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A Second Chance at Family

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It was six moons later when they received a raven from Winterfell, one that was not entirely unexpected. In fact, it was one that Brienne had been expecting for years and had been consistently surprised not to receive, for the whole thing felt rather long overdue.

“What news?” Tormund asked her when he saw her come up with the unfurled scroll in her hand, and Brienne just sighed.

“An invitation,” she told him quietly. “To the wedding of Lord Brandon Stark and Lady Lyanna Mormont at Winterfell.”

A slight smirk appeared on Tormund’s face, but then, he’d always been rather fond of Lady Mormont and her fierce personality. But after a moment, his face fell a little, and his eyes dropped to her midsection.

“We can’t go,” he surmised—and correctly so. Winterfell would normally be a perfectly manageable trip for them, less than a fortnight’s travel, but Brienne was six months heavy with child, and she felt larger that time than she’d ever been.

She’d been, in some ways, elated to find herself with child again so soon, bolstered on by the knowledge that the child could be Jaime’s as easily as Tormund’s, for the timing was right for either. It was like Cat all over again—Jaime had had her first, though far more than once this time—and Tormund had not been shy in having her after, either. There was no way for her to know which one was the father—and yet she found herself sharing in Tormund’s strange new confidence that it didn’t matter either way. In fact, it was almost better not to know—in that way, it was almost possible to believe that the child was all of theirs’, although that was impossible.

“Perhaps a turn of the moon prior, I would have considered it,” Brienne told her husband gently. “But now…I don’t think it’s possible.”

Traveling while with child was enough of a burden already, and to add to that three children and a babe of less than one year seemed almost impossible, even if Selwyn was big enough to ride on his own then. It might have been a feasible thing if she were still the lady of a castle with a retinue of servants and soldiers to accompany them, but barring that, Brienne couldn’t imagine it possible.

Tormund gave her a reassuring smile, stepping toward her and pressing their lips together for a moment. He rested his hands upon her belly, leaving them there even as he pulled back from the kiss.

“It’s all right, wife,” he reassured her quietly. “Why would I want to attend some Southern wedding anyway?”

Brienne didn’t bother to argue with him that a union between House Mormont and House Stark could be nothing but a Northern wedding, because it didn’t matter how many years had passed; Tormund would not relent on what he believed constituted the North and what was the South. It was almost easy to believe the lie from Tormund, that he wouldn’t care about not attending—but they both knew that the occasion would likely bring together many of their friends from the South, most of whom they hadn’t seen in years. Having to miss it was a disappointment for both of them.

“I’m heavier than I was the last time, at six moons,” she pointed out to Tormund in an almost accusatory tone, flicking her gaze to where his hands rested on her belly. Tormund, conversely, appeared almost pleased at her proclamation.

“You’re older than the last time,” he pointed out after a moment, but the twinkle in Tormund’s eye as he said it made it obvious even to her that it wasn’t a serious comment. It had taken her years, but she’d finally started to get a handle on when her husband was joking with her and when he was being serious. Of course, if the words had been serious, they’d have been a perfectly absurd suggestion; it had been less than a year since she’d last carried a child.

“Barely,” she pointed out to him with a raised eyebrow. It was easy enough to make jokes then, well into her sixth month; had Tormund attempted the same banter early in the pregnancy, he would have found her far less receptive, for this had been perhaps her worst time of it, worse even than when she’d carried the child she’d lost in the womb. She’d been exhausted and barely able to keep even water in her stomach at times—but she’d learned not to draw conclusions from that, for she could scarcely find any commonality between her symptoms and the outcomes, and trying seemed a futile activity. If the gods truly did exist, Brienne was ready to leave it in their hands.

Tormund’s hand brushed gently, almost reverently, over her belly.

“You fell with child almost right after the last time,” he pointed out instead by way of explanation for why her body felt achier and more swollen than she’d have expected at that point. And that second suggestion was not a joke—or if it was, it was a surprisingly astute one, and he likely had the right of it. She’d been confined to a bed for some time after Ygritte’s birth, had never managed to get into any semblance of her previous physical condition before she’d found herself with child once more. And it seemed, with each year and new child, to become a more difficult task to try to regain her physique.

“Whose fault is that?” she asked, though she tempered it with a good-natured smile, not nearly so good at joking as her husband was. Tormund held up his hands in protest.

“Unless it comes out a ginger, I’m blaming your crow,” he told her with a grin, and Brienne shook her head and laughed, the whole thing feeling somewhat surreal. She couldn’t imagine how she’d have felt if someone had tried to tell her years ago that Tormund would one day be jesting good-naturedly about the prospect that she might be carrying Jaime’s child, that a thing that had once brought him such strife would now bring him joy.

But Tormund’s genial japes pushed her the last step toward telling Tormund the thought that had been plaguing her for some time, since she’d first begun showing overt signs of pregnancy. At first, she’d thought she was imagining it, but the more her stomach had swelled with child, the clearer it became that she was growing large more rapidly than before—and Sansa’s worries those years prior at Winterfell had come back to Brienne in a rush. Sansa had given birth to a second child just a few months prior—still not twins as she’d feared the first time, but instead a boy who she’d named Robb.

It hadn’t struck Brienne when she’d been with child the first time, full with the possibility that the child might be Jaime’s—but this time, it lay heavily upon her mind that Tyrion wasn’t the only one from the Lannister family, a family with a high propensity for siring twins. Brienne cleared her throat carefully.

“Twins run in the Lannister family,” she remarked a moment later—a fact she’d have never felt comfortable pointing out to her husband if his feelings about Jaime hadn’t changed. Because if there were two children in her womb, that would be all but confirmation of the children’s paternity. Years ago, Tormund likely would have scowled and stormed away in anger at the mere suggestion, but now his face split into another wide grin.

Is it twins?” he inquired gleefully, pressing his hands against her belly as if he might somehow discern the answer by touch. Brienne smiled softly.

“I don’t know,” she admitted quietly, although she had a strong suspicion that it might be. And that was frightening—for birthing even just one babe was dangerous enough—but it was also invigorating, and Tormund obviously shared in Brienne’s nervous excitement.

“Shall we write him and tell him?” Tormund asked with unrestrained delight, the jubilant expression on his face better suited to one of their children. Brienne clasped Tormund’s hand gently.

“There’s nothing to tell. We know nothing for certain,” she reminded him quietly, although it touched her that Tormund could be so excited to tell Jaime this news, that he could feel such joy for the other man’s sake. Though what Selwyn had told Sansa years ago was true enough—that Tormund loved children, that some of his happiness was likely for his own sake rather than Jaime’s. With the knowledge that this might be her last pregnancy, he was likely elated at the prospect of two children instead of the expected one.

In fact, she mused to herself with amusement, he might have suggested Jaime father more of their children sooner, had he known that creating two at a time was such a possibility.

“But you expect two,” Tormund guessed with a raised eyebrow and a rakish smirk, and Brienne shrugged.

“I have no special knowledge, Tormund—no more than you do,” she told him with a patient smile. “You’ve seen me full with child before—and perhaps it is two, or perhaps your first guess was correct, that I fell with child again so quickly, that that’s why I’m larger than before.”

Tormund looked unprepared to abandon the prospect of two babies, wholly unconvinced by Brienne’s conservative assessment of the situation.

“Is there any history of twins in your family?” he pressed with a knowing smile, and Brienne sighed, resigning herself to continuing this conversation.

“No,” she admitted slowly. “Not so far as I’m aware.”

“Nor mine,” Tormund told her amiably, and Brienne knew what that meant as well as Tormund seemed to.

“I think he’ll be glad,” Tormund remarked finally, after a prolonged silence, a small smile still playing at the corners of his mouth. Brienne gave him a soft smile in return, not willing to argue with him any further about not jumping to conclusions.

“I hope so,” she told her husband wistfully.