Usually Sansa would never be allowed to open the door to visitors; usually Joffrey’s bodyguards are on hand to do such dirty and potentially dangerous work, and Sansa keeps to the quietest back rooms of the house where she can be seen, not heard. But today her fiancée and his mother have gone off on some special errand in the New Jersey turnpike, something that’s no doubt three kinds of illegal. Pausing in the doorway, Sansa’s soon to be mother-in-law had said to her son, “Shouldn’t we take her with us?” Joffrey had just scoffed, derisive. “Mother, she’d be more trouble than she’s worth.”
Neither of them had looked at her. He’d turned away and they’d departed one after another through the door. Wherever they were going, it was apparently important enough that both his guards had to come too.
So they left her behind like a trained and broken house pet. She wouldn’t run away, she imagined them saying to one another as she pressed her nose up against window glass, watching their departing Mercedes pilot smoothly through the wrought-iron gates. But the thing is, they would be right; Sansa wouldn’t run away. Where does she have to go?
It only occurs to her much later that perhaps this had been all arranged: Joffrey’s outing, the rest of it. But Sansa still doesn’t know how to think like that at this point, to see both the long game and the little details stacking up before her in real time. After her father’s death she’s developed the jittery nerves of a caffeine addict, a chronic inability to trust, but she hasn’t yet learned how to visualize everything all at once and how it all slots into place.
So when the doorbell rings and Sansa opens it, she is caught by the image and image alone of the girl who stands there. Glossy and beautiful, that’s what she is. It only takes Sansa one look to see that this woman is from another world, a soft-focus men’s magazine vision. She might have stepped out of a pink-tinged foldout in one of those Playboy magazines Joffrey’s uncle leaves lying around.
And Sansa has always been a sucker for pretty pictures. She spends enough time flipping through beauty magazines to be able to appreciate good art direction, and it seems that this stranger is also a fan of composing a pretty scene. One look is all it takes, and Sansa is itching to scratch the surface.
“I’m looking for Joffrey?” is what the girl says. She’s dressed in a fur coat so lustrous that it has to be real, a sleek patterned dress and suede platform heels peeking out underneath. But despite the obviously expensive clothing, there’s enough showiness in what she’s wearing to show exactly what kind of girl she is—or the kind of girl she’s trying to look like.
“He’s not here,” Sansa tells her, standing in the doorway, trying to fill the space and look authoritative in her day dress. She’s been doing nothing all morning, reading a movie magazine and contemplating doing her nails. At least her eyeliner went on perfectly today; when that happens she feels much more grown-up than her eighteen years.
“Oh.” The other girl regards Sansa. She tips her head up under the brim of her floppy-brimmed hat, brown curls cascading down the sides of her face, and Sansa has a moment of shock to see how china-doll perfect she is, how sweet the twist of her heart-shaped little mouth looks in contrast to the outsize glamour of her outfit. “You must be…”
“His fiancée. And who are you?” Sansa tries to sound calm, cold, adult. But her body is buzzing with questions, and a steadily approaching sense of certainty that she knows the answer to every one of them.
The girl looks evasive, something almost apologetic flickering across her face. She heaves a sigh, glances down and then up at Sansa through mascaraed lashes, presses her red lips together. “Oh, honey. I don’t want to be indelicate. But…”
And just like that, Sansa understands. She sags against the wall, a very heavy weight pooling in her chest.
It’s not that she hasn’t suspected something like this was going on. Joffrey is her fiancée in title only—it’s been made quite clear that she’s a mere accessory in the Lannisters’ plans. It’s also been quite a while since she harbored any illusions about Joffrey’s feelings towards her, and even longer since she’d thought she felt anything like love towards him. But even after Sansa had discarded her expectations of love, there had still been sex to contend with. Or to avoid contending with.
Yes, she thinks, I should have known. Tears prick at the rims of her eyes and she puts a fingernail in her mouth, nibbling despite how hard she’s tried to break the girlish habit.
But the other girl looks sympathetic: she gazes up Sansa, adjusting her leather purse strap and shifting her weight to the other hip. “They told me he would be here.” She pauses, clearing her throat. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know I’d be the bearer of bad news.”
“That’s all right,” Sansa hears herself saying, her own voice sounding strangely even. She draws a deep breath and straightens up, swallowing the lump in her throat. What is wrong with her? She should be screaming, crying, throwing things like a soap-opera scene—she certainly watches enough soap operas, cooped up in this big house all day long. But instead she feels a faint sense of something like relief.
“Can I come in?” the girl says at last. “If you wanted to talk about it, or…”
“I—I’m here alone,” Sansa responds, suddenly uneasy. She worries, too late, that she’s revealed too much. Who is this woman, anyway? She can’t just invite some… some call girl into the house. Although perhaps she’s been here before, who is Sansa to know?
“We can talk,” the other girl offers. She’s definitely older than Sansa; she could be any age, but looks maybe early twenties. She has an intangible sheen of womanhood, an exotic allure that comes off her like musk-based perfume and Sansa is strangely drawn to it. She wants to reach out and touch, to probe with her fingertips.
“I’m Margaery, by the way,” the call girl adds.
“I’m Sansa,” she says tentatively.
Margaery gives her a foxlike flash of a smile, white teeth glinting against her reddened lower lip, and Sansa feels herself flush with what feels like confusion but could easily be something else. “I know.”
Somehow they wind up in the enormous, perfect kitchen drinking coffee in pristine Formica cups because Sansa’s mother always taught her to entertain guests properly, even if those guests are uninvited.
But Sansa hasn't seen her mother in nearly two years, and her hands tremble a little as she carefully slices coffee cake from the cake tray and slides it onto a plate. “Sugar?” she asks, crossing the kitchen to the table. The heels of her house mules clack against the hardwood floor as she goes.
“You’re so young,” Margaery says, eyes locked on Sansa’s face. She accepts the sugar canister without looking, drops a cube into her black coffee.
“Yeah, I heard about you. You’re younger than I thought, though.”
There’s a moment of awkward silence, and the other girl sighs. “Did you have any idea…” She dips her head, taking an almost apologetic sip of her coffee.
“I—I don’t know.” Sansa shakes her head. “I guess I’m not surprised. To find out that—I mean, it’s not as if he and I…” She struggles with words, but they’re not coming out.
“Oh, sweetie,” the call girl says sympathetically. She reaches over and brushes the hair back from Sansa’s neck where strands have escaped the carefully sprayed coiffure. It takes most of Sansa’s time, her hairstyling. It’s not as if she has anything else to do with her days.
Sansa realizes that she’s crying then, but not out of sadness for Joffrey. She doesn’t know why. Maybe it’s because this woman’s fingers are so soft. Or because it’s been so long since anyone has touched her this way.
“No, no, don’t cry,” Margaery murmurs as if from a distance, but Sansa can’t stop.
Somehow she ends up with Margaery standing next to her, breath hot on Sansa’s ear, sliding a hand under Sansa’s chin and turning Sansa gently to face her. Sansa stares up, holding her breath as Margaery comes slowly closer; Margaery leans in, and Sansa squeezes her eyes shut when they kiss. (The call girl’s lips are warm, and soft. Sansa isn’t sure what she expected kissing a woman would feel like, but it’s… nice.)
She says nothing when they pull apart, feels herself trembling, and then Margaery bends her head and presses a kiss to Sansa’s collarbone. When Sansa doesn’t flinch away she trails another few into the warm place just at the tops of Sansa’s breasts. Sansa’s stomach turns in a way that feels equally good and bad, smelling Margaery’s perfume, staring down at the tumbling waves of her hair. She hardly dares to move or breathe. It feels like if she does the entire scene might fall apart: she might wake to discover that none of this is actually happening.
“You’re sure they won’t be home for a while?” the other girl says into Sansa’s neck, straightening up slowly, and Sansa nods with eyes wide. Margaery strokes the side of Sansa’s face, staring at her with an intensity that makes Sansa terrified. “Let me do this for you,” she whispers. “I can make you feel so good.”
Sansa feels almost sick with excitement. Exhilaration and dread and fear are all coiling together in her body. She says nothing but extends her hand, shaking from head to toe, to lead the older girl upstairs.
She’s not sharing a bedroom with Joffrey, not yet, so they tumble across Sansa’s princess-pink satin bedspread together. Margaery breathes hotly on Sansa’s skin and she’s gentle and hungry all at once. She rocks Sansa back and forth in her lap, pulling Sansa’s legs around her, crawls over her like a maternal animal. In response, Sansa is too startled, too knocked out of her day-to-day stunned state to be quiet. She moans, cries out, and doesn’t wriggle away when Margaery begins to undo the buttons first of her own dress, and then Sansa’s.
But Sansa is modest about her body, almost frightened of it if she is perfectly honest with herself. She can hardly even look at herself in the mirror in her underwear without getting embarrassed, so when the other woman puts a tentative hand between her legs, cupping Sansa’s crotch with curved fingers, she startles. “I don’t—” she begins nervously, pulling herself up. The call girl catches her instinctively as she reaches down, pinning Sansa’s hand to the bed with her own. “Just let me try,” Margaery offers firmly, meeting Sansa’s wide eyes with a steady look. “And if you don’t like it, I’ll stop, I promise.”
It’s not what good girls do, and she’s already had to fight Joffrey a dozen times to keep him out of her bed (Cersei is her unlikely ally in this; she’s said bluntly on more than one occasion that Sansa getting pregnant would be more trouble than it’s worth), but... “Oh,” Sansa says weakly, wanting it more than she’s wanted anything in a long time, “all right…”
And suddenly her silk panties are on the floor and Sansa finds her legs being pushed gently askew, one knee bent toward her body with Margaery’s hand wrapped firmly around her ankle. She has a shock when she suddenly glimpses herself in the mirror of the vanity table that sits at the foot of the bed; she’s open and gently pink and—but then Margaery is in the way, her curly brown head bending to Sansa’s center, and it’s actually just like the first time she’s always dreamed of. It doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t hurt at all, and she curls her toes in pleasure and stares at the ceiling until she can’t keep her eyes open any longer and squeezes them shut as she cries out in surprise and relief. She is only vaguely aware of the soothing sounds that the other girl makes to comfort her, rubbing a soft hand across the expanse of Sansa’s trembling stomach and along her shivering thighs.
Sansa sits up to find herself covered in lipstick trails when they’re finished, marked from head to toe. She extends her arms, gazing blankly at her own body, and thinks that she’s going to have to take a long bath to steam away all this evidence. But nothing is going to wash away the feeling of heat and possibility and clarity that has overcome her, as sudden and unexpected as a tidal wave.
Margaery perches on the edge of the bed, licks her wet Revlon-red lips, and smiles. She turns her head and looks at Sansa for a moment with a soft expression.
“I’ll keep him away from you,” she promises, and bends to snap on her garters back into place. Sansa sits against the headboard, watching her and hunting for words.
“Will I see you again?” is all she can manage. It’s been so long since she’s thought outside the foggy haze that envelops her slightly nightmarish life. She’s grown very good at doing what she’s told, and even better at taking the pills that her mother-in-law takes (they’re oh-so-good at taking the edge off). But this visit and that bold, bright look on the call girl’s face make Sansa think suddenly of linear plans, remembering the mere possibility of a future outside of the cushioned hell she’s been sleepwalking through for the past eighteen months.
“You’ll hear from me,” Margaery says, not smiling. “I promise."
She leans over for one last kiss, cupping Sansa’s chin almost possessively in one outstretched hand, and then she’s gone.
Weeks pass, and Joffrey no longer bothers Sansa for sex. He just ignores her, and while that once would have caused Sansa mingled alarm and relief, now just she suspects (hopes, prays) that Margaery is delivering on her promises. She tries to block out her too-acute knowledge of her own position as a Lannister pawn, and simply feels relieved for this reprieve from evading her own fiancée.
Margaery rematerializes at a political fundraiser, the kind of thing the Lannisters live for. Sansa is dressed to the nines, or rather undressed to the nines—they parade her around like a show pony, her bosom hanging out like golden fruit. She’s wearing a golden column of a dress, her hair up in a semi-Grecian updo, and she meets no one’s eyes. At the opposite end of the hotel ballroom, Joffrey pretends that she doesn’t exist.
Cersei Lannister steers Sansa around by the elbow, her glossy beautiful golden head held high. She greets people with a rictus of a smile that’s more like a grimace or a war mask; meanwhile, she’s gripping Sansa’s arm so hard that it hurts.
“Stand up straight,” Sansa’s soon-to-be mother-in-law hisses in her ear, like Sansa is the reason she is so furious, and Sansa obeys.
She’s lost sight of Joffrey, and then Sansa sees him appear by the bar—speaking to, she realizes with a sudden thrill, Margaery. Margaery has her head held high and her hair piled higher, wearing a dress so low that her décolletage should be illegal. She throws her head back with gusto to laugh at something that Joff says, and the sexual ripple that she lets off among the men in the room is almost palpable. Sansa’s stomach seizes with delight and fear to see her; she’s like a beacon of hope, a light in the room that only moments ago was just a few hairs shy of unbearable.
But Sansa is not the only one who’s noticed Margaery. Cersei’s face is tight when Sansa glances at her and Sansa is suddenly fearful. She knows that nothing good can ever come when Cersei’s face looks like that.
She looks back over at Margaery—across the room, the call girl turns her glorious head and they meet eyes for just a moment. Margaery winks before turning away to let Joffrey light her cigarette, bare shoulders curving in enticingly, and Sansa’s heart squeezes with relief.
Whatever happens, she thinks, ignoring Cersei Lannister visibly bristling and straightening at her side, exhaling a sharp note of what sounds like equal parts fury and fear, Margaery can handle it.
She appears again at the Lannister house, just once, and Sansa’s heart does a flip in her chest when she swings open the door. “What are you doing here?”
“Let me in, quick,” Margaery says instead of hello, and cuts her eyes with their double row of false eyelashes at Sansa. She slips inside and Sansa shuts the door behind them, hastily latching the bolt. Then Margaery pushes Sansa against the wall and kisses her hard, squeezing one hand tight around Sansa’s waist.
“How’ve you been, angel?” she asks, gazing at Sansa with critical eyes as if scanning for bruises. She scrapes a few fingers over the side over Sansa’s face, pauses to tuck a loose strand of hair behind Sansa’s ear. “Are they treating you all right?”
Sansa shrugs, head all dizzy. The older girl smells like flowers, whole Technicolor bouquets of them, and it’s not easy to think past that. “Normal.”
Margaery grins. “Good. You’re too cute to be manhandled.” She turns on her low heel, stalks into the front entry, and then pauses to look around.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Sansa repeats, shaking off the fog and following the older girl into the house. “It’s dangerous—really, I—they might come back any time.”
“I need you to tell me something,” Margaery says, turning, and there’s urgency in her face only slightly belied by the playful curl of her lip. Sansa draws back, instantly put on edge by her tone of voice. “I need to know where Joffrey keeps his safe.”
Sansa’s mouth goes dry. “How did you know about that?”
Margaery answers only with a shrug. Her eyes slide over Sansa’s face, intense and searching. “Sansa, this is important.”
She hesitates, but only for a moment. Whose side is she on, really? She doesn’t have to ask herself twice. “Under a panel at the bottom of his closet.”
“Thanks, doll.” Margaery disappears up the stairs, only to return in a matter of minutes. She has a slim manila envelope under her arm, and her face is slack in a hard, concentrated expression Sansa has never seen her wear before.
Margaery must see the fear written all over Sansa’s face because she goes directly to her, sliding her hand up and down Sansa’s arm comfortingly. “You’re really something special, you know that?” she murmurs, slipping an arm around Sansa’s waist. She squeezes Sansa tight, and Sansa closes her eyes for a moment, savoring the electric-spark feeling it gives her.
“What is—” she begins to ask, words forming on her lips even as she’s leaning in to kiss Margaery, but Margaery pulls away and steps toward the door, clutching the envelope tight under her an arm, heart-shaped mouth pressed into a taut line.
She tips Sansa a kiss on the hand, but she’s already unlatching the door. “I have to go. Thanks for the help. I’ll call you, promise.”
Margaery doesn’t call.
Sansa’s not sure when she finally starts putting the pieces together, realizes that Margaery’s chance appearance at the Lannister house was never accidental at all. She’s not sure when she finally decides that coincidence is not something that happens in real life—not in this life, at least. Not in her life.
Nor can she decide if Margaery has ever actually slept with Joffrey, or if it matters (but it does matter, it does, Sansa’s heart insists—after all, she’s been raised on Seventeen magazine dreams that sex is absolutely everything a girl has to give a boy. That’s supposed to mean something, and in many ways, for Sansa, it still does).
So it’s probably when she flips open a copy of the society pages and has the shock of her life that she realizes the truth—when she sees Margaery, radiant in black-and-white and taking up half an entire page. Margaery is identified by her heart-shaped smile and a last name. And it’s not just any last name—she’s a Tyrell, a name as boldprint as Sansa’s own last name had been before her father had gone mysteriously missing and her family had caved in on itself in spectacular ways.
So Margaery is clearly more than just a call girl, which confuses Sansa all the more. Only bad girls would have sex before marriage, that’s what she’s always been taught. But things change, don’t they, Sansa thinks to herself, don't the lines blur a bit when your fiancée is not your lover but someone you were contractually bound to when you were too young and naïve to understand what that meant? And don't things definitely change when you sleep with someone you aren’t going to marry—someone who isn’t even a man, but who’s just another girl like you?
Then who exactly is this girl who Sansa has been dreaming about every night under her powder-pink sheets? If Margaery is not who she says she is, why did she show up at the Lannisters’ door that day, what does she want with Joffrey’s safe, and most importantly, what does she want with Sansa?
She hasn’t quite figured it out when Margaery shows up at the Lannisters’ favorite Italian place, where Sansa and Cersei and Joffrey are all crowded into their usual corner banquette. Margaery materializes in the restaurant doorway like a ghost, the collar of her trench coat turned up and her eyes glowing in her face. Sansa lifts her eyes from her plate of pasta all’arrabbiata, sees the other girl, and almost drops her fork in surprise. She can’t stifle the little gasp that escapes her lips.
Noticing Sansa for once, Joffrey turns and looks up. He sees Margaery and sucks in his breath with a sharp cracking sound. Sansa recoils, waiting for his roar and his fury, but for some reason he doesn’t exhale. He lets out a choking noise instead, and then another.
Sansa turns to him, panic filling her head with a dull buzz. When she thinks to glance back to where Margaery was standing, Margaery is gone. But it doesn’t matter because Joffrey keeps choking and not breathing. She puts her hands on him and grasps his shoulder but he reaches out and backhands her, not as sharply as he’s hit her before but more like the convulsive flailing of a dying man. Sansa decides to stop trying. She withdraws, scrambling backwards as Cersei climbs over her and pushes her further out of the way.
Joffrey slumps over on the leather seat, his lips turning blue, and Cersei is screaming and then the entire restaurant seems to boil with noise, plates clattering as the waiters and Joffrey’s bodyguards clear the table, food crashing to the floor and pasta sauce splashing the broken bits of plates as the men lift Joffrey onto the cleared table. One of the guards bends over to perform resuscitation, but Sansa turns away. Joffrey is as good as dead. She knows without having to see it. She can feel it, and suddenly she’s no longer scared of anything.
She extricates herself from the unholy, screaming, red mess, scrabbling to find purchase on the leather seat and breathing hard. Her heart is jackhammering in her chest as she peels herself away.
And there is Margaery again, reappearing in the door with a fixed, almost frightening look on her face.
I did it for you, the look on Margaery’s face seems to scream as she raises her head and looks at Sansa across the room. But did she? What did she really want, in the end?
Margaery begins to cross the room. She’s coming for Sansa. What will she say? In the golden hazy light of the room, her mouth gleams red as blood: the mouth of a killer, the mouth of a lover. Whatever secret she’s about to whisper in Sansa’s ear, whether she’s planning to kiss her or kill her too, Sansa is ready for it. She gets to her feet, stepping off the leather banquette seat, unsteady in her high heels but suddenly deaf to the heightened clamor behind her.
She’s shaking, but she begins to cross the restaurant with slow steps, moving with clarity she’s never felt before. Has she ever been more than a pawn in Margaery’s game? She doesn’t know, but she’s ready. She’s ready to know.
And whatever the answer is, now that Joffrey is as good as gone—Sansa thinks she’s ready to hear it. It’s time to hear the truth. It's time for something new.