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A Second Chance at Family

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Brienne departed for the Wall a few days later with Selwyn, the wet nurse, and the two wildlings who had traveled to Winterfell with them, who planned to pass through Castle Black on their way further north. It gave at least some pretense for their visit, and it also gave them some capable fighters besides Brienne on the visit up in case they came upon any kind of trouble, leaving Brienne to worry only about the trip back down. Tormund saw them all off, and there was no hint of lingering bitterness in his expression when he kissed Brienne on the cheek to bid her goodbye, nor when he helped her secure Selwyn in his sling for travel.

She didn’t write Jaime to tell him they were coming, fearful that he’d refuse if he knew. That left her open to innumerable possibilities for disappointment; Jaime might refuse to see her, making her entire journey amount to nothing—or even worse, he might not even be at Castle Black but instead on a mission somewhere beyond the Wall. Jaime had been at the Night’s Watch for around a year already, and they had already been very depleted of men; she had no doubts that an experienced fighter like Jaime would have cause to be sent on missions beyond the Wall.

The trip to Castle Black took a little over a week, and it was rougher going than their month-long trip from King’s Landing to Winterfell had been, with fewer towns and inns along the way and even more snow. Traveling with Selwyn now was easier in some ways and harder in others. He’d begun crawling already, and he didn’t appreciate being held in his sling for long periods of time the same way he had on their trip up to Winterfell, wanting instead to be up and about and crawling around himself. On the other hand, he was able to sleep through the whole night through most of the trip, which made the overall experience easier, especially since they spent most nights bundled up in tents beneath a pile of furs.

A light snow was falling the day they arrived at Castle Black, the familiar sound of a horn blast greeting them as they rode up, the gates opening in front of them. When their small party rode through the gates, Brienne was surprised to see Edd there to greet her.

“When the scouts told me they spotted a giant blonde woman with a baby approaching, I didn’t believe my ears,” said Edd as he walked up to her, holding out a hand to help her down from her horse. It was the type of gesture she would have once scoffed at but had had to learn to accept, for dismounting a horse with an increasingly weighty baby attached to her wasn’t exactly the easiest task. “And this must be your son. Looks just like you.”

It was a remark to which Brienne had long since learned to become accustomed; no one seemed to be able to see past Selwyn’s blond hair, which had been somewhat of a blessing overall. His hair had grown in darker than it had been when he was born, much closer to Cersei’s warm, honey blonde, and it had gotten a bit of a curl to it. His eyes remained blue—everything close enough to Brienne’s own coloring, she supposed, not to draw suspicion, though she didn’t see the resemblance most people seemed to believe existed.

“This is Selwyn,” she told him with a gentle smile, neither confirming nor denying the child’s resemblance to her. She found that the less she openly lied, the easier it was to continue on with the fiction.

“So what brings you here, Lady Brienne?” Edd asked her. “Not the best place for a baby. Though we get ‘em here now, from time to time, what with all the traveling going on.”

Brienne nodded at the proclamation; she couldn’t deny that her appearance was a bit on the strange side, but she’d already been prepared for the question and had rehearsed her lies. It had been the only way she’d been certain she could deliver the lines with a straight face.

“These two are heading north of the Wall and would beg your hospitality for the night, as would we,” she told him courteously. She took a deep breath. “And I have a message for Ser Jaime Lannister from the King, and he begged me deliver it in person. Is he here?”

Edd gave her a slightly inquisitive look, but after a pause he shrugged.

“Aye, Ser Jaime is here. I’ll fetch him, and some food for your party. We can spare you some chambers for the night.”

It was just past the time for the midday meal, but they seemed to have some leftovers and their party was able to eat in their meals in relative seclusion, only a few men left behind in the mess hall. They’d apparently all gotten used to seeing wildlings around and not killing them, because none of the men seemed to think anything of her two companions; they were clearly less used to seeing babies, because most of them kept shooting her strange looks as she fed small pieces of meat and vegetables to a squirming Selwyn, who still seemed rather more interested in wearing his food than eating it.

They were just finishing up their meal when the door opened with rather more force than necessary; Brienne knew, even before she turned around, that Jaime would be standing in the doorway.

“Lady Brienne,” he said stiffly, a familiar tone of annoyance mixed with a rather unfamiliar title from him considering the two of them had been on a first name basis for a long time already. “May I speak with you outside?”

She turned around on her bench, one hand around Selwyn’s middle as he squirmed in her arms—and stopped as her eyes fell upon Jaime for the first time in over a year. He looked different than she’d ever seen him; his beard was full and shaggy, the way it had been when she’d been escorting him to King’s Landing, and the severe black cloak was so different than the Lannister or Kingsuard armor and fine clothing she’d seen him in previously. His clothes were simple, although in much better shape than what he’d worn on their trek to King’s Landing all those years ago—but somehow, the severe black suited him, made his golden hair all the more apparent, even peppered with grey as it now was.

Jaime, too, seemed stunned into silence, his eyes falling straight onto Selwyn, unable to draw his gaze away. It was a momentous occasion, one Brienne had spent much time imagining—but what she saw on Jaime’s face wasn’t happiness but rather a sense of grim acceptance.

“Of course,” she said as she stood, glancing over at the wet nurse for a moment before shaking her head to herself and bringing Selwyn with her, following Jaime outside into the light snow. Jaime didn’t appear to much appreciate her decision not to hand Selwyn over, but he didn’t say anything, just strode out of the building until they were far enough away that they would hopefully not be overheard.

“What were you thinking?” Jaime hissed as he turned on Brienne, his eyes blazing. Selwyn, entirely oblivious, giggled as he tried to catch snowflakes in his hands as they fell toward him, and when Jaime’s eyes fell upon his son’s smiling face, his own expression softened. “It’s too dangerous to bring him here. What were you thinking?”

He asked it the second time more softly, and Brienne stared at him for a moment, not quite sure what to say. She’d rehearsed what she’d say to the Night’s Watch members to get her time to speak with Jaime; she hadn’t quite figured out what she’d say to him, how she’d explain her presence there. Jaime had never wanted her, and he had been more than clear about that; to say, ‘my husband all but ordered me to come here to have sex with you,’ certainly wasn’t the best of explanations, regardless of how close it was to the truth.

“It was Tormund’s idea,” she found herself saying, numbly. “He thought you should meet…my son.”

Brienne had been very close to saying ‘your son,’ but she glanced around suspiciously as she amended her words at the last moment. She hadn’t seen anyone around them, but it certainly didn’t hurt to be extra careful.

“Has your husband gone mad?” Jaime demanded disbelievingly. “Or was he mad to begin with? That seems more likely, actually.”

“You should hold him,” Brienne said in lieu of answering the question, and then Jaime was looking at her as if she was the one who was mad. Jaime opened his mouth with some kind of retort, but Selwyn seemed to have finally caught on to the fact that something strange was happening.

“Mama?” he asked softly, sounding a little frightened—and all the anger on Jaime’s face melted away at the word, any protest he might have planned dying on his lips. Brienne took her opening.

“Selwyn, this is Jaime,” Brienne said, turning him so he could see his father’s face better. “He’s a friend of mama’s, and he’d like to hold you. Is that okay?”

Jaime quirked his head at her, like he found it strange the way that she talked to the child. It wasn’t the first time someone had thought so, but she still had no idea the proper way to talk to a baby. Selwyn was smarter than she’d expected for an infant, though, and even though she talked to him almost like he was an adult, he seemed to understand her more often than not.

“‘me?” Selwyn ventured, eyeing Jaime with some suspicion. Taking that as assent, Brienne reached out and handed over the child, and Jaime took the babe from her arms almost unconsciously. It was almost a relief when Brienne realized that the resemblance between the two was not so striking; with Jaime’s hair starting to go increasingly grey and the way his beard grew in in a darker brown, she would have not guessed that the two were related, not if she hadn’t known.

Selwyn, usually on the shy side with strangers, didn’t cry as Jaime took him into his arms—and Brienne wasn’t certain if it was because she’d introduced Jaime as her friend or if, somehow, he could sense the truth. Brienne had seen enough strange things not to doubt the possibility of the latter. Instead, Selwyn reached out and buried his fingers in Jaime’s beard, the same thing he liked to do with Tormund. Unfortunately for Selwyn’s sense of enjoyment, Jaime had much less beard for him to grip at.

Despite the obvious reluctance Jaime had displayed about holding the child, as soon as Selwyn was in his arms, his expression softened once more, even with Selwyn tugging at his beard in a way that Brienne supposed must be painful. It seemed almost an instinctive motion, Brienne thought, when Jaime held his son closer to his chest.

“How is he?” Jaime asked her finally, obviously having resigned himself to the situation. The question was a seemingly innocuous one, but despite that, Brienne knew what Jaime was really asking, where his fears lay. Brienne sighed.

“He’s a baby, Jaime,” she told him quietly. “He only speaks a few words. He hasn’t even passed his first name day yet.”

Jaime looked down at Selwyn, who was just then occupying himself with rubbing his hand along Jaime’s cheek, seemingly reveling in the difference in texture between the smoothness of his face and the coarseness of his beard, a move that Jaime bore with a surprising amount of grace.

“I know,” Jaime responded, equally quietly. “But…”

He trailed off with a helpless look, as if begging Brienne not to make him put to words what he was thinking. Brienne sighed, sad to have to consider the possibility that something might be wrong with her son, sad that the possibility was also so much at the forefront of Jaime’s mind. Brienne thought this might be the reason Jaime had agreed to the prospect of Brienne raising his son—for she knew who he truly was, the dangerous abnormalities that might lie in his very blood.

“Could you tell with Joffrey, when he was this young?” she asked him sincerely, and Jaime’s expression turned pensive and troubled.

“I couldn’t,” he admitted honestly. “But he was our firstborn son. He could do no wrong in our eyes. But in retrospect…maybe I should have always known. He was always cruel—taking toys from other children, making them cry…but everyone simply looked the other way because he was the prince.”

Brienne frowned at the pained expression on Jaime’s face at the recollection.

“You couldn’t have known,” Brienne soothed him automatically. “Children are cruel sometimes. That doesn’t always mean…”

Brienne trailed off, sharing Jaime’s disinclination to put into words what they were both thinking. That Jaime and Cersei had created a child that was a monster. That Jaime had once broken his oaths and killed a man just as mad, only to break his oaths again to bring another such monster into the world. Jaime just shook his head.

“Tommen and Myrcella weren’t,” he told her honestly. “Joffrey bullied them mercilessly, and we simply…let him.”

Despite Jaime’s complicity in the whole affair, Brienne couldn’t help but feel for him, seeing how conflicted he was. But then, Brienne still hadn’t come to terms with what she would do if it turned out that Jaime and Cersei’s third son was as evil as their first; for more than one reason, Brienne was far from an unbiased observer.

“Selwyn isn’t like that,” she assured Jaime finally, because some of the other people at Winterfell also had small children, and Brienne had never seen more than the vague squabble. “He’s a sweet boy.”

“With quite the affinity for beards,” Jaime noted with a wince as Selwyn began determinedly trying to pull out a tiny fistful of Jaime’s beard. Brienne reached out with a small smile and closed her hand around her son’s tiny one, forcing him to loosen his grip.

“What did your father tell you about pulling like that?” she scolded the boy, who had the grace to give her a guilty look. “It hurts, and it’s not a nice thing to do.”

Selwyn let go of Jaime’s beard and reached his hands out to Brienne instead.

“Mama?” he asked with a tearful expression, as though he wasn’t sure she would forgive him for his slight. With a sigh, Brienne reached out and took him from Jaime’s arms, and it was difficult to pinpoint whether the resulting expression on Jaime’s face was one of regret or relief.

“I should give him back to his nurse,” Brienne told Jaime, brushing snow out of the boy’s golden curls. “There’s something else I need to speak to you about.”

Brienne said the words with more confidence than she felt; she had no idea how to bring any of this up with a man, for she’d never once even tried. And even if she’d ever thought to, she’d certainly never have planned to proposition a man who had, on several occasions, made it very clear that he didn’t want her. More than once on their trip to Castle Black, Brienne had asked herself what she was possibly thinking in following Tormund’s advice.

But once Tormund had made the suggestion, it was like a seed had been planted in her mind, growing exponentially each day until suddenly, Jaime was once more the only thing she had been able to think about. She’d been able to put him mostly out of her mind before that by sheer force of will, but Tormund’s reminder seemed to have brought her lingering feelings painfully back to the surface.

Jaime’s stunned expression indicated clearly that he hadn’t expected to hear the words any more than she had expected to say them.

“You don’t honestly have a message from the King?” he prodded with a furrowed brow. “I assumed that was some fiction you’d come up with as a pretense to talk to me about Selwyn.”

Brienne averted her gaze, annoyed with herself for being so terribly transparent. She hoped that only Jaime had been able to see past her lie so easily; she hoped Edd hadn’t also caught on to her deception, for the last thing that they needed was any more scrutiny.

“It was,” Brienne admitted sheepishly. “But there’s something else I need to speak with you about. And…it would be better if Selwyn wasn’t present. He understands more than you’d think.”

Jaime, who’d already helped Cersei raise three children of their own, didn’t seem at all surprised by the proclamation; he frowned and nodded, following behind Brienne as they made their way back toward the mess hall and Selwyn’s wet nurse.