Chapter Summary: There's no better way to fill up his hours, so Jaime ends up getting to Blackwater Rehab before his session with Brienne is supposed to start.


Chapter Forty: Jaime

Brienne's eyes lift, as Jaime shoulders through the door of Blackwater Rehab, head held high with his sneakers squeaking on the tile floor. Something like surprise or pleasure makes her eyes go wide, and they manage to look startlingly pretty despite the unflattering fluorescent lighting overhead.

"You're early, Lannister."

"Nothing better to do," Jaime says as flatly as he delivers every other statement these days, and the shine goes right out of her eyes, leaving her looking ordinary at best once more.

It isn't his fault if the physical therapist mistook his promptness for burgeoning enthusiasm, but he still attempts to lift his mouth into something like a smile, while she stands and motions him past Blackwater's sign-in desk. The skinny kid with straight hair who mans the computer at the desk looks cowed by their approach, shrinking into his white sneakers and staring down at the floor. Everyone calls him Pod. Jaime hopes that's a nickname for the kid's sake.

"Pod will get you all signed in and you can pay on your way out, so we can get right to it," Brienne says, as she plods into the main rehab room, where six other people are either engaged in torture or being tortured. "Maybe squeeze in a little extra work with this additional time we've got today."

She's always eager to put him through his paces. In a lighter moment, i occurred to him to suggest she might be in the wrong line of work. Brienne could make more money, good money, applying her skills elsewhere. Somewhere dark and equipped with whips, chains, and gags, instead of giant rubber exercise balls. But she's too innocent for jokes about femdoms. It would either throw her into an spiral of red faced embarrassment—something he would have once found amusement in before reaching the point where nothing could make him smile—or the joke would fly right over her head and she'd ask oddly serious questions until he regretted ever making it.

"Have you been practicing?" she asks, as he digs his wallet, keys, and phone out of his pocket and tosses them on the plastic table where the little blue ball and telescoping wand are laid out ready to go.

"Yeah, I have actually. Very diligently."

She blinks at him with her bushy, uncombed brows drawing together. She's never what you would call talkative, but it's obvious his admission has left her speechless. There's a good chance she assumes he's teasing her.

He grabs for the ball with his good hand. "Like I said, I've got nothing better to do."

Thinking obsessively about Cersei's tanned legs twined around the hairy tool he found through inexpert Googling only takes up so much of a day. Or a night. At some point, after Catelyn Stark's unexpected visit, he woke up on his sofa, rolled off his back, and decided he wanted to do something with his life. No clear idea what that something would be, but he knew what he wouldn't be. He wasn't going to be a great baseball star. He wasn't going to run Lannister Mercantile and be the impressive businessman his father envisioned. He wasn't even going to be Cersei's husband.

Osmund Kettleblack. Osmund fucking Kettleblack.

Jaime stops, breathes in through his nose to expand his chest and slow the sharp thud of his heart. Osmund Kettleblack and their goddamn cousin Lancel.

Jaime was never going to be with Cersei again.

But that didn't mean he would never amount to anything. With more than half of his life ahead of him, there was still plenty of time to do something worthwhile, something that would change people's minds about him and create a meaningful legacy for himself. If he was going to be somebody, he figured he better start learning how to use his new hand without knocking over the water glass every time he went out to dinner. It's hard to maintain your dignity, when it looks like you pissed yourself, while dining at the White Sword Tower.

"Show me," Brienne says with a stiff nod.

"Will do, coach."

Passing the ball to the prosthetic hand, which has been holding him back for almost a year now, he gives it a couple good squeezes with an arched brow. Using this fake hand still doesn't feel natural, and he can't bring himself to ask if it is something he will eventually become accustomed to, but he can work the thing with more facility than previously. To prove it, he tosses the ball up and catches it, giving a flick of his wrist on the downward arc purely for show. He was flashy like that on the mound, and it never cost him the way it cost other showboats. He was golden, untouchable.

Successfully catching this ball is hardly an All Star maneuver, but it impresses her nonetheless. She smiles back at him with big, crooked teeth, and her nod changes from all business like instruction to a quick, encouraging bob of her floppy hair. He wonders how she would have reacted to watching him play in his prime.

"You weren't kidding," she says.

"I'd never kid you about something so deadly serious," he says, elbowing her in the side.

She's as solid as a brick wall. It never ceases to throw him to find how very unlike Cersei she is. She's hard where Cersei is soft. She's kind where Cersei is cruel. She's true where Cersei is false.

Did it have to be cousin Lancel? Who could play Jaime in a cheesy Lifetime biopic?

Jaime huffs and gives the ball another toss. Smaller than the last, because he can feel his control slipping away.

Brienne could have made a tidy sum for herself selling him out to the tabloids. She could have taken pictures to show the whole world how ridiculous and useless Jaime Lannister was with his prosthetic hand. She could have passed along information. Sold stories. But she's been true to him with very little in way of compensation from this mediocre job. And most of the time he hasn't even been particularly nice to her.

She blushes at the jab he gives her, and her freckles nearly melt away in the familiar flush of red that spreads from her neck, over her square cheeks, into her hairline.

He can feel the eyes in the room on them, as he bounces the ball in his plastic and metal palm and takes a half step away from her. Everyone is always staring when he's here. Any of these assholes could sell him out, which is why he would prefer to have their sessions somewhere more private. Unfortunately, Brienne thinks he's being petulant if he refuses to leave his loft for a session. Being that tall, she had to have been teased as a kid and maybe she developed a thick skin, but he doesn't have the years of experience of being gawked at like he's grown a second head. It doesn't sit well with him.

"Before I go today, I want you to give me your address. Remind me."

"Why would you need my address?" she asks, crossing her muscled arms one over the other.

"I'm going to have some things shipped there," he says, scratching his brow with his left hand, as the squishy ball rocks in the other palm. It hadn't occurred to him, when he placed the order, but Brienne could live in one of those efficiency apartments with barely any room to turn around in, let alone host a room full of physical therapy equipment. "I hope you have space for it in your apartment."

"For what?"

He presses his lips together and gives a infinitesimal shrug of his shoulders. "Just the equipment you need to get started on that private practice you mentioned last week."

She looks down and slides the black wand across the table, needlessly rearranging it a half turn. "Excuse me?"

"Equipment. Table, treadmill, bike, stackable steps, ultrasound, plenty of balls of course." He gives the ball a toss, but fails to catch it with the same flare as a moment earlier. There's a graceless jerk of the hand, as he saves the ball from falling. He frowns. "You have a laptop, right? I got you a prescription exercise software program, but it won't do you or your clients any good without a laptop to run it on. A printer too, I guess."

As it turns out, torture equipment is rather expensive, but Jaime didn't have any trouble affording it. The bonus from Christmas that his father gave him easily covered the cost. Before signing it away to the medical supply company he found on the internet, it was sitting in the bank, collecting interest he didn't need. It would do Brienne more good than it could ever do him. She'd appreciate it, and he'd feel more comfortable being rid of it. Lately, everything about Lannister Merc felt wrong, even the money he made from it. With every passing day, it felt increasingly off working there without his brother.

Then again, his brother was a goddamn asshole he wouldn't really like to be forced to see every day. Not after he clearly enjoyed delivering the news of Cersei's infidelity like Tyrion enjoys his small batch whiskeys.

"I have a laptop," Brienne manages to respond, while looking like she's had her bell rung. Eyes rounded and mouth slightly open, all she's missing is a shiny red patch from his verbal blow. "What for?"

"Earth to Brienne. I just told you. Software."

"No, I meant, why would you do something like that for me?"

It's a valid question, and Jaime isn't sure he has a good answer.

Everyone in his life is a total shit—himself included. Except Brienne. She is annoying and pigheaded and stupidly loyal.

It happened slowly and then all at once, the way his world bottomed out, leaving him rudderless and adrift. The only constant in his life is these appointments and her rough insistence that he keep working towards some mythical self-improvement that only she believes he's capable of. Week after week he comes here and she takes his bullshit, and she is good and honest and puts up with him in his current the way no one else would. In thanks for that, he wanted to practice the exercises she prescribed and come back here with something to show for it.

"Shut your mouth, Brienne. You'll catch flies," he advises. Her eyes really are beautiful and her strength has an unexpected appeal. Still, he doesn't want to fuck her. The equipment isn't an excuse to get inside her apartment and her bed. But he does think about her. Sometimes. Especially after soaking his shirtfront in public. "I'd rather visit a private practice than make a fool of myself here. You refuse to come to my loft anymore, so I was stuck dragging out the credit card."

"You'd set me up in a practice to stop coming here?"

"Well, you're good at what you do. Look at what a success I am," he says, as the ball drops to the floor between them.

Brienne bends down to snatch it back up, not missing a beat, despite his ill-timed demonstration of continued imperfection. "I don't know what to say," she mumbles.

"A thank you will do, and then we should probably get back to work. I still can't pick up a damn glass without spilling down my front, which won't be very good advertisement for your abilities if anyone finds out who my therapist is."

"A thank you isn't enough," she says, her eyes darting away from his, as she squeezes the ball the way she's instructed him to do, rep after rep until the muscles in his bicep spasm unlike they ever did when he played ball and everything came so effortlessly.

"Then you could swear to help other wealthy, sad saps out with their recovery. You're good at what you do, Brienne. You deserve it."

She shakes her head, her lip quivering in a way he didn't expect. "I'll pay you back. We can consider it a loan."

"No need," he says, extending his hand and curling his fingers in twice. "Get me back to my old self, and I'll consider us square."

"You're doing well," she says, handing him the ball. "Have you thought about joining that softball meet up in the park on Sundays?"

"No. My life is a little too complicated at the moment to make a grand spectacle of myself in the park."

"You'd do fine. Better than fine." She points at the ball, "To be sure, three reps of ten."

"My prowess isn't what I'm worried about." Not entirely. "I'm talking about the paparazzi. I'm the only one in the family they haven't gotten a picture of since this all started. Someone would get a big, juicy paycheck for that snap."

"You mean the incident with your son?" she asks, hands on hips in her usual gym coach stance. He really should have bought her a shiny whistle to wear in her new practice. Pearls would look out of place hanging around her thick neck, but the authority of the whistle would suit her.

"Precisely. This mess with the Starks is all consuming."

She scowls and then taps the top of his prosthetic, when he stops mid repetition. "I feel sorry for that girl. I guess you know Sansa Stark."

"A little bit. You've been following the story?" Brienne isn't usually one for gossip.

"Unfortunately. I helped her mother a few years ago with a charity event Mrs. Stark chaired. Catelyn Stark is a good woman."

Catelyn certainly is persistent. Despite refusing to come inside his loft, she wouldn't leave his doorstep until he promised to do something to help Sansa out. Of course, since making the promise, he hasn't done anything to follow through on it. Lethargy, apathy, something has made picking up the phone impossible. Who would he call anyway? It's not really any of his business.

"It's unfortunate," Jaime says, looking out over her shoulder towards the glazed windows. "All I can tell you is I didn't have anything to do with it. Whatever shitty things my son does are his business."

"You think he's the one causing all the trouble in the press for her then?"

"Probably."

It's more than he intended to say. Placing the ball back on the table, he vows to keep his lip good and buttoned for the rest of today's session.

Brienne doesn't seem to notice his failure to complete his reps before giving up, as she presses with a heavy frown, "It's hard enough to be that girl's age without having the whole city judging you and watching your every move. People were always judging me. I hated it. I wasn't pretty enough for the boys or girly enough for the girls. Never fit in."

"I don't think that's Sansa's problem."

Sansa's beauty isn't of the unassuming, hidden sort like Brienne's. You don't have to wait to see her in the right light to appreciate her. He doesn't know and doesn't care anything about the claims they've floated about her sleeping with that gloomy faced Jon Snow or the short guy that's probably going to be canned from his university for fucking coeds, but he doubts Joff is the only boy to have ever found her attractive. Sansa's not Jaime's type, but that doesn't keep him from seeing what's plain as day: Sansa Stark is an incredibly beautiful young woman.

Not so much of a shrew as to prevent her from having female friends either. Cersei has 'girlfriends,' but Jaime assumes none of them have any real affection for her. They're just there to suck at the Lannister-Baratheon teat. If her ship sinks with this Baratheon Industries financial fuck up, they'll jump to be free of her like a bunch of scrambling rats.

"No, her problem is the media and their love of cooked up scandal."

"Her first and most lasting problem is Joffrey."

"I'm sorry, but who would do something like that? Go to the press about your ex-girlfriend."

"You have no idea." His son is a little monster, pushing around girls. Sometimes Jaime doesn't even know where he came from.

"I wish there was something I could do to help them out."

"There's nothing you can do," he assures her.

"You'd do something if you could, wouldn't you? Any decent person would. Poor girl."

His phone chimes and the lock screen lights up with a new text. They both stare down at it, though the screen goes black too quickly for him to see who sent him the message. There's a printout sign at the entrance to Blackwater Rehab that says all phones should be turned off. Brienne used to ask him to keep his in a locker until she realized it was a battle she would never win and her efforts were better directed at his rehab. He usually turns off the ringer though and simply forgot in her urgency to get him down to business.

Ignoring it would be the right thing to do, but he doesn't like the turn the conversation has taken. It makes him feel the full weight of the unfulfilled promise he made to Catelyn. Brienne wouldn't like knowing he's the kind of man who would stand by and do nothing while an innocent girl is publicly maligned. Jaime stepped in to defend her the once. He likes the idea of defending her again, but the reality of what repercussions that would have is unpleasant. Which makes him a selfish, shitty person, as useless as the public think he is.

He would prefer to congratulate himself on sending Brienne off with an apartment full of new therapy gear and maybe keep working on his dexterity for another uninterrupted thirty minutes. That's what he comes here for. Jaime can handle lectures in the laxity of his practicing, but Brienne unintentionally shaming him is something he's unprepared for.

"Sorry. I'm expecting a message," he breezily lies.

No one calls or texts him anymore. His father was never one for phones. The kids never call. That he's accustomed to. But Tyrion isn't speaking to him either. He's fine with that for the moment, because he doesn't want to talk to his brother at the moment. If he did, he would probably tell Tyrion exactly where to go. And Cersei? Cersei is obviously too busy fucking anything with a dick and two good hands to bother with a cripple.

He swipes the screen and inputs his password with his thumb. Until a couple of months ago even that pathetic task was tricky to complete with his left hand.

Cersei Lannister 1m ago. Jaime's tongue pokes in the side of his cheek as he waffles on whether to open this first correspondence from her in months.

That nasty brother of yours is going to talk to the press, Jaime. About our boy.

You have to help me. Come to the house.

I need you.

I love you.

He swallows thickly, reading the summons twice. His thumb hovers over the thread. One press to the first blue bubble brings up more options and then blank, taunting bullets. He ticks them off one after another.

Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete.


Notes:

I'm feeling über eager knowing what's ahead!

Sansa
Dany
Ned
Tyrion
Jaime
OUTTAKE: Jon's room
Jon
OUTTAKE: Michigan
Sansa

And that will be it! I can't believe it.