like standing in the glow of a warm fire, to be this near her and under her quiet gaze. “Merry Christmas, Jaime.”
“Merry Christmas, Brienne.” He starts to lift the mistletoe, but she hurries away to go help the new customer, and he sighs and heads for his car.
Jaime's parked right near Brienne's truck tonight, and he pauses and peers inside, curious about what he might find there. It's old, but mostly tidy. A CD case for a band he loves is on the bench seat, and he sees a receipt on the dashboard for his favorite junk food spot. Hanging from the rearview mirror is a little stuffed lion, faded with time, dressed in a suit of cloth armor.
The window fogs with his breath, his nose is pressed so close, while he drinks in these small details, these things that feel like a sign he can't ignore. Jaime checks his phone, sees it's already past six and Cersei has texted him three times. He messages her back – Unavoidably delayed; get started without me, may not make it tonight – then pulls his scarf up around the bottom of his face, pulls his coat tightly around his body, and leans against Brienne's truck, waiting.
It's cold, for sure, and he spends some time stomping his feet, banging his hands together. At seven he takes ten minutes to do some laps around their two cars and that gets him to nearly eight without freezing. The sky has gone the blank dark slate of impending snow. People do show, one at a time, every fifteen minutes or so, a couple leaving with trees, several with wreaths, a few with mistletoe. Jaime watches Brienne help the tree-buyers, can occasionally hear her voice carry when the music dips in-between songs.
At eight, the lights turn off, and the music goes quiet. There's the sound of clanking, of a door opening and then slamming shut again multiple times. He'd meant to ask her again if she lived there – he wouldn't want to wait by her truck if she never even comes back – but it closes for the last time and then in the shadows of the lot he sees her appear, heading his way.
They're parked under a streetlight, which Jaime's grateful for because he doesn't want to scare her, though she still jumps a little when she looks up from her hunched, head-down walk as she nears her truck.
“Jaime!” she gasps, halting at the tailgate. “What are you--”
“Doing here?” he finishes for her, and she laughs a little, embarrassed. “I told you, I bought the mistletoe for a particular person.”
Even in the yellow halogen light, Jaime can see her face goes red. “You mentioned that,” she says, her voice gentle as a feather, as light with hope.
Jaime pulls the bunch of mistletoe out and pushes off of the truck towards Brienne. It's starting to snow, big, fluffy flakes that land softly on her beanie, her eyelashes, the tense line of her shoulders. In this light, in the snow, she might be an angel.
He holds the mistletoe awkwardly over his head, feeling foolish and optimistic and just like he felt every Christmas Eve as a child, when he went to bed dreaming of the morning. Brienne shifts nearer, breathing quickly.
“This isn't a Hallmark movie,” Jaime says when they're face to face. This close, he has to tilt his head back a little to meet her eyes. She smells like pine trees and the diesel of the chainsaw, and a hint of hot chocolate. “I'm not going to give up the city for small town life.”
Brienne laughs, a bright, delighted sound that shivers through him. “I told you, I live in the suburbs. And I'm great at commuting.”
Jaime grins, and then they move towards each other at the same time, their mouths meeting in a tender, welcoming first kiss. Her lips are full and sweet, and she clutches at his scarf with a hint of need that thrills him. He shuffles a step nearer, their knees knocking as their heads tilt, as they explore the way their bodies fit together. It's like opening a present you never expected, and didn't know how much you needed.
When they finally break apart, they're both panting, and Jaime isn't cold at all anymore. He lowers the mistletoe, his arm aching a little, and Brienne takes his ruined hand in hers, squeezing it warmly.
“Do you have anywhere to be tonight?” he asks, his voice hoarse.
Brienne shakes her head. “What about your family dinner?”
“I told them I probably wouldn't make it. I'll see them tomorrow. I'd rather spend time with you.”
The snow is coming down steadily now, and a few flakes sneak between his scarf to land on his neck. “Whatever we do, we should get going before the roads become a mess,” he notes, and they both look up towards the sky for a moment before looking back at each other.
“Dinner, then?” she asks, and Jaime nods.
Brienne flushes again. “Are you okay leaving your car here? It will be safe, overnight.”
The meaning of that settles liquid and burning in his belly, and even if it wasn't safe, he'd leave his car anyway. “Absolutely,” he says with as much emphasis as he can muster. It might be too much, because Brienne chuckles, but she squeezes his hand again and then kisses him once more – a little more heated this time, a little more demanding – and unlocks her truck.
“I know a great diner not too far from here,” she says as they climb in. “You can tell me more about what happened at work.”
“That sounds perfect. You can tell me more about what you do at the farm, too.”
The truck rumbles to life. “All sorts of things” Brienne says, and then she grins at him. “Wait until you see the harvest festival.”
Jaime leans back in the seat, smiling at her as she drives them into the snowy night. When they get back to her place later after a long, lingering dinner, he discovers she has a Douglas Fir, too, and stepping in her door feels like coming home.