IT HAD BEEN ONE OF HIS FINER MOMENTS. The war council had dragged one, lords and knights quibbling and squabbling, Father seething with barely contained rage. On and on it had gone, until Tyrion swore he could feel the his blood pulsing in his veins. In the end, he hadn't been able to take it anymore, had tossed his cup to ground, smiled as it shattered into a thousand-thousand pieces. Silence had fallen, silence heavy and leaden as the grave, and for once, every eye was upon him, and not even one whispered the word freak.

There's your peace, Ser Harys, he had drawled, for all he had wanted to snarl, preferably while trying to beat the soft, obsequious look out of Ser Harys Swyft. Knight of Cornfield, he had thought, as he swallowed his anger and spelled out the facts of life. Knight of a pile of rocks, more like. You're lucky you're my uncle's good-father, you bald, small-chinned oaf. The others were just as bad, worse, even, but Ser Harys had been the last to speak, so it was Ser Harys who endured the brunt of Tyrion's annoyance. It was all so clear, so bloody clear, they were caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, Jaime captured and too valuable to ransom, an entire army annihilated, the Reach about to declare against them, Stannis prowling the seas, only the gods knew which way the Vale would jump, and these fools talk of peace?

My beloved nephew saw to that. Who could possibly be fool enough to negotiate with us now? It was a matter of blood now, blood and gods-damned honor, and like it or not, the Stark boys were winning.

Tyrion frowned. The Stark boys…

Or mayhaps the Stark boy, and Jon…

Oh, you silly bastard, you should have stayed on the Wall…

"You're still here."

Father's voice was hard, cold, sharp as the crack of a whip. It grated upon Tyrion's nerves, made him want to take up a dagger and carve the man's heart out, find out if Tywin Lannister really did shit gold. He's written Jaime off, and now I'm all that's left to him. Tyrion looked at his father, watched the Lord of Casterly Rock grind his teeth, as if every moment in his youngest son's presence caused him physical pain. Who knows? Mayhaps it does.

Good. Let him choke on it.

"I am," Tyrion admitted, taking a deep gulp from the wine his father had poured him. "Continuing to exist in spaces where I'm not welcome is one of my lesser talents."

Something quivered at the corner of Father's mouth, something akin to amusement, though Tyrion didn't quite believe it. "It is," Father admitted, the quiver gone, as if it had never existed. "You don't have many virtues, but you do have the talent of persistence, I'll give you that."

Tyrion tipped his cup at his father in mock salute. "Careful, Father; choke out any more compliments, and you're like to give yourself apoplexy."

Father's face fell, even the suggestion of emotion banished behind a wall of ice and stone. A snippet of song drifted into Tyrion's mind, half-remembered and probably all wrong. High in the halls of the kings who are gone…

Now, why would I think of that dreary little song?

"I've given you your instructions," Father snapped, his hand tightening on the stem of his cup until the knuckles were white as bone. "Go to King's Landing, take that stupid boy and your fool of a sister in hand, and if anyone stands in your way-"

Tyrion waved a hand through the air. "Again, heads, spikes, walls. I agreed. I'll go at first light, Father. It's not the sewers of the Rock, but I promise to do my best."

Tyrion could almost swear that he could hear his father's teeth grind together. Careful, Father; grind your teeth much more, and you'll be as sour-tempered as Stannis Baratheon.

"And yet," Father said, his voice low, flat, threatening, "you remain. Was I unclear on something?"

Tyrion shrugged, drained the dregs from his cup, let it drop with a clatter onto the table. "Not at all, Father. But…" He took a deep breath, let it out. Careful...careful… "You can't contain the rumors forever, Father."

Father blinked. That arrow came close to the mark, Tyrion realized. There's more at play behind those gold-flecked eyes than even I can guess at. "What rumors?"

Tyrion bit down on the urge to laugh. "The ones filtering out of Riverrun."

Some of the tension leaked out of Father's shoulders, and his teeth were no longer grinding as he slumped (or as close as he ever came; only humans slumped, and Tyrion could not quite imagine his father as being anything as mundane as human) back into his chair. "Oh, those. If you put any stock in rumors bandied about by traitors, then mayhaps I should send someone else to court in my place."

Tyrion smiled. "If you have any better options, I long to hear them." Father answered with a glare, and Tyrion bowed his head. "Thought so. Still...it would explain much. Jaime always did have a strange loyalty to Rhaegar's memory…"

"And even if this Stark bastard is, in fact, Rhaegar Targaryen's bastard, he's still a bastard," Father replied. "No one in the Seven Kingdoms will shed blood for a bastard, not after the Blackfyres, and especially not one born of kidnap and rape."

"Hmm...not even Dorne?"

Tyrion was...if not pleased, at the very least intrigued at how his father actually paused before replying. It felt...well...it felt like something other than defeat, at the very least. "Dorne is welcome to try," Father said. "I welcome them to march their spears across the whole of the Reach; it could only help us."

Tyrion nodded. His father, after all, had a point. If Highgarden truly had declared for Renly, then anything that diverted the strength of the Reach could only benefit House Lannister. "Fair enough...but what if he's not a bastard…?"

Father pursed his lips. "And how could we confirm that?"

Tyrion shrugged. "Surely, we have ways of finding out, ways that wouldn't involve Lord Varys?"

"And what if that simpering eunuch found out? What if anyone found out that we were so much as considering the possibility?" Father raised a hand in the air, let it fall to the surface of the table with a dull thwack. "I can't even send an assassin for this Jon Snow. If the bastard so much as gets on the wrong end of a donkey, the Seven Kingdoms will take it as proof of what is little more than the craven lie of an angry, vengeance-addled boy. No," he continued, his head snapping to-and-fro in a vicious shake, "I will not be tricked into lending credence to bald fabrications. Let Robb Stark claim the Iron Throne if he wishes, for himself or his father's bastard; he'll get no help from me." Father's eyes narrowed, his pale green eyes hard and cold enough to make the flecks of gold seem pale and sharp as shards of ice. "Nor will he get any help from you. Jaime walked into a trap and let himself be defeated by Lord Stark's by-blow. Your loyalty to your brother does you credit, but don't let it go any further than that."

And the thing was, as much as Tyrion hated to admit it, his father had a point. He was blindly loyal to his brother, and as much as Tyrion had liked Jon Snow, continued to like Jon Snow, it stung that Jaime should be mocked from the Wall to Sunspear for getting tricked by a boy and beaten in single combat by that boy's bastard brother. But, you've seen Jon playing at swords in the yard, a voice whispered in his ear. He's good, but he's not that good. There's more to this than meets the-

"And Tyrion?"

Tyrion sighed, shoved himself back from the table and slid to the ground. "You've made your point, Father," he said, turning on his heel and starting on the long, always humiliating waddle back to his tent. I'll need to discuss this with Bronn. The rough and brutal wisdom of a sellsword may be just what I need right now. "I'm going."

"Good," Father snapped, "and see that you don't take that whore to court with you."

Tyrion skidded to a halt. Silver coins slid in a torrent from hands that shook from pain and humiliation, and half-remembered tears burned in his eyes. "Of course not, Father," he choked out, not trusting himself to look back at his lord father. "I was going to set her up in a manse, entertain myself when necessary, and send her away with a sack of gold once I tired of her." That's what you want to hear, isn't it, you son-of-a-bitch? That's what the sons of lords are supposed to do with whores, right?

But it wasn't what the Lord of Casterly Rock wanted to hear, for reasons Tyrion suspected, but could never quite bring himself to confront. "If she means that little to you, hand her that sack of gold now and be done with it. Or do I need to give you another lesson in what it means to be a Lannister?"

No, a hundred coins of silver and one of gold was more than enough for that, you monster. But Tyrion didn't say that. After all, what point would it serve?

"That won't be necessary," Tyrion choked out, doing nothing to hide his rage. After all, it wasn't as if his father would care. "I do regret that I promised her a rather large sack."

Father waved the point aside as if it was little more than a leaf on the wind. "So be it. See the treasurer, he'll give you as much gold as you need, just see that she's gone by morning."

Why? The word hung in the air, an unspoken accusation, the word that had lurked at the edges of ever interaction Tyrion had ever had with his father. Why? Why do you care? Why do you treat me this way? Tyrion had said it, once, all those years ago, when the men-at-arms in their golden armor and their crimson capes had kicked down the door and hauled him and Tysha out of bed. Why does he care? Why can't he just let me be? But he had never said it to his father's face, had never been able to bring himself to confront the obvious answer. After all, it couldn't be true, could it? That his own father hated him so much that the man just wanted to watch Tyrion suffer? No, it wasn't true. It couldn't be true. Better anything but that.

Anything but that…

Tyrion bit down on the question, forced it down like so much bile the morning after a night of too much wine. Anything but that. He was a coward. He was stunted freak and a coward and so he just flashed a smile at his father and wiped his eyes and waddled from the tent. He truly hated his body then. Jaime could storm from a tent, no, Jaime could stride, and how many times at Jaime stormed out of a room on Tyrion's behalf? More times that Tyrion could possibly count.

My life would have been nothing but misery if not for you. If Tyrion believed in gods, only they would have known how many times he had said those words to his brother. Jaime always looked said, pained, when Tyrion said something like that.

It was time like this that Tyrion almost let himself wonder why.

Later, as the sun rose on Tyrion and his escort, on his insolent sellsword and his quarrelsome mountain men, Tyrion would wonder what hurt worse. The knowledge that his father probably forgot all about it the moment Tyrion left the tent? The way the treasurer's assistant, a mealy-mouth, bird-necked little toad with a receding hairline and watery eyes who wore the robes of a novice maester, robes spattered with raven shit, smirked at him as he made Tyrion sign for the gold?

Or the fact that Shae was already packing her bags when Tyrion got back to their tent?

"You alright, Tyrion?" Bronn asked, looking at him with the searching eyes of a man who knew him too well.

Tyrion smiled. I'll show them.

I'll show them all.

"Why wouldn't I be?"

Bronn grimaced. "She was very pretty, you know."

I know. Oh, gods, do I know. But it'll be worth it.

I'll make it worth it.

Tyrion waved a hand through the air. "Easy come, easy go. She got what she wanted." He looked back over his shoulder. "And a Lannister always pays his debts."

Bronn nodded. "Aye, I'm starting to get that impression."

Tyrion allowed himself a smile, made genuine by the image of Jon Snow striding down from the Iron Throne and slicing his father's head from the bastard's neck.

"Oh, Bronn, you have no idea."

So, I'm back! And I'm ready to roll!

Those playing the home game may be wondering, Hey, Morgan, where the fuck did you go? Well, that's a complicated question. First, Thanksgiving happened, which was a fucking trial. Then, a few days later, my wife and I gave our boys a bath. Now, our sons get along quite well, which is generally a blessing, but a bath time, they have far too much fun splashing each other, and my tennis shoes are in desperate need of replacement and, like a dipshit, I was wearing my shoes. Long story short, I slipped, and cracked a rib. Ever cracked a rib? It's not fun. And because I live in America and don't have health insurance, my only recourse was to, well, suffer. By the time that was (mostly) healed, it was Christmas, and let me tell you, that was a fucking pig's ear. By the time that was all over, it was January, and I was afraid to return to this narrative.

But the thing is, it wouldn't let me go, you know? And there are other things I want to do. The next installment of this story, for instance, and Zutara Month is coming up, and there's this Battlestar Galactica/Star Trek crossover that just won't let me go, thanks for that, Star Trek: Picard (which fucking slaps, btw), and, well, it was time to finish what I started.

Which brings us here, now, to Tyrion. Yes, I just shuffled Shae out of the story. Why? Because I understand GRRM setting his story in an accurate medieval setting, but you know what? This is fanfiction. If I don't want to immerse myself in a story that is overflowing with brutal violence against women, I don't fucking have to. One of my earliest memories is of my biological father beating the shit out of my mother. I reserve the right to not give myself flashbacks.

Moving on! In the next episode (which, God willing, will arrive sometime this weekend), an old knight makes a new choice. Stay tuned!