Brienne sighs as she glances up at the wooden sign above her head that she supposes is meant to point her personal version of the Seven Hells.
King’s Landing’s Winter Wonderland
Just who in the Seven Hells had come to that idea? A business trip to a Christmas fair, with everyone from Lannister Corp., safe for Tywin Lannister, CEO of the company, who’d likely rather die than attend such a get-together, though Brienne understands the man in that regard more than well – and secretly envies him for getting the easy way out of the ordeal she knows she will have to suffer through no matter what.
Wherever she looks, she sees artificial snow, stands made look antique with almost comic-like architectures and from the looks of it, made of press board instead of actual, solid wood, people hired to run around in elf costumes with hooped socks and obviously fake pointy ears, some Christmas song blaring over a loudspeaker not very well hidden in a large fir tree, red, green, and white lights dancing along the electric cords stretching high above one’s head, and the smell of eggnog, scented candles, plastic-wrapped cookies, and artificial pine odor lie in the air.
What a Merry Christmas that is…
And now she is in the middle of this absurdity, the night before Christmas, and there is no way out of this mess. She has to come along because it’s a business trip, and she couldn’t find a passable excuse not to be there. And so here Brienne is, feeling like she is back in high school.
Needless to mention that she hated high school.
Because, apparently, life is just a large version of high school. The “cool kids” hang around and get drunk on eggnog or buttered rum with cinnamon flavor, laughing as they hog around the burning barrels with chapped Christmas décor painted on the sides, while those “unworthy” will awkwardly either get together with people they barely know to escape the pain of being alone in this ordeal, or venture around the small market to feign interest in the clubber set out on the stands claimed to be local and hand-made, when a glance to the back will most certainly confirm that this was apparently Made in Meereen.
Suffice to say that Brienne rather walks around this Merry Purgatory on her own. If possible, she will always give those “cool kids” a wide, very wide berth. She knows at least some of them to be certain that she wants nothing to do with them.
“Is there anything you like, ma’am?” the young girl behind the counter asks, flashing a fake if gentle smile. Brienne looks up, twisting one rather and surprisingly beautifully crafted woodcarvings in her hand, a medallion with a carved tree and a falling star, a small, if likely fake, blue gemstone sitting at the top, remining her of the blue of Tarth’s waters, earning it its byname of the Sapphire Isle.
She puts it down again – because Brienne never buys such things for herself. She never wears jewelry in the first place. Her Septa told her often enough how ridiculous she looks if she tries to look too girlish. Brienne snaps her attention back to another woodcarving in the men’s section, not wanting to think back to those “lessons”.
“Do you do personal engravings, too?” Brienne asks.
“Yes, ma’am. If you want this to be engraved, you can just put down your message here and my colleague will add it in the back. It’d only take a few minutes.”
“Alright, then I will take this one, thank you,” Brienne says, handing the woman the oval-shaped amulet of her choosing, with engraved waves and a banner that looks surprisingly much like Tarth’s, getting a notepad and pen in exchange. Brienne leans down to put down the message, doing her best to write as clearly as possible so that the colleague doesn’t change “love” to “dove” or “Father” to “Flutter”. She had that a few times already.
Once Brienne is satisfied with the result, she hands the pad back over to the brunet girl. “I hope that’s readable?”
“Oh yes, that should work. I will be right back.”
“Late Christmas shopping?” a male voice rings out to her left. Brienne whirls around to see Jaime Lannister standing next to her, casually leaning on the counter with his forearms, looking way too good in bordeaux woolen coat and a beanie where the front hairs stand up in all kinds of directions, but still in all the right ways.
Tywin Lannister’s oldest son, likely to inherit his position once the head of the Lannister clan is to retire as CEO.
And apparently, a pain in the ass.
At least to Brienne.
That man makes a sport of it to tease her, calling her “wench” all the while, enjoying her squirming, her scolding, her blushing when he found yet another weak spot to assault without abandon.
But also a good worker who isn’t just there because his daddy owns the firm. While that surely made things easier for him to get a position, Jaime works very hard and has apparently pretty high standards that others often mistake with arrogance or being bossy, when in fact he only demands from others what he demands from himself.
“I just found it’d be a nice extra to add to the one I have,” Brienne replies stiffly, not even daring to look at him. Somehow, seeing him outside the workplace is ever the more awkward than interacting with him while within.
She had that experience once while in the parking lot, back during summer.
She was just about to drive off with her motorcycle when she saw Jaime throwing a tantrum in front of his car as it made sounds as though it was gurgling. At first Brienne just wanted to ride off, reckoning that Jaime would have a mechanic at his disposal within mere minutes, but then found herself walking over anyway, out of politeness already.
“Everything alright here?”
“Apparently not. You know, I used to have an older model without the technical toys and it worked without issue for years. Now I got this new, fancy car and it’s driving me insane because something is always broken, has technical difficulties, or just wants to make me mad! I am apparently a regular at my mechanic’s.”
“Well, the car salesman who recommended you the King Robert’s Hammer is a jackass. That one may look fancy from the outside, but the inside is pretty much… crap,” Brienne replied, wrinkling her nose. “If you want a solid but still rather fancy car, you should consider a Lionstar. Very endurable those ones. They come with less extras, but still enough to have some over-the-top technical accessory to show around, but a better engine and even better exhaust values. Needless to mention that this one, to my knowledge, doesn't sound like throwing up… as does this one right at this moment.”
“Lionstar? Why didn’t I think of that sooner? The name’s too fitting for a Lannister…,” he chuckled, but then frowned at her, his lips curling into a small smile. “You know a lot about that.”
“Not really. I just read up on those things before purchasing a car in advance so the salesman doesn’t get to cheat on me so easily. I am more into motorcycles.”
“So, does that mean you are one of those hobby mechanics running around in blue overall with oil stains all over?” he asked, and that was the first time she heard a shift in his voice, because it was joking, but not in a mean way. His voice was soft and… apparently interested in what she had to say.
A complete novelty.
“I only do if I have to. Normally, I rather give it to a mechanic.”
“Well, unless you know a magic trick to un-gurgle this thing, I either call the mechanic for the umpteenth time to get the car and fix it, or I just follow through with your suggestion and get myself a new one right now. I reckon that’d save me some trouble in the future.”
“I can have a look at it,” she found herself suggesting before she could even think. And yet again, his surprised smile was anything but what it was so long they were inside the building.
The fact that she felt heat in her cheeks not coming from the hot summer air proved her point. This was new, anything but what it was while they were at work.
“If you fix it, I will be forever indebted to you.”
Brienne got off her motorcycle, then, leaving the helmet dangling over one of the grips to take a look at the engine, leaning over the machinery to get a first impression, grimacing at the hot air pressing against the flat of her taut stomach once some creeped underneath her shirt to the exposed skin there.
“So? Any chance for this fellow or do I have to give him the gift of mercy?” Jaime asked.
“I’d recommend you give it the gift of mercy, but…,” Brienne said, leaning further down to get to the part in question, her fingers dancing over the dirty, dusty parts as she tried to figure out what to do. “Try to start the engine another time.”
Jaime promptly did and the car stopped gurgling to roar instead.
“Always the electronic ignition switches with this one,” Brienne said, shaking her head as she closed the hood again.
“You are my savior today, wench!” Jaime called out happily as he exited, and that was the first time Brienne felt like he didn’t mean it as an insult.
“No problem,” she replied, rubbing her dirty hands. “I’d still see a mechanic about this soon, or just get a new car, though. I reckon money won’t be the problem.”
“That is apparently one of those luxuries I come to enjoy, yeah,” he agrees.
“In any case, you should be able to drive home now.”
“For which I owe you my thanks.”
“Wait, here,” he said, handing her a towel from his sports bag, she supposed. “For the hands.”
“It’s alright, you don’t have to soil the towel for it,” Brienne argued. “With the fancy golden, embroidered initials.”
“I have a whole bunch of these,” Jaime chuckled. “You can keep that one. The least I can do to pay back for the trouble.”
“Oh, ugh… I didn’t… I should be on my way,” Brienne stuttered, rubbing her hands on the towel absently.
“As should I be. Then I guess we’ll see each other tomorrow, for the project.”
“Thanks another time, Brienne,” he said before getting into the car as Brienne got back on her motorcycle and drove away quickly. Two days later, Jaime drove into the parking lot with a brand-new Lionstar, sporting the biggest of smiles once he saw Brienne’s eyes on the vehicle, winking at her.
Back in the parking lot when she fixed the car, that was the first time Brienne heard him call her by her first name, and for some reason, it’d given her goosebumps back then. But that was the one time she realized that Jaime out of work seemed to be a whole lot different from inside work, and for reasons beyond her, it still made her uncomfortable. Because she is so used to being exposed to work-Jaime that she can’t even fathom him to be any other way but this snarky bastard.
“Then you are one step further with your Christmas shopping than I,” Brienne heard Jaime’s voice echoing in her brain, coaxing her away from the images of the parking lot back to the reality of Christmas Hell powered by the King’s Landing Club for Maintaining Regional Traditions… or so.
Normally, Brienne simply would abort mission at this point and go for the next stand to escape conversation with the handsome but arrogant Lannister son, but she just ordered the engraving and still has to pay for it, so… she is stuck. With Jaime Lannister.
And the way Brienne guesses, he is well aware of just that circumstance, as casually as he leans against the stand, his back to the items to display, elbows resting on the green felt topping upon which the woodcarvings lie.
“Aren’t you going to ask me how many I am still missing?” he goes on when she doesn't reply.
“It’s not my business how many Christmas presents you already have or still have to get, Mr. Lannister,” Brienne replies stiffly. His green eyes shift to her at once, sharp, piercing, but with a twinkle in them.
“Jaime, just Jaime. I thought that after working together for such a long time, we’d finally be on first-name basis?
Does “wench” count as first-name basis according to him? she wonders.
“Jaime, then,” Brienne says after a long moment, to which the man with golden mane hidden beneath a beanie does nothing much but chuckle softly.
Just how long does that engraving take?
“I like the way you say my name,” he says with a grin Brienne fails to read, though she supposes it to be some sort of dirty joke she just doesn’t get because she doesn’t care about those kinds of japes. She’s had enough back during high school.
“In any case – since you seem eager to share that information: How many presents you are still missing?” Brienne then asks, hoping that this will keep him occupied long enough so she can pay and make a run for it, right past the plastic Santa singing “Ho-ho-ho” and turning his head in a fashion that reminds Brienne more of one of those horror movies where the dolls and puppets come to life and kill the characters off, against all rules of physics or logic.
“Two out of three, as for big ones. The others just get the usual random shit you give to distant relatives. Coupons for spas, fancy boxes of chocolates and Dornish plums, and something colorful and noisy for the kids, just to annoy the parents.”
“Well, only two missing is… not the almost bad.”
“You wouldn’t know how wrong that statement is with regards to my case,” he huffs with a grin.
“Because I happen to be born into a family of riches, which has its merits, of course, but also its downsides. For instance, it’s incredibly hard to find gifts for people who can buy themselves whatever the hell they want. That makes the whole business of Christmas gifts a whole lot more pointless than it is anyway. Couple that with having to come up with presents for someone who enjoys… nothing but his own family empire and the fact that there is money and power for him to hold, and a know-it-all little brother who you can always give a bottle of wine to, but that being about as personal as those Office Secret Santa presents you buy one day before deadline.”
Brienne can’t help the small chuckle at that.
“What now? Are you laughing at my luxury problems? How dare you?” he jokes.
“No, that is… I am aware of that circumstance. I actually get that… as a Tarth. It’s just that I am surprised that you…”
“Love to hate that whole Christmas fuss? Yeah, one should think that a family as hellbent on tradition as mine would have more Christmas Spirit to toss into the genetic pool, but not with this one,” he says, pointing at himself.
“… Then why are you even here?” Brienne can’t help but ask. “I mean… you are in a position where you can… just do however you please. Your father owns the company.”
“I am aware, but the funny thing is that this forces me into actions more often than it’d do the normal employee. Father has these things organized to keep up the team spirit. While he gives less than a rat’s shit on it, he knows that this leads to better results. A strong team is a good team. It’s math, plain and simple. At the same time, it’d leave a bad impression if none of the Lannister clan showed up to at least transmit the feeling that the upper tier apparently gives a damn on this thing and therefore on the team. Therefore, the likes of me will be required to show up if Father says so.”
Brienne frowns. She never thought about it like that, upon reflection.
“And normally, I get around it because my brother enjoys eggnog and the general range of alcoholic beverages you are served here, but…”
“Short version or long version?”
“Moderate version?” she suggests.
“The moderate version: This year, neither one of us wanted to go. He said he had other plans. So, we followed through with our old game. Drawing lots. We have a very… specific system since childhood actually. Normally, I always end up winning because… I cheat. The thing is that I didn’t realize that my brother saw through it before, so he let me believe that I was going to win when in fact he tricked me… and now I am here, watching Frosty the Snowman sweating in that ridiculous costumes… I mean, look at that poor guy!” Jaime says, pointing at the man walking them by in this ridiculously big snowman costume, probably praying for the ordeal to be over before he dies of a heatstroke – and that during winter.
“Well, maybe you can use the opportunity to do some Christmas shopping?”
“As though I was going to find something usable between Made in Meereen and Made in Yunkai – for someone the likes of Tywin Lannister.”
Brienne opens her mouth in reply, but that is when the brunet resurfaces with the amulet in hand.
“Sorry it took a bit longer, but our machine was giving us a bit of a trouble.”
“Oh, no problem, thank you.”
“Is everything according to your wishes, ma’am?” she asks.
Brienne inspects the engraving on the back another time. “It’s perfect, thank you.”
“Shall I wrap it for you? That’d be another two groats extra, though?”
“Yeah, uhm, if you were so kind. I am not really good at this.”
“Alright. I will be right back.”
Brienne frowns as the girl whooshes off again. Apparently, everything seems to be in the back of that thing.
“Where were we?” Jaime asks, snapping her attention back to him at once. “I think you were about to tell me about what fine thing here to find to gift to great Tywin Lannister, the man who has no hobbies or personal interests.”
“Did you ever consider a wax seal kit with your family emblem?”
Jaime looks at her as though she just said the most outrageous thing on Planetos.
“I mean… sorry, I shouldn’t have…”
“No, no, wait, wait. I like that idea. A lot,” he argues hurriedly.
“You do? Well, my father loved it, that’s what I can say for certain. He enjoys those old-fashioned things that remind of the earlier times. He is so very proud of the Tarth ancestry. So, anything relating to House Tarth gets him really excited.”
“It appears that our Fathers think alike, then,” Jaime chuckles. “The Lannister Empire is one of history. That idea is really good, actually. Thank you. I will see about that. I reckon some phone calls should make it happen even within a short amount of time.”
“Well, if I had one now, I’d raise my glass to the luxuries your name comes with, then,” Brienne replies, waving with her gloved hand.
“Well, we can get ourselves a drink once you got your present wrapped?” he suggests. Brienne can’t help but frown again.
Is he just being polite?
Does he want to repay her for the present suggestion? Or does he seriously want to stand her a drink because he wants to go on talking – with her?
Why does this man have to act differently from the businessman she knows from the office? That one Brienne knows how to ignore, but the man in front of her? She doesn’t know how to ignore him.
“… Under one condition, though,” Brienne finds herself say.
“Which would be?” he asks, cocking an eyebrow at her.
“We have to take a stand where there isn’t a mob of our own team.”
“My, my, is it that you don’t get along with them, wench?”
“I can work with them. That doesn’t mean I have to sing songs out of tune over some eggnog as they try to hit on each other. No thanks.”
“Oh, true, Tyrion always says that those trips to the Christmas Market are a Snog and Grope Market once all had enough grog, eggnog, and mulled wine.”
“You have no idea,” Brienne huffs. “There are some things I still want to unsee.”
“Like what?” he asks, the grin spreading across his lips like that of the Cheshire Cat.
“No way in the Seven Hells will I tell you that,” Brienne argues, shaking her head.
“Why would I?”
“C’mon, one thing. This is a lot more interesting than office gossip!” he insists.
“Wench, you can’t just tease me like that and then leave me hanging here, I am…”
“Done! Here is your present!”
“Thank you so much,” Brienne says in an overtly loud voice, much to Jaime’s disappointment and silent-not-so-silent protest as he keeps muttering to himself. She gives the girl a nice tip for the now green-white striped present with red bow on top. It looks passable enough. Into a brown paper bag with a Christmas tree it goes.
“Have a nice evening, you two!” the brunet calls out as Brienne starts to walk away, only to have Jaime on her heels.
“So now, about what you want to unsee…,” he goes on.
That guy apparently wants to keep talking to her. Brienne blinks twice, thrice.
“I already said that I will not share personal information of one my colleagues with…,” Brienne means to say, but Jaime interrupts her. “I am not your boss.”
“You are higher in the ranking than me, and likely will be my boss one day,” she corrects him.
“Nah, I reckon spite and arrogance will contain my Father’s body for a good hundred years until I have the honor. You can just as well consider me a colleague all the same. I thought we actually agreed on that, as much as you fight me.”
“Fight you? You fight me,” Brienne insists.
“I tease, you fight back as though the War of the Five Kings flared up anew,” he tells her. “Which is all sorts of hilarious and endearing.”
That is most definitely a term Brienne never heard in relation to herself.
“Well, in case it has not occurred to you, not always does what you say come across as teasing alone,” Brienne finds herself say before she can even think it through. “… I… shouldn’t have said that.”
“I already said, we are here unofficially, as private people. So, we can speak openly all the same. Seven Hells, if I get to tell you about cheating my younger brother, you can tell me… something I will have to elaborate on a bit more.”
Brienne grimaces at him.
“So, what do you mean by that, Brienne?” he asks again. The way he says her name all of a sudden makes the fine hairs in her neck stand upright, rubbing against the wool of her scarf.
“Well… unofficially, privately… you seem to think that this is all teasing, but you make a pattern of it to argue and tease only me, daily, to provoke me to anger all the while. So, to me the question I ask myself at this moment is why, by the Seven, you bother to talk to a woman you apparently don’t like to be around with at all?”
“Who’s ever said that I don’t like being around you?” He makes a face.
“Wench, you are annoying. Wench, just leave me the Seven Hells alone. Wench, has anyone ever told you that you are as boring as you are ugly? Wench, knock off the frowning, that makes you even uglier. Wench…,” Brienne rambles, imitating his voice slightly, feeling heat rise to her cheeks, which seem to burn against the cold outside.
She snaps her eyes to him, waiting for either a snarky reply, or for him to huff at her and be on his way again, but to her surprise, no shock is the more accurate description, he stands still, his eyes seeming unnaturally large, his expression one of… surprise… shock… as well?
Brienne tilts her head to the side ever so slightly.
He is mulling the information over!
Another few moments pass between them, until he slowly starts to nod his head.
“I always thought it was clear that I was just out for friendly banter,” he says, his voice… apologetic.
Jaime Lannister – apologetic.
Brienne knows she had nothing alcoholic tonight, but it feels like she had one too many eggnogs already.
“It… doesn't always come across that way.”
“I really have to work on my people-skills,” Jaime concludes. “So, uhm, to clarify that… misunderstanding: I tease people I enjoy talking to. That is how I talk to anyone whom I… know a bit better, on a personal level, or family. I don’t talk to most other employees that way because I don’t know them, have no intention of getting to know them, and therefore showing them the smooth Lannister talk is enough. But with you… bantering with you is just too much fun. I thought that was clear. I apologize if… that made you feel bad about yourself. You see, a bad mouth is something Lannisters are born with. Rarely do we realize if we are across the line.”
Brienne can do nothing but stare at him at this point.
He means that.
How did that happen?
How is any of this happening?
“It’s nothing, it’s just…”
“Well, it’s not nothing if you think that I hate you, because that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
“O… kay,” she replies slowly.
“Well, that really means I owe you a drink now,” Jaime snorts, offering a warm smile. Brienne almost wants to jump when she feels his hand pressing against her shoulder to make her move forward, but her body simply moves along.
This truly is a Christmas Business Trip right to the Seven Hells.
Eventually, Brienne finds herself standing by a wooden bar table outside one of the stands, waiting for Jaime to come back with something to drink.
She is about to have a drink with Jaime Lannister.
Brienne glances up into the dark sky. If the Seven show up in the sky, she knows the apocalypse is near. This is simply a thing of impossibility. Yet, here she stands, rubbing her gloved hands against the cold, next to a rather robust guy with a ridiculous Christmas-Tree-hat with lights and music, trying to make what Brienne assumes is his son in the buggy, pulled back and forth by a petite woman with brown hair and eyes, laugh at the funny hat.
“Little Sam doesn’t like that hat, I think.”
“I read in a book on parenting that…”
Brienne shakes her head as she lets her glance wander about this place another time. The artificiality of it makes her shudder, and not just from the cold.
While it shouldn’t be so, the fact that Jaime seems to be against Christmas as much as she makes her feel a bit better about herself hating that whole fuss.
And as if on cue, Jaime waltzes his way past the people wanting to get something to drink as well, over to her, with two mugs in hand.
“There you go. Mead, like back in the old days,” Jaime chuckles. “I quite like that.”
Brienne takes the mug from him gratefully, enclosing it with both her palms to feel the heat seeping through her gloves right to her skin.
“Well, then I’d say… cheers to yet another year of feeding the present and Christmas decoration industry with our money?” he suggests.
“Cheers,” Brienne snorts, clinking her mug against his before taking a sip. The mead is actually quite decent.
“Not the almost bad,” Jaime comments. “Though I guess anything warm against the cold tastes heavenly now.”
Jaime leans on the bar table a bit more to draw closer to her. Brienne feels the urge to coil back, but then stays put.
“So now, the things you want to unsee…”
He throws his head back before focusing his intense gaze back on her. “Why not? C’mon, I have to suffer through this alongside you, the least you could do is grant me the pleasure of sniggering at those little pests for another good reason that they don’t know that I know.”
“They are no pests.”
“Oh really? Which is why you want to stay the hell away from them?” he huffs.
Brienne narrows her eyes at him. “You won’t shut up about it until I give you something, huh?”
“You know me too well, wench.”
Brienne licks her lips before taking another swig of the mead. “But this stays between us two.”
“Of course. If there is one thing I am good at, then it is keeping secrets. That, and good looks. I am really good at looking good, not meaning to sound arrogant, it’s just a plain matter of fact.”
Brienne tilts her head to the side with a huff. “Are you done yet musing about yourself, or do you need a mirror and some time alone with yourself?”
“If that means you tell me, then yes, totally done!” Jaime says with a way too charming smile.
“… Fine, so last year, we went to the Christmas Market in Rosby, Gods know why. That meant apparently a bus trip for us all the way to Rosby. Which is not a good thing once you have to ride back with a bunch of drunken employees, you might be able to imagine.”
“Obviously. I reckon the smell’s also… not good.”
“Unless you like to ride in a distillery.”
“My brother had the time of his life, then,” Jaime chuckles.
“I suppose. He seemed pretty happy for all I remember,” Brienne says, rolling her broad shoulders.
“But it’s not about my brother, is it?” He makes a face.
“If it were, wouldn’t you want to know anymore?” Brienne questions.
“Apparently. I know my brother has sex, lots of sex, but I don’t want all the details. I’ve had to play wingman for that guy often enough,” Jaime replies.
“It’s not about your brother.”
“Thank the Seven!”
“So anyway, most of the colleagues spent… every minute in Rosby getting drunk.”
“I wanted to buy some cookies and pastries, as a last-minute present. So, when I came back to the group some time later that evening, once I was done… Well, how to describe this…? Alright, so I helped myself to some eggnog, wandered around a bit, enjoying the artificiality if the fake snow and houses, until I came to the back of the faux house. Only to see Lysa Tully having her fun time with one of the employees of the stand, some ginger I thought could well have been a Wildling if he was born back in the day.”
“Well, that’s scandalous for sure, but not too scarring for life, is it?” Jaime huffs.
“You’d have no idea. They just kept pouring eggnog over each other to suck it off, while still halfway clothed, and you can imagine what a sticky mess she was once we got back to the bus. If I heard correctly, she asked him to milk her. And the only question I could ask myself was if the guy… continued to serve… that certain eggnog, you understand? From that barrel they used… for pleasure.”
Jaime makes a face, but then can’t help laughing out loud. “You tossed that mug of eggnog away, didn’t you?”
“Halfway across the market,” Brienne confirms, nodding erratically. “Look, I don’t care for what they do in their homes, but there were children there. C’mon.”
“Yeah, I agree. I mean, snogging is fine, but that’s… eggsnogging seems a bit over the top.”
“Gladly, we never went to Rosby again. I guess Lysa is still heartbroken because of that. Also, that same night, we got back to the bus, only to have employees fucking each other so that the whole damn thing juggled back and forth.”
“You are kidding me, right? Who?” Jaime snickers.
“You asked for what I wanted to unsee, not for that part.”
“Oh, c’mon! Who now?”
Brienne takes another sip of her mead.
“I need details now!” he begs.
“You don’t want the details, trust me.”
“Oh, trust me, I want all the dirty little details. That is better than TV – or this apparent poor excuse of a fair meant to celebrate Christmas,” Jaime argues, gesturing around.
“The fact that you want the details doesn’t mean you will get them,” Brienne replies.
“Do I have to tease it out of you?” he asks, cocking an eyebrow at her.
“You can try, but will fail.”
“Is that a challenge?” He grins.
“Pity, I love a challenge.”
Jaime opens his mouth to say something, but is interrupted by a group of singers in red costumes with fake white fur applications approaching, singing Christmas Carols.
Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way.
Oh! What fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.
“You seriously have to tell me that story now, wench,” Jaime keeps going anyway.
“I can’t hear you,” Brienne calls out loudly, though both know it a lie at once.
“You have to tell me the bit of who was in that bus and what else happened there.”
“C’mon, you don’t want me begging, do you?”
“I don’t care. I already said too much.”
Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way.
Oh! What fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.
“You know, my brother and I always changed the lyrics of that song?” he says.
“To what?” Brienne makes a face.
“Not child-appropriate terms?”
“Seriously?” She knits her eyebrows.
“We were either drunk or children, so yeah, seriously. Also, bobtail ring and Bob’s cock ring are just too close.”
“No, they are not.”
What fun it is to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight!
“What fun it is to ride and slide with a horny maid tonight.”
A day or two ago
I thought I'd take a ride
And soon, Miss Fanny Bright
Was seated by my side,
The horse was lean and lank
“And soon, Miss Lady Knight was seated in my lap, the cock was lean and…,” Jaime goes on, but Brienne cuts him off harshly. “I will stop you right there.”
“Only if you tell me about that bus incident,” he argues with a smug grin on his lips.
“I can also tell you the renewed chorus, you know, with jingling bells, this is almost too easy.”
“Hyle. Asha. Xaro Xhoan Doxas,” Brienne says in a flat voice.
“A threesome? That’s the whole issue?”
“No, the guys thought it’d be a threesome. Asha played them both… so they, you know, kissed… and some more… while she watched. A challenge or so. She actually took pictures and laughed her ass off once we came to the bus and caught them in the act. Small wonder Xaro requested to be sent back to Qarth the very next day.”
“That’s why he left? How do I not know this?” Jaime gapes.
“Because that is information one doesn’t share with someone working above you.”
“But that is fun!”
“It was no fun riding back in that same bus,” Brienne huffs, shuddering as the images of Rosby’s Christmas Hell come back to her mind.
Those images won’t ever leave her in a lifetime again.
“Talk about the smells,” Jaime huffs, making a face.
“Talk about the smells,” she agrees.
Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
“For that you don’t like them, you are still rather loyal.”
“And isn’t it that I just broke my oaths by telling you?”
“Nah, as I said, I won’t share that information. It’s both traumatizing and precious.”
“You have no idea.”
“I guess having the visuals is worse,” Jaime says with a pang of sympathy.
“By far,” Brienne huffs.
“Cheers to that?” Jaime suggests, taking up his mug of mead. Brienne clinks her mug against his before downing the last bit of sweet honey wine, enjoying the rather pleasant hum inside her head.
“Though I can’t help but wonder,” he goes on. She looks at him. “Yes?”
“I thought you’d be one of those Christmas enthusiasts. You know, you seem to be a woman of the old values, or so I understood.”
“That is… true, I suppose,” she replies slowly.
“Well, so where did you leave your Christmas spirit, other than at Rosby?”
“No, I mean back home, on Tarth,” she explains.
“Ahhh, holiday blues, then.”
“What? Aren’t you going to visit? I thought you do that every year,” Jaime argues. He heard about that often enough around the office.
“I normally do, but not this year.”
“How comes?” he asks.
“My Father won’t be on Tarth this Christmas. He is visiting distant family at Dragonstone. He is very eager about our apparent Targaryen heritage dating far, far back. So that’s what made him come up with the idea.”
“And why don't you go to Drgaonstone?”
“Because I hate family get-togethers with people I don’t even know, because to me, Christmas is linked to Tarth, not Dragonstone, and because… doesn’t matter.” She shakes her head.
This is getting way too personal already anyway.
Damn that mead, loosening up her tongue like that.
“As to family dinners, I can totally relate. Those are nothing but empty and forced.”
“Had he invited them to Tarth, no bother, but for me… Tarth is… it’s the place, you see. But being there on my own is not the same either. I told him that I will come later on, for New Year’s Eve the latest. We arranged it like that…,” she explains, her voice growing soft towards the end, and Jaime adds, “Just that you are not happy about that.”
“I am happy so long he is happy. And he is.”
“I reckon he ain’t because you aren’t there,” he argues.
“This is not the first Christmas we spend apart.”
“Is it that you and him had a fight?”
“No fight, really. Just a disagreement. He was not pleased that I didn’t agree to reschedule to Dragonstone, after the idea came to his mind all of a sudden, like… a few days ago. You see, had he asked me earlier, then things may be different, but like this… I was looking forward to Christmas on Tarth, not Dragonstone. And it might be selfish of me, but that made me shut down to the whole idea.”
“Oh, so you had actually planned to go there only for him to say, ‘hey, how about meeting random people at Dragonstone?’ Yeah. I do get that this… may have been a bit of a rush,” Jaime argues. And Brienne is not just surprised that he seems to understand her situation – but that he even bothers about it.
“You do?” She can’t help but frown. “I feel stupid for it, to tell the truth. It probably is stupid, but it can’t be helped now. There’s going to be another Christmas next year, so that I can plan ahead to make sure that I am with my father there on that very day.”
“That sounds more like it. So, one throwaway-Christmas for the Maid of Tarth.”
“Not that name again,” Brienne growls.
She knows she is not pretty to look at, but she apparently had relationships, but for some reason, rumor kept spreading around the office that she was still a virgin, developing that stupid nickname on tops of everything. While Maid is not the same as maiden, she knows, the implication was clear, especially once some certain guys started a bet on who’d be the one to “make her a true woman”, that is, to fuck her real hard for the very first time, wherever that logic comes from.
Yeah, Hyle Hunt got himself not just a bloody nose once she found out…
“I like medieval sounding nicknames,” Jaime says with a shrug.
“Such as wench?” she snorts dismissively.
“Why yes!” he argues, his face beaming up as though it was the nicest of pet names.
Brienne rolls her eyes. That guy is… she doesn’t know what that guy actually is, other than good-looking and too good company to be true, despite the ongoing teasing.
She finds herself interrupted by a girlish shriek as the bee hive seems to strike and very drunk, very red-cheeked, very smiling seem to appear out of nowhere and hover around Jaime as though he was a pot of honey, mead in his belly likely not being the reason for it, though.
“Ladies, what can I do for you?” Jaime asks in an easy voice.
Sometimes Brienne finds herself pathetically envying him for that. This way he has with going about people. He just always seems to fit in. He can talk to the guys of her department as though he worked with them daily. He can make the young women new to the office cross their legs as they stare at this Golden Man, he can make the toughest secretaries turn kittens once he leans over the counter to make them a compliment. Wherever he goes, he seems to have a place.
But Brienne? She never feels like fitting in, other than Tarth perhaps, and within the comfort of her own home. But that’s about it. In the office, she is glad to have her little cubicle, and some people she is on friendly-enough terms with so that she doesn’t have to sit alone during lunch. She is always that one thing that doesn’t belong, as though she was a puzzle piece from another puzzle.
But Jaime? Jaime is the final masterpiece to any puzzle out there, a uniform key to all locks to make them open wide.
And the pathetic part within her never wanting to come to light envies him for it. For not having that sort of trouble. For seeming almost weightless when Brienne feels nothing but clumsy from the weight wearing her down, the insecurity, the knowledge that this is just not her world.
Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!
Brienne cocks an eyebrow once Ami starts to stroke her leather-gloved hand over Jaime’s chest, though it’s little wonder coming from that woman, considering her nickname Gatehouse Ami, which she does seem to have for a more or less good reason. The other woman, Irri, took Jaime’s arm to wrap around her delicate shoulders, beaming at him brightly, and Lollys giggling like a young girl as she stares at the handsome man in front of her.
“So, Mr. Lannister.”
“Yes, Ami?” he mimics her tone.
“We were thinking…,” she goes on, though Jaime interrupts her in a soft, teasing tone, “Will you just draw out every word you speak? Just so that I know?”
“Oh, no, no. I am just teasing you,” Ami giggles. “It’s just that we were wondering if you wanted to come along. Some of us have decided to go to Oberyn’s house once we leave the Christmas Market, to celebrate some more, you see?”
“Oberyn is here?! Haven’t seen that guy,” Jaime argues, making a face.
“Oh, no, but his daughters are there, and they got the keys," Irri argues. Lolly just goes on ogling at him wordlessly.
“Does Oberyn know about that party?” Jaime questions.
“I don’t think he’d particularly care. He is out of town anyway,” Irri replies with a roll of her delicate shoulders.
“I see. So you planned on that in a longer while?” Jaime says, narrowing his eyes in mockery.
“We wanted it to be a surprise! We have grog and some Christmas candy and music…," Ami goes on.
“Yeah, I bet," Jaime snorts.
“So? Will you be there too?” Irri asks, fluttering her eyelashes at him.
“I, uhm… Don’t you think it’d lessen the fun if the boss’s son is there?” he argues.
“What? No, no one would bother. Rest assured. A lot of ladies would be disappointed, if not wounded if you were to turn down the offer," Ami insists.
“I…,” Jaime looks around to find the spot where Brienne stood now empty. “I don’t really know if I can… take the time. But can I get back at you once you head out?”
“Of course, though we strongly hope you will come. It’d be much more interesting with you around.”
“How long until you will go?”
“Half an hour at tops. Some of us are freezing a whole lot. In the cozy warmth of a fireplace, things will be ever the cozier," she says, squeezing his arm.
“Alright, I will let you know. But for now… I have to excuse myself. I promised my brother to bring him… some cookies he seems to love about as much as wine. And what a brother would I be if I were to turn him down?”
“You are so considerate," Lollys brings out at last.
“Yeah, right. So, until later then, I suppose," Jaime says with a grimace.
“Don't keep us waiting for too long," Ami calls after him.
“I wouldn’t ever dare.”
With that Jaime ducks away from the little geese, his eyes scanning the area for the tall yet familiar frame of the wench. The little minx dares to just go away without him, leaving him to the cheetahs? She might just as well saved him by intervening, but of course, when it counts, cat seems to have gotten her tongue.
“So, where are you hiding now, wench?” he mutters to himself as he starts to walk down the path that looks even shittier thanks to the fake snow, a path made of mud and colorful wrappings children carelessly threw to the ground, some smashed candy canes that leave white-red stripes under some many folks’ boots, spilled mulled wine and eggnog… and likely some puke close to where they serve the alcoholic beverages.
A truly Merry Christmas!
Maybe she is by the snow globe stand over there? Or is that too much kitsch for the likes of Brienne of Tarth?
Or maybe she is getting something to eat?
Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love's pure light;
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
The ladies’ bathroom?
“No way in the Seven Hells, Sansa!”
“Ah, found her!” Jaime laughs out cheerfully, that woman’s voice being singular to hear in any crowd. He spots Brienne soon enough, talking to Sansa Stark, who looks more like a bouncy ball, bending her knees again and again, her hands folded in front of her chest pleadingly.
“Please, Brienne. Everyone else is going.”
“Everyone? Even Cleos?”
“Even Cleos. If I tell you it’s everyone, it’s everyone! Everyone! You can’t sit out if everyone is there, Brienne! C’mon, pull yourself together. I know you don’t like those gatherings, but it’s once a year and it’s Christmas and I don't want you to sit out, okay?” Sansa insists.
“I am fine sitting out because I have no interesting in either or.”
“No,” Brienne sighs, hugging her flat chest.
“We wanted to take a group photo.”
“While I could care less about having my picture taken, there is nothing that prevents you from taking one now,” Brienne argues.
“Yes there is, because now you can’t even recognize people in their furs and coats and beanies and hats and gloves and…,” Sansa rambles. Brienne holds up her hands. “I get it, I get it.”
“You don’t have to stay long. Just for a few drinks.”
“Sansa,” Brienne moans.
“My mother said…,” Sansa begins, but Brienne cuts her off, “Now don’t come me with Catelyn.”
Brienne lets out a long sigh.
It’s no use.
“… But really, we take that picture early on. One drink and I am out.”
“Yay! I know I can always count on you, Brienne!”
Brienne leans her head back as Sansa dances over to Margaery, making a victory-pose, to which the other woman happily claps her hands, waving at Brienne with a warm smirk on her lips.
That is the last thing she needed. If everyone is going to be there, there are most certainly just those people she wants nothing to do with. But with Sansa… she just can’t say no to the girl. Brienne owes her mother because she helped her get the job at the Lannister Corp. And Sansa is just trying to be kind and inclusive, she knows. But the young woman just doesn’t get her troubles because she is a pretty girl that everyone gets along with. Brienne knows she isn’t.
“Ah, seems that I found you at last! I already feared you eloped without me.”
“Apparently, I got myself yet another round of Christmas Madness, with pictures!” Brienne grumbles.
Eloped without him, though?
“I have heard of that… festivity,” Jaime says, nodding slowly.
“I reckon that is was the ladies wanted to invite you,” Brienne says, waving her hand around dismissively.
Speaking of, where are the ladies? Shouldn’t they still try to wrap themselves around Jaime’s throat?
“Well, you would know had you not left me to them, like easy prey.”
“I thought you were off fine with all that attention you got,” Brienne snorts.
“I didn’t ask for it. Ami jumps anything and anyone, it is known.”
“In any case… I guess I won’t get around that one either. I suppose that whole day is just for the trashcan,” Brienne huffs.
“You wound me, woman,” he pouts, touching his chest.
“Now, I will make you an offer, and it’d be better for you to take the deal,” Jaime then says, making Brienne frown. “What now?”
“It seems that I will have to attend this madness the same way. How about we make the deal that we stick to ourselves so long we can help it and then disappear as soon as there is an opportunity?”
“Why would you care for my company? You can just as well say ‘hey, my father, your boss, called, bye.’”
“I have more class than that. And I rather spend my time in the company of someone who hates his whole ordeal as much as I do than be forced to sing along to I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, O Holy Night, or Ding Dong Merrily on High… I mean, I could get behind A Virgin Unspotted for the version my brother came up with or I Came Upon the Midnight Clear… or at least The Seven Joys of Mary.”
“Did you seriously rewrite all of these?” Brienne asks, making a face.
“I’ve had many Christmases to live through already, so of course my brother and I used our time wisely. Though I must say it’s much funnier when you are really drunk,” Jaime argues.
Those are some of the brightest Christmas memories he has – which is miserable in itself, but it’s better than nothing, Jaime supposes.
“Good to know.”
“So? Do we have a deal?”
“What deal is there even?” Brienne frowns. Jaime gestures at them both as he goes on talking, “You and I both know that you won’t maneuver yourself out any time soon. For that you are too bad at lying. So you will spend the rest of the evening nursing your drink on someone’s couch, making awkward smiles at Sansa the whole time… and probably watch more unsee-able things.”
“And you can prevent that how?”
“I am a Lannister. Lannisters are really good liars. Granted that we will have to take that picture, I think I can get us out half an hour later.”
“Half an hour?”
That sounds… promising! Too good to be true, almost.
“You can’t rush things. And the important thing is that we leave together. If not, you’ll spend the rest of the evening holding your coat, stuck in conversation with likely Hugh, who only talks about being… himself and how awesome that is.”
Brienne grimaces – she actually had that often enough, and doesn’t need revisiting.
“So, you can play my brother, I mean sister-in-arms, and hate on all that Christmas fuss while at the house and head out ASAP… or be stuck by yourself to loathe the festivity while watching people sliding tongues down each other’s throat and passing out on the couch drunk and smelling of cinnamon and… likely vomit.”
“Quite vivid descriptions.” She makes a face.
“All of which come from experience… man, don’t ever underestimate intoxicated college students around this time of the year,” Jaime replies with a grin, shuddering theatrically. “You see, I do hate that festivity with a burning passion, in case it went without your notice.”
“I noticed… Half an hour, you say,” Brienne repeats, narrowing her eyes.
“Well, it might be a bit longer. It depends on circumstance! But one hour maximum. That’s better than anything you’ll get, trust me in this, wench.”
“Fine, then we have a deal,” Brienne says resolutely, nodding her head.
“Splendid! Then let’s head over to the others and urge them to get going.”
“Less time to spend in their company… I can agree to that,” Brienne replies with the smallest of grins.
For some reason, the idea of sneaking away has something strangely thrilling about it, she has to admit to herself.
And for the first time, Brienne is not really jealous but glad that Jaime has this way about people. A few words, comments, and whispers in some of the ladies’ ears, and all get ready and set to go!
A Christmas miracle!
“So? Ready to loathe and use the first chance we get to make our sweet escape?” Jaime’s voice suddenly rings out to her left this time. Brienne whips around, almost jumping in surprise.
“Are we a bit skittish tonight?” he chuckles. “I thought I was clear about the conditions of our cooperation.”
“It’s just unusual,” Brienne grumbles, pulling the collar of her coat even higher to dip her chin and mouth into the fabric. She’d rather shrink away right at this moment. Not only because she hates walking in bigger crowds of way too cheery, way too drunk people, bumping against her all the while, but also or perhaps most notably because Jaime is now only inches from her, pressed closer to her now that they are pretty much stuck in the middle of the Christmas Mob heading towards the Martell residence.
And that guy doesn’t seem to care in the slightest! Jaime just smirks as he walks on as though this was the greatest experience ever, the most natural thing on earth, whereas Brienne has to fight an even bigger blush from spreading across her face – and not just from the cold.
Or maybe the mead is just getting to her.
But soon enough her thoughts pull away from Jaime once she catches sight of a familiar mob of hair more towards the front of the group.
Ugh. In the Christmas fuss she almost forgot about that, but now…
Well, if she is lucky enough, Jaime will break them out before she has to interact with that person.
“You’re very quiet all of a sudden,” Jaime says, yanking Brienne back to the handsome man striding beside her.
“I was just thinking about something, sorry,” Brienne replies with a grimace she is glad to get lost in the fabric of her coat covering her mouth.
“Well, either you tell me of those thoughts or we find something to talk about – or else that deal will be pretty shitty for me.”
“Why do you hate Christmas?” Brienne asks bluntly. Jaime laughs at that, throwing his head back slightly. “You’re not the one for subtlety, are you?”
“Why ask subtly when there is a straightforward way?” she argues.
“True again, I suppose… well, the moderate version is this: Being a Lannister comes with privileges but also responsibilities, and with that… upholding the family’s esteem and self-crafted picture. Father wants everything to be perfect. That means any interaction involving… more than just him, my siblings, and me… will be the best theater you can get for free… well, I still think you pay with your soul for it, but that’s another matter,” Jaime explains in an easy voice, though Brienne senses that this is something rather serious to him after all. “In any case. Do you know those family dinners you have to attend that are just there for display?”
“Yes,” Brienne grunts in agreement. While her father is not one to pretend to be someone else, family festivities or greater get-togethers, such as the one at Dragonstone this year is likely going to be, always lead to a change in atmosphere. You have to put on fancy clothes, sit stiffly in your chair, talk to people you have seen… only ever for those dinners, and pretend like you are part of something you are alien to.
She knows it. She hates it.
“Well, imagine that for Christmas, every year since you can remember. There was no single Christmas where it wasn’t Tywin Lannister putting his children to display, hair sleeked back, and put in some stupid looking suit and dress in case of my sister. And as or the suit, I still think it looks about as ridiculous on a kid as does a sailor costume, something that many find endearing for some fucked-up reason, though.”
“We have some family pictures with my brother… he’s had to wear a sailor outfit back when he was little.”
“I bet he didn’t like it.”
“I guess so.” Brienne shrugs.
“No matter the attire, however, Lannister family dinners are no more than a show and comparing dicks without opening one’s pants. Father wants to show how he is an over-achiever, how his children excel in the family firm, how he keeps alive the Lannister Empire… and anything that doesn’t fit into his perfect little plans… it doesn’t exist. You know, I’d have less trouble with it all if there was something… personal to accompany that feast, but it’s just eating, conversing, and pretending. And I had way too many years of pretending for just those occasions to please Father… I don’t know, I’d rather want out, but it’s required.”
“And I bet you can’t steal away like from a Christmas party like this, huh?” Brienne says with a sympathetic smile, glad that her father is not like that.
“Well, if it is you any comfort, it’s not just your family doing it. While I suppose your Father to be… rather extreme… Tensed-up dinners with people you don’t know is something many people seem to be fond of for some reason,” Brienne tells him.
“One of these days I should just flip the bird at Father and just spend Christmas however the Seven Hells I please,” Jaime grumbles.
“And what would that be?” she asks.
“I don’t even know. Probably just chilling on the couch in sweatpants and watch some old Christmas movie.”
“Very festive,” Brienne snorts.
“Well, I could put on a Santa hat, or reindeer antlers.”
“That might work.”
And that is when the illuminated Martell Residence comes into view.
Christmas Hell Vol. 2 has officially begun.