“Oh. It’s you.”
Brienne Tarth visibly braced, standing a little taller, taking up a little more room in the doorway. In response to Jaime’s less than genial greeting, she crisply said, “Pod called me. He said there was an emergency.”
“Then why isn’t he here?” Jaime asked distractedly. He peered behind himself into the house and back at her. “He’s not even the one I want. Tyrion needs to come back, as soon as possible. I haven’t been able to reach him.”
“He’s currently indisposed,” Brienne said more slowly, recovering her poise with what sounded like a rote reply. She likely had to repeat the same statement a dozen times whenever Tyrion went off hells-knew-where for his solitary writing retreats.
“You think I don’t know that? Why else would I be housesitting for him?” There still wasn’t a sound behind him, but Jaime’s nerves were too frayed to trust it. He left Brienne at the doorway and walked back inside, leaving it to her to decide if she wanted to come in.
She followed after, given the soft click of the door and the looming presence behind him.
“I can’t interrupt him without knowing if it’s worth the trouble,” Brienne said. “He’s on a very strict deadline.”
The small bundle on the couch was squirming, though not enough to dislodge the pillows Jaime had set up as a barrier against the edge. Lifting it and turning back to her, he said, “Consider his deadline extended, because this is definitely more important than whatever textbook he’s researching for.”
“That’s not your call to-” Brienne stopped short, her eyes going perceptively bigger when she clued into what he held in his hands. “Is that a baby?”
Jaime chortled contemptuously. “Well spotted.”
“Why is there a baby here?” She looked entirely thrown and then a hair more hopeful. “Is it yours?”
“Mine? No. I’m apparently an uncle, not a father.” Jaime held the baby out, not to pass it over, but in emphasis. “So get a hold of my twice-damned brother, wish him happiness for me and then get his ass back home.”
He’d always heard babies were noisy, fussy creatures, but this one seemed to be proving an exception to the rule. Then again, they’d only known each other a couple hours, so it was likely Jaime hadn’t gotten to the meat of raising a child.
Not that he was raising a child.
That would be up to Tyrion, whenever he got back from wherever he was. If the gods were good, Jaime’s part would be limited to a few hour’s span. The nightmare that had begun the moment he answered the relentlessly chiming doorbell to find an honest-to-gods basket on the front stoop, and heard a car screeching out of the residential area, would blissfully end the second Tyrion walked back through the door and assumed his fatherly duties.
Setting the baby down was a viable option, but he looked strangely tiny, lost in the many couch pillows, so Jaime kept him against his chest. He unapologetically tapped open the door to Tyrion’s private office, where Brienne stood with her back to the doorway. She was speaking decisively into her phone, telling whoever it was on the other end that Tyrion’s trip had to be cut short. Likely it was Tyrion’s personal assistant, Pod; considering most of his responsibilities revolved around picking up dry cleaning and answering mail, Pod had his work cut out for him with the task of retrieving Jaime’s wayward brother from wherever he’d disappeared to.
Brienne, however. He thought her position as Tyrion’s editor put this sort of personal stuff way below her spectrum of duties.
He’d seen her only once before today - what a joy of an evening that had been - and he recognized her pantsuit. It was plain black but well tailored, accounting for the wide breadth of her shoulders and strong lines of her thighs. Jaime had taken the time to appreciate it the first time they’d made their acquaintance, only to find out what an utter pill she was shortly after, which took the luster off things.
Brienne hung up and sighed, putting the phone to her forehead as if to rub a headache away. Instead of looking at Jaime, she held it out again and thumbed around the screen, making a new call.
Her voice was softer, more self-conscious, when she said, “Hey, it’s me.”
The change in her tone would have told anyone with half a brain that it was a personal call. It would be only polite to leave her to it.
Jaime leaned against the door jamb and adjusted his nephew on his chest.
“I know it’s late notice, but I can’t make it. Yes, it’s work.” Her timidity changed to thinly veiled annoyance. “Of course I didn’t do this on purpose. Believe me, no one would have seen this coming.”
If she asked Jaime, he would have begged to differ. With Tyrion, this sort of thing was really just a matter of time.
“I don’t always do this, stop exaggerating. Look, you can still make the reservation, take a friend or something. Okay, then go on your own, it’s not a big deal.” Brienne sighed. “Well, I have. Just ignore them.”
Her voice went lower. Angrier. Enough to make the hairs on Jaime’s arms rise. “That was uncalled for. If that’s how you feel, then I don’t see why we should bother making new plans. Fine. Fine. Have a nice life.”
She punched the phone out into the air, jamming her thumb into the red END button with a sense of futility Jaime knew well. There simply wasn’t a way to recreate the same satisfaction as slamming a phone into a cradle when it was a cell phone instead.
The next second, she turned and jumped in surprise at finding him there. Jaime ignored it and casually said, “You didn’t have to cancel on account of me. Well, us. How soon until Tyrion gets here?”
He jiggled the baby against his chest and Brienne frowned at him. The look that passed over her face was as unpromising as the words that followed. “Tomorrow night at the earliest.”
“Tomorrow?” Jaime sagged in place. He was counting on hours, not a full day.
“Tyrion went up into the mountains for inspiration, the service is spotty. I’ve got Pod packing as we speak to go fetch him for us.”
“Mountains? What the hell for?” Jaime shook his head. “Whatever. What am I supposed to do until then?”
“What did the authorities say when you called them?”
They stared at one another from across the office, Brienne with a skeptical expression and Jaime with slowly dawning abhorrence.
“You want me to call child protective services?” he spat out. He quieted his voice at the renewed squirming against his chest. “Are you kidding me?”
“The baby was abandoned,” Brienne said, as if talking to a slow child. “The police should know.”
“And what are they going to do, pick him up and shuffle him off to some group home until Tyrion’s back? Can you imagine what that would look like if it got out?”
“Oh, so because it might look bad, you won’t do the right thing?” Brienne snapped back.
“The right thing is to let Tyrion decide,” Jaime said just as vehemently.
“The right thing is also finding the mother so she can take responsibility for her actions!”
“She’s not much of a mother, judging by the decision she made today.” The squirming became outright wriggling, joined by a shrill cry. Jaime glared at her. “See? Even he knows he’s better off.”
Not waiting for her answer, Jaime went to the kitchen to find the diaper bag that had been settled alongside the basket. Its innards were entirely foreign to him and he lacked the coordination to hold the baby properly as he tried digging through it, eventually upending the entire bag onto the counter as the baby began to cry more and more loudly.
“Do you even know what he needs?” Brienne asked from the entranceway.
Jaime didn’t look at her as he struggled to pop open the top of some awful-smelling formula powder. Between the increasingly frantic cries in his ear and the impossibility of opening an empty bottle at the same time with his only free hand, Jaime wasn’t sure what answer he should give her.
Then Brienne drew closer and set her hand on his wrist, stilling his jerky motions and Jaime took a low, steadying breath.
“Let me,” she said, more gently than before. Cautious even. He thought he’d been holding it together, but just the touch of her hand on his own made him realize how agitated his movements had become.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” Jaime jabbed back. It came out far weaker than he’d intended.
She gave him an equally faint smile. “I’ve seen movies.”
“Great,” Jaime said tiredly. He’d take it, given the only other option was one he steadfastly wanted to avoid.
He paced back and forth, trying to calm the crying baby as Brienne diligently read the instructions on the powder container and then finagled the sink filter to pour out warm water. They had a brief back and forth where Jaime mentioned heating it on the stove and Brienne shook her head, saying she was pretty sure that wasn’t advised anymore. He had no way to prove her wrong, but it was better than serving the baby a potentially scalding meal.
Jaime settled the baby into the crook of his arm - okay, so he’d watched some movies, too; he’d used those same cinematic skills to change a diaper earlier and he and the baby had come out more complex, wiser men on the other side of it - and gratefully took the bottle, which the baby latched onto immediately. “Thanks,” he said with relief. “He’s either hungry or an emotional eater like ninety percent of the world.”
Brienne huffed, apparently amused. She discarded her suit jacket, revealing a sapphire blue blouse underneath; definitely more date appropriate than the full suit, not that it made a difference anymore. After the jacket was carefully folded over the back of a chair, Brienne propped her hip against the kitchen counter, crossed her arms and said, “Okay, so no authorities.”
“No authorities,” Jaime immediately, and firmly, agreed.
She rubbed at the space between her eyebrows but seemingly accepted it. “Okay, then at least fill me in. How did this even happen?”
“Well, you see, when a horny asshole calls a discreet establishment, one generally assumes that their contraceptive regimen is up to par,” Jaime replied. “Guess one fell through the cracks. Slipped through? You tell me.”
“Slipped works in this context, but that’s not what I mean.”
“Ah, you mean today specifically,” Jaime said with an air of false wonder. At Brienne’s less-than-enthused reaction, he sobered. “It’s like I said, I heard the door and there he was when I got to it.”
“Thank goodness you were here,” Brienne murmured. “Who knows what would have happened if they’d just left him and no one was staying at the house.”
Jaime shook his head again. “They were watching the door, whoever they were. I heard a car take off once I opened it.”
“That doesn’t mean they knew who they were leaving him with,” Brienne pointed out. “For all they know, you could have been the help, not Tyrion’s brother.”
“Are you saying I’m not helpful?” Jaime presented the greedily sucking baby and raised an eyebrow.
Brienne’s mouth twitched and then settled into a flat line. “It’s still incredibly irresponsible.”
“Enough of that going around with Tyrion involved,” Jaime said, not sure why he was arguing over what was an observable fact, except that it made Brienne frown again and it cheered him up a little to see it.
“There’s also the possibility that it’s not even Tyrion’s. They might have just picked a house at random.”
Jaime nudged the emptied diaper bag at her with his elbow. “There’s a note in the pocket that says otherwise.”
Picking it up, Brienne opened the letter and began reading, her eyes quickly scanning each line. Jaime had only gotten through Tyrion, this is your son before proceeding to call any and every person that could possibly reach his brother. Aside from Brienne, though Pod had taken care of that.
Brienne choked on a breath and Jaime realized it was a laugh as she brandished the paper at him. “Did you read all of this?”
“Pretty much only what it said on the tin,” Jaime said. “Tyrion. Son. Cue the SOS.”
“Well,” Brienne said with the relish of someone who knew more for once and was kind of enjoying it. “It looks like he’s three weeks old.”
Jaime looked down at the heavy-lidded baby. Who was he to say otherwise?
“And his name is Tywin.”
“...say that again?” he managed around quickly growing horror.
Brienne held out the paper in front of her and began reading aloud. “I’ve tried my best, but I just can’t do it. I’m so sorry. I should have told you. I know we didn’t know each other long, but I think he'd be better off with you. In honor of your father and family legacy” - Jaime let out a strangled, unhinged giggle - “I named him Tywin. He’s a good baby, I swear. It’s me, only me, that can’t do this. Please don’t try to find me. It’s better this way.”
“Holy shit, she really didn’t know Tyrion if she thought that would endear the baby to him,” Jaime said when Brienne met his eyes with a knowing look. “That or she knew exactly what would piss our father off and that Tyrion would enjoy it. Either way is a strong possibility, but the latter means Tyrion might have missed out on the love of his life.”
“Hard to say,” Brienne agreed.
“You don’t deserve that name,” Jaime reassured the baby. “And I mean that as a compliment.”
Jaime softly laughed at Brienne’s sympathetic consensus and they shared a fleeting smile.
“Ty,” Jaime decided. “We’ll call him Ty for now.”
“Infinitely better, yes.” Brienne reached out her hands as Jaime popped the empty bottle free from Ty’s mouth. “Here, I think he needs to be burped.”
Jaime passed him over. “Have at it. Poor kid. Not even a month old and already getting saddled with Lannister drama.”
“Which is another mark in favor of his claimed paternity,” Brienne said dryly. She set Ty against her shoulder and started gently patting on his back. The blanket he’d been nestled in fell away, revealing his bare skin and Brienne gave Jaime a questioning look.
“He’s wiggly,” he said, shrugging. “Had to change one diaper already, figured why re-dress him if I have to do it again?”
“I’m questioning just how helpful you are, after all,” Brienne remarked, just as Ty put in his two cents and puked all over her pretty blue blouse.
“Oh, shit. SHIT.” Jaime hustled away from the bathroom, shutting the door much too loudly.
He’d left Brienne there, dabbing away at the stain on her top with a moistened towel and expected to find the same when he came back with a replacement shirt. The door was open a crack, and upon pushing it further open, he found that Brienne had doffed her stained top and was standing there in an excessively strappy bra. The sight of the expanse of pale, freckled skin still burned into his brain, no matter how scant the visual or how quickly he raced away.
When he realized he still had the spare shirt in his hand, Jaime returned and shouted “Sorry!” as he pushed open the door a smidge to blindly toss it inside and then guiltily sped back to the living room.
Ty exhausted himself by expelling at least half his food, uncaring of the major faux pas his uncle had just committed. Jaime put his mind to re-dressing the limp, dozing baby in a full length sleeper, because that was enough partial nudity for everyone, thank you very much.
He was zipping it closed when Brienne joined them and Jaime regretted looking in her direction once he did; not because of the uncomfortable look on her face, but his own discomfort at seeing the fabric of the shirt stretched very differently on her frame than it did on his. He usually ignored Tyrion’s mocking at the close fitting nature of his wardrobe, but it looked near obscene on Brienne.
He could see outlines.
Brienne wrapped her arms across her middle and said, “Thanks for the shirt.”
Focusing on Ty, Jaime gruffly said, “No problem. Um. Sorry about that.”
“Honest mistake. I wasn’t thinking,” Brienne said.
“Forgotten,” Jaime replied, and wished it were true.
Brienne took a seat on the couch, leaning forward to stroke her fingertip against Ty’s cheek where he lay. Jaime recognized the urge, even if he couldn’t explain it. Babies simply turned normal people abnormally handsy with their soft cheeks and tiny hands and feet. He gave in and lightly grasped Ty’s socked left foot between his thumb and index finger, astonished at how it looked even smaller in comparison.
They sat, not speaking, for a solid minute before Jaime felt the weight of the silence.
“Sorry you had to cancel your date, but hey, at least you did it in advance,” Jaime said with false detachment.
Snatching her hand back as if it had been physically smacked, Brienne cooly said, “That’s not really your business.”
“Don’t worry, I remember when you made that perfectly clear,” Jaime retorted.
The peace they’d briefly found disappeared in the blink of an eye and Jaime suspected it was entirely his doing, and for no better reason than he just couldn’t help it.
“Do you really want to do this right now?” Brienne asked challengingly.
“Don’t know what you mean,” Jaime said. He raised his face enough to see her narrowed expression and responded with a sharp smile.
Brienne abruptly stood. “Maybe I should go.”
He wanted to provoke her into it, to see the back of her so that maybe he could forget the front, but Ty let out a long, sleepy sigh between them and Jaime echoed with one of his own. “No. Don’t. I… I need all the help I can get here. At least until Tyrion’s back.”
“If you have something to say, then say it. If you don’t, then don’t. I’m not going to walk on eggshells around here to make you feel better,” Brienne said from above him.
Jaime swallowed hard and lied. “I’ve got nothing.”
She didn’t call him out on it, but Brienne stiffly replied, “I’m going to go anyway. I’ll be back in a little while, I need to get a couple changes of clothes from home. If I’m staying until Tyrion gets back, I might as well be comfortable.”
He suspected they’d need something more like a convenient case of amnesia than a couple spare shirts to attain any sort of comfort between them, but he merely nodded. Brienne hesitated for a brief moment and then went on her way.
If she had something of her own to say, she was keeping it to herself, but at least they had that in common.
He got the second guest bedroom ready and then dragged around some furniture in his own room. A YouTube video inspired him into putting a chair against the side of the bed and setting the basket within it, giving Ty a safe space to rest with reduced danger of getting rolled upon.
Jaime was back on his computer, clicking on item after item until his online cart metaphorically bulged at the seams, when Brienne returned. She let herself in this time and stopped in the hallway outside his room, her shoulders set with a polite civility that she also clearly aimed for with her tone. “Am I next door?”
“Yep,” Jaime replied and kept his eyes on the screen.
“Let me know if you need to switch off.”
“Sure,” he said, just as shortly.
He felt her pause a second longer and then her outline disappeared from the doorway. When he felt safe enough for it, he sighed and leaned back against the headboard.
An immature little voice told him that this was all Tyrion’s fault, from the oopsie baby to Jaime staying at his house to this whole entire clusterfuck of a day. But mostly it was Tyrion’s fault for convincing Jaime several months before to go out on a date with his editor with the promise that they were sure to get along great.
To call it a date was a gross exaggeration, considering it lasted all of fifteen minutes. Four minutes of nervously sitting at a table, one minute of catching sight of Brienne greeting the maître d’ and her slow walk to join him, ten minutes of brutally awkward small talk that quickly spiraled into something worse and then Brienne’s offended departure shortly after.
Yeah, fifteen minutes sounded about right.
Jaime figured the only reason Tyrion hadn’t relentlessly hounded him for the social failure was because Brienne had been as embarrassed as he was, and kept equally mum. He never thought he’d see her again and yet here they were, playing house.
He looked over at the slumbering infant. “You’re cute, but you’ve got a real knack for causing trouble, you know that?”
Ty ignored the question. He might just be his namesake’s grandson, after all.
Shutting off his computer and the bedside light, Jaime tucked himself under the blankets and found out exactly five minutes later how much sleep one gets with an infant around.
In a word? None.
Whatever Brienne felt about him, she didn’t let it stop her from helping. They were like ships in the night, trading the crying baby back and forth, trekking along the length of the hallway. Jaime found that even when she took over, he couldn’t get any proper sleep; Ty’s wails of discontent were too loud to ignore, as were Brienne’s soft, soothing hums every time she passed his door.
They were both bleary and yawning the next morning, each of them uncaring of the splotches of sick on their shoulders and the bags under their eyes. Ty was finally resting in his basket, since relocated to the kitchen table where Jaime and Brienne tiredly dug into bowls of cereal. He roused briefly and Jaime automatically reached over and rubbed his hand over Ty’s belly, a trick he’d learned somewhere around the 4am hour.
Brienne stopped with the spoon halfway to her mouth and then resumed eating when Ty settled down.
“Go take a nap,” Jaime told her. “Isn’t that what they say? Sleep when the baby sleeps.”
“You go ahead.” Brienne set her spoon down with a gentle clink, as if anything louder were enough to wake Ty. Who knew? Maybe it was. “Once I’m awake, I’m awake.”
“Is this awake? It’s hard to tell.” Jaime thought wistfully of his bed and then looked at the clock. Almost eight. “There’ll be a delivery coming in the next couple hours from a local store, I thought we might need some supplies.”
“Diapers?” Brienne asked, rightfully so; Ty ran through them at an unholy pace.
“That and some other stuff,” Jaime replied.
He checked once more on Ty and, telling himself that to pass up any more sleep would be a crime against humanity, went and face-planted onto the couch. Unconsciousness came upon him from almost one moment to the next, and he was marginally more rested when he heard the faint ring of a bell and then felt a firm hand on his shoulder, shaking him awake.
“Some stuff?” Brienne asked disbelievingly.
Jaime peered up to find her holding two packages under one arm and pointing her chin at the door, where several more were piled up.
“Ah. Good.” He rubbed at his eyes to clear them. “That all of it?”
“Should there be more?” Brienne certainly sounded like she hoped not.
Jaime hauled himself up to stand. “Won’t know until we check, don’t you think?”
“Don’t you think that this is a little overboard?”
“How am I supposed to know? This is my first baby-related experience,” Jaime replied. “Where’s Ty?”
“Still sleeping.” Brienne joined him in bringing everything in and made a disconcerted face at seeing one of the packages. “A stroller? Jaime.”
“What? It’s a nice neighborhood and, if it’s a nice day, I can take him outside.”
“Jaime,” she repeated, more gingerly. “We don’t know for certain that he’s Tyrion’s.”
“You don’t know that,” Jaime corrected her. He didn’t like the pitying light in her eyes, so he added, “If he isn’t, then I’ll just donate all of it. It’s not a big deal.”
Brienne took a breath, held it and then, with great care, said, “Maybe you should be careful about getting too…”
“Too what?” Jaime asked, annoyed.
“Attached,” Brienne finished. “It might cause a lot of pain if this doesn’t turn out the way you expect.”
Jaime dropped the last of the boxes into the middle of the room. “Thanks for the warning, but I think I’m good. Sometimes the risk is worth it, even if you don’t think so.”
“I’m not saying it isn’t-”
A quiet cry came from the kitchen and Jaime immediately went toward it. “Brienne, do what you have to, but until it’s proven otherwise, that kid is family to me.”
With that, he left her behind.
He took Ty to his room and shut the door, letting Brienne interpret that however she wished. Sitting on the bed, he put his knees up and cradled Ty there, playing with his feet and stretching his arms. It was likely too soon, but one of the many websites he’d stumbled upon during his sleepless night had advised the practice for soothing aching limbs and Ty seemed to enjoy it for a while, until he found sucking on his own fist more interesting.
They spent almost an hour together, Jaime documenting every gummy smile and bright-eyed gaze from his nephew. There was little on his pudgy face that indicated Lannister features just yet and, while the faint fuzz on his head was blond, that wasn’t enough to confirm his relation to anyone else. Still, Jaime had reason enough to believe that Ty was what his so-called mother said he was.
If he was wrong...
Well. He wasn’t. And he didn’t have to explain that to anyone, certainly not Brienne Tarth.
At Ty’s increased fidgeting, and when he himself felt calmer, Jaime went back to the living room. He hadn’t known what to expect - really, he’d expected absolutely nothing - so it shocked him to discover Brienne neatly piling flattened packages of cardboard and broken zip ties. The playmat he’d bought was set up, as well as the swinging chair and the SNOO cradle that Jaime couldn’t pass up based on the reviews. An excess of onesies and socks were stacked on top of the coffee table, including the sleepsuit with the lion hoodie that had made him laugh when he saw it.
Brienne looked at him, away and then back. Eyes clear and direct, she said, “You’re right. It’s not for me to say if he is or isn’t, or how you should feel about it. I’m sorry.”
Jaime nodded roughly, unsure of how to reply.
“I’ll make a bottle,” she offered and Jaime nodded again.
She was almost out of the room when Jaime called out, “Brienne?”
She stopped and glanced at him.
He and Ty took a jaunt around the neighborhood in the brand new stroller, sticking to the shaded areas, and Jaime cut the trip short when the day started to get too warm. They’d left Brienne snoozing on the couch, despite her insistence that she felt awake enough to make it through the day, and she hadn’t moved a muscle in the time they were gone. Jaime tiptoed past her, careful to not wake either her or Ty, and then keyed in an order on his computer and kept an eye on the front window to watch out for the latest delivery.
She woke when the food arrived, though Ty stayed knocked out from their excursion. Brienne gave Jaime a pleased smile when he shook the bags gently and motioned for her to join him in the kitchen.
He would have been content enough to eat directly from the cartons, but Brienne pulled plates from the cupboards and utensils from the drawers with little fuss on where to find them. They portioned out their servings and sat across from one another, trading a soft, thankful chuckle when their efforts went unimpeded by the third in their party.
“You know your way around here,” Jaime said after a few bites.
“I’ve been here a time or two,” Brienne confirmed. “Tyrion likes to have in-person feedback.”
“That must be loads of fun,” Jaime said wryly.
Brienne pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows. “It has its moments.”
“I love my brother, but I can’t imagine any part of reviewing academia would be improved by saying it out loud.” Brienne looked puzzled, but Jaime went on. “He’ll be happy to know we can get through a meal together, at least.”
“To progress,” Brienne said and raised her bottle of water, tapping it against Jaime’s. “Though, really, I didn’t tell him how badly it went, so he doesn’t have any basis of comparison.”
Jaime took a long swig and decided he might as well do it. He owed her that much. “I’m sorry, too, you know. That night wasn’t… It could have gone better.”
Brienne’s eyebrows went even higher than before.
“All I can say is that I wasn’t ready,” Jaime explained, measuring out his words. He had to; he typically actively avoided thinking about what had led to that night. Sharing it with someone he barely knew was something entirely worse. “I let Tyrion talk me into it, but it was my first date after the divorce and I was shit company. You were right to leave.”
“Oh. I see.” Brienne leaned back in her chair. “I didn’t know you were married.”
“Coincidentally, neither did my wife’s boyfriends,” Jaime said, then amended, “Ex-wife. Sorry. Habit.”
“That’s… Wow,” Brienne said. She had the kind of face that showed exactly what she was thinking and he could read it before she added, “I’m really sorry to hear that.”
Jaime cocked his head. “You didn’t know?”
Brienne straightened up, looking uncomfortable. “Uh, no. Suffice to say, I let Tyrion talk me into it, too. He might have not mentioned that part.”
“Not the most responsible thing on his end, but I think we’ve gotten plenty of proof this weekend that Tyrion could stand to improve in a few different areas,” Jaime replied.
Brienne cracked a small smile; Jaime couldn’t help it, he smiled back.
“It’s the romantic in him,” Brienne said. “He probably thought we’d hit it off and then that stuff wouldn’t matter. He’s very goal oriented, you know.”
Jaime snorted lightly. “We are talking about Tyrion, right? He doesn’t have a romantic bone in his body.”
“Of course he does,” Brienne said with a widening smile. “Why else would his novels be so popular?”
“Well, college students have to buy them, I wouldn’t say they’re popular-”
“No,” Brienne interrupted. “The novels. You know. J.A. Redwyne.”
Jaime stared blankly at her.
“You… you do know about the novels?” Brienne continued, though her face began to fall and she covered her mouth with her fingers, mumbling around them. “I thought for certain you knew.”
“Wait, aren’t those the paperbacks with the guy on the cover with the massive muscles and the scantily clad ladies?” Jaime laughed in astonishment. “What do you call them, bodice rippers?”
“They’re more than that,” Brienne protested over Jaime’s growing laughter. “Your brother has a vast and loyal following! You had to have known!”
Jaime spread his hands wide. “Yet another thing he has failed to tell me!”
“They’re in his office! A whole shelf of books, it’s not as if he’s hiding them!”
This Jaime had to see. He jumped out of his seat and ran over to the office he hadn’t stepped into until the night before. Sure enough, just as Brienne said, there was a shelf of hardback novels with vivid red covers and the name J. A. Redwyne on the spine. Jaime picked one at random and opened it, flipping through the pages until a combination of words caught his eye and halted his rifling.
Brienne came in just as Jaime looked up with fake seriousness and said, “Good gods, Brienne, these books are filthy. You read this to each other?”
“We don’t read to each other, we read it aloud and make the appropriate edits,” Brienne replied, though her face filled with a fiery blush.
Jaime waved the book at her. “The word ‘appropriate’ does not apply here.”
He was laughing again when Brienne came over and pulled the book from his grasp. “I’m starting to see why Tyrion didn’t tell you.”
“Oh, come on, this is the second best thing that has happened to me this weekend.” Jaime took the book back and hugged it to his chest, cradling it as if it were Ty. Brienne furrowed her brow at him and huffed out a breath from her nostrils, but didn’t try to take it away again.
“For all we know, he wanted me to figure it out just this way,” Jaime continued. “Now it’s on me to keep the secret that I know, but he doesn’t know that I know. We can keep it going for years.”
Brienne threw her hands in the air and walked right back out.
Ty woke before Jaime could get through the first chapter of the book, so he set it aside for a bit of light reading at a later time. They did the stretching exercises again, this time under Brienne’s interested gaze in the living room and then Jaime and Brienne switched; Brienne chuckled to herself in time with Ty’s responding coos and Jaime found himself watching them for longer than he intended.
They spent the afternoon in comfortable companionship, one Jaime hadn’t thought they would achieve given how the previous night had gone. Brienne occasionally checked her phone for updates and, while it wasn’t ideal, Jaime wasn’t upset to hear her say, “Pod was able to get an email through. He’s with Tyrion but they aren’t going to be here until tomorrow morning.”
Jaime ran his hand through his hair and let out a slow breath, taking caution to not jostle Ty, who’d just fallen asleep in his arms with a belly full of milk. “What’s Tyrion have to say about Ty?”
“To be honest, I didn’t mention that part,” Brienne answered with pronounced deliberation. At Jaime’s quick, startled head shake, she said, “What would it accomplish? Tyrion knows I wouldn’t send for him unless it was absolutely necessary and I made sure that Pod told him that everyone is all right, he just needed to come home to deal with an issue.”
“An issue,” Jaime scoffed.
Brienne dropped her phone in her lap. “Don’t misunderstand me. Things look very different today than they did last night. I only had so much to go on.”
Jaime looked away, unable to deny it. “All right. I get it.”
She said his name again, more kindly and Jaime grunted in response.
“Jaime, I’m not trying to insult anyone here, especially not Ty. As the only one on the outside of this, though, I need to think about all the angles. Tyrion trusts me to watch out for him and I think it’s better for him to have a clear head when he comes through the door. That doesn’t mean I hope that Ty isn’t his.”
“Let me guess, you’re already setting up a paternity test,” Jaime said flatly.
She responded with a small, helpless shrug, all apologies but still sticking to her guns. “It’s the smart thing to do.”
Smart, yes, but that didn’t mean Jaime didn’t hate it with a burning passion. He was learning that Brienne meant well, though, so he forced himself to relax and admitted, “It won’t hurt to get it on the official record.”
“You really believe he’s Tyrion’s, don’t you?”
“I’m certain of it.”
“I hope you’re right.” The truth in her voice finally allowed him to relax. “I really do.”
Jaime moved to put Ty in the new cradle and stood there, just watching him for a little while before saying, “I can see why Tyrion wanted us to give it a shot.”
There was a brief pause and then Brienne said, “Is that so?”
“You’re thoughtful and you don’t let your emotions overrule your better judgement. Maybe he thought opposites would attract.”
“Ah.” Brienne shifted in place. He got the distinct impression that she was avoiding looking in his direction. “I think you could stand to be a little easier on yourself. You seem plenty thoughtful, definitely more than I gave you credit for at first.”
“And that. You’re kind,” Jaime said. “I’m not used to kind.”
Brienne snorted. “I think you’re forgetting how badly our date went.”
Jaime went to sit alongside her. Not close, but near enough. He leaned forward, dropping his hands between his knees as he considered it. “I told you you were right to ditch me. I was a jerk, trying to put up a front like I didn’t care. Fact is, I was nervous as hell. I hadn’t been on a date in years and didn’t know what to do.”
“I’m not much better at it,” Brienne said. “And I go on plenty. Too many first dates under my belt, trust me. I’ve kind of formed some solid armor when it comes to them.”
“It sounded like you had more than one with that guy you cancelled on. Think you’ll reconsider him?”
She gave a humorless laugh. “Not at all. I honestly don’t even know how I let it go that far. He was, ugh.” She rubbed her face. “Boring. He was boring. Which I thought might mean safe, but no. He was just boring. And, in the end, pretty mean.”
Jaime felt his jaw tighten as he remembered the tail end of Brienne’s conversation that he’d shamelessly eavesdropped on. It wouldn’t do well to remind her of it, and teeth grinding did no one any favors, so he asked instead, “That’s what you’re looking for? Safe? Tyrion really did have it all wrong, didn’t he?”
“It’s not what I’m looking for, exactly, but after everything else,” Brienne trailed off. She looked lost in her thoughts for several seconds and then shook herself out of them. “I started watching for the first thing to go wrong and cutting out as early as possible, to save myself the trouble.”
The implication seemed obvious, but Jaime had to check anyway. “Okay, but does that mean I wasn’t the worst first date you’ve ever been on? You’ve walked out on other guys?”
Brienne chuckled, a low and throaty sound that made his chest do a little dip from out of nowhere. “You make it sound like I’ve been storming out of rooms all over town.”
“Maybe not all over, but more than just the one I was in.” Jaime tilted his head until she met his eyes. “Was it just me or was I just the worst?”
“No, you weren’t,” she told him, her generous mouth spreading into a conspiratorial smile. “I’d say you wouldn’t even rank in the top three.”
Jaime was taken aback. “Are you kidding? Gods, I don’t know whether to be relieved or insulted.”
“Let’s see.” Brienne ticked them off on her fingers. “There’s the guy who only asked me out to win a bet with his friends-”
She ignored him and continued. “It’s almost a tie with the guy who showed up for our blind date, handed me a half-dozen roses and said, ‘Not even if you were the last woman on earth, uggo’.”
Jaime felt his entire body tense up this time, ready to hit something, anything, but mainly the cretin who had told her that.
“And then there was the guy who catfished me with a picture of himself that was about forty years out of date and had the social expectations to match.” Brienne put her forefinger to her chin, as if pretending to consider it and then nodded assuredly. “Yeah, all three of those beat the pretty asshole who made a rude remark about me not wearing a dress.”
Jaime was on the cusp of saying something vicious about all three - four, truthfully - fools who had missed out on what was right in front of them, but Brienne gave him a wary side eye. It made him switch tactics, shoving aside his self-righteous fury to say, “So what I’m hearing is that you think I’m pretty.”
Brienne flipped it right back on him. “So you’re agreeing that you were an asshole?”
Squinting at her, Jaime wiggled his hand in the air. “Six of one, half a dozen of the other.”
It made her laugh again, louder and more relaxed. If he’d made her laugh like that on their date, Jaime might have never let her leave, or possibly chased her down the street to try to explain himself. He’d made a comment about the lack of a dress, he remembered that much, but it had never transitioned into the compliment he’d intended. Before he could gather his wits about him to say what he really meant, Brienne had left.
It probably would have still ended in disaster.
“It’s all for the best, don’t you think?” Brienne asked. “We can put one bad date behind us and be friends. I think we can compare who goes on the worst of them when you get back out there.”
Jaime shook himself free from his thoughts. A disappointed pang hit him straight in his solar plexus - it hit him hard - but he smothered it down as far as it could go. “Friends, Brienne? And here I thought we’d achieved a successful co-parenting strategy.”
“How terribly rude of me,” Brienne replied, grinning. “How could I diminish all the progress we’ve made so far?”
Jaime made himself grin back.
After dinner, a test run of Tummy Time, another feeding, and a diaper change from hell, Jaime decided that an early night was just the thing for everyone.
The futuristic looking cradle he’d purchased came with all kinds of bells and whistles - not literally, but the thing had far more functions and buttons than the classic sort and Brienne had given him a judgemental look the entire time he’d reviewed the manual - and as soon as Ty was settled in, he was fast asleep.
“In your face,” Jaime whispered triumphantly, and climbed into bed shortly thereafter. And remained there, wide awake for several minutes, listening to the soft patter of the shower running down the hall.
Clicking on the bedside lamp, Jaime sat up to make sure Ty was unbothered and retrieved the book he’d set down hours before. He started from the beginning, still wrapping his head around the fact that it was his brother’s work and imagination set out before him in tidy words on a page, when a figure passed his open doorway.
“Hey,” he called out softly, and raised the book when Brienne reversed course to look in. “Swashbuckling adventure, but the heroine is the pirate? Plot twist.”
“That one’s pretty good,” Brienne said fondly. “They all are, but Tyrion set himself apart from the beginning.”
“You’ve been with him on all of them?”
Brienne drew closer and nodded. “He could have used his academic connections, but I found his manuscript in the slush pile. I liked how he changed things up, and the way he said it.”
“He’s always had a gift for things like that,” Jaime murmured. He flipped the cover closed to look at the pen name. “J.A. Redwyne?”
“I’m sure you can guess where the initials are from,” Brienne said. She wasn’t wrong. “And it was either Redwyne or Hightower, but Tyrion decided perhaps the second was a little too on the nose.”
Jaime coughed out a laugh and then gestured Brienne over. She perched on the end of the bed, her eyes going to Ty and then back to Jaime, a soft smile on her face. Her hair was damp and her face scrubbed clean, and whatever wash she’d used smelled amazing.
He scrunched his nose as if it were itchy, to cover for the unintentionally deep breath he’d taken and tried not to think about her loose pajama top and unfortunately short shorts. “I’m glad you found it. The book. It’s really good so far.”
“Good for a bodice ripper?” Brienne asked.
“Good all around. No qualifiers.”
She smiled down at her hands. “I’m glad to hear it.”
“Well, if you want to hear it,” Jaime said, purposefully misunderstanding her. He patted his palm on the empty side of the bed and did it again when Brienne gave him an exasperated sigh. He kept doing it until she gave in and crawled to take the space next to him, though a fair swathe of mattress remained between them. “All right then, where to begin…”
There were all sorts of, to put a mild point on it, saucy passages to read from, but Jaime started on a relatively benign part of the story regarding the pirate ship. The description on how it broke through swelling waves and sailed under a brilliant sun made him almost feel as if he were standing on the deck itself, feeling the ocean spray on his face. He got lost in it for several minutes, realized he did, and stopped.
“What?” Brienne asked when Jaime didn’t continue.
“He’s amazing,” Jaime replied. He glanced over at her. They’d both originally propped up against the headboard, though that had changed since. Jaime found himself cradled in a couple pillows and Brienne was turned on her side facing him, one fist tucked under her cheek with a curious light in her eyes. Such pretty eyes. Jaime looked back at the book. “I didn’t know he was this good.”
“Told you so,” Brienne said.
“Yes, but I don’t think his vast audience is invested in the scenery.” He started flipping through the pages again. “I think I know what everyone’s reading for. You know it, too.”
“If you think you’re going to embarrass me-”
He flicked his eyes at her. “You’re already blushing.”
“That doesn’t mean anything. Any redness shows when you’re as pale as I am.”
“I think Tyrion would call it ‘a fair complexion’,” Jaime replied, pointing at the words as he found them.
“Pasty white with freckles,” Brienne retorted.
Jaime ran his fingers over the page and mildly replied, “Freckles can be cute.”
To avoid finding out what exactly Brienne would say to that, Jaime started off the next section by putting on his poshest Casterly accent to describe a roving band of scallywags, which made her snicker. She started downright wheezing with laughter when he went on to read through a barter and exchange, even if it meant the heroine was liberating her hunky paramour from his kidnappers and surely a more carnal reunion was to follow.
But first, a sword fight to the death.
“Now that’s my kind of woman,” Jaime said, in his regular voice at the end of the scene. “No nonsense, gets the job done, kills all the evil bastards that stood in the way of true love.”
“Your taste runs bloodthirsty.”
“We all have our kinks.”
He resumed, feeling his throat tighten when the lady pirate whisked her love into her private quarters and began tearing at his clothes. Jaime pretended to sniff and said, “Tyrion missed a prime opportunity to call the boyfriend her booty. I mean, it’s right there.”
Brienne yawned. “I talked him out of it.”
“Really? That’s a shame.”
“It’s low-hanging fruit. Tyrion has much cleverer jokes than that.”
“As I’m sure he’ll tell you every day of the week and twice on Sunday.”
“Yes, and I’m starting to see that it’s a family trait.”
“That’s not fair, Ty won’t be talking for months yet.”
Brienne giggled and Jaime felt his heart swoop yet again.
“Okay, so where were we?” He pretended to clear his throat. “Now, see, I’ve caught an editing problem here. ‘She watched hungrily as he lay down on the feather mattress, his muscles rippling in the dim firelight, a feast for her eyes and, not soon enough, her lips.’ That should be ‘laid’. Do I get a commission for catching that?”
“Lay is the right word. It’s an intransitive verb.”
Jaime shrugged. “That's why you get paid the big bucks, I guess. I don’t know my lay from my lie or my lederhosen.”
“More like moderate bucks, but yes.”
“You deserve big bucks if you’re listening to my brother say, actually aloud: ‘She climbed atop Aristide’s writhing form, her poet blouse in tatters, her skirts in disarray as he plunged his hands underneath, up her thighs, one clever hand reaching up and teasing her cu- Holy shit, he can use that word? I thought that was illegal.”
Brienne laughed helplessly, slapping her hand on the mattress, her whole body shaking.
“Hot damn,” Jaime muttered.
Brienne nearly rolled off the bed the other way.
Jaime started counting. “It’s like three times on this page alone!”
She caught herself and lay flat on her back in the bed, one hand on her chest, the other on her stomach as she desperately tried to keep her laughter quiet.
“It just keeps going, how long is this scene?” Jaime asked, awed.
When Brienne reached out to poke at his ribs, Jaime shifted aside, but her arms were long and he couldn’t get out of reach without going over his own edge of the bed. Instead, he grabbed at her hand and held it in his own, determined to get past her laughter and to some well-earned embarrassed sputtering.
“All right, this will do it,” he promised her. “‘Aurea rode him as if he were a prize stallion, her head thrown back and breasts trembling with each glorious impact. Aristide vaulted upwards, his mouth capturing each pink-capped peak and then her mouth as she cried out in ecstasy.’” Jaime shifted his knees up and struggled to sound normal. “See, now that’s what I’m talking about.”
He still held Brienne’s hand in his own, his thumb pressed into her palm. She wasn’t laughing anymore, but if he looked over, he’d have to let go. He kept going. “‘They fell together into the gentle embrace of the mattress, sweat-slick. Aurea still clasped him from within, unwilling to release him, if perchance more marauders came and stole Aristide away once more. She could not bear the thought of losing him again, not for a day, not for an hour, not for a second. Her golden prize, the unlikely siren who made her world world turn from black and white to glorious color.’”
“Romantic,” Brienne whispered, reminding him. Or perhaps recognizing how Jaime’s voice had gone hushed.
“They’re getting started again,” Jaime said faintly. Mesmerized, he swept his thumb across Brienne’s palm, tracing upwards to her wrist, where her pulse fluttered beneath his touch. “‘Aurea slowly rose, her hips undulating as naturally as the tide that bore them southward. She braced her hands on Aristide’s chest and felt his heart move in time with hers, swift and-’”
Brienne’s heart was racing. Jaime could feel it.
He could feel his own, ready to take flight from his chest if he didn’t...
He slowly dropped the book to his side and looked at her.
There was a thin ring of blue to Brienne’s eyes. They were no less beautiful than before, but the expression in their depths was infinitely more urgent and Jaime didn’t know who moved first, if it was him lunging forward, or Brienne’s hands crumpling into his shirt and pulling him close, but next his mouth was on hers and she met him there. Brienne was there, her lips parting against his, her arms wrapping around his back and her legs around his hips.
It wasn’t the time to say it, how it had been Jaime’s first thought in that restaurant, seeing her approach from across the room, how he’d wondered how it would feel to have those legs encircling his body, how he hadn’t been able to banish the thought from his mind and all he could get out was some stupid crack about how a dress woud have been a better choice and never getting to the fucking point and then watching her walk out because he didn’t know how to get out of his own damn way.
Now Brienne was there, moaning into his mouth as he rolled them until he was above her, canting her hips up to his, dragging an almost-pained whine from his own throat. Jaime reached one arm beneath her back, to pull her impossibly closer while his other hand clenched into her thigh, rucking it up to sit higher on his waist to find that utterly perfect fit and this, this was what he had been trying so hard to forget ever since that damned night.
Brienne fingers dragged up the skin of his back, pulling along his shirt, and their lips separated once to get it off, Jaime snagging it from his neck and then flinging it away, then once more for hers. It got caught around one of her arms and they laughed softly, frantically, together. Jaime got it free and tossed it, his lips finding the curve of her neck and her increasingly bounding pulse and his fingers hooked into the band of her shorts and-
“Jaime,” Brienne panted, her voice low and urgent against his temple.
“Brienne,” he said back just as eagerly.
Brienne tightened her limbs around him, but too much, restricting him from where he was trying to shimmy down her shorts. She sounded like she was having just as much difficulty catching her breath as he was when she said, “Ty.”
He lifted his head to look at her in confusion. “No. Jaime.”
She freed one hand to put it over her eyes and laughed. Her body moved against him and he forgot about everything else, rocking back hard against her - until she spoke again. “No, I mean Ty. He’s crying.”
“What?” Jaime propped himself higher, looking down at her, the haze lifting enough to take in everything else, from the reading lamp at the bedside, the book laid open on the other side of the bed and, beyond that, Ty in his cradle - crying.
“Shit.” Jaime pushed up off of Brienne and shuffled over to see that it was his own damned fault, yet again. He plucked Brienne’s shirt off of Ty’s head and ran his hand over Ty’s smooth cap of hair. “Sorry, buddy. I’m so sorry, come here.”
He would have likened it to being doused with cold water at any other time over how quickly everything came to a crashing stop. It would have been easy to be resentful of it if it weren’t for Ty’s pitiful cries and sniffles as Jaime hoisted up his nephew and settled him on his shoulder. The mattress dipped behind him as Brienne moved closer to sit on her knees at his side; that she grabbed her shirt and pulled it back on spoke volumes.
“Is he okay?”
“Yeah, I think he was surprised awake, is all,” Jaime murmured.
“I can take him.”
“No, he’s already calming down, see?”
They sat quietly together and Jaime felt some relief when Brienne scooted even closer and set her cheek against his opposite shoulder. He let out a sigh, one that Brienne followed in kind.
“We can never tell Tyrion that happened,” Brienne said softly. Jaime barely tensed before she continued, “If he hears that I got turned on from hearing one of his books, he’ll never let me live it down.”
“I’d like to think I was the motivating factor, but okay,” Jaime replied and she tilted her head to laugh into his arm.
“You were. You are,” Brienne said as she lifted herself free.
Jaime turned his head to catch her eye. “Yeah?”
Brienne nodded, a little jerkily, but definitely in agreement. Then, sounding unsure, she asked, “Was I?”
“You kidding me?” Jaime asked. “I forgot there was an infant in the room because of you. Gods, he’s way too young to see what I was planning on next.”
Brienne bit down her lips, her eyes dancing with mirth. “He wouldn’t remember, if that makes you feel better.”
“You don’t want Tyrion to know about the books, I don’t want him to know what his son may or may not ever remember about tonight. Deal?”
Despite the secretive smiles they shared, Jaime felt acutely as if an opportunity had been lost, or at least misplaced. No matter how many words he contemplated saying to Brienne, none seemed sufficient to say out loud.
She was just as silent.
He asked her to stay, wordlessly, when Ty was sleeping in his cradle once more. Jaime grasped her hand again as she stood, giving it a brief tug and slanted his eyes at the bed, then back to watch as Brienne silently weighed the choice and decided yes.
The need that had overcome him earlier that night had eased, but Jaime still stretched out his hand under the blankets to take Brienne’s once the light was off. She took it readily, entwining their fingers and gently squeezing.
Perhaps the darkness made her bolder, or perhaps she stayed simply to ask what she felt she must.
“You said…” He heard her take a deep breath. “You said you weren’t ready. Before.”
It took him several seconds to remember and then he did, much to his dismay.
“I did,” Jaime replied slowly.
“I’m not, that is I don’t-” She squeezed his hand again. “If tonight was just tonight, that’s all you have to say.”
“I’m saying if you’re not ready, that’s okay. I’ll understand,” she said hurriedly.
Jaime paused and swallowed to dislodge the lump in his throat. “Is this you asking me to make sure or is this you preparing to cut out as early as possible?”
There was a long, aching pause. “I don’t know. Both maybe.”
The lump didn’t want to move. It hurt. “That’s some heavy duty armor you’ve got there, Brienne.”
“I know,” she said, her voice almost lost in the darkness. “Just… don’t answer tonight, all right? Don’t answer because of what you think I want to hear.”
He suspected she wouldn’t put much stock in whatever he said, either good or bad, before morning. He didn’t want to admit to her, or himself either, that he wasn’t sure at all what to say.
Tugging on her hand, Jaime didn’t stop until Brienne turned, curling in toward him. “Okay,” he said softly. “Not tonight.”
He woke only once during the night, when Ty did. Brienne roused enough to flip over to face the opposite way in the time Jaime took his nephew for a feeding and change and he nearly let it be. Nearly let her be.
Tonight might be all they’d allow themselves, however, so Jaime eased closer, draping his arm over her waist and resting his head to share her pillow. As he drifted off, his mind tripped over the way things that had been, what he’d accepted as truth that had turned out to be lies, the way he’d always known love and affection to be tinged with cruelty and thought it passion.
If there was anything he’d learned about Brienne in the last two days - gods, not even two - was that was not the way she would do it. It wasn’t how she was made, or what she needed in return. The question was if he could meet her there.
It was a fair question and Brienne, more than anyone he’d ever met, deserved the truth.
He fell into a deep sleep before the answer became clear.
Sunlight was streaming through the blinds the next time Jaime opened his eyes and he blinked fuzzily at them, wondering why something felt off. It took him a second to realize he’d woken on his own, unprompted by a fussing baby or a shifting bedmate, and he sat up to find the room empty.
A tiny, irrational part of him said that he should be panicking; it was quickly overridden by the knowledge that wherever Brienne was, Ty was also, and that meant there was absolutely nothing to be worried about.
He stood and stretched, his joints popping satisfactorily. His shirt was neatly folded on the dresser - certainly not where it had ended up the night before - and Jaime grinned to himself as he put it back on.
They were in the living room; he could see shadows from where he was in the hall and as Jaime came closer, he could hear Brienne, too. She was spouting pure gibberish, high-toned and enthusiastic, answered with happy burbles from Ty. Jaime stopped in the entranceway, watching Brienne hold Ty close and then away, gently raising him up in the air and then down to press her face against his stomach and receive a look of wonderment in return.
The early morning sunlight was stronger there, a result of the larger windows and gauzy curtains. It outlined them both, the bright aura of a new day. It turned Brienne’s hair as golden as Ty’s and Jaime smiled at them both, knowing he was hidden from sight for the moment.
His answer came as suddenly as a switch was flipped, plainly known in the blink of an eye, because that’s all he needed. One good look in daylight.
Oh. He thought, looking at Brienne. Seeing her there. Seeing the future. Knowing what he wanted from it. It is you, isn’t it?.
Pod’s text that Tyrion was en route to the house was merely a formality, seeing as Jaime kept checking his phone for the status on his brother’s flight. He sat on the couch, his leg jiggling in place as he considered and reconsidered the words he was going to say and how Tyrion would take it.
“I should just show Ty to him right away, right?” he asked Brienne. “That’s how I met him. It worked out fine.”
Brienne made a face. “You literally sent the words ‘SOS’ to Pod, along with a dozen other text messages sent on high alert.”
“Oh. Yeah. I did.”
“Can I suggest something?”
Relief washed over him. “Please, yes.”
“Talk to him first, just the two of you. If and when he’s ready, you can bring Ty to him. I’ll keep him occupied in the other room.” Brienne touched his arm. “You’ll be fine. Tyrion will be fine. It’s big, but you can both handle this.”
“I think you’re massively overestimating how Lannisters process emotional upheaval,” Jaime informed her. “Pod literally has text messages that prove otherwise.”
“I’ve got reason to believe a little better of you than that now,” Brienne said. She stood up and took Ty from Jaime’s arms, holding his gaze as she did. “No matter how it goes, you know I have your back.”
Funnily enough, he did. "I know," he said. The smile that came to her lips then warmed him all the way down to his toes.
Jaime craned around in his seat as Brienne took Ty toward the kitchen. “Maybe you can put that little hoodie suit on him. If we play the Lion King theme as you come in, Tyrion might take it better.”
“Tyrion’s flair for drama comes quite honestly, doesn’t it?” Brienne called back.
Then all there was to do but wait, and not for long.
Jaime stood in the front entranceway, taking a steadying breath when he heard the key slide into the latch. When Tyrion came through, he said, “Hey, bro.”
Tyrion looked him up and down and then cast his eyes beyond Jaime to the hall and the opening to the living room. “All right,” he began. “The house is in one piece. There aren’t news crews on the front lawn. You haven’t lost a limb. I’m starting to think you asked for me to come home because there’s actually good news to be shared.”
“I’d like to think so,” Jaime said. He went to help Tyrion with his bags, then motioned for his brother to follow him into the other room and sit on the couch. Jaime took the seat across from him.
“Dare I ask that I’m about to hear of our father’s demise?” Tyrion asked brightly. “Long live Tywin Lannister. No, wait, that’s not it. Rest in torture, fiend from the deepest of the seven hells. Yes, that’s more like it.”
Jaime tried and failed to smile and Tyrion’s face fell. “You’re serious. You’re never serious. What’s wrong?”
“I’m serious when I need to be,” Jaime objected.
“Lies.” Tyrion waved his hand like batting at a pesky fly. “Just tell me, Jaime.”
“We had a surprise visitor the other day,” Jaime said. “Well, two, but only one of them stuck around. Long story short, it looks like you have a baby. A son. He’s about three weeks old.”
Tyrion didn’t blink. If anything, his head tilted slightly as he absorbed Jaime’s statement for several moments. Then, as if electrified, he stood from the couch and started pacing in front of it, stroking at his beard. He looked at Jaime and then back. “A son,” he said. He paced some more. “A son?”
He kept repeating it and Jaime let him, allowing his brother’s quick mind to reel from it and then put the pieces together, the summation indicated the second Tyrion stopped still, as if he’d run into an invisible wall. His hands flexed at his sides, spreading wide and then spasming shut and then he whirled in place and demanded, “You said someone stayed. Is he here?”
Jaime nodded. “Brienne has him in the other room.”
“Brienne?” Tyrion said vaguely, then louder, commandingly: “Brienne!”
“Right here,” Brienne answered, far more calmly. She came into the room, bearing Ty in her arms and she shot a quick glance at Jaime. He read her expression as well as anything else: I hope we’re not wrong about this, it was telling him.
“That’s him?” Tyrion asked, the faintest measure of hoarseness in his voice that had Jaime looking back in his direction. “Is he…”
“He’s asleep,” Brienne said. “Try to keep it down? He’s cranky if he’s not well rested.”
Tyrion’s eyes sprang back and forth between Jaime and Brienne and then honed in on Ty once more. “I’d like to see him.”
“Of course, yes.” Brienne kneeled down and waited until Tyrion held out his arms and then she let him take Ty, her arms held out a split second too long after he was gone. Retracting them, she said, “I know you have a lot of questions-”
“Does he have it?” Tyrion asked Jaime, leaving Brienne visibly off balance.
“First thing I looked for,” Jaime confirmed. The relief he felt was mirrored on Tyrion’s face, which made Jaime break out into a smile. “Yeah, he has it.”
“Has what?” Brienne asked. She turned back and forth between Jaime and Tyrion. “Has what?”
Tyrion answered by jutting out one leg and tugging his pants down at the hip to reveal a birthmark that someone with a fantastical imagination would say was shaped like a lion’s head with a full mane, but Jaime just thought was a misshapen blotch.
“Ty has that,” Brienne said blankly.
“Ty?” Tyrion asked.
“Ty has…” Brienne wheeled around on Jaime. “You knew this whole time?”
“I told you I was certain,” Jaime said, giving her a tiny shrug. “All the Lannister men have it.”
He could see her struggling to decide whether she was pissed or amused. “Why didn’t you just say that then?”
“The only way I could prove it was to drop my pants and show you my own,” Jaime replied blithely. “Before last night, I was under the impression you wanted no part of it.”
“Last night?” Tyrion piped up from between them. They both looked at him to find his mouth forming a bawdy grin. “Just what was going on in my house this weekend?”
“You became a father, that’s what,” Jaime interjected when Brienne’s face became an alarming shade of red. Finally. Even so, he mouthed ‘I can show you later’ and she pinched her face at him, clearly trying not to smile.
“I did, didn’t I?” Tyrion looked down at the baby’s sleeping face, his lecherous smile slipping away, replaced by an expression that changed minutely and rapidly, from awe to bewilderment to raw, naked hope.
“There’s a letter, if you want to see it,” Jaime told him. “It doesn’t say who his mother is, but-”
Tyrion waved him away again. “That’s something for tomorrow. Today, all I want is to get acquainted with this young man.”
“He’s great,” Jaime said truthfully.
Brienne echoed him. “Yes, he’s a wonderful baby.”
“Of course he is, he’s mine.” Tyrion looked up at them with shining eyes and then back down. “Hello, little one.” He paused. “Gods, I don’t think I’ve ever said that unironically.”
“Have you ever said anything unironically?” Jaime asked, rather sincerely. He received a mocking glare in return.
“There is the matter of his name?” Brienne said before they could get completely off track.
“You said Ty? Do I have that right?” Tyrion gently touched Ty’s cheek; handsy bastard, he was a sucker just like anyone else. “Am I looking at Tyrion Junior? Or Tyrion the Second?”
“Um.” Jaime felt his throat go dry and he traded a look with Brienne, daring her to say it.
Tyrion caught on to their hesitation. “What?” he asked warningly, promising retribution in one word if they didn’t get to the point.
They told him.
One day they would tell Ty that the first time he met Tyrion, he was three weeks old and woke crying in his father’s arms, startled out of a deep sleep, and that was only because Tyrion himself was laughing until he cried.
All in all, Uncle Jaime would say, it could have gone worse.
Brienne threw her bag over her shoulder and gave Jaime a significant look from across the room. She called out a goodbye to Tyrion and received a distracted head bob, but Jaime went to meet her in the front hall.
“I have a feeling Ms. Redwyne’s next hero is going to be a single dad,” Jaime remarked.
“Oh, no doubt,” Brienne agreed. She pressed her lips together, looking self-conscious and then resolute. “Jaime, I know this was a really strange couple of days-”
“Do you want to go on a date?” Jaime leaned back against the wall, interlacing his hands on his abdomen in an attempt to appear more casual than he felt.
“A date,” Brienne said.
“A date,” Jaime repeated. “The way I see it, we’ve already raised a kid together, lived together, fooled around and gotten cockblocked together… I mean, a successful date doesn’t seem beyond the pale at this point. We just had to do it backwards, seems like.”
Brienne stared at him for a brief moment and then her lips spread into a wide smile, her throaty chuckle following right behind and Jaime couldn’t stop himself, he pushed forward to kiss her. Brienne dropped her bag and wrapped her arms around his neck, her mouth open and scorching against his and it was only the knowledge of his brother and nephew in the other room that kept Jaime from going any further.
They parted and Jaime brushed the tip of her nose with his own. “That’s a yes, then?”
“That’s a yes,” Brienne whispered.
“Good, because I’m ready. One hundred percent. So ready that there was no way I was letting you walk out of here otherwise,” he told her. Brienne shook her head in incredulity and he kissed her again, luxuriating in the warm press of her lips against his, regretting that it would have to end for now and promising himself that it would happen the first time he saw her again.
After that, he might not ever let go.
He held one of Brienne’s hands while she picked up her bag with the other. “You sure you have to leave?”
“I don’t want to impose.” She squeezed his hand more tightly, though, reflecting the reluctance in her voice.
“You wouldn’t be. Tyrion’s greedy, he’ll make use of anyone who offers a hand.”
Brienne seemed to consider this, but they both kept walking outside. Jaime waited while she stuck her bag in the back of her car and kissed her again before she got behind the wheel. Then he put his head in the open window and kissed her once more, Brienne’s hand threading through the hair at the back of his head until his neck began to protest.
“I should get back in there,” he said, pulling back. “He’s going to put the diaper on all wrong, I know it.”
“Have a little more faith than that,” Brienne said. After a second, she evidently rethought it. “Actually, yeah, that’s a valid concern, I saw your handiwork and you’ve actually had practice.”
Jaime put his palm to his chest and groaned as if struck. Brienne laughed her beautiful laugh and Jaime dipped toward the window one last time, steadying his hand on the door. “Brienne? That whole thing, finding out about the books?”
She looked back at him, smiling. “What about them?”
“They’re down to third,” Jaime said simply. “Third best thing to happen to me this weekend.”
He kissed her one last time and stepped back, stuffing his hands in his pockets to keep from pulling her out of the car and into the house so that she would never leave, not even for a second. Brienne looked back at him, her eyes wide and vulnerable, but she nodded and turned on the car.
Jaime stood on the sidewalk until she made it to the corner stop sign and made the turn, then turned himself, the trek back to the house more of a slog than it had ever been before. He stopped just inside the front entrance and tapped his head against the door, reminding himself that to be so attached to a person after a matter of days was going overboard. It was audacious.
He heard Ty’s gurgle from the other room and laughed to himself, because maybe it wasn’t.
The doorbell rang before he made it back to the living room and Jaime backtracked, lost in his thoughts, and then his mind went completely blank because there was no one there on the threshold.
He started to step forward to check all around and hit something with his foot. Looking down, he stared at Brienne’s bag uncomprehendingly for a few seconds before he caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to see her leaning against the stonework, a shy smile on her face.
“I heard there’s a few guys in there that might need some help,” she said. “I thought I might leave a note, but since you’re here…”
Jaime grabbed the bag with one hand, Brienne’s with the other, and pulled her inside.