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A Kind of Family

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He’s my father.

The words have been spinning in Myrcella’s head since she found out, and still she cannot fathom them. It’s a frightening thing to think of. Her uncle. Golden Jaime who smiled when he met her eye but had never said much to her besides. He hasn’t said much to any of them the past days, but he hasn’t smiled either.

They’re at an inn in Essos now. It’s dirty and they’re dressed like they’re poor – we are poor – and Ser Jaime, Uncle Jaime, my father, is staring at his food. He looks like he’ll cry. He’s cried several times in front of them, often enough Joffrey became spiteful about it. But Joffrey has cried too and Tommen said as much and then Joffrey hit Tommen and Uncle Jaime hit Joffrey and everyone was crying.

Mother would not have liked that.

But Mother is dead. Taken out by her father – no, by King Robert. It’d almost worked, the escape attempt. Myrcella had been so relieved when Mother and Uncle Jaime came to take her from the tower, Tommen and Joffrey already with them. But then –

“You should eat,” says Jaime. Father. Uncle. I suppose he is both. It turns her stomach to think it. She’d grown hearing  tales of the monstrous Targaryens and their monstrous children. Uncle Jaime and Mother were monsters. I’m a monster. And Tommen.

Joffrey always has been. This explained that too.

She pushes her stew in its bowl. “I’m not hungry.”

“You need your strength.”

“Oh let her die,” says Joffrey. “Let us all die. Better yet, put us down. It’d be kindest.”

His visceral disgust of Jaime is buried in every syllable, echoed by equal disgust  toward himself. He’d always been saying things Robert said, trying to be like him, to gain a shred of approval. Myrcella almost pities him. It’s easier now with Jaime always present. He doesn’t let Joffrey be cruel. At least, he cuts it off when he can. When he can’t, his expression changes into an angry, fearsome thing and he peers down at Joffrey like a lion would its prey.

Joffrey cowers, every time. He’s not brave enough to fight back.

Now there is no anger. Jaime only looks sad.

He regrets them. Myrcella sees in his eyes that he understands what he has done to them and cannot defend it even to himself.

Tommen already loves Jaime. He says, “Don’t say mean things, Joffy.”

“My name is-”

“Your name is Jon,” says Jaime.

Jon and Thom and Mercy – they’re awful fake names, but Jaime says they’re safe in Essos, more or less. They can be brazen. Just not too brazen.

“Jon,” says Joffrey. “Like the bastard at Winterfell, yes, thank you for that. A bastard’s name for a bastard.”

“Your mother would want you to eat, Myrcella,” Jaime says, ignoring Joffrey. He doesn’t look directly at any of them.

He hasn’t, since what happened to Mother. Myrcella hadn’t thought he could be so miserable.

“Tommen can have my soup,” says Myrcella.

Tommen looks at Jaime, then says, firmly, “Mother would want you to eat,” in just the tone Jaime had.

Myrcella’s stomach twists. He’s so – so soft, so silly, so forgiving. He’s not our father, she wants to scream. Their father –

Their father ordered them all executed. 

No, no.

Robert wasn’t their father. Tommen is right. Their father does sit in front of them.

And he’d killed their false father. The king had come to head them off when he learned of the escape attempt. He’d brought a few guards, what he could scrounge up quickly in the dead of night. Ser Jaime had turned into a beast, growling and snarling as he fought. Even so, it’d looked like he’d lose. Joff tried to help, because he was the only other one of them who could fight. Myrcella thought he’d hated Robert so much, that hatred made him forget to be a coward. 

Robert saw and went after him. He’d knocked aside Joffrey’s blade with a strike of his hammer, then paused, like he was going to relish killing him.

And Mother had stepped between them.

Robert hit her with a blow that looked easy, glancing, but it had — it’d —

And Jaime had made a noise that was not human. Her nightmares of his fury are near as powerful as those of her mother’s body caving around the blow of the hammer.

He’d slain Robert and Ser Barristan and Ser Arys, and the rest had run.

Mother had still lived, only barely, and Jaime had cradled her and she’d whispered to him. Myrcella had been close enough to hear. Our children…” she’d said. “Keep them safe.

They needed to go, to run, but Jaime wouldn’t leave her.

“Little brother,” she whispered, and she must’ve told him with her eyes to end it, to make the pain stop, because he kissed her and then he put his hands around her throat until she stopped breathing.

Tommen says, “Please eat, Myr — Mercy. Please, Mercy.”

Please. Mercy.

She would gladly yell the same at the gods if she thought they would listen.

“I am going to my room,” says Myrcella, and goes away without waiting to be allowed. What does it matter? She’s no princess. She is a bastard. Who cares if a bastard lacks manners?

She shuts the door behind her, and curls on the dirty bed and wishes she could cry.

After weeks and weeks, they arrive in Braavos. They get a small gray home that is built wall to wall with the others around it, so narrow it looks uncomfortable.

“Surely we’ve more gold left than this,” says Joffrey.

“Even if we had all the gold of Casterly Rock, would you have us draw attention to ourselves by using it?” Jaime regards the building with poorly concealed derision. “It… is suitable enough.”

Jaime gets a job on the docks. He makes Joff get one too. Jaime finds visible relief in fleeing their awkward horrible home and lifting crates and doing whatever dockworkers do. Joffrey does not care for it, but he has become quiet, his fury extinguished. He looks what numb feels like. He says little, but whenever anyone tries to speak to him, the words seem to go right through him.

Myrcella befriends the woman who lives next door. She must suspect something strange, would be blind not to realize how out of place the highborn family from Westeros is in such a place, but says nothing. She stops by daily to help Myrcella figure out how to manage a house. She teaches her to pot a few herbs and put them in the windows so they get sunlight.

“You will feel better to see growing things,” says the woman.

It is nothing like her garden at the Red Keep. But it is nice to see green things every now and again.

In the evenings, Jaime takes them to one of the wider, emptier streets where merchants bustle by day. There he gives them lessons. Joffrey, he gives a sword and is hardest on, drilling him again and again. For the first time she remembers, her elder brother practices like he cares. All his awful anger needs somewhere to go, and he puts it into hacking and slashing at the man responsible for their fall. Tommen, he gives a dagger. Very gently he works with him on how to use it.

“You shouldn’t need to fight,” Jaime says, “but it’s safest you know a little. Just in case.”

Sometimes they are stopped by bravos in colorful finery with strange small swords. Jaime accepts every challenge, but fights only as well as necessary in order to win. During each bout, he watches the way the bravos fight, his eyes tracking their motions, drawing out the battles so he can learn their style.

Among all of this, Myrcella sometimes has lessons also.

She expresses surprise when Jaime first suggests it, and he becomes grim. “I can’t always keep you safe, and now there’s no fear of punishment to keep men from hurting you. You have to be your own guard.”

He teaches her to escape when grabbed from behind. He tells her where to throw her strikes and kicks. He gives her a dagger, and there’s none of the gentleness he uses on Tommen when he works with her. He is darkly serious, and he has Myrcella practice sticking it in makeshift dummies, making nasty comments when her strikes are not hard enough.

“You’re dead,” says he, “and probably raped too.”

The words make her cry. But the first time he lets her go to the market with only Tommen accompanying her, she sees the way men look at her, and she understands. Their consciences will not stop some of them. If she walks past the right alley, lets herself drift too close to a place she can be grabbed unseen, there’s nothing, no one, to protect her but herself.

The sessions bruise her and give her scrapes and sometimes she bleeds, but she does not hate Ser Uncle Father Jaime for those, at least.

She and Tommen come to take care of Joffrey and Jaime. Part of her resents it, for she likes neither of them and thinks Jaime especially deserves little from her.

Yet they do bring home money, and they look tired when they return. It’d be petty, she thinks, to sit at home all day and do nothing while they work.

So she and her little brother cook and clean and mend clothing and manage finances. It’s the division of work that makes the most sense. Tommen is better than her and in truth does much of the work. It’s because he throws himself into all of it wholeheartedly.

He thinks this is an adventure, she realizes one afternoon. He is inspecting an attempt at pudding that looks and smells like something from a chamber pot. He declares he will ask the neighbor woman where it all went wrong. In his mind, she is wiser than the most learned of maesters. Myrcella makes herself smile and tells Tommen that’s probably a good idea.

When he’s gone, she sits and buries her face in her hands. She is so tired! It doesn’t feel as if she does much, but there is the walking to the market for food, and the cooking. She has to keep their little house tidy too, and keep their clothes clean, and -

Oh, how she wishes things would go back to how they’d been before. She’d never thought much of being a princess. Now it’s all she thinks of. Friendly faces. The best of sweets. Her gentle septa. The way Robert’s eyes twinkled sometimes when he looked at her. “My sweet princess,” he called her. He bought her dolls and dresses and pretty things.

“Mercy?”

Tommen is back. She thinks maybe she dozed off or just got lost in her head because it seemed he’d left only moments before. Slowly she looks up. He’s frowning at her, his face twisted, his eyes sad.

“Are you okay?”

“Fine.”

“Should I get Anise?”

That is the name of the neighbor.

“No. I only… I miss home. I miss Father.”

“But Father-” Tommen stops himself. “Oh.”

“How can you think of our… our uncle like that? He did something wrong, something very wrong, and now everything is hard. We’re being punished and it is not our fault.”

Tommen climbs onto the chair next to her, even though there isn’t much room and each of them end up half standing.

“I like being me,” says Tommen. “If… if he didn’t do wrong, we wouldn’t have ever existed, and I don’t want to have not existed.”

Myrcella isn’t sure she agrees.

Tommen wraps his arms around himself. “It’s better here. Mother – she never believed me when I said Joffy did awful things, and she got mad when I cried. Father-” She flinches, “-gets mad when I’m hurt, and he lets me hug him when I’m sad.”

“He killed…” She doesn’t know what to call Robert.

“Robert, he killed Mother first. He was going to kill us.” Tommen worries his lip. “I wish he weren’t dead. But Robert didn’t like me. Father does. He says I have a good heart, and am more honorable than any knight he’s met ever.”

“He is not good.”

“I think he wants to be. It isn’t like Joffy when he’d do bad and like it.”

“How can you want to be good and not be?”

“I want to be good at swording and I’m not. But Father says I will be if I practice. Maybe Father hasn’t gotten enough practice.”

She loves her brother. So much it feels like she’ll burst from it. Sweet, smart little Tommen. She puts an arm around him and kisses his cheek — then stops, and she wonders for a cold moment if she shouldn’t be kissing her brother’s cheek. Maybe that’s how it happened with Mother and - and Uncle.

Tommen does not notice her expression. He hops off the stool and says, “We need to go to the market. If we don’t get things for supper soon, we won’t have anything ready for Father and Joff — and Jon.” He smiles to himself, proud that he’s remembered to use the right name.

Myrcella cannot return his smile, but she stands as well. He is right. They need to get food.

She studies his small, round face and thinks of the things Joffrey told her Mother and Ser Uncle Jaime did together. But she wants only to pinch Tommen’s cheeks or perhaps hug him. She can imagine nothing else. Maybe that’s how it goes though. Maybe when she’s older it will change, and something in her blood will make her want to… do those things.

I won’t, no matter what. I’ll never make bastards. Not monstrous bastards like us.

That was what Robert called them after the truth came out. Monstrous.

“Mercy?”

“Yes,” says Myrcella. “Yes, let’s go.”

If something good does come out of all this, it is Joffrey. She doesn’t realize he’s changing until they’ve been in Braavos several turns of the moon. He gets into a skirmish at the docks. She never learns what it’s about, but he tries fighting multiple men larger than himself. Apparently Jaime helps him out, and when it’s over, he takes Joffrey home and stitches a big cut on his hand from where he’d tried to stop a dagger.

Joffrey is drunk, having downed a bunch of wine so the stitches wouldn’t hurt so much. Maybe that’s what loosens his tongue.

“Are you hurt anywhere else?” Jaime says. “You took a blow to the ribs. Mayhaps I should have a look-”

Joffrey swats him away. “What do you care? You’re only here because Mother made you.”

Myrcella is shocked when Jaime flinches, jaw slackened with surprise.

“Your mother’s words kept me from staying at her side and getting killed with her,” Jaime says slowly. “But they certainly did nothing to make me care. I’d been indifferent to you before, and I hated you once I got to know you better. It’s only now, you’re becoming less… cruel. I don’t know I like you, but I’ve become used to you-”

His eyes dart away.

“-and you are my son, and that’s come to mean something also.” He clears his throat. “Your ribs…”

“Bruised,” says Joffrey, now looking away as well. He scratches the back of his head. “You… did help me.”

“Of course.”

The conversation ends there and is not brought up again, but Joffrey and Jaime begin to talk with one another. Never nicely, but they take strange pleasure in exchanging snide commentary on whatever topic comes up, or sharing stories of those they work with, or sometimes speaking in low voices about things their faces say are important.

It is strange.

For his eighth name day, Jaime gets Tommen a stray kitten he’d found at the docks. Myrcella remembers how Joffrey was with animals and worries he will hurt it, but he mutters to Tommen, “Fine cat,” and scarce looks at the thing after.

That is strange also.

One day, she and Joffrey are left alone when Jaime takes Tommen to see a mummer’s show. Once she would have been scared to be with him alone, but it has happened a time or two before. He has either gone out or kept to himself.

This time, he goes to where she is perusing a volume of fairy stories. Tommen used Jaime’s money to get it for her as a name day gift.

Joffrey stands in front of her and frowns, as if studying a strange, foreign creature.

“Do you need something?” Myrcella says. She wonders a moment if maybe he thinks of her like Mother did Jaime. It scares her. She isn’t so sure of Joffrey she trusts he wouldn’t make her do incest. He does order her about sometimes, or tries to. Jaime always says, “She’s your sister, not your servant,” but Jaime isn’t always there. He isn’t here now.

But he only talks.

“The Iron Bank is kicking up a fuss,” he says. “The Targaryen whore, she’s just freed a bunch of slaves in Meereen and she’s got an army. They say it’s not long before she goes to Westeros with her dragons, and other people say Aegon Targaryen, or someone who looks like him, has landed in the Stormlands. They say he’s got sellswords with him.”

Myrcella stares at him. “I haven’t heard any of that.” She knew about the girl and the dragons; Robert had yelled about the girl, and they spoke of the dragons often enough within the market that she assumed they must be real. But everything else is new and frightening.

“They talk about it on the docks.” Joffrey crosses his arms over his chest and stands in a way that makes him look like an adult. Like Jaime. “Three dragons. An army of Dothraki and Unsullied. And another army of sellswords. Ser Jaime says Dorne has sided with the Targaryens, and Grandfather is hated by everyone, and he hates everyone just as equally. The Greyjoys are rebelling, the Starks are fighting them and wildilngs up north, and Renly and the Tyrells have got people saying Stannis shouldn’t be king. It’s a mess.”

Myrcella blinks. “Oh.”

“If this hadn’t happened, that would be our problem. We’d be months from having our heads on spikes.”

Joffrey sits near her, but not so close it makes her uneasy. He stretches his legs in front of him, taking up space. Like Jaime does. 

“They deserve it,” he says. “Stannis and Renly. All of them.”

“It was Mother and Jaime who ruined the line of succession.”

Joffrey waves a hand. “That only started it. They didn’t have to be such idiots.”

“Like you said. It isn’t our problem.”

“No,” says Joffrey.

“Are you… happy, here?” says Myrcella.

Joffrey looks at her as if she’s grown another head. She wonders almost if he can be happy. It looks almost like he’s wondering the same thing. Finally, he shrugs, a touch uncomfortably. “I want to yell at everyone all the time that I am better than this, because I am the crown prince — I should be king. But.”

He scowls. “I’m a bastard. A monstrous bastard. I want to claw my own skin off, sometimes. Like it’s dirty just because it’s there. We’re nothing. Not even Lannisters. We’d have a bastard’s surname if we lived in Westeros. Hill or Waters, I am not certain. We’re poor, disgraced, hated.”

He pushes his hair from his face, the golden curls so like Jaime’s, like hers, like mother’s and Tommen’s, she feels stupid all over again for not always knowing.

“But,” she presses.

“I am not unhappy. Nothing is right and everything is wrong but it does not feel that way unless I remind myself of it.”

He clears his throat. “And… I’d had the sense, you all, everyone, were like ants, who did not matter, because I was going to be king. Except I won’t be king. So that rest was wrong, also.” He fixes his eyes on her. “I know that, right? So stop being so bloody jumpy. Tell this to Tommen too. He’s getting annoying with all his running and squealing.”

Myrcella doesn’t quite trust this. But she sees a trace of apology in it, maybe self-awareness. Cautiously, she nods, thinking she might eventually believe him.

Myrcella and Tommen have just finished dinner. They’re playing with Ser Pounce when someone knocks on the door. She grabs her dagger when she goes to answer it, but is not truly worried, assuming it is a neighbor.

Her heart stops when she opens the door and Tyrion stands before her, looking worse for wear on the other side.

Oh.She goes to her knees and hugs him, and he lets out a surprised noise before returning it. “I’d been worried. Everyone says horrible things are happening in Westeros, and I thought-”

“I left,” says Tyrion. “Father became unbearable. I’d thought I could stay to — well, try to make sure he did nothing too terrible, but it was no good, and I made my way to Essos. I’ve been here a while, but it took time to find you. And do you know they aren’t very respectful of dwarfs in Essos?”

Tommen has heard the commotion. He sees Tyrion and surges forward before Myrcella can reply.

Uncle.

They hug as well. Tommen is crying. Ser Pounce creeps forward to investigate, and Tyrion says, “And who is this?”

That brings a smile to her brother’s face. “Father got him for my name day. He is Ser Pounce. I want more kittens to make a court, but he says we haven’t the room…”

Tommen keeps talking. Myrcella sees that Tyrion is only half listening. He is caught on the Father, just as Myrcella still always is. It isn’t that she wants to be cold, certainly not when even Joffrey seems to think of Jaime as more than just another uncle. But it’s such a tricky thing, and Jaime has responded to her uncertainty by giving her space and that doesn’t quite help either.

Eventually, they make it into the kitchen and update one another on all that’s happened. She’s unsure at first that Tyrion will love them like he always has, but he never mentions it once. Only after a while does she realize Tyrion understands perfectly what it is to be hated for something you cannot help. He’s been called monstrous his whole life. She thinks of Joffrey saying he wishes he could claw off his own skin; she’s felt that also, and knows without asking Tyrion has as well.

“How is Jaime?” says Tyrion after a time.

Myrcella cannot say. He’s become less obviously sad, but he is still difficult to know. She has figured out a hundred separate things, but they never make a coherent picture. There’s no explanation except that many of those things are masks and lies.

Tommen is less aware of the nuances of ‘Father’ than Myrcella.

“Good,” says Tommen. “Even Joffy — I mean, Jon likes him.”

Likes is a strong word. Joffrey calls him ‘Sister fucker’ when he’s in a bad mood and ‘Kingslayer,’ when he wants a fight, and she’s never heard anything even a tiny bit sentimental pass between them. But she doesn’t contradict Tommen. The spirit of it is close enough.

Jaime and Joffrey return home not long after this exchange. Joffrey hangs back when he realizes Tyrion is present, but Jaime embraces his brother without self-consciousness.

“Baby brother,” Jaime says.

She’d forgotten how much he loved Tyrion, that they’d been close, and that he hadn’t dismissed him like Mother always had. He’d been the only adult not to do so.

The evening is a happy one, made more so when Tyrion reveals he has no plans to go anywhere in the immediate future. He wants to travel eventually but says it can wait. They talk until Tommen begins yawning, and Joffrey says he needs to rest also. Myrcella goes with them to prepare for bed.

But Myrcella is curious, and the house is small. She goes to the edge of her room and presses her ear to the thin wall, which rests right against the kitchen. The voices carry.

“-expected you to have thrown Joff into the sea at least.”

“Cersei let him do everything,” Jaime says, and she can hear the frustration in his voice. “Things Father would’ve gutted us for. I was there, but I hadn’t…”

“Cared?”

“I couldn’t have. Cersei would not let me, and she was in the right. Look at all that’s happened when the truth got out. They were my seed, but I rarely thought more of it than that. But when Robert… hit her, with that bloody hammer, she made me promise. I couldn’t ignore that.”

“Is that was this is?”

Jaime snorts. “I sometimes wish. I am bored, brother. Bored and restless. I want to fight, to joust, to do something besides work at the docks every damned day. But then I think of them, and — I wouldn’t leave. I’ve done imprudent things for love -”

“I can guess at some of them.”

Bran. Out the window. It’d been mentioned when everything was still chaotic and she had a dozen other reasons to think ill of her not-just-uncle. It shakes her to have it brought up again now. She’d forgotten. It chills her to remember. Poor Bran.

Jaime’s voice changes. Becomes heavier. “It was the easiest solution. I’d do it again, for Cersei, for them. I didn’t regret it then. At the time, I was mad at the boy for spying and making me do it. I think about it now, though. He was Tommen’s age, and the two of them get tangled, sometimes, in my nightmares. Tommen had liked him. I recall that now. You remember how he asked about him?”

“Do I hear guilt?”

“What does guilt matter? It fixes nothing. My point, my point is, for all I thought so highly of myself for being devoted, the truth of it is, Cersei and I did whatever we wanted, damn everything else.” Then, so softly she has to strain to hear, he goes on, “That’s not this. It isn’t about wanting. It’s not a selfish thing.”

“You love them. Is this what you’re talking around?”

“We’ve talked of this… this father business enough, haven’t we? It makes me feel old, and not myself. How’s our family? Tell me that.”

“You don’t want to hear it. Father is — I am surprised he is not dead yet. You cannot comprehend how you humiliated him. It’d have been one thing if you died in King’s Landing, or fled to Casterly Rock so he could spin a story of how you’d been unjustly accused. But you ran. You know how he’s always hated being laughed at. Now he’s the joke of the Seven Kingdoms.”

“I never meant-”

“You never thought, you mean. Kevan hates you as well, or at least he’s very angry, and Genna is as devastated as she is furious. There will be no recovering our reputation. If you’d have just been fucking, it’d be one thing. But she was queen, you a Kingsguard — and now another king is dead and Barristan Selmy. You’d long for Kingslayer, the things they call you now.”

Jaime goes silent. Myrcella’s heart aches. She realizes she’s crying. For her family? Their family? Or for Jaime? She isn’t sure. It doesn’t feel like Jaime deserves her tears.

Tyrion continues speaking.

“Perhaps some good news. You don’t have to worry about being hunted. Stannis valued Eddard Stark’s loyalty, keeping the throne for him in the chaos after Robert’s death. He kept him as Hand, and Stark had me brought before him. Something of his honor, I think, compelled him to tell me the truth of all that happened.”

“Well go on,” Jaime says. “This should be good.”

“He discovered your affair with Cersei weeks before the… incident. He did not go directly to Robert. He went first to Cersei and offered her and the children the chance to leave.”

What?”

“I suspect she didn’t go to you because she knew you’d do something foolish and lose your head for it. She conspired with Lancel to kill Robert, to get him drunk on a hunting trip and hope he had an accident-”

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” Quickly, Jaime amends, “That is, I’m sure Cersei had something else in mind. Lancel — why would Lancel even listen?”

“I couldn’t imagine,” says Tyrion, but even Myrcella catches the innuendo in his voice.

“No,” Jaime says.

“Perhaps something else, then.” Tyrion clears his throat. “As it is, Robert tasted something off with his wine. He asked Lancel where he’d gotten it. The boy has the spine of a worm and quickly admitted it was the queen. After this, Stark felt compelled to tell Robert the rest of it, but pleaded with him to spare the youngest of the children. When Robert would not, Stark resigned in private, with only Robert to hear. He was making arrangements to leave when you escaped.

“Stark took over as regent, briefly. He blocked the Gold Road and placed men all along the forest. If you’d been caught going that way, they would’ve hauled you back to King’s Landing to be executed. But he left the ports open. When Varys confirmed you’d taken a ship for Essos, Stark called every man back and established there was to be no price on your heads. Stannis argued against this when he came over from Dragonstone, but when Varys’s little birds reported you were going further and further from King’s Landing, he allowed it to drop.”

“How far were we tracked?” Jaime asks hoarsley.

“It’s known you’re in Braavos. That’s how I knew to come here. Officially, no one knows the exact location, but I would assume Varys is aware and has simply kept it to himself.”

Myrcella presses a hand over her mouth.

“Tell me we’re not still alive because of Eddard Stark.”

“He knew if he caught and killed you, the children would suffer. So he did not push the matter. As long as you remain in Essos, you’re safe.”

There’s a thud. She thinks Jaime just punched the table.

“Leave me, brother,” says Jaime. “I need to think a while.”

Silence follows.

Myrcella cannot help herself. She wraps a cloak about her shoulders, and clutching it close, slips from her room and goes to Jaime. He sits at their small table with his head stooped, his gaze haunted.

When he sees her, his eyes become empty and he smiles. “Myrcella. Is something the matter?”

“Was Mother a bad person?”

The smile falls.

“You heard.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Come here?” His voice is tentative. But she goes to him, and lets him pull her onto his knee. She buries her face against his shoulder like Robert sometimes let her do. Robert always smelled like wine. Jaime smells like sweat and the sea.

His voice isn’t loud either, not like Robert, when he speaks to her. “Your mother was complicated. She did not want this for you. She wanted you to be a princess, and Joff to be a king and Tommen a prince. It scared her that you’d have it all taken away. She loved you, and she fought for you the way she knew how.”

Myrcella isn’t sure this is true. She suspects maybe it was Mother who wanted to be queen more than any of the rest, but she thinks it would hurt Jaime if she said so.

She does not ask about anything else she heard. Those are peripheral things, about people who do not quite matter to her. She instead remains silent and finds comfort in the soft things he murmurs as he strokes her hair.

When she has ceased crying, she pulls away and sees that his eyes are are glassy.

“It’s done,” he says. “All of it, it’s done, in the past. We’re here now. It’s not so bad, is it?”

“No, it’s not so bad,” she whispers — realizing it is true. They’ve a life here, of a sort, and it feels so much less treacherous than hers in the Red Keep sometimes did.

Jaime smiles. This time small and wavering but true.

He’s my father, Myrcella thinks with dawning understanding. It has begun to mean something.

It takes two more years for her to call him “father” to his face.

Jaime brings them all to the final day of the ten day festival celebrating the Uncloaking of Uthero. They didn’t go the first year, but the second Tyrion insisted and it goes without saying they’ll do it the third. Tyrion is traveling at the moment, off in Qarth, and Joff is at sea. He fell in with the son of a ship’s captain and ended up on the crew, and he’s away from Braavos most the time now. With every trip he seems a little less the Joff he’d once been, talking sometimes about his shipmates like they’re friends instead of inferior creatures.

So it’s she and Jaime and Tommen. Tommen runs into a friend of his who lives down the street, and the two disappear into the crowds. Jaime watches them go, his forehead creased like he wants to call him back, but he holds his tongue.

With a wry shake of his head, he looks to Myrcella. “He didn’t let me go last year. Clung to my arm the entire time. Will you leave me too?”

She takes his arm and smiles at him. She understands him enough to see this is mostly a joke, but with a touch of sadness in it. They’re all he has, and it’s made him a little too protective.

“I’ve no where else to go,” she says.

For a time they go on in silence. She’s the only one of them he’s ever quiet with. He and Tommen chatter inanely about whatever comes into their minds, and when Joff is around, there’s always something for them to snark over. But he’s quiet with her. He never quite knows what to say, she thinks. Even so, it isn’t a bad quiet.

As they walk, Myrcella thinks of the past years. Westeros, torn apart; a quarter of its population destroyed by war or dragons or White Walkers. There’s still bickering about who should sit the Iron Throne. Grandfather is dead, Kevan lord of a largely powerless Casterly Rock — and they, their little family in Braavos, separate from all of it.

Happier than they would’ve been if things had been different, she thinks.

Part of her feels a touch craven, to have escaped so much. Mostly she is relieved. The strangeness of knowing her parentage has eased, and she no longer feels a monster in human flesh. Nor does she worry about anything happening with her and Joffrey or Tommen. Time has dulled the revulsion that’d come upon her, made her afraid, when she thought of it before.

She’s accepted it, more or less. There hadn’t been anything else she could do.

She and Jaime end up along the edge of Purple Harbor, the way lit by moonlight.

Jaime slows his steps. Soon he stops entirely.

“Do you remember Jon Snow?” says he.

It’s a strange question, but not entirely out of nowhere. They’ve heard much of Jon Snow as of late.

“He sits the Iron Throne now.” For now. It’s such a funny thing, how still there’s squabbling over that stupid chair.  

Jaime had sat upon it, once upon a time; she knows that story. Such a funny thing to think. Now he’s weathered from days working in the sun, his hair gaining a touch of silver, stubble always on his face. He looks like no one who should be near a throne, like a commoner. They are commoners. Even Joff who was once prince now has calloused hands and arms strong from his work and the slightest hint of a rough accent in his speech.

Jaime looks out across the sea.

“I’ve received a missive. From King’s Landing. Kevan has no heirs. Anyone who could inherit the Rock has been killed in the fighting. Snow doesn’t want to play politics by gifting it to another family. He says you and Tommen can return. You’re young. You never did anything wrong. And Snow and Kevan apparently work well enough together he trusts him to guide you properly. Tommen would inherit, and you would marry some lord in the Westerlands-”

Myrcella stops him.

“No,” she says.

He stops.

“I’m sorry?”

“I… I think Tommen will feel the same,” says Myrcella. “Unless, unless you really wish it of us, I am content here. I do not want to marry a lord. I do not want to go to a place where everyone will hate me because of what I am. I want to be as far from the game of thrones as possible.” She takes his hand and clutches it. “My family is here. I wish to remain here. With my brothers. With my father.

He blinks rapidly, then looks away and clears his throat. He’s trying to remain stoic and it makes her laugh at him.

“You smile so often otherwise. It’s okay to do so also when you’re happy. That’s what smiles are for.”

Then he laughs, and he clutches her to him.

Abruptly, she is glad. Not only that she’s avoided the war and spent the last years living in peace. But she is glad that he is her father. That it was Jaime who sired her and not Robert. Her memories have become foggy but she recalls the king and his loudness and the way he spoke to mother, the women always around him, the smell of wine. There was nothing like this, crinkled emerald eyes and a tired, cautious grin.

She steps away, cheeks flushed as she glances around them. “You didn’t need to hug me here, you know. I’m not a child.”

“Of course, daughter,” he says lightly.

She rolls her eyes, but her smile does not fade.

Her life is not so bad, all things considered.