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One Moment

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“At some point this looks like a spare parts depot for human leftovers,” Jaime makes a face, scrolling down a page on the internet with a grimace.

“It’s machines,” Brienne argues, leaning over the back of the couch.

“I just imagine how the dude has them on a rack, and I’m supposed to choose one as though it was a new sweater or so,” Jaime grimaces. “Here’s your new hand, sir, do you need a bag for it or do you want to put it on right away?"

“This is no I, Robot movie,” she argues. “Those are high function prosthetics.”

“I know,” Jaime sighs.

He is still trying to get used to the idea of a prosthetic, already for Brienne’s sake, but Jaime doubts that this will ever feel anything close to what his real hand felt like. And he is honest in that he finds this somehow outlandish, something from outer space, really.

At some point a hook seems more down to earth.

“Have you read about the myoelectric prosthetics? I thought those looked pretty… realistic?” she grimaces, trying her best to sound casual.

Because this is not casual.

This is one huge step.

Brienne knows that Jaime is still unsure about prosthetics in whatever the way, and she was that close to tears, yes, tears, when he started to type it into google and didn’t just flip through the brochures absently. He even mentioned it to his doctor the last time they were there for the check-up.

It’s not that Brienne thinks he needs that. If Jaime said he didn’t want to have any so such thing, she would be the last one to call him upon it, for as long as he’d be happy with it, but she still sees the frustration on his face more than once, because a stump is no hand, however you want to twist or turn it. There are no fingers, and that complicates certain things that she honestly believes could be relieved in some way if Jaime had at least the option to put on a prosthetic if needed.

Jaime let her know that he feels useless because he cannot do certain things with his hand the way he is used to it, and Brienne understands that, but to her, there is just one logical consequence to help the matter, and that is to try out all options available and see what works best for him. However, Brienne learned the very hard way that they have differing views regarding these matters, and she tries her best not to force him into anything.

They made such good progress lately, they moved forward at last, and Brienne doesn't want that to stop now.

“May this be the right moment to confess that I always hated the Terminator movies?” Jaime makes a face.

"My whole life has been a lie," she replies in a flatter voice than she intended. Because the problem is that she knows that Jaime is trying and that he tries to get acquainted with the idea, but then she sees him scrolling through the pages, making his nonsense jokes, and it feels like he is toying with the idea - and that only for her sake.

"I mean, what if it takes over my body and...," Jaime means to go on with the joke, but then swallows down the last bit of the comment. Jaime usually fares best joking about such matters, but when he looks at Brienne, he has to realize that she doesn't fare best with him joking about it by contrast. Because she thinks he is joking at the idea - when he is just trying to somehow gather himself (and the remains of his courage) to somehow step forward and ahead.

Sometimes he wished his coping mechanisms would work differently.

“You don’t have to do this, you know that,” she assures him quickly.

Maybe she got too far ahead of herself yet again - or rather, too far ahead of him.

"I know I don't have to," Jaime replies just as fast, and with as much sincerity as he can. Brienne licks her lips, trying to stay casual, however hard it may be. Jaime wrinkles his nose then, running his arm over the back of his head.

In fact he feels like he needs to – if only to show Brienne that he makes an effort.

He may not know if he really wants that robot-hand, but he knows he wants and needs Brienne.

“I think I want to try at least,” Jaime goes on in a lighter tune. “If it’s for nothing… well, I don’t think I’ll have to pay for it.”

“Right, you can still give it back,” Brienne shrugs, trying to ease back into the mood.

She knows that Jaime likes to joke about these things. It's what he always did, even before the ambush.

Just why is she so thin-skinned lately, right?

“Or throw it away,” Jaime huffs.

“That would be a waste of material,” Brienne argues.

“Yeah, alright. If I don’t like it, I will give it back, or give it to charity, whatever. They’d surely make use of it somehow,” Jaime sighs, looking at the screen again.

“That sounds more like it,” she agrees.

“Oh, and by the way?” Jaime turns to her.

“Yes?” Brienne cocks an eyebrow at him.

"You don't get to work extra hours this weekened," Jaime says. “We will go to a Lannister family dinner, tomorrow evening, over at the family residence. We got a formal invitation this morning."

Brienne has been doing that a lot more frequently these past few weeks. It's normal for her to do extra hours every once in a while, but lately she also took shifts in the weekends, and at some point Jaime doens't know what to make of that. Does she just need a breather from him? This situation? Or is something else going on?

Because he thought they made some good progress since...

“Oh, Gods, no,” Brienne grunts, burying her head in a couch pillow.

“It’s lovely how well you and my family get along,” Jaime huffs.

“Now you don’t tell me that you are excited about that,” she snorts.

Brienne knows as a matter of fact that Jaime rather keeps away from his family for the most part, except for Tyrion. After all, he was the prodigious son who was supposed to take over the family business once Tywin Lannister retires. By choosing police officer as a profession, he certainly earned himself his father’s disappointment – which Tywin makes no secret, whenever they meet up. Jaime once said to her that he always felt as though he had “fallen from grace” in his father’s eyes, because Jaime didn’t do what was expected of him, after he broke away from what the Lannister Empire Plan would have demanded from him.

So there is no way that Jaime wants to be there either.

No, I would rather have dental treatment without anesthesia than attend this get-together, but… I have made myself rare long enough,” Jaime shrugs. “I don’t think we get around this one.”

While he would rather just stay home and get used to the idea of a prosthetic, Jaime knows that he can’t just cut off contact to his family. Jaime needs them and cares for them, despite all the things that happened in the past, but that doesn’t mean Jaime likes being around them.

Especially now that he is even more of a disappointment in his father’s eyes than he was ever since he turned down the position at the top of the family firm in favour of what Tywin always refers to as “a boy’s foolish dream”.

“That means I have to wear high heels… and jewellery, and make-up… and burn myself with the hair straightener…,” she exhales. “And I have to wear a dress.”

“Which is why I called dear Margaery after I got the formal invitation,” Jaime goes on with a bit of spite in his grin.

“You did not,” she narrows her eyes at him.

“She will be here later the day, from the shopping spree for you,” Jaime replies.

“I hate you so much right now,” Brienne grunts.

“You hate shopping,” Jaime argues. “In fact, I was kind enough to spare you a shopping spree by assigning dear Margaery to the task. You should be grateful.”

“I hate it even more when Margaery dresses me up. She is obsessive with clothes,” Brienne mutters.

And for some reason, Margaery loves to dress her up, as though she was some kind of doll – because Brienne knows that she isn’t, and wouldn’t ever want to be one. As a child, she got rid of whatever dolls her father gave her in less than a day, finding them too pretty to touch, let alone play with.

“But she has an excellent taste,” Jaime insists.

“This is torture,” Brienne growls.

“You are probably the only woman in the world who considers getting new, fancy dresses delivered right to her door ‘torture’,” Jaime chuckles softly.

Though that is how she has always been. Brienne hates shopping and dressing up with all her heart. Jaime remembers vaguely one time when they were still in an antagonistic relationship, and clearly in denial. He dragged her to a shopping spree with a very cheap excuse he can’t recall in detail anymore. Something about needing her to pick something out for a friend of his. Once she had begrudgingly agreed to the plan, Jaime forced her to try on things for him so he could pick something for his friend, stating that she and her friend, whom never existed, obviously, had the same size. At first, it was all fun and tease to see her make a fool of herself, growling at him, tossing clothes at his head, constantly asking loudly why she ever came along, why she ever cared about him, why, why, why.

The fun somehow stopped when Brienne was supposed to try on a pink dress upon his choice, pretty much the grand finale, but then… as she came out of the changing room, Jaime feared she’d burst out in tears for a moment, really. Up to that point, their relationship had been all about teasing on his part and her knocking sense into him, but that was one of the few occasions where Brienne showered her more vulnerable side and Jaime realised that he played a truly cruel jape at her expenses, especially after she told him in a quieter voice that she couldn’t just buy clothes because most things just never fitted right and that it made her feel even more freakish for her looks than she did anyways.

To somehow make his conscience stop kicking him in the arse, he took her to the gym thereafter, and let her take out all aggression and frustration on him.

After that, the pink dress was forgotten and left in the store for good.

So no, Brienne is not fond of shopping.

“I’d rather wear a tux than dresses. I hate them all equally,” Brienne sighs.

“But it is expected,” Jaime tilts his head to the side.

Brienne made the mistake once to show up for a family dinner in no more than black dress jeans and a plain button-up shirt she bought in the men's department - because those usually fit best with her broad shoulders. She had all eyes on her for the rest of the evening, and just wanted to reduce herself to a puddle on the ground. Jaime would have warned her, but they only met up right in front of the residence because she had to work until then – and Brienne didn’t understand that the implication of “dinner” automatically meant evening wear, something that was hammered into Jaime’s brain since his early years, so he didn’t know that she was not aware of that.

Ever since then, Brienne did what the Lannister etiquette demanded of her, and that was to wear dresses whenever she was over at the residence or invited to other festivities. Brienne hates dresses, but she hates stares even more.

“I know,” she mewls.

“And you have nothing already used-up in the wardrobe anymore,” Jaime goes on.

“You keep tabs on that, really?” she snorts.

“Someone has to,” Jaime shrugs. “And since I’m stuck here most of the time, I am even more attentive of these things. What do you think does a man do all day long, alone at home?”

“Watch DVDs, drink beer, work out…,” she shrugs. “Going through the girlfriend’s closet is not on the list of things men do or ought to do when alone at home.”

“You just listed all the things you would like to do all day long, well, except for going through your closet. You’d have no idea how many clothes of yours have stains on or holes in them,” Jaime teases.

At some point it feels really good to fall back into that routine. After everything was so hard over the past months, it’s like ointment right on the skin to feel more like the people they were before this ambush.

Memories are light and delightful, and no longer dark echoes turned bitter in both their mouths.

“But you do, so what does it matter?” she shrugs.

The doorbell rings, followed by a loud shriek.

“That’s for you,” Jaime smirks. Brienne punches him in the arm lightly as she gets up, “You keep going through the prosthetic pictures until you get used to the idea.”

“Fine,” he mutters.

“Fine,” she retorts as she makes her way to the door.

“BRIE! Look at the clothes I got you!”

“Good day to you, too, I..."

“We shouldn’t waste our time. You have to try on a whole lot.”

“Please no.”

“You will love them, I assure you.”

“Margaery, I…”

“We don’t have the time, Brie!”

Margaery pulls her over to the bedroom at once.

“I will make you pay for this.”

Jaime waves as Brienne is pulled into the bedroom.

So now, back to the Terminator parts depot…

Brienne nestles around with the hem of her dress. She chose the absolutely plainest outfit Margaery brought, which happened to be a navy blue satin dress with an Empire cut reaching down to her knees, a straight cut cleavage coupled with broad straps, giving her some security that she won’t have to reorder the straps the whole evening, like she had to do with the dress with spaghetti straps she wore for the last New Year’s Eve party. Gods, she hated the straps to the point that the whole dress didn’t survive until the next day, after she threw it away without ceremony.

“Brienne, that dress won’t eat you, so stop pinching it,” she can hear Jaime say. Brienne tears her head around to him, “I hate it.”

“Which is a pity, because it fits you well,” Jaime argues.

“Whatever,” she huffs.

“I mean that,” he insists, now without the smug smile.

While bickering grew to be a more integral part of their life again, Jaime knows that he still has a lot of reparation work to do when it comes to these things. He is by no means as smooth as he used to before the ambush. It’s not just in the bed that he lost that edge, but also the compliments are now harder to bring to full bloom, because Brienne got so much sarcasm from him before that Jaime honestly gets it that she has a hard time accepting a compliment in all earnest.

“… Thanks,” Brienne whispers.

“And in any case, I’m glad that you wear something so fancy, because that might draw attention away from my stump for at least ten seconds,” Jaime goes on. She squeezes his lower arm, offering a gentle smile.

“I would rather be home now,” Brienne grumbles, trying to change the topic.

Or at work.

Just not here.

“So would I, but… if the family calls, you have to answer,” Jaime shrugs.

“Let’s just get over with it,” Brienne says before they reach the door of the Lannister Residence, a monument of its kind. High stone walls with marble lions sitting on the edges, stately towers, a vast garden and pool area, illuminated by flood lights, if only to cast a shadow that's even greater than this residence itself.

They are pulled in at once. Brienne always feels as though she is absorbed into a kind of black hole whenever she comes here, only to come out in another universe of red velvet and gold.

“Oh, Jaime! Brienne!” Tyrion is the first they get to see, and both are glad for it.

“Hey there, little brother. I see you already enjoy yourself alright?” Jaime grins, nodding at the obligatory glass of wine in Tyrion’s hand. The younger man only gives it a shrug, “That is one of the few methods I have left to somehow make it through the night. Ah, Brienne. You look lovely, may I say?”

“Thank you,” she replies politely as she bends down to give Tyrion a brief hug.

“Ah, and when I say it, she thinks I’m mocking her,” Jaime snorts, winking at her. She rolls her eyes, fighting the faintest of blushes.

“In any case, you should be careful. The witch’s also here,” Tyrion says, gesticulating.

“Cersei?” Jaime grimaces. He somehow hoped to bypass a confrontation with her - after it was pretty icy between them ever since the ambush, but then again, that was to be expected. If it’s a formal invitation, you can be sure that there is a bigger entourage, and then it would be odd to exclude one of the Lannister heirs.

And if there is something Tywin Lannister cannot stand, then it is the knowledge that people might be talking about him and his Family Empire behind his back.

“Who else would I be referring to?” Tyrion snorts. “Oh, and she came with some ominous man.”

“You mean she found someone?” Jaime knits his eyebrows. As far as he knows, Cersei is single at present.

“That guy is surely twice as old as her – and not really her… pattern of prey,” Tyrion makes a face."I just know that she came with him."

"Didn't you talk to him yet?" Jaime asks.

"No. I wanted to be sure to have a few drinks before getting over with that. You know my plan, till the day I die, there won’t be a single family get-together that I will witness sober," the younger brother replies.

“That’s the spirit,” Jaime snorts.

“Speaking of the devil…,” Tyrion mutters as Cersei and Tywin approach, before quickly ducking to the side to come to stand next and behind Brienne.

“Jaime.”

“Father.”

“Ms. Tarth.”

“Mr. Lannister.”

Jaime ignores it that his father still refuses to call Brienne by her first name – and that even though they know each other in a long time already. However, Brienne never really took offence in it, seemingly understanding that Tywin is a chip of the old block after all.

That is when Cersei snakes her arms around Jaime that he has to try hard not to flinch in surprise, “It’s been far too long.”

She looks at him surprisingly fondly, flashing a small smile over at Brienne, who only gives a curt nod.

“Oh, I almost forgot to introduce you. This is Dr. Qyburn,” Cersei says, gesticulating at the man, who covers the last bit of distances to shake all their hands hastily, “A pleasure to meet you.”

“And how do we come to this honour?” Jaime asks.

“He is my personal, let’s say, health counsellor,” Cersei replies.

“But why is he here for a family dinner? I don’t mean that as an offence, Sir, I'm just curious,” Jaime says.

"Oh, that's understandable," the "ominous" man replies.

“You will find out soon enough. I think dinner is about to start,” Cersei says, whirling around at once, taking Qyburn along with her.

Jaime and Brienne exchange a look, irritation written over their features, but know better than to start a scene.

“So, Father,” Jaime grimaces at the older man. “Will we finally learn the reason for this wonderful get-together?”

“Later,” Tywin says. “For now, we will dine.”

Jaime makes a face. Sometimes his father and sister really are alike.

What follows during dinner was all Jaime expected and didn’t expect at all. He prepared himself for the glances at his stump, or how he fails at the main dishes of steak and the like. In contrast to Brienne, his family seems to care little about not embarrassing him with such foods, but then again, that was all Jaime expected, really.

He didn’t really prepare for just how much the glances bore into him, and how hard it is to keep up a smooth and aloof appearance to the guests, answering the same questions about his hand and the ambush again and again. Just like the fake empathy makes Jaime want to hurl, if not jump across the table.

One distant aunt of his actually starts to compare their case to how she was robbed of her purse in bright daylight when she wasn’t paying attention, and the man just grabbed her pricey purse and made a run for it.

Because that is exactly the same as almost being raped and losing your hand, right.

Jaime only realises the beads of sweat on his forehead when Brienne gives his arm a squeeze to force his eyes onto her sapphire blue ones. She leans closer to him so that no one except them can hear them, “Are you alright?”

“Splendid,” he snorts. She narrows her eyes at him, but then says instead, “I don’t know how you want to handle it. I can cut up the meat for you if you want, or I can try to get the, ugh, waiter, instructed to bring one cut up? You just have to tell me.”

“I think I’ll just pass,” Jaime says. “It’s not like a twelve course meal will leave me starving.”

“Okay,” she replies meekly, turning back to her plate.

“Thanks for the offer, though,” he adds quickly. Brienne gives a small smile before resuming to her own plate.

After the dinner ordeal is finally dealt with and the first guests actually disappear, to leave more of the core family, they find themselves in the spacious lounge area, just like Jaime finds himself in conversation with his father about his future.

Of course.

The one topic…

“… I think that now the time has come that you finally join the family business. Now that your time at the police is obviously over, you need a new perspective,” he can hear Tywin say. Jaime tears his head to him, unblinkingly, “And the only perspective I have in your opinion is to join the family company?”

“It might be a good time to do that,” Tywin shrugs.

“Because I’m a cripple now and can’t get myself another job, a real job that isn’t financed by my father, you mean?” he huffs, not caring if he is making a scene now, something that doesn’t go unnoticed by Tywin, though he knows better to contain his anger, “Because you have followed that dream of yours in a long while. And now after this happened…”

“Reality called and was supposed to wake me up?” Jaime jumps in angrily. “This was no idée fixe, Father. I was a police officer with all my heart, and if not for my apparent inability to fulfil the task now, I would still be just this.”

“Ever the more a reason to consider something else now. It’s as you say. This is no longer an option for you,” Tywin argues. “It might be the best solution.”

“For you surely. Nothing has changed about the fact that I don’t want to work the job you want me to have. I don’t want to run a company. And in any case, I’m still young enough to build up something for myself. I don’t know what yet, but since we happen to be so rich, I don’t think my missing salary will be of any concern presently, will it?” Jaime retorts. “Or is this a subtle way of yours to put the screws on me that if I don’t obey your wishes, you’ll cut off my money supply?”

“You’re overreacting, Jaime,” Tywin sighs.

“I think I react about just right to the accusation that my former job was worth nothing and that my father means to threaten to cut off my money supply like others retain the pocket money from their children in case they don’t behave as it is required of them. In case you did not notice until now, I am an adult who can make his own decisions concerning his profession, his lifestyle, his life,” Jaime argues vehemently.  

“You are being overly dramatic. I did not threaten you, in fact I offered you something,” Tywin replies with a sigh.

Jaime feels his wrists clenching, yes, both of them, because he can feel his right hand all the way up to the fingertips at this moment, invisible nails digging into his invisible palm. Pain spreads like invisible blood.  

Because this is not about being inattentive about his needs or sparing him embarrassment, it’s about belittling the one thing other than Brienne he prides himself with as an achievement of his own.

“Uhm, Father, I think Jaime makes a good point when he says that he may start something for himself. Maybe his own investigation or security firm. We’ve talked about this the other day, and I find the idea very good indeed,” Tyrion jumps in with a swift lie. After all, they never talked about an investigation firm up to this point, but the Seven may bless him for coming up with that to give Jaime’s argument more solid ground against their Father.

You can always count on him, Jaime knows.

“My first son as a private investigator? I don’t think so,” Tywin snorts.

“It is an idea,” Tyrion argues, but Jaime can’t focus too much on his brother’s attempts of guarding him. He is too focused on the pain spreading in his ghost hand, in his arm, his bloody stump.

He is burning.

He is on fire.

“But maybe he could do something for the security in your company? I mean, I work as the security manager for Renly Baratheon, maybe Jaime could do something of the like for your firm as well? You handle so much money, you are in need of protection after all and Jaime is an expert in the field…,” Jaime can hear Brienne argue, her voice levelled, almost peaceable.

The Gods may bless her, too.

And damn his father.

“You are aware that this is not necessarily the position I want to see my first son fulfil,” Tywin argues in a cool manner. Brienne bites her lower lip, well aware of the small stab aimed at her, for having such a position and being proud of it.

“Isn’t it about what would make Jaime happy?” she argues anyway. While she manages to keep her voice sweet, Jaime knows that it hurts, already due to the pressure he can feel on his lower arm as she holds on to him.

“If we all did what would make us happy, I would have a son who’d only drink all day, and visit the brothels of the city, a daughter who would only look at herself in the mirror, and a son who would probably rather play with a sword if he had one than do anything substantial. There is business, there is family, and then there are personal wishes. One should not make the mistake to mix up either one,” Tywin tells her.

“How kind of you,” Tyrion snorts.

“I, I need some fresh air,” Jaime declares, no longer able to deal with the soaring fire in his arm, the thump-thump-thump inside his head. He gets to his feet swift enough, feeling Brienne’s hand slip from him, though her eyes don’t leave him, “Do you want me to come along or…?”

“I need a moment to myself, if that’s alright,” he mutters back as he leans down to give her a quick kiss on the temple.

“Alright.”

“Jaime, we…” Tywin means to say, but Jaime quickly interrupts him, “Are done for now, yes, thanks. I need some fresh air. I wouldn’t want to be such a disgrace of a son to end up staining the pricey carpet with my vomit, because I may tell you that I am pretty sick, of all this here.”

With that he just leaves for outside.

“So? Anyone watched Game of Crowns and can update me on who died last episode?” Tyrion jumps in.

Jaime makes his way outside in a hurry, trying to control his breathing. He had that before, those bloody phantom pains. The doctor warned him, Brienne soothed him through them, and Jaime is just sick of them.

There is no hand, so stop trying to hurt him with it, body.

Jaime finds that flaring up especially when agitated, and this surely agitated him. For a moment he is tempted to call out to Brienne after all, because she is the one thing that always calms him, she is his rock, but he decides against it, feeling too humiliated right now. Just like he knows that people will talk behind her back the moment she hurries after him, and Jaime wants to spare her that as well.

He remembers too many instances when both went away for a moment (if only for a quick passionate kiss), and once they returned, they knew at an instant that they had been the topic of choice as the others present looked up and stopped talking. Jaime also remembers how tightly he had to hold her hand during these moments, because that is something that still gets right under Brienne’s freckled skin.

They will keep their mouth shut for as long as she is there, so it’s probably for the best if he figures this one out himself.

Jaime walks along the line of the swimming pool, a monstrosity of its kind, but everything in the Lannister household has to be epically big, epically out of proportions, ornamented, pretty, golden, bloody perfect, if only at the surface.

“Jaime?”

He whirls his head around to find Cersei on one of the sunbeds, smoking a cigarette. She left shortly after dinner, he knows. At some point, Jaime had honestly hoped that she just took off without saying goodbye. Because Cersei is just the last person he needs around right now. He simply wants to focus on getting his anger and pain in check. And that woman never served as an ointment for either one.

“You know, if you want to tan, I think you have a bad timing,” he says, trying his best not to let the strain resonate in his voice.

“Are you alright?” she asks. “Maybe you want to sit down?”

She pats on the sunbed. Jaime tries hard not to snort, though he knows that arguing won’t help much either, since his knees are shaking like they did last winter when he forgot to take his coat along and froze his arse off in the breeze. So he decides to sit down on the sunbed next to hers. Valid enough.

“So? What are you doing here, sunbathing in the moonlight?” Jaime asks, trying harder and harder to control his ragged breathing.

“You know that Father doesn’t like it to have people smoking. It could harm the furniture,” she snorts, breathing white smoke into the air. “Phantom pains?”

“What’s it to you?” he huffs.

Because Cersei made herself more than rare ever since he lost his hand. After he was released from hospital, he saw nothing of her. While Jaime was personally glad for it, one could expect a little more effort from one’s sister, especially one who used to insist that they were each a half of a whole, who said that she loved him more than anything else in the world.

To say it once more, it's not that Jaime needs or wants it. What was between them ended before it escalated into the chaos he fears would have come about, had they stuck to what they did, but he simply expected her to make an attempt. Because Cersei would always do that once in a while. No great plotting or so, just teasing, pointing in that direction, in a playful manner.

Though Jaime definitely won’t change his mind back in that direction – ever again, and he reckons the same is true for Cersei. She just likes to tease, already for the sole reason that she is not too fond of Brienne.

“What’s it to me when my brother has phantom pains? Oh, I don’t know, you tell me,” she retorts, sounding offended.“Where is your partner anyway? Shouldn’t she be with you?”

Jaime narrows his eyes at her at once.

“You’ll leave Brienne out of this right from the start. I don’t want to hear a word from you concerning her, is that understood? Brienne is the one person who stood by my side, so don’t you even dare to make an attempt to somehow downplay this or act as the heroine now. I told her to stay inside,” Jaime growls as another wave of pain crushes over his head.

"Whatever," she shrugs her shoulders, exhaling a cloud of smoke. "Just because I'm not around doesn't mean I don't care."

"I know that," Jaime argues, inhaling deeply to somehow get his pain in check, but it's no help.

He knows Cersei - and she cares about people in different ways. He knows her. But he won't let her insult Brienne, easy as that, because that is something she should know by now as well.

"Do you?" she huffs.

"You won't get me to apologize to you right now, if that's what you are trying, alright?" he grunts.

"I don't give anything much on apologies," she replies.

No great surprise right there either, Jaime reminds himself. Other people may have apologized for not showing up during one's twin's hardest time thus far, but... Cersei really doesn't give anything on apologies, that's the plain truth.

"I was on quite a few business trips around Westeros lately," she goes on in a casual voice that makes him angrier than it should. He knows that this is what she always does, it's just that her timing couldn't be worse than it is right at this second.

"So I was told," Jaime brings out, feeling the beads of sweat running down his forehead. "Is that where you dug up your 'plus one'?"

"In fact," she replies, suddenly gazing to the side. Jaime can hear footsteps approaching. When he manages to tear his gaze around, he can see this Qyburn-person standing next to them.

“I told you that he is a doctor, right?” she says, gesturing at the man.

“A doctor who doesn’t practice, I fear,” Jaime knits his eyebrows. “If he is your personal health counsellor.”

“I am a doctor, but I don’t have a licence anymore,” Qyburn replies. “I use the time for my research.”

“Of course,” Jaime snorts, closing his eyes as the fire keeps consuming his phantom hand. "Research."

“He may have something to help you nevertheless,” Cersei insists.

“Now don’t tell me you come to have some funny potion that will grow back my hand,” Jaime huffs, and the older man replies, “I fear not, Sir, but I can relieve the pain, no bother.”

“You should listen to him. He can work miracles,” Cersei says.

“Since you suffer through so much physical pain,” Jaime rolls his eyes.

“He helps me in other matters,” she shrugs as Qyburn produces some pills and syringes out of his jacket.

“And I reckon this is not necessarily legal, hm?” Jaime makes a face.

"It's not illegal," she replies.

"Yet?" he huffs.

Both Cersei and Tyrion are into drinking more than they maybe should, and he knows as a matter of fact that Cersei and certain substances made each other’s acquaintance during her times abroad when their father forced her to attend a girls-only boarding school during her earlier teenager years – after their nanny had seen them doing some things they shouldn’t have, as siblings. Though Jaime was given the same treatment, for the record, having been sent to a boys-only boarding school likewise, he gave these things a wide berth.

Though Jaime actually grew fond of that place soon, being with boys of his age, making friends, having people around him other than his family. That kept his mind away from other dangerous places, or so he reckons.

Once he found out about Cersei’s escapades, if you will, he called her upon it, and that stuck.

Well, until now, or so it seems.

“I think I will pass,” Jaime makes a face as the man approaches, blinking furiously as his muscles contract unnaturally more. This is a really bad wave. With incredibly bad timing, too.

“I assure you, it’s nothing dangerous. I work with natural ingredients,” Qyburn argues.

“That’s right. It’s all natural,” Cersei tells him, now almost cooing. “You don’t have to feel that pain, you know?”

“Did you have something already or why are you so laid-back?” Jaime makes a face, watching Cersei as she keeps blowing smoke into the night’s air like little clouds. “Cersei?”

She leans back on the sunbed, folding her long legs elegantly.

Cersei,” Jaime demands.

“Relax. I didn’t take that stuff, but Qyburn has something that is great to relieve one’s stress,” she sighs. “And he could do the same for you, no bother. You don’t have to go through that pain, Jaime. You don’t have to do anything. No matter what Father may have to say, because I bet that he just gave you the talk about the Family Empire yet again. As he always does. You can forget the rest, you see?”

“While I tend to agree with you when it comes the Family Empire, I don’t think that forgetting the rest is best achieved by shooting myself to the moon,” Jaime argues vehemently, still trying to process the situation, fighting any urge not to toss Qyburn into the pool behind him, but his stump hurts to the point that he wants to jump straight ahead into the pool as well, if only to douse some of that flame burning within him. “Now all natural and eco-friendly or not.”

“Sir, I can assure you that this works well to help with such intense pains as you must suffer them. I have had patients with similar problems and the results were more than satisfactory,” Qyburn argues, etching closer again.

“I don’t want that stuff, thank you, so if you backed off, thank you very much,” Jaime says, gritting his teeth. He wants to get up and go, but his feet won’t move.

This pain is paralysing.

Damn.

“Even if you don’t want to take it, I can only recommend to you that you have to try to relax. Tension only makes it worse,” the doctor without licence says.

“I’m afraid of needles, so maybe that’s one source of my tension,” Jaime says.

“It is very effective,” the man argues.

“So is that why you brought him along? Did you anticipate that I’d get a shoot of phantom pain or what?” Jaime turns to Cersei.

No, I just meant to introduce you to him. It was mentioned to me that you suffered from those pains,” Cersei replies, sounding rather truthful. “Though this just proves my point. This is something that needs relief, Jaime. You don’t have to put yourself through that.”

“It’s funny how almost everyone tries to tell me what I’m supposed to do these days,” Jaime grunts as lightning explodes inside his head and he has to lean back on the sunbed.

“Jaime, listen to reason. He can help you,” Cersei argues.

“I don’t want your help or his!” Jaime retorts through pursed lips, fearing that he will end up biting his lip bloody.

“You can help yourself,” his sister argues.

“Maybe you should just try it, Sir,” Qyburn says, biting his lower lip, holding the things out to him again. Jaime takes a hold of the man’s wrist, opening his mouth to say some nasty thing, but that is when he hears his name.

“Are you not listening to me or what’s the matter? Take that away,” Jaime argues.

“I’m trying to help,” Cersei argues.

“Just that this is not at all helpful,” Jaime huffs.

“If she had suggested it, you’d be all up for it, I’m sure,” she snorts, now sounding offended.

Of course she is feeling offended.

Sometimes Jaime wonders how she manages to always make this about herself again.

“I appreciate your help, but I don’t want it. There is a difference, Cersei, and I’m past the point to care how this may, perhaps, hurt your feelings. I won’t take that stuff just to make you feel better or so,” Jaime brings out, white flashes of light dancing before his eyes.

“Whatever,” she exhales. “I’m trying to make you feel better, but yeah, sure, I’m being an egoist for it.”

“I didn’t say that. Could we just not have that conversation just now?” he growls low in his throat.

“Sir, if you…,” Qyburn means to say, but Jaime cuts him off harshly, “Be quick about it and put it away! I…”

Jaime whips his head around to see Brienne standing there with wide eyes, breathing hard, her sapphire blue eyes unnaturally shining from the pool water.

For a moment, he fears she’ll just burst out in tears, but then she sets her jaw and strides forward a few steps, “What the Seven Hells is this here?”

However, she doesn’t even wait for an answer once she sees the syringes, but turns around to stomp away. She fears that she might strangle all of them.

And what a scandal that would be…

“Brienne!” Jaime calls after he, struggling to get his body upright, gritting his teeth, but then turns around to Cersei and Qyburn, his face as dark as night itself.

That was one too many.

Before Qyburn can even comprehend, Jaime grabbed the case from his hands and tossed it into the pool. The man just looks as the case sinks to the bottom of the pool, his mouth standing wide open.

“Sorry, my hand slipped,” Jaime snarls, but then turns his attention to Cersei, who blinks at him. Jaime makes another step over to her, pointing his finger at her as he hisses, “You will never do that again, sister, or else I will make it my personal obligation to let everyone know what you seemingly like to take to shoot yourself to the moon, or whatever it is that you let him make for you. I will let that slip once. The next time, I will call police to see about this fucker here, and I will tell Father. And no, I’m not kidding. This is no empty threat. I will do that. So don’t give me a reason to follow through with it, because I will.”

He looks at his twin sister sternly, who is seemingly really caught off-guard by Jaime’s outburst.

“We had this before. You have to look better after yourself – because right now, I can’t focus on your problems as well. I have enough of my own. And I’m honestly done playing bodyguard for you, Seven Hells. The next time I see something like that, it’s over between us, trust me in this,” Jaime threatens, honestly not knowing what else to say to make her understand that this is definitely not the way.

“I gotta find Brienne. Thanks for nothing,” he huffs, pushing past Qyburn roughly.

“Jaime,” Cersei attempts to say, but her brother cuts her off before she gets a chance to, “Just let me go.”

He whirls around and walks away.

Cersei turns to Qyburn, crossing her arms over her chest, “Someone has to get that case out of the pool, and you can rest assured that it won’t be me.”

“Ma’am?”

“You either get a net really fast or you’ll have to go for a dive. So?”

Jaime jogs down the vast garden, trying his best to ignore his burning anger for his sister and her plus-one, feeling the pain in his limb slowly subsiding, trying to spot Brienne.

That is really the last thing they need in an already fractured, complicated, starting-to-mend relationship that they have at this point.

A surge of panic hits him once he is through the garden and still no sign of her, but then he hears high heels on pavement. One should never underestimate how fast Brienne can walk in these shoes if she wants to. Jaime speeds up a bit to make his way driveway.

“Brienne! Brie! Wait up, please!”

But of course she keeps walking, arms folded over her chest.

“Do you want to walk all the way back to the apartment, really?” Jaime tries with a grimace.

“If I have to,” she replies stubbornly.

Of course.

And Jaime knows she would.

“Brienne, please. I know what this looked like, but that wasn’t at all it,” Jaime tries. At that, Brienne turns around on the heel, looking at him grimly, “So it wasn’t that you were trying drugs from your sister and this ominous doctor? Interesting, because that is exactly what it looked like.”

“Cersei offered it, but I didn’t take it,” Jaime argues. “You know she sometimes gets those crazy ideas, it’s…”

“Just because you didn’t take it doesn’t mean you didn’t want it,” Brienne retorts harshly.

And she feels like a fool for believing that… that something had really changed.

“You know, I have been really patient, I think. I have taken all this crap because you’ve taken all this crap. I thought that we were finally on the right course again – and then it turns out that you now want to escape into drugs next? Really?!”

She thought he was done running away…

“No, you know that I even refuse strong medication at the hospital if I can help it. I don’t want to take substances. Brienne, you know me, c’mon,” Jaime argues.

She knows him. She is one of the few people who do.

“I know what this looked like, but I was just about to thrust his hand away when you showed up. I told them that I would get them into prison if I saw that one more time.”

“Why didn’t you go away?” Brienne demands.

“Because I could hardly stand thanks to the stupid phantom pains. I would have taken off at an instant, had my feet worked properly. I just wanted to calm down and get my pain in check, but then the two showed up and wriggled that shit around. I wouldn’t ever do that. You have to believe me,” Jaime insists. “You have to trust me.”

Brienne bites her lower lip. She knows that Jaime doesn’t say that easily. Not after all they have been through over the past few months.

“You have to trust me,” he repeats. “I know that I gave you many reasons before not to, but… but on this one, you can. I won’t ever do that. Ever.”

This is not about trusting him to hold her when the lights go out.

This is about trusting him that he is no longer the man who tried to drown himself in a bloody bathtub, who was done with all of this here, who was all about running away.

And if this is supposed to work, then she has to trust him this much, however much it may hurt.

“You have to trust me. You have to. You just have to.”

Brienne studies him for a long moment before her broad shoulders drop slightly, suddenly looking about as weary as he probably does.

“I just want to go home,” she sighs at last.

“I hope we can debate on letting the chauffeur take us. I don’t want to ruin those shoes. Those were expensive,” Jaime jokes uncertainly, wanting to resolve some of the tension lying in the cold night’s air.

“I don’t fancy more blisters either,” Brienne grimaces peaceably, nodding at her high heels.

Jaime steps over to her to grasp her hand and pulls her back to the residence. He smiles softly as he feels her squeezing his hand back.

Before, those gestures were normal things, natural, things that went unnoticed most of the time, but now they hold perhaps more power than they ever did.

“How is it with the pain now?” Brienne asks. “Are you alright?”

Jaime stops for a moment, blinks, then turns to her with a lopsided smile, “In fact, ever since chasing after you, it’s gone. You know what that means?”

“Physical exercise is a way to control phantom pains?” she makes a face. Jaime laughs out loud, but then turns to look at her again before he leans in to give her a chaste kiss, “No, it means you are. You make me forget my pain.”

His remedy.

Brienne blinks, a faint blush creeping up her pale, freckled cheeks, unconsciously tightening her grip on his hand. Jaime flashes a small, tired smile. It’s odd, really, that something as small as this compliment is (and however awkward it may seem to other people), grows to be so important these days. Because Jaime realizes again and again that he really has to try harder to make Brienne believe him again. While it’s clear that she was and is certain of his love for her, Jaime can’t blame her for struggling with accepting these words after he gave her just the opposite for so long.

In a way, he has to win her back. Or no, he knows she won’t leave him, she promised him, but he still has a lot of mending to do so that those things are maybe not less important, but more natural again. Because that is what they should be, between themselves.

They get the chauffeur to drive them home without bidding the rest of the family farewell, though Brienne sent Tyrion a text message to let him know. After all, he was their one support that night. The ride itself is silent, though neither one let go of the other’s hand ever since they linked.

“Home sweet home,” Jaime grunts once they are inside the apartment. “I feel just like after running a marathon.”

Whenever he comes back from the Lannister residence to their apartment, Jaime realises just how much he loves this place, and not just since it grew his cave after the ambush, but even before that day. Because it’s not clinical. It’s their place to be. They have personal clubber, pictures from photo booths Jaime always took great pleasure to force Brienne into, only to make grimaces and stupid faces. Favourite books lie around. The rooms smell of what was cooked in the morning, of Brienne’s shampoo, the washing powder they use for the pillows. There are no things you aren’t allowed to touch, no pricey possessions that are so valuable that they are surrounded by an invisible aura to keep you away, the way he’s known it growing up in the Lannister Residence. Look but don’t touch. Don’t ever get too close.

But not so here.

Here, they can get close.

This is their home. It’s their place. It’s them.

He can feel Brienne’s hand squeezing his once before she lets go, manoeuvring into the bedroom, “I need to change out of these clothes, and these shoes foremost.”

Jaime follows her wordlessly, also wanting to change out of these clothes. Brienne is really quick about it to step out of her dress and change into shorts and a tank top, just like Jaime can see from the corner of his eyes how her shoulders seem to ease once she is in comfortable wear again. Her shoulders seem even a bit broader then, as though she spread her wings.

She runs her fingers through her hair to shake out the stickiness from the tons of hairspray as she turns around to Jaime wordlessly, seeing him struggling with the button-up shirt.

“They should make decent-looking ones with zippers,” he huffs as she works on the small buttons, a soft smile tugging at her broad lips.

“Hm, maybe a new marketing idea?” she replies.

“Fashion is not my cup of tea, I fear,” he huffs. “I mean, I like wearing it, but I don’t want to produce it. Though that may make Father happier than my recent choices when it comes to my profession.”

“But it is your decision. You are an adult. You can make your own decisions,” she argues.

That is something she has to accept as well, or so she reckons. He has to make his own choices, not just on the job, but this night also showed her that he has to make the right choices, and that she can’t make them for him.

“Well, I’m an adult who also lives on the family’s wealthy’s expenses,” he chuckles softly.

“Even if he cut your money supply, it wouldn’t change anything,” Brienne argues, now looking at him, her fingers still holding on to the shirt. “You know that I never wanted or needed riches.”

“No, I know,” he grins. “But it might be that we’d have to make some arrangements, then.”

“Then so we will. I actually liked Tyrion’s idea a lot,” Brienne says before going on to work on the buttons.

“Yeah, the little man should have brought it up sooner,” Jaime grins. “But maybe that might be just the right amount of defiance mixed with actual purpose. But if that happens, you’d obviously have to… lend me a hand?”

“Seriously?” she huffs at his pun, though she is honestly glad for it that this comes out with the bitterness that was omnipresent all the while before whenever he made a statement about missing a hand.

Jaime winks at her, “What? You know how to run such a thing, or at least something similar. And I’d need a few able men and women to help me launch such a project.”

“Which is to say that I’m supposed to do all the hard work and you’ll sit back and claim it yours?” Brienne huffs.

“You finally grasped the overall concept,” he chuckles. Brienne finishes the last button as she says in a softer voice, “Whatever you want to do in that direction, you know that I’ll support you, right?”

“Yeah, I know, even if I sometimes don’t know how you do it,” he says, nudging the shirt off, glad that he wears a white undershirt underneath, so he won’t have to bother about that now, too.

“Magic,” she snorts. “Though I’m still mad at you. You should’ve let me come with you. Then this wouldn’t have happened.”

“Yeah, yeah, I see it now, too. And I should’ve walked away the first moment I came face-to-face with her, but… well, we can’t change it anymore. I’m sorry that I gave you that scare, but I won’t ever do that. And the next time I catch Cersei pulling something like this, it will have consequences, I assure you,” Jaime says.

“Alright,” she replies, daring to trust his words. “We should have an eye on her, then. Or else she’ll land herself in big trouble.”

“Seriously?” he grimaces. Just like Cersei is not fond of Brienne, Brienne’s not fond of her either.

“She’s your sister. She’s family,” Brienne replies simply.

She may not like Cersei, but she accepts her because she is part of Jaime’s family. And the way Brienne understands family, it means that you take responsibility for each other. Since Cersei belongs to Jaime’s family and Jaime belongs to her family, that means she also has responsibility for Cersei – at least that is the way she understands it. Even if Cersei Lannister proves to be a difficult case because she doesn’t let anyone close, especially Brienne.

“She’s a goddamn adult, well, she should be,” he exhales. “She’s the oldest, for Gods’ sake.”

“Only by a few minutes,” Brienne reminds him. “Some people just need… more help than others, I suppose.”

“She can be a tough, absolutely professional businesswoman one day, and the next she is just a walking disaster,” Jaime exhales.

“Ever the more a reason to make sure this doesn’t escalate. You said she doesn’t seem to be too… much into this yet. So if you keep having an eye on her and we get some information on that Qyburn person, we might prevent further harm before it escalates into a total disaster,” Brienne argues. “I’ll see about that man. I’m sure I can get some information, and even if not, Tyrion’s always a good address for these matters.”

“Right,” he exhales. “The dear family… you hate them most of the time, but you can’t escape them.”

“That’s the way it goes,” Brienne shrugs.

“You really have a kind of magic,” he grins, cupping her chin with his left hand to tilt her head up to his face to kiss her. Brienne smiles against his lips softly, savouring the intimacy of the moment, the memories of the fear she had deep in her chest when she saw the scene by the pool bleeding out of her as the warmth of his body presses against her.

Though Brienne has a vague idea where that “magic” comes from.

She wouldn’t ever put up with all that if it wasn’t for Jaime.

So the answer is just as easy: It’s him.

“I vote for not leaving the apartment at all tomorrow,” Jaime chuckles.

“I can agree to that,” Brienne smiles softly.

A holiday at home after a family dinner at the Lannister residence is always a good medication to help some of that pain.

Both allow themselves to sink down on the mattress, holding each other close, holding each other’s hand.

Serving as each other’s remedy.