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The Lady of Casterly Rock

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A silence has settled over the Small Council chamber as the news is delivered. Across the table, Cersei's face is frozen, expressionless. Tyrion is sitting with a death grip around his wine glass, eyes darting between Tywin and Jaime, a smirk spreading over his face. And Tywin, the author of the chaos, sits calmly, waiting for one of his children to speak. Jaime has to lick his lips before he can speak.

                “What?” he says. It's not exactly compelling. If anything, it just makes him sound like a half-wit.

                “I said that I am taking this family in hand. Cersei will remarry, and you will marry Sansa Stark.”

                “When Catelyn Stark released me, I promised her that if her daughters were still alive, I would return them to her. In regards to Arya Stark, you tell me she has vanished like a puff of smoke. Now you tell me to marry Sansa?”

                “I don't care what promises you made to a traitor's widow. When Robb Stark loses this war – and one way or another, he will lose – and with her legitimate younger brothers dead, Sansa Stark will be the heir to Winterfell.”

                “What about the bastard – Jon Snow? Ned Stark recognised him as his son,” Jaime said, rather desperately.

                “Jon Snow is a bastard and a sworn Brother. He can no more inherit Winterfell than Varys can sire a child.”

                “Kingsguard cannot marry either. I don't want Casterly Rock, I don't want a wife.” Tywin simply glared at him.

                “Do you think I care a damn for what you want? Joffrey will release you from your oaths  as a Kingsguard because I will tell him to. The moment you are free to marry, marry you shall. Then you will go to Casterly Rock and rule in my stead.”

                “Then I should go with him -" Cersei tried. Tywin slammed a fist onto the table.

                “You bloody well will not. You will remain here, with the King, whilst I organise your marriage. If it does nothing else, separating the two of you will serve to quell the vile rumours they repeat in every tavern from Dorne to the Wall. This is not a negotiation!” he snapped, as Jaime opened his mouth again. “It is done. You will marry Sansa Stark in two days time.”

 

Tyrion piped up then, the humour plain on his face.

                “And I, Father? Who will you marry me off too?” Tywin's lip curled.

                “For the time being, you shall remain unmarried. If we still had the younger Stark girl, you would be marrying her. Unfortunately we do not. However,, you will not continue to embarrass this family by whoring and drinking your way through the city. If you must fuck whores, you do so discretely. You will remain in Kings Landing after your brother returns to the Rock – where I can keep a watch on you.”

                “Has anyone asked Sansa how she feels about this?” Cersei asked, almost idly. “About marrying a man twice her age?”

                “Sansa Stark is the daughter of an arraigned traitor, with few prospects and as matters currently stand, no lands or wealth. She should be grateful for the match.”

                “Ah yes, the uncle of the boy who ordered her father's head cut off with his own sword. I’m sure she'll be thrilled,” Jaime said, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. Tywin sat back as his  eyes swept over his children. When finally he spoke, there was an air of finality in his voice.

                “Allow me to put this in terms simple enough for even you to understand. When you marry Sansa, and when she inherits Winterfell, a Lannister will hold the Rock, the North and the Crownlands. We will be the most powerful family in Westeros and this war will be ours. If you cannot bear living with her, then get a son on her quickly and send her away – send her to Dorne, send her to Braavos for all I care. Just do your duty with her first. She's a pretty little thing – it shouldn't be a taxing task for you. She comes from good stock – Catelyn Tully had five children, three of them boys.”

                “The Northern lords will never accept a Lannister in Winterfell.They named Robb Stark King in the North, the boy didn't proclaim himself,” Jaime pointed out. It was his last hope.

                “There is already dissent in Robb Stark's camp. You murdered a Karstark boy in your escape. He already openly opposes his so-called King as a result. Robb Stark will lose – and Sansa will bring us Winterfell. I have finished discussing the matter,” Tywin said, holding up a hand. “The three of you are going to do as you are told and that is an end to the matter. This family needs to be above reproach until such a time as Joffrey can be brought in line. The conversation is finished!” he barked, as Cersei opened her mouth to speak. “You are dismissed.”

 

Jaime walked blindly. He couldn't have said where he was going if anyone asked, or what he hoped to find there. Cersei had swept off, probably thinking or hoping that he would follow her, as he always had. Tyrion had ambled off towards his rooms, presumably to drink and count his lucky stars. He had simply stumbled away. In the end, he found himself in the cellar holding the dragon skulls, sitting next to Balerion the Dread.

 

It was Tyrion who found him in the end, and Jaime found that he was grateful – if he had to be found, Tyrion was probably the best one to find him. He didn't say anything at first, just sat beside him and passed him a flask of wine. Jaime drank deep, choking slightly on the  bitter tang of cheap wine.

                “That's disgusting.” He passed the flask back to Tyrion, who took a swig himself before he stoppered it.

                “I know. But sometimes strength is better than taste.”

                “What do you need strength for?” Jaime asked, resting his head back against the wall. “It isn't your life he's ruining.”

                “I wouldn't say he's ruining it. Lord of Casterly Rock, Lord of Winterfell soon enough.That's far enough from ruined, wouldn't you say?”

                “I don't want Casterly Rock and I don't want Winterfell. And I don't want Sansa Stark. If I had wanted marriage and lands I would have taken Robert up on the offer to discharge me from my services as a Kingsguard.”

                “Well, there's a few ways we could get on with life,” Tyrion said pragmatically. “You can put on the armour and marry Sansa. She's rather beautiful; she isn't one of these fluttering, twittering ladies. She's braver and cleverer than she appears. You could do a lot worse than Sansa Stark. If you cannot find it in you to do it, I suppose you have options. You could ask to take the Black, you could take a ship to Braavos or to Myr or to Volantis and run away. You could cut your own cock off – even Father wouldn't make a eunuch marry.”

                “Why don't you offer to marry her, if you admire her all that much?” Jaime demanded, conveniently ignoring the alternatives. Tywin wouldn't allow him to put aside his white cloak only to take up a black one in response and boarding any ship would be impossible to achieve without recognition and a party of men hot on his heels. And he was not yet so desperate as to attempt to castrate himself.

                “Ah, if it were only so simple,” Tyrion rued. “But the disgraced child of a traitor and a rebel? The last thing the poor girl needs is a demon monkey as a husband.”

                “But she apparently needs a man devoid of any honour. The Kingslayer's wife -"

                “It has a ring to it,” Tyrion joked. Neither of them laughed. “Jaime, listen to me. I think we both agree that the poor girl has suffered enough. Since the day they cut her father's head off, she has been tormented and beaten -"

                “Beaten?” Jaime repeated, a little alarmed. Tyrion shot him a surprised look.

                “I would have thought Cersei would have reported on it gleefully. Joffrey has – or had, before Father got here – had her regularly beaten. Meryn Trant does most of it. He took her up on the walls and showed her Ned Stark's head. He had her clothes torn off in the throne room in front of the entire court, pointed a crossbow at her and told her to beg to be forgiven.” Jaime felt sick to his stomach. “I interrupted them and got her out of there. You might be interested to know the Hound gave her his cloak.”

                “Nobody stopped this?” Jaime asked, his stomach cold at the thought.

                “There was a point where she had fresh bruises every day.”

                “Did Cersei know he was doing this?” Trion gave him a scornful look at that.

                “Come, you aren't that blind to her, surely? Of course she knew. Cersei wages her own war against Sansa – with words instead of blows. The point is that her life here is miserable. Yes, she eats fine foods and wears silk. But she is as much of a prisoner here as you and I were to Catelyn Stark. You have the chance to take her away. To take her to the Rock and let her walk in freedom.”

                “To take her to the Rock to be surrounded by Lannisters and for me to rape? Ah yes, what freedom.”

                “You plan to rape her?”

                “I can hardly envision her consenting, can you?” Tyrion was silent then.

                “You could wait. Get her to the Rock, treat her decently, give her time.”

                “And the morning after my wedding, when Father asks why the maids report no blood on her sheets?”

                “Cut the sole of your foot.”

                “Excuse me?”

                “Cut the sole of your foot. A little cut, it needs only a smear of blood. Drip it on the sheets at around her hip height. You'll prove your decency to her, Father will know no better and you can get her out of here. And women's bodies are a mysterious thing. It may take her time to conceive.”

                “It's a good plan, Tyrion. But if she decides never to sleep with me?”

                “I think you underestimate yourself. You'll have to share a bed to maintain the ruse. Let her see you, let her get to know you. Woo her - you're a handsome enough man. She is a woman, she knows a good-looking man. She'll accept you.”

 

Jaime had to wonder what had happened to his life that he found himself sitting next to a dragon skull discussing how to seduce Sansa Stark into his bed. He had to wonder if he could bear it. Tyrion stood then.

                “You should make a start by being the one to tell her about the wedding. If nothing else, it'll give you a chance to observe her diplomacy.”

                “Diplomacy?” Tyrion paused in the act of brushing himself off.

                “After I got her away from Joffrey in the throne room, I attempted to commiserate with her. She replied to me “I am loyal to Joffrey, my one true love.” and walked out of the throne room with her head held high. Young as she is, she is clever. If nothing else, you will appreciate her mind.”

 

It took him some time to find her, once he’d eventually found the courage to leave the vault. It had taken more time than he would have wanted, and a lot more of the wine Tyrion had been kind enough to leave with him than he was strictly comfortable with, but he did go eventually.

 

She hadn’t been in her rooms; she hadn’t been in the gardens, or on the docks. She hadn’t appeared to be in the castle at all, and eventually he had been forced to ask a castle guard where she might be. He was informed that she went to pray every day and that she would be in the Godswood – or what passed as the Godswood in the castle anyway. There was no weirwood heart tree in the city, there were almost none at all once one came south past Harrenhal. There wasn’t one in Casterly Rock either, but there was a Godswood there, despite it not having been used in centuries. As he made his way down the largely unfamiliar path to the Godswood, he reflected. Praying, then. He didn’t think anyone was so devout these days as to pray every day. He certainly didn’t remember seeing her do so at Winterfell – but really, how much attention had he paid to her then?

 

At the entrance to the Godswood, he found Sansa’s handmaiden Shae sitting quietly on a bench, reading. She stood up and curtsied nicely to him.

                “Ser Jaime,” she said.

                “Is your mistress here?”

                “She is at prayer, my Lord. She would not like to be disturbed.”

                “I would like to speak to her,” he said coolly. “Can you tell her I’m here?” She didn’t really have a whole lot of choice, but it was quite obvious she didn’t want to. She was gone for only a few moments before she came back and gestured.

                “My Lady says you may go in,” she said, curtseying again as he swept past her. Sansa was sitting on a bench inside the Godswood, before the stone that served it as an altar point. She was pale beneath the fall of red hair, and in the harsh sunlight, Jaime could see a yellowed bruise on her wrists.

                “Ser Jaime,” she said, in her slightly nervous voice. “Shae said you wished to speak to me?”

                “Yes. May I?” he asked, gesturing at the bench. She nodded, and he sat down beside her, his sword hilt scraping slightly against his breastplate. “I wanted to tell you something. I know your engagement to Joffrey was broken before I returned to the capital.”

                “Yes,” she said, a little stiffly. “I understand of course that the King cannot marry a traitor’s daughter, so despite my own sadness, I respect his decision.” Tyrion had been right – she was diplomatic.

                “Yes,” Jaime said quietly. “I spoke with my father this morning, Lady Sansa. He has proposed a marriage for you.” If he hadn’t been watching her closely, he would have missed the tiny tension that passed through her at that.

                “I thought he might –“ She did not finish, but then she didn’t have to. She knew perhaps better than anyone that there was no chance that they would have let her go. She folded her hands in her lap and looked at him with a small smile. “Who am I to marry, Ser Jaime?”

                “Me.” She said and did absolutely nothing. The smile became a little fixed and one of her hands twitched slightly, tightening the grip for a fleeting second before it relaxed again. When she spoke, it was not to protest or to question the whys and wherefores.

                “I see, my Lord. When are we to wed?” She was taking it well, at least. At least in his presence she was. He was almost certain that the moment he moved out of earshot, she would let go.

                “Tomorrow, the King will release me from my vows as a Kingsguard, freeing me to marry. We will marry the day after, I would assume at the Sept.” She nodded, and then stood. She curtsied, and as she did so he noticed the absolute grace of the movement. She was pretty, he supposed.

                “I understand, my Lord. Will you excuse me? I have an engagement to meet Lady Olenna and Lady Margaery for luncheon.” It caught him off guard, he had thought that she would need reassurances that he would be kind, that he would be a good husband to her.

                “Of course. I er – you should give your handmaid some warning.”

                “Warning, my Lord?”

                “To pack your things,” he answered. “We will not remain in Kings Landing after the wedding. My father is sending me to Casterly Rock, to rule there in his stead. We will leave the day after the wedding, perhaps two days. But you should be ready.” She nodded calmly, then left without another word.

 

Out of some idea of giving her time to compose herself if she needed it, Jaime stayed in the Godswood. It was peaceful here, the ornamental hedges and plants drenched in the sunlight. He could understand why she liked it here – it was probably the only place in the entire capital that she could rely on having privacy in. He rubbed a hand over his face, felt stubble scratch his palm. He needed a shave.

 

That night, he locked his door for the first time in years. He hadn’t seen Cersei since that morning, hadn’t attempted to find her and she apparently hadn’t attempted to find him. Perhaps it was all for the best. He still struggled with the information that Tyrion had given him- that Cersei had apparently sat by and done nothing whilst Joffrey brutalised Sansa on a shockingly regular basis. He did not want to believe it but the nagging thought wouldn't leave him – Cersei had never said no to Joffrey. He supposed Tyrion had had a point about Casterly Rock. Having Sansa there would at least be an improvement over having her here. He had no intentions of being cruel to her. She would be largely free at Casterly Rock – she could pray if she wished, read if she wished, sew if she wished. She could ride if she wanted to. It was almost certain that plenty of the servants would  be reporting back to Tywin and she would know that, but he was also sure that she would be able to maintain the illusion for them. They would share chambers, share a bed – and Sansa Stark was a bloody good actress if this morning's talk had been anything to go by. She must have been shocked, probably frightened, almost certainly upset and not a single jot of that had shown on the pretty face. It had been rather like talking to a little porcelain doll – fragile yet blank. He had to wonder how much of the blank-faced child was an act; how far the blindly loyal, glass-eyed doll was a facade to hide the calculations. Perhaps everyone had forgotten who her mother was amidst the furore surrounding who her father had been. Ned Stark had been rough, open, forthright and honourable to a fault. But Catelyn Stark was smarter than that – and a great deal more ruthless. She had been born and raised as a Tully and old Hoster had been a calculating bastard all his life. Perhaps her daughter had  learnt a thing or two at her mother's knee after all.

 

Sleep did not come easily to him that night. He tossed and turned for hours, turning the day over and over in his mind. Tyrion had been surprisingly well versed in what to do and how to do it in order to fool their father into believing Jaime was complying with orders. But sooner or later, he would need to consummate his marriage, at least attempt to get a child on his wife. Nobody would believe for a moment that a young, healthy girl was barren, least of all Tywin. They might perhaps have six months before questions were asked, if the Gods were good to them. Her Gods or his Gods – or were the old Gods hers? Ned Stark had kept them, but there had been a tiny Sept at Winterfell if he remembered rightly – perhaps it had been for Catelyn. Perhaps she prayed at the Godswood for the privacy, instead of for faith. He groaned and rolled onto his back, staring up at the darkened ceiling. He had to stop thinking about her so obsessively, had to stop thinking about her at all.

 

Eventually he got dressed again, giving up entirely on sleep. He went to the balcony, looked out over the Blackwater and the castle walls. Gods, he was exhausted. All he wanted was to sleep and forget, at least for the night. He'd never wanted anyone but Cersei, had never thought of anyone but Cersei. He never thought to marry any other woman, had never thought to consider how taking a wife would affect him, how much it would give him to think about. When Aerys had forced him into the Kingsguard, a part of him had been relieved. While it had meant he would never inherit, it had meant he would also never marry. He had been with her instead; at least once Robert had wedded and bedded her. He had been able to love her, his position giving him reason to be seen in her company more often than necessary and both of them had taken full advantage. Now it was over. He was being sent back to Casterly Rock, she was being kept here, for Tywin to arrange her marriage. He supposed it was inevitable – he knew that it was the worst kept secret in Westeros. With the family gaining power, becoming the first family, Tywin would need to ensure that the family name was above reproach. Sending his children away from each other, well that was just politics. Brutal politics, but just politics.

 

He never went back to bed, because he didn't see the point. He stayed on the balcony, staring at the Blackwater until the sun started coming up and there was no more avoiding it. It would be the last time he wore this armour and the last time he wore this cloak. Most would probably consider it freedom, but to Jaime, it was exchanging one set of shackles for another. He couldn't do this.

 

Chapter Text

Sansa left the Godswood at the most sedate pace her shocked brain could manage. Shae was waiting, even as Sansa walked past her blindly she jumped up from where she had been sat, hurrying  after her. Halfway down the cliff, Sansa glanced behind them. He had apparently not followed her, had apparently remained in the Godswood. That had been kind, she supposed. Shae was talking to her, but her ears seemed to be full of a buzzing sound that blanked it completely. At the foot of the cliff path, Sansa finally spoke.

                “Please go to the gardens and carry my apologies to Lady Olenna,” she said. Her own voice sounded like it was coming from far away. “I am unwell and will return to my chambers.” If Shae answered her, she never heard it. She kept walking. The Keep was it's usual hive of activity, but she felt like she was in some kind of bubble – none of it reached her, none of it touched her, all she could hear was the roar in her ears.

 

Upon reaching her rooms, she barred the doors, dragging a chest in front of them. Unable to lock them, it seemed the next best thing. She wanted to be alone, needed to be alone, could not bear any interruptions. She sat at the table, staring blindly ahead, not seeing anything.

 

She had thought that they would let her go.

 

It had been a fool's hope and she had known that, but nonetheless she had hoped. But - hadn't it in some way come true? She was going to leave Kings Landing. Admittedly it was trading one Lannister stronghold for another, but she would be away from Joffrey and away from Cersei. And in exchange, all she had to do was marry the Kingslayer, the Oathbreaker – the man who fucked his own sister. She gave a hysterical little giggle. When she had prayed for escape from the city, this hadn't been exactly what she meant. Perhaps she ought to have been more specific. Another giggle escaped her. Would going completely mad get her out of this? They wouldn't want the mad daughter of a traitor, surely to Gods they wouldn't want her if she was mad.

 

There was a jug of wine in her rooms, with glasses. The servants brought it every day, despite the fact that she never drank any of it. Perhaps now was the time to start drinking it. She poured a glass and stared at it. Could she get out of this? Would they buy it if she pretended to be mad? What if she said she wanted to be a Septa? If she said she wanted to be a Septa and therefore could not marry, would they accept it? That would get her out of the way too, she would have to surrender her name and wealth and live at the Sept while she studied to take vows. That might be alright. Certainly she would have to surrender her finery, her jewels, her silks and cottons, but perhaps with the alternative being Jaime Lannister's bride, it was a price worth paying. Assuming of course that she would be allowed to do such a thing – which she very much doubted. They would not surrender her so easily, or they would have offered her the chance when they first broke her betrothal to Joffrey, perhaps even sooner.

 

She drained the glass of wine in one go. It was good wine, she could recognise it as good wine, despite never having really tasted it before. She'd only ever sipped it at feasts, normally requesting a fruit juice or water. She refilled the glass. If she waited for nightfall, could she get out? Tie her sheets together, wear her plainest clothes and leave the Keep? Would she make it past the guards? Probably not – everyone in the city knew who she was, especially the guards. She should have learnt to row or swim. At least that way she could have got across the Blackwater.

 

The second glass of wine started a voice in her head –what if she went through with the marriage? What if she just married him, and bided her time? If she behaved, and acted the role of a dutiful wife, surely at Casterly Rock he would relax security enough to allow her to escape. Then she could find her mother and brother, or even flee North to Jon. If she was careful, she would be bound to overhear things, bound to find out information about the wars. And she might have access to ravens and she might be able to use them to get messages to her mother and brother, wherever they were. Could she use a marriage to Jaime Lannister for her own ends, could she use the change of situation to her own advantage? Was she clever enough to do it without getting caught? More importantly, could she convincingly play the part of a willing wife?

 

She sipped the third glass of wine. She knew what a man did with a wife – roughly, anyway. She was admittedly painfully naive in that regard, and she knew it. She had known what those men in the riots would have done to her if Sandor hadn't been in time to stop them. The memory still made her wake up sobbing sometimes, fighting invisible attackers and gasping for breath. Perhaps she could ask Shae about exactly what happened. If she knew, and knew exactly what would happen, then she could prepare herself for it. Her hands shook at the thought of Jaime Lannister pressing down on her, pinning her so she was unable to move, she felt her stomach tighten. She was tall already, but he still stood head and shoulders above her and she found herself trembling at the idea of his body pressing her into a mattress.

 

Someone was trying to open her door. She jumped badly, started looking for a weapon – she just wanted something to hold.

                “Lady Sansa? May I come in?” It was Shae. Sansa moved to the door. “My Lady? Are you alright? Is the door stuck? Shall I fetch a guard?”

                “No!” Sansa nearly screamed. Dear Gods, not the guards. “Who is with you?” she asked through the door.

                “Nobody, my Lady. I am alone. I have brought you something to eat – Lady Olenna sent you some things.” Sansa dragged aside the chest and let Shae in. She blocked the door again behind them and Shae frowned. “My Lady, what are you doing?”

                “I don't - I wanted –I wanted to be alone. No disturbance.”Shae set her tray down on the table and looked at her.

                “My Lady, what has happened? In the Godswood – did the Kingslayer hurt you?” Sansa shook her head. The smell of cooked meat on the tray was turning her stomach.

                “He told me that we are to marry,” she said flatly. “The day after tomorrow.” Shae gaped at her and Sansa turned to examine the contents of the tray. A little well-done beef, a plate of figs and cheese, and a plate holding several lemon cakes that glistened with syrup. She felt her stomach convulse and swallowed hard, turning away from it and striding to the window. Shae came over to her, her dark eyes flashing.

                “Marry?” she echoed. “You are to marry the Kingslayer?”

                “Yes. And then we are to move to Casterly Rock.” Shae went a little pale but Sansa was too far away to care. “I am exchanging one prison for another,” she said hollowly. “I suppose you had better pack my things.”

                “Am I to accompany you, my Lady?” Shae asked, a little faintly. Sansa shrugged.

                “I haven't been told. I can ask tomorrow.” She turned away, went to the bed. “You may go. I am not to be disturbed.”

 

Shae went. Sansa was left alone to stare out of the window and wonder how her life had come to this. They should never have left Winterfell. She should have listened to her mother when she told her that Joffrey was perhaps not a good match. Her father should never have accepted the position of Hand. They would all still be alive, her father might have let her marry an Umber or a Karstark man. She would have been close to her mother, Catelyn could have told her what to expect, told her what would happen on the wedding night. Instead she was here, with nobody – she couldn't ask Shae, she wouldn't be able to bear it. Her eyes went back to the plate of food.

 

Margaery.

 

Margaery had been married. Rumour had it there had been no consummation but surely Olenna would have told her some things. Sansa went back to the door and opened it. A serving boy was at the end of the corridor and she called to him.

“Please find Lady Margaery Tyrell. I want to see her. Ask her to come here.” She gave him a coin for it and the boy darted away. There was nothing to do but wait now, wait and hope to the Gods that Margaery could help her, that she would help her. Besides Shae, she and Olenna had been the only people in Kings Landing who had been nice to her without having some kind of motive, and who didn't wear Lannister colours. In the absence of her mother, perhaps Margaery could help her. Someone had to. The beef had come with a knife.

 

Would they let her out of it if she stabbed herself in the throat and bled to death?

 

The knock came at the right time, and Sansa went cautiously to the door.

                “Who is it?” she asked.

                “It's Margaery,” she answered, her voice sweet with concern. “May I come in?” Sansa let her in, and was a little thrown to see Olenna too. She should have known that they would both come. Sansa closed the door, once more dragging the chest over it.

                “What on earth are you doing, child?” Olenna asked.

                “I don't want to be overheard,” Sansa said feverishly. “I –need to talk to someone, I haven't got anyone else.”

                “Child, sit down,” Olenna ordered, ushering her to a chair. “Tell us, slowly and clearly, what has happened to you.” Sansa found herself giving that hysterical little giggle again. “Good Gods she's hysterical. We ought to slap her.”

                “Grandmother! Sansa? What has happened to you?”

                “Nothing yet,” Sansa choked. Olenna was forcing a glass of water onto her.

                “Sip that, else I shall slap you.” Sansa obeyed, and found herself growing a little calmer. The buzzing was back in her ears, but it wasn't too loud now. She could think over it.

                “I am to marry Jaime Lannister,” she said. There was absolutely zero inflection in her voice, the detachment was back. She felt like she was separated from Margaery and Olenna by a wall of glass, or a waterfall. “The day after tomorrow, I will walk into the Sept and surrender my family name, the last and only thing I have been allowed to keep that belonged to my father, and become a Lannister. Then he's taking me to Casterly Rock, where I will be kept until I give the Lannisters an heir.” Olenna sat down herself then.

                “Margaery, find a boy and send him to the kitchens. Send this back - we'll keep the lemon cakes. Honey wine, more lemon cakes and a batch of sugared fruits.” Margaery obeyed, and when she closed the door, Sansa gestured at the chest.

                “Put it back.”

                “What are you frightened of?” Margaery asked gently.

                “Come Margaery,” Olenna said sharply. “I brought you up to more wits than that. You think Cersei Lannister will be pleased with this? Her brother married off and sent away? Sansa is right and wise to be cautious now. You need not fear, my dear,” she continued, patting Sansa's hand. “I shall set my personal guard at your door. Eat one of the cakes now. It will calm you and help you to think.”

 

Sansa ate the cake Olenna pressed on her and ate it mechanically, largely without tasting it. When the tray from the kitchen came, Olenna sent Margaery away. Sansa made a movement of protest, but Olenna simply shook her head. Taking a plate and goblet, she prepared a plate for Sansa and poured her a goblet of the sweetened wine.

                “I sent Margaery away so I could speak plainly to you, my dear. Eat while you listen – such conversations as these are best had with something sweet to eat.” Sansa fiddled with her food, but Olenna seemed satisfied. “Sansa, what do you know of what happens after you are married?”

                “I was nearly raped during the riots here,” she answered. “The Hound – Sandor – saved me.”

                “You have suffered here,” Olenna said, her voice gentler than Sansa had ever heard it. “What nearly happened to you in that riot was a vile thing. Jaime Lannister will not subject you to that, whatever failings he might have. I would hope that he would know enough to be gentle with you.”

                “I don't know what to do,” Sansa admitted. “I don't know what to do or say.”

                “You need do nothing, my dear. Not at first. He will make it plain what he likes, you need only follow his lead. He will expect nothing from you but your maidenhead – and if he did not expect that I would recommend that you sought the instruction of a whore.” Sansa blinked. “Don't look so surprised my child. They're whores for a reason – because they are good at what they do. You know that it will hurt the first time?” Sansa nodded.

                “I know that I will bleed,” she admitted quietly. “That's how they will know there was a consummation.”

                “Yes, you'll bleed. Only a small amount, so don't look so pale child. A spot on the sheets, no more. It gets better. If your husband cares enough it will even be enjoyable. In time, you may learn to use it to turn your husband's head to your own ends; you can use your body as a weapon.” Vaguely, Sansa remembered Cersei telling her that her greatest weapon was what was between her legs. “There are things a woman can do, things a woman can do to a man to drive him so wild with desire he would try to get the moon for her if it was her desire. You will learn those things in time. You are young and beautiful – that is your weapon. Your mind is sharp – you can learn and plot and scheme while all the while appearing innocent and naive. Learn to listen, how to question him. Learn how to please him and in return, he will tell you all his secrets. Learn this, Sansa, if I teach you nothing else –men are simple creatures. They are malleable and easy to manipulate – as long as you have the confidence to do what they need.”

 

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, Jaime felt like his stomach was full of rocks. A rumour was flying around the castle that a Tyrell guard had spent the night outside Sansa's room – apparently there on Olenna's orders. Meryn Trant was leaning against the wall on the opposite side on the antechamber Tywin had ordered him to wait him, and Jaime glared at him. Would anyone really mind if he ran the bastard through here and now? He might feel nothing for Sansa, but to viciously and happily beat a defenceless girl? That was not what the Kingsguard was there for. They were there to protect the King.

 

Before he could really decide whether or not to do it, he was being summoned into the Throne Room. He was only grateful that Tywin had obviously deemed it unnecessary to do this in front of the whole court. The Kingsguard were there, Cersei and Tyrion were there and Tywin was sitting beside the throne. Joffrey looked angry, he noticed. He was glowering under the ostentatious crown, and for the first time, Jaime looked at him and really saw him. He saw the petulant pout, the chill in his eyes and the arrogance in his posture. He saw the cruel eyes and the dark glower. Cersei had never said no to him, not once, and this was where it had led them all – dancing to the tune of a monstrous child. He would at least get out of it, and at least he would take Sansa with him. She deserved to live somewhere where she didn’t need to fear beatings and ritual humiliation. If he couldn’t keep his promise to her mother to send her back to her, he could at least keep her as safe as he could. She had done well to survive this long, he reflected. Joffrey was speaking now.  

                “Ser Jaime, I have called you here to discharge you from the Kingsguard,” Joffrey said. “You served my father well during his reign, but I have decided that it is time to prompt further change within my guard. I therefore release you from your obligation as a Kingsguard, and release you from the vows you have made to former Kings.”

                “It has been an honour serving you, sire,” Jaime replied. “It is my regret that I could not serve you as I served King Robert before you.” He unfastened his white cloak and laid it on the steps before the throne, stepping back and bowing.

He thought it might have felt like freedom but it didn't. It felt like a trap.

Tywin stood then, and stepped forward. Joffrey sat back down, his scowl deepening. Cersei was staring down at her lap as Tywin nodded at the guards at the main doors. They swung open and Jaime had to turn, had to turn and see what fresh hell awaited him now. If he could have gone in that second, he would have done. If Meryn Trant had stepped forward and knifed him in the throat right there, he wouldn't have raised a sword to stop him.

Sansa Stark had her head well up as she walked through the throne room. She was in a blue dress, some sky-blue colour that matched her eyes and emphasized how pale she was. He'd thought she'd been pale the day before in the Godswood, but now even her lips were white. She looked like death. But there was no tremble to the hands she held loosely clasped in front of her, there was no wavering to the fixed, determined stare, there was no falter to her small, precise steps. She kept her chin up and her eyes lifted and the sight of such courage made Jaime a little ashamed of himself. By the accounts of Tyrion, there had been a point when she had entered this room for public beatings. And still there was no tremor to her. She swept the throne a perfect curtsey and came up like someone had strapped a poker to her spine to keep her back straight.

                “Your Grace,” she said, and her voice was steady, if a little hoarse. “My Lord Lannister, Queen Cersei, Lord Tyrion – Ser Jaime.” For all the attention she paid to Meryn Trant, he might as well have been a plant although his mere presence on the platform meant she should have acknowledged him. Tywin noticed it too, but he elected not to question her. Jaime wondered if Tywin knew what Joffrey had had Trant do to her.

                “Lady Sansa Stark, you are here to be betrothed to Jaime Lannister. Do you consent?” Tywin asked. From the slight twitch of her lips, Jaime thought she might have just had the same thought he had had –what would they all have done if she had said no?

                “I consent, Lord Tywin, if it is with my King's blessing.” Joffrey looked like he had just swallowed several gallons of horse piss. Good Gods, she was sneaky. Joffrey wasn't answering her. His face was flushed an ugly red.

                “It is with his blessing,” Tywin ground out, irritation clear on his face. Whether it was directed at Sansa or at Joffrey was rather unclear, but either way he admired her game. She had said nothing disrespectful, said nothing that anyone could possibly claim was rude – but her meaning was water-clear. She wanted Joffrey to bless the betrothal because nothing else would make it more obvious that she was no longer his to torment.

                “Then I am honoured, Lord Tywin. It is a far better match than I deserve as the daughter of an arraigned traitor. I hope I will be a good wife to Ser Jaime.” Behind Tywin and Cersei, Jaime could see Tyrion pressing his lips together in a bid to avoid bursting into laughter. She was wonderful. If his marriage to her was nothing else, he supposed it would be interesting.

                “I would hope that too,” Tywin said drily, as Sansa smiled sweetly up at him. “You shall be wed tomorrow, in the Great Sept.” Sansa nodded.

                “I shall look forward to it,” she answered. She swept the platform another perfect curtsey, before she turned to Jaime. “Ser, it gives me great pleasure to know that I shall be your bride,” she said, her blue eyes guileless and clear. “I hope that I will bring you joy and support.” Her curtsey was so deep his knees twinged in sympathy, even as he bowed to her. Even though he knew that she was lying through her teeth, he almost believed she meant it. He wasn't sure if it would be better even if she genuinely meant it. But Sansa apparently had one last bolt to shoot, as she turned back towards throne. “If I might make a request, Your Grace?” Joffrey nodded jerkily. “Would you be so kind as to give me away tomorrow? I can think of no greater honour than having you hand the burden of my care to my husband.” Tyrion made an odd choking sound and Jaime saw him duck behind the Iron Throne, his shoulders shaking. Tywin glared at him. Joffrey looked furious, looking from Sansa to Tywin with rage in his eyes. Jaime couldn't speak, truly afraid that if his mouth opened, he would laugh. It was Cersei who spoke, her voice almost as angry as Joffrey's eyes.

                “How dare you ask such a thing? You, the daughter of a traitor and a rebel? You ask a King -" Tywin interrupted, cutting across Cersei brutally.

                “You'll speak when spoken to. You are no longer Queen here. The King would be more than honoured to escort his uncle's bride.”

 

Sansa swept out of the throne room like an ordained queen, as if she owned the entire Keep, leaving Jaime to gape after her. Tywin looked livid. He dismissed the Kingsguard with a gesture, and Jaime had to remind himself not to obey along with them. That was going to take some getting used to.

                “Get in the council chamber,” Tywin choked. “All of you.” Even Joffrey obeyed him. Tyrion managed to contain himself until he was inside, whereupon he collapsed into a chair and laughed until there were tears in his eyes. “Have you quite finished?” Tywin growled when at last Tyrion was quiet. Tyrion nodded.

                “Y-yes,” he choked, mirth still clear on his face. “That was wonderful.”

                “That was embarrassing,” Tywin spat. “She set out to embarrass us and the two of you,” he said, pointing at Joffrey and Cersei, “gave her the reaction on a plate. We're damn lucky that took place in private or she would have humiliated us in front of the entire court.”

                “She stood there and disrespected the Crown, and the King –and you did nothing,” Cersei snarled.

                “She stood there and played the pair of you like fools there for her entertainment. You embarrassed yourself, Cersei. Gods blood, that was Sansa Stark – last word I had from any of you, she was broken and cowed, now she walks around as if that thrice-damned brother is already on the throne!” Tywin slumped into his chair, glowering at Cersei. “The pair of you are dismissed.”

                “I am the King -" Joffrey began.

                “A King who can be humiliated by a traitor's spawn is no King at all. Get out.”

 

The move left him alone with Jaime and Tyrion, and Jaime had to wonder why. He thought that he'd acquitted himself fairly well during the whole debacle of that meeting. He’d barely said a word – in fact he hadn't said a word between Sansa entering and Sansa leaving.

                “Tyrion, explain to me – if you can – what has got into that girl.”

                “I do believe it might be hope,” Tyrion answered. “Or possibly sheer joy. Or perhaps the poor girl has finally snapped.”

                “What?” Tywin snapped.

                “You do know what Joffrey's done to her? What she's suffered here?” When Tywin simply glared, Tyrion heaved a sigh. He got down from his chair and poured three goblets of wine from the jug on the sideboard. “You'll need it, Father,” he informed Tywin, when he tried to refuse it. “From the day Joffrey put Ned Stark on the block and murdered him, he has set out to humiliate Sansa and hurt her. He took her to the walls and showed her the heads of Ned Stark and her Septa. He has had Meryn Trant beat her mercilessly on several occasions. He has made her kneel before the entire court and beg for her life, he has had Meryn Trant rip her clothes off and thrash her with the flat of a sword. During the riots he abandoned her to the mob.”

                “Was she raped?” Tywin asked, his brow lowering.

                “No, but it's no thanks to Joffrey that she wasn't. The Hound went out and found four men pinning her to the ground, dress torn but he got there in time. He carried her back here, bleeding and bruised.” Tywin took a decent swallow of the wine Tyrion had poured. “I was told that before the Blackwater, Joffrey had her kiss his sword before he made his pathetic attempt at fighting.” Tyrion took a drink of his own. “You asked me what had got into that girl? Joffrey got into her. He crawled into her mind and taught her how to fight, taught her how to master fear. What's got into Sansa? Cersei got into her. She taught Sansa how to smile sweetly and insult people, she taught Sansa how to smile sweetly and destroy her enemies with a pretty word. Joffrey taught her fear, she learnt courage. Cersei taught her hatred, she learnt manipulation. Joffrey taught her pain, she learnt to stand beneath it. Cersei taught her spite, she learnt how to use it. She's a Stark in name, but in nature your daughter and your grandson have turned her into a wolf disguised as a kitten. She's learnt to survive under unimaginable torment.”For a horrible moment, Jaime thought he would lose his meagre breakfast all over the table. “Sansa Stark is Wildfire – Wildfire that has been formed in a Lannister crucible. If I were you I would ship her back to her mother and quickly.”

                “Why would I do that?” Tywin asked.

                “Because the problem with Wildfire is that once you light the fuse, there's a slight issue with controlling it. And Sansa’s fuse was lit after Joffrey started torturing her –and there's no knowing how brightly she'll burn. That's my advice – send Sansa Stark back to her mother. It will cost us nothing and might save us much.”

                “Sending Sansa Stark back to Catelyn Stark will cost us the North. And if what you tell me is true, Robb Stark will have more to fight for than avenging his father's execution. I don't consider handing a brutalised girl back to people who are good with a sword good strategy. No, we cannot send her back now.” Tywin massaged his temples. “You'll marry her,” he said to Jaime. “You'll wed her, make her a Lannister, and get an heir on her. You'll marry her and take her away from this city and that damned boy. She's Ned Stark's daughter, she learnt about duty while she was in her cradle. But don't trust her, and don't underestimate her.” Tywin drank the last of his wine and Jaime drained his own cup. “You'll leave this city at first light the morning after you wed and bed her.Take her to Casterly Rock and get her with child. Her brother won't want her back with a Lannister name and a Lannister babe in arms.”

                “I think you underestimate Stark loyalty,” Jaime muttered.

                “I think you underestimate Stark hatred. Once she's your wife, she'll be spoiled goods – Robb Stark would no more welcome your child than he would welcome you, whether his sister births it or not. She's still young – turn her head with silk and jewels, she'll be compliant enough. Give her babies to mother and heirs to raise. But never trust her and never let your guard down, do you understand me?” Jaime forced himself to nod.

                “I understand.”

                “Good,” Tywin said, standing. “Don't forget it.”

 

He left them both then, and Tyrion glanced at him.

                “You should get that armour off,” he said lightly. “I do believe it's a hanging offence to impersonate a Kingsguard.”

                “Don't make a joke now,” Jaime warned. “Don't. Was all of that true?”

                “That Sansa Stark has been near enough destroyed by us? Yes.”

                “I can't believe Cersei –“ Jaime started, trailing off as he searched for the words to express his feelings.

                “Cersei what? Stood by and did nothing? Stood by and let it happen? Helped it happen? Well, now you know. I've been telling you that she's a hateful bitch for years but you always did look at her through clouded eyes.” Tyrion drank. “I for  one don't envy you. I can think of better things than marrying a woman who might slit my throat while I sleep.” He raised his goblet in a salute and drained it. “I wish you joy, brother. The Gods know that you’ll have an interesting marriage if nothing else.”

 

He wouldn't call it interesting, he thought as he waited for her in the Sept of Baelor the next afternoon. He might have used the word awful, or the word horrible, but not interesting. Tyrion had insisted on drinking the previous day away with him and as result his mouth was dry and his head was aching. The Court was milling about and gossiping as they waited, and he wanted them all to just go away. But the doors were opening, the sunlight was pouring in and there she was – his wildfire bride who might kill him. He supposed that there were worse ways to go than a beautiful woman cutting his throat in his sleep. That might not have been a traditional man's thought on his wedding day but he found it oddly soothing.

 

Perhaps he was as mad as her.

Chapter Text

She would have given anything to die right there.

 

She had dreamed of a wedding day all her life – to marry a handsome man and rule a castle and give him pretty babies. And here she was, at long last, standing outside the doors of the Sept of Baelor, about to have a grand and beautiful wedding in a gown of silver silk from Dorne and white lace from Myr, with pearls in her hair and rubies at her throat – and all she wanted was to die. He was even handsome, she should have been skipping across the Sept on her father's arm – but Ned Stark wasn't there. He was dead, his bones thrown into the Blackwater for all she knew, and her feet felt like they were made of rocks. Had Meryn Trant appeared behind her right then, she would have fallen on his sword with a grateful smile and a pretty thank you.

 

The sun was setting, she had to go in. She pulled her skirts straight, shook out her train, lifted her head and put on a smile. He could keep his steel and iron – this was her armour. She nodded at the guards and they pulled the doors open for her. She walked inside, looking nowhere but at the two figures at the far side of the Sept. Her judge and her jailor – one to shut the door and the other to throw away the keys. How terribly wrong this all was. Joffrey had actually come, she noticed. He offered his arm in sulky silence and she almost hated it. She would not have minded if he had taunted her, a little verbal sparring would at least have been something to think about, but he escorted her in utter silence. This was like attending a funeral – which in a way, it was. Sansa Stark would be sacrificed up there, and in her place would rise Sansa Lannister of Casterly Rock.

 

She reached Jaime's side and Joffrey surrendered her. She couldn't help the syrup-sweet smile she gave him before she turned her attention to the ceremony.

                “"Father, Smith, Warrior, Mother, Maiden, Crone, Stranger, I am his and he is mine from this day until the end of my days,” she intoned carefully, hearing him repeat the words alongside her. His voice sounded at little hoarse, and when the Septon invited them to seal the union with a kiss, his lips were dry on hers as he pressed them onto her in a closed-mouth peck. When they took hands to walk out as husband and wife, his fingers felt cold. She kept her head up and her smile on as he escorted her through the clapping crowds. She slid her eyes to the right at a certain point, and met the eyes of Olenna Tyrell, who saw the look and gave her a tiny, almost imperceptible nod. Halfway up the steps, he finally spoke to her.

                “You look lovely today,” he mumbled.

                “Thank you,” she answered, because she did at least try to be polite. “The dress was a gift from Lord Tywin.”

                “He can be generous,” Jaime murmured.

                “When it's to his advantage,” Sansa shot back. “He wouldn't want the Court seeing his son marry a girl looking anything less that her best.” He didn't answer her and she did not continue. She'd said her piece– pushing it would only cause the chasm between them to widen further.

 

They rode back to the keep on matching horses, crowds of smallfolk cheering them. She found it rather touching, really, and made sure to wave and smile. She knew that Lannister wasn't good stock just now, and once this crowd became a mob that nearly killed her – but it was always best to take advantage of favour when one was in it. She couldn't help but notice that Joffrey drew no cheers when he rode ahead of them and a great deal of her smile was coming from that. When they were back in the Keep, and Jaime himself lifted her down from the horse, he looked at her with something almost like approval.

                “You did that very prettily.”

                “Always seize support when it is shown,” she replied. “Today's friend may be tomorrow’s enemy unless they have something to remember.” He took her hand again to escort her to the feast, his cloak pulling slightly on her shoulders. The weight of it might as well have been a ball and chain, keeping her back straight under it was exhausting her. All she wanted was to crawl into bed and sleep forever. Dear Gods, she was weary. How much longer could she keep this up? How much longer could she keep smiling and keep her head up? As long as it takes, she told herself firmly. As long as it takes until she could be alone and give it all up as the sheer hell that it all was.

 

A chamberlain offered her wine as she took her place at the High Table besides her new husband, even as Jaime was helping to remove her cloak. With a slight shudder, she remembered how violently unwell she had been yesterday, and she requested water. If she had a goblet of wine now, she would have another and another and all hell would break loose. No more wine. Jaime admittedly gave her a strange look, but nobody else said anything and beyond that look, Jaime made no comment. But she noticed that after he had downed one goblet, he too began requesting water. She supposed that that was a rather sweet gesture, but she hardened her heart to it. One sweet gesture would not change his name and it wouldn't change the fact that in a few hours, she would be ceremonially escorted to her bedroom, her clothes torn off and he would come in to –

 

She set her knife and fork down neatly, covering a plate that was still half-full. Below the High Table, the guests were talking and laughing, some milling about as they ate or drank. At the High Table, she and Jaime sat in a cold silence like two little dolls put there by a child who had gone off to play. Despite the warmth of the Hall, Sansa found that her hands were cold and stiff, and she folded them into her lap, one finger questing out to trace a line of thread that seemed to glint a little in the light of all the candles.

                “You two look like I marched you to the altar at sword-point.” Tywin Lannister's sudden hissed rebuke made her start a little. “If you cannot bear sitting with each other, then I suggest you mingle among the guests and thank them for attending.” Sansa seized the lifeline gratefully, pushing her chair back. She curtseyed deeply to Tywin before she rose up to press a kiss to his cheek. His look of surprise curved her lips.

                “My lord Father,” she murmured before she curtseyed to Jaime too. “Please excuse me.” She swept away and found Margaery standing with her brother and grandmother.

                “Sansa! You look so very lovely,” Margaery said warmly. “Doesn't she Loras?”

                “Oh, most beautiful,” he agreed warmly, bowing over her hand. “A beautiful bride.”

                “Yes, a beautiful bride,” Olenna agreed. “If one likes gilded cages.” Sansa found herself giving her first genuine smile of the day, even as Margaery reproved her. Olenna just rolled her eyes. “Flutter away, pretty birds,” she said, shooing Margaery and Loras. “You can twitter prettily over Sansa later. For now, an old woman wants a moment with the young bride.” She took Sansa's arm and set off on a slow walk around the hall. “Of course, my dove, you do look very lovely today. I am only sorry that the day was not all you wanted.”

                “Oh, I don't know – I have the dress, the title, the attention I always dreamed of.”

                “Just not the groom,” Olenna said lightly. “Well, never mind. You've done it all very prettily. I liked the kiss for Tywin – he still looks like you picked up your plate and dented it on that thick skull of his.”

                “Do you think I should have kissed Jaime too?” Sansa asked, glancing at the now-empty High Table.

                “No. You looked like a shy bride uncertain of your new position, just as you should. Ah you, boy.” The passing wine server paused. “Two goblets and snap to – I am an old woman with a sharp thirst.” Sansa accepted the wine, but made herself sip it only slowly. It would not do to lose her wits tonight. Olenna led them to an empty table and sat down, pulling Sansa to sit with her. “Now my dear, tell me –do you know what will happen tonight?” Sansa swallowed convulsively, what little she had eaten threatening to make a second appearance. Olenna patted her hand. “From the fetching shade of green that just overtook you, I am assuming that you do know. It must be endured, my dear. You must smile prettily. But do not fear – I have given Loras his orders. When the ceremony begins, Tyrell men will be the closest to you. They will form the circle around you and if you make even one complaint to me of inappropriate behaviour, I shall have their hands removed.” Sansa gave her a small, grateful smile.

                “Thank you,” she murmured.

                “Olenna, you're monopolising the bride,” a voice came, as Tywin Lannister emerged from the crowds. Sansa felt disgust crawl in her belly, and found herself praying for a thunderbolt to drop from the sky and obliterate him. “I would like to invite my new daughter to join me for a turn about the Hall.” Olenna just smiled at him.

                “You'll forgive an old woman for wanting to offer motherly support to a young woman on her wedding day, Tywin, especially when her own mother is absent from proceedings. Sansa my dear, give me a kiss before you go –then I shall know you are happy.” Sansa bent and kissed the soft wrinkled cheek. For a moment, the wimple-headdress and soft old skin reminded her of Septa Mordane, who was another person now absent from the day. She had to blink hard when she straightened again, and took the arm Tywin offered her.

 

They were nearly half-way around the floor before he spoke to her, by which time the tension had become so thick she was on the verge of going into hysterical laughter.

                “You look well.”

                “Yes. Did I thank you for the dress, my Lord? It's everything I dreamed of.”

                “I'm pleased you like it. It was expensive.” Sansa smiled at him.

                “I'm certain it will be repaid tenfold, my Lord. My mother had three sons, as I am sure you recall. My brother Robb is good and strong – although it saddens me that Bran and Rickon were never allowed to become men, I am certain they would have been too.”

                “Quite,” Tywin answered drily.

                “You need not fear, my Lord. I know my duty as a wife, I intend to fill it.”

                “Your duty?”

                “What else, my Lord?”

                “You're a very fine actress, Lady St – Lady Lannister.”

                “An actress? I'm afraid I don't quite understand.”

                “You almost have me convinced that you are reconciled to this marriage.”

                “Would you be, if you were me?” Sansa asked, giving up all pretence. What could they do to her now? Did they think she had anything left to be frightened of? “Would you be, if you were me – married to your tormentor's uncle?”

                “No,” he answered, with equal honesty. “I would not be.”

                “Well then. I will act the role you have put me into, my Lord. I will smile and dance and giggle, and I will do my duty as a wife to my husband, whatever it costs me. I will be a Lannister bride and show a happy face. You and I will know it is an act but what do we matter? Everyone else will believe me.”

                “Very well, Sansa. You do your duty and remember it, and we shall have an understanding. In return, once you have given Jaime a son, I shall reward you with anything your heart may desire.”

                “And if it were my heart's desire to be allowed to go back to my family? If my heart's desire were to abandon my husband, would you give me that?”

                “Give him a healthy son, and I’ll send you back to your mother,” Tywin said. “You have my word on it – assuming, of course, that is what you want after the fact.”

                “It will always be what I want.”

                “Then we have an accord, Lady Sansa,” he said, smiling at her. It reminded her of the jaws of a wolf. “But if you cross me, you will suffer for it.”

                “I would expect nothing less, my Lord,” she answered. He uncoupled them and bowed stiffly to her.

                “Go and find your husband, Lady Sansa. You can start by convincing me.” He turned on his heel and disappeared among the crowds. Sansa smoothed down the front of her dress, her hands trembling slightly. She was not stupid enough to believe she had won any kind of victory. She could walk up to Jaime and start kissing him and Tywin would still doubt her. No, this would be a much, much longer game than that. She might never stop playing it, but the point was perhaps to play it until the end.

 

She glanced around, finding Jaime standing with Tyrion by the High Table. Well, at least it wasn't Joffrey. She set off across the Hall, graciously accepting such comments she was given. It was slow progress as a result, but Jaime had seen her coming and was making equally slow progress towards her – but a furious-looking Cersei had waylaid him. She couldn't even remember the name of the eager-looking woman currently talking to her about her pearls, but she smiled and thanked her – and stepped directly into Joffrey's path as she moved away. She cursed to herself, glancing to Jaime – but he was still embroiled with Cersei. Sansa swept him a curtsey, hoping to Gods that he would just go away.

                “My Lady,” he said, smirking cruelly. Gods, she could smell the wine on him. “I congratulate you on your marriage.”

                “Thank you, Your Grace,” she answered, a little louder than strictly necessary. Jaime heard, she saw him turn his head, but Cersei was now holding his sleeve. Several other people heard too, people were turning – but Joffrey didn't seem to notice. Jaime was pushing through to her but Cersei was hot on his heels. This was a nightmare.

                “You look so very pretty. Perhaps we should start looking to revive some old customs.”

                “Old customs, your Grace? I don't quite understand."

                “The right of first night, for example.” Sansa felt the horror wash over her. Oh please Gods no. “I believe it is still practised in the wilds you come from.”

                “Not by the Starks,” she almost spat.

                “Well, then it will be an experience for you!” Joffrey almost shouted. “After all, it doesn't really matter which Lannister puts the baby in you.” Sansa couldn't speak. If she opened her mouth, she would vomit on him.

                “Savages practice the right of first night,” a cold voice said. She never thought she would be relieved to see Jaime. “You will keep your filthy words to yourself, your Grace.”

                “I meant no offence to you, uncle,” Joffrey said, a cold smile pinned on his face.

                “Just to my wife. Sansa – we should leave.” She turned to him, but a strong hand seized her arm. It was with difficulty that she suppressed a cry of pain, but when she turned it wasn't Joffrey with his hand on her – it was Cersei.

                “I believe there is the small matter of the bedding,” she said, and Sansa had to murmur a prayer for courage. Her entire body was tense, her muscles seizing as if she were bracing to bolt. Perhaps she was. She could be quick if she needed to be.

                “No,” Jaime said. Sansa saw the small movement of his hand, almost as if he was summoning her. Short of breaking Cersei's fingers, there was nothing she could do. The entire hall had fallen silent now, everyone was staring.

                “No?” Cersei echoed. “It is tradition. It is required.

                “Not for my wedding. It's no less savage than first night – or do you need reminding of how much you hated your bedding?” Cersei's face twisted into anger, but her grip loosened for a fraction of a second and Sansa tore her arm free, retreating from the tense group like an eel. Margaery was there, and Sansa went to her.

                “The bedding must happen,” Joffrey declared. “Come, Lady Sansa, let us begin – this tradition has been in place for years.”

                “Perhaps with a new King we should have new traditions,” Sansa said. Unseen by the spread of their skirts, Margaery slipped her hand into Sansa’s and squeezed it. “Perhaps Jaime could escort me.” Cersei looked livid, two bright red splotches on her cheeks. For a moment, Sansa thought she would fly at her and take her eyes out with her bare hands.

                “There is no bedding,” a quietly furious voice said. Tywin Lannister had cut his path through the crowd. “Two will be quite sufficient. Perhaps Lady Margaery could escort the bride and Tyrion could escort the groom.” Sansa could have fallen to his feet and kissed them out of sheer gratitude.

 

She had no clear memories of walking through the crowd, no clear memory of climbing the stairs to her chambers. Only once they were alone and Margaery slid an arm about her waist did she bump back into reality.

                “Oh Gods,” she whispered. A trembling seized her limbs and Margaery tightened her grip.

                “There, Sansa, you have no need to fear now.”

                “I have everything to fear,” Sansa whispered to her, afraid for a moment that even the walls would hear her and carry her words back to Tywin, who she had so very recently promised to act the perfect bride.

                “It will not hurt so very much as long as he takes care. He will be kind.”

                “It is not him I fear.” They reached her chamber and Margaery stopped them, turning Sansa to face her.

                “You are stronger than you know, Sansa, and far from the frightened sparrow I first met in this city of vipers. Have courage, little bird.” Margaery embraced her and Sansa buried her face into her shoulder before she broke away, smoothing her dress once more. Margaery nodded. “That’s the way. Shall I help you with your dress?” Sansa shook her head.

                “I can do it alone. But thank you – for everything.”

Chapter Text

When Jaime reached Sansa's bedchamber with a laughing Tyrion accompanying him, he found Margaery sitting on a stone ledge outside it. She got up when she saw them and dropped a curtsey. Tyrion slapped him on the back.

                “Well, there we are then. Lady Margaery, shall I escort you back to the feast? I'm sure many are eager to hear that we saw the newly-weds safely into their bed.”

                “Absolutely,” Margaery agreed, smiling at him. “I am certain that many will be pleased to hear that they were keen to be alone. I hear there is a jug of Arbour gold wine in the Hall – shall we see if we can find it?”

                “A woman after my own heart!” The pair of them went off, leaving Jaime to blink after them – he should probably warn someone about those two.

 

He turned and faced the firmly closed door, taking a deep breath. This was ridiculous –he had fought battles, stabbed a King in the back. And here he was, trying to find the courage to enter his wife's bedroom. Should he knock? No, that was ridiculous. For tonight at least, it was his room too. He opened the door, braced to see her, and found an empty room. The bed covers had been turned down, and her wedding dress lay over a chest.

                “Lady Sansa?” he called. Had he come to the wrong room? No, Margaery had been outside. But she was coming in from a chamber off to the side, wearing a nightdress with long sleeves and a high neck – covered from head to toe. He noticed, almost with an air of detachment, that her hair was still perfectly styled. She looked at him and suddenly the reality of how small she was hit him. Not in height - she'd taken her height from her Stark ancestry, and she was barely a head shorter than he was. But in everything else – she was so slim, so fragile.

 

Apparently while he'd been off in dreamland, she'd managed to cross the room and sit down at the dressing table. She was pulling the pearl-topped pins out of her hair, and one by one, long locks of red hair began to fall around her shoulders. He turned away, sitting on the side of the bed to pull his boots off. She didn't react when he tossed his doublet aside, nor when he stripped off his shirt too, leaving him in just his breeches. She picked up a hairbrush – and he saw the tremor in her hand.

 

Gods above help him, but he couldn't do this.

                “Sansa, please come here,” he said. The hairbrush clattered to the dressing table but she stood up and crossed the room to him. With every step, he could almost see her put the armour back on and it turned his guts to see it. If he'd been stupider, or drunker, he might have believed she was willing by the time she reached him. Her hands had even gone to the lacing of the front of her nightgown. His hands shot out and grabbed hers, determined to stop her. “Don't,” he said.

                “I - I'm sorry. I don't – I don't know what to do.”

                “Sansa – I don't want you to do anything. I don't intend or want to add rape to the things on my conscience because the Gods know I have enough on it already.” She was staring at him. “Do – do you understand?”

                “No. I have a duty as your wife,” she answered him.

                “Sit down,” he said, gesturing at the bed. She did so, her back still ramrod straight. “You and I both know that we won't be able to pretend for long. But I will not touch you until you touch me. I will not start this marriage by forcing myself on you. Oh, I'm certain you would have taken your clothes off, spread your legs and let me fuck you – but I don't want you to let me. I want you to want me.”

                “What – they'll see the sheets,” she whispered, staring at him out of blue eyes so deep he felt like he was drowning in them.

                “I know. Can you lie down?” Despite the conversation they'd just had, he saw the flash of fear in her eyes. She did as he asked. He took note of her hips, where they were on the sheets and pulled his knife from the waist of his breeches. Her eyes widened, and he hastened to reassure her.     “I am not going to hurt you, Sansa. Trust me on that at least – that I will never hurt you.” She nodded slowly. He remembered Tyrion's words and brought a foot up, slitting the sole and grimacing at the sharp flash of pain. Positioning himself was awkward, but eventually, he managed to engineer four or five drops of blood onto the white linen, watching them spread as they soaked in a little. “That should do it. They'll think the deed was done and you can sleep soundly – what are you doing?” he asked, as she got off the bed and went to a table by the window. She came back with a cup of water, and held her hand out.

                “May I use the knife?” she asked. He gave it to her. It was barely more than a meat knife, even if she did stab him with it she probably wouldn't kill him. But instead of lunging for his throat, she bent down to the hem of her nightgown, and cut two long strips from the bottom. She knelt on the floor in front of him and took his foot in her hand. He was reduced to staring at her as she used one strip to wash the cut and the other to bind his foot. “I can pack the nightdress before they see it,” she said, quietly. “And they'll  never know what happened here.” She handed back his knife and carried the bloody strip of linen to the fire, where she tossed it into the flames.

 

She got into bed then, avoiding the bloodstain even as she courteously turned her back for him to strip his breeches off. Only once he had blown out the candles and was lying on his back beside her did she turn back to face him. In the dim light of the flickering fire, her hair seemed to be glowing.

                “I want to thank you for what you've done,” she said blandly. “Not just this. For standing up for me in the Hall – for standing up to Joffrey, and to Cersei. I know that it can’t have been easy for you.” Jaime had to wonder if she knew – or how much she guessed. “You have been kind.”

                “Did you expect me to be unkind?” he asked, turning his head to look at her. She was on her side, one hand pillowing her face and one hand toying with a loose thread on her bedlinen. She shook her head slowly.

                “No, not that exactly. But I did not expect such – consideration.” He rolled over too, and on an impulse he took her hand in his. She looked at the way he held it clasped, but did not pull away from him.

                “I am not a monster. I know you have reason to – dislike my family, and I am truly sorry for it. But I will not add to your hurts, no matter the cost.” He took a breath then, before he went on. “I know something of what happened to you. During the riots.” Her hand jumped under his.

                “It was Sandor who came back for me,” she said in a small voice. Jaime wondered at the use of his name – so few people called Clegane by his name it was a shock to hear her use it so casually. “Joffrey just ran away. I tried to run too but everything was so confusing, there were so many people – I ended up running away from the Keep. A man cornered me near the arches the people keep pigs in, when I turned to run from him there was another man behind me. I ran into the arches because I thought I might be able to hide there. But they were faster than me, and they caught me. They knocked me down into the straw, and I fell onto my face. One of them lay on top of me, he told me what he was going to do to me and I lost my head. I screamed for help so they hit me, got me on my back so they could cover my mouth to shut me up. Two of them held my arms down, one of them held my legs and the fourth man started pushing my skirts up. Then Sandor came, he ran through the man holding my legs and broke the neck of the one pushing up my skirts. When Sandor pulled him off me, he already had his breeches open, he was – hard.” Her blue eyes were dark with fear. “He killed the other men too and then he turned back to me. He put out his hand and told me I was safe now. He was the first person to tell me that who I believed. He threw me over his shoulder and carried me back to the Keep. Tyrion was there, he looked so horrified when he saw me. He thanked Sandor for finding me but Sandor just said “I didn't do it for you.” And I knew he meant that he'd done it for me, that he did it to save me.” Jaime felt something twist inside him but didn't know what it was. In a way it felt like jealousy. “I still dream about it,” Sansa went on, her eyes staring at something over Jaime's shoulder. “I still feel that man's weight on me; I still see his breeches when Sandor pulled him off me. I can still smell the stink of his breath and hear the vile things he said to me. But in my dreams Sandor doesn't come, nobody comes.” She pulled her hand out of his and turned onto her back, clasping them in front of her.

                “Sansa – I swear to you, I am going to keep you safe. Nothing like that will ever happen to you again while I breathe.” She turned her head to him.

                “You can't promise me that. But thank you all the same. Goodnight – Jaime.” She turned her back to him, pulling up the covers so she was hidden from the neck down.

 

It was a long time before her breathing settled into a rhythm that told him she was sleeping. He lay beside her, eyes once more the furthest thing from heavy. Sandor Clegane, who would have thought it? He'd heard that Sandor was a wanted man these days, having apparently shouted “Fuck the King" or something very similar during the Battle of the Blackwater. And Tyrion had told him too; that it had been Sandor who threw his cloak over Sansa after Joffrey had had her stripped. Perhaps he ought to make his own efforts to find Sandor and thank him somehow. Ah yes, that would work – the news of his marriage to Sansa would be all over the Seven Kingdoms inside three days. If Sandor didn't ride up to Casterly Rock and murder him on the spot, he was highly unlikely to find him. Beside him, Sansa stirred slightly in her sleep, rolling back to face him. She looked very young, he thought, the slowly dying fire illuminating her pale skin softly. Too young to have suffered so much and borne so much. He turned away from her, slightly afraid she would wake up and catch him staring. It was a long time before he slept.

 

The next morning, he woke at the first bird song. Sansa was still asleep, lying on her back with arms thrown out and legs curled slightly. He was exhausted by his broken night but he knew that Tywin had wanted them gone at first light. He left the bed as quietly as he could, and looked round, wondering what he was supposed to wear. He hadn't thought last night about what would happen this morning. Was he meant to get back into his wedding outfit? That would be interesting to ride in. He thought his squire might have packed everything else – as he had ordered. For Gods' sake. Everyone always talked about the wedding and the wedding night – nobody ever told him what to do about the morning after. He walked to the door of the room Sansa had walked out of last night. It seemed to be intended as a little solar, but it had an air to it that suggested it was rarely used. A dress was hanging up, obviously intended to be for Sansa for the day. He needed a wash and a shave and there wasn't even a pitcher of water or a bowl for him, never mind a shaving kit. He gave a low growl of frustration, and returned to the clothes he had discarded last night. He’d pulled the breeches and boots on when the knock came at the door. Behind him, he heard Sansa sit up, and he turned to her to see very real fear on her face as her hands flew to her own throat. He cursed slightly as he remembered what she said last night – of course she would have dreamed of it. He crossed to her side of the bed as quickly as he could.

                “Don’t panic,” he murmured to her. “Don’t panic and don’t be afraid. Who will that be?” She took a few deep breaths and he saw her eyes clear a little. She blinked at him, and he repeated his question. “Who would be knocking?” Her fists were clenched in the sheets, and he took one hand in his, massaging her knuckles gently.

                “Sh – Shae, probably.”

                “Your maid?” Sansa nodded, her face still pale. She made to get up, but Jaime shook his head. “Don’t – she has to think we consummated this, you wouldn’t get up to answer the door. Slide into the middle a bit; she has to see you leave the bed near the stain.” Sansa nodded again, lying back down and wriggling over obligingly. To his surprise, she also took her nightgown off. He didn’t see a damn thing beyond one of her shoulders as she shoved it under the pillow. He nodded approvingly before he went to answer the second knock at the door. Shae started a little at the sight of his shirtless torso, but she wasn’t alone – his squire was there too, carrying a change of clothes for him and a shaving kit. He stepped back to let them in, and Sansa made a good show of pretending to wake up, clutching the bedclothes to her bare chest as she saw his squire. Shae was looking from Sansa to him, obviously angry, but his squire at least had the decency to avert his eyes.

                “My lady, shall you dress?” Shae asked. “Perhaps Ser Jaime could go into the solar?” Jaime seized on it gratefully and nodded at his squire.            

                “Go through.”

                “I shall fetch your dress, Lady Sansa,” Shae said, following him. Jaime shot Sansa a smile and she smiled back, although she was keeping the bedclothes close still. Shae came back out, carrying the dress over her arms, and Jaime made himself as scarce as he could. He shut the door between them, but as his squire set about shaving him he could hear the murmur of voices and the rustle of the bedclothes. He also heard Shae gasp aloud at one point, and assumed she’d seen the blood. So it had worked then.

 

However, that notion was swiftly disabused when the dividing door flew open and Shae appeared in it.

                “You hurt her,” she said accusingly. Sansa appeared behind her, clad only in her shift.

                “Shae, you shall remember your place,” she said, frowning blackly. “Whether or not this is your last day as my handmaiden, you may not address an anointed knight like that.”

                “What on earth is going on?” Jaime said, his face still half-covered in shaving cream.

                “Her arm! You bruised her!” He moved his eyes to Sansa, who was looking even angrier than Shae now.

                “It wasn’t him, Shae. If you cannot control yourself enough to finish dressing me, you can go.” Jaime knocked his squire’s arm out of the way and stood up, heedless of the shaving foam still on his jaw.

                “What’s she talking about?” he asked Sansa. She answered him with a sigh and the extension of her arm. On her forearm, just above her wrist, four black bruises stood up against the pallor of her skin. “Where did you get this from?” he asked her, turning her arm a little. Suddenly, he realised that they were perfect imprints – of Cersei’s fingers. Dear Gods, how hard had she grabbed Sansa to cause those bruises? Sansa must have seen the look of recognition, because she pulled her arm back and shook her head.

                “It doesn’t mean anything – I bruise very easily. Shae, come with me now.” She swept off, somehow imposing even in her shift, and Shae followed, although she still shot Jaime a distinctly mistrustful look. Jaime sat back down, and had to wonder how much more baffling this day could get.

 

Once they were both dressed and guards had come in to remove the one chest that had been left in Sansa’s rooms – all of them noting the blood on her sheets, Jaime turned to Sansa.

                “Why didn’t you tell me about the bruises?” he said quietly, pulling his gloves on as he spoke. Sansa looked up from the boots she was struggling to button.

                “What would have been the point?” she queried. “Would you have done something about it?” He frowned, but she obviously knew the answer. “You’ll probably have good cause to know how easily I bruise, Jaime. I’ve had them before – it seems only fitting that I leave here with bruises. They can remind me of how much I am capable of bearing.” She stood up, shaking her skirts into place and looking at him. “Are you coming?” she asked. He didn’t really have much choice – she had obviously shut the conversation down. He offered his arm and she took it. He noticed that she didn’t even look back at the rooms as she left them. Her head was well up as he escorted her to the courtyard where his horse and her litter were waiting. She looked from it to him with a question in her eyes.

                “It’s a two-week ride to Casterly Rock. We have a horse for you but I thought you would prefer to start in the litter,” he told her, and saw the understanding flicker on her face. “Our baggage left yesterday and it will be waiting for us when we get there – they’ll travel faster than us.” She nodded and then tensed. He glanced behind him and saw Tywin and Tyrion coming towards them.

                “We thought we would come and bid you farewell,” Tyrion said.                              

                “I assumed you would be somewhere quiet, sleeping off vast quantities of wine,” Jaime shot at him. Tyrion assumed a hurt expression.

                “You malign my reputation,” he protested, before Tywin interrupted.

                “Safe travels,” he said, glowering at Tyrion. “The guard should ride fully armed, the Stark armies are still in the Riverlands and they patrol daily – and you’ll be getting close enough to the Riverlands.” He was watching Sansa as he spoke, who apparently maintained a cool disinterest.

                “We will, Father.”

                “Send me a raven with any news.”

                “Of course.” Beside him, Sansa shifted a little, and Jaime glanced at her to see her frowning in apparent discomfort. He put a hand on her back. “Are you well?” he said to her.

                “I should like to get into the litter,” she said, smiling at him. Tywin was looked at Sansa with a vague air of approval.

                “Get in,” Jaime said, helping her up the steps. She winced as she sat and unseen by Tywin, Jaime smiled at her. Even he could believe that she was in pain. When he walked back to Tywin, Tyrion stepped around him, climbing into the litter after Sansa. Tywin clapped him on the shoulder.

                “You did it then,” he said. “I’m pleased with you.”

                “Thank you,” Jaime said drily.

                “Watch her,” Tywin said warningly. “She's a lot more calculating than she appears and even though she had our name now, she's still a Stark at heart.”

                “I am fully aware of who she is,” Jaime answered. “It's impossible to forget when she looks exactly like her mother.” Tywin shook his head.

                “I knew Catelyn Tully when she was Sansa's age – not well, I grant you, but well enough. Sansa is like her mother, but she's more beautiful than Catelyn ever was – and a thousand times better at lying and scheming. She's more like the old Blackfish there.”

                “Have we had any word on him?”

                “Hoster Tully is dying. Catelyn has returned to her father's side in Riverrun to be by his side, and the Young Wolf has gone with her. We can probably assume that Blackfish is there too, or on his way at least. Get her to Casterly Rock. It's impregnable – once she's behind the walls, Robb Stark won't be able to get to her even if he wants to.” Jaime nodded as if discussing keeping his wife as a prisoner wasn't turning his stomach. Tywin clapped him on the shoulder again. “Safe journey,” he repeated, before he turned on his heel and disappeared into the Keep.

 

Jaime mounted and aligned his horse with Sansa's litter as Tyrion climbed out of it, laughing at something. He came over to Jaime.

                “And how am I meant to hug you goodbye from up there?” he demanded. “There's enough of a height difference as it is.” Jaime groaned aloud. At this rate, he might leave the city sometime before midday. He dismounted all the same and bent to embrace his brother. “Take care of Sansa – take care of yourself. Write to me, often and in great length. I shall be terribly bored without you.”

                “You'll find your entertainment,” Jaime responded. “You always do. And I’ll write if you do.” He fiddled with his glove fitting before he glanced at his brother. “Cersei didn't come then,” he stated.

                “No. But that's probably for the best, wouldn't you say?” Jaime nodded.

                “Yes. Goodbye then, brother. You should visit us –my wife seems to find you amusing.”

                “He doesn't amuse me,” Sansa called from inside the litter. “He's not a jester. I find him funny.” Tyrion hooted.

                “Oh I'll visit,” he promised. “Your wife is one of the few people I genuinely enjoy the company of. Safe riding, Jaime.”

 

Jaime swung himself back onto his horse and nodded to the guard. The litter moved off slowly, and he rode after it. And as they left the city through the Lion Gate and began the long march down the Gold Road, Jaime found that he felt lighter as the distance from the city grew greater. Thank the Gods – but they'd got away.

 

Chapter Text

As the distance between her and the capital grew, Sansa felt the tension leaving her. The countryside around them was lush and green, a world away from the stinking streets of the city and the muddy fields of the North. A part of her brain reminded her that it was Casterly Rock and a Lannister stronghold that she was headed for, but most of her simply did not care. When they stopped at night, she and Jaime slept in the litter, and by the time a week on the road had lapsed, Sansa felt as if she was learning things about her husband. He snored if he was sleeping lightly, but would stop if she poked him in the back or side. He always waited with the men whilst she stripped to her shift for the night before he climbed into the litter and undressed himself. He sometimes whistled as he rode alongside the litter, or he would point to places along the road and tell her some little story. He was concerned for her needs always, he would ask several times a day if she wanted anything or needed anything. On the fourth day, she had asked “salt-beef again" when their breakfast had been brought to them. He had addressed a few words to a guard and that night, he had brought her fresh-caught rabbit to eat instead. By the seventh day, she was sick to her stomach at the prospect of even one more minute in the litter, and felt that she must escape its confines, even if it was just for an hour.

                “I want to ride,” she said, as soon as Jaime sat up on the morning of the eighth day, his hair tousled and eyes still swollen with sleep. His beard was growing in, and he scratched at it as he blinked sleepily at her.

                “What?” he asked, yawning widely.

                “I said I want to ride. If I spend any more time in this thing, I shall go mad.” He grinned at her and she found herself smiling back.

                “As you command, Lady Sansa.” He banged on the roof and a guard opened the door. “Make ready the horse for Lady Sansa – she will ride today.”

 

She gave the horse a good rein, and found herself laughing as the wind tugged at her hair and dress. She hadn't felt so free in years, she could not remember the last time she had allowed the wind to pull at her hair pins or the last time she had laughed so genuinely. Jaime pulled his horse up beside hers when she finally slowed, his face showing quiet amusement.

                “You're a good rider, Lady Sansa,” he said. She didn't need to look around to know that the guards were out of earshot. During the few alone times they had had, he had reverted to addressing her formally, a way of showing her that he was keeping his distance she supposed. In the earshot of their guards, he called her either Sansa or simply “wife", maintaining the image that they were happily married.

 

She had to admit, even if only to herself, that she wasn't necessarily unhappily married. Jaime had proven that he was a man of his word where she was concerned, and had made no attempt to touch her. He hadn't even taken her hand, as he had done on their wedding night. But still she did not trust him, still she was wary that at any moment he might grow tired of waiting and demand that she perform her wifely duty to him. It would scarcely be the first time a Lannister had changed in attitude towards her. Still she reminded herself that Casterly Rock was one of the greatest fortresses in the Seven Kingdoms, said to be impenetrable and impossible to seize. Still she reminded herself that it would be a Lannister household, with exclusively Lannister servants – they hadn't even let her bring Shae. She knew that the majority of the servants would be receiving rewards for information: if not from Tywin then from Cersei. At Casterly Rock, they would not be able to pretend for long. Sooner rather than later, she would have to spread her legs for her husband. She glanced sideways at him as he rode alongside her, the sunlight glinting down on his golden hair. It could have been worse.

                “I didn't know you could ride.” She bumped back down out of her thoughts.

                “I'm sorry, Ser Jaime, I was – far away.”

                “You looked it. So you ride?”

                “You saw me ride. I rode from the Sept to the Keep.” He snorted with amusement.

                “That was hardly riding. This is – and I don't think I ever saw it before.”

                “I – when I was younger, with three brothers, with Jon and Theon – never to mention Arya –and you didn't think I could ride? We were all taught to ride from the minute we could sit upright in a saddle.”

                “Yes, I suppose you would have been. But you didn't do it often, did you?”

                “I was inside every chance I got. I wanted to be a lady, and riding wasn't ladylike – or not the kind of riding we did. Hunts, mostly.”

                “Do you want to ride now?” he asked, and she looked from him to the ambling horses.

                “We are riding.”

                “Proper riding,” he corrected. “In other words, a race.”

                “A race?”

                “Yes, Lady Sansa. I haven't exactly been giving myself a good gallop either, the last several days. So shall we say from here to the copse up there?” he asked, reining his horse to a halt and gesturing. She stopped too, and glanced behind them for the guards. They were still some distance away, none of them seeming particularly concerned by the gap that had widened between them. “You are not my prisoner, Lady Sansa,” he said quietly. “You do not need a guard to give you permission to ride out with me.”

                “I – a race?” she enquired, choosing to leave the whole question of the guards alone.    “Alright then – although you'll win easily.”

                “Don't doubt yourself, Lady Sansa. Are you ready?” She nodded.

 

He won easily, knowing his horse better than she did and being the far more experienced rider but she found she didn't care as she gave the horse his head and felt the wind pull at her. She felt free. She'd never let herself ride like this and she found that she loved it, felt the rush of the air and saw the rush of the world past her.  She laughed out loud even as Jaime drew away from her. Her hair came down and she found that she didn't care, even as the wind tore through and tossed it to a tangle she was certain she would regret later. He won of course, and both of them were laughing as she drew up.

                “Very good,” he said, reaching out for her reins as the horse snorted and sidled a little. She laughed again.

                “But you won.”

                “Only because you don't know the horse. When we get to the Rock, I shall get a mare for you and you can have her for your own. You'll be victorious in no time.”

                “Thank you,” she said, slightly surprised by the casual generosity he showed her.A gust of wind blew some strands of hair across her face and she tucked them behind her ear, slightly self-conscious.

                “You look rather lovely like that,” he said, looking at her. She felt the blush but looked away to try and hide it.

                “Thank you,” she murmured, unsure of what to say or do.

                “Sansa -" he began, but a shout interrupted then. A guard was riding up at a hard gallop. “What is it?” Jaime asked, pulling his horse round.

                “You should not get too far ahead. They say there's a she-wolf as big as a bear in the Riverlands -" Sansa couldn't help the derisive snort that escaped her.

                “We're far enough from the Riverlands,” Jaime said dismissively. “Even if there were such things as wolves bigger than bears.”

                “There are not,” Sansa said definitely. “Not even direwolves get that big.” Even now, she still felt a little pang for Lady. She turned to her reins, adjusting them in her hands.

                “You heard her - she's Northern born, so if anyone would know, it's her. I assure you, we will keep a close watch for wolves, bear-sized or otherwise.” He glanced at Sansa. “My wife and I will ride ahead. We are not to be disturbed. We will wait for you.” The guard shot Sansa a look that made her skin crawl, before he turned his horse and returned to the  party behind them. Jaime gestured for Sansa to follow him, and she turned her horse to go with him as he rode down the road. Under the trees, the sunlight was dappled, the shade welcome to her. Jaime turned to her, his eyes alight. “There's a stream through the trees down there,” he said, pointing. “If Father ever took us to the capital with him, we'd come through here and camp by the water for the night.”

                “Can we see it?” she asked. He looked surprised but pleased, nodding to her.

                “Of course. We’ll need to lead the horses though.” He dismounted, and came to help her, taking her by the waist as he lifted her to the ground. He let go immediately, there was no attempt to linger. She had never flinched from him before and did not object necessarily to his touches, but even so she was always relieved when he stopped. He led them, and Sansa's horse followed after some persuasion. After they were a little way from the path, with the bubbling of water becoming louder, she spoke.

                “I don't think I thanked you – for what you did on our wedding night.”

                “You did,” he said in surprise, glancing back at her, but she shook her head.

                “No, I know I thanked you for what you didn't do, but I never thanked you for what you did. I never told anyone about the riots – about what happened to me. I think Sandor might have told Tyrion the bare bones but I never spoke of it. There was nobody I felt would care enough to listen to me about it.” As they'd spoken, the stream had come into sight. Jaime led them to the banks and tethered the horses before she answered her.

                “I understand and as I told you, I will not add to my crimes by forcing -"

                “I know my duty,” she interrupted him, walking a little way along the stream. He followed her, but he made no attempt to offer his arm to her. “I know what I am required to do, and I am prepared to do it.”

                “Lady Sansa, I don't want a woman who lies with me because duty demands it. I don't want a wife prepared to do her duty. I want a woman in my bed who comes to me willingly, because she wants me, because she desires me and my touch on her body.” Sansa felt the redness wash over her skin but he hadn't finished. “I don't want you lying there enduring me. I want you lying there touching me, as I touch you, I want to see you flush with pleasure and not embarrassment. I don't want you in bed with me with your head turned to the wall, just allowing me to fuck you.” She nearly gasped at that, turned her head away. “Sansa – I didn't choose this any more than you did, and I didn't want it any more than you did. But I am still fully aware that I have come out of this with the better deal, as it were –I am not the virgin bride married to the family who murdered her father. I am a man married to a – and excuse my honesty –a beautiful young woman who has great spirit and great determination. The Gods can forgive me for it if you will not, but I do find myself appreciating your beauty.” She pressed a hand to her belly, she took a step back from him because she couldn't bear it, couldn't hear this from him. He stopped too, turning to her but not closing the gap. “I cannot think of anything more wrong than you forcing yourself into my arms whilst you wish yourself a thousand leagues away,” he finished quietly. She felt a tear slide down her cheek, the images he had conjured with his words assailing her even when she closed her eyes.

 

He wanted her. He, Jaime Lannister, the oath-breaking Kingslayer, the man whose sister and nephew had seized every possible opportunity to torment her – and he wanted her.And what was she now? The disgraced daughter of a man they called a traitor, the girl whose brother was even now waging a war against the King. Beautiful? His hands were on her shoulders, she opened her eyes and found that tears were blinding her.

                “Don't cry,” he said, his voice coming to her from far away. “You aren't supposed to cry when people say you're pretty.”

                “Joffrey said that I was pretty,” she gasped out, pulling away from him. “He used to tell that – that man to leave my face when he beat me because he liked me pretty. He used to say that at least he'd be able to endure being married to me because I was pretty.” Jaime swore colourfully. She'd only ever heard Sandor use that word.

                “I beg your pardon,” he said, even as she gave a startled giggle through her tears. “What he did to you was abhorrent and I am shamed by his actions.”

                “Why?” she demanded. “You weren't there, you didn't stand by and watch while my clothes were torn off and nobody said a thing to stop him until Sandor stepped up to help me. You didn't hold me in place while Joffrey showed me his head on a spike and told me he'd give me Robb's head too. It shames you? It shames me too. It shames me to remember how much I cried when he did those things to me – and it shamed me every day when I had to look at the people who just let him do them and never raised a finger to stop him or help me.” He was staring at her, and she dragged the back of her hand over her eyes, angered by the tears. She had sworn to herself that he would never see her cry. She turned on her heel and walked back to the horses, untying hers. But he was there, he was pulling her into his arms and she stumbled into his chest before she could stop herself. His arms felt strong around her but she didn't feel trapped or frightened.

 

The last person who had touched her like this had been Sandor before he fled the city during the Blackwater. His mouth had felt strong on hers but she hadn't been afraid. Jaime was holding her like that – strong but safe.

                “If I could change it, I would,” he told her. “I swear it.” She remained in his arms for a moment before she stepped away.

                “I think I believe that you really would. But you can’t and it doesn't matter.” She used a tree root to get herself back into the saddle and settled her weight. “We should ride on.”

 

He followed her, but he didn't speak to her, and as she was disinclined to speak to him, their ride was silent until the guards caught them up and Jaime said that they should look to make camp for the night. On the horizon, she could see the rocky outcrops that separated them from Casterly Rock and turned her back on them resolutely. She didn't want to think about her destination – she wanted nothing more than to never get there. She wished she could believe that a giant wolf was roaming around – at least then she might have hoped to escape. She vowed not to ride again for the rest of the journey. At least she could be alone if she travelled in the litter and she couldn't look at Jaime. She didn't want to remember how his arms had felt around her, didn't want to remember how she had compared his embrace to Sandor's kiss. She should have left Kings Landing with him – at least she could have believed that he was capable of protecting her and that he hated Lannister’s as much as she did.

 

And perhaps she could have even been happy with him.

Chapter Text

She hadn't ridden out with him again, hadn't ridden at all. She'd stayed in the litter, and she'd barely even spoken to him. She either pretended to be asleep or was actually asleep when he climbed into the litter at night. If he spoke to her, she always answered with courtesy – but he hadn't heard her laugh again, hadn't even seen the smile again. And she'd never used his name again, whether or not the guards could hear. She didn't call him anything, not even Ser. He didn't know what to do, or what to say, or how to do anything to make her feel better again. He wanted to hold her again, he found that he wanted to embrace her again, hold her tight and tell her she was safe. He would tell her it a thousand times if he had to, as many times as it took until she believed him. She probably never would.

 

Shortly after midday on the thirteenth day of the journey, he knocked on the side of the litter after they had paused briefly for luncheon and she pulled the curtain back. A point in his chest ached when he saw how pale and how drawn she had become and he made his decision.

                “Sansa, I want you get out of the litter,” he said. She looked her surprise at him. “Now, please.” He saw her collect herself, but she got out, even accepting his hand to get down. “You can see Casterly Rock,” he said, pointing into the distance. She shaded her eyes with her hand and looked. “We'll be there by nightfall if we push on. And we can only push on if you ride and we leave the litter to follow on.”

                “I don't want to ride,” she said.

                “No, I don't suppose you do. But you need to.”

                “I -"

                “Bring her horse,” Jaime said to a nearby guard. “And give us a few minutes.” He took her arm and pulled her against him, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. She didn't struggle, but he felt the tension pass through her and heard the gasp that left her. “If I hold you like this, and whisper to you like this,” he almost breathed into her ear, “they'll all think I'm whispering to you with love – or at least lust.” She didn't answer him. “I don't like to think that you are unhappy. I know that you are, I can see it. I understand why, and I wish that I could help you.”

                “You don't know why,” she whispered back. A physical jolt ran through him when he felt her slide a hand into his hair. Before he could even think about it, his hands were on her waist, and he was stopping himself from yanking her closer. “You couldn't possibly understand why I am unhappy and the depth of my unhappiness. And I don't want to ride and I don't want to get there tonight. I don't think I ever want to get there.”

                “I know." He tightened his hands for a moment. “But we started this masquerade, and we cannot stop it now, because every single one of these guards is in either my father's pay or in Cersei's. We need to get behind the walls of Casterly Rock, and behind the closed door of our chambers before you cannot bear my company so openly.” He turned his head slightly, his lips just brushing her temple. He heard her exhale, felt it against his throat as she brought her chin up slightly. “Ride with me,” he urged. “You're pale, you're weary. You need the ride because it will help you clear your head, it will help you think.”

                “I'm so tired,” she said against his throat. He imagined it must look like she was kissing him.

                “I know.” He put her away from him and lifted her chin with his hand. “Ride with me,” he said again. “I've already sent a guard on ahead. As soon as they see us approaching, the maids will ready a hot bath for you, and lay out your nightgown. You will sleep tonight in a real bed, with a soft mattress beneath you and feather pillows under your head. And if you want me to juggle fire or perform a Braavosi jig until you fall asleep, I'll do it for you.” He saw a mere glimmer of amusement on her weary face but it was a start at least.

 

He couldn't have begun to imagine the effort and the courage it cost her, but she got on the horse. He saw her straighten her back and pin on a smile for a guard, and he hated  himself for knowing that his family was the cause of so much pain for her. He set a hard pace, wanting her in the promised bath and bed as soon as he could get her there. She kept up, and some colour at least came back to her face during the gallops he instituted. He didn't feel comfortable enough to suggest they race again, sensing that he had perhaps pushed too far last time. He should never have told her that he was attracted to her, should never had told her he thought her beautiful, at least not so soon. He did not love her, he was very far from loving her, but he wasn't blind or a eunuch or insane – he knew and appreciated beauty when he saw it. He didn't want her to be miserable or unhappy – she had already had enough of both in her life. He knew it would be a long and difficult road for them but he wanted to make her happy if he could, if she would accept it from him. He was under no illusions about love, he did not expect to ever love her and it was impossible that she would love him, but at the very least they might find happiness together.

 

The sun was setting in a blaze when they reached the Rock, and he rode into the courtyard with a sigh of pleasure. He was home. It had been so very long since he was here, since he had seen how the sunset painted the white stone with warmth, since he had heard the waves crashing at the foot of the cliff the castle crouched on, so like a lion on a rock. Sansa barely even glanced around, she was staring only at him. He dismounted as quickly as he could, crossing over to her to help her  down. The Maester and the head of the guard were coming towards then but Jaime shook his head at them.

                “Time enough for business,” he said. “My wife is exhausted and if my orders were followed, a bath should be waiting for her, followed swiftly by her bed. Send bread, cheese, wine and perhaps a little cold chicken up to us. We'll be alone tonight.”

 

He half-carried Sansa to the Lord’s Chambers, and found a maid pouring the last of the hot water into a steaming bath in the antechamber opening from the solar. She curtseyed deeply to them both.

                “My Lord and Lady Lannister,” she said. “I have prepared the bath, it is ready. Shall I help you with your dress, my Lady?” Sansa shook her head.

                “I can manage, thank you.” The maid nodded.

                “Very well, my Lady. I have laid out your nightgown and put out your brushes. I shall go and make ready the bedchamber?” Jaime nodded at her.

                “Our dinner is being brought up to us. When it arrives, take it to the bedchamber.”

                “Of course my Lord. My name is Elya, if my Lady should require any assistance.”

 

Sansa was pulling her cloak off before the girl was even out of the room. Jaime turned away.

                “Call out, if you need anything,” he said quietly. She didn't answer him and he left her. In the bedchamber that opened out of the opposite wall in the solar, he found the maid busy with turning down the bed. She curtseyed again when she saw him.

                “You don't know what has become of my boxes, I suppose?” he queried.

                “Your baggage arrived yesterday, My Lord,” she answered. “All of your clothes have been put away, I saw to it myself. What do you require?” Jaime blinked at her.

                “I want a wash first, then I shall want a clean nightshirt,” he directed. She gestured to a table in the window, which held two pitchers, a bowl and a small towel, while a neatly folded drying sheet was on the chair.

                “I had them bring extra water and a drying sheet for you. Your nightshirts are in this drawer,” she continued, pulling one out.

 

She brought the dinner tray through when it came, and then excused herself. Jaime found himself alone for the first timein nearly a fortnight. It was quite nice, really, to have time alone with his own thoughts. He crossed to the windows and looked out. The Lords Chamber at Casterly Rock looked out over the seas, and Jaime loved it. The luxury apartments at the Keep were in the centre of the castle, and only the very top chambers had a decent view, but from the windows here, he could see the horizon stretching into black nothingness, see the unbroken expanse of white-tipped waves and velvet sky. A noise behind him made him turn, and he found Sansa behind him, buttoned into a nightgown and her hair plaited down her back. The heat of the water and the ride he'd almost had to strong-arm her into taking had put some pink into her cheeks, and gone some way to removing the haggard look she had had about her. He found himself standing awkwardly, not quite knowing what to say to her, or what to do, so both of them simply stood there. She was holding her arms in front of her, wrapped across her belly. She still thought he planned to leap on her then. In the end, in the absence of anything better, Jaime gestured at the table by the fire.

                “There's some food there,” he said. “They brought it up – but there's no salt beef.” He saw that glimmer of a smile again and offered her a tentative smile of his own. “Help yourself to as much as you want. I kept it light but if you want more, or something different, I can -" She was looking at him oddly, and he realised that he was rambling. “Sorry. Is it alright for you?”

                “It's fine,” she said, sitting down at the table. “Thank you for remembering about the salted beef.”

                “Hard to forget when you looked at it with such contempt after the first few days,” he joked, and she looked slightly embarrassed.

                “I didn't mean to be ungrateful,” she said quietly. Jaime crossed the room to sit opposite her.

                “You weren't – I should have put more thought into it. I have not organised something like this before. When I travel, it's generally with soldiers, and soldiers tend to have less discerning tastes. Or, at the very least, they're used to travelling lighter and having less choice.” She nodded, before she looked around the chamber.

                “Were these always your chambers?” she asked.

                “Oh no. These were – are, I suppose – the Lord's chambers. My father had them put in here when he inherited the Rock – my mother liked the way the windows all looked towards the sunset and that she could watch the waves.”

                “That's the sea out there?” she asked, nodding towards the windows.

                “Yes – not that you can see much of it now. Wait until morning. It feels like you're standing at the edge of the world when you stand up here and look out.”

                “I never saw the sea before I went to Kings Landing. It felt like it went on forever. I knew that Essos and all the rest of it was out there, but I couldn't imagine it. But to stand up here - what's west of Westeros?”

                “Nobody knows that,” he said. “Perhaps nothing.” She nodded, swallowing her mouthful before she spoke again.

                “Maybe. Would you mind if I went to bed?”

                “Of course not,” he answered. “I'll sit a bit longer though.” She stood up, but paused before she walked away.

                “I – I want to thank you for today. I – I did need to get out of that litter but I just couldn't.”

                “I know. And I’m sorry for grabbing at you like I did.”

                “No. I was failing. You did what needed to be done.” She hovered for a moment, as if she wanted to say something more, or do something. But whatever it was, she either lost her nerve or decided against it. “Goodnight – Jaime.”

 

She'd used his name. With nobody there to hear her or question her, she had used his name. He found himself unable to respond, but she didn't appear to be waiting for one anyway. She got into bed, taking the side furthest from the door and windows. He watched her pull the covers up over herself, curling onto her side as she always did. He had a thought that she was trying to show the smallest possible target, and he turned his head away from her. He didn't get in beside her until she was asleep, the even pace of her breathing and the relaxing of her grip on the bedlinen telling him it wasn't an act. He was so weary from the road and so worn out by the bloody act he seemed to be embroiled in that he slept better than he had since Tywin had ordered him into marriage, even with her beside him.

 

When he woke the next morning, she had unfurled herself next to him. Her red hair was in a wild tangle on her pillow, and one of her arms was thrown out over the edge of the bed as she lay on her front next to him. Her face was turned towards him, and he found himself grinning slightly at her open mouth and theslight snuffling sound that escaped her. He rolled out of bed and found that someone had been in and laid out breakfast on the table there. That was a nice touch. He hadeaten, dressed, sent for his squire and had a shave before Sansa so much as twitched.

 

When he heard her stirring, he sent his squire to find someone to act as a handmaid for her before he went through to the bedroom. She was half-awake, still drowsy. He supposed it explained why she smiled at him.

                “Good morning,” he said. “Or just about, anyway. It's almost midday.” She blinked at him.

                “Midday?” she repeated, before she sat bolt upright. “Midday! Why didn't you wake me?”

                “Because last night you were exhausted. And because you looked peaceful when I woke up, and I didn't have the heart to disturb you. And you're the Lady of Casterly Rock now – you can stay in bed all day if you want to.” She grimaced a little before she spoke.

                “Jaime, can I - ask something of you? I don't like to when you have already been so kind -"

                “Sansa, you're my wife now – whether that's for better or for worse. If there is anything you need, I will try and get it for you.”

                “It's not something you can give me,” she said, a slight smile on her face. “It's not a – a physical thing. I haven't made a good start to this.” She wrapped her arms around her knees and sat forward a little. “I thought last night that – that I don't really know you. We didn't exactly spend any time at all in each other's company before you went off to battle and I was left behind.” Curious now, he sat down on the edge of the bed, looking at her as she fiddled with the edges of the sheet.   “And you don't know me either. I think that we – that we have got off to a poor start. You said it yourself on the road here – we neither of us wanted this. I have been judging you by your family and perhaps you've judged me by mine.”

                “What are you saying?” he asked quietly. She took a very deep breath, almost as if she was readying herself to jump off the cliffs into the deep seas below them.

                “I'm saying that – perhaps we could start again? And this time we could take the time to get to know each other a little? I will never forget what Joffrey did to me, but it isn't fair to keep flinging it in your face.”

                “I think that's probably the best thing we can do,” he said, smiling at her. “So we can start again, Lady Sansa?”

                “You should probably call me Sansa,” she said, giving him a very tentative smile of her own.

                “Only if you call me Jaime,” he bargained. She nodded.

                “Alright – Jaime.” He had a feeling that perhaps he should reach out, take her hand, but something told him no.

                “Do you want to get up?” he asked. “I sent for a maid when I first heard you stirring a little. I can take you on a little tour of the castle.” She pushed back the covers in answer, and as she swung her legs to the floor he caught a glimpse of the curve of her waist as her nightgown pulled tight across her.

 

He left the room to find the same maid from last night waiting quietly, and waved her into the bedchamber. He crossed to the solar's balcony and looked out over the ocean, seeing the waves boast pretty white-foam heads under the endless blue of the sky. This was what he had missed over the years – the way he could look out over the endless expanses and feel so utterly free.

 

Well – almost free.

Chapter Text

The maid helped her dress, but it was perfectly clear to Sansa that she had never acted as a handmaiden before. She would need to ask Jaime about finding someone else, but she was stopped in her tracks when she left the bedchamber. He was very still on the balcony, gazing out over the waves and looking like he was thousand miles away. She found herself hesitating, not wanting to disturb him. His profile showed a relaxed air as he leant on the parapet, a vague smile playing on his lips. He looked happier in that moment than she had ever seen him look, more relaxed than ever. She was half-tempted to slide back into the bedchamber and wait for him to pull out of it all but at that moment he seemed to see her. She saw his eyes clearing as he turned to her and smiled.

                “Would you like something to eat?” he said, pointing at the table. Now he mentioned it, she found that she had the kind of appetite she hadn't had in weeks and felt herself salivate a little at the thought of food. The meal was simple, much as it had been last night – cold pork today, with apples, cheese and bread. She made a good meal, and found that Jaime was smiling at her. “It's good to see you with an appetite,” he said, taking an apple for himself.

                “I don't think I’ve ever been that hungry,” she said, putting her knife and fork down. He grinned.

                “Well it's good you are now. You're a soldier's wife now – I don't really know what to do with a woman who eats like a little bird.” She smiled at him. “So, if you have eaten as much as you want, would you like to take a tour of the castle?” She nodded and stood up, brushing her skirt self-consciously. He offered her his arm, and she took it, offering him a smile. It was still hard and she knew it would be hard for a long time –but she had to try and stop looking at him and seeing Cersei or Joffrey. If she had any chance of finding some kind of happiness in this, she had to try.

 

And she had been the one who had asked that they try and start again, before the gap between them became a chasm that couldn't be crossed. She had thought about during the ride yesterday - she could keep on pushing him away, keep on comparing him and his words to Joffrey or Cerseiand spend the rest of her life absolutely miserable and wishing for death, or she could at least try. If he turned out to be an awful bastard, then she could at least hate him freely and be miserable knowing she had tried. But whether she liked it or not, she was married to him now. She might as well make the best she could of it – not least because doing that would be a blow against Cersei, and that would give her pleasure like nothing else could. If she could enjoy her marriage, Cersei would be absolutely livid. That alone would be a motivation.

 

Jaime led her out of the castle first, into the central courtyard they had arrived in yesterday – although she barely remembered it. Had he come over to her horse and just held his arms open, she probably would have fallen into them face-first.

                “The castle radiates out from here,” he explained, letting go of her arm to gesture. “We're at the foot of the lion, as it were. The Lord's chambers are right at the other end. The route we took down here – along the corridor and down the steps – is the easiest way to get there without getting lost.” She nodded, trying to fix that in her mind. “The stables are behind us, see that archway? You go through there.” He took her arm again and walked her across the courtyard and into a door with carved lion heads. “This is the Receiving Hall – in the old days, this is where the Lord of the Rock managed his tenancies and lands, heard petitions from his bannermen, heard complaints from the smallfolk and merchants. Now it's mostly for show. Father didn't like it because it opened straight onto the courtyard.”

                “Do you still hear the petitions?” she asked, looking around the huge space.

                “No. That stopped at my - great-grandfather I believe. It's just a chamber now, where people come into. On Feast Days, they hang it with bannersso people can enter through it. That's the main staircase.” He led her up it and she trailed the fingers of her free hand up the handrail.

                “It's –staggering,” she said. “I always thought Winterfell was the biggest castle in the world when I was a child.”

                “They’re different. The Northern castles had to be smaller, easier to defend – but you know that,” he muttered, as she shot him an amused smile.

                “Of course I do,” she said, smiling at him. “I loved it though – although I couldn’t wait to leave it.”

                “You wanted to leave?” he asked her, real curiosity in his tones as they finished the stairs and came out onto a short corridor with double doors at the end.

                “I wanted to go south, wear cotton and silk and wear my hair like a Southern lady. I wanted a lot – it’s all I ever thought about. What I wanted, never what I had.” She paused before she spoke again, inwardly wondering if she should say it – but what the hell? Openness and honesty were fairly vital points in a marriage, in her admittedly limited opinion. “We never should have left,” she said, very quietly. “Father should have told the King that he would not be Hand, or I should have listened to Mother and stayed there with her until I was older.”

                “She didn’t want you to go?”

                “She didn’t want any of us going – not Father, not me, not Arya. She had a point – he’d dead, Arya’s – well, who knows where she went?”

                “And you’re married to a Lannister,” he said bluntly, obviously choosing to ignore the question of Arya entirely.

                “I could have been married to worse men,” she answered, as he paused outside the double doors. “Far worse.” He didn’t actually answer her, but she saw his smile as he turned to open the doors for her.

 

She couldn’t help the gasp. It was bigger than the throne room at the Keep; it was easily three times the size of Winterfell’s Hall. At the far end, a lion was carved out of gold. As she turned around, she saw them everywhere – on the banners hanging from the walls, on the buttresses, on the sweeping columns that held up the ceiling.

                “The Hall of the Lions,” Jaime said, standing by the open doors and watching her. “The banners are from the battles the House has fought in – every victorious one, anyway. They bring them back here and hang them from the walls as a reminder.”

                “Is that – is that real gold?” she asked, pointing at the sculpture.

                “Yes. Ostentatious, isn’t it?”

                “A little,” she admitted, and he laughed.

                “Lannisters like to remind people of who they are,” he said, striding into the Hall and joining her in the centre of the room. “Sansa – all of this is yours now. You’re the Lady of Casterly Rock now.”

                “It doesn’t seem real yet,” she confessed, looking at him.

                “It will. And to help, I’m turning the running of the castle over to you. You have the run of the castle now; you may make whatever changes you please. Choose your own servants – if there’s nobody suitable here, I can send out to the villages, or Lannisport, or further afield. You can go wherever you like within the castle and the gardens, you are not a prisoner here. You will never be a prisoner again. Anything you need, anything you want, ask and it’s yours. Rearrange the solars, reopen the Receiving Hall, have them paint our chambers black and grey if you want. You can have musicians or singers or fools. The library here is at your disposal and you’re free to peruse it. There’s a Godswood here – you can pray at your leisure. There’s a Sept, if you prefer a Sept.” She couldn’t speak, even as he barrelled on. “Sansa – I want you to be happy. I know that I could give you things to try and help that – I could bury you in gold and jewels, silks and lace, fur and velvet. I could give you books and precious stones from Asshai or Volantis or Myr, but I know it wouldn’t truly make you happy. I know that I cannot give you what would truly make you happy, but I –“              

                “What do you think would make me happy?” she interrupted, her voice shaking a little.

                “Your father, alive and well again. Sending you to your mother, to your brother. Bringing you your younger brothers back alive. Finding your sister and telling you that she’s safe.I know that all of those things are not in my gift but if they were, you would have them.”

                “Jaime,” she began, before she had to press her lips together and take the moment to compose herself. “Jaime,” she said again. He was there, he was frighteningly close. She put out a shaking hand and put it on his chest, but even she wasn't sure if it was to hold him back or keep him there. “I – I always thought that my happiness would come from my marriage. I dreamt of being the Queen of Summer. Do you know the Stark words?” He nodded.

                “Winter is coming.”

                “Winter is coming,” she repeated. “Father said that to us every two days, more or less, because we were Summer children, all of us. He knew Winter would return. I am not a Queen of Summer. Colours don't look pretty to me now, the sunlight touches me but I am always cold. I cannot be a wife to you, not the happy bride I always dreamt of being. And I wish I could because you have been kind, so very kind. But I feel like I'm made of ice. My father's sword was called Ice and I feel like they carved my heart out when they took his head with his own sword. I feel - ever since you came to me in the Godswood, I have felt like I’m behind glass, like I cannot touch or be touched. Then you took my hand on our wedding night and you put your arms around me in the trees on the road and all I could think was that you were a Lannister and I was a Stark. Now you promise me my freedom and I stand here as the Lady of Casterly Rock and you promise me that I will never be caged again. And I thought – on the road, when we were riding and we raced, I thought that it was not a bad thing to be married to you. You're the sort of man I dreamt of marrying – you are handsome and brave and a knight. But I was, I am, a stupid little girl with stupid dreams.” He grabbed her by the shoulders then, and she drew in a breath that was more like a gasp as he framed her face in his hands.

                “Sansa, you are not stupid,” he said, firmly. “What did you dream of but what every woman wants? There's no shame in that, Sansa, whatever you might think. You have survived appalling circumstances and been wrought strong by them. You should wear it as a badge of honour, not let shame pull you under the waves. But please don't shut me out. I cannot help you if I don't know what you need. I know you're struggling with all of this, the Gods know that I am too. That's why we said that we were going to start again. Forget family, forget family words. Right now, in this moment, what matters is the two of us. And we can only do what we can to learn about each other. Do you know what I thought when I saw you crossing the Sept?” She shook her head, and his thumb stroked a path over her cheek as he slid the other down her neck. “I thought “Dear Gods, she's beautiful - she deserves better than me.” She spoke then.

                “When I was waiting outside, I thought “He's what I wanted, I should be skipping across the Sept to marry him" – but that everything was wrong. Father wasn't there to take my arm, he wasn't there to escort me or kiss me goodbye at the altar.”

                “Sansa,” he said. His hands slid from her face, into her hair, he was smiling softly at her and her throat felt very, very tight. “Sansa, I – at this juncture, with an upset wife, I feel like the run of the mill husband would kiss her to try and comfort her.”

                “I'm not upset,” she corrected. “I'm just – frustrated. Not with you, just with myself. I have everything I ever wanted but -"

                “Perhaps not everything you would want now?” he asked. She nodded.

                “Yes,” she said, slowly. He was still right in front of her, and she raised her head, looking straight at him. “This isn't you,” she whispered. “I want to try, I really do – you have already done more for me than I hoped for.”

                “But there's things in your head you can't get past.”

                “That's - that's exactly it.”

                “Sansa, believe me when I say that I understand that.” She supposed he did – all the vows and all the honour put on him, and still he'd done what he did. The Gods knew that if anyone would understand how difficult it was to honour vows, it was the Kingslayer.

                “I suppose you do.”

 

In the end, she closed the gap, and she was the one who rose up on her tiptoes to kiss him. He didn't try to deepen it, he didn't attempt to press himself onto her.His hands went to her waist, but no further. She had started it, and she was the one who ended it. She didn't step away from him, she stayed there, searching his face for any sign of disapproval.

                “Was – I don't - was that -" she stumbled, trying to find the words to question him. “Jaime, do you object to that?” she finally finished, before mentally kicking herself. “That sounded -" He smiled at her, putting a gentle finger on her lips.

                “Of course I don't object,” he said. “Why would I object?”

                “I don't know.”

                “Well, I didn't object. You're my wife – he is mine, remember? If you want to kiss me, you can.” He looked as if he wanted to say more, but someone cleared their throat just then.

 

The Maester she'd seen briefly yesterday stood there, looking rather awkward.

                “What is it?” Jaime asked, frustration colouring his tones.

                “I beg pardon for disturbing you, my Lord, but a raven has arrived from the Wall.” Jaime ran a hand through his hair and turned back to Sansa.

                “Business apparently awaits me. You can accompany me?” She shook her head.              

                “Another time. I want to learn the castle.”

                “Of course. They'll be serving dinner in the Second Hall - it's just through those doors and down to the right. We should eat with the household tonight.”

                “We should,” she agreed. “I shall see you then – unless we stumble across each other beforehand.” Jaime pressed a kiss to her forehead before he left, and she was left to her wanderings – and entirely alone with her thoughts.

 

Kissing him had been interesting. His lips were softer than they were when he’d kissed her on their wedding day. His hands on her waist had been strong and steady, but there hadn't been any fear for her in them. He hadn't tried to pull her into him either, he'd accepted her kiss and moved with her. She had done it all – and it had been fine. She hadn't been frightened or disgusted by it. But then – it had been quite chaste, hadn't it? It had been nothing like the kisses she'd heard maids giggle about – the kind of deep kisses that she'd once seen Theon giving to a kitchen maid. She was fairly certain he'd had his mouth open, although she had left rather quickly when she'd come across them behind the stables. She found herself standing at a window, gazing unseeingly across the open grounds in front of the Rock. Just fields, fields as far as she could see. On the horizon, she could see a vagueness that she thought might be the mountains they had crossed. Somewhere far off, if she followed those mountains North, she would come up in the Riverlands, and to Riverrun. She'd heard Tywin the day she'd left the Capital – her brother's army was there somewhere. It was closest they'd been to each other since she had left for Kings Landing.

 

She had to wonder if word of her marriage had reached them. Would Robb risk a rescue attempt? Would he come for her, with Stark banners snapping in the wind and his sword shining? That really would be like the songs – the vengeful brother coming to rescue his wronged sister from the enemy's castle. But that was in songs, where castles crumbled like stale bread and the enemy was a weak old villain. Would Jaime fight, if Robb did come for her? Would he ride out onto the plains and meet her brother in battle, or would there be a white flag of truce flying? Would Robb even want her now? She and Jaime had gone to such lengths to convince everyone that she was wedded and bedded. Would Robb want a Lannister, sister or not? The Rock had never been taken, it was impregnable, everyone said that. Robb would know that, he would know it wasn't a good move to try. Would he want to try, knowing that as far as everyone knew, she could already be with child - Jaime's child? That would put the lion among the wolves – quite literally. She found that she was standing with her hands clasped over her belly, as if she was trying to protect herself.

 

Her mother would be angry. Her mother would be so angry to hear about this. Had they admitted that Arya had vanished yet? She'd heard some wild story that her mother had let Jaime go – unchained him and sent him on his way, on the proviso that he brought her daughters back to her. He couldn't have returned Arya; she was either escaped or dead. And now he had married her, on the orders of a father who didn't seem to care much whether Jaime compromised his honour or not. Her mother had changed since they'd cut Ned Stark's head off, she had a purpose and a mission in life – to reunite her family. Bran and Rickon – her poor dead brothers. Did Catelyn know about that too? About how Theon had betrayed all of them, every one of them, and murdered two little boys in their beds? Thank the Gods that Ned hadn't lived to see that betrayal.

 

And Jon. There was Jon too, though the Gods knew that they hadn't been close. Would the news have reached the Wall? Would they tell him? Men who took the black were supposed to give up all family ties – although her Uncle Benjen had turned up a few times to visit over the years. Surely he'd hear about it, but how would he feel? He certainly wouldn't come storming along, demanding Jaime hand her over immediately. No, there was nobody coming to save her. Nobody would risk an entire army for one girl, that only happened in the songs. She was married, to a better match than they could have made for her if they had wanted to, and she would have to make the best of it. She could pray for strength and courage, but she would have to bend her will to being married and being a Lannister.

 

She lifted her head and set her teeth. If it had been their intention to cow her with this marriage, if it had been their intention to make her miserable and break her down, she would show them. She would have her revenge, no matter how long that took. If they wanted her to miserable, then she would be happy. If they wanted her cowering, then she would be strong. If they wanted her fragile and a perfect little porcelain doll of a girl, then by the Gods she would become a woman of steel. They would never hurt her again, never again would they humiliate and degrade her. She was the daughter of Ned Stark and Catelyn Tully, she was a King's sister.

 

Every one of them would regret hurting her, every bruise would be repaid a thousand fold. And no matter what it took or how long she had to wait, she would emerge from all this as the victor and watch them all burn up in the hell they were so happily making. She found that there was a smile on her lips, a cold smile – and she loved it. She would never again be their victim, she would play the game right along with them.

 

Before the end came, she would see Joffrey, Cersei, and Meryn Trant dead at her feet for what they had done. There would be nowhere for them to hide from her – and they would all die.

Chapter Text

She turned up for dinner with a confidence Jaime had never seen before. She swept through the Second Hall as if she owned it, as if everyone in it was there on her order. She had changed her dress, she was wearing purple and it suddenly became his favourite colour. His eyes weren't the only ones on her either, half the household was gaping at her. She sat down beside him and smiled at him, and he found himself giving her a genuine smile in return.

                “Did you have a good start on exploring?” he asked. She nodded.

                “Yes, although I didn't go very far. I didn't want you to have to send out a search party for me." He laughed.

                “It all goes round in a big circle,” he said. “I'm sure you would have turned up eventually. Did you find the Godswood?”

                “I did,” she answered, as he served her dinner. “I miss the heart trees but there aren't any south of Moat Cailin. I found the Sept too.”

                “Good,” he said.

                “What about you? Did you have a successful afternoon?” she asked. “May I enquire as to what news the raven brought from the Wall?”

                “Of course you can,” he said, touched by her interest. “I don't intend to keep any of it from you. The raven was an appeal for men – the Wildlings are gathering, apparently. Lord Commander Mormont went beyond the wall and the situation is worse than feared.”

                “Can we send them any?” she asked.

                “There's a few in the cells,” Jaime answered. “I'll send them North, for all the good it will do. They don't need a handful of petty thieves and poachers, they need fighters. If the Wildlings are gathering, it can't be good.” He paused then, and looked at her contemplatively. It was worth asking, anyway. “Did your father ever say anything to you about the Wildlings?” She paused in her meal and frowned a little.

                “He – said little to me. Robb would have known more, Jon too. But just before we left Winterfell, there was something. A deserter from the Watch, a man who fled a patrol. I heard him talking to Mother about it, I don't think he knew I was there. He said that the deserter had said that the Wildlings were running from something, that they were running from the White Walkers.”

                “I remember that being mentioned in Kings Landing,” he said. “Not that anyone took it seriously. Do you think it was true?”

                “I think that man saw something that terrified him. Everyone knows the punishment for desertion. Why would you do it – unless you were so terrified that there was no choice?”

 

She had a point, really. Still, White Walkers were just rumour, legend and ghost stories for children who liked a spooky tale during a full moon or the winters when they came. He'd heard about beyond the wall – they said it drove men mad, when the snow lay on the ground even in summer and in winter the sun barely rose above the mountains. The deserter Ned Stark had seen probably wasn't the first man to have seen “White Walkers" through a blizzard and run off. Tyrion had said it was a bloody bleak place too, even if the Wall was an impressive monument to human determination.

 

She had finished, he noticed, laying her knife and fork down as she sipped her wine.

                “Can I get you anything else?” he asked.

                “Not to eat,” she said. “But I do need to speak to you about a few things.”

                “Come to the solar?” he said, standing. “We can be private there.” She took his arm to walk back, and offered him another smile. “Did you enjoy dinner?”

                “I did. The cooks here are good – although it was a little cold. How late was I?”

                “You weren't,” he hastened to assure her. “The Second Hall is two floors away from the kitchens, and at the other end of the castle.” She looked at him and laughed.

                “I suppose that's an advantage of living in a smaller castle – the Hall at Winterfell is alongside the kitchens.” She paused in her speech before she spoke again. “Is there not another space that could to be used to dine with the household? Somewhere closer?”

                “Nothing intended for that purpose,” he said. “Why? What's in that head of yours?”

                “Nothing yet,” she answered. “I was just thinking – it seems impractical to be so far away. Everything here seems to be so – spread out.”

                “Sansa, I did say that you could make changes if you wanted to make them,” he reminded her. “If you can find somewhere closer to the kitchens that is big enough and suitable, then you can organise it.” She looked at her surprise at him.

                “I did wonder if you just said that about little things,” she said, as they reached the Lord’s Chambers and he shut the door behind them. “About things like my handmaids or – or having the Godswood tended to.”

                “No. If you want to reorganise the entire castle, you can. You're the Lady of the Rock now – we are all your devoted servants.”

                “Even you?” she queried as she took a seat on the balcony, and it took him a moment to realise that she was actually teasing.

                “Especially me,” he parried back, sitting opposite her. She laughed and he revelled in it. She had such a pretty laugh.

                “Oh good, because do you remember talking about my handmaids?”

                “I'm guessing there's nobody suitable here?” he said. “I did fear there wouldn't be. There hasn't been a woman needing a maid here in some time.”

                “Elya is a dear, but even she admits that she hasn't been anything but a kitchenmaid before.”

                “I'll send someone to Lannisport tomorrow,” he said. “And there are one or two Septs in the local villages, there might be some girls they know of who could be of help to you.”

                “Thank you,” she said. There was a carafe of wine and two goblets on the solar's desk, and she got up. “Wine?” she asked.

                “Please. I didn't think you cared much for it.”

                “I don't, but I did ask Elya to bring up some water for me, so you have wine and I have water."

                “Is it the taste?” he asked with real curiosity as she sat back down.

                “Yes. I find it to be – it's so strong, it seems to coat my mouth, and then it's all I taste for hours.”

                “I'll get you some Arbor Gold,” he said. “That's like drinking the sunshine.”

                “How poetic,” she said and he pulled a face.

                “Don't tell anyone,” he responded. “My reputation will be ruined.” It was almost easy, sitting there with her. What had she done when he'd left her to wander the Rock? Had she come across a warlock and taken a spell or concoction? “You seem – contented,” he said quietly, looking at her peaceful face. “Three days ago I would have said you were desperately miserable.” The laughter fell from her face, and he could have kicked himself. Why, why had he asked her that? Why couldn't he have just accepted it and moved on, enjoyed her company and her wit? Why had he apparently felt the need to question her?

                “I came to a realisation,” she said, quietly. “I could of course be miserable about this, and dwell on what has happened. I could sit around and mope because of what your father forced us both to do – or I could accept it. I could accept that all being miserable would achieve was misery for everyone, and really what would that get me? Sitting around getting haggard. But I told you that I wanted to try, and I meant it.”

                “I'm going to say something to you that might be inadvisable, but I am going to say it anyway,” he said, turning to her fully. “When my father first told me about this, my instinct was to say no. I did say no, actually. Then I went off and sat by the skulls of the dragons, thinking about how much I did not want to do it. Tyrion found me, gave me a few options – take the black, leave the country, castrate myself – or “put on the armour" and marry you. Nobody would have let me take the white off to put the black on, and I've never been the kind of man who runs away. As for the third option – well, let's just say it didn't appeal.” She giggled at him. “So I decided on the fourth – that I would be your husband, and try to make you happy. You said earlier that you could have had worse husbands. Well, I could have had worse wives. You're brave, you're strong, you're fierce when you want to be – and you really are very beautiful.”

                “I told you that you were what I dreamed a husband would be. But I think I should add handsome to the list.” She had barely whispered it, but he heard it. He leant forward.

                “Can I kiss you?” he asked, rather desperately. She bit her lip, but she nodded. He took her face between his hands, barely a touch in it, and he raised her head to his.

 

She was soft and warm and her lips were so very gentle. He knew she didn't know what she was doing, but he could also feel that she was letting him lead them. He made little attempt to deepen the kiss, but he kissed her long, lips slightly parted, her own lips opening under his. When he broke it, her eyes were very soft and her cheeks were pink. He had to swallow before he spoke.

                “I still intend to wait for you to ask me,” he said – although the Gods knew he could have thrown her to the ground there and then and seen how deep he could make that blush go.

                “I – I am afraid,” she confessed. “I don't think - I am afraid,” she said again, but the desperation in her voice told him that he was not the source of her fear. It didn't really make him feel any better – if the Hound hadn't got there before he did, he would have hunted down every last one of the bastards who had dared to put their filthy hands on her.

                “Don’t be. Nobody will hurt you here, least of all me.”

                “I’m starting to believe it,” she said quietly.

 

She still undressed in the antechamber, but when she got into bed, she didn't drag the covers up to her chin and curl herself up beneath them. Instead she propped herself up on her pillows and set up a writing board on her bent knees and inkpot on her nightstand.

                “You'll drip ink on the bedsheets,” he pointed out, pulling his shirt over his head.

                “No I won't,” she replied. He could see her sneaking glances at him in the mirror.

                “You will if you keep looking at me instead of the quill.” She blushed scarlet and didn't answer him, busying herself with writing something. “What are you doing?” he asked.

                “Making a list,” was the unsatisfactory answer.

                “Of people to torture?”

                “You're first,” she shot back and he laughed. “It's of things I want to do.”

                “Am I going to regret giving you free reign of this castle?” he asked, getting into bed beside her.

                “Probably. Can I have a study?”

                “A study?”

                “Somewhere I can work from, meet people like the Maester and the groom.”

                “You can do that in the solar,” he said, turning his head to look at her. “It's where I work from.”

                “Exactly. And I don't like the idea of other people coming in here. I like it being ours. Being private.”

                “You can have a study. There's another solar opposite this room, although it hasn't been used in years. You can have it.”

                “Thank you.” The quill kept scratching, and he craned his neck to try and look at it. “Who should I speak to about the current layout of the castle? Are there plans of it?”

                “The Maester,” he said, yawning widely.

                “Sorry,” she said, looking a bit stricken. “I can do this tomorrow.”

                “Carry on if you like,” he said. “I'm a soldier, remember? I could sleep through a thunderbolt strike – your quill scratching is hardly going to disturb me.”

                “No, but I have questions to go with the quill scratching.” He would have protested, but she had already started screwing the top of the ink pot back on and shuffling her papers together. She snuggled down beside him, and this time she turned to face him. He rolled onto his side and looked at her.

                “What's your favourite colour?” he asked her. She gave a little incredulous laugh.

                “What?”

                “What's your favourite colour?” She laughed but she answered him all the same.

                “It's red, actually,” she said. “I know,” she continued, when he raised his eyebrows at her. “The irony of it. Red's in everything beautiful – the sunset, the fire on a cold night, the wax seal on a letter from a friend, the colour in Arya's cheeks after she'd been outside all day, Robb's hair and mother's too. Red's in everything I loved.”

                “It's in your hair, too,” he pointed out.

                “Kissed by fire,” she said.

                “What?”

                “It's what they say in the North about people with red hair. That we're kissed by fire. My Uncle Benjen says the Wildlings think red hair is lucky.”

                “Is it? Lucky, I mean?” She shrugged.

                “Sometimes. It hasn't always been so. But sometimes I am lucky.” She lifted her eyes to his then, and offered him a smile. “I don't know if it was the hair, but this counts as lucky.” She didn't have to add ‘compared to the alternative' but he heard it anyway. He kissed her because he didn't want to hear it.

 

Over the next few days, Sansa seemed to grow before his eyes. She was constantly busy, pouring over plans and designs, inventory lists and sketches. He had to coax her out of her repurposed solar to eat and to sleep, but she seemed almost vibrant with purpose. He was so glad to see her settling in that he would have given her anything she asked – but she never asked. Surreptitious checks revealed that whatever she was doing, it didn't cost money. The only extra expenses on the Lannister treasuries were her new handmaid's wages and the sneaky orders he'd put in for new dresses for her – not that she knew about them yet. He'd tasked the handmaid to get one of her old dresses so measurements could be reckoned up. According to the handmaid, they wouldn't be as accurate as they would be if Sansa was actually measured, but they would fit and be new, and that was Jaime's priority. Already she was losing the pinched and pale look she'd worn when they left the capital, already she seemed to look stronger and healthier.

 

Her smiles and laughter, so elusive and so rare when they had first married, were now becoming almost daily occurrences. But as she became happier, he almost felt himself withdrawing from her and from life. The doubts he'd had before the wedding were manifesting. He found himself bored by the administration of actually governing the Rock, irritated by the lack of physical exertion in the role. And he missed Cersei – Gods above, he missed her. But even he had to admit that he really only missed one particular part of her. The spite she'd shown to Sansa on their wedding day had shaken him, the stories Tyrion had had to tell him had been hard hearing. He hadn't really believed him at first, had tried convincing himself that it was all an exaggeration. But then Sansa had woken up with bruises from where Cersei's sharp fingers had gripped her arm and he'd had to see it then. Something else sat wrong with him, although it was nearly a week into their residence at the Rock before he worked out what it was. Sansa had not held back about informing him of Joffrey's appalling behaviour towards her, she'd told him herself about how he had left her to the mob during the riots and how he preferred to beat her. But never once had she uttered a single word of complaint to him about Cersei. She had barely even mentioned her. Why hadn't she mentioned her? She must have cause to complain of Cersei, she must have cause to have grievances. But nothing had been said. Why not? Did she know? Of course she did – Tywin had been right in saying that it was talked of in every tavern. Worst kept secret in the Seven Kingdoms. Sansa had to know, everyone knew. Had Ned Stark told her the truth before he died? No – Ned might have been stupid in his beliefs that justice would out no matter what, but he would never have been stupid enough to involve his daughters by actually telling them. Stannis had been telling everyone though – the entire basis of his claim had been the illegitimate nature of the three golden-haired heirs to the Iron Throne. She would have heard it; she had been in the capital during the Battle of the Blackwater. She would have known why Stannis was coming for them. Why else would she be holding back complaints about Cersei – unless she knew how Jaime felt about his sister, and wanted to avoid the entire topic?

 

He went to find her, but for the first time in a week, she wasn't in her solar. Of course she wasn't – wasn't that always how it went? He set off to find her, and soon enough a guard was able to tell him that yes, he had seen Sansa, and she'd gone past him about an hour ago. Jaime ran across the Maester in the courtyard.

                “Where's the Lady Sansa?” he asked, before the Maester had even finished bowing to him.

                “She was in the Sept,” the Maester answered. “She said she wanted to pray.”

 

He hadn't been in here for years. The Lannisters had never been big on the Gods, new or old. His earliest memory of the Sept had been seeing his mother's body laid out in the centre with painted stones covering her eyes. His father had never again set foot in the Sept, had decided that if the Gods could be so cruel as to take his wife and leave him with a dwarf son, he wanted nothing to do with them. Neither Tywin nor Cersei had ever really forgiven Tyrion. Jaime had tried not to blame the little boy, who had been forever running after him, desperate to be like his brother. Then one day he had stopped running after Jaime, had started reading instead, had turned his mind into plots and schemes. He supposed there was an irony to it – always shunned and rarely loved, Tyrion could probably outstrip the lot of them when it came to exploiting advantages and taking opportunity when opportunity presented itself. He looked around, the odd silence of the place slightly unnerving for him. The statues of the Gods stood silent, looking down on the floors. A candle was flickering at the foot of the Mother, which told him at least that she had been here at some point. Mother – peace, mercy, and childbearing, if he remembered correctly. He had to wonder which of the three she had prayed for. But other than the single candle, there was no further sign of her. Perhaps she'd gone to the Godswood to offer up a prayer there too. He would have left then, but as he turned to go, he caught sight of the crypt gates standing open. Surely she hadn't gone down there? He went to the head of the steps, and although it was dim, a flickering light betrayed that there was someone down there. Even if it was only the Septon, he might help him find Sansa.

 

But it wasn't the Septon, it was her – and she was standing beside his mother's tomb. At the sound of Jaime's foot on the stone steps, she turned to him.

                “I'm sorry,” she said. “I –“

                “You don't need to apologise,” he said, going over to her. He hadn't been down here since he was a boy - he'd forsworn the crypts long before the Gods. He hated the faces on the statues, hated the cold and clammy air, hated the scent of damp earth and hated the stone tombs.

                “I wanted to see it,” she said, quietly. “The crypt, I mean. I didn't realise your mother – I guessed that this must be her.” She was looking at the statue. “She must have been very beautiful,” she continued.

                “I can barely remember her. Just fleeting glimpses – how soft her cheeks were when she embraced me, how long her hair was. She died, giving birth to Tyrion. I remember seeing her body in the Sept. I thought she was just sleeping but my father was standing there too and he looked so stern. I knew something was wrong but it was a long time before I stopped asking when she was coming home.”

                “I'm sorry, Jaime. It could not have been easy, losing her so young.”

                “Truth be told, I think it affected Cersei more than me. I was too much a boy and I could go out and thump things with a wooden sword if I needed to.” Sansa nodded.

                “Do you come and visit her often?” she asked him.

                “No. I don't like it down here - it's dark and cold.”

                “But she's your mother,” Sansa said, looking properly shocked. “You have a grave to visit – why would you not take every opportunity?”

                “We cannot dwell on what we cannot change.”

                “It isn't dwelling. It's love. You have a grave to visit, do you realise what I would give to have a grave to visit? I must be one of the only people in the world praying to the Stranger for a dead man.” It took him a moment, but then it dawned on him.

                “He has a grave,” Jaime said to her. She visibly tensed.

                “Some pit outside the walls of Kings Landing?” she spat. “Nobody ever troubled their heads to tell me what they'd done with him after the crows had finished pecking his eyes out.”

                “I didn't realise. We had his body sent back to your mother,” he said. “Littlefinger took him.”

                “Even his head? How very gracious.”

                “Sansa, nobody is pretending that sending him back in the – condition that he was in was ideal. But he will be buried in Winterfell -"

                “Winterfell? Winterfell is a ruin. It burnt, Jaime. Even if it is still standing, who will bury him? Theon Greyjoy murdered the Stark defenders when he betrayed my family and burnt my brothers in their beds. He should have a statue, and someone to seal his tomb, and we should have been there to see him buried.” She looked at him then, and the hatred on her face struck him cold. “I might have been able to forgive Joffrey for what he did to me and what I suffered, but I will never, ever forgive him for my father.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

He did not change in his manner towards her. He was sweet to her when they came together for dinner in the Second Hall, saving her the best cut of the meat and serving her himself. The guilt felt hot in her belly, and she found she could barely look at him. She had to keep reminding herself that he had not been there when they cut off her father's head, and whilst he had been responsible for Jory’s death, and the leg wound her father had been given outside Littlefinger's brothel, he had been following orders.

 

Orders, always orders. The Gods knew she knew something about orders. After dinner, she went back to her own solar, but for the first time in the week she'd been using it, a knock came before he presented himself.

                “We've had a raven,” he said quietly.

                “As we do most days, I imagine,” she said. “What makes this one special?”

                “It's from your brother.” She got to her feet, almost snatching the paper he held out.

 

Lannister – Send my sister back to her mother and I with all due speed. Send her back unharmed and unhurt, and I will not pursue you. Send her back to us, or you will pay the price. You made my mother a vow of honour to send her daughters back to her – do it now, Lannister, before your time runs out. Robb Stark, King of the Andals and the first Men –

 

She threw it onto her desk without reading any further.

                “He demands my return,” she said to Jaime. “As if I were a package or a sword you stole from him.”

                “Do you not want to go back to him?” Jaime asked, real curiosity in his tones.

                “You can't send me back. Even if we set it up to look like I stole a horse and made good my escape in the dead of night, all hell would break loose. You aren't paying the guards here, so that would be extremely difficult to do.”

                “You didn't answer my question,” Jaime said. She sighed.

                “What I want is immaterial. I have learnt that to my cost over the years – I cannot go to him, so what does it matter?” She had to hope he wouldn't see through that.

 

Because of course she wanted to go back, of course she wanted to run into Robb's arms and feel his beard tickle her face as he hugged her tight, of course she wanted to bury her face into her mother’s shoulder and weep with her for everything they had lost. But on the other hand, Robb was on campaign, he was fighting – the Young Wolf had already won several battles. But he could equally lose this war, battles won were not wars won. She knew what happened to women on battlefields if there was a defeat – she would be captured as a trophy, raped and then killed. At least here, that was highly unlikely as opposed to likely. And she had to admit that by being here, she was in the centre of the action. She would be able to get hold of Lannister supply lists, numbers of men and bannermen, loyal houses. And there was a chance she could get all of that information to Robb. At his camp, she would be as uninformed as he was.

                “Unharmed and unhurt,” Jaime quoted from Robb's letter. “I wonder what that means, beyond the obvious.”

                “It means not pregnant with a Lannister baby,” she said bluntly. Jaime started visibly.

                “I'm sure that -"

                “What, that he would accept me back even if I were? No. He is a clever enough tactician to know that if I were pregnant with your child, with the heir to the Lannister name and properties, Tywin at least would tear apart the Seven Kingdoms to get me back if he had to. I know good and well what makes me valuable – and it isn't lucky red hair. Robb's too clever to want that kind of weakness weighing him down.” It broke her heart to say it, but she knew it was true.

                “If it were down to me, if I could persuade the guards here to accept my pay over my father's, I would have you on a horse tonight.”

                “I know,” she answered him. “I know. But you can't.” She rubbed her forehead, the beginnings of a headache setting in. “Gods, why did he have to start this? Why do men always think that they can right every wrong done by taking up arms?” He didn't answer her and she crossed the room to him. “I'm sorry,” she said quietly. “About what I said in the Sept earlier. How you grieve for your mother is your own affair, and I have no right to tell you how to do it.”

                “You have the right to be angry,” he said, looking down at her. “What they did to your father was awful. And I’m sorry I didn't tell you sooner about his body. I assumed they would have told you, I never dreamed that they would be so cruel as to let you think they'd tossed him into a traitor’s grave.” The wording of it gave her pause, made her think.

 

Cruel. They would be so cruel. He had just used that word to describe what his family had done to her. How very, very interesting that was.

                “Were you looking for me for a reason, when you found me in the Sept?” she asked, turning back to her desk and changing the subject. They'd slapped at each other enough today. “Or was it about the raven?”

                “Hmm? Oh no. The raven came after dinner so I brought it straight to you. I was going to ask how your work was going.”

                “Ah. Well, did you enjoy your cold dinner?”

                “I did. Why?”

                “Because it is the last cold dinner you'll eat,” she answered.

                “What have you done?” he queried, smiling at her.

                “You'll see tomorrow. Are you coming to bed?” she asked, blowing out the candles they'd lit for her after dinner.

                “I suppose so.”

 

She undressed in the bedroom whilst he waited in the solar. Once she had dismissed her handmaid for the night, a change in the routine took place. He'd pulled his shirt off in front of her once before, but tonight he completed his entire routine in front of her. And no matter how firmly and how often she told herself to turn away, she couldn't ignore the simple fact that she did not want to turn away. She tried not to stare openly, but she couldn't pretend that she wasn't sneaking glances at him.

 

There was no denial at all that he was handsome. Years of fighting and riding and sparring practise had done him no harm, that was for certain. The hair on his chest was a lot darker than the golden locks he boasted. She wondered how it would feel if she touched it then caught herself with a little gasp. Why was she thinking that? Why was she thinking about him like that? When he took his breeches off, she waited for fear that didn't come –he had turned his back, she saw little. But still it held no fear for her. He came to her in his nightshirt, and offered her a smile as he got into bed.

                “You can look,” he said gently, and she felt the blush wash over her. Ah, so she had not been discreet then. That was good to know.

                “I - you're very handsome,” she blurted out, before she yanked the bedcovers over her face and groaned aloud. She heard his chuckle before he unearthed her from the cocoon she'd made for herself.

                “Come out from under there. Why are you hiding?”

                “You know why,” she muttered, refusing to look at him.

                “There are things you want to do or say and you don't know why – or how to do them?” he guessed. She shook her head slowly – although she wasn't sure he was wrong, necessarily.

                “I think so. But it's more a feeling.”

                “Sansa,” he said, taking one of her hands in his. She unclenched the death grip she had on the covers. “If – if I have this wrong, you can say. But do you want to touch me?” Could she touch him? Could she screw up her courage enough for that? She very much doubted it. It might be a step too far at this point.

                “Can I see you?” she whispered. Yes, that was a good place to start. Non-threatening and safe. She could keep herself all wrapped up in the bedclothes and just look. Or would that make him feel uncomfortable, like a foreign animal from Qarth or Volantis? “If you don't want to, I mean if you don't mind -" She probably would have kept babbling if he hadn't sat up at that point and pulled his nightshirt off again. He kept the bedclothes pulled up over his waist and she found herself extremely grateful for it, realising only after the fact that she might not be able to bear seeing all of him at once. She felt like she was on some undefined edge, like she might let out a scream any moment. In the flickering light of the fire, his skin looked to be almost the same golden hue as the lion in the Hall. Her hand reached out almost before she knew what she was doing. Her fingertips were brushing his skin before she knew she wanted to touch him. He jumped a little under the touch and she snatched her hand back like he was made of fire.

                “It's alright,” he said. “It just tickled.” Her eyes must have lit up because she shook his head at her. “Don't you dare.”

 

The hair on his chest was a little coarse, but it didn't feel like it would scratch her. It sprinkled over his torso, but his belly was clear to the abdomen, where a trail led beneath the clothes. She didn’t even want to think about that yet, much less touch it. She put her hand flat on his chest, felt the firmness of the muscle and the softness of the skin. She swallowed hard.

                “Will you kiss me?” she asked him softly. He turned to her, reaching out as she edged forwards. His hand settled on her hip and she found she didn’t mind it.If truth be told, even if only to herself, she rather liked the weight of it. He let her break the kiss.

 

She was the first to wake the next morning, and for a long time she lay there quietly. Half-remembered dreams had left an odd, half-pleasant ache low in her belly and she wrapped her arms around herself. Beside her, his breathing told her that he was still asleep, and she gave herself up to her thoughts. This was Jaime Lannister, she reminded herself firmly. This was Jaime Lannister, the man who had damn near killed her father once, orders or not. This was Jaime Lannister, the brother of the woman who had made her life a misery. This was the man who was probably fucking his own sister. She had no right to be lying next to him in the darkness and wanting to feel that hand on parts of her body even she hadn't touched before. She had no right to be thinking about what his body looked like in firelight. She should hate him. She should despise him, his kisses should not make her heart skip a beat; his kindness should not make her smile. He should not be able to make her laugh.

 

She left the bed quietly. Last night had been something new, never before had she touched a man like that, never before had she felt coarse hair beneath her fingers. The mirror in their bedchamber was framed in gold and she shouldn't think of his hair when she saw it. The laces on her nightgown closed it from navel to throat, and previously she had always had them tightly closed, using the thin linen as her armour. Now her fingers went to them, unlacing slowly, one by one. Could she do this in front of him? Would he like her? Would he look at her and think her beautiful?

 

Did it matter even slightly if he did or didn't? Sooner or later, questions would be asked about why she wasn't with child. A young, healthy girl with a reasonably young husband and – for all the world knew – wedded and bedded. The ruse they had concocted – that he had concocted – would not last forever. She could not hope that he would accept kisses and shy touches forever and she could not hope that someone would ride up to rescue her. She was going to have to perform, whatever it cost. The laces of her gown were undone now, her skin was exposed from collar to belly, and she looked at herself. She was paler than the linen, almost milk-pale. Sunlight never turned her skin the glowing-gold it had turned Arya's to, it just made her go pink. Arya had sometimes joked that if she lay naked in the snow, she would have vanished entirely. She pulled the nightgown closed with her hands and turned back to the bed. Jaime was awake.

 

He was looking at her with a light in his eyes she had only ever seen once before – in Sandor's eyes the night he left, taking a kiss and leaving her a bloodied cloak. She had not known it then, but looking at Jaime now she could give it a name. It was hunger. Her hands flexed in the linen as she clutched it. But something thrummed in her veins as he looked at her with such want in his face and it felt like power. Neither of them moved or spoke but a voice in her head gave her an option. Let him see. She supposed that it was only fair if she did.

 

Her hands unclenched, she relinquished her grip of the material and it fell open. Her feet were moving her forwards and he was sitting up, barely blinking as he looked at her. She knew the nightgown still hid everything but open like this, he could probably see the swell of her breasts. It was certainly more of her skin than he'd ever seen. Under his hungry gaze, she could feel something beginning inside her, the weight settling back in her belly and a dampness growing between her legs. She was next to the bed, he could reach out and touch her. Her heart was beating so fast she fancied he might be able to see it through her chest. His hands were clenched on the bedcovers, and she reached for one, unlatching it from the covers and holding it in hers before she looked at him.

                “Touch me,” she whispered through a suddenly dry throat. “Please.” He was looking up at her with such want on his face but she could see the hesitation there too. She raised his hand and pressed it flat between her breasts.

                “Your heart,” he murmured. “It's fluttering like a sparrow.”

                “I'm fine,” she said, and even as she said it she knew she meant it. “I'm fine,” she repeated, firmer now. She slid his hand inside her gown, guiding it until he held her breast in his warm palm. She felt the leap in her belly, a white-hot bolt that seemed to shoot from her breast to her belly to join the heat there.

                “Sansa,” he said. His hand left her breast and he was leaning forward. “Come to bed.” He slid over to allow it, pulling back the bedlinen.

 

Her hands went to the opening in the nightgown, pulling it apart and off her arms. It caught at her waist and she had to push it to get it off. He looked at her, he never stopped looking, and somehow it made her brave. She stepped forward, leaving her nightgown behind her as a puddle on the floor, and came to him naked. His hitch of breath made that feeling of being the powerful once intensify, and unbidden, she remembered Olenna's words. There are things a woman can do, things a woman can do to a man to drive him so wild with desire he would try to get the moon for her if it was her desire. She didn't have the slightest idea of exactly what those things were, but this seemed like a good place to start.

 

He was hard. He had pushed the covers away from them both when she had got into bed, and he was hard. Far from frightening her, however, it simply made her curious. She raised her eyes to find his, blushing a little at having been caught staring.

                “I - I don't know what to do now,” she admitted.

                “Let me,” he whispered, coming closer. He just kissed her at first, still lying on his side next to her. But these kisses were different to the others, there was an urgency to these kisses that had previously been absent. His hand on her bare skin felt like a burn, a burn that seemed to soak into her skin, down to her bones, pooling in her belly to reawaken that desire. He broke their kiss, and she could see the desperation in his face. “Let me,” he said again. “Let me show you what to do. But if it's too much, if you want to stop or you don't like what I do, tell me.” She nodded.

                “Show me,” she whispered. “Please.”

Chapter Text

                “Show me. Please.” It was that breathy little please that got him, that and the huge blue eyes that never wavered from his face. Dear Gods, but she had no idea how beautiful she was, how tantalising she was. And thank the Gods; she had no idea what he wanted to do to her in that moment.

 

He thought he had been dreaming when he'd first woken and seen her in front of the mirror. The sunlight falling on the nightgown had turned it see-through; he could see every curve of those endless legs and her very shapely backside. He had very nearly thrown himself out of bed and launched at her. He’d thought he was in the Heavens when she'd started unlacing the gown, and her perfect reflection had shown him inch after inch of glorious creamy skin. He could just glimpse the curves of her breasts and he wanted to trace up that pale line with his mouth and taste that skin. Good Gods. If he had had a previous life, he must have done something truly amazing in it to deserve this.

 

She hadn't fled the room when she'd caught him staring. She'd come to him, she'd let him touch that line of teasing, beautiful pallor and then, then she had guided his hand onto her breast. And he had seen the leap of desire in her eyes and felt the sharp intake of breath and he had nearly stopped breathing altogether when she'd let the nightgown fall onto the floor and come to him gloriously naked.

 

He wanted to press her down and ravish her until she was begging, but this was not the time. He'd been resigned to a sexless if friendly marriage, and here she was, naked beside him and accepting his kisses – and it had only taken a month.

                “Show me. Please.”

 

He rolled carefully, not wanting to drop all of his weight onto her at once. She wound up slightly on her side, slightly on her back, and he dragged her close for a bruising kiss. When he let her go, he could see the lust on her and damn him if it wasn't his new favourite look on her.He kissed a path down her neck, his hands running down her sides, barely grazing the tantalising curves of her breasts. She wriggled under him and he got off her, only to have her pull him back.

                “Please don't stop,” she whispered. Her face was redder than her hair. He obliged her, of course he did, licking and kissing his way down that path he'd first seen. Then, and only then, did he rise up and put himself between her legs. He had feared that at this point she might panic or remember the last time a man had been there, but she did not. She just pulled his head down to hers for another kiss, her leading this time. It was a messy kiss, and he found he didn't give a damn that his lips were wet when they pulled away. He was just tall enough to leave a gap between her cunt and his cock when he bent his head to lavish his attentions on her breasts. Her nipples were prettily pink, and he pressed a kiss to one, his hand going to the other while he braced himself on his free arm. She gasped beneath him, her back arching towards his hands and mouth.  He could have done it all day, listening to her little mewls and gasps of pleasure but he had other goals in mind and was utterly determined to pursue them.

 

He moved down, kissing the smooth curve of her belly as he went. She craned her neck to look at him, and damn him but she had never been so beautiful. Her eyelids looked heavy but beneath them, there was a fire flashing in them.

 

He kept going, had an earthquake brought the castle down around his ears he would have kept going. Her legs were trembling, and he put his hands on them, feeling the silk of her skin under his thumbs as they rested gently on her innerthighs.

                "What are you doing?" she asked, her voice a little pipe of uncertainty.

                "I'm going to kiss you," he answered.

                "But -" He ran one finger up her hidden slit and she bucked violently, a short cry escaping her.

                "I'm going to kiss you here," he said. "And I intend to keep kissing you here until you either tell me to stop, or until you come." Her curls were redder than her hair, and around her opening, they were already dark with wet. He felt a sense of triumph at the sight - he had done that to her, and the Gods knew he'd barely even started yet. He opened her to him, and she spread her legs for him almost eagerly. Her fingers curled into the bed-linen, taking it in her fists as he ran his tongue up her lips and circled tightly around the little point he just knew she wouldn't know a thing about. Her hips jerked upwards as she let out a gasp and he smiled to himself. She would be delirious before the end of this – he would show her what it meant to have a lover, what it meant to be touched and caressed and spoilt with attention.

 

She tasted sweet, sweet like honey. He had the wild thought that if they ever decided to punish him for his fairly numerous crimes, and offered him a last meal, he might just ask them for Sansa’s cunt. She was shaking; he could feel her legs trembling. She was close and he brought a hand up to slide a finger into her wet heat. Dear Gods above, she was astonishingly tight. She made a sharp, choked cry and her hips lifted off the bed as he pushed into her over and over, never letting up his attentions to her clitoris. She exploded; there was no other word for the scream she let out and the vice-like clamp that bore down on his finger. He prolonged it until she fell into a boneless heap, until her cries of pleasure had become mewls. He pulled his finger from her entrance and was vaguely amused to see how she almost tried to follow it. There was a smear of blood on his index finger, and he was a little relieved to see it. He hadn't really planned on taking her maidenhead in such a way but really it was for the best to do it when she was in the throes of such pleasure. He wiped it off on his own leg – he would be able to wash it off later and nobody would ever know as long as he kept it off the sheets. For now, he crawled back up the bed to press a demanding kiss onto her lips, and to look at her. Her lips were swollen where she had bitten down, her cheeks were flushed, her eyes were bright and she was panting hard.

                “You're beautiful,” he murmured to her, kissing her. “Just like this, drunk on pleasure and flushed with want - you're very, very beautiful.” She seemed to have to pause and gather herself before she spoke, and when she did there was an endearing shake to her voice.

                “I didn't know,” she whispered to him. “I didn't know it could be – be – l never felt anything that before.”

                “It's called a peak,” he said quietly. “And you sounded glorious when you reached it.” She flushed further. If she went any redder, Jaime fancied that she could use her cheeks to cook breakfast.

                “l was – loud. I'm sorry.”

                “Don't you dare apologise,” he said, kissing her again. “I always want you making that noise. I always want to hear you.” She shifted under his weight, and the movement brought his cock into contact with her dripping cunt. The hardness he had lost during pleasuring her and talking returned with dizzying force and he groaned, thrusting forward almost instinctively. She froze beneath him and suddenly there was something warring with the desire in her eyes. He rolled off at once and she sat up, gasping a little. He'd seen the flash of fear.

                “I'm sorry,” she gasped. “I  - I -"

                “No,” he said gently. “Do you want to stop this?”

                “No!” It was so vehement that he knew she meant it.

                “Then come to me,” he said. “There's more ways for you to have me other than on your back.” She came to him and he used sheer physical strength to guide her over him until she was straddling his waist. She was looking down at him with wonder in her eyes and wasn't that a damn good boost for a man's ego. A gorgeous young woman straddling him and gazing at him in wonder? He'd be a bloody fool not to appreciate it.

                “Can – can I touch you?” she asked softly, her uncertainty clear on her face. He nodded.

                “Always.” She wriggled down a little, unstraddling him to sit between his legs. He lay back, confident in his nakedness, and she looked at him. Her hand fluttered out, and the gentle brush of her fingertips on his chest was intoxicating and he smiled at her. Apparently emboldened by it, she ran the flat of her palm over his chest before she trailed a fingertip down the line of hair on his abdomen, her touch so light it was almost non-existent. She was so shy, so uncertain, and when she looked at him and bit her lip, he thought that a good man should hate himself for loving her innocence. He reached for her hand, clasped it gently.

                “Can – will you show me how – I want to do what you did.” His eyes widened, he felt the surprise. No. If she put those pretty pink lips around him, he'd probably spend himself in her mouth. There was time for that, he thought, slightly lecherously. Oh, the things he could show her, the pleasure he could give her.

                “Let me show you something else,” he said instead. He took her hand in his and put it down to his cock, wrapping both their hands around it. He moved them as he would to pleasure himself before he let go. She had the idea, stroking him gently. From any other woman, it would be a tease. From her, it was caution. She firmed her grip a little, used her thumb to rub a circle on the head and he grunted. She looked a little panicked. “Do that again,” he said roughly. “Please.” Possibly emboldened by her success, her movements became more confident, until her thumb found and massaged a spot just beneath his head that made him jump. Gods, what was she doing? He'd never felt a sensation like it, the snap of pleasure that darted and darted as she rubbed her thumb over it again and again. The grunt of pleasure came from his bones and he had to grab her wrist. “Keep doing that and this will be over because I will come,” he grunted. “Come here.” He pulled her back over his hips, and thankfully she did not need to be told not to drop all her weight on him. The move brought her cunt back into contact with him, but this time there was no fear in her eyes. She moved her hips experimentally and he kept his grip on her hips, letting her move. Her mouth fell open as she moved over him; he could feel the wetness starting to slide against him. He let her do it until she was moaning again, until he could feel the tension building. “Sansa,” he grunted.

                “Please,” she panted. “I need – I need -” She trailed off, her eyes closing as her speech became a moan. He reached between them, positioned himself as she rose up on her knees to give him space. His grip on her hip tightened as she started easing down. Her face was a picture to watch and she was so tight. She was on him fully, her thighs were trembling but she was there and he seized her hips in a death grip.

                “Are you alright?” he asked, his teeth gritted. She certainly didn’t look like she was in pain  but then what did he know?

                “Jaime,” she gasped. “Oh Gods.” He thrust up, and she cried out, bracing her hands on his chest. He stopped, afraid he'd hurt her but she very swiftly disabused that notion when she rolled her hips again and her eyes fluttered shut. He guided her movements, she let him take the lead as she moved with him and gasped out his name. He bucked beneath her, his head clouding with the feel of her tightness around him, the noises she was making filling his ears as her little cries mounted up as she writhed.

 

In the end, he couldn't bear it any longer and he sat up abruptly. She gave a gasp as the angle changed and suddenly she was kissing him as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into his chest. Her hair was wild and he wrapped his hands in it, marvelling at the silk. The change in angle obviously touched the right spots for her because she was clenching around him again, her beautiful noises muffled in his shoulder now. For a fleeting second, he had time to feel vaguely guilty about forgetting her before he slipped over the edge and fell with her. He thought he might have grunted her name but couldn't be sure.

 

He wrapped her in his arms after he'd let her go long enough to let her lie down, burying his face in her red hair and feeling his heart pound inside his chest. Unseen, even as her breathing levelled out in such a way as told him that she was sleeping again, he smiled against her neck. She'd be the death of him one way or another. He drifted back to sleep with her – to hell with being Lord of Casterly Rock, it could wait until he'd slept.

 

He dreamt that the red hair turned to blonde, that lithe legs and slim hips turned to curves. He dreamt that Cersei dragged her nails down his chest and drew blood, that she'd cursed him as an adulterer and Sansa as a whore. He dreamt that Sansa was riding his cock, but even as she cried out her peak above him, she changed into Cersei. He woke up with the dream-Cersei's words ringing in his ear as if she'd been in the room and screamed them. You're still mine. He lay still for a heartbeat before he got out of bed. Sansa was still sleeping, there was still a slight smile on her face. He sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the wall of the bedchamber and felt crushingly alone. Gods, what the hell was wrong with him? He'd seen Cersei's true colours – and they were blacker than the bruises her hands had left on Sansa's arm. And he still dreamt of her and still wanted her. Never mind want – he was still in love with her. Gods save him, he'd probably go to Hell for it but he did. And while all of his attention had been on Sansa while she'd been naked in their bed and begging him for his touch, with a clear head once more he thought of Cersei.

 

For perhaps the first time in his life, he wished there was someone he could talk to about it, about all of it. He was damned, damned a thousand times overand there wasn't a damn thing he could bloody well do about it. He couldn't vocalise it to anyone and even if he could, he doubted he'd be able to adequately explain. What would he say, how could he say it, what did he even feel? He was in love with Cersei, but there was no denying that a strand or two of red hair had woven themselves into his mind. Brave and strong – and smarter than she let on. He left the bed, pulling on his nightshirt as he went. Sansa did not stir, and he looked back at her before he left the room. She deserved better than him, he thought rather bitterly. She should have a man who could have put all his heart into loving her, into worshipping her. And he thought – l could try for the next age, and never be that man.

 

The Gods could forgive him, he thought. He never would.


Chapter Text

Sansa woke with the sun on her face and an ache between her legs. For a while, she simply lay there, listening to the waves and thinking.

 

She wasn't a maiden anymore. She was Jaime Lannister's wife, properly now, not just in name. She expected to feel different, expected to wake up with new confidence or some secret knowledge. And she didn't feel a damn thing, except the ache between her legs and some god-awful stabbing pain somewhere in her chest. Robb wouldn't want her back now, not anymore. She wasn't Sansa Stark, heir to Winterfell after him anymore. She was Sansa Lannister now, the Lady of Casterly Rock, the woman who would be expected to carry the heirs for Casterly Rock, to breed pretty little Lannister babies until she couldn't any more or died giving birth. Jaime's own mother died giving birth to Tyrion, and she knew, she knew for sure that if anything went wrong, Tywin would order them to save a baby over her.

 

She got up, found her nightgown where she'd left it that morning. She was relieved to find the chambers empty, and sent for her handmaiden, ordering a bath and fresh clothes before she did anything else. She found that the heat of the water helped soothe the ache, and stayed in the bath much longer than she normally would do. She couldn't stop thinking. He had been so kind to her, at the first surge of fear he'd stopped, offered her a way out, he'd done things to her she hadn't even known existed and the Gods knew that she had thoroughly enjoyed all of those things. He'd been so kind – but wasn't he always? She did not trust kind people. In her experience, people tended only to be kind until being cruel would suit them better, or until they had what they wanted.

 

Nobody was going to come and save her, she realised. She was a wedded and bedded Lannister bride, and if she decided that she needed saving then she was going to have to do it herself because the Gods knew life was not a song. Sandor had said that to her – life is not a song. And to think she had been afraid of him. What an idiot she had been. Sandor had been the one man she didn’t need to fear.

 

There was nothing for it but to dress. As her handmaiden laced her into her corset, and then put the dress on, Sansa noticed that they were feeling tighter. The handmaid smiled at her in the mirror as Sansa tried to adjust the front of her dress to show less skin.

                “My Lady is getting better,” she said. Her lilting accent reminded Sansa a little of Shae, even though Shae had been Lorathi and she thought Caliene might be Braavosi. “Men like healthy wives.” Sansa shot her a look.

                “Do they?”

                “Yes, my Lady. Healthy wives make healthy babes. You shall be needing new dresses soon.”

                “Yes, I suppose so,” Sansa answered. When Caliene left her in the bedchamber to fetch her hairbrushes and pins from the ante-room off the solar, she turned back to the mirror. She had put on weight, that was true. The month away from Kings Landing had restored her, put colour back in her cheeks and flesh on some bones that had been far too in evident. The peace of her life here – or comparative peace – was already doing her good. While she did not doubt that she was being spied on by men in the pay of Tywin, and probably Cersei's too, she no longer felt under constant threat. Jaime's kindness and his unexpected allowance of her to rearrange the Rock to her liking had had an effect too – she was able to keep busy, to learn about running a castle and maintaining a household to a good standard. Kings Landing had been a hotbed of tension, one spark away from ignition and it hadn't once let up for even a second. Every day had been a battle to keep her act in place, to keep smiling, keep dancing, keep bleating on about Joffrey being my one true love, keep acting the part and it was only now she was away from it that she fully realised how utterly, utterly exhausting it had been.

 

It had not been her choice to be his wife, and it hadn't been her choice to be a Lannister. But it was her choice to make the best of it – and this new found health felt like a damn good beginning. Caliene dressed her hair for the day and Sansa met her eyes in the mirror.

                “Where is my husband?” she asked.

                “In the practise yards, my Lady. Shall I send for him?”

                “No, I'll go. Thank you.” She paused before she got to the door, glancing back at the girl. “Perhaps you could go through my things, Caliene? Find out what can be let out or adapted, what cannot be. I shall have to order more I expect, but most of these are quite new – I’m certain they can be adapted.”

                “Of course, my Lady,” Caliene answered, dropping a perfect curtsey.

 

She found him as she'd been told – in the practise yards, stripped down to his shirt and apparently drilling with a real sword. Now she thought about it, she supposed he must be astonishingly bored – going from a soldier to a Lord must be a jarring shift. Robb had always hated being pulled away from training to help their father run any business. He must have been there for a fair while, she thought as she watched him from a corridor window that overlooked the yard. He was drenched with sweat, the golden hair darkened by it, the shirt stained with it. But he looked happy, happier than she'd ever seen him. All thoughts of showing him the results of her works of the last week fled, and she stepped away from the window. No, let him have his sword play and his training. If she had been growing and flourishing, he was in danger of being crushed by boredom. He was never made for this, she realised. Once he might have been, before Aerys had named him Kingsguard and shown him the other possibilities. Now he was a soldier through and through.

 

She went back to her solar in the end, to keep working on her plans for the Receiving Hall. She had no intentions of allowing it to keep wasting away down there, whatever Tywin might think of it.

 

She ended up so buried in work that she only realised Jaime had finished practise when a commotion ensued outside. Somewhat startled by the shouting, she opened her door cautiously. Jaime's squire was just leaving their chambers, but on seeing her he paused to bow.

                “Lady Sansa.”

                “What on earth is going on?” she asked, stepping into the corridor.

                “Deliveries, my Lady.”

                “Deliveries?”

                “Yes, my Lady. Lord Jaime -"

                “Is he in there?” she interrupted, sensing a long conversation. When he nodded, she swept past him into their solar to find Jaime and Caliene surrounded by bolts of silk, linen, wool and velvet. “What on earth is going on in here?” she asked, looking round at the chaos. Jaime was still sweating, still in his filthy shirt and breeches from the practise yard – and there was blood trickling from a cut above his eyebrow. “You know you're bleeding?”

                “I – I took the liberty of ordering you some new dresses,” Jaime said, gesturing at the desk. Sure enough, several dresses lay over it. “And some materials for others – but I've never ordered dress material before, and I think I may have overdone it.” Suddenly, the baffled expression on his face and the clothes and materials surrounding him while he stood there, filthy and sweating, struck her as funny and she started giggling.

                “May have overdone it?”

                “Don't you giggle at me,” Jaime protested.

                “You need a bath, and that cut needs seeing to,” was all she said in response. “Caliene, can you go and find Lord Jaime's squire? Have all of this moved out of the way, into the ante-chamber for now, and have the men bring the bath into our bedchamber and have it filled. Thank you. Come on,” she said to Jaime. “Let me look at that cut." He followed her into the bedroom, stripping his shirt off and taking a seat on the balcony while she poured water from the ewer on her table into a basin and found a clean handkerchief. He didn't make any objections when she bathed it, just looked at her.                 “So, was this from the real sword you were using to train, or did one of the bolts of silks attack you?” she asked. He snorted with laughter.

                “Real sword. And how did you know?”

                “I came to find you after I woke up,” she answered. “I saw you in the yard.”

                “Why didn't you come to me?” he asked curiously.

                “Because you were happy,” she answered quietly. “I saw you smiling, and I had nothing so pressing to say or do that meant I would disturb you.” She dabbed the cut again and then handed him the handkerchief. “Keep it there a few moments. All this bores you, doesn't it? All the governing and business.”

                “How did you -"

                “Because you're a soldier,” she said simply. He was looking at her with such wonder. “You need it like the rest of us need air to breathe. You'll never be happy behind a desk, reading reports about raiding parties and poachers. You want to go out and cross swords. You've had the same expression my brother used to get, when Father dragged him inside to study crop lists or muster lists.” She felt herself smile at the open shock on his face. “You were thrown into this as much as l was. Perhaps we have more in common than either of us imagined possible.” She felt certain he had more to say, that he wanted to answer her, but they brought the bath in then, and he gave a quiet sigh of frustration. She caught it, but she was certain the others wouldn't, between crashing the tub into place and beginning to fill it with the hot water. As soon as it was full, she dismissed the lot of them while Jaime started stripping out of his shirt and breeches. She would have gone herself if he hadn't spoken.

                “Will you stay?” It brought her up short, and she turned back to him.

                “If you'd like me to.” He was already in the bath, and she dragged up a chair to sit beside him. It felt intimate, it felt – nice, she supposed.

                “Why were you looking for me?” he asked, leaning back in the tub.

                “I wanted to show you where dinner will be tonight,” she responded idly, watching a drop of water slide down his chest.

                “Ah yes, your first change.”

                “First of many.” He grinned at her and gestured at the far side of the tub.

                “Pass me a cloth?” she did so, leaning over only to get dug in the stomach by the boning on her corset. She settled back with a grunt of discomfort and he looked alarmed. “Are you alright? Are you in pain?” His eyes drifted to her lower belly and she realised what he meant. It was with a little jolt that she remembered the pain from this morning. She hadn't felt it since she'd had her own bath that morning.

                “Oh, no. No. I just moved awkwardly – my things are a little tight.”

                “You've put weight on,”” he observed, scrubbing his arms with the cloth. “You look good,” he added, very quietly.

                “Thank you. This place seems to suit me.”

                “It does that,” he agreed. “I'm glad you're happy.” She shot him a smile.

                “I am. But you aren't, are you?”

 

He didn't immediately answer her, didn't immediately say anything at all. She watched him draw the cloth over his skin in a slow, methodical motion.

                “It's not you,” he said eventually. ‘Until I was seventeen, l knew all this was coming – that I was the heir to it and one day, I would do it – give up the soldiering and come home. Then Aerys named me Kingsguard and just like that it was done with – I was never going to give up the soldiering. I resigned myself to it, I started enjoying it. I was never the type who enjoyed being inside. I just assumed l would never take the Rock – that it would go to Tyrion eventually, when Father died. I never imagined that I'd be back here. Especially not when Father is still very much alive.”

                “And now you are, and you're bored witless,” she observed. He nodded slowly. “You really are so like Robb,” she said and he snorted. “Robb hated all the business too. He just wanted to be out all the time, at the practise butts or with Ser Rodrick doing sword drill. Father used to think he'd grow out of it, but perhaps he was wrong. Father was different though – he never liked all the fighting.” Even as she said it, she wondered why she was telling him all this. He looked at her.

                “I was your brother's prisoner after Oxcross.” She nodded.

                “I know.” Everyone knew it, everyone had talked about how the Young Wolf had caught the Kingslayer. That had caused quite the stir in the capital, not to mention how furious Cersei had been.

                “He's a damn good soldier. He knows the value of a well-planned battle – most men his age tend to be force over brains. Your father taught him well.” She blinked, rather surprised by the compliment given to not just her brother but to her father too. Nobody had a kind word to say about her father anymore. To hear it from Jaime of all people was a bit of a shock to the blood.

                “I thought you didn't like my father.”

                “I found him challenging,” Jaime said. “We never did see eye to eye. But I admired him as a soldier and I admired his principles – even if sometimes he did stand too firmly on them. Your father saw the world as black and white, right and wrong – and it has never been that simple.”

                “I used to believe that too. That either something was right or it wasn't. But I realised that nothing is ever that simple, nothing is ever that straightforward. There's always shadows to the good – and there's always a silver lining to the bad.” She didn't say it him, but she counted their marriage as a positive, even if it had come wrapped up as an utter nightmare. Jaime was smiling softly at her, and she had a funny feeling that he knew what she was thinking. If he did, he didn't say it, just gestured at the drying sheets.

                “Can you pass me one of those? I'll get dressed, then you can show me what you've been doing.” She handed one over and slipped out to give him privacy. Caliene was still in the antechamber, giggling with Jaime's squire. They'd sorted through the materials and dresses, hanging up the dresses and leaving the materials laid out over any available surface. Sansa sent Jaime's squire to Jaime, while Caliene turned to her with a slightly guilty expression.

                “My Lady. I have to confess – l gave my Lord the measurements of the dresses. You aren't angry, are you?”

                “Why would I be angry? It's all quite sweet, really.”

                “Yes, my Lady. I can sew – l can make up the materials?”

                “We'll do it tomorrow,” Sansa answered, smiling at her. “It's been a long time since I made anything of my own, I'd like to again – we can do it together.” Caliene curtsied again, and Sansa's eye was caught by a deep blue dress hanging up with the other. She gestured at it. “Let me see that blue one,” she said. Caliene took it down, and Sansa ran her fingers down it. It was super-fine, finer than anything she'd ever owned in her life, wedding dress included. After her father had died, she'd made her own dresses using whatever fabrics she could obtain cheaply, especially as she fell further and further from favour. The neckline would be low, she could see that, but it was beautiful. “I'll wear this for dinner tonight,” she said. “See it's ready for me to change.”

 

Jaime called for her then, and she found him in the solar, standing by his desk and frowning at a paper.

                “Forget it,” she said, plucking it from his fingers and casting it onto his desk. “It can wait.”

                “It's from my father, about the wars.”

                “What isn't? Come, let me show you what I’ve been doing.”

Chapter Text

She led him out, and he followed her like a loyal puppy. They'd made more progress today than they had in the entire previous month, she'd opened up to him – and not just physically either. They'd talked about her father, she'd told him he was like her brother. He'd meant what he said about them both, brother and father. He'd told her about his assumption that he would be Kingsguard all his life, that he had assumed he would never rule the Rock, never take up his father's place. He'd just accepted it, the simple fact that he would never inherit. There had been positives of course – when they'd married Cersei off to Robert, he'd been close to her, able to see her, touch her.

 

Then Tywin, whilst still alive and still in full command of his facilities, had thrown the predicted, accepted path of his life to the wolves – literally – and got him married and dispatched so quickly his head had nearly spun with it. To hell with it all. As she said, it was all done now. She was his wife, in word and deed, and he would just have to accept it. She led him to the ground floor of the castle, and he realised she was heading to the armoury.

                “What have you done?” he asked her, looking down at her. She simply smiled at him, leading him to the armoury doors.

                “Did you know that there's an unused stables here? I had it cleaned out and that's the armoury now. It makes far more sense to have them together. Which left this free to be our Second Hall,” she said, pulling the doors open.

 

She'd obviously had it all scrubbed out and the boards polished. The furniture, he swiftly realised, she'd simply had them bring down from the original hall. The Lannister banner was hanging behind the High Table and she'd apparently had them build a dais for it, so it was raised higher than the rest.

                “Almost alongside the kitchens,” she said unnecessarily. “No more cold meat.”

                “You organised all this in a week?”

                “Give me a month, you won't recognise the place.” She moved away from him then, spreading her arms to indicate the space. “Do you want to see the best part?” she asked, and he gave her an amused look.

                “This isn't the best part?”

                “Of course not. Come on,” she said, leading him through the door at the back of the armoury – or hall now, he supposed. It had been a general space before, somewhere that they'd kept the whetstones and cleaning supplies and spare helmets. Now all of the debris was cleared away and he was interested to note a door that he was absolutely certain hadn't previously been there.

                “Did you have them knock a door through?” he asked, baffled.

                “Of course not. When they took the shelving down and started stripping out the boards, they found this. It leads into the servant’s corridors – and almost directly to the kitchens.”

 

That was impressive. Inside a week, she'd found out more about his childhood home than he'd ever known. He nodded at her.

                “I love it,” he said, and watched her smile grow. “You've done well.”

                “Thank you,” she said quietly. “You know, if you ever wanted to escape it all, I could attend to some of the paperwork,” she said. “I don't mind that sort of thing, it's work that I can do – and you could go out and do your swordplay and hunting.” That was actually a good idea. He would have to keep certain things from her, but certainly she could handle the treasury reports, the muster requests, the shipping lists and the hundred and one other little things that required constant attention.

                “I would love that,” he said quietly. She beamed at him.

                “There! Now, it seems like it's almost dinner time – shall we?”

 

He left her to change, and when she swept back into the solar in a deep blue dress, his eye was caught and held by her. She saw him looking and performed a little spin.

                “Do you like it?”

                “You look lovely,” he said. “It's one of the new ones, isn't it? The maid said it would suit you in that colour.”

                “Thank you,” she said, coming over to his desk. “For the dresses too. It was very sweet of you. There aren't many men who would notice his wife needed new dresses.” Truth be told, he hadn't noticed. His squire had been the one to point out that several of her things were patched or turned, and were a little too short. He'd suggested that Jaime buy her new ones, or perhaps get her materials so she could hire dressmakers to make her own up.

                “My pleasure,” he said. “Does it fit?”

                “It might need a few adjustments but Caliene has a very good eye. She told me she helped,” she added. “Conspiracies were afoot, evidently.” He put his hand out and drew her closer as she smiled at him.

                “Always suspect,” he said solemnly. “Always suspect everyone.”

                “Oh, I do. Especially you. Are you ready for dinner?” she asked him. She didn't move away from him, but he could see the slight tension in her shoulders as she held herself stiffly. Perhaps it was still too soon for such casual intimacy, despite all they'd shared. He let her go, but the pang when she stepped slightly away from him was unexpected. It felt like a rejection.

 

He took her to bed again that night, listened to her eager little cries as he had her. She rode him again, wouldn't even entertain lying on her back, and he fitted his fingers over the curve of her hips again. He had to guide her, her movements were still hesitant, but she still gasped out her pleasure in his arms. When the firelight fell on her hair, it looked almost golden, and he hated himself for closing his eyes and pretending that she was Cersei as he spent himself in her heat.

 

Just like at his desk, she moved away from him afterwards, and he found he didn't like the careful distance she inserted between them. He felt cold and long after she had fallen asleep, he found himself lying there and wanting something more. He was tempted to reach out for her, to pull her into him and hold her close, but the thought of her panic if she woke up unable to move stopped him.

 

He slept well when he did sleep, although he was still up at dawn.The exercise and the unexpected freedom of the previous day had worn him out more than it should, far more than it should. If he wasn't careful he would turn into a fat old lord like Robert had been. Sansa would love that. Their attraction was purely physical at this stage, and possibly always would be. Unwittingly, he remembered Tywin's words – that if he chose, and once she had given House Lannister it's heir, he could send her away. Tywin had suggested Dorne or Braavos but he wondered about something a little closer. Lord of Winterfell soon enough, that's how Tyrion had put it. Winterfell and the Rock, in Lannister hands – unless he sent Sansa home after they'd both done their duty. Oh, Tywin would love that – sending her alone to Winterfell. She'd have it ready for a siege faster than they could all turn round.

 

She looked so very young when she slept. He noticed now that her brow was clear of the tiny frown she always seemed to wear, and its absence made it obvious. He turned his back on her, sudden anger in him. Of course she isn't happy, he thought angrily. He'd only been fooling himself that she was. His family had done too much for her to ever actually be happy with him. She could lie and pretend and show him her smiles, even get into his bed and let him fuck her, but she would never be happy. Always she would look at him and see the family that destroyed hers – and Stark loyalty ran deep. Still only in his breeches and a shirt, he went out to his desk. Robb Stark's note was still on it. Despite what Sansa had said, Jaime knew full well that Robb would have her back. Even if tactically it was a poor idea, Lady Catelyn would insist. And labour was dangerous. Even if he sent her back pregnant, there was no guarantee she'd birth a live child. And he'd heard plenty of tales from Northern men that there were ways to stop a baby taking, herbs and plants that could stop it. Send my sister back to her mother and I. Sister he realised – singular. Had they given up on Arya? Did they think her dead? Sansa had mentioned her – wherever she might be, she'd said, whatever that meant. Nobody had seen the younger Stark girl since Ned had been arrested; she'd vanished long before they took Ned's head for knowing too much. Jaime could barely even remember her – an untidy, dark little girl with big brown eyes, the spit of Ned Stark. She'd none of the Tully beauty, she'd been a wild little thing. And she had never liked any of them.

 

Sansa did not stay in bed late, although she did not emerge after he heard her stirring. Instead, she called out for Caliene.

                “Sansa?” he asked, realising with some concern that there was a note of desperation in her voice.

                “Don’t come in!” The command in her voice brought him up short, and Caliene rushed past him and banged the door in his face.

 

He returned to his desk as he was so obviously not required, and a short time later Caliene emerged with the sheets in her arms. Jaime intercepted her.

                “Is my wife unwell?” he demanded. Caliene sighed and shook her head.

                “It is her monthly course, my Lord. She didn't want you to see.” Jaime frowned, baffled by that. He didn't expect her to be pregnant, so why would she attempt to hide her course from him? Was it part of the ruse? Caliene left the solar quietly, taking the bundle of sheets with her, and Jaime crossed to the bedchamber door – that Caliene had firmly closed behind her. He knocked gently.

                “Sansa?”

                “I'm fine, Jaime!”

                “Can I come in?” He could visualise the sigh.

                “Fine.” He half expected to find a murder scene in there, but Sansa just sat on the edge of the bed, her nightgown on and her back straight.

                “You don't need to be embarrassed,” he said quietly, crossing to her.

                “I’m not embarrassed,” she retorted. “I just didn't think you had a particular need to see the evidence.”

                “Oh.” She shifted.

                “Will I sleep elsewhere tonight?” she asked him.

                “If you would prefer to. I have no objections – of course it would rather highlight the issue.” She caught onto his meaning at once.

                “Everyone will know anyway, seeing as how Caliene just took the sheets away. Everyone knows that these things can take time.”

 

She was right, but Jaime still feared. When a letter bearing a Lannister seal arrived three days later, Jaime expected it to be from the capital, reproving him for failing. Instead, it turned out to be from Tyrion, advising them that he was at Deep Den and coming for a visit. Even with barely a day's notice, Sansa rose to the challenge magnificently as soon as he told her. Before sunset that day, she had his chambers ready, the bath in his ante-chamber, ready to be filled as soon as Tyrion was sighted on the Gold Road and the kitchens getting ready to impress. She was up at dawn the next day, and by the time Jaime saw her for more than three seconds in a row, she was dressed to impress. The dress was burgundy, the ribbon in her hair was gold and the mask was on. She was waiting on a balcony overlooking the courtyard, and he approached her slowly.

                “You know Tyrion is not a spy,” he told her quietly. “We can trust him.”

                “You can trust him. I don't trust anyone now. I am surrounded by spies and men in the pay of my enemies – even if Tyrion is not a spy, everyone else is.” He put a hand out to her, covering her hand where it rested on the balustrade. She looked from it to him.

                “It won't be this way forever.”

                “I know. But while it is, the face I show matters.” The shout went up from the lookouts and she slid her hand out from under his. “Go and meet your brother,” she said. “I will go and assure myself that he can at least make a favourable report on my housekeeping.”

 

Tyrion rode up with a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye when he saw Jaime waiting for him.

                “Oh, it's good to see you,” Tyrion said, as soon as he was off his horse and Jaime had bent to embrace his brother. “But where’s my sister?” For one mad second, Jaime thought he meant Cersei – before he realised that now, Sansa counted in law as his sister.

                “Making sure your room is ready. She's turning this place upside down, you know. She's already moved the armoury into the old stable and moved the Second Hall to what was the armoury. She doesn't like cold meat.” Tyrion hooted.

                “Wonderful. You might be interested to know someone is reporting back to Father about her.”

                “I'm aware. More than one someone, I should imagine. Does he object?”

                “Not yet. He might, if she hangs her banners from the ceiling of the Receiving Hall and paints the direwolf on her chamber doors.” Jaime snorted.

                “She's too subtle for that. We'll probably find winter is coming carved into her desk, or my chest if she gets tired of me, but oh well.” Tyrion laughed.

                “Where has she put me then? Am I to sleep at a dark and dingy outreach of the place?”

                “You're in the guest chambers next to ours,” Jaime said, leading him up the stairs. “Where else would she put the guest of honour?”

                “I am devoid of honour, as our Father frequently says.”

                “I'm sure you can pretend,” Jaime said drily, as he pulled open Tyrion's chamber doors. Sansa was in his solar, pouring wine with her own hands. She turned to them.

                “Greetings, brother,” she said sweetly, curtseying nicely. Jaime always wondered if her knees ever ached with all the bobbing she used to do.

                “Lady Sansa – sister,” Tyrion said, striding forward and pulling her down so he could kiss her cheek. “You are exceptionally beautiful – the sea air must be doing you good.”

                “Ah yes. I find it so much cleaner here, as opposed to in the capital.” Oh, that was clever. Certainly everyone would know what she meant, but what she had actually said was very subtle indeed. “I had the maids draw a bath for you,” Sansa continued, gesturing towards the anteroom. “It is ready now, if you should care to have it. The maids are preparing you a light meal, but the feast will be at sunset so it will not be excessive. And I had them bring up some Arbor Gold,” she said, handing Tyrion a goblet. “It is a long road from Kings Landing to the Rock, and I thought you would appreciate the refreshment. I shall leave you, my Lords. No doubt you have much to speak of.” She swept out and Tyrion grinned at Jaime.

                “Well, this may not have been an ideal marriage, but your wife is a goddess of welcoming parties.” Tyrion took a long sip of the wine and sighed with pleasure before he fixed Jaime with a stern look. “How is she, Jaime?”

                “Wait until the maids have brought your meal.”

 

When Tyrion was in his bath, Jaime ascertained the rooms were empty of all servants, and pulled up a chair on Tyrion's balcony.

                “How is she?” Tyrion repeated, lounging in the water. “And I mean how is she really, not how is she in accordance with the official line.”

                “And what it is the official line?” Jaime asked, sipping his own goblet of Arbor Gold.

                “That you seem very happy together. That there's a lot of kissing. That there's a care. That there's a lot of going to bed early and that there was an incident on the road involving the two of you sneaking off.”

                “Good, then it worked.”

                “How is she?” Tyrion persisted.

                “I don't know. She's so good at acting a part, I can't tell when she's acting or sincere. There are days when l could swear to her happiness.”

                “I sense a but.

                “Come on, Tyrion, you are a clever man. She is not happy, she could not possibly be truly happy. She's been married into the family that destroyed her own, the family that even now wages war against her brother. She smiles and she laughs, she even comes to me willingly – but I am not so blind as to believe she cares for me, or feels anything but curiosity for me.” Tyrion said nothing, and Jaime was glad of it, because now he'd started he couldn't stop. “I look at her and I see a brave, clever young woman who has suffered atrocities that should never have been allowed to happen. I look at her and see a beautiful young woman – and I feel cold. She steps away from me as soon as she may. When we fuck, she rolls away from me afterwards and turns her back and I lie in the dark feeling like I have raped her. When I kiss her, she steps back from me. If she touches me, it is as one might touch some relation one rarely sees – out of a sense of duty and propriety. And yet – she does seem happy in her work at least. She organised your visit, she rearranged the Second Hall so our dinner comes to us hot, she plans to reorganise the running of the whole place – and she seems happy in that. Then she looks at me and remembers where she is and what her name is and I see the shadow on her face.” Tyrion was gaping at him but Jaime just barrelled on. “I had a raven from Robb Stark, demanding I return his sister to him, unharmed and unhurt – Sansa had to point out to me that he meant not pregnant with my child. As if she hadn't lost enough, even her brother will consider her damaged goods from the moment she conceives.” Tyrion held up a hand.

                “Take a breath, good Gods man. You say she isn't happy with you – yet she allows you into her bed. You say she isn't happy with you- yet she looks healthier than she's looked in years. You say she isn't happy with you – yet she has found some happiness in her work. It's better than any of us expected, surely? You've only been married what, a month? A month and a week? These things take time to grow. Our parents only met on their wedding day – and Father grew to love her.”

                “Are you honestly suggesting that she and I will find love?

                “Not love, necessarily. I don't think that can be possible for you - you're already in love, and she doesn't believe it's real. But I do believe that you'll both find a road together that means you will have peace.”

                “How wonderful,” Jaime muttered.

                “Well, what did you want?” Tyrion demanded, scrubbing his arms with the washcloth. “Sunshine and roses and eager kisses? Come on, Jaime, you aren't that stupid. Peace and happiness are a lot more than some nobility marriages result in. And for you and Sansa, peace would be a miracle all of its own.”

Chapter Text

                “Lady Sansa?” The Maester was sliding into her solar, holding a scroll. “A raven arrived from Kings Landing. Lord Jaime said I should bring any ravens or correspondence to you today, as he has gone hunting with Lord Tyrion.” Sansa nodded, holding out her hand and accepting the scroll.

                “Thank you, Maester.”

                “Can I bring you anything else, my Lady?”

                “No, thank you. That will be all.” When he left, she turned the scroll to see the Lannister seal. Tywin then, in all likelihood. Jaime hadn't told her not to open things, anyway. She snapped the seal, and was rather satisfied when she broke it along the neck of the lion. She unfurled it.

 

Stark has ridden out of Riverrun. Hoster Tully is dead and Stark is heading for the Twins to make amends for breaking his marriage vow. Our man tells us he intends to give Frey Edmure Tully as a consolation prize. Karstark is dead, having murdered two Lannister page boy prisoners against orders and the Karstark forces have abandoned their pretender King. Our man assures us the war will be over soon.

 

Sansa read it several times, her heart sliding inside her. Her grandfather was dead then. It wasn't necessarily a surprise – Hoster Tully had only ever been ill, as far as she remembered. But still, something inside her ached as she realised that he was gone. But more than that – her brother was headed to danger and there was a spy in his camp. Her heart was banging inside her chest. She had to warn him, she had get a raven to him as soon as she could. If there was a spy in his camp, then Robb needed to know he should trust nobody, except their mother. If the Karstarks had betrayed Robb, then there was nobodyhe could trust. The Karstarks had been her family's bannermen for centuries, they took their family name from hers, they had been loyal to her father from the day he inherited. And now they had betrayed her brother – and Lord Karstark had died for it. She had to get word to Robb – and to do it, she needed a raven. And to get a raven, she needed the Maester out of the way. She wrote the letter first. She could keep it in her pocket until she got her chance – and soon as she had a chance, then she would be able to pull it out and send it immediately.

 

Robb – the Twins is not safe. Frey will not accept our uncle as a consolation for you. Jaime has received a letter indicating that the Lannister's have a spy in your camp. Trust nobody but Mother – trust me. Whatever they have made my name, I am a Stark by blood and by loyalty. Do not go. Sansa.

 

She rolled it tight and tucked it into her pocket. There would be no seal and no black ribbon to tie it, but for all that – if they caught her with it, or even intercepted it, she could probably count of following her father to the block. Even so, she had to try. She rolled Tywin's letter back up and put it aside as she pulled the updated inventory lists towards her to try and distract herself.

 

It had some success, she supposed – she had to concentrate while the lists were tallied, but it was not a long enough or involved enough job to completely distract her from the damning letter that indicated someone her brother trusted enough to count into his army was betraying him to the Lannisters. She had lost so much already, and although she'd tried for her father, it hadn't been enough. Now she was in a position to actually tell Robb information that would help him. And yet – she was not yet secure in her position as Sansa Lannister.

 

She could use her name to escape punishment – but only if she had something to trade on it. She had to give Tywin the heir he wanted, give Jaime the heir he wanted. She had to get into Jaime, make him love her if she could. If she were caught now, she plainly was not with child – and they could very easily have her executed. But if she were with child, and if she were pregnant with the Lannister heir, she would be safe. Tywin would not murder the woman giving him a grandchild, especially when that grandchild was the key to Casterly Rock. She drummed her fingers on her desktop. She would need to do more than she was doing. Perhaps – what had Olenna said? I would recommend you sought the instruction of a whore. At the time, the idea had repulsed her – now, she saw it's sense. Whores knew about – things. Things she could do for Jaime that would please him and Olenna had said that if she pleased him, she could be given anything she wanted. Even Cersei had told her – the most valuable weapon you have is what's between your legs. Yes, during the Battle of the Blackwater, when she'd called her a little fool for praying.

 

A stupid little girl, with stupid dreams. A stupid little fool. Stupid. Well, hadn't she vowed to herself to show them all that her happiness was unaffected by what they all did to her? Perhaps it was time to really show Cersei just what a fool was capable of. She could take Jaime from her. She could seduce him until he couldn't think of anyone but her – and with time and the distance, who was to say that she couldn't make Jaime love her, instead of Cersei? Who was to say she couldn't take everything from Cersei, as she'd once sought to take everything from Sansa? Yes, she could do it. But who to ask? Had they let her bring Shae to the Rock, she could have asked her. She had liked Shae, felt comfortable with her. Caliene was sweet, but Sansa didn't really know her yet. Ideally, she would need to go to Lannisport – although even if she did manage to find and enter a brothel completely unnoticed, she very much doubted she'd have the courage to actually ask for what she needed. No, that was a ridiculous plan –she would never be permitted to ride all the way to Lannisport.

 

The arrival of Tyrion made her jump badly, knocking her knee against her desk and wincing.

                “Sansa!” She looked up at him.

                “Lord Tyrion,” she said, smiling as she got up. “Did you enjoy a successful hunt?”

                “It was passable I suppose, although Jaime was the hero of the hour.”

                “What happened?”

                “We caught a deer. You shall feast on venison, my Lady – once it's cured, anyway.”

                “We shall have it tomorrow. Where is my husband?” she quiered.

                “Oh, I left him with the horses,” Tyrion said, waving a dismissive hand. “l wanted to speak to you.”

                “To me?”

                “Yes. Do you have any wine, Lady Sansa?”

                “Not in here. I don't partake, as a general rule."

                “Ah. Well, shall we send for some? I feel l have been neglecting my sister.” She had to smile, even as she gathered together the completed inventory lists and the note that had come from the capital. The note to Robb felt like it was burning a hole through her pocket, but it would have to stay there for now.

                “There's no need to send,” she said. “l had them put a jug into our chambers, anticipating that the hunters may return thirsty. We can have that and have them bring more if necessary. Would you care for anything to eat, Lord Tyrion?”

                “Come, Sansa, there's no need to stand on ceremony. Call me Tyrion,” he said, leading her across the corridor and into her chambers. The solar was flooded with the afternoon sunlight and a table on the balcony held not only the wine and three goblets, but a platter of cakes and fruit, and a plate of cold meats. Tyrion smiled at it as Sansa put her papers on Jaime's desk. “Well look here!” he exclaimed. “There's no need to send for anything.” He pulled out a chair and bowed extravagantly.   “My Lady,” he said. She giggled, she really couldn't help it, and she sat down in the chair.

                “Thank you,” she said. “Wine?”

                “No, l shall serve you. My goodness, you treat your guests well here –is this Braavosi white?”

                “Pentos,” she said. “Jaime got it for me because I don't care so much for the red wines – but if you prefer red, I can send for it?”

                “Certainly not,” Tyrion said, mock outrage on his face. “You've made me far too welcome. If this continues, I won't want to return to the capital."

                “When do you return?” she asked, sipping her wine.

                “At the end of the month,” he said. “Sadly.”

                “Sadly?” she asked, curious now.

                “I shall be honest, Sansa, I don't enjoy being at Court. It's too spiteful, too political, too heavy. I enjoyed being Hand, because I could make changes, l could use my mind. Now even that is gone and I am left to stagnate.”

                “Could you not return here?” she asked. “I know Jaime would welcome you – and I should not object.”

                “Be careful what you wish for,” Tyrion told her. “Else I shall raven for my things to be sent on and you shall never be rid of me. No, Sansa, as wonderful as it would be. I am needed in King's Landing, as distasteful as I may find it. My delightful nephew is officially betrothed to Margaery Tyrell and plans for the wedding require the Master of Coin to attend to them.”

                “Master of Coin?” Sansa asked, momentarily confused. “But – Lord Baelish?”

                “Has been assigned other duties,” Tyrion explained. “Specifically, marriage to the delightful Lady Arryn.”

                “Aunt Lysa?” Sansa was bemused by this to say the least. It had been some years since she had seen her Aunt Lysa – her marriage to Jon Arryn had kept her in the south, as her mother's marriage kept her in the north, and it had not been a distance that was conducive to frequent visits.

                “I suppose one could say that it was repayment for all his many years of service – or retribution.”Sansa snorted into her wine at that. Before Tyrion could continue, Jaime burst in, all sword-clanking sounds and rustling leather. “Ever the subtle man, Jaime.”

                “Hello, Sansa,” Jaime said, ignoring Tyrion entirely. “Did you have a pleasant day?”

                “I did, thank you. I hear the hunt was successful?”

                “Mmm. We brought a deer down. They're butchering it now, so we can have venison tomorrow if you like.”

                “I do like,” she said. “A raven came – the letter is on your desk.” Jaime read it quickly, before frowning at the broken seal.

                “You read this?”

                “Yes,” she said, meeting his eyes fearlessly. “Do you have an objection to that?”

                “No,” he said, but everything in his tone suggested that he did. Tyrion was looking between them, a slight frown pulling his face into hard lines of worry.

                “Clearly I made an error,” she said, standing now. “The Maester simply said it was from the capital. He made no indication that it was private – indeed, he pointed out what you yourself said, which was that I should deal with the correspondence in your absence. And anyway, surely I have some right still to know such news as that of my grandfather's death? As for the news about Robb and Lord Karstark – servants tend to gossip, Jaime. I would have heard of this eventually.”

                “I – from now on, any correspondence from the capital, anything that bears the seal of the Hand – or the Lannister lion – is opened by me, and only me. I will decide when and if you find out the contents of such letters,” he said quietly, angrily, with a glare on him that reminded her of Joffrey, and she started at it, chilled by it. It had not been what she expected. This was not a side of him she had seen before.

                “If that's how you prefer it,” she said icily. She retook her seat, smoothing her dress. “The Gods forbid I try and be a wife, after all.” Jaime flushed.

                “My condolences,” he said, a little stiffly. “For the death of your grandfather.”

 

He left before she could say anything further, before Tyrion could speak to him or say anything at all. He shot her a little grimace before he got up.

                “I shall go after him. Excuse me, Sansa.” She sat motionless for all of a moment, before she suddenly realised how angry she was. She got to her feet, stormed out of their chambers and down the corridor.

                “Where is my husband?” she demanded of the guard at the end of their corridor. He pointed at Tyrion's guest chambers.

                “He – he went inside, my Lady -" Sansa spun on her heel and marched back the way she had come. She did not knock, she simply threw open the door and stalked inside. She ignored Tyrion completely.

                “How dare you?” she stormed. “How dare you say that you would keep news of my family – my family, the people who raised me! – from me? I have a right to -"

                “You forget yourself!” Jaime shouted back, and she snorted with derision.

                “You forget me! I am not the trembling child your sister and the King attempted to make me – I will not stand by while you sideline me and deny me news of what might be the only two surviving members of my blood.” He stepped towards her – and she saw his fists clench.

                “You are my wife – my wife, not my keeper or my lord. You may not speak to me -"

                “I'll speak to you however I like,” she snapped, even as a voice in her head said stop. “Or do you intend to follow the example of your family and beat me into submission?” She spread her hands, opening the front of her body to him. “As you remind me, I am your wife – chattel to be traded. Hit me, if it will make you feel better about whatever got into you on that hunt. But I warn you, the moment you do so, you will add rape to your conscious, because never again will I willing come into your bed.” The silence between them rang and horror flooded her. Oh Gods, what had she said? And in front of Tyrion too. “They're my family,” she whispered. “Whatever my name now, I was theirs first. Please don't deprive me of what little news there is of them – no matter what it is.” Jaime’s own face was clearing, his hand twitched as if to reach for her but she was already fleeing, returning to the sanctuary of their chambers, shutting herself into the antechamber off the solar because it was the only place with a lockable door.

 

It was only once she had calmed her racing heart that she realised she could hear voices – raised voices.

                “She is not a child, for the love of Gods! Joffrey took her childhood when he took Ned Stark's head!”

                “I can't fucking think, don't you shout at me!”

                “What in the seven Hells is the matterwith you? Think? You don't need to think. Go after her – apologise to her.”

                “She just told me she thinks I am like her tormentors – like my own blood, as she reminded me! She does not want me crawling back to her!”

                “Your pride -"

                “Kingslayer's have no godsdamned pride! If our father knew she read that letter, what do you think he'll do? She knows we have a fucking spy in her brother's camp -" The shouting was dying off but still she could hear them – they must have moved onto the balcony. She moved closer herself, hidden just inside her own balcony.

                “On some level, I would imagine she already knew – or at least guessed. Jaime, listen to me. Sansa is young, she is beautiful – she is passionate, from what I just saw – she is clever. You're the envy of more than one man -"

                “Envy?” Jaime repeated. She could almost picture the baffled look she imagined he must be wearing.

                “Yes, envy. Your wife is a dream – and her family makes her forbidden fruit, and nothing get’s a man's blood up faster than that –and yet you seem utterly determined to be miserable. Go to her. Apologise, explain yourself – and hope to the Gods that she can understand. But do not shut her out, or your marriage may as well be utterly doomed.” The half-heard conversation made little sense. She must have missed the relevant bits before she'd calmed enough to be aware of them.

 

Suddenly, locking herself in felt too much like hiding. She hurried back to her solar, taking her seat behind the desk again. If he did want an argument, that was just fine by her – he could have one. But even though she started mental preparations when a knock came at the door, she was still relieved when it was Tyrion who came in. She stood at once, curtseyed deep.

                “My Lord,” she said, as formally as she could summon the manners for. “I pray that you will forgive my unladylike outburst. I was wrong to speak to my lord husband in that tone.”

                “Well it's good for him so I wouldn't be too apologetic.” She did not allow herself to smile. Her guard had already slipped enough today. “Sansa, you had the right to be angry with him. He had no right to reprimand you like that before me, and no right to -"

                “Excuse me, Lord Tyrion, but he is my husband. He has every right. As his wife, it is my duty and my pleasure to honour him.”

                “You need not -" She sank into another curtsey, and this time she stayed there.

                “I am loyal to my husband, and to my husband's family,” she said quietly, firmly. “I am in deference to his wishes, and inservitude for his needs.”

 

Tyrion had given it up then – what else could he have said to her after all? Once he had bowed stiffly to her and left the room, she had risen to her feet and retaken her seat. She had let herself get too comfortable. She had let herself let her guard down – she could make excuses to herself of course but facts were facts. She had allowed a handsome face, gifts and kind words to turn her head again – and all the time he had been just like his bloody family. She should have know better, she should have learnt from Joffrey - Lannisters could not be trusted and she was a fool to think they could be. He had reprimanded her like she was a child, then all but told her that only his kindness would grant her news of her family. And she had let emotion take over and until she could show herself as pregnant with his heir, her position was far, far too treacherous to allow such stupid lapses.

 

She did not go to dinner that night. She pled a headache and waited until the household was in the Hall before she put on her plainest dress – now almost suffocatingly tight–and covered it with her plain wool cloak. She'd worn it for that journey from Kings Landing and while the maids had done their honest best with it, it had seen its best days a long time ago. There wasn't much she could do about her hair, but the hood was deep enough to hide it if she scraped it back and tied it firm.

 

The servants quarters at Casterly Rock sat behind the stables, but she had spent her early life following Robb and Jon and Theon around when she could. She knew where to go, where a handmaid's room was likely to be. Caliene's look of shock when she answered Sansa's knock on her door was almost amusing.

                “My lady!”

                “May I come in?” Caliene stepped back at once, closing the door behind Sansa. Much to her surprise, she found Jaime's squire scrambling into breeches, his face scarlet. That nearly brought a smile out – she supposed all the giggling should have told her. “I did not realise you had – company,” Sansa said, restraining hersmilewith some difficulty. “Please, accept my apologies – but I need to speak to Caliene in private.” Jaime's squire couldn't get out fast enough, and Caliene sank into a curtsey so deep Sansa felt her knees ache in sympathy.

                “My Lady, I am deeply sorry,” Caliene began, almost babbling. “Twas a flirtation, nothing more -" Sansa raised her eyebrows.

                “Quite the flirtation, for him to be naked as his nameday to give it. Get up, Caliene, I am not here to reprimand you for – relations.”

                “My Lady? Please my Lady, do not tell my Lord about this - he'll dismiss Edric, I know he will.” Caliene did not move, and in a split second, Sansa made a decision – a calculated decision, for the first time in her life.

                “Caliene, rise. My Lord husband shall hear nothing of this – not from my lips. I did not come here tonight to find this, but I need something from you.”

                “Anything, my Lady.”

                “You are sworn to silence,” Sansa reminded her. “No matter who pays you for information on me.”

                “I swear it,” Caliene said, and Sansa could see no lie on her.

                “I need an heir,” Sansa said bluntly, taking a seat on the one chair the room held. “It is vital I give my husband a child, and do so soon. But I know so very little – I fear I do not please my husband. I need, in short, for you to give me advice on how to please him.”

Chapter Text

She pled a headache, did not come to dinner. He did not push the issue, despite knowing that had he ordered her, she would have come. Over the noise in the Hall, Tyrion leant into him and whispered.

                “She will speak to you, if you speak to her first.”

                “I just want to try and keep her safe. Father would be furious if he knew she'd seen that letter even before I did.”

                “If he doesn't want her reading these things, he should either put them into code or indicate  on the scroll that it's for your eyes only,” Tyrion pointed out. “And if you don't want her reading them, you should have specified it this morning before we left. All you said was that she should deal with the correspondence.” Tyrion was looking at him in a manner which suggested he had a lot more to say.

                “Spit it out,” Jamie ordered, tired of everyone side-stepping. Having Sansa shout at him when she had done nothing but speak to him in courtly riddles since they married had actually been a relief to him, to finally have something that approached real touching him. Her only previous outburst of such frankness had been when she'd told him about the bread riots and Sandor Clegane, or all people, coming to rescue her like a knight in a song.

                “Why did you react as you did? You really were very rude to her.”

                “I was rude to her?”

                “Well, neither of you exactly came out of it well.”

                “She found out, in a cold and unfeeling war missive, that her grandfather is dead. Do you not suppose that that is less than ideal? And Karstark – she would have known him better than Hoster Tully in all likelihood. And she finds out that her brother's taken his head for disobeying him by accidentally reading a letter.”

                “And – what, you would have preferred to tell her?”

                “Yes.” Tyrion blinked at him, before a slow smirk started spreading over his face. It made Jaime feel supremely uncomfortable.

                “Ah, so sits the wind in that quarter. Who would have thought it?” He did not elaborate, however, and Jaime decided he was not in the mood to question him. “Then why don't you just tell her that?” Jaime opened his mouth, closed it again and then just stared.

                “Tell her that? What good would that do now?”

                “You're an idiot, Jaime. Remember that chat we had about how she is not a child? Tell her that so she can understand what's bothering you. If the two of you are tohave a chance of making at least something out of this marriage, both of you need to be honest.”

                “And what makes you such a bloody expert on marriage?” Jaime snapped, before instantly regretting it when the shadow passed over Tyrion's face.

                “What indeed. Nothing, as it happens. But I do know something about lies and openness.”

 

When he returned to his chambers, having seen Tyrion into his, he found Sansa already in bed. She was awake, however, propped up with a length of material over her knees as she stitched at it. It looked like wool.

                “Good evening,” he said, stiffly.

                “My lord husband,” she replied, equally stiffly. Oh, that had been cold. She hadn't called him anything but Jaime since they'd arrived at the Rock and agreed to try marriage. He undressed, got in beside her. She rearranged her sewing to get it out of his way.

                “What are you doing?”

                “Hemming this. It will form a skirt for a riding dress.”

                “Are all hems so – large?” She did seem to be sewing far from the edge.

                “If I do it like this, then I shall be able to let it down in a few months when I inevitably grow yet again.” He frowned, confused by that.

                “Why not just make a new one when you outgrow it?”

                “For a number of reasons,” she answered. Her fingers never stopped, he noticed. “I may like the dress, and not wish to be rid of it so soon. I may not be placed to replace a dress when the material is still perfectly acceptable. And I have learnt to do the most I can with what limited resources I have – especially since we came to King's Landing.” He heard the true meaning in her words – if you decide you no longer favour me, who knows when I will receive new dresses?

                “Should you ever require new clothes, Sansa, you have only to say,” he said quietly. “I should not keep that from you. Should you ever want anything, you have only to ask.”

                “And if what I want is for you to be honest with me?” It was so quiet he barely heard it.

                “Then I shall be honest.” She sighed, and the sewing stopped. She stuck the needle through the material and looked at him – finally.

                “Why were you so angry about that letter?”

                “Because that was not the way I would have wanted you to find out about Hoster Tully's death – or Lord Karstark. I would have preferred that I told you.” Her lips parted, he could see the surprise on her face.

                “Why?”

                “Because you should have been told that news in a less unfeeling manner than a missive from my father.”

 

She did not respond right away. Her fingers played along the wool of the skirt spread over her knees, and he took the time to examine her. There was something very intimate about talking in bed, with her in nothing more than a nightgown and he in only his nightshirt. Her hair was in a fat plait down her back, and he was once more struck by how young she looked.

                “I was supposed to marry a Karstark,” she said quietly. “At one point, anyway. One of the grandsons. If not me, then perhaps Arya. They were loyal to us for centuries. The Karstarks were loyal to the Starks when the Starks were still Kings, before Aegon came and united the Kingdoms. I cannot believe Lord Karstark would have done such a terrible thing as to betray Robb.” She looked back at him then. “It’s strange, but I mourn for Karstark more than my grandfather. My memory tells me I only met Lord Tully twice. I think he may have seen me when I was a baby too, but I don't remember that. But I saw Lord Karstark often, several times a year. He used to bring us chestnuts – Robb and me. We'd sneak away and share them with Jon and Theon.”

                “The Greyjoy boy?”

                “Mm. Did you know the Lannister boys he killed?”

                “Vaguely.”

                “I never knew him as a cruel man.”

                “Lannister forces killed both his sons in battle.” She jolted.

                “I hadn't known that. But – in battle? Battles are different. Men die in battles all the time, everyone knows that. To kill two hostages in cold blood? And children at that? It isn't right.”

                “War can tend to blur the lines between right and wrong.”

                “Well it shouldn't.”

                “I suppose that with me no longer in chains, he found the nearest Lannister he could to avenge his sons.”

                “His sons were men, not boys. When they chose to fight beside my brother, they must have understood the risks, that there was a chance they would not go home.”

                “That would matter little to a man who lost his sons.” She sighed.

                “I suppose it wouldn't.” She set to folding up her sewing, putting it on the floor. She shifted around until she was lying down, facing him now. “I should not have spoken to you as I did, especially before your brother. I was careless and quick-tempered. I am sorry for it.”

                “I should not have reprimanded you as I did. I just want to be able to – to give you bad news myself, in a way that would have been gentler than that.” She tucked a hand under her cheek and nodded.

                “Thank you. I understand now.”

 

He reached for her cautiously, touched her face with his fingertips. She did not flinch, or seek to stop him.

                “We must stop fighting each other,” he said quietly. “Else all we'll be is miserable.”

                “I know.”

                “I know you have reason to fear my family. I know that they have been unkind. It is something I regret – and do not intend to imitate. I don't want you to fear me.”

                “I don't,” she said immediately. He searched her face but saw only honesty in her blue eyes. He had the sudden thought that Cersei's eyes never looked like that – there was always the gleam of guile or plotting in her eyes. He felt vulnerable under Sansa's open gaze, but not the kind of vulnerable that made him wantto search for a sword. It was a vulnerability that felt freeing, like she could see down to his soul and still did not turn from him. “I don't fear you,” she said again. Her free hand came up, found his and held it.

                “Good.”

 

He kissed her because it felt right to do so, because he wanted her. She kissed him back too, her lips parting under his. When he sought to deepen it, she moved forward too, instead of pulling herself back. Hi let go of her hand, quested beneath the furs to find her waist, intending to pull her into him. She stopped him then, her hand on his chest.

                “Do you not – want to?” he asked, somehow and inexplicably hurt by this.

                “Very much,” she whispered. “But – my course is not yet ended.” She blushed as she told him that, and he understood – and felt some warmth spread in his chest at her quiet admittance that she very much wanted him. She was speaking again. “”But – may I – may I touch you?”

                “You – I do not ask it. You don't have to -"

                “I want to,” she said firmly. “Please.”

 

He helped her remove his shirt, her slender hands tracing down his chest when it was bare to her gaze. As she sat up, he realised that the fine lawn of her nightgown was almost see-through, that he could just make out the swells of her breasts and the dark pink of her nipples.Gods above, she really was a beautiful woman. Her hands were warm on his chest, she was pulling the covers away from him. Her fingers were at the laces of his small-clothes and his heart slipped about a little in his chest. Anticipation – or something more. She was looking at him again, her eyes wide.

                “May I?” He nodded. He wasn't entirely sure he could speak. She tugged at the knots in his laces, her fingers nimble and quick. He helped her remove them – and realised that this left him entirely naked while she was still dressed beside him. Well, that was an interesting situation. Perhaps this was how a bride felt after her bedding ceremony, when she was left to wait naked for her – in all likelihood – her still mostly clothed groom. He was entirely at the mercy of her gaze, exposed to anything she wished. He'd never suffered with shyness, but something about this gave him the urge to cover himself. But then her hands were back on his skin, she wasn't staring at his face anymore and suddenly he couldn't care less that he was naked while she was not. As long as those hands kept touching him, he didn't much care.

 

She was hesitant still, he remembered how she had touched him the night they had consummated their marriage. But not for worlds would he have said a thing when her hand wrapped too gently around his cock, when she explored him with feather-light touch and he grew to fullness in her hand. She was shifting her position he realised, moving closer to him.

                “I – I want to try something,” she said. “May I?”

                “Anything you want.” She smiled, bit her lip – and then bent her head to his cock. He physically jumped when she kissed it, her lips warm and soft on his sensitive skin. She shot up at once, obviously worried and – Gods damn him for it –he desperately did not want her to stop.

                “Did I -"

                “No. Please – keep going.”

 

She kept going. Her slim fingers held him gently, her lips traced him gently as she explored. She was hesitant, shy about it and he had the vague thought that enjoying this as much as he was, was probably putting him several steps further on the road to the seven hells. The rest of him thought oh Gods, she's perfect. Her mouth left his cock, she was speaking and he had to focus himself.

                “Tell me – tell me what to do.”

                “I – can you – would you kneel on the floor?” She nodded at once, took her hand off him too and he immediately regretted it. He threw a pillow onto the floor as she got off the bed and he swung himself into a sitting position at the edge, legs spread to let her come close. She knelt on the pillow, smiled up at him as he took himself in hand. “Open your mouth,” he rasped. She did so, parted her pretty lips and how did she even make this graceful? “You – you don't have to do this,” he said again.

                “I want to.” She opened her mouth again, he slid a hand into her loosely-braided hair and guided her forward. She seemed to get the idea speedily, taking him into her warm and wet mouth, bobbing her head carefully. He winced slightly as her teeth caught him. “Teeth,” he warned. She opened wider, he felt her tongue swirl over him and he groaned, jerking slightly forward. Her hand took the place of his as he dropped his fists to the furs to take a grip of them, panting slightly as she worked him with hands and mouth. She was growing bolder, flattening her tongue and licking, her hand stroking what did not fit into her mouth.

 

It was only a short time before he felt the heat build to near unbearable, before he knew that if she did not stop, he would spend himself inside her mouth. He touched her head.

                “Stop, Sansa, I will -" She did not stop, just angled them in such a way that her big blue eyes caught him in their gaze and he came with a shout and the tightening of his hand in her hair.

 

When he managed to prise his eyes open, Sansa was sitting back on her heels, wiping her chin with the back of her hand and smiling.

                “Sansa, I – I am sorry, I should have made my meaning clearer. I should not have -"

                “I understood your meaning,” she said, her voice level and slightly husky. “I wanted to do that for you. Did I please you?”

                “Please me? Dear Gods, Sansa, yes. Come to me, please. Let me hold you.” She joined him in their bed, and for the first time that wasn't after her finding her own pleasure, hewrapped her in his arms and held her to him. He pulled at her nightgown gently to expose her shoulder and neck to him, he made a path with his mouth and listened to her giggle a little.

                “That tickles,” she protested, squirming.

                “Sorry. You are - exceptional."

                “Thank you.”

 

He fell asleep holding her, his face buried in red tresses and the scent of roses, and for the first time, he did not wish that the fiery locks were gold. For the first time, he lived within that moment, with Sansa in his arms and he did not wish for someone else.

 

He did not love her – but undeniably, he had begun to care.

Chapter Text

She extricated herself from his arms with some difficulty when she woke the next morning. It had been – nice, she supposed, falling asleep like that, wrapped together and tangled up but she felt almost uncomfortably hot now.

 

In his sleep, the lines life had drawn onto his face looked smoother, the worry had gone away. There was a slightly bad taste in her mouth, and the first thing she did was find the water jug and pour a goblet. It was slightly brackish from being out all night, but it seemed to clear her mouth and throat slightly. She had to wonder at her own nerve last night – and should she have let him finish in her mouth like that? It hardly seemed ladylike, it was not something she had ever heard spoken of when ladies giggled and whispered about the bedchamber. Although if she was honest, nobody had ever spoken of what Jaime had done with his mouth the night they had consummated their marriage. What else didn't she know? True, some of what Caliene had had to tell her had made her head spin with scandalised mirth, but she was almost certain the girl hadn't told hereverything.

 

Jaime's squire - hadn't Caliene said his name was Edric? – and Caliene arrived at the same time. Edric turned positively purple upon seeing her already up and sitting at the table on the solar's balcony and Sansa had to smile, she couldn't help it. Despite only wearing a dressing robe and nightgown, she beckoned to them both. He bowed, she curtseyed, and Sansa sat back in her chair.

                “Edric, please look at me. Thank you. I assured Caliene last night that I have no intention of informing my Lord about your – dalliance. I intend to keep that word.”

                “Oh – my Lady, I -" She held up a hand to stop him.

                “You need say nothing. I can only assume you two know how to prevent – surprises.” All three of them were blushing now, and Sansa decided she should probably drop the matter. “My Lord is still asleep – or he was when I got up. Caliene, I shall dress now, I think. But first, would you fetch fresh water and a meal for myself and my Lord, and for our guest if he is awake?”

                “Of course, my Lady. At once.”

 

Jaime was up by the time Caliene returned with the water and he joined her on the balcony in just his shirt and breeches. Tyrion was reportedly still sleeping, so breakfast that morning was just the two of them.

                “Do you think your work would survive another day without you?” she asked Jaime.

                “Yes – you dealt with most of it yesterday, so there is nothing especially pressing today. Why?”

                “I rather hoped that you and I – and Lord Tyrion if he cares to – could ride out and you could show me some of the countryside and the villages here,” she said brightly. “The castle is well in hand now and I want to get to know the people and their lives. If we are to govern here, I feel I should know what help or support is needed.” He blinked at her.

                “I – of course. I have yet to get a suitable horse for you, although I have a man in Lannisport who has one.”

                “I'm sure the stables can provide me with a horse for the time being,” she said. “I am fairly competent with horses, so as long as it isn't too excitable, I should manage.” He smiled at her, picked her hand from the table and kissed the back of it. It drew a slightly startled giggle from her, she felt the colour rising in her cheeks again as she smiled back at him.

                “Whatever my Lady commands,” he said. She turned her hand in his, caught his fingers with her own. He looked startled at the gesture but pleased, there was a warmth in his eyes as he looked at her. Her stomach clenched with confliction as he looked at her like that, she kept looking at him and forgetting, kept looking at him and remembering that she shouldn't get too close but then he was sweet to her and she forgot and felt like she cared for him.

 

The idea frightened her slightly – but she remembered the plan. This was what would make her safe. This is what would keep her alive. She had to get close to him – and perhaps that meant her own feelings would simply be collateral damage along the way. Caliene dressed her in forest-green wool and black velvet, and helped her into unfamiliar riding boots. She braided her hair back tightly in the hopes that it would stay back and off her face – Jaime had once commented that she looked rather lovely with her hair loose and windswept but she still remembered it needing brushing for damn near an hour to get all the tangles out after that. No, this was far simpler. When she emerged from the bedchamber where she'd dressed, she was engaged in instructing Caliene about the day.

                “I shall bathe when we return Caliene, but I am uncertain as to when it will be so don't concern yourself about having it ready. And the kitchens should know already about the venison for dinner. And if you have time – but please don't worry if you don't, would you start on the hemming on the grey dress?”

                “Of course, my Lady.” Sansa looked up from her gloves to find Tyrion sitting at Jaime's desk and Jaime standing beside him – both of them looking at her. Caliene curtseyed and quietly excused herself, leaving the three of them alone.

                “What?” she asked, smiling at them. “Is there something on my face?”

                “Not at all,” Tyrion answered. “We are simply admiring how well you fit your role here. Brother, perhaps you will be good enough to allow me to escort your wife to the stables?”

                “I shall gladly step aside.”

 

Tyrion found her a horse from the stables, but Jaime assisted her into the saddle in the courtyard, taking her by the waist and lifting her. Well really, that was just showing off. He even helped pull her dress straight so it fell nicely over her boots.

                “Are we bothering with guards?” Tyrion asked from his own saddle. “Or shall we just take off the three of us?”

                “I don't see any need for a retinue,” Jaime said, boosting into his own saddle. “I am rather a good swordsman.”

                “Show-off,” Tyrion muttered, quietly enough for only Sansa to hear. She choked on a giggle and busied herself with adjusting her reins.

                “We should be fine on our own. We shan't go far after all.” Jaime said, ignoring both of them.

                “What about food?” Tyrion asked.

                “Oh, Caliene has it,’ Sansa said, pointing at the doors from whence her maid was hurrying, a hessian sack in her arms. Sansa leant down to take it from her, hanging it from her saddle and smiling. “Thank you Caliene. There we are, all set. Shall we?” She didn't wait for an answer.

 

The wind whistled in her ears as she urged the horse to a gallop to draw past Jaime – who had rapidly caught up. The wide field in front of the Rock was perfect for this, a carefree gallop to blow the cobwebs from her mind. For a moment, she could almost believe she was back in Winterfell, racing Robb until both of them were whooping with laughter. But then Jaime once more shot past her, and as the sun glinted off his golden hair the spell broke and suddenly she was back in Lannister lands, her husband laughing instead of Robb, the ground green instead of brown with mud, and she pulled the horse up to a walk instead of a mad gallop. But for whatever incomprehensible reason, her smile stayed in place as she called out a sally to him.

                “I'll win eventually!” His laugh came back to her on the wind as he turned his horse and started coming back, even as Tyrion drew up beside her.

                “It's good to see you laughing, Sansa,” he said, smiling at her.

                “I think I needed this today,” she said by way of an answer, smiling at him. “And it's a beautiful day for it too.”

                “Isn't it just. Jaime! Let's ride to the village up there,” he said as Jaime came within talking distance. He was pointing into the woods, a little trackway forming a path. “They have the waterfall, Sansa would enjoy seeing it.”

                “Fine by me,” Jaime said cordially. “Sansa?”

                “I bow to your superior knowledge,” she said. “I know nothing of this part of the country, after all.”

 

They lead her down the woodland track, wide enough by her judgement to take a cart. Along the way, there were intervals where the undergrowth along the edges was flattened or cut back, forming little way-points – she supposed to allow two carts to pass. Underneath the trees, the shade was cool, the breeze seemed a little stronger and she was glad of the wool dress she had chosen, instead of the silk Caliene had suggested. Tyrion had assumed the lead, and Jaime was behind her. None of them were speaking, but the silence was not the bad kind – there was no tension or atmosphere that she felt the need to break with a remark or comment. The ride felt cleansing somehow, as if all the bad was blowing away on the breeze.

 

The bruises she could always feel on her skin seemed to be fading in the wind, blown away by the kiss of the rustling leaves. The weal’s Trant’s sword had raised on her back on that terrible day, that sometimes she could swear she still felt, seemed to be receding as the sunlight warmed her back through her dress. She had told Jaime that she had thought they had a chance at happiness. For the first time, the lie she had told herself over and over again to try and convince herself that it might be true, was true. She knew misery, she knew different kinds of misery – and this was not misery. This was very far from misery. She was living, instead of surviving, and it was only now that she understood the difference, that she understood that she had barely been living. But here, on this dappled sunlit tract without a guard in sight – she felt free.

 

Jaime was riding beside her, and she realised with a jolt that she had no idea at all how long he'd been there.

                “I – did you speak?” she asked him, and watched his warm smile grow.

                “You were so very far away again,” he teased. “What is it with you and dreaming when you're on horseback?” She laughed at him.

                “It's the freedom of it. Something about it – carries me away.”

                “It pleases me to see you smiling,” he said. “You look beautiful.” She blushed, but Tyrion was calling back to them.

                “Just so you know, dear brother, the wind is in such a direction as to allow me to hear your conversation and we did not bring along sufficient wine for me to stomach such sweet words. In fact I don't believe there is sufficient wine in all the world to allow me to stomach such sweetness.”Sansa ducked her head to hide her smile and Jaime just laughed at him. “Sansa, come and ride up here with me. I can point out things of interest to you.” She glanced at Jaime, and he nodded at her.

                “We may as well indulge him before he has to return to the capital. Anything for some peace.” She laughed, urging her horse forward to catch up to Tyrion.

 

He did indeed point out points of interest, mostly involving Jaime.

                “That is where Jaime fell off his horse onto his head. Doesn't it explain so much? And look, do you see that tree-stump? That's where he tripped and broke his nose. He likes to tell people it was in a battle but he lies. Ah look! that's where we used to picnic sometimes. There are berries on the bushes during cooler summer years – delicious. We would eat them until we were full, and our Septa would whip us when we couldn't finish our dinners.”

                “What are you saying to my wife, brother?” Jaime called. Sansa felt her stomach flutter at my wife, an unexpected happiness flickering in her chest at the words. “Don't believe a word of it, Sansa, he's a terrible liar.”

                “He was just telling me the same about you,” she called back, heard him laugh.

 

The ride was not so very long, and the waterfall she had been promised was stunning. Tyrion was chatting to Jaime as she watched rainbows form and shatter in a thousand-thousand water droplets, over and over.

                “Didn't they say there used to be a witch around here?”

                “Maggy the Frog,” Jaime answered. “Some mad soothsayer from Lannisport. Utter nonsense.”

                “Don't you believe in magic?” Tyrion teased.

                “Magic – if it ever existed – died with the last dragons,” Jaime replied.

                “They say Daenerys Targaryen has three dragons now. That they're calling her the Mother of Dragons and she’susing them to take Slaver's Bay,” Sansa said idly, still entranced by the waterfall.

                “Where did you hear that?” Tyrion demanded. She shrugged.

                “People talk – and it really is amazing how unnoticed a traitor's daughter can go, when she sits quiet in a shadowed corner.”

                “Do you think those stories are true?” Jaime asked her, and she tore her gaze from the waterfall to find him staring at her.

                “Well, something is going on. I remember that on the road to King's Landing, the story was that she had been married to a Dothraki. And she's almost certainly in Slaver's Bay now. But dragons? I don't know.”

                “Jaime, do you remember how I always wanted a dragon for a name-day gift?” Tyrion asked, grinning.

                “Vividly.”

                “What would you have done with a dragon?” Sansa asked.

                “Oh, taken it for walks, taught it tricks, used it to smite my enemies – the usual.”

                “I taught my direwolf to sit on command,” Sansa said. “Arya tried to teach hers to fetch things – and Rickon taught Shaggydog to steal from the kitchens.” Remembering Lady was painful, but hearing Shaggydog’s name come so easily from her lips burnt her chest like dragon-fire might.

                “I remember Jon's wolf – the white one with the gleaming red eyes,” Tyrion offered. She found a smile for him.

                “Ghost.”

                “Terrifying beast.”

                “Ghost was the one everyone feared. But nobody feared Lady. Lady was good. Nymeria was as wild as Arya – but Gods, even though it cost me Lady, I was glad that Nymeria got away.” She paused then, a memory drifting back. They say there's a she-wolf as big as a bear in the Riverlands... Was it actually possible that that was not just a rumour? That it was true? And if it was true – could it be that it might be Nymeria? They had been in the Riverlands, hadn't they – or damn close to them. And Arya and Jory had thrown stones at Nymeria to get her to run away. It was –

                “Sansa?” She blinked, came back down with a bump as Jaime's voice filtered through.

                “Well, shall we go to village?” she said, forcing on a smile. “Unless there's something else?” Jaime opened his lips, the beginnings of speech started, but Tyrion hurried into the breech.

                “Yes, lets. But first, Sansa, did Caliene put any apples into that bag? I find myself hungry.” She unslung the bag from her saddle and opened it, looking inside.

                “Yes, there are apples. There's bread too, and some cold meat. Oh, and there's lemon cakes in here too! Oh she did do well.” She handed out apples, and they set off again, continuing along the same track. Jaime and Tyrion tossed around jokes and comments, the laughter came more and more easily as they kept riding. But as the village came into sight, and Sansa started to feel an air of indefinable tension, the laughter died. Jaime had taken point, and he stopped them all at the first outbuilding.

 

She had known there was something wrong, but it wasn't until Tyrion spoke that she realised what was missing.

                “It can't have been abandoned, surely? But there's no smoke from chimneys – and it's damn near silent.” But that silence did not last, there was a shrill baby-cry piercing the air.

                “That's a baby,” Sansa said, urging her horse forward. “Something is wrong.”

                “Sansa, wait!” Jaime grabbed the reins as she drew past him, the horse snorted and shied. “Babies do cry, I think  we should -"

                “Babies shouldn't cry like that,” she said flatly. “I know what a crying child sounds like - that's a hunger cry.” She pulled the reins from his hand, kept going. She heard them follow her.

 

The only chimney in the village showing smoke was a cottage by the Sept. Sansa dismounted, knocked at the door before either Jaime or Tyrion could stop her – although Jaime had already joined her when it swung open. There was no recognition for her showing on the Septon's face –but when his eyes went to Jaime, there was enough shock there to indicate that he knew who he looked at.

                “My Lord!” he gasped, bowing at once.

                “Septon. This is my wife, Lady Sansa.” She cut over the introductions.

                “Where is the child?” she demanded. “What has happened here?” For an answer, the Septon stood back and let them inside.

                “I care for as many as I can,” he said, as Sansa fought hard to keep a grip on her horror. “But there's little food, and less money.”

                “These children are orphans?” Sansa asked.

 

There were at least nine that she could see, of varying ages and in varying states of dirt-covered. All of them were thin.

                “Orphans, abandoned. Their fathers went to war against the Stark boy and most of them did not come back.”

                “They have no mothers?” The Septon spread his hands.

                “Some do, but they have had to leave. There's no work, so they have gone to Lannisport or Oldtown. They send back what money they can.”

                “It isn't enough?” Sansa had found the cradle holding the baby, and lifted the child carefully. The swaddling bands that wrapped the child were dirty, his face looked pinched. He felt so very frail in her arms, as if she was holding nothing at all. “This child needs a Maester.”

                “There is no Maester, my Lady.” She nodded decisively.

                “My Lord,” she said, looking straight at Jaime. “Will you fetch the bag from my saddle? At the least today, these children can eat.” He asked her no questions, just left to do as she said. Sansa found a smile for the children, looking round at them. She sat down at the table that was one of the few items of furniture the bare room held and hugged the tiny body in her arms close.

                “Now, do you have names, little ones?” she asked kindly, smiling as some of the children crept closer. None of them answered her, and she kept smiling. “My name is Sansa, children. I'm Lady Lannister.”

                “Do you live in the big castle?” a little girl whispered to her. She crept the closest, and her dirty face and dark hair reminded Sansa very forcefully of a younger Arya. She was angling to look at the baby Sansa held.

                “I do. I used live far away, but now I have come here to be with my husband.” Jaime was back, Tyrion was with him now and both of them were talking urgently to the Maester, handing over the food they had brought. “Does this little child have a name?”

                “We calls ‘im Little Arthur. ‘Is Dad was Arthur so now he's Little Arthur.” The little girl with the dirty face seemed to have taken on the role of speaker. “But there ain't no milk for ‘im and he can't have the river water.”

                “No, he can't. Septon? Can we speak?”

 

She left Jaime to hand out the food, stepped outside with the Septon and Tyrion. She did not make any preamble about the issue.

                “I know that all food today means is that tonight, they sleep without hunger. But then there are all days to come. What do you need here?” The Septon spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness.

                “We need men to work the farms, bread to feed the children. We need a Maester. All that are left in this village are the elderly or the children – or the crippled.” She nodded, glanced at Tyrion.

                “Did Lord Tywin know of this?”

                “I write each week, but no answer ever comes. I had not known that Ser Jaime had married and returned to the Rock – if I had, I should have appealed directly to him. But, my Lady, if I may – it is not just our village that suffers. All the villages lack for these wars, all the villages suffer for want of basic necessities.” Sansa compressed her lips. The child in her arms was no longer crying. She held him closer, knowing that he must be simply too weak now.

                “I shall have a Maester sent,” she said. “Food too. And this child will come back with me now, and see the castle Maester. You have my word, Septon, that we shall do whatever can be done to help.” He bowed deeply, and Tyrion spoke then.

                “I'll fetch Jaime, we'll ride back at once.” She nodded, turned back to the Septon.

                “I did not know,” she said, passionately. “I swear I did not know.” He nodded, as if he'd heard it before, heard it and promises like hers a thousand times before.

                “I know, my Lady.”

 

Even as she rode back with the tiny body cradled against her, she knew not knowing was not an excuse for allowing people to starve to death practically in the shadow of the Rock. Her father would have been ashamed to allow this to happen in the North. She would keep her word, if she had to sell everything she had ever owned to pay for it. She had to.

Chapter Text

She rode back to the castle one-handed, her other arm tight and secure around the child she had insisted upon bringing back with them. He hadn't even tried to argue, he could see the horror on her face – and the anger in her eyes. Tyrion had told him in a murmured remark that almost her first question to the Septon had been to ask if Tywin had known. His own stomach turned with anger upon hearing that the Septon had indeed written to his father, begging for help and support that hadn't come. Every line of Sansa's posture, every shadow on her face spelt out her rage.

 

The whirlwind that ensued upon their arrival back at the castle had astonished him. Sansa had snapped out orders at a pace he'd barely kept up with – a guard had been sent running for the Maester, Caliene to the kitchens for warm milk and clean water, his squire dispatched to obtain a map of the Westerlands that showed the villages round the castle. Sansa herself had carried the child to their chambers, stripped him of his filthy swaddling bands and with her own hands had prepared warm water to wash him. He'd sat struck as she bathed the child, and finally found his voice to question her.

                “Where did you learn to do this?” he asked, watching her.

                “Bran and Rickon,” she answered. “When Rickon was born, I was with my mother. They put him into my arms, and I bathed him. He was so very tiny – and this child feels even smaller.” He couldn't ask her anything further, the Maester was coming in, exclaiming over the condition of the boy. “Can we save him?” Sansa demanded, wrapping the boy gently in a sheet and moving him to her lap. “Tell me it isn't too late.”

                “It is possible my Lady, but I cannot make you any promises. We must try and persuade him to drink, warm milk or water, anything he will accept. Feed him with a small spoon.”

                “The village he came from, there are children there who are starving, without parents or hope that they will eat tomorrow. We have to help them.” The Maester spread his hands helplessly.

                “There are children starving everywhere, my Lady, we cannot hope to save all -"

                “No, we cannot. But we can save those living within sight of this castle. We can help those who live under our rule – we have a duty to help them. Those children did not ask to be orphaned. They are orphaned because their father's have died under Lannister banners – under our banners,” she said, looking straight at Jaime as she said it. His heart tripped to hear her call the golden lion ours, to hear her count his family name as hers too. “Their mother’s have had to leave them, to go to Lannisport or other towns, to do what they can to feed their children. It is a poor thank you to a man for dying in service to this House if we stand by and let his children starve. I need you to send ravens and messengers,” she was continuing, staring straight at the Maester who was turning red under her gaze and the heat of her words.

                ‘My – my Lady?”

                “Send a raven to Oldtown – we shall require a second Maester to serve the local villages. Send messengers to every local village, speak to whoever assumes charge of them and find out what they require, be it food or water or a Maester – or people to work the land. This is to be done today, Maester, and at once. By nightfall, I want a clear idea of what we need to do for the people here.” A knock came at the bedchamber door, and Sansa's maid slipped in.

                “I have the milk, my Lady, and the water. And I took the liberty of running round the servants, and I've managed to scratch up some clean things for the baby.”

                “Let's feed the child out on the solar balcony,” Sansa said, gathering the child up close and rising to her feet. The baby gave a grunt that even to Jaime's inexperienced ear sounded weak. Sansa swept out, her head well in the air, and the Maester turned to Jaime with growing indignation on his face.

                “She cannot -"

                “She is my wife,” Jaime interrupted him harshly. “She is Lady Lannister, she is the highest authority here, second only to me. She can – and you will obey her orders, Maester. Understand this – and see that any other dissenter understands it too – if she gives an order, that order is to be followed as if it came from me or Lord Tywin himself.” The man looked like he was sucking on a lemon, but he nodded.

                “Yes, my Lord,” he answered, already bowing. He left the room, and Jaime followed him out.

 

Sansa and her maid were sat on the balcony, holding a spoon to the child's lips. He was drinking it, eagerly too, and Jaime joined them both to watch. There were two pink spots on Sansa's cheeks, and he realised only belatedly that the bedchamber door had been open during his conversation with the Maester – and that Sansa certainly would have heard both the Maester's reluctance, and his orders. Jaime put his hands onto her shoulders, one thumb stroking a soothing path over her neck.

                “He drinks?”

                “Yes, and greedily too. He must have been starving, the poor little mite. The Gods know when he last had anything. I should have asked,” she said, sounding stricken. “I should have thought to ask.”

                “You brought him here,” Jaime said, trying to reassure her. To further it, he pulled up a chair beside her, sat down to be closer to her. “You've already done more than anyone asked.”

                “They shouldn't need to ask, Jaime. Caliene, thank you – would you go and try to find a cradle for this little mite? He will need somewhere to sleep. And ask Lord Tyrion to come to us?” The maid curtseyed at once, slipping out on silent feet and Sansa waited only until the door was closed before she spoke again. “We should know that these things are happening. We cannot let the smallfolk starve within our shadow, or there will be no men left to ride under a Lannister banner. There will be no men to work the farms to pay the rents or fill the stores, there will be no women to work the lands to get the milk for the children or the meat for the table. Loyalty isn't free, Jaime, it's earned. We have to make this right.”

                “You know that if I had known of this, I would have acted.” He could hear the desperation in his own voice, he needed her to believe that he would not have let this happen. She nodded at him.

                “Please know that if my hands weren't full, I would have reached for you in the assurance that I do believe it,” she said quietly. “That Septon said he'd been writing to your father – he didn't know we had married, apparently.”

                “But there must have been some announcement -" he mused aloud.

                “In Lannisport, I expect. And if nobody goes back and forth to market or to trade, how would the word have reached the villages?”

                “True.” He watched her continue to offer the child alternate spoons of milk and water, watched the child accept them eagerly. “What do we do now?” he asked.

                “We?”

                “I stand with you on this. Whatever you do, I do – I want to make this better too.” Her smile was so bright it lit him up too, he found himself transfixed by it, by her and the incredible sense of purpose she now seemed to boast.

                “We get the reports back from the messengers. We do whatever we can to find solutions to the problems. And if there is a problem we cannot fix, then at the very least we can find a way to try and make it a little better.”

 

Practical, compassionate, kind, gentle, strong –and he had thought her a child. This was not a child, this was not some malleable porcelain doll who everyone had sought to make a pawn in their own game. Something deep inside, something he feared might be his heart, was aching as he watched her. This was not a childish dream – she had acknowledged herself that even as the richest family in Westeros, they would not be able to amend everything wrong. But even so, she seemed so determined to try.

 

Tyrion came in then, still in his riding things. The child on Sansa's lap did not so much as blink, he simply kept accepting the milk Sansa was offering. Tyrion was smiling too, his arms full of scrolls and books.

                “What's all this?” Jaime asked.

                “Something to help. I went to the Maester's room to help that boy of yours, found all these. Maps of the villages, a logbook belonging to an old Maester here – from back when the Lords still heard petitions and granted judgement. This book lists all those petitions and the outcome of them. I thought it might help. And this too – the last household account of all incomes, rents and food stores, so you’ll know exactly what you have. Oh, and finally, the muster lists for the war. It hasn't been updated though.”

                “Updated?” Sansa queried, frowning slightly.

                “Someone should have been ascertaining who did or did not return from battle,” Tyrion explained. “It has not been done, however.”

                “We'll see to it,” Jaime said. Part of him did not want to leave the intimacy of Sansa’s side, did not want to leave the domesticity of her feeding a child. For all that, he stood up, rounding the table to join Tyrion. “It might necessitate more visits, personal ones. I’ll send to Lannisport today for that horse for you – if you're going to be riding all over the countryside, you need one of your own so it can get to know you – and you it.” He saw the flash of surprise on her face – and hated that he knew why it was there.

 

She'd been caged so long that freedom would still feel strange to her, and he hated it. Even in the month and a half they had lived as husband and wife, he had been able to watch her positively bloom with it, like a flower under water. And there was a part of him that understood exactly why Tywin had handed down an order for him to be wary of her. If they gave her half a chance, who knew what she would be able to do? What she would do? Was it actually possible that all along, Sansa should have been the mis-trusted one, the one they should all have feared? Was it possible that in the midst of murdering her father, fighting her brother, and wondering how the hell the sister had got away, they all should have been worried about Sansa? No, that was ridiculous. Sansa did not scheme and plot and seek out vengeance. She held herself above all that, like the Maiden herself. Look at her, nursing a stranger's child right now, for no reason other than it was the right thing to do.

 

Perhaps he'd grown too used to Cersei.

 

By the time night fell, Sansa had fed the child three times, had him tucked into fresh swaddling bands and put him into a cradle her maid had found in their own ante-chamber. She had heard the reports of every messenger the Maester had sent out, however reluctantly he might have done it, and she had the light of battle in her eyes. It was damn near midnight, and she was still up – although she had changed her dress for nightgown and robe after her maid had managed to persuade her to take a long enough break to bathe. She was sitting at the table in the balcony, papers and scrolls and books open before her as her quill scratched feverishly over a blank page, filling it with what looked like a list. He got out of bed, crossed to her.

                “Bed,” he said, plucking the quill from her fingers. “If you intend to make the best use of tomorrow, you need to be rested – and you won't be if you stay up all night working.”

                “I still need to -" She was reaching for the quill as she spoke, and he moved it out of her reach, raising his brows in a silent challenge. He saw her lips twitch in amusement. “I am not going to chase you for that quill.”

                “Good. Come to bed, Sansa.” He heard her breath hitch slightly, hid a smirk as he realised how he could persuade her. “I saw you with that child today,” he continued, moving to stand behind her. He slid his arms around her, found the laces holding her robe closed. One by one, he set about undoing them. “You looked perfect with him. And I wanted you.”

                “Jaime -" His name on her lips was barely a breath, barely even a whisper, yet he heard it. He slid the robe from her shoulders and she didn't just allow it, she helped, pulling her arms from the sleeves. He had to assume that her not saying anything meant that her course had now ceased, as she certainly wasn't stopping him, even as he turned his attention to the lacing on her nightgown.

                “Do you still want your quill?” he asked, sliding one hand inside her gown. She gasped, jumped slightly as he palmed her breast.

                “N – no.”

                “Then come to bed,” he repeated.

 

She came to bed; let him lead her by the hand over to it. He kissed her, felt her respond with unparalleled eagerness. He took his time with her, sliding her nightgown from her inch by inch, exploring each inch of her as it was revealed to him. Her skin was warm, silky under his hands, soft and supple.

 

When he had her naked, willing, flushed and panting slightly, he did not wish for Cersei. Even if his attraction to his wife was purely physical, and of course it was, it was enough for him in this moment to only want Sansa. Sansa, with her long red locks that smelt of rose-water, with her milk-pale skin that showed each slight change of colour in her cheeks so well, with her long legs that he found he yearned to feel wrapped around his waist. In the light of the candles she'd kept lit, and the still-burning fire, they explored each other, hands running over the other and whispered gasps against damp skin. He did not attempt to take her on her back, he absolutely refused to break this moment by frightening her. This was something deeper than before, this was something more – Sansa did not have any trace about her of reluctance or performance, she received his touch and gave her own willingly. When he slid inside her, it was with her straddling his lap as he held her, and they moved together as they sought pleasure in each other, her face buried in his shoulder as her soft, mewling cries mounted. When she came, it was she who sought him out, kissing him desperately as he fisted his hands in her red hair and groaned her name as a prayer.

 

It was the second time that they fell asleep curled together, her long legs tangled in his own. She was asleep first, and for a little while he watched her, saw the slight smile on her face and in that brief time before he followed her example, he felt like he belonged there.

 

That night, he did not dream of Cersei.

Chapter Text

When they woke the next morning, it was face to face, his hand resting warm on her waist. He was already awake, his green eyes watching her with a half-smile at his lips. She stretched a little, feeling rather like the stray cats she used to watch lazing in the sun at King's Landing. Before either of them could speak, a banging at their bedchamber door roused them both, breaking the spell completely. He groaned aloud.

                “Who is it?” The door burst open, admitting Tyrion and an indignant Edric. Sansa squeaked a protest, yanking the covers over her head. It blocked her eyes but not her ears and she heard Tyrion's astonished and horrified exclamation.

                “Oh Gods!”

                “Get out!” Jaime bellowed at them, and the door closed. She felt a gentle tug at the covers and peeked out to see Jaime. “They're gone. I'm so sorry, Sansa, my beloved brother should damn well know what a closed bedchamber door means.” She could feel how hot her cheeks were without needing to touch them.

                “Something must be urgent,” she muttered, sitting up and gesturing at her abandoned nightgown – obviously and clearly displayed on the floor. “Could you hand that to me? We should see what the matter is.” She pulled on the gown before she got out of bed, found her robe still over the chair on the balcony. She blushed again to remember how he’d teased her last night, how he'd undone each lace – now probably was not the time to remember. He had pulled on breeches and a shirt while she'd been lost in recollection. Jaime was not moving to the door, she noticed. “What's wrong?” she asked, tying the last of the laces. He came to her, looking down and tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

                “If it were up to me, you and I would still be in bed,” he murmured, one finger drawing a path down her jaw. She smiled, could not help it. Nobody, in all her life, had ever looked at her with such desire on his face. It made her feel powerful – it made her compare it to the fury of Sandor's burning gaze. She dropped her eyes, something that felt like guilt weighing hot in her stomach. She felt as if to remember Sandor in such a moment was disloyal somehow – and she was afraid that the burn of desire for a man who was most decidedly not Jaime Lannister would show on her face. Gods, what was wrong with her? The memory of Sandor kept reappearing in her mind at the least convenient times – much like the man himself had been wont to do. She shook her head to try and clear it, looked back at Jaime. He was frowning slightly, and in fear he would ask her what she had been thinking, she hurried into the silence.

                “We should see what Tyrion needs,” she said, drawing back slightly. She pulled her robe a little tighter around herself, crossed to the door and pulled it open.

 

Tyrion was at Jaime's desk, his head in his hands. When she came out with Jaime at her heels, he could barely meet her eyes.

                “Sansa, I must offer my sincerest apologies for barging in as I did – I did not stop to think -"

                “Which has long been your trouble,” Jaime snapped. “What the hell is so damned important?”

                “This came,” Tyrion said, waving a paper. “It's from our beloved nephew - and it's addressed to all three of us.”

                “Well, what is it?” Jaime said, striding forward and whipping the paper from his fingers. He read it and his eyes widened, face paling.

                “What is it?” Sansa demanded, holding out her hand. Part of her thought he might refuse to give it to her, but after a pause he handed it over.

 

Lord and Lady Lannister, Lord Tyrion – We hereby invite you to join your King in order to celebrate our marriage to Lady Margaery Tyrell. Lord Tyrion is required to return to the capital at once, to fulfil his duties as Master of Coin. The wedding is two months from hence, on the anniversary of our great victory over Stannis Baratheon, pretender to the throne and reviled traitor. Signed Joffrey of the House Baratheon, First of His Name, King of the Andals and the First Men –

 

                “Our great victory,” Sansa quoted drily, tossing the letter down onto Jaime's desk. It was an act, a show – she felt like someone had thrown her into a frozen lake.

 

Her heart was beating erratically inside her chest, white-hot fear was clenching her belly in an iron grip. She could not, would not return to that place, she could not come face-to-face with her tormentors again. As much as she felt that even this short time away had helped her to become stronger and more resilient, merely imagining being in front of Joffrey again make her quake. What guarantee would she have that he would not resume his torment of her? She remembered her wedding – waylaid by the cruel King, Jaime entrapped by Cersei and unable to get to her – and that was before he made her feel so safe. What if it happened again now, what if Cersei got Jaime away and left Joffrey free to torment her? Cersei would be well capable of it – and more than capable of planning it.

 

Oh Gods, what if he had her beaten again? Her pulse stuttered along the old lines on her back - she'd had those weal’s for a week. They might have faded physically, they might no longer be visible – but dear Gods, if ever she thought of Joffrey or Trant, she felt her heat beat along those lines, felt the panic threaten to close her throat. She had to pull out of this, she could not panic here – she had no way to know if someone was paying Jaime's squire for information. If she panicked now, in front of Edric, there was no knowing who the news might reach. Under her fingers, she felt the silk of her robe. She gathered a handful to ground herself, gripped it tight as if feeling the quality of the silk could remind her that she was Lady Lannister now, she was no longer a toy for Joffrey to play with and torment. She no longer had to fear him – Jaime had protected and defended her to Joffrey on their wedding day, when they had barely known each other, when they had barely even spoken. Surely to Gods, he would protect her now if he would protect her then. She managed to force herself to speak, had to hope that she had only drifted into horror for a few seconds.

                “Shall I have the servants see to preparations for your journey?” she said faintly, gritting her teeth at how small her voice sounded. “When would you like to start for the capital?”

                “Never, if I had my way,” Tyrion said gloomily. “As I do not, I should depart today.”

                “I'll see that food is prepared for you.” Jaime's hand came down onto her shoulder.

                “I'll do that,” he said. “You should send for Caliene and she and you should feed the baby.”

                “Begging pardon, My Lord,” Jaime's squire said softly, stepping forward. “But Caliene is already in the ante-chamber, with the baby.”

                “Thank you, Edric. I shall dress, see to the child. Please excuse me.”

 

She counted it as a victory that her back remained ram-rod straight and that her legs did not shake as she crossed the room. She did not look back at the gathering behind her, did not dare. She didn't trust herself not to go to Jaime and beg him not to make her go. She did not want to leave the Rock. When he'd first married her and brought her here, she had remember what was said about Casterly Rock with fear. Now she remembered it with relief – this castle had never fallen, she was safe here. She was not safe in the capital.

 

The baby, so Caliene reported, had fed several times since dawn, fed and slept. She had changed his napkins, she said, which had been wet. Sansa did not pretend to be any kind of expert, but she knew a wet nappy was a positive sign. A dirty one would have been preferable, but perhaps it was still too soon for that. She'd have to speak with the Maester again. Caliene dressed her, and suddenly she remembered something with a bone-chilling rush of horror. The note.

 

Where was the note to Robb? She'd left it in her dress pocket – Gods damn it, which dress had she been wearing? Had Caliene taken it to be washed? No, surely not, hadn't it still been clean enough? She invented the tenuous premise of needing some water brought, sent Caliene to get it – and instituted a frantic search. Where was it? Oh Gods, if someone had found that note. They'd arrest her, arrest her in an absolute trice, she'd be killed on the spot. They wouldn't even need to publically execute her – a knife in a deserted corridor, poison in her food or water jug, an accident while she rode –anything would serve. But as her fingers touched a pink dress, she felt the crinkle of paper. She shoved it into her bodice as this dress lacked pockets, relief beating an erratic tattoo against her ribs.It wasn't  curled as tightly as it had been, but she did not think anyone had found and read it. A knock came at the door and she jumped, trying to arrange her face into some semblance of relaxed. She crossed to the door and opened it rather than call out – the child still slept, and she did not want to disturb him. He looked so peaceful.Jaime was there and she ushered him a step or two backwards so she could pull the door closed behind her.

                “He's asleep,” she explained. “I didn't want to wake him. Is anything wrong?”

                “No,” he said hastily. “No, no. We had a Tyrell rider – and he had a letter addressed to you,” he said, holding it out. The rose seal was unbroken, and somehow it surprised her. He must have seen her looking. “It's your name on the outside – and even if it wasn't, I highly doubt that anyone from House Tyrell feels the need to send me such a long letter it could not be sent by raven. Tyrion's seen it – if you can get a reply together before he leaves, he has agreed to take it.”

                “Oh, that's sweet of him but I don't know if I'll even have time to read it, there's so much to do to make Tyrion ready –“

                “All of those things are in hand,” he interrupted gently, but unquestionably firmly. “Tyrion, Edric and I have everything in hand. You can sit down I  your letter, focus on the child – and write a reply to whichever Tyrell has sent you a letter.”

                “Margaery, I think,” she said, glancing at the writing spelling out her name. “But I can't let you do all the work -" For a reply, Jaime took her by the arms, turned her round, walked her backwards and nudged her into a chair on the balcony of their solar.

                “Sit, letter, read. I will get you ink, quill and parchment – and breakfast. You'll be busy enough today, and taking a few minutes now to relax and read will probably do you good.” She huffed, tried to look indignant – and ruined it by laughing.

                “Very well, you overbearing monster.”

                “I can be much, much more overbearing if you like,” he said, kissing her.

                “I like you just this way,” she shot back, realised too late that she was falling into behaviour that was almost flirtatious. He was smiling at her, softly, sweetly – and suddenly she had to look away, because him looking at her with such warmth made her stomach flip and she couldn't name what with. It almost frightened her to see him look at her like that. He pressed a kiss to her hair and left her to the letter.

 

My dear Sansa,

 

I must so earnestly apologise for not writing before now. I did not want to upset you by reminding you of the capital, when I know you must sorely miss it – it certainly misses you.

 

I hope to see you at my wedding. It has been so long and I am certain we must have a great deal to talk about. Perhaps you, as a married lady, would be able to give a nervous bride some much needed support? Grandmother is very dear of course, but she is so much older than us, and things must have changed since she married Grandfather Tyrell. I would welcome some kind words from a younger woman.

 

I miss you terribly – you were of such a fire that it is dull without you. I find myself missing our conversations more than I thought I would – although I cannot bring myself to regret your happiness.

 

The Dowager Queen speaks of you often, and I believe she misses you too – although she is careful to avoid speaking of you or your husband publically. She has wondered aloud that she wishes to be an aunt, and I confess that I too hope for such happy news soon. Perhaps if it comes soon, then there will be no need for tears.

 

I hope that you will write to me also, and that even from opposite ends of the country, we may continue our friendship.

 

With all my love, Margaery.

 

Sansa read it several times, then set it down with trembling hands. There was a small part of her that had wondered if she was reading too much into the letter – but then there was the passage about Cersei. There was no possible scenario she could envisage where Cersei would miss her. No, this letter had double meanings –it was a warning.

 

Margaery had not wanted to write because she did not want Sansa to miss the capital – but she meant that she did not want to remind Sansa of the capital. Margaery didn't want wedding night advice, she wanted to know that Sansa was happy. She missed their conversations, but was glad they no longer needed to have them. That was all fine. None of that would get either of them into any trouble had this letter fallen into hands other than their own.

 

But the passage about Cersei? And tears – could that mean...? Dear Gods, surely Margaery did not mean that poison was being discussed? That if Sansa failed to conceive, she would be poisoned? And if Cersei was speaking of her often, but not doing so publically, then that meant Margaery had overheard private conversations – conversations which, no doubt, contained no good. No, this letter was a warning – that Sansa must be on her guard at all times.

 

Should she tell Jaime? No. No, she still could not be sure how far she could trust him when it came to Cersei. Neither of them had spoken of her, indeed she had been exceptionally careful to avoid speaking of Cersei. Perhaps that had been a mistake, perhaps she should have tested the waters on it. No, too risky.

 

She sat back in her chair, briefly wondering when she had become so used to second-guessing herself, when she had become so used to scheming out her life that it now felt natural. She had to though, it might well be the only thing keeping her alive at this point. Would she ever not be afraid? Because she saw it now, she knew now that no matter what else she felt, the fear was always, always there, just beneath the surface. She had become exceptional at disguising it – but scratch the surface and it was still there. Look at the morning – one letter from the bastard, and she'd damn near cracked. And in front of people too. She had to get better at hiding it, had to get better at disguising it. Everything depended on how good an actress she could be – and perhaps there was a way. She could not, absolutely could not, risk returning to the capital the same frightened child she had been when she left. She had to at least be able to act as if Joffrey did not still terrify her. Perhaps if she could master one of her fears, then perhaps it would help her master the rest.

 

She still had not lain on her back for Jaime. He had always allowed her to straddle his waist, let her hold herself above him – and it still made her throat close if she thought of lying beneath him. But – if she didn't know about his position on his sister, he had absolutely proved that she could trust him in the bedchamber. He had never pressured her, he always let her come to him, he had always been considerate. And she knew, she knew that if she tried and panicked, he would not force her. Yes, she could start there. She could start like that, work from there. At the very least it would show her how deep the fear went, how much she had to work on.

 

She folded the letter from Margaery, tucked it under the blank parchments. She could burn it later – just to be on the safe side. While she doubted anyone else would catch the meanings, she could not be certain. Even if it wasn't enough for direct consequences, she had to remember that Margaery had to live in the capital, and Cersei especially was more than capable of making Margaery's life as miserable as she'd once made Sansa's.

 

She pulled a sheet of parchment towards her.

 

Dear Margaery,

 

It gave me great joy to receive your letter. I have missed you dearly, although I am very happy at Casterly Rock. My husband has allowed me to make many changes here, and I find myself greatly enjoying the challenges of running such a large home.

 

I too greatly look forward to your wedding – my marriage has been such a happy one thus far, and my husband and I have learnt so much about the other, even in our short time together. Whatever advice I can give you, I would be happy to do so, although I do not know how much help I might be. You should not discount the advice of Lady Olenna – she helped me a great deal before my wedding, and I continue to find her advice such a source of wise counsel.

 

I miss our conversations too, so much. But I am in hopes that before your marriage to our great King, we might speak again, just the two of us. I have so much I have often wished to discuss with you.

 

I pray to the Mother each day that she will bless my marriage with a child, for nothing would make me happier than to give my husband such joyous news. It is news I hope to be able to give him and his family soon.

 

I hope I can trust you to pass my sincere good wishes to the Dowager Queen. I miss her too – she taught me so much and I treasure her lessons still. She was a source of inspiration to me throughout my time in the capital.

 

My husband and I are greatly looking forward to our return to the capital, and I greatly look forward to renewing our friendship.

 

With my love, Sansa.

 

She finished and sealed her letter just as Tyrion came in, obviously ready to leave.

                “Sister, would you come to the courtyard and wave me goodbye? I am so sorry to have had our visit cut so short.”

                “As am I,” she said, standing. “It has been wonderful to see you again – my brother.” He beamed at her – then noticed the letter in her hand.

                “Is that for Lady Tyrell?”

                “Ah – yes. Lady Margaery, at any rate. She wrote to me – she is ever so excited about her wedding. She was telling me about her dress and the feast – and she reminisced about our time together in the capital. She tells me she has missed me – but that she is glad that I'm happy. Would you take this to her?”

                “I shall put it into her hands myself,” he promised. “And directly, too.” She smiled at him.

                “You have my thanks, Tyrion. I'm afraid it's nothing exciting, just girlish gossip – but it is so nice to have someone with whom I can exchange it.”

                “You need have no fear, Sansa.” He took the letter, tucked it into his jerkin. “No hands but my own and Lady Margaery's shall touch this letter. Every young bride should have her secrets, after all.”

 

She waved him off on the Gold Road with Jaime beside her, his arm secure around her waist. And when she went to start her work on the problem of the villages, she at least felt as though she could trust Tyrion, if she could trust no other Lannister.

Chapter Text

He had seen the panic start to take her when she'd read Joffrey's letter. He'd seen the fear on her face, how pale she'd gone, how for a long time she had said nothing at all. She'd stood stiff and silent, her breathing ragged. He'd seen her hand grip her robe so tight her knuckles had gone white – before she'd managed to control herself and come around.

 

He'd wanted to speak to her, to try and reassure her – but there hadn't been a chance. Tyrion's rapid and unplanned departure had occupied them all, then the letter had come for Sansa – and Tyrion had seen it. Very casually, and without looking up from the bag he was packing, he had spoken.

                “I will take her reply to that,” he said. “Personally.” Margaery – at least he was assuming the author was Margaery – had sent the letter, sealed, by Tyrell rider, not by raven or general messenger. While he highly doubted that the letter contained anything other than words of friendship and tender support, he also understood caution. And Sansa had lived so long without privacy, unable to have any secrets at all –

                “You would give a letter directly to Lady Margaery?” he asked Tyrion.

                “Into her own hands. No servants to act as messenger.”

                “I'll ask her.”

                “Tell her what I’ll do,” Tyrion instructed without looking up. “No other eyes would see her letter.”

 

She'd looked happy. Then they had waved off Tyrion, and she had thrown herself into a cycle of work, child, work, meetings, child, work that had lasted a week. She was coming to bed each night so bone tired, she was falling asleep before her head hit the pillows. He had the vague thought that he should put a stop to it, try and persuade her to take some measure of a break. But – she might be weary, bone weary, but she was happy. He could see it in her sparkling eyes, in the purpose she had when she strode from person to person, when she pored over old books, squinting to decipher faded words written down long before either of them were born.

 

He'd just made up his mind thathappy or not, she required rest, when she came to him at dinner looking positively joyous. He didn't even have to ask her for information, she was talking before she'd even sat down beside him.

                “The Maester says Little Arthur is well enough to go home! Hehas begun to gain weight, and shows great promise.”

                “That's wonderful,” Jaime said genuinely, picking up her hand from where it rested on the table, kissing her fingers and smiling. She curled her fingers around his, squeezed. The intimacy of it was beautiful, and he adored it.

 

Had he done that to Cersei, she probably would have mocked him. Sansa just pinked up, smiled.

                “I will miss him,” she said, gazing out over the hall, lost in thought. “I know he's only been with us a week – but I have grown to love him already.” She still hadn't pulled her hand away, so he gripped it tighter, rubbed his thumb over her knuckles.

                “He'll be happier with people he knows,” he said quietly. “And –who is to say that we could not have a child?”

 

It was the first time he'd even alluded to them potentially having a child. She knew, and he knew, what was expected of course – but this was the first time he had so openly said it. They had spoken of it – but in terms of fearing the consequences if they did not conceive. Tywin had made it perfectly clear that he expected them to conceive together, and do so rapidly – but Jaime had no way of knowing what his father might have said to Sansa about it. He feared that bringing it up so openly, so bluntly might frighten her, that she might pull back, change the subject –but she didn't. She just blushed and smiled.

                “I'd – I would like that.”

 

His heart flipped, his stomach jolted – and he realised why. Oh Gods, no. He couldn't actually love her. That was not how this was supposed to work. The best he'd ever hoped for from this marriage was either to be saved by some kind of miracle – a thunderbolt obliterating him, her perhaps flatly refusing or running away – or for a measure of friendly distance. He had not wanted, had not intended, to do something as stupid as fall in love. And with Sansa bloody Stark, of all people – after everything he'd done to her family.

 

Because he could make excuses for everything to do with Eddard Stark's fall from grace, arrest and execution, he could tell himself that all he'd done in that mess was follow bloody orders – but there were things he had done that could not be so excused. There were things he had done to her brother –things he had once said he did for love. And she would hate him for them if she ever found out.

 

But dwelling on it – there was no time to dwell. The gift he'd ordered for her the same day Tyrion had left for the capital arrived, and he sneaked it into her solar while she was off somewhere. When she returned, thankfully empty handed, she smiled to find him sat there.

                "What's this?" she asked him, looking down at him with a smile as he perched on the edge of her desk and grinned at her.

                "Red Dornish silk."

                "It's beautiful," she replied. "But why is it on my desk?"

                "Because it is for you. I want you to take it and make yourself a dress - a magnificent dress, the best dress you ever owned." She giggled at him.

                "I can do my best, but why? What's the occasion?"

                "I want you to use this to make a dress to wear to the King's wedding," he said quietly. He saw the tension set into her shoulders and took her hand, pulling her to stand between his legs. She looked at him and he could see the fear in her eyes. "We shall have to go –to snub the wedding invitation, and without reason -" He could see the understanding in her face, but he could also see the fear.

                "Margaery would understand,” she muttered.

                "Margaery does not have a choice – any more than you did,” he said gently. Sansa nodded.

                "I know, I know. But really, Jaime, next to Margaery - it could not matter less what I wear. There was no need to go to such expense. Margaery Tyrell is beautiful, provocative, the subject of songs - and I am very much not. I could wear a dress made entirely out of cabbage leaves and nobody would pay me the slightest bit of attention." Jaime laughed at that.

                "You'd still be beautiful." Sansa rolled her eyes at him, and he just smiled at her. "Sansa, I don't think you understand that in the capital you're still -" he paused to search for the words, but she finished for him.

                "A Stark," she said bluntly. "And therefore a threat."

                "We need to put the doubters to rest," he said, cupping her worried face in his hands. "It's red silk - red for Lannister. And I am having something else made for you. We're still watched - it is vital you continue to appear happy. To maintain the illusion that we're happily married, we need to establish our position. The easiest way to do that is putting you in Lannister colours." She had stepped away from him, a frown was wrinkling her brow and she was staring at him, confusion clear on her features. "What's wrong?"

                "It's an illusion? That we're happily married, you mean?"

                "I - believe that, yes." She didn't say anything, and he got off her desk, intending to walk away because he didn't understand the expression on her face and couldn't bear another polite cool distance being put between them.

                "It isn't to me."


She had spoken the words so quietly that at first he thought he'd imagined them. He turned to her, a frown of his own in place now.

                "I'm sorry?"

                "I said it isn't to me," she repeated, staring at him. "I - I thought I would never be happy again, I thought this was a nightmare when it began. But - l did not expect happiness here but I have found it for all that."

                "You're - you're happy? Being married to me, you're happy?"

                "You have been kind, gentle, patient, sweet; you have allowed me freedom and a free hand to work. I never hoped for happiness - but yes, I have found it with you."


He strode back to her, swept her into his arms and claimed her lips in a hard and bruising kiss. She gave a gasp, but her arms went around him too, her fingers sliding through his hair and she met his kiss with a passion that matched his own. He carried her to her desk, his hands roaming free over the skin he had access to. Her hands were responding in kind, dragging him into her. He fumbled with the laces at the back of her dress, found the ends and pulled at them, found that they unravelled in his hands. She was shoving at his jerkin, and he let go of her long enough to let her push it off his arms and let it fall to the floor, before his hands went straight back to her dress. He yanked at it until she took pity on him, helping him free her arms from the sleeves and exposing her under-shift to him. This was easy to remove, and he unlaced it impatiently, finally getting his hands on her skin. He dropped his head, took her breasts with hands and mouth, listened to her gasp as she tangled her fingers into his hair and pressed him to her. His heart was pounding, blood rushing to his head as he tasted her.


Her hands had left his hair, he could hear cloth rustling. He looked down between them to find she was pulling up her skirts, heedless of the creases she might be putting into the material. He helped her, yanking her smallclothes away, hearing something rip and not giving a damn about it even as her hands picked impatiently at the laces of his breeches until she could slip a hand inside. He grunted when she curled her fingers around him, bucking forwards into her touch. When he found her centre, he found her already wet for him and with growing impatience, he knocked her hands away from his cock, pushing his breeches down just enough to free himself before he dragged her to the edge of the desk and thrust himself inside her. She cried out, her fingers digging into his shoulders before she attempted to meet his thrusts with her own hips. Her naked breasts pressed into his jerkin as she wound her arms around his neck and kept him close.

 

He found her hips in the mess of material gathered over her hips and waist, kept tight hold, fingers digging in as she let out a series of gasps in his ear. It took him only a moment to realise it was his own damn name she was saying over and over, in a breathless, panted mantra.

 

His enduring thought as she suddenly reached her pleasure around his cock, and as he fell over the peak with her was she is happy.

Chapter Text

Two days after Tyrion left the Rock, Sansa got her note to Robb. She had gone to the Maester to borrow the other journals of old Maesters who had been responsible for overseeing petitions, and found his solar, and the ravenry, completely deserted. She had seized her chance on the spot. Selecting the bird had been easy – one had fluttered straight to her, as if it had been waiting for her to arrive.

 

“Take this to Riverrun. Fly fast,” she whispered, praying it was enough, praying that ravens trained by a Maester here would obey her too. As she released it from the window, she could have almost sworn she saw its eyes go from ink-black to milk white, but then the bird moved, the image shifted, and she blinked rapidly as she watched it fly away. Please Gods let it have been enough. Please Gods let Robb pay heed to her warning, at the very least begin some investigation. Surely, surely, he would understand the value of information that came from the heart of a Lannister stronghold – and if he did not, surely her mother would.

 

It had not been something that she expected to feel anything but relief about. The guilt surprised her. From the moment the raven left, it had crept in and lingered while she waited for and then spoke to the Maester. It was the feeling that, somehow, she had betrayed Jaime to save Robb – which perhaps she had. But then, no – this was simply levelling the score. The Lannister's had a spy in Robb's camp – and Robb had one in their’s. And if anything, what she was doing was honouring the words of her mother's maiden house Tully – family, duty, honour. Family above everything else, every time. Jaime, she decided, fell into duty and honour. And family came first. Hear me roar.

 

Her lips curved as she remembered the Lannister words. She had always considered them ridiculously affected, a slight too literal interpretation of the sigil. But suddenly they seemed apt, along with Cersei's interminable repetition of a Lannister always pays his debts. Well, Tywin bloody well could hear her roar. He thought he'd sent his son away with a kitten but he had not. Her lip curled into a sneer as she sat at her desk. She'd see his family ruined eventually. Whether by her actions or the actions of their own arrogance, the Lannisters would fall. And if Lannisters paid their debts, perhaps debts were due for her father.

 

She remembered Tywin's words on her wedding day. Give him a son, and in return I will give you whatever your heart desires... She had been so childish, had mentioned being allowed to go back go her mother. Now she knew she could wreck far more permanent damage staying here. She'd dearly love to see his face if she told him her heart's desire was Joffrey's broken body – although perhaps demanding Cersei's would sting more. Not even Tywin cared over-much for Joffrey.

 

When he brought her the silk, and took her with a wildness she had never glimpsed before, right there on her solar's desk, a part of her had screamed for joy at the fruition of her plans. Another part of her had felt like being in his arms as he groaned her name into her ear as he spent inside her was like being home. It was then that she began daily visits to the Sept – to pray that she quickened with child and did so soon.

 

The day after he gave her the silk, she had to let the child go. Saying a goodbye to Little Arthur had been much, much harder than she expected. In the end, Jaime had had to take him from her arms to give him to the Septon – and she had not lingered in the courtyard to watch him go. Jaime found her in the Sept, praying without any articulation to the Mother. He had said nothing at first, waited for her – clearly reluctant to disturb her prayers, whatever he might personally think of the Gods. Another mark of decency for him, another make of his compassion and his care. She didn't think she could stand it much longer without having to admit things that she didn't want to be thinking. When she got off her knees, he came to her, arms wrapping tight around her shoulders.

                “He will be safe, and happy at the village. I gave the Septon money.”

                “Money isn't enough,” she replied. “They are too proud to live off our charity forever –and ultimately we have to help them help themselves.”

                “I agree. How, though?” he asked.

                “I have an idea,” she said slowly, turning in his arms to look up at his face. “But I don't know if you will approve it, if you will care for it – or if we will be allowed -"

                “Come to our chambers,” he answered, relinquishing her to offer his arm. “We will talk of it there.”

 

At the door of their chambers, she gestured towards her own solar.

                “Let me just go and get a few things,” she said. He nodded, opening their door.

                “I'll pour us some wine- or do you want water?”

                “Water, please.”

 

She gathered together the journals she'd been reading, the scrolls and lists she had made during her work. When she managed to edge her way back into their chambers, he jumped up with a laugh.

                “Let me take some of those,” he said, relieving her of half of the books. “Is this what you've been doing all week?”

                “Yes.” She and Jaime deposited the books on the table in their balcony and Sansa sat before he did. “Now – when we first came here, do you remember that you showed me the Receiving Hall?”

                “Of course.”

                “These journals are from old Maesters here  - and there are entries in them from former stewards too. They date back to the Targaryen invasion, to the first Targaryen Kings. Back then – and until your grandfather gave control of the Rock to Tywin – the Receiving Hall was used for a variety of things – dances, balls, feasts –but predominantly it was used as a public space. The tenants and Septons, landed gentry, the Smallfolk and merchants of Lannisport had the right to come to the Receiving Hall once a week.” He frowned, slightly baffled.

                “Why?”

                “Anyone who counted the Lords of the Rock as their Lord could bring any dispute or appeal or situation directly to the attention of the Lord of the Rock, and receive help or advice. These journals record those petitions, and the outcome of them. I want to bring this practise back.” He sat back in his chair and surveyed her.

                “Why?”

                “Don't you see? Anyone looking for work or employment could come here, tell us – we could assign them work in the villages, on the farms. Anyone, like the Septon, who are struggling to care for children orphaned by the wars could appraise us of the full situation, could come directly to us and tell us, in person, exactly what they need.”

                “I – but what if they come here and we cannot help them?”

                “My Father always used to say that sometimes, it isn't about giving out solutions. It's about showing the people that their Lord's care about what happens to them, that their Lord cares about them. There are examples in these books about problems the Lords could not or would not solve –one, I remember, was the case of a man indignant that his sheep kept being found in his neighbour's field, and he accused the man of stealing. The Lord at the time stated that such a dispute was a matter to be settled at the village's own meetings.”

                “So – we wouldn't be giving charity?”

                “No,” she answered, pleased that so far at least, he was not dismissing the idea. “We'd be helping them help themselves.”

 

He sat back in his chair, obviously deep in thought.

                “You want to revive this practise?”

                “We have to do something. These people are dying in the Lannister name, and if all their families get in repayment is starvation and nobody to bring in the harvest, what kind of people does that make us? We cannot turn a blind eye to this and hope it solves itself. The Smallfolk who live under our rule feed this castle – they work the land, they grow the crops and raise the animals for meat. They fish the seas and rivers, and they pay the rents and tithes to us. And when your – our – banners ride out, they make up your soldiers. The very least they deserve – the absolute minimum – is our respect.”

 

He poured her more water then, before he sat back down and smiled at her.

                “When would we hold these meetings? How often?”

                “Well I thought – we?”

                “Yes, we,” he said firmly. “You'll do this with me.”

                “I thought -" She trailed off, uncertain.

                “I keep saying that we are in this marriage as a pair. Everything I do, you do – and everything you want done, I will have it done.”

                “So, we are doing this?” she asked, hardly daring to hope.

                “We are doing this. Together, you and I – we are doing this.”

Chapter Text

She had organised it all – riders had been sent to every village and Lannisport, to announce that the Rock would once again be open publically and petitions could be raised directly with himself and Sansa. Three days after the boy left, something like a week and a half after Tyrion had been summoned back to the capital, the Maester from Oldtown had arrived. He looked reasonably young by Maester standards – but then it had emerged as to why. When their own Maester had written, it transpired that he'd also told the Citadel why a second Maester was wanted – and they had been sent the most recently-qualified man they possibly could. However, if this irritated Sansa as much as it enraged him, she didn't show it. She simply welcomed the man warmly, showed him the chambers she had had prepared for him, and left it at that.

 

She'd given him overnight to rest and settle in, then summoned him to her own solar and briefed him as to his duties. If the new Maester shared his peer's views on wasting resources on smallfolk, he was wise enough not to show it to Sansa. He simply agreed and accepted his instructions.

 

She was spending time with Caliene too, working on the dress for Joffrey's wedding. He did not want to take her back there. If he could, he would exploit any possible excuse to stay at the Rock with her – for he would scarcely dare leave her here alone while he left. Gods knew what could happen. He was fairly sure Caliene was loyal to her mistress – and only her mistress – even if she was already in someone else's pay, and he trusted Edric too, but he could have hardly relied on just those two to keep her safe. She was starting to have nightmares, although even if he asked her directly, she would claim she couldn't remember the dream. But without fail, he would wake to mutterings and twitching and sometimes tears on her face. He found that if he wrapped her up close and stroked her hair, murmured sweet words to her, she would calm in his arms and settle back into undisturbed sleep. But nothing he could say or do the next morning would persuade her to tell him what she'd dreamt of – and everytime she brushed it off, shrugged off the care he so desperately wanted to show her, he felt like they were slipping further and further apart again.

 

And somewhere in the midst of all this, she was still blooming like a rose in the peace and relative safety of the Rock. She seemed to be glowing with health and energy; and even if she did look weary sometimes after a late night of sitting at her books, it was not a bad weariness. She came to him one lunchtime, and smiled at him as she presented a plate of bread, fruit, meat and cake.

                “Would you like to have a picnic with me?” she enquired. “I thought we could go to the gardens and sit in the sunshine.”

                “What's the occasion?” he asked, looking up from the letter he'd been frowning over.

                “Do we need an occasion to take an hour away from our cares?”

                “Well, I don't,” he parried. “But you generally require prising away from your work.” He was rewarded with a smile and a huff.

                “Aggravating man,” she said, laughing. “Very well. Maester Castlan – the new one – said I was looking tired and one of two carefree hours might do me some good. So, picnic?” He stood up, folded the letter and stuffed it into his pocket. She could read it later, he decided.

                “Picnic,” he agreed. “Do you want me to carry that?” he asked, gesturing at the plate.

                “No, I can manage. Perhaps you could bring the wine though?”

 

He obeyed her, and she led them through the castle to the gardens that held the Godswood, and she found a spot under a tree to sit down. He couldn't help glancing from the shade to the glorious sunshine and she laughed, obviously having caught the look.

                “That's why I sat at the edge,” she explained. “You can sit in the sunshine – but if I do that, you shall have a ham-slice for a wife, because I shall burn.” He had to laugh at that startling analogy and she did too.

                “You're always thinking of me, aren't you?” he said softly, sitting in the sunshine. “Knowing things like I prefer to sit in the sun, and that I can find the administration – dull.”

                “I try,” she answered. “I – I know that I can be selfish sometimes. I try hard not to be. Before we came to King's Landing, all I ever thought about was what I wanted. I try not to do so now. It just caused – a rift. Especially between Arya and I.”

                “I barely remember your sister,” he confessed, looking at her. “I am sorry for that - she did not spend much time with us.” She waved her hand in a dismissal.

                “You don't need to apologise,” she said quietly. “She just – went her own way. And – and she couldn't stand Joffrey, especially after – after Nymeria and the butcher's boy. So she didn't spend much time with us at all – or me. Just before – before they arrested Father, she was spending all her time with a Braavosi dancing master called – oh, now – Syrio Forel, I think.”

                “Syrio Forel?” Jaime asked, baffled. “Syrio Forel isn't a dancer. He was the greatest swordsman in Braavos. If he was teaching your sister anything, it was swordplay – not dancing.” Sansa blinked, missed one beat – then burst out laughing.

                “The little fibber. I knew she couldn't possibly be willingly going dancing.”

                “You aren't angry that she lied?” Jaime asked, grinning.

                “Oh, she always lied. I see why she did. I would have thrown a fit back then. Now – now I'm glad to know it. She's been missing so long, Jaime – and she's just a child. She'll have her thirteenth name-day soon. If she did manage to get out of King's Landing, then she could be anywhere by now. She can't go home – Winterfell is burnt, Bran and Rickon are dead. It makes me feel somewhat better to think that she can handle a sword if she needs to.”

                “I'm sure she's safe,” Jaime said tentatively, reaching for her hand. She gave him a small smile.

                “I have to hope she is,” she answered quietly. “I have to believe she is.”

 

They left the issue then, but once again he marvelled at how much she opened up to him. To willingly say so much –it demonstrated a trust he wasn't certain what to do with. As he adjusted his position in the grass, the letter in his pocket rustled, and he pulled it out. She was choosing her cake, and for a moment, paid him no heed.

                “I want you to read this,” he said quietly. “It contains some news of your brother.” She made no move to take it, but he saw her fingers twitch.

                “Are you sure?”

                “You know it all anyway. Take the letter, Sansa.” She took it, opened it.

 

She scanned the scant few lines, then handed it back silently.

                “So Robb is to offer Frey my uncle as a consolation for his own pre-emptive marriage – assuming the rain eases enough to allow him to get there at all. I knew that already. It won't work. Frey's too proud to accept a Tully instead of a Stark King.” He nodded, his guts twisting in the certain knowledge that she was right about Walder Frey. He was not a man to forgive such a slight as Robb Stark marrying some foreign girl over his precious daughter – or one of them anyway. “I didn't know Bolton had also chosen to betray my brother.”

                “That - wasn't in that letter.” She snorted.

                “Please. Your father refers to the flayed man - it's hardly subtle.”

                “True.” She was frowning, obviously deep in thought.

                “Roose Bolton and my father never did quite see eye-to-eye,” she said slowly. “My  father never quite – trusted him. It looks now like that was correct.”

                “Why didn't your father trust him?” Jaime asked curiously.

                “I don't quite know. I know that there were – disturbing rumours about his son – was it Ramsey Snow? Something like that anyway.”

                “I'd heard whispers too. Mind you, Roose Bolton isn't exactly an attractive prospect himself.”

                “I know. I recall meeting him once or twice. Something in his eyes. He made me uncomfortable but I could never quite explain why.”

                “One should never trust a man who doesn't drink,” Jaime said, and got a laugh, a slight brightening of her face.

                “That is very true, but what about women who don't drink?” she asked, raising her water goblet.

                “Always trust a woman who doesn't drink,” he said solemnly, touching his goblet to hers. “It means she's honest enough to tell the truth without liquid courage.” She giggled.

                “I shall take that as a rather lovely compliment.”

                “It was meant as one.”

 

They ate the picnic, laughed together, she made no further mention of the letter. But she was looking around a lot, and eventually, he questioned it.

                “Are you expecting someone?” he asked lazily, from his position lying on the ground.

                “No, why?””

                “You're glancing around a lot.”

                “Oh. I didn't realise -" Her voice tailed off, but he had already heard the uncertainty. He pushed himself into a sitting position.

                “Sansa, is something wrong?”

                “It's nothing – I mean, it's silly.”

                “Tell me,” he said, pushing aside the plate and goblets to shuffle over to her. Her hands felt a little cold in his own. “I won't think it's silly, I swear.”

                “I just feel – I feel like we're – I keep thinking I look over towards those bushes, and seeing a shadow there. Like someone is watching us.” He turned to the bushes too, stared hard.

 

He was prepared to take her seriously after all – she had never been the type to jump at shadows as far as he remembered.

                “Would it just be a guard, or a servant?” she asked uncertainly. He reached for her hands at once, holding them tightly in his own as he smiled at her.

                “Quite possibly. The castle is well guarded, my darling. Nobody here would do you harm and you don't need to be scared.”

                “I just - I'm just jumping at shadows, I suppose.” He leant in to kiss her, turning her head to the side so he could watch over her shoulder – and this time, he too thought he saw a shadow shift among the bushes. He said nothing to her, but once she said they should return to their work and she was safely back in her own solar, Jaime sent Edric to bring the Captain of his guard.

                “Ser Kinston.”

                “My Lord,” the man returned, bowing deep.

                “Lady Sansa believes she saw an individual in the gardens near the Godswood today, less than an hour since. Did you have men there?”

                “No, my Lord. Only at the entrance and exits to the gardens – my men don't also patrol it.” Jaime had feared he'd say that.

                “Ser, I need you to quietly and carefully search the grounds,” he ordered. “I can scarcely imagine it was a servant. It may have been nothing – but indulge me, please. Say nothing to Lady Sansa – simply search the grounds and report back to me if anything is untoward.”

                “Of course, my Lord. Actually, my Lord, I was on my way to request an audience with you when the squire found me. The kitchen maids have been complaining, they say food is going missing. Like as not it's mice or even one of the damned dogs –but I want to report it anyway.” Jaime sat back and considered.

                “Have the maids questioned. I want to know what has gone missing, when they started to notice – if they've seen anything. And post a double guard at either end of the corridor here, at all times.” He paused before he continued. “Ser, there is one more thing.”

                “My Lord?”

                “I want a guard – a discreet one, to keep a watch over Lady Sansa. Subtly, and from a distance –but watch her. And report back to me.”

                “Yes, my Lord. Are we watching for anything in particular?”

                “Oh, not on her end. No, I want to know if anyone approaches her, or if she is handed any notes or if anyone else is following her.”

                “Of course my Lord. I'll have a man on it today.”

               

Once the Captain was gone, Jaime sat back in his chair. She'd be absolutely furious if she found this out – but if it kept her safe, it was a risk he was more than prepared to take. He could accept her anger – he could not accept a world where someone was out to cause her harm. He was going to keep her safe, Godsdamnit – regardless of what it might take.

Chapter Text

There was something different about her immediate environment. She could not quite have said exactly what it was, but there was something. It had taken her a couple of days after she and Jaime had had their picnic to realise there seemed to be more guards around than normal. What surprised her about this revelation was the feeling of safety it gave her. She had come a long way from the Sansa who felt distinctly uneasy about guards in the capital, the Sansa who thought of all guards as her next potential tormentor obeying the King's orders. These guards were nothing but polite to her – they bowed when she went by or went through guarded doors, addressed her as “My Lady" and were respectful. And she trusted absolutely that Jaime would not be ordering any of them to beat her for any imagined infraction.

 

The night of the picnic, she dreamt again.

 

Jaime thought she was having nightmares, but the truth was more complicated than that. The dreams made her feel uneasy, but they did not frighten her. She was dreaming of a wolf pack that was not complete, a raven with white eyes, a man who watched her from the shadows. He'd always been a faceless presence, but after the picnic in the garden, her dreams seemed to solidify him, turning his blurred indistinctness into Sandor, wrapped in a homespun cloak and old armour, and watching her. The wolves were always watching too – and she knew them. They did not frighten her, despite the size of them in her dreams. Grey Wind and Ghost stood side-by-side at the head of the back, they stood sentinel at the head of the path leading into the woods. Behind then, Shaggydog ran wild, jumping at butterflies. Quietly, calmly, Summer sat just behind his brothers. And off the path, in the trees, an enormous she-wolf paced slowly, her teeth bared and her attitude restless. Only Lady was missing – but her brothers and her sister had left a place for her. She would stand opposite Bran, behind Grey Wind – the eldest daughter beside the eldest son. No, dreaming of the wolves did not frighten her, but she always woke with bitter grief in her heart.

 

The day they were to hear the petitions for the first time, just a week after she had proposed the idea, she entered her solar in search of some last-minute reading, and she was confronted by the raven she had sent to Robb. He had a scroll on his leg, and she rushed forward. The raven didn't so much as squawk at her sudden rush forward, instead he just stood placid while her shaking fingers undid the scroll.

 

My darling Sansa – your letter has reached us. We have a plan, please do not fear for me or our Lady Mother. I know what my marriage has done, and I know Frey cannot forgive it. Can you forgive me for not saving you from the capital? And Arya too – nobody has told us anything of her. Is she with you? Is she safe? Write back to me, if it is safe. The information you gave us has been invaluable. Your brother, Robb.

 

She pulled parchment to her at once, scribbling hastily.

 

Robb – I am so pleased to have your letter. I mourn that I cannot keep it, but my safety as Lady Lannister is not yet secured. I know nothing of Arya – it is my belief she fled the capital after Joffrey had our father arrested but I have heard nothing. I believe she lives, but I know nothing for sure. I know more now than I did – Tywin has sent Jaime a letter referring to the flayed man – DO NOT TRUST BOLTON. He has already betrayed you to the Lannisters. Your sister, always – Sansa.

 

The raven had waited, and she sat back to look at him.

                “You're something different, aren't you?” she whispered to it, then giggled at herself. “Gods, I'm talking to a raven. Can you take this to Robb Stark?” The raven, naturally, did not answer, simply blinked at her. She attached the scroll to him, went over to open the window. The raven cawed, hopped from desk to windowsill. She watched it out of sight again, heart banging against her ribs in a nervous vibration. This was real, she was doing this – she was using some kind of loyal raven to carry secret messages into her brother's camp. She was betraying her husband in the hope of saving her brother – and the guilt was still there.

 

She burnt the letter from Robb, tossing it into the fire and watching until it fell into ashes, then into nothing at all. Her heart was still that tattoo of guilt and fear, but she knew she had to go out, that she had to hold up her head and sit beside Jaime in the Hall. Now, more than ever, everything depended on how good an actress she could be.

 

Caliene came to carry her notes, and Jaime was waiting in their own solar for her. But when they got to the Hall, her stomach sank immediately. There were guards posted at every third pace around the walls, and two at the double doors leading in. She and Jaime entered through the rear of the Hall, to take side-by-side seats on a raised dais they had had put in. She frowned as she looked around.

                “What's wrong?” Jaime asked.

                “This is not what I ordered,” she returned. “Why so many guards? Why the dais? We should sit level with those entering – I requested a table.”

                “Who did you say this to?”

                “The Maester,” she said, frowning darkly. “Our Maester, I mean.” Jaime groaned in frustration.

                “I shall have that man flogged,” he muttered. “I shall amend this. You there! Bring a table, take the chairs down from up there and set them before it. Set two guards on the dais, one at each front corner. The two at the doors can stay and everyone else can go. This is not a war council.” It was a surprisingly quick change to make. A table was found and brought, the chairs set behind it. Guards vanished, the four that stayed taking up their positions. Jaime drew her chair out for her and she sat down, looking around the Hall. Caliene sat her notes before her, curtseyed.

                “Can I bring you wine or water, my Lady?”

                “No, Caliene, thank you. Jaime?”

                “No. Thank you Caliene.” The girl curtseyed again, withdrew to the foot of the stairs to wait.

                “Perfect,” Sansa said, smiling at Jaime. “If this is to work, then people must feel safe here. They won't come to us for help if we're armed as if we expect a brawl or an assassination. Where is Maester Castlan? I asked him to come today.” Even as she spoke, the man was hurrying through the doors from the courtyard, his chains rattling as he strode forward. He stopped short of the table, bowed to them both.

                “My Lord and Lady Lannister, please accept my apologies. I wanted to walk through those who have come to give petitions – I wished to gauge an atmosphere.”

                “And?” Sansa asked, some nervousness beginning to settle in her stomach. She so desperately wanted this to be a success, needed this to succeed.

                “Hopeful, my Lady. It seems like you have brought hope to these people. I still have to give you my initial report on my first week of working among the people.”

                “We can take it now?” she said, smiling at it.

                “I should like to hear it,” Jaime said beside her.

                “The people are poor, they live in bad conditions – disease spreads quickly and poverty is a disease all its own. Food, decent work – those two things alone would do more for these people than all the gold in Westeros.”

 

It was some confirmation that she was doing the right thing – but she knew already that their true test would be how this went today. Beside her, Jaime was visibly tense, his closest hand in a fist on the arm of his chair. She took it in her own, smiled at him when he looked at her.

                “You can do this,” she murmured quietly, even as Castlan withdrew to a discreet distance. “This is not as frightening as a battle. There is no chance that you might fall to an enemy's sword here.” He snorted, laughter in his eyes as he looked at her.

                “True, there are no swords or flying arrows – but I never did perform so well for an audience. Swords and arrows do not require solutions – they tend to be the solution.” She giggled then.

                “You see, that's why we women outlive our menfolk,” she teased. “We talk instead of cut.” He smiled, twisted their hands so he could raise hers to his lips and kiss her knuckles. “You know what to do,” she said. “Here is the list of available work for those in need – you can suggest and then send the man to Maester Castlan to choose his position. If someone needs help with maintenance of a property or land, you just need to ask how much they need and – you know all this, don't you?”

                “I do,” he returned, smiling at her. “But I cannot tell you how endearing and wonderful I find your support. And I do not want you to sit silent beside me. Speak up if you want to – or if I'm doing something silly.”

                “Don't worry,” she whispered conspiratorially. “I'll step in if you're in danger of bankrupting us.” The Maester took his place at his own table, off to one side, and Jaime straightened up. He nodded at a guard by the door.

                “Let's begin.”

 

She knew he was worried, possibly even nervous – but he hid it well. The first to summon the courage to step forward from the admittedly small throng was a rough, weathered man with a covered basket. He put the basket at his feet and bowed to them, stood twisting a leather hood in his hands. There was a distinctly awkward silence, and Sansa stepped into the breech.

                “You are welcome here, good man. Please, speak.”

                “Er – yes, my Lady. Well, my Lord, you see, I used to have a little farm up the valley, near Deep Den. I had it with my lads, and we did well. But when the Young Wolf came south to war, well my sons went off to battle, and none of ‘em came back. I'm too old to run the farm alone and well, I fought for his Lordship in King Robert's Rebellion. Took a sword to the leg outside the capital, so I’m not as well as I was. So I had to give the farm up, see. But I can still work – I can shear the sheep, and make tools. I was in Lannisport trying to find work when I heard of this. I wondered if I could get some work in a village, somewhere that could house me in exchange like.” The man trailed off, twisting the hood harder than ever – and in it, Sansa saw a man brought low by grief and shame that he could no longer provide alone. Jaime shifted beside her.

                “Most of the villages here need a good man. There's one now in need of a man who knows how to make tools –Old Camp? They have vacant rooms too, the Septon there could arrange for a home for you in exchange for your work.” He was using her lists, referring to it – and her heart twitched as she felt something appallingly like affection flood her veins.

                “I know Old Camp. Used to trade with them. Wool and meat. Oh, my Lord, thank you. I er – I took the liberty,” he said, picking up the basket then and holding it out. “It's for the Lady Sansa – a token.” Sansa stood then, smiled at him as he shuffled forward to place the basket on the table.

                “Thank you. Oh!” The prayer wheel was made of grasses and wooden sticks, rough and ready – and like the one's her mother had made while she sat by Bran's bed day after day.

                “Made it myself, my Lady.”

                “It's lovely. I shall treasure it, sir. Please – you can give your name to the Maester and he can tell you what to do about Old Camp.” The man bowed again, flustered now, thanked Jaime in a stammer and hurried towards the Maester. Sansa lay the prayer wheel gently back into the basket, put it by her feet. Jaime was already beckoning another person forward, and Sansa saw a woman with a dirty child clinging to her skirts step forward.

                “My Lord, my Lady.” The curtsey was excellent, and Sansa took immediate note – someone, sometime, had taught her that.

                “Speak,” Jaime said, smiling. “How can we help?”

                “Begging your pardon, my Lord – but I - it's my husband. He were a tanner in Lannisport before the wars with the Young Wolf. He volunteered for the wars because they said it was good money if you volunteered – and we had another little one on it's way. He never came back after Oxcross. I got a letter saying his wages were forfeit after that – but we never got paid anything at all, nothing. I had to give up the baby to the Sept, because I couldn't feed him or give him even a roof – they took our shop back when I couldn't pay no rent, so we lost the roof over our heads.”

                “How much was your husband promised?” Jaime asked, his face tight with something.

                “They promised him ten silver stags if he volunteered. We never saw even a copper of it.” Sansa piped up then.

                “Did your husband receive a note or promissory stating this?”

                “Oh yes, my Lady. I have it here.” The paper she handed over was dirty, travel-stained and faded a little. When she saw the seal, she frowned.

                “Can you remember the recruiter?” she asked, voice tight.

                “Oh yes, my Lady. It was one of the Lord Tywin's men. They had a table in the square.” Beside her, Jaime twitched before he spoke again.

                “Do you currently have work?”

                “No, my Lord. Before I got married though, I was a handmaid in the Clegane's Keep. Then I got to be a cook's assistant.”

                “Do you have lodgings?”

                “No, my Lord.”

                “My Lady?” Jaime said, turning to her. “Do we not have a position for this good woman?”

                “The cook has been bemoaning a lack of assistance now the Rock has permanent occupants again.”

                “You – and your daughter – could work here,” Jaime offered. “You would be paid a decent wage, you would have a room within the servant's quarters – and we will pay you the money your husband was promised.”

                “Oh – my Lord – I never meant to ask for work,” the woman gasped.

                “You didn't – we offered. Could you report back to the castle tonight?”

                “Everything the two of us own in this world is on our backs, my Lord. We can report now.”

                “Excellent,” Jaime said, trying to be hearty. “Then -"

                “Caliene can show them,” Sansa broke in. “See the Maester – he will pay your husband's wages. Caliene!” The girl hurried forward and Sansa beckoned for her to bend. “See that they are bathed, fed. If you can, find them clean clothes – or at least have theirs washed.”

                “Yes, my Lady.” 

 

The woman had cried in gratitude as the Maester had handed over ten silver stags. Sansa imagined she'd never held so much in one go in her life, and the little girl was gazing around with huge eyes.

 

She had forced herself to keep concentrating, but the big, round eyes of that little girl never left her mind, even as Jaime found his stride beside her and slowly, a start was made. There were not many people – not as many as she had hoped, but word would spread quickly. Several people had vowed to tell “everyone I know, m'lord" about the kindness shown. And that night, in their chambers, she spoke to Jaime of it. She was already in bed, he was still stripping off.

                “How many women do you think there are like her today?”

                “Which one?” he asked, muffled by his shirt.

                “The one whose husband was promised money he was never given to fight.”

                “A great many, I would imagine. But word will start to spread that we will honour the payments – we can help them now.”

                “It's not enough to help them now. She had to give up her child, Jaime. Those ten silver stags might be nothing to us – for her, they would have made all difference in the world.”

                “I know. I'm as angry as you that those men were promised things that never came.”

                “Lannister's pay their debts,” she pointed out to him. “I think the Queen used that phrase three times a week. And your father did not pay his debts this time.”

                “I know.” He got into bed beside her, held out his arms. “Can I hold you, Sansa? Today was – wearing.”

 

She didn't even have to think about it, just crawled into his arms and rested her head on his chest. She traced an idle pattern over his ribs with a finger-tip as she spoke.

                “I like this,” she admitted, her voice quiet.

                “What?”

                “You. You holding me like this. Talking about things and not worrying that my opinion might make you angry. Being here with you.” She felt his arms tighten around her, moved until she could see his face. “I want – I want to try something.”

                “What is it?” he asked, real curiosity in his voice.

 

She took him by the shoulder then, rolled onto her back as she tugged gently to bring him over too. He hovered, still on his side.

                “Sansa -"

                “Please. I trust you.”

                “We – we do not have to do this.”

                “I want to, Jaime. Please.”

Chapter Text

                “I want to, Jaime. Please.”

 

Moving slowly, cautiously, as he might approach a wounded animal, he moved until he lay over her, her legs opening beneath him to cradle his hips in hers. She kept her eyes open, and he was both glad of it and terrified by it. There was no fear on her face, no apprehension, just open warmth.

                “Tell me – tell me if it is too much, if you want to stop.”

                “Kiss me?” she asked. He kissed her at once, her hands sliding into his hair and deepening it for them. He was unable to return the gesture, he was supporting the majority of his weight on his hands in an attempt to keep her as free beneath him as possible, not wanting to crush her or frighten her. She broke the kiss, her hands wriggling down between them. It took his bemused mind a moment to realise that she was removing her nightgown, another to move back so she could sit up to pull it over her head.

                “Tell me what to do. Tell me what you want from me, and I'll do it,” he said.

                “Touch me, Jaime.”

 

Her skin was warm under his hands, soft and pliant as he felt her curves dip and flare beneath his exploring hands. He remembered with some terrible clarity, that this was how they had started the day she had given him her maidenhead. And this time, he was determined not to frighten her, determined to prove himself worthy or the trust she was showing him by letting him do this; by asking him to do this.

 

He lay between her legs and dipped his head to kiss her cunt, felt her jump and tremble under him. One hand found hers, laced his fingers with hers and held her hand tight. She gripped it back, even as he used his free hand and mouth to pleasure her until she was crying out in pleasure and pressing towards his fingers. When he kissed a path back towards her mouth, he found her eyes shining with pleasure and desire, found she was already pulling him towards her and kissing him desperately. At the idea that she would be able to taste herself on his mouth, and that she would know what it was, he surged to full hardness, pressed himself forward without thinking about it fully, then cursed himself as she gasped. He made to pull back, but suddenly her arms were around him and he was drowning in eyes bluer than the ocean.

                “Don’t,” she whispered. “Don't go. I want you to fuck me, Jaime, just like this and right now. I am not afraid, because I am with you.”

 

When he slid himself into her willing heat and she cried out his name, his heart fell at her feet and shattered. When she held him close and buried her face into his neck as he spent himself inside her, he couldn't quite believe she'd done it. But she was wriggling under him, pushing at his chest, and he collected his wits, rolled away from her as she gasped a little. He reached for her, pulled her close and rubbed her back.

                “I have you, Sansa. Nothing is ever, ever going to hurt you, I swear it. I am never, ever going to hurt you.”

                “I believe it, Jaime. I know I am safe with you.”

 

There was an added, intimate level to sleeping beside her that night. Her hand kept hold of his even after she'd fallen asleep, even as she'd kissed him goodnight before her eyes closed under her weariness. He followed her quickly and it was the first night since they received that cursed summons that she did not wake him with nightmares, and instead they woke up pressed together, her naked body warm and safe in the locked circle of his arms.

 

When she woke, he found her pressing herself back against his hardness, sleepily wriggling against him. He found her centre with equal lazy touches, teased her until sleepy moans became wakeful cries of pleasure. He lifted her leg to open her to him, slid inside her without either of them moving. Her breathy pleas fell onto his ears like music as he loved her, felt her heat and wetness increase as she fell over her own peak. He loved her through it, held her close as he explored the taut lines of her thigh and found his way to one soft breast to touch and tease, to listen to her noises as he touched her and found out a little more about how to draw out her cries of pleasure. When it was done and she was lying in his arms, he kissed her, and she turned her head to meet his lips. He felt her smile beneath him.

                “Good morning,” she said, giggling. He chuckled.

                “Good morning.” She turned in his arms to face him, her eyes still sleepy.

                “That was a truly wonderful way to wake up,” she teased. “You spoil me. I shall start to expect these things if you keep doing them.”

                “You can have them, Sansa,” he said.

 

Caliene was helping her dress in front of the mirror as Edric was helping him with his own routine by the bed. There was a domestic intimacy to this, and he adored the thousand tiny ways that she showed her comfort with him.

                “Do you have plans for today?” he asked her.

                “I do not – beyond my usual work.”

                “Can it wait? I thought we could ride to Old Camp today – we sent several people there yesterday. We could see who has arrived- and visit Little Arthur.” He saw her smile in the mirror.

                “I think you know that I would love to do that.”

                “We should take food too,” he continued. “As a gift. Caliene, Edric, could you have that put together?”

                “Of course, my Lord,” Caliene answered for them, tying Sansa's final lace. “How much should we bring?”

                “Whatever you think is enough to give at least something to everyone,” Sansa said. “I can finish, Caliene, thank you.” Once they were alone, he came over to her, watching her in the mirror as she pulled her skirts straight. He slid his arms around her waist, hands on her stomach as he pulled her back against him. She fit so perfectly in his arms, as if she had always meant to be in them.

                “You look beautiful today,” he murmured, bending his head to kiss her neck.

                “Do I not normally look beautiful?” she demanded. He was momentarily afraid he'd upset her, until he met her eyes in the mirror and saw the mischief on her face.

                “Well, some men like the dishevelled witchy look,” he teased back. She gave a squawk of indignation and wriggled free – obviously fighting a smile.

                “How rude,” she said, making for the door. “And to think I planned to ask if we could ride off together after we'd gone to village.” He darted for her, caught her in his arms to stop her flouncing.

                “Are you suggesting that you and I should ride out, alone and unchaperoned, without a guard or a servant in sight?” he whispered.

                “Well I was. Think how dreadfully romantic it could have been. But now I might insist on a litter, and have Caliene accompany me -" He turned her in his arms, kissed her to stop her.

                “We could ride out,” he murmured. “Deep into the woods, alone, just the two us.”

                “The woods? And if there are shadowcats? Or bears?”

                “Then you would be with the greatest swordsman in the land, and I would slay them to give you their pelts.”

                “How brave,” she said drily, laughing openly now. “What if there were bandits?”

                “We could run away with them,” he suggested. “And live as common men.” She gave him a little push, laughing.

                “Go on, get ready,” she said, smiling. “Or we will not have time for such adventures.”

 

He kissed her again, left her to re-brush her fiery hair. He went through to the solar, found a jug of water already set out on the balcony table. Deciding she wouldn't mind if he too had some, he took a goblet and filled it, turning to his desk to sit down as he drank. He'd put some of her paper's there yesterday, and he wanted to find them lest he mixed them in with his own – or worse, burnt them with his own. She'd be livid.

 

The water tasted a little strange, and he eyed the cup. Perhaps that hadn't been fresh, perhaps it was from yesterday - he'd simply assumed Caliene had brought the replacement when she'd come to help Sansa dress. He vaguely recalled Sansa once complaining that water had a strange taste if it was left out overnight. He took a few more sips, then puled a face. Sansa would know if it had been fresh.

                “San -" he stopped, gripped the desk as his head spun. “Sansa!” His voice sounded strange even to his own ears, it felt curiously like his ears were full of water.

                “What is – Jaime!” She was rushing forwards, her red hair swinging wildly as she dashed but even as she crossed the room his vision was going dark. He felt her catch him and lower him back into his chair. “Oh Gods, no, Jaime! What has happened?”

                “The – the water,” he grunted. He was burning up. “The water.”

 

She was screaming something, he could hear running footsteps – but everything was so dark now. It was so, so hot.

Chapter Text

My Lord Tywin – Jaime has been poisoned. Maester Whitehill believes that the poison was wolfsbane. He also believes that I was the intended target. Jaime is gravely ill, and I do not know if he shall live.We are already searching for the guilty party. Sansa Lannister.

 

She placed her seal on the letter with shaking hands, handed it to the waiting Maester.

                “Your fastest raven. Lord Tywin must receive this letter as soon as possible.”

                “Yes, My Lady. At once.”

 

In their bedchamber, Caliene was bathing Jaime's forehead. His fever was ragingly high, his teeth gritted as he occasionally convulsed in agony. She could not bear to go in, could not bear seeing him thus. She was terrified, afraid, she felt physically sick to her stomach. I could lose him today. She still had to address the household, work out a plan, have the guard captain launch an investigation. She had never been so frightened – she had never felt so childish. I could lose him today. She was gritting her own teeth to hold back tears, one hand balled tight in the folds of her skirt to stop herself from screaming out again. As she walked to the Receiving Hall where she had ordered the household gathered, her legs were trembling. She had to stop, lean against a wall to gather her scattered thoughts, to try and fight the turmoil of emotions into some logical order. I could lose him today. Grief had no place yet, she could not yet panic. Too much was left to be done to panic. There was no time to be frightened, despite both her and the Maester deducing immediately that it was unlikely that Jaime had been the intended target. She was the one who regularly drank water, after all – and when the Maester had confirmed that it was wolfsbane used, their eyes had met on the mutual understanding. No, if she allowed herself to be afraid now, she would drown in fear. I could lose him today.

 

That left rage.

 

Pure, ice-cold rage. Yes, rage. Rage that was so bitter, she felt it coursing through her like icy water down her back. Rage so potent, she could have sworn that allowing it to take control had heightened every sense she possessed. She lifted her head, set her shoulders – and resumed her walk on legs that no longer shook. Oh, whoever did this was going to pay, and pay dearly.

 

Guards threw open the doors of the Hall for her and she swept in, climbing onto the dais and turning to face the silent ranks of servants and guards.

                “My Lord husband has been poisoned,” she said, flatly. The hardness in her voice rang out over the Hall. “He is gravely ill and his life is in great danger. If any single person in this room knows anything, anything at all, they would be generously rewarded for any information they can give that may lead to the apprehension of the one who did this terrible thing. If anyone has seen or heard anything suspicious, any strangers in the castle or conversation, they are to report directly to me. Ser Kinston and I will be in my solar. You will not be punished if your information proves incorrect,” she added, trying hard to gentle her tones a little. “As long as you had the best of intentions, and were not deliberately attempting to mislead us, you will not be punished for being wrong. But I warn you now: when I catch the person who did this, and I assure you that I will find them – if it becomes known that information was withheld, I will punish the withholder most severely.”

 

She did not wait for answers, simply swept out again, Jaime's Captain falling in behind her as she left. The Maester was waiting outside her solar, his lips pressed into a thin line.

                “How is he?” she demanded, opening the door to her solar, dropping into her chair as she spoke. “Have you sent my letter?”

                “Yes, my Lady. He is the same – no better, but no worse. If he survives the night, I think we shall save him.”

                “If?”

                “I have purged him, and bled him, my Lady. This will have removed any as-yet unabsorbed poison from his body. He is strong, a well man – he has a good chance. The dose was a high one, but as I say, he is strong -” He trailed off, and she heard the unspoken words. Jaime had a chance of surviving. She would not have lived.

                “Do everything you can, Maester. I shall come and see him soon. For now, I must speak to the Captain.” The Maester left, and she turned to Kinston, gesturing at the chair she'd had brought in earlier for him. “Sit. I am assuming I do not need to tell you that a water jug poisoned with wolfsbane was not intended for Jaime.”

                “No, my Lady.”

                “Meaning that I was the one who was meant to drink it. Tell me, Ser –does that surprise you?”

                “No, my Lady. I deeply regret it, but no, it does not.” A bitter laugh escaped her.

                “It doesn't surprise me either. Whoever did this – the best I can hope for now is that the accidental poisoning of Jaime has frightened them enough to flee the castle.”

                “Nobody could flee, my men have the place locked down, every exit is guarded -"

                “How comforting. Do you trust your men, Ser Kinston?”

                “With my life.”

                “And do you know which among them are paid by the Dowager Queen? By Lord Tywin? By the King?”

                “My Lady?”

                “Don't pretend to me,” she snapped, standing and leaning her hands on her desk. “Do not insult me by pretending you don't know that half the people in this castle are being paid for information on me, waiting for me to make what they will perceive as a mistake. Is someone paying you?”

                “My Lady -"

                “Oh, it doesn't matter if there is. You could be taking gold from half the noble families in Westeros for all I care now. This is bigger than me, bigger than you. Someone has, intentionally or unintentionally or anything in between, attempted to murder the Lady of Casterly Rock, has damn near succeeded in murdering the Lord of Casterly Rock. I have written to Lord Tywin, he will know what happened within days.”

                “My Lady, I know that you don't know me. I don't know much about you, truth be told – except what everyone knows. But I've been his Lordship's Captain a long time now, I was his guard before he was Kingsguard and I went to King's Landing as his man when he took his white cloak. He and I have fought beside each other for years, since we were both just children. I am loyal to him – and only to him. They could offer me all the gold in the Iron Bank, and I would still be loyal to him. And if he's loyal to you – and he is, My Lady, he's devoted to you – then that means that I am loyal to you too. At least, up until the point he ceases to be loyal to you. At that point, I'd kill you myself – and I wouldn't fuck about with poisons you may or may not drink.” She stared at him – and sat back down.

                “I find that oddly comforting, Ser. Very well then. What do we already know about this would-be assassin?” The man shifted in his seat.

                “He fucks around with poisons. Poison’s probably all well and good – but it would have made more sense, if you were the target, to get it into your food, or into your goblet, or if they must put it in your water jug, then it would have been more logical to place the jug in here.”

                “And the use of wolfsbane – poetic, don't you think?”

                “I think whoever did this has a flair for the dramatic,” he said drily.

                “That's true,” she mused aloud. “They chose our chambers, not my solar. They wanted Jaime to see it. And it implies some knowledge of my habits – water, not wine. Almost never wine. If you want to poison me, the water is the easiest way.”

                “Who brings your water?”

                “Caliene. Jaime's squire, sometimes. Kitchen-maids bring it up sometimes, Caliene brings it in.”

                “Do you trust the girl?” She blinked. Could she have done it? She hadn't considered -

                “She would have had the opportunity. But would she? I do not know. Trust her? I don't trust anyone, Ser.” She paused, then continued almost dreamily, half-forgetting Kinston was ever there. “I used to trust people –oh, I was so trusting once. They robbed me of it when they had my father executed. Trust was beaten out of me a long time ago.”

                “She should be questioned,” Kinston said. “My Lord's squire too, and the kitchen maids.”

                “Absolutely,” she agreed. “But they are to be treated decently, Ser. I will not have torture.”

                “Torture gets results.”

                “No torture,” she snapped. “Aside from the simple fact that it is disgusting, it is hardly reliable. You can make anyone admit to anything if you torture them for long enough.”

                “As you wish, my Lady. I'll question them personally.” He stood, bowed. “I'll begin at once.” She watched him to the door before she spoke again.

                “Ser Kinston?”

                “My Lady?”

                “If I hear even a whisper of a complaint of rough treatment, I shall personally see you killed – regardless of how close you may be to my husband.”

 

She went to Jaime then, told Caliene to go. She instructed the girl to fetch her immediately if anyone came to the solar with information, and sat down beside their bed. He was muttering under his breath. His face was grey, sweat darkening his hair, staining the linen of the pillows he lay on. Despite the open balcony the room had, a dreadful smell was lingering. She took up the bowl of water Caliene had been using to sponge his face, dampened a clean strip of linen.

                “I'm here, Jaime,” she whispered. “I don't know if you can hear me, if you can understand – but I'm here. I am going to find whoever did this to you. I am going to find them and kill them. Just – please don't die, Jaime. I can't lose you. Please don't die.”

 

The three days she sat there were terrible days. His fever continued to rage high and in his addled state, he kept coming back to the same phrase. Over and over again, burn them all. She had no idea what it meant. At the worst times, while he strained and writhed and convulsed in obvious pain, she gripped his hands in her own and spoke to him as calmly as she could. Please don't die. I cannot lose you. Jaime, I am here. Please don't die, Jaime.

 

                “My Lady?” She woke with a jolt. During the third night, Jaime's fever had broken at last, and he slept quietly. She sat awkwardly, her neck and back stiff with sleeping in the chair beside him. She blinked, head clearing as she looked up at Caliene.

                “What is it?” she whispered. “Come into the solar.” Caliene followed her out and she found the Maester waiting a letter in his hands.

                “This has come from the capital, my Lady,” he said. “Will you take it? I must attend to my Lord.”

                “Caliene, help him,” she directed, sitting down at Jaime's desk to read the letter.

 

Sansa – I am returning to the Rock at once. Nobody is to leave the castle. If the guilty party is found, do nothing until my arrival. Rule in your husband's stead. Lord Tywin Lannister, Hand of the King.

 

Heart pounding like a drum, she read the letter several times. If Tywin deemed the matter severe enough to abandon his duties as Hand, and to ride all the way here – either he knew something she did not, or he was as angry as any father would be. Expect – except. She had never thought of Tywin as a particularly affectionate father, or an especially engaged one. His hatred of Tyrion at least was widely known, and she'd never witnessed him interact with either Jaime or Cersei in any affectionate way. No – he knew something. He would not be riding to the Rock with worry.

                “Caliene!” The girl came out of the bedchamber, curtseyed.

                “Find Ser Kinston, find the steward, send both of them to my solar. Tell them to wait. I shall help the Maester. No – wait. I never asked you – I know Ser Kinston questioned you. You were – treated decently?”

                “Yes, my Lady. He was kind – stern, of course, but he did not hurt me.” Caliene hesitated, then spoke again. “It – it wasn't me, my Lady, I swear it wasn't me. The water jug was already there that morning, when Edric and I arrived. I thought a maid had brought it up. I'm so sorry, my Lady – I should have checked, or replaced it or -" Sansa believed her. She looked so stricken.

                “You could not have known, Caliene. And it's done now. Go and find the men – we can talk later.” With Caliene gone, Sansa sat back in the chair, scrubbed a hand over her eyes. She'd barely slept over the last three days, simply snatched rest during Jaime's few scattered hours of quiet. Now she was exhausted, sore from sleeping in a chair and so, so tired. Until she had come so close to losing him – no. This was not the time to think that. This was not the time to question it. This was not the time to start questioning feelings.

 

She went into the bedchamber, found the Maester packing up his bag – and elected not to ask exactly what he'd been doing.

                “How is he?” she asked, dropping back into her chair.

                “Better. The fever has not returned, and he is quite cool now. He will probably sleep until tomorrow.”

                “Will he live?”

                “I see no reason to think otherwise,” he said gently. “Now the fever is broken, his body can rest, recover. He will be weakened for some time.”

                “Lord Tywin is riding for the Rock,” she said flatly, staring at Jaime's sleeping face. Even asleep, he looked gaunt. “The letter told me so.”

                “I see.”

                “I must speak with the steward and Ser Kinston. You too, if you are finished here. Edric and Caliene can stay with him.” She was getting up again, bending forward to press a kiss to Jaime's forehead. “I shall return soon,” she promised him.

 

Outside her solar, Kinston, the steward and Caliene were waiting.

                “Caliene, please – go and sit with Lord Jaime. If he wakes or if there is any change, have me fetched at once. Gentlemen, please come in.” Once they were in, and she had taken her seat, she sat back with a little sigh.

                “My Lady – if I may ask, when did you last sleep?” the Maester asked gently.

                “After his fever broke. I slept then. This is not the time, Maester,” she said firmly, as he opened his mouth to speak. “Gentlemen, I have had a letter from Lord Tywin. He has left the capital, and is riding for the Rock. He bids me rule here in my husband's stead – or until he recovers. The practical concern is obvious – how long until Lord Tywin arrives?”

                “If he rides hard, and directly – instead of following the Gold Road –he could be here in as little as nine days. I doubt he'll stop for more than four hours at a time, and if he rides straight – yes, nine days.”

                “So eight, if we assume the letter is a day old,” she said thoughtfully, rubbing her forehead. “Can you make all necessary arrangements?” she addressed the steward. “The best chambers, of course.” The steward bowed, and she dismissed him. “How would he do it so quickly? When Jaime and I came here after we were married, it took us two full weeks," she mused aloud.

                “You travelled with a carriage, my Lady, and stopped for each full night – and you were obliged to take the Road. Lord Tywin will not be travelling with such restrictions, and will not stop all night.”

                “True. Very well, then eight days. He will want to know who did this. Ser Kinston?”

                “The squire, your maid – I questioned them both. Both of them told me that the water was already there when they came in that morning, they arrived together – and the guards at each end of the corridor confirmed that they arrived together and were empty-handed. They also state that they saw nobody else either enter or leave your chambers all night.”

                “So we know precisely nothing. That will please him.”

                “Not quite nothing,” Kinston said carefully. “Before this occurred, my Lord told me that you had seen someone in the gardens.” She was startled by that – she had almost forgotten it. “When I was questioning the kitchen staff, three of the maids told me that they too believed they had seen a stranger in the castle – a man wearing the Lannister guard uniform but not a man any of them recognised. The man was, apparently, hanging around the kitchens and gardens for some days – at least during the last two weeks.”

                “And have you found this man?”

                “No, my Lady. Every guard is accounted for – I even paraded them and had the maids look at each of them. Whoever the man is, he is not a guard.”

                “So there is an armed stranger in this castle, one acquainted with poisons – and you tell me now that you cannot find him?” She was side-swiped by it. “What happened to this place being impregnable?”

                “Against an army, my Lady. One man, in Lannister uniform? Easily enterable – he could have just walked in. And the castle is vast – there are a thousands of places such a man could hide.”

                “If he just walked in then he must have walked past someone,” she snapped. “You will question every guard, every servant –and for the love of Gods, try and find an artist,” she continued. The Maester and Ser Kinston exchanged looks.

                “An – an artist, my Lady?” the Maester asked.

                “If enough people can describe this man, and accurately, an artist can draw him. At least then we can have an idea of who we're looking for.”

                “I'll have one found. And I will question everybody.”

                “Thank you, Ser. There's also the question of the poison. Wolfsbane, to kill a wolf. It's a plant – so where does it grow?”

                “The North, mostly,” the Maester said. “Nowhere south of Harrenhal. Mountainous regions –near Eastwatch and the Vale of Arryn have the highest concentrations. But it's freely available –most apothecaries sell it. In very small doses, it's a purgative. Even I keep some.”

                “You've accounted for all of it, I assume?” she said sharply.

                “Of course, my Lady. It was the first thing I did after I tended to Lord Jaime.”

                “We could question the local apothecary’s, and herbalists,” Ser Kinston suggested. “See who has sold it recently and who to.”

                “Do it – but only once you have a picture to show them. Then we shall know.” Ser Kinston nodded.

                “I shall start immediately, my Lady, with your permission.”

                “Yes, go,” she said, waving him away. He went, bowing as he did. It left her with the Maester. “You can go too,” she said wearily. “Unless you have anything you can add to this mess.”

                “You need rest, my Lady,” he said, voice gentle. “Sleep – in a bed. Your devotion to Lord Jaime has been admirable, but if you are to rule the Rock for now, and care for him, you must have rest. Ser Kinston has everything in hand, the steward can organise everything else and I can sit with your husband. I must insist that you retire. I have already had the chambers beside your own prepared – please, my Lady.” She saw the sense in his argument – now they had a plan, and the orders had been given, she was struggling to concentrate.

                “I will. On the condition that I am woken immediately if my husband wakes, or if Kinston finds anything vital.”

                “It will be done,” he promised her.

 

Caliene helped her undress – and it was only in the act of undressing that she realised she was still wearing the same dress she had had on the day it all happened. Caliene was barely out of the room before her eyes were closing, and her last conscious thought – or perhaps it was already a dream – was I think I might love him.

Chapter Text

In the black heat of fever, he dreamt of Aerys. He supposed it was only right that at the end of his life, he reflected on the event that defined his life. And what a dreadful way to go it was – or was it? He couldn't really remember what had happened. Perhaps he was sick, it would certainly explain the fever.He would have preferred something more heroic than a fever. A great battle, perhaps the Young Wolf coming to avenge his wronged sister in a fit of gallantry.

 

In his dreams, Sansa was in the throne room too, listening to Aerys' deranged screaming with wide, frightened eyes. A chain was around her pretty throat, but it was gold not steel, and – yes, look, it connected to a chain of his own, around his wrist. How strange it was. He wished he had told her the real story of the slaying that gave him his most famous title. She should have known it before he died. He would have liked her to have known it before he died.

 

Sometimes the feverish dreams eased, and in the gaps between them he heard a voice asking him not to die. Had the Maiden come to him? The voice was soft and sweet, the voice of a Goddess come to comfort a non-believer, a brutal soldier in his final hours. If this was death then, perhaps it was not so bad. It didn't seem to hurt, and he was not frightened. The voice kept coming. The Maiden was saying very strange things. I can't lose you. Please don't die. Have you come from Ser Kinston? Bring fresh water. Don't die, Jaime, you can fight this.

 

It was quite some time before he realised it was not the Maiden come to comfort him, but Sansa. He wanted to answer her, to say something brave or loving, but he could not. And always, always, he would sink back into the dream of Aerys and Sansa and the fine gold chains, and replay his greatest and worst moment in fiery, fiery heat.

 

Then came at last a long period of cool darkness, when he thought of nothing at all. When it broke, dazzling, blinding light came. It was so bright it hurt, and he realised it was sunlight. He cracked his eyes open cautiously, and found eventually he could bear it. Voices were nearby, a low buzz of conversation.

                “Absolutely sure, Ser?”

                “There's no doubt.”

                “Find him. I don't care what it takes. Issue a proclamation if you must – the man who brings him in will be handsomely rewarded. Say fifty gold dragons.”

                “That would certainly inspire interest.”

                “If Lannister's have taught me anything, Ser, it's that gold talks. Just find him.” Him? Who was him? Why were people so bloody cryptic? And Sansa – he cleared his dry throat.

                “Sansa.” It was barely a whisper. “Sansa!” he tried again, but his throat felt too dry to be loud. He tried to turn over, to sit up, found he could do neither. In his frustration, he managed to drag a pillow from what he had come to think of as her side of the bed, managed to drop it to the floor.

                “Did you hear that?” Footsteps were heard, and he turned his head as Sansa herself hurried into the room. “Jaime! Ser Kinston, fetch the Maester, now.” She was coming towards him, her smile to wide and so beautiful it was nearly as dazzling as the sunlight. “Oh, Jaime,” she choked as she reached him, her eyes shining with tears. “I thought I was going to lose you.”

                “Not likely. Water – thirsty -"

                “Oh!” She picked up a jug, poured him a goblet. Her arm slipped under his shoulders, raised his head so he could drink. “Slowly,” she warned, and he tried hard to heed her. When the goblet was drained, he slumped against her arm, exhausted by the effort.

                “What happened?” he asked, as she lay him down again, so tender and gentle he felt no bigger than a child.

                “Don't you remember? You – you drank poison. It was in the water jug.” Oh. Yes, that was right, wasn't it? He remembered – the water had tasted funny. Her water, he realised, with a surge of fear. Someone had tried to poison his wife, his Sansa. Oh, that wasn't fear – that was rage.

                “Someone tried to kill you!”

                “Someone damn near succeeded,” she whispered. “Oh, Jaime!” She was sobbing now. “It was wolfsbane poison, Jaime. In – in the jug. You – it should have been me, not you, I am so sorry -"

                “Sorry? I am glad it was me,” he rasped. He lifted a hand and she took it in her own, pressed a kiss onto his palm. He pushed his hand towards her face and she got the idea, letting him cup her cheek. “I am glad it was me, Sansa. I would have drunk it willingly if I had known it was poison if I thought it would save you.” She was still crying, sobbing now, and he saw how pale she was, how drawn she looked. He could only imagine how terrible he looked.

 

He could not continue to talk, the Maester was coming in, Kinston behind him. The Maester took one look at Sansa.

                “Kinston, take her out of here. My Lady, you must calm yourself.” Sansa went, although Kinston hardly gave her a choice – he was almost carrying her. The Maester turned to him. “Welcome back to us, my Lord. How are you feeling?” With Sansa safely out of the room, he hardly saw the point in bravado.

                “Exhausted. Weak – I cannot sit up.”

                “Would you like to?” Jaime nodded, and the Maester helped him, lifting him as if he weighed nothing with one arm under his shoulders as he stacked pillows behind him. “Some weakness is perfectly normal, unfortunately. Your strength will return, my Lord, with rest and good food. Would you like something to eat now?”

                “No. I feel – very sick.” A basin was under his face and he retched, bringing up nothing but bile. The basin was removed, replaced by a water goblet that he sipped gratefully. “What the hell happened?” he asked. “Wolfsbane in water – she was the target, wasn't she?”

                “Almost certainly so, my Lord. Had she drunk from that jug, we would have lost her in minutes. We damn near lost you. You survived because of physical strength, physical size – Lady Sansa is far slighter and, if you will excuse the bluntness, far more fragile. Rest assured my Lord, she has the situation well in hand. She has been – remarkable.”

                “She's an – exceptional woman.” The Maester's lips twitched into a smile, and Jaime sensed he had said something relevant.

                “Oh, she is that, my Lord. May I examine you?” The man was gentle, and quick, but he was still exhausted when it was done. “Well, my Lord, you will recover. Sleep, good food and water – no wine for a few days, I think. Do you think you could sleep now? Would you like a sedative?”

                “I can sleep. But Sansa – I want to see my wife.” The Maester shook his head.

                “No, my Lord. She is as exhausted as you – she sat three days beside you, slept in a chair to be near you and never for more than an hour or so. I persuaded her to sleep yesterday but she still woke before dawn. I offered you a sedative – she is taking one whether she wants to or not. If I let her back in here, she will only upset herself and I won't allow it. She's in far too fragile a condition.” That was an odd way to phrase it, but his wearied brain was too slow to muse on it.

                “Three days -"

                “You were poisoned four days since, my Lord. Now, sleep. You may see the Lady Sansa tomorrow morning.” He was far, far too tired to argue. He did not dream.

 

When he woke the next morning, Kinston was in his bedchamber and he felt a hundred times better than yesterday. He still felt weak, but he was fairly certain the gnawing hunger in his belly had something to do with that.

                “This is quite like old times,” he remarked, and Kinston looked up from a paper he was frowning over and grinned at him.

                “Yes – if you discount the fact that you look absolutely atrocious,” the man said, standing up to stride over to him. “I think it's an improvement, myself.” Jaime gave a dry chuckle as he sat himself up. At least he could.

                “Ah, my old friend, how is it you never married? Such charm.”

                “How are you feeling?”

                “Hungry. Fucking angry too. Sansa -"

                “Is still fast asleep and likely to remain that way for a few hours yet. It's fairly early still, and it took me, the Maester and that handmaid of hers about four hours to get her to take that sedative last night. She was – not exactly happy about it.”

                “I don't imagine she was.” He fixed Kinston a look. “Someone tried to kill her, Kinston. You had better have caught the bastard.”

                “We know who it was – but we – well. We're having trouble finding him.”

                “Well, who was it?” Jaime demanded, sitting up at little straighter. In answer, Kinston went back to the table and picked up a paper, coming back to hold it out to him. Jaime looked from the drawing to Kinston's grave face.

                “Are you certain?” he demanded.

                “Eighteen separate people have described him. We are certain. You know him then?” Jaime snorted, throwing the drawing down.

                “Of course I bloody know him – you should too, idiot. Janos Slynt is a cunt of the first order – and more to the point, he is supposed to be at the bloody Wall, not here trying to assassinate my wife.”

                “The Wall?”

                “Tyrion shoved him off there while he was Acting Hand. If you haven't already, get a raven to the Wall and demand some kind of an explanation from them. Better yet, send someone up there. No – both, actually. Raven, and  rider. Do it now, Kinston – and then send me something to eat!” he called after Kinston's retreating back.

 

Left alone, he threw back the covers and swung his feet out over the side of the bed. His head span and he had to sit for several moments to still it before he could stand and make a trembling path over to the mirror. Kinston was right, he did look dreadful. His face was chalky-white, black circles under his eyes and there was a slight hollowness to his cheeks. As a breeze came in off the sea, touching his skin through his disgusting nightshirt, he realised he felt sticky and dirty. He had just thrown off his nightshirt when a knock came, and the Maester came in.

                “Ah, my Lord, you're up -"

                “I want a bath,” Jaime said. “And breakfast.”

                “I passed Ser Kinston on his way to send a raven - it's in hand. Bath and breakfast. Sit down a moment, my Lord, let me examine you.”

                “You examined me last night,” Jaime objected, sitting down anyway.

                “I will be examining you a lot, my Lord, you have just been poisoned. You seem better – how do you feel?”

                “Better. Not good, exactly, but a lot better.”

                “Good. And I looked in on Sansa before I came to you, my Lord – she’s sleeping quietly, and should be quite well when she wakes. She was not exactly amenable last night, but we persuaded her to accept the sedative eventually.”

                “Good. She was exhausted last night.”

                “To put it mildly,” the Maester said drily, stepping back as a clattering from outside heralded breakfast. Jaime regarded the plate of fruit, rye bread and vegetables with a detached air.

                “What is this?”

                “It is your breakfast. You need to – break yourself in gently. Nothing too rich for the time being. Eat this, we will see how it settles and then you can have meat for midday if you can keep this down.”

 

He had to admit that the Maester had been right about seeing how things settled. He managed half an apple, a pear and a slice of bread before he felt uncomfortably full and had to push the plate away from him. The Maester made no comment, simply removed it before announcing that they had readied the bath in the antechamber.

                “Why not in here?”

                “Because they need to change the bed linen, and you need to get out of this room for your own peace of mind. One way or another, you’ll be in this room a lot over the coming days – seize every chance to be out of it.

 

It was during his bath that the sound of running footsteps reached his ears. Still in her shift, her hair wild from her long sleep, Sansa burst through the door and threw herself at him. It had the obvious consequence that she fell into the bath with him, and he couldn’t care less, just wrapped his arms around her, buried his face in her neck and held her as tight as he could, her shift swirling around their legs and her hair filling his vision with red.

                “We’re alright,” he whispered. “We’re alright – and I have you.”

                “No,” she whispered back. “I have you.”

Chapter Text

He had kicked the Maester out when he tried to object to her impromptu bath, and helped her get her now very wet shift off. He sat back against the edge of the tub, and she leant back against his chest, her head pillowed on his shoulder and his arms wrapped tight around her shoulders and back. They did not speak for a very long time, just sat together as close as they could get to each other. When she looked down at the water, her hair was trailing over his arm, drifting on the water. It was like even that wanted to be close to him. When he shifted behind her, she turned her head to press a kiss to his throat.

                “Please don’t ever scare me like that again,” she murmured. He chuckled.

                “I’ll do my best to avoid it.”        

                “I thought I was going to lose you. I thought – oh Gods, Jaime, I thought you were going to die.”

                “No, my love,” he whispered against her hair. Something like joy shot through her. My love. He had just called her my love. “Don’t cry, Sansa, or the Maester will come back in and sedate you again.” She gave a watery laugh, gulped and hiccupped as she swallowed her sobs down.

                “I know I needed it – but I don’t want him to do it again.”

                “Good,” he said, tightening his hold a little. “Because I’ve been without you four days, and I don’t want to spend any more time away from you.” They fell back into silence. She could have sworn her pulse was beating out the words my love, my love, my love.

                “Jaime?”

                “Mmm?”

                “Can I ask you something?”        

                “Anything.”

                “You – your fever. You kept saying the same thing.” He stiffened behind her, and she pressed on before she lost her nerve. “You kept saying burn them all. What did you mean?” There was a pause, then he spoke, his voice rough.

                “You know what people call me.” She nodded, although he kept speaking without waiting for her to actually say anything. “What do you know of how I got the title Kingslayer?” She bit her lip, trying to think of the nicest way to say it.

                “Because you were the one who killed the Mad King.”

                “You always make the worst deeds sound so little,” he murmured. “I should have told you this story a long time ago, Sansa. Yes, I murdered the Mad King – the King I had made sacred vows to die for. I stabbed him in the back and it was your father who found me sitting on the Iron Throne with his body at my feet. But that's the public story. My father's army was sweeping down on the city, had been admitted through the gates under the pretence of defending the King – and they were storming the Keep. Half of his men had fled, half were fighting – and he and I were in the throne room. He ordered me to bring him my father's head – and summoned his pyromancer. Do you remember what Tyrion used to burn Stannis' fleet at the Battle of Blackwater?”

                “Wildfire,” she whispered.

                “Wildfire. He ordered his pyromancer to use it – to burn King's Landing to the ground, and the entire population with it.” She could not breathe. “I was so young, so idealistic – and I couldn't let it happen. Aerys was screaming, he was deranged, he kept on screaming burn them all. He would have blown the city up rather than see it taken from him. I killed his pyromancer before he could leave the room to do it, and still Aerys was screaming burn them all. So I killed him too. I stabbed him in the back and slit his throat and when it was done I was terrified. I had made sacred vows and broken them in the worst possible way. I scarcely knew what I was doing when I sat on the Iron Throne. And when your father came, and saw the body and the wound in his back – I suppose he drew his own conclusions. And I couldn't tell anyone, everything was happening so fast and Kingslayer was tossed around – and then Robert gave me a pardon and I couldn't find a way to explain.” She turned in his arms, took his face in her hands as his hands moved the her waist. She turned his face to make him look at her.

                “You carried that with you, all this time – and never told a soul?”

                “I – did not think anyone cared. The Mad King was dead, people were grateful, the war was over and it was done with.”

                “You saved half a million lives. You – you should have statues, and songs and stories told about you. You – you are –amazing.”

                “I broke vows.”

                “Fuck vows,” she said fiercely. “Jaime – I – I cannot think of what to say.”

                “Then say nothing,” he said, his hand coming up to cup her face. “I think the way you're looking at me, like I am worth something, says it all anyway.”

                “You’re worth everything,” she said fiercely. “Never say you’re not. You’re worth everything. I'll look at you like this forever,” she said, leaning forward so their foreheads touched. “You will be a hero to me forever.” He did not answer her, just kissed her with a passion she'd never had before.   “Would you like me to wash you?” she murmured when they broke apart. He nodded – and she could see his weariness setting back in.

 

His eyes never left her as she drew the cloth over his body, soap and water dislodging the stench of fever from his skin. She let him soak alone whilst she dried herself and found a fresh shift in her cupboards before helping him out of the bath. She dried him too, some deep-seated need to show her care driving her to tend to his needs. Someone had made up their bed with fresh linen and she got him into it, brushing his hair back with her fingers as he settled on his pillows with a sigh of contentment. He raised his eyes to hers when she sat beside him on the edge of the bed.

                “We need to talk about Janos Slynt,” he said. She shook her head.

                “We can talk about it later,” she said, silencing his protests with a kiss. “Later, Jaime – we can talk about everything later. Sleep now, rest. Leave everything to me.”

 

She might have fought the sedative – and Gods, had she fought it, four hours of her extremely precious time had been given to arguing about it – but having had it, and the sleep it had granted her, she had to admit it had done her good. She felt refreshed, revitalised – and absolutely ready. She had Caliene come in and help her dress. She chose green, a deep green that seemed nearly black. The deepness of the colour felt like armour in a way, instead of the usual pinks or blues of her dresses. She felt stronger in the darker colour – whatever little sense that might make to anyone else. It made her feel safer than ever before.

 

With potentially only seven days before Tywin descended on the Rock, she had work to do. It had already been five days since they'd last heard petitions, and whatever else she had to deal with, that must not fall unattended. She would have to do it alone, that was all. And she really should go and visit Agathe Forrester, the woman they had hired as a cook's assistant after last time, and see Maester Castlan about his work in the villages. It would have been ideal to visit the villages too, but that was probably not a good idea with Janos Slynt on the loose.

 

Even thinking of his wrapped hot fingers of rage around her heart. She would never, ever forget how he had been the man to lift her father's head by the hair to exhibit it to the cheering crowds outside the Sept of Baelor – and how proud he had looked when he did it. Slynt had been a corrupt, vicious bastard – she knew damn well that he would not have attempted to assassinate her off his own back. Someone had paid him – probably paid him a great deal. He was a vile coward – but as she'd told Kinston, gold talked. Make the reward high enough, he might be greedy enough to hand himself in. At least if he did he'd die a very rich man.

 

Her fists clenched in anger thinking about him. Gods, she would take his head off with her own hands if she got the chance. If someone did want her dead, she'd be going down fighting. Poison? Ha. They would need to try a hell of a lot harder than that to finish her off. Tywin Lannister, the man who had sought to destroy her family, the man who even now was actively planning her brother's downfall –well, he was coming here, they'd be face to face for the first time since the morning after her wedding. She stood up from Jaime's desk decisively. There was no point sitting here wringing her hands and thinking about proving herself. She had to get out there and actually do it.

 

Her first port of call was Agathe. She found the woman in the kitchens, sleeves rolled up and even from the door, Sansa could see she looked happy. The cook saw her first and gasped.

                “My Lady!” Everything stopped then, every eye there turning towards Sansa as curtseys were dropped. The cook was still bent in a very awkward bob long after the others had risen.

                “Please, Cook, do get up,” Sansa said. “This isn't official – I wanted to see Agathe – and you too. If you can spare the time anyway, I can come back if you're busy.” The Cook widened her eyes and shook her head.

                “We have time, my Lady. Agathe!” The woman hurried forward, wiping her hands on her apron and curtseying low to Sansa.

                “Shall we go somewhere a little quieter?” Sansa suggested. Everyone was still staring at them and if she was honest with herself, it was starting to make her a little uncomfortable. The Cook showed her to an alcove a little way down the corridor, and Sansa smiled. “ Thank you Cook. Now, Agathe – are you settling in? Your daughter too?”

                “Oh, my Lady, I - it's more than I dared dream. With the money you paid us, I have – Maegen has gone to the Septa's in Lannisport, to learn her letters, sewing and laundry. When she leaves them in a year, she'll be able to find good work, decent work, she'll be a lady's maid in a great castle. It's all she ever wanted to do – but there was never enough money. Now there is. I haven't seem her smile in so long – not since her father never came home from the wars. But she is happy now.”

                “And you? Are you happy?”

                “My daughter is happy, my Lady, and that makes me happy,” the womansaid simply. “That I too have found happiness in work is simply – extra.” Sansa smiled at her.

                “I am very glad,” she said simply. “My regret is that we could not help sooner. Cook – are you happy with your new assistant?” The women exchanged glances, and Sansa recognised the beginnings of friendship.

                “She's a dream. Anymore you want to send me, my Lady, it's fine by me. My Lady – if this is taking a liberty I apologise but –how is his Lordship?” Sansa started, surprised by the care evident.

                “He is better, Cook, thank you. He had breakfast this morning.”

                “We've been praying hard for him, my Lady. And for you.”

                “Thank you, Cook. I – I am touched. I shan't keep you. I am sure you're very busy.”

 

There was still work to be done. There was always work to be done. She returned the their chambers, poked a head in to check on Jaime and found him still sleeping. Caliene was sat beside him, her hands moving rapidly as she embroidered the vine pattern Sansa was decorating the hem of the gown for the wedding with. She stood up at the sight of Sansa, smiled as Sansa beckoned the girl outside.

                “How is he?”

                “He's slept since you left him, my Lady. I've nearly finished the embroidery now – I should finish the rest this afternoon.”

                “Caliene, thank you. You've been - you've been wonderful.”

                “It's my job, my Lady.”

                “No, it isn't. It's Edric's job, arguably – the Maester's job, my job. Thank you.” Caliene just curtseyed, smiled.

                “Can I do anything for you, my Lady?”

                “You can send a man to find Maester Castlan, if he's in the castle. Send him to my solar.”

                “I saw the Maester earlier, my Lady, he said he was going to Old Camp today. But I can tell the guards at the main gates to tell him to see you when he returns?”

                “Please. I'll sit with him for now – and I'll finish the skirt.” She looked hard at Caliene, realised that she too must be exhausted. “Caliene, when you've told the guards about the Maester, I want you to do two more things for me.”

                “Of course, my Lady?”

                “I want you to go to the kitchens, have the Cook give you a good meal, and then take the rest of the day – and evening, and night – as a holiday.” Caliene gaped at her. “I don't want to see you until tomorrow morning, Caliene,” Sansa added, smiling at the girl.

                “But – but you'll need to undress -"

                “I'll manage, Caliene. I'm not asking you,” Sansa said, holding up a hand to forestall the protests. “I am telling you.”

 

The girl went, and Sansa took her place in the chair besides Jaime. She was still there when he woke.

Chapter Text

Sansa was positively bathed in sunlight when he woke up. She was sewing, and even he recognised the silk over her knees.  Lannister red, for a Lannister bride. He shifted, and she looked up with a smile. He held a hand out to her and she leant forward at once, hand reaching for his.

                “Hello,” she said, smiling at him as she pressed a kiss onto his palm. “How do you feel?”

                “Good. Hungry.” She looked mischievous.

                “Cook sent you up some beef broth.” He gave her a look that he hoped was sufficiently stern.

                “I am not a child,” he said.

                “It got cold anyway,” she answered. “So I sent for some cold chicken, fresh rolls and roast pork. It's on the table. Shall I bring it, or would you prefer to get up?”

                “I'll get up,” he said, flinging back the covers. He was already thoroughly sick of lying around. Bed was all well and good, at it's proper time and preferably when she was in it to be beside him but he had no use for it as a long-term thing. He found the tempting plate covered by a napkin. She joined him, bringing the dress with her. “Won't you eat?” he asked her.

                “I ate at noonday, like a normal person,” she said drily. “It is nearly dinner time, you know.” Ah. That explained the low sun. She sewed as he ate and then, unable to put it off any longer, he spoke of the obvious.

                “Janos Slynt.”

                “Kinston is looking,” she said quickly. “I had a meeting with him – he told me what you ordered. I had no idea he'd been shoved off to the Wall.”

                “Nobody told you?”

                “No. Still, I didn't exactly ask. If it wasn't Trant – carrying out King's orders, Slynt took every opportunity to remind me of what he did.”

                “What he did?”

                “He was the one who took my father's head by the hair, to hold it up to a baying, howling crowd outside the Sept of Baelor. I will never forget that – and I will never forgive it,” she added, fury in her voice. “And I will never forget how proud he looked.”

                “Would he want you dead?” Jaime had his own ideas of course – and he was curious to see if she had reached any conclusions of her own.

                “I doubt it – I very much doubt he feels enough of anything for me to give a copper coin one way or another about my life. But he is corrupt, greedy, easily brought – I remember hearing my father deride him once. He said Slynt’s only concept of honour was how much gold he could get – in my father's eyes it was the worst crime. He brought his way to everything – and he could be brought. We know he did this –the question isn't why. It's who paid him.”

                “And who could have paid him?” She snorted.

                “We might have a shorter list if we rule out who would not have paid him.” Her complete lack of any sign of sadness in face or voice broke his heart. She should not have been living such a life that an attempt on it did not surprise her. “For example,” she said, still sewing. “I did not pay him. You did not pay him. And Tyrion probably didn't pay him. There we are, we finished the list.”

                “Please don't joke about this,” he said.

                “I am not joking,” she said.

                “I am going to find him,” Jaime promised her. She kept sewing. “I'm going to find out who paid him. And then, I swear it, I will show them what it means to harm my wife.” Still, she kept sewing. “Sansa, look at me.” She sighed.

                “And if it turns out to be closer than you think?” she asked quietly. “If it was your family who did this?”

                “I don't care.”

                “And if it was your sister?”

 

Cersei had never been spoken of between them, and the mention of her fell into silence, stone into a mill-pond, the ripples physical in the air between them. And finally, Sansa looked at him – and he knew she knew it all. He did not need her words, but she gave them voice anyway.

                “If it was Cersei, the woman you loved? The woman you loved in all ways, more than a brother loves his sister, more even than a man loves his wife? If it was her gold Slynt took?” He looked her in the eyes, leant forward to frame her face when she tried to turn away.

                “Then you would be the one I chose,” he said, simple and clear. “I will not insult you by denying what I once shared with her. And I loved her once – but it has been a long time since I loved her. Believe me, please.”

                “I – I - there's something you must know,” she said. She had not answered his plea, had not denied him – but had not reassured him. “I wrote to Lord Tywin. He is coming here.”

                “What?” He all but shouted it.

                “I did not know what to do,” she said hastily. “I thought – I thought you were going to die. And I never, ever expected him to come.

                “Gods blood,” he swore, sitting back in his chair. “How long?”

                “The Maester and Ser Kinston believe – they said nine days, we're therefore planning for him to be here in seven days from now.”

                “Nine days,” Jaime snorted. “He'll do it in seven. He'll have a fresh horse at every halt – and he won't halt for more than two or three hours a night.”

                “But that would mean he could be in here in as little as five. Dear Gods. I shall revise the plans.”

                “He'll – he won't like what we have done here,” he warned her. Her eyes flashed at him, and he saw the wolf stare at him with icy eyes.

                “His instructions were perfectly clear, were they not? Rule the Rock. We are ruling – and he can like it or not, but I will not stop.”

                “He –“

                “Does not frighten me,” she snapped. “I am not the child I was when he knew me. I will not be intimidated by him, he will not stop us ruling as we see fit! He will not stop us helping our people as we see fit. And if he does not like it, then perhaps he should have reconsidered how highly he hadme married.” Unbidden, Jaime had a flash of memory – don't trust her, and don't underestimate her – never trust her and never let your guard down. He'd ignored that spectacularly.

 

She was on her feet, sewing discarded, obviously deep in thought.

                “Your father believes all a man's power lies in gold. I am going to show him otherwise.” Gods, he loved her like this – passionate and clever, always planning three steps ahead. “I shall hear petitions as planned in two days time,” she was continuing. “The more evidence I can show him as proof we helped people, the better.”

                “Is that wise?” he asked, concerned at once. “If Slynt -"

                “Even if he is still in the castle, I doubt he'd be stupid enough to burst in with a crossbow. But caution would be wise – Ser Kinston should be with me.”

                “With us,” he said firmly. “If you think I'll let you do this alone -"

                “You need to rest,” she said, waving her hand in a dismissive gesture. It annoyed him slightly.

                “I can rest after. I can rest before. Two days, I'll be back up to strength again -" She snorted.

                “You were just poisoned! It will take a week at least, and I won't see you set back doing something I can easily do alone.” He caught at her, drew her to him until she was sitting in his lap, his arms caging her gently. She could break free if she tried – but she did not.

                “I don't want you so vulnerable.”

                “And I don't want you ill because you did too much too soon.”

                “I should protect you."

                “And I should care for you,” she answered. She was gazing at him. “Jaime – I nearly lost you to this. Please, for me – rest. Recover."

                “You cannot fear for me forever,” he said gently. She was still staring at him. Raising a hand, he brushed his fingers over her cheek, dipped into her hair. “You cannot spend all your life looking back over your shoulder in fear of the Stranger. I have nearly died, yes, but now I live, and we are together. That is what matters now – that the two of us are together.”

                “Yes, and I want us to be together for a good long time. May I make a proposal?”

                “You may.”

                “The Maester gets the casting vote,” she said quietly. “And we accept his orders.” He sighed.

                “Fine. But if he does order me back into bed, then I will hand-pick the guards who will be in that Hall with you,” he told her. “And there will be several of them.” She smiled at him – and kissed him.

 

He kissed back, deepening it for them, felt her lips part under his to grant him access. He found her waist with his hands and brought her closer to him, even as she laid her hands on his face to slide into his hair. He managed to reach down far enough without breaking their kiss, found the hem of her skirt and her ankle, began to slide his hand up. She let him reach her knee before the kiss broke on her giggle.

                “You cannot honestly -" her voice trailed off with a gasp as he pressed his knuckles against her core through the linen of her smallclothes. “Jaime!”

                “Four days is too long to go without you,” he murmured. She was smiling at him, shaking her head.

                “I don't see that this counts as resting.”

                “Resting is for men without beautiful, passionate wives,” he answered. She'd been riling him up since she started pacing and planning. “And you're beautiful when you're thinking.” All he got in return was a shake of the head.

                “You're tired,” she admonished, kissing him anyway.

                “Then come to bed with me,” he murmured.

                “And have the Maester scold us both roundly when I exhaust you? No. I will not. Oh – Jaime.” Her words had ended on a breathless gasp as he dragged his knuckles over her core, once, twice.

                “I've slept all day,” he reminded her. “And I slept all night. Come to bed.”

                “Jaime -" she breathed. Her hips moved against his hand – but she still stood up and shook her skirts down. “Tonight,” she said, her breathing slightly quickened. “If you stay awake that long.”

 

He had to accept it, but he reserved the right to pout at her – which just got him a laugh and a light kiss – before the Maester came in yet again and Sansa seized her opportunity to creep out of the room while the Maester was peering down his throat for some reason.

                “You're recovering remarkably well, my Lord,” the Maester said, stepping back.

                “I don't feel so tired anymore,” he said, sitting back in his chair. “Which is a good thing, as Lady Sansa told me of our impending visitor.”

                “Ah yes, Lord Tywin.”

                “He'll be here sooner than you think,” Jaime told him. The Maester sighed.

                “My hope is that the rains delay him slightly, to give you more time to recover full strength.” Jaime glanced out of the window.

                “Er – rains?”

                “The other side of Deep Den, all over the Riverlands - it's raining hard, my Lord, it has been for some time. The mountains here form a break for us, we've been lucky.”

                “Ah. If he does get caught, it won't slow him down all that much,” Jaime warned.

                “We know. In the meantime, you need to rest as much as you can. I imagine Lord Tywin is angry enough without arriving to find you still exhausted.”

                “I spoke with Lady Sansa today,” Jaime said. “She informs me that despite the  situation, she intends to hear petitions as planned the day after tomorrow.”

                “As long as she is heavily guarded, I can see no reason for her not to do so.”

                “I want to join her,” Jaime said bluntly. “I do not want her sitting alone in an open, crowded room with Slynt still a free man.”

                “If you continue to make such excellent progress, I don't see why you couldn't join her. But it is not a decision I can make today, my Lord. You may still find that you tire very easily. I shall ask you to return to bed now, then take it easy tomorrow. You can get up of course, and dress if you wish. Perhaps a walk around the gardens, a little of your work – and see how it takes you.” Jaime had the sense to recognise that it was probably the best he'd get – but resolved that even if he was falling asleep standing up, he'd hide it. He would be a dead man before he let Sansa sit down unguarded in an open space. She might as well hang an archery target around her neck.

 

Sansa came back in shortly after the Maester left, to find him sat at his desk and reading over a report from the Lannister camps in the Riverlands.

                “I can take care of the paperwork,” she said gently.

                “This is about the – well -"

                “Ah,” she said, nodding suddenly. “It's about the war my brother's currently waging.” Jaime nodded. She sighed suddenly, sadness taking over her face.

                “He never wanted to be a king,” she whispered. “He just – wanted to avenge my father, and get Arya and me back safe, take us home.”

                “I would have sent you both back if it had been my decision. And what we did to your father was wrong.”

                “I know,” she said, patting his hand. “I just want Robb safe. But it's too late now, isn't it? Home is gone, thanks to Greyjoy. Our brothers are dead, Arya's – well. And I'm here. It's all gone too far now.” She looked at him, and he saw the resignation in her eyes. “This will only end in death, won't it?” she whispered. He stood up, went to her and pulled her in, wrapping her up and kissing her hair.

 

He did not answer her, because he did not need to. She knew the answer as well as he did –and he wished beyond all reason for a way to let Robb live.

 

The Stark boy would be a better King than  Joffrey; a fairer King. If ever justice had existed, Ned Stark would have taken the crown off Aerys Targaryen's dead head and put it on his own brow. That would have been the best thing he could have done.

 

Perhaps he should have told Catelyn about Bolton when he had the chance.

Chapter Text

He took her to bed with him, taking her by the hand and pulling her through. He undressed her himself when she told him Caliene had been dismissed for the night – anactivity that caused a lot of giggling on her part, and muttered obscenities from him as he fought with her laces, and many darkly muttered threats against her dress. He managed to work his way through it eventually, the layers of shift and bodice and corset only slowing him up and somehow adding to the excitement.

 

His warm hands rubbed the red marks her underclothes and corset had left against her skin, explored the dip and flare of waist and hips as he dragged her to bed and sat her between his legs. She relaxed against his chest, let him wrap her in his arms.

                “Beautiful,” he murmured.

                “You're recovering,” she murmured again, felt rather than heard him laugh behind her.

                “The Maester was perfectly clear – I am to rest, and relax. And I can think of nothing more relaxing that making love to you.”

 

She felt dimly that they were out of balance – the linen of his nightshirt was rubbing roughly against the skin of her back, while she was completely naked in his arms. But as his hands swept over her, she found that she simply did not care. His hands were gentle, they caressed, stroked, teased. It was like he was trying to map out every inch of her. He lingered on her stomach too, fingertips running a line over her pelvis, stroking there until she was quite mad with tension. Boldly, and not without wondering where she found the courage, she took his hand in hers and guided it downwards, to where she craved him most desperately. To the hells with his recovery. If he was so determined, then who was she to stop him?

 

His chuckle reached her ears.

                “Impatient,” he chided, but he did not take away his hand. He spread her open in a way which she would have been scarlet with embarrassment about had she not wanted him so desperately. Nobody had ever told her she might enjoy this act, that she might find as much pleasure in it as her husband would. Her mother and her Septa had simply explained it as a necessary duty, that she was to please her husband in all ways. Nobody had ever mentioned the possibility of her husband pleasing her in return.

 

But then – Jaime had the experience, did he not? The thought of it made her stomach turn, her limbs tense, her back stiffen – and suddenly his hand was no longer stroking her in the way that made her vision go white.

                “Sansa? Am I hurting you?”

                “No,” she said. “Keep – keep going.” His hand returned to her but she could not relax, suddenly could not turn her mind off.

 

Why, why had she brought up Cersei Lannister? Why had she all but told him that she knew that he had been fucking his own sister? When she had not been mentioned, when both of them had ignored her ghost, it had been easy to forget her – or at least not think of her consciously. But now, naked in Jaime's arms, she couldn't help the nagging thought – had he once held her like this, using his hands to explore her body, map her curves and – ow. He had attempted to push his fingers into her, something that, if she were completely honest, she absolutely adored. Now it felt intrusive, slightly painful – and she knew why. What's more, from the sigh he gave, she knew he knew it too.

                “Sansa? What's wrong?” His hand had moved away from her completely. She squirmed. She absolutely would not tell him the truth. She would sound utterly ridiculous, horribly needy –childish.

                “The – the angle, I think,” she whispered, hoping to the Gods it would be enough. “Can I -"

                “Lie down,” he suggested, moving out from behind her. She did so, grateful for the reprieve, ordered herself to relax. He would know something was wrong if she remained so tense. He was moving down the bed, looking up at her with a slight smile. “Lie back,” he encouraged. When he lowered his head to her core, she started slightly. He had not done this for her since they had first consummated their marriage. She had enjoyed it then – and she had far bigger things worrying her then than petty jealousy for Cersei bloody Lannister.

 

She admittedly had no other experience with which to compare his actions, but for all that he was good. It took her a few moments, but then he did something in exactly the right place and a moan escaped her. It was like a spring snapping because suddenly it didn't matter in the slightest that a moment ago she had not been able to stop thinking. She simply lost herself to sensation and it seemed to hit her suddenly, like a slap almost – her toes curling tight, body tensing then going limp as she cried out once, a sharp cry as she fell over that strangely painful edge. He crawled back up her body, kissing as he wentuntil he reached her lips. She wound arms and legs around him, encouraged him inside. She wouldn't be able to stop herself thinking if he wanted to keep teasing. He slid inside her, and she heard his groan as he slid home.

                “Perfect,” he mumbled against her lips. “So perfect for me, Sansa.” She moaned, unable to hold back, kept her arms and legs around him, effectively caging her with her limbs. She was afraid that if their eyes met, he would see her thoughts on her face.

 

He kept it slow, and it was with a twinge of guilt that she remembered that this would exhaust him in all likelihood. But for all that, her hips still moved to meet his thrusts, her mewls of pleasure mounted to be cries as she drew closer. When he had her like this, she realised, he ground against her in all the right places, helped her nudge ever closer to another fall, but it was not quite enough, she was not quite there and her moans turned to whimpers as she tried to wriggle – and suddenly he had moved, pushed himself up enough to get a hand between them and she cried out again, a high, keening sound. She felt him stiffen above her – felt, because her eyes were still scrunched shut – and felt the odd heat that told him he'd finished too. Not for the first time, she found herself muttering a prayer. Let it take, Mother. Let him give me a child.

 

He had collapsed beside her, his breathing so harsh she felt worry flare up.

                “You were right,” he gasped. “I should be resting.” She couldn't help the smile. She found the covers shoved and crumpled to the bottom of the bed, pulled them up to cover them both.

                “Sleep,” she said, brushing a lock of hair off his forehead. “Just sleep. I'm here.”

                “I want to hold you,” he murmured, obviously already falling under. “I want to hold my wife tonight, Sansa. I want the woman I love in my arms tonight.”

 

Her heart stopped beating.

                “Sansa?” His voice was sleepy, endearing, vulnerable. She had never once been able to see vulnerable and not feel compelled to help. Soft heart, soft spirit. Arya had said that to her once – disgust in every note. There were far worse traits to have, and he sounded so, so vulnerable.

                “I'm here,” she answered, lying down and creeping close to him. “I am here, Jaime.” He wrapped his arms around her, ever as she hid her face in his chest and pressed herself to him. He'd kept the nightshirt on, she realised. She hadn't even given him a chance to remove it.

                “Nobody – ever going to hurt you,” he mumbled. She smiled unseen.

                “Sleep, Jaime. I am here.”

 

She was almost certain he was asleep before she finished talking. She waited a long time to be sure of it, but then she was up and moving cautiously, pulling on a nightgown before she crept out into the empty solar. His desk was still littered with his papers – Gods, he was untidy – and she found the report he had been looking at very easily. It contained no new information, nothing that implied any definitive plan she could warn of. She put the paper back, walked to the balcony to see if she could see anything. The moon was full, the waves looked silver in them. A strange creaking sound was reaching her ears, but however hard she strained her ears to pick up every sound, and peered into the odd silvery darkness, she could see nothing to account for it.

 

She gave herself a little shake, turned back to the bedchamber with a slightly rueful smile. She was growing paranoid. Too much sneaking around, evidently. She had never been born to be so cold, such a schemer. She wore her heart on her sleeve – or she had. Now she had built armour around herself – or had, until Jaime had started stripping it away from her piece by piece. But far from leaving her vulnerable, it made her feel safe. So very safe.

 

She returned to the bed, to their bed, crept back into his arms. He stirred slightly, mumbled something that might have been an enquiry about where she'd been.

                “Nowhere,” she whispered. “I'm right here.” She got no response, he was asleep again. She kissed his cheek, rolled onto her front as her preferred position, settled down.

 

She could deal with Tywin Lannister, she decided. She could front up to Cersei's ghost and emerge the victor, confront her darkest fears and defeat them – as long as he stood beside her.

 

She hadn't been aware of falling asleep, but when she woke the bed was empty and the light told her it was still damned early. But there were already urgent voices issuing from the solar, and, curious, she slid out of bed, finding her robe and slipping it on. She did not tie it, just tugged it closed around her. Where was Jaime? He should not be up so early.

                “Jaime?” she called, opening the door and stepping through. He turned to her at once, and she saw a very strange shape hanging somehow, framed in their balcony.

                “Don't look! Kinston -"

                “What is – oh dear Gods,” she trailed off, staring at the thing. That was a man. Or it had been.

 

The man had been strung by his ankles, upside down. His face – or what was left of it – was almost black. His arms had been bound to his body. A party of guards was evidently attempting to get the thing down and she staggered. She was going to be sick.

                “Kinston, for the love of the Gods – Sansa, wife, go back into the bedchamber -" Jaime was gesturing. She did not need to be told twice. She staggered back into the bedchamber, aimed for the bowl Caliene usually filled with water for Jaime to wash in. It was empty, which was a mercy when she considered how violently and how thoroughly she vomited into it. Dear Gods, dear Gods, that had been a man.

                “Who is it?” she gasped at Kinston. He handed her a square of drying sheet, rather awkwardly. She wiped her face and neck, thankful to find she had managed to keep her hair out of the way.

                “It - it's Janos Slynt, my Lady,” Kinston said, looking rather shaken himself. “It looks like someone strung him from the battlements last night. It looks – it looks like he might have been alive when they – whoever they were - strung him up.” She stared at him in mute horror.

                “Alive?

                “So it appears, my Lady.” She dropped heavily into her chair, her hands shaking. Kinston was looking at her with some alarm.

                “Water,” she gulped, gesturing at the jug. He poured it for her – but to her surprise, he took a sip before he handed it over.

                “My Lord desires someone taste everything for you,” he explained, setting the goblet before her. She took a shaky sip.

                “Janos Slynt is hanging dead from our battlements,” she choked. “I do not think I need fear poison now.”

                “It is always better to be safe, my Lady.”

                “Who – who did it?” she rasped, voice still hoarse. She took another, larger gulp of water.

                “We don't know, my Lady. None of my men. We wanted to question him first.” She glanced quickly at him, but his face was open, honest – and besides, what good was Slynt dead? How would he tell them who had paid him now?

                “Good Gods,” she said again, taking another sip of water. It was not, as such, calming her. She was starting to see the appeal of wine. He was unhooking a wine-skin from his belt, unstoppering it.

                “It’ll probably be too strong for you, my Lady, but you should take a mouthful of this,” Kinston said bluntly. He took a mouthful of his own first, before he held it out.

                “Shall I ask what it is?” she asked, taking a cautious sniff.

                “Best not.” She took the mouthful. It burnt like fire, but it did seem to quietly soothe her. She handed it back with a choke.

                “Thank you. Will you be alright, my Lady? I should begin an investigation -"

                “Of course,” she said. “Of course, I understand. Do what you need to.”

 

She tried very hard not to think about what might be necessary – failed, and vomited again. Then Jaime was there, his hands holding back her hair so tenderly, his voice soothing as he gathered her into his arms and held her close while she trembled like a leaf.

 

It was a long time before she stopped.

Chapter Text

She had pulledherself back together rather admirably, all things considered. When she had calmed herself, and she was settled in his arms, he spoke.

                “I am sorry,” he murmured. “We had hoped to have – removed him before you saw.” She gave a slightly hysterical giggle, and he eased back immediately, slightly concerned. Should he fetch one of the Maesters? But she looked calm when he faced her, and when she spoke, there was no shake to her voice.

                “I am grateful for your consideration. Gods, Jaime – who would do something like that?” He could not answer her, because he had no answers. “Kinston said it looked – that it seemed as if he was alive when he was hung,” she continued.

                “Kinston needs to learn a bit of bloody discretion,” he said, irritated now. There was absolutely no need for her to have been told that.

                “No, don't be angry with him. I – I appreciated knowing it. Is he – have you cut him down?”

                “Yes. The Maester will examine his body. We may find evidence on him, if whoever did this didn't rob him first.”

                “This does not strike me as robbery,” she said, slowly. “Admittedly I know little about it but – no, this does not suggest opportunistic robbery. This is revenge, Jaime.”

 

She was absolutely right of course. Common thieves did not tie a man up then hang him upside-down off the battlements of a castle – especially the castle ruled by the woman said man had tried to poison. Before he could answer her, do anything, a bang at their chamber door heralded Kinston's return. Jaime whirled, ready to bellow at the man for not waiting to be invited in – but the look of horror on Kinston's face stopped him in his tracks.

                “What is it?” Jaime demanded.

                “We found something on the battlements,” Kinston gasped. “You - you're going to want to see this.”

 

Sansa had absolutely insisted on coming. She had found a dress that laced at the front, enabling her to dress herself, and she had come with them. On the battlements, she stared at the wall with a  mixture of horror and fascination. Jaime wished he could have found that surprising, but he was almost certain his own face reflected the same curious mix of emotions.

                “Is that  - has that been written in blood?” she asked. Her voice was startlingly calm.

                “Yes, my Lady,” Kinston answered her. “Slynt's, I'd wager.”

                “Gods,” she breathed. He could not blame her at all for her obvious shock. He was as transfixed by it as she was.

 

I did this for her.

 

He did not need telling who the her was. Besides the fact that Sansa was the only her in the immediate vicinity, Slynt had hardly been left like that as a present for Caliene. Sansa's shaking hands had gone out to grip the stonework of the battlements, but when he pulled her into him almost mechanically, she stepped away, hand clamped over her mouth and turning her back on the message. Something disgusting, something like jealousy, something like rage was burning in his heart. I did this for her. Someone, somewhere, within this very castle, cared for his wife so much that they had found her would-be murderer and murdered him in response – using the dead man's blood to paint his calling card on the walls of Casterly Rock. He was almost blinded by hate.

 

Sansa was his, Godsdamnit. His, not some shadowed stranger’s who had left her such a gift. He should have been the one to find Slynt and murder him, he should have been the one to track the bastard down and give him a slow and gruesome death. He wasjealous.

 

And yet, under that, he was grateful too. Someone, within this castle, cared enough for Sansa that they were willing to commit brutal murder for her. He should meet them, shake their bloody hand. Where he had failed, at least someone had succeeded in protecting her. He was dragged out of his thoughts by another retching sound, turned in time to see Sansa trying to vomit with nothing to come out. He took her under his arm immediately, and she leant against him, white as a sheet.

                “Kinston – get this cleaned up. And – and see if anyone saw anything.” He swept Sansa off at once. With Whitehill busy with Slynt's body, he suggested fetching the Maester Sansa had hired to tend to the villages, but she brushed it off, refused it. Perhaps she was afraid that he'd sedate her again. He sent anyway, and Castlan took a long, hard look at her, then managed a quiet word with Jaime.

                “She doesn't need to be sedated. My suggestion to you both is that you get some air. Take some food into the gardens. I'd suggest the beach, but it's a long walk there and guards would have to accompany you. Sit her in the shade. She'll probably begin to recover once she's out of these rooms.”

 

Jaime jumped on the idea with all due enthusiasm. He sent Caliene off to the kitchens for food – but not before pulling her and a wide-eyed Edric to his desk whilst Sansa was washing her face.

                “I assume you are both fully aware of what happened?” They both nodded at him. “Then I needn't waste time. If either of you hear anything of this, any servant's gossip that may lead to some clue as to the identity of that man, you are to come straight to me – not Lady Sansa. Understood?”

                “Yes, my Lord,” they murmured, in near-perfect unison.

 

He got Sansa into the gardens, spread a blanket over the grass for her. She pulled a face at food, but he insisted.

                “You must eat, Sansa,” he said gently. “I know you don't want to.”

                “I – I can't stop seeing his face,” she whispered. “I thought that if they told me Slynt was dead, I'd just be pleased. But all I feel is sick.”

                “Knowing these things and seeing them is - it's two different things, Sansa.”

                “Do you ever get used to it? Seeing death, I mean.”

                “In a battle – yes, in a way. Or not used to it, but after a while it stops touching you so closely. But death like his? No. You never get used to that.” She nodded.

                “Oh.” He looked at her. She seemed to have curled into herself a little, seemed smaller somehow, more frail.

                “Eat, Sansa,” he prompted gently. The bread rolls were probably the plainest thing she could manage. He held one out. “Just try it. Please.” She took the roll. There was a lot of fiddling, but she was taking tiny bites. It was something, at least. He couldn't keep on putting it off. “Do – do you have any idea who might have done this?” She kept looking at the roll.

                “No,” she murmured. “No, I have no idea.” He stared at her. Her face was still very pale, but two faint spots of pink had appeared on her cheeks.

                “Nobody you can think of at all?”

                “I did not know anyone cared enough for me to all but gift-wrap my would-be murderer,” she answered bluntly. “Not outside my family anyway – and you know exactly where my family is and it isn't here.”

                “It just seems -"

                “Jaime, how many friends do you imagine I had?” she interrupted. “How many people do you imagine are willing to be so loyal to a traitor's daughter that they would commit murder for her? I had no friends in King's Landing save one – until Margaery and Olenna arrived.” Olenna would certainly have had the resources and the money to do this – but not the time to carry it out. Had this happened a month from now, he would have put all of his money behind Olenna as the mastermind – but what had Sansa just said? No friends – save one.

                “One?” he said, watching her closely. “Who?” She pressed her lips together. “Sansa?”

                “Sandor Clegane,” she whispered, reluctance clear on her face. “He was the only one in that entire city I felt cared about me with no thought of using me to press an advantage. And in his way – he was kind to me.” She gave a small laugh, seemed to shake a memory away. “I used to fear him, until I understood a little better.”

                “And do you know where he is?” he asked her. She shook her head.

                “He fled the city after the Blackwater burnt. I know nothing more.” He believed her – but something, some instinct, told him there was more to this story that she was telling him.

 

Was it possible, could it be possible – had she cared for Clegane? From the stories Tyrion had told him, it had sounded like Clegane had cared for her. He'd never thought the day would dawn when he felt jealousy over Sandor Clegane. The man would probably go so far as to crack a smile over that. But – then, she probably would have befriended the rats, given her situation. Clegane had probably just been desperately sorry for her. Although Jaime would never have said pity was included in Clegane's emotional range. She was still shredding that bread roll when he saw her stiffen slightly, her eyes fixed on a point over his shoulder.

                “There - there's someone there again,” she whispered, as if afraid to be heard. He whipped round, stared at the tree-line. This time, he saw it too.

 

He'd brought his sword out, and he felt for it, touched the pommel lightly. He was armed. He could defend her.

                “Go back to the castle,” he told her tersely. “Now.”

                “But I -"

                “Now, Sansa. Leave the food. I want you to get up and storm away as if you are angry with me – and do not respond when I call after you.” He had to pray his voice was low enough not to carry, that she was not too shocked to act – but then she was getting to her feet, ice settling on her features.

                “I am going,” she said, her voice hard and clear. “I shall not stand for you to speak to me like that.” He let her turn on her heel, get a few paces.

                “Sansa!” He put as much anger into it as he could, and to her credit, her stride did not break. In his turn, he turned away from the picnic, stormed in the opposite direction – away from the shadow.

 

But he knew these gardens, he knew them better than any intruder could hope to know them. He circled around, came back up the treeline, moving silently on a hunter's foot and watching, listening, for anything even the slightest bit out of place.

 

It was quickly evident, however, that even with his knowledge and long experience of the gardens, that the shadowed figure had once more completely disappeared without trace. He growled in frustration. Who was this vanishing sentry? Why were they watching them? A spy, perhaps? For his father – for Cersei?

 

A rustling sprang up behind him. He drew his sword on instinct, damn near ran Kinston through with it.

                “For Gods' sake,” he snapped, sheathing the sword again. “I nearly ran you through.”

                “Lady Sansa sent me,” Kinston said. “Said she'd seen the figure again. Thought I should come and help in case you found him, given – given your state of health.”

                “I'd still be capable of a fight,” Jaime snapped, slightly petulantly.

                “I don't doubt it. What I do doubt is your ability to then walk back to the castle. I've searched every inch of the gardens between here and the castle, by the way. There's no sign at all of anyone having been here.”

                “None in that direction either,” Jaime said, gesturing behind him. “Gods, Kinston. It's – if I hadn't seen it too, I'd be wondering if she was imagining things. Or seeing ghosts.”

                “No,” Kinston said slowly. “She's not the kind to jump at nothing.” Jaime shot him a sharp look, but said nothing in response to that.

                “Have the grounds searched again,” Jaime said wearily. “Unless there's more than one person creeping about, I imagine this figure she keeps seeing and whoever was kind enough to murder Slynt are one and the same. What news on that?”

                “The Maester has confirmed that he was alive when they strung him off the battlements.”

                “Hence the face?”

                “Hence the face. Looks like that wasn't the half of it though. Maester says whoever killed him blinded him and sliced his tongue out first. And – these were in Slynt's pocket.”

 

The packet of papers was bloodstained, but still legible. Jaime scanned them, and with icy fear bleeding through him, he looked up at Kinston.

                “Who did you leave Sansa with?” he demanded.

                “She said she was going to see Castlan, something about the villages -" Jaime was already running.

 

He burst into her solar so loudly she physically jumped.

                “What on earth -" He staggered, felt Kinston grab him and lower him into a chair, heard the rustle of her dress as she knelt in front of him. His vision was blurring wildly, room spinning. He squeezed his eyes closed, gasping for breath. He saw now what the Maester had meant by weakened. He felt sick. Someone was holding a goblet to his lips. “Sip this,” her voice was saying. “Gently, Jaime.” When he got his breath, and the room had steadied around him, he looked at her.

                “Where did -"

                “I sent him to get the Maester. What are you doing running around like this? What has happened?” He pressed the papers into her hand.

                “Read it.”

 

Whilst she was scanning the contents, he leant back in his chair and kept his eyes shut. He'd never felt so weak in his life. He could barely breathe even now. She was quiet as she refolded the papers.

                “Are you sure of this?” she said sharply.

                “It's his seal -"

                “No, it isn't. The colours are inverted. My brother's seal is like this – inverting the black and grey. This isn't Roose Bolton's seal.”

                “Then -"

                “He had a bastard too – what was his name? I met him only once, when we were children – Gods. It was – Ramsey, that's it. This is his seal. Why is Roose Bolton's bastard son paying to have me murdered?” He took the papers back, studied the seal.

                “You knew about Bolton already, didn't you?” She looked at him.

                “You showed me the letter, remember? Tywin referring to the flayed man.” Oh yes. He remembered now, that first time she'd seen the shadow in the garden, he'd showed her the letter. “Bolton works for your father,” she said, flatly. “At least, your family.” He was gripping the armrest of the chair Kinston had put him in – and it was no longer because he thought he might fall out of it. “Your family is trying to have me killed,” she whispered.

 

He could not bear the pain in her eyes – and he dropped his gaze, hating himself for it. By the time the Maester found them, she had turned her back on him, her shaking hands gripping her desk. She hadn't said a word as the Maester dragged him back to bed and ordered him to stay in it. And he was left there alone, staring at the ceiling, and aching for her so badly it hurt.

Chapter Text

She had known all along the line that nobody bearing the name Lannister held a scrap of loyalty for her. She had always known it – but to be confronted with it like this?

 

She knew, deep down, that Tywin was not the man responsible for this. Marrying her to Jaime had had two key goals in mind –see her controlled by the Lannister name, and secure the North once Robb was safely disposed of. He would not risk letting the North fall into chaos by removing the last Stark so completely. She did not think for even a moment that Tyrion wished her dead. That left Cersei.

 

Cersei Lannister was trying to kill her. A half-gasp, half-laugh escaped her. And all she had had to do was marry her brother. Had Roose Bolton honestly imagined for even a single moment that getting his bastard to do the dirty work would get him out of suspicion? There was always, always a trail – and in this case, it was papers in the pocket of a dead man. Perhaps if Slynt had managed to get away, perhaps then nobody would ever have realised Bolton was double-crossing the double-crosser. Cersei should have had her man hire someone more competent if she wanted her dead that badly.

 

Jaime hadn't even been able to look at her. He hadn't even been able to look her in the eye when the evidence that his sister wanted her dead was staring them both full in the face. She knew he must have reached the same conclusion she had.

 

She had been alone with her thoughts for far too long when a squawk disturbed her. The raven was back – with pure white eyes. She approached it cautiously, slightly frightened. Had something happened to it? Was it blind? Had something blinded it? But it seemed to be following her progress, it seemed to be tracking her cautious approach.

                “Who are you?” she whispered. Why she had said who, and not what, escaped her completely – but something, some curious instinct, was telling her she knew what this was. It was like she had forgotten something, some knowledge from a very long time ago – something was telling her she did not need to fear this. The letter had nearly been forgotten completely when the raven's eyes suddenly went black again, startling her. Old Nan - hadn't one of Old Nan's stories been about creatures with milky eyes? A ghost story, from long ago, when they were just children and none of them knew suffering or pain? The raven squawked, breaking her reverie, and she hastened to untie the letter.

 

Sansa – I have little time. Do not believe everything you are told. Do not be afraid. Do not reply to this letter. I cannot tell you more. Robb.

 

Her heart was fluttering, confusion and fear in equal parts. Why did he not have time? What was happening? What was she not to believe? His letter raised a thousand questions for her, none of which had any kind of answer. Had Bolton found out about her letters? Had the raven been intercepted? That raven, that bizarre, senseless raven – it had already flown away, as if knowing it was no longer needed, as if knowing she could not use it again. She crumpled the letter, threw it into the fire. She did not need it to remember so little. Would it have killed Robb to add a thank you? Or a confirmation, some acknowledgement of the information she had risked everything to send to him? Or tell her what it was that he did not want her to believe? How pressed for time could he have been?

 

Did it even matter?

 

She sighed, opening her solar door. Whether she wanted to or not, she should speak to Jaime. If she allowed this to fester between them, if she allowed Cersei's betrayal to force them apart, then she might as well have died. Nobody, not even Cersei Lannister, was getting rid of her so easily. She would not allow Cersei Lannister to steal the happiness she and Jaime had managed to find. She would never allow Cersei to take anything from her ever again.

 

Jaime was still awake, and relief and sorrow was written all over his face as soon as he saw her. She could not find any more anger in her heart to direct at him –whether she liked it or not, she did not hate him now. He was reaching for her.

                “Please don't hate me,” he said, and just like that he broke her heart.

                “I could never,” she whispered. She crawled into his arms, not giving a damn that she was fully dressed, that her dress would crumple – she just wanted to hold him, to be held by him. His face was buried in her shoulder.

                “I didn't know,” he choked. “I swear to you, I didn't know.” She had to hear him say it.

                “Know what?”

                “How cruel she could be.”

 

For now, at least, he did not need to say more. Everything had been said, and if not said, then at least understood. Perhaps later, they would speak to each other of what he had shared with her. Perhaps later she would understand why he'd loved her so much, but just now it did not matter. For now at least, what mattered was that they had each other, that they had found greater things together than she had ever dared to hope for.

 

She rearranged them, sitting back against the head of the bed and crossing her legs. He lay his head in her lap and slept as she stroked idly through his golden hair and dared to hope that what she and the Maester were beginning to suspect was true. She thought of little while he slept in her arms, just concentrated herself on mapping out his face, the slight bump in his nose that told of an old break, the fine scar over his eyebrow. That had been the day he gave her the dresses, she remembered. She'd come in and he'd been surrounded by material and dresses with blood trickling into his eye from a cut caused by training with a real sword. He'd looked so lost that day.

 

Idly, she wondered what Tywin would make of all this when he arrived. Not merely the whole business concerning Slynt and his bizarre death, but the relationship she and Jaime had built. You can start by convincing me. That's what he had said to her on her wedding day, when he had agreed with her that she would do her duty by Jaime and convince everyone else that she was perfectly happy to be a Lannister bride, despite the stress of it. Would he think she was still acting? Because if she was honest with herself, it had stopped being an act some ago. Would Tywin know that? Would he understand it? Might he be angry with her, for taking it too far. Jaime had said love twice now, both in moments of vulnerability. Would Tywin approve?

 

Did she care if he did not? Or did nothing matter – except what she and Jaime shared? If she had Jaime, she certainly felt brave. The red dress for the wedding was still spread over her table from the night before. Not even the wedding scared her now. If Jaime would stay with her during however long they had to linger in the capital, even thinking of Joffrey himself no longer frightened her. She no longer felt fear grip her to think of returning to the capital, to think about seeing her tormentors again. Provided Jaime stood beside her, she felt she would be fine – or at least able to meet their eyes. Red for a Lannister bride.

 

Jaime woke for long enough to eat something, then immediately fell asleep again. Somewhat alarmed at his languid nature, she sent for the Maester, who speedily managed to reassure her.

                “Sleep is his best medicine, my Lady – especially as he wishes to join you tomorrow, to hear the petitions.”

                “Will he be well enough?” she queried. “He ran for such a short time today – now this is the result.”

                “I told him yesterday that his attendance entirely depended on how he is in the moment. I will examine him tomorrow and make a decision then.”

                “Very well.” The Maester was looking at her closely.

                “Are you well, my Lady?”

                “Fine, fine,” she said, waving a dismissive hand. “I just - it's been a – distressing day.”

                “I thought I made it very clear to you last week that you should be avoiding stress just now,” he said gently.

                “I'm not exactly actively seeking it out,” she replied, leaning back in her chair.

                “Yes, well. Can you sleep, do you think?”

                “Yes, thank you,” she said tartly. “I do not require another vile sedative.” The Maester gave her a slight smile.

                “They're not supposed to taste nice,” he pointed out. “They're supposed to work. If you're certain -"

                “I am certain,” she said.

                “Very well, then I'll leave you. If you must work tonight, please at least make some effort to be in bed at a reasonable time – and preferably before dark.”

                “I have a few things to attend to,” she said, gesturing vaguely towards her solar. “But I will, Maester, thank you.”

 

She hadn't been lying when she said it was only a few things, but try as she might, nothing was grabbing at her, she could focus on nothing. Her mind kept returning to the shadowy figure in the gardens, to Robb's letter, to Slynt's disfigured and blackened face. She had not asked for details of his injuries, had not asked where the blood that had been used to write her a message had come from.

 

And she could not stop thinking about how Jaime had questioned her about Sandor. She had seen the jealousy flare on his face when she had spoken kindly of him, even though he'd turned away to try and hide it. It had almost amused her, to see Jaime Lannister, so widely proclaimed as one of the most desirable men in Westeros, in the Seven Kingdoms, jealous of Sandor Clegane. She thought that Sandor might have laughed to hear that. Gods, she missed him. She hoped beyond reason that wherever he might be, he was safe at least – and happier now he had got away. Save him if you can, Mother – and gentle the rage inside him.

 

She would never tell Jaime that half the candles she lit in the Sept at that altar were for Sandor. Someone had to pray for him, for certain he would never have prayed for himself. She wondered if he knew of her marriage. If he did, was he angry? Was he just glad it was not to Joffrey? Or would he be jealous too?

 

In the end, she had had to give up on her work. She had read the same inventory report eight times before accepting that not one single word of it had sunk into her brain. She might as well get some sleep. Caliene undressed her, plaited up her hair for the night and found her a fresh nightgown. She really must stop leaving them crumpled on the floor.

 

When she slipped into bed beside Jaime, he rolled towards her at once, pulling her in close. When she whispered a good night, it went unanswered, and she had to smile as she pressed a kiss to his forehead. Even asleep he reached for her. Even asleep he sought her out.

 

She didn't know if he ordered his way there, but either way he was by her side when she sat in the Hall to hear petitions. He managed fairly well in her opinion, despite the number of people having almost doubled from their first tentative efforts of the week before. She had been right about word spreading – almost  everyone started with ‘My Lord, my Lady, someone told me you could help me.’ There were three women who, like Agathe, had had husbands who were promised money for voluntarily enlisting in the wars, but had not had that money ever materialise. None of their husbands had returned, and all of them had children they were struggling to feed and shelter as a result. Several men had come volunteering work or a trade, one of whom freely admitted he was from the Riverlands. His farm had been destroyed by Gregor Clegane, apparently, who had apparently been marauding around Harrenhal and the villages around the God's Eye Lake, attempting to flush out Stark loyalists. The man wished to change his allegiances, and live and work on Lannister land. Jaime had offered to loan him enough money to become a blacksmith's apprentice, which the man could then repay once he was earning a wage. He had gratefully accepted and Sansa, looking at the man, thought he ought to do very well as such an apprentice. The man reported he had briefly been a prisoner at Harrenhal, when Tywin Lannister had put in an extremely timely appearance and saved him from a dreadful fate. He and two friends had managed to escape after Tywin Lannister's arrival, and, as he had lost his livelihood, had wandered through the Riverlands before separating – his friends remaining to work at an inn, he heading south to Lannister land. Something seemed oddly familiar about his bright blue eyes and dark hair, and when she later questioned Jaime, he had agreed that despite being certain he had never met the man, there was a nagging familiarity about him.

 

It was still bothering her slightly as she and Jaime took a brief walk around the small Godswood. However, she was not to dwell on it for very long, as a breathless and panting Caliene suddenly appeared on the scene.

                “Oh, my Lord! My Lady, I am sorry to interrupt – Ser Kinstkn sent me. A party of horsemen has been seen approaching the castle - they're flying the Lannister flag.” She looked to Jaime, frowning.

                “It cannot be – it's barely been five days -"

                “He would have had to ride non-stop, even then I doubt – you are certain he came from the capital?” he asked her. She frowned, trying to remember the letter.

                “I – he never actually said. I just sent the raven – the Maester said it had come from the capital but I suppose nobody ever expressly said -" They stared at each other, then Jaime cursed.

                “He must have been back at Harrenhal, or even in the Riverlands. Godsdamnit, I never thought he would be anywhere but the capital – he must have left Tyrion as Acting Hand again.” He was about to start running, she could see him bracing. She seized his arm.

                “You cannot run,” she said firmly. “A fine welcome for him it would be if you collapse at his feet.” Her heart was racing – if Tywin had been in the Riverlands, then it could only have been for one reason. “Caliene – for goodness sake, you run – get the best chambers ready, as quickly as you can, every spare servant can help. Put wine and some food into our solar, with three goblets and plates. And draw a bath for him!” she added at a shout, as Caliene barely waited to curtsey before dashing back towards the castle.

 

She shook out the skirts of her gown with a hand that trembled slightly. At least it wasn't black or grey. Blue would have to do.

                “Ready?” she asked Jaime.

                “Ready for what?” he expostulated, gaping at her.

                “We are going to walk back up to the castle, very calmly. We will greet your father in the courtyard and show him to our chambers for wine and a light meal. We are going to be the very image of people in control. And we are going to dazzle him.”

 

Chapter Text

How was she so bloody calm? His heart was vibrating inside his chest in a way that was quite frankly alarming. He was not prepared to see his father, like Sansa he had just assumed his father was in the capital, getting ready for Joffrey's wedding –but that had, quite obviously, been glaringly incorrect. Had Tywin been in the Riverlands? And if he had, then why?

 

Had he somehow found out everything already, had he known it all along? He had been so sure that it was Cersei paying Bolton – his father would hardly poison Sansa before she brought them Winterfell, the entire point of marrying her off to Jaime had been so a Lannister would be holding three of the biggest tracts of land in Westeros. Afterwards, maybe, if she failed to, as Tywin might have put it, adequately perform.But had he been wrong about that too, had it been Tywin behind Bolton's bastard’s scheme with Slynt.

 

And yet, there she was, chin well up, eyes flashing, standing beside him in the courtyard as the sound of hoof-beats got louder and louder in his head. Her hand was tucked into his arm, and he could not feel it trembling even slightly.

                “We're together,” she murmured to him. “We're together, nothing bad can possibly happen to us as long as we're together.” He smiled down at her, pulled her hand more securely into the crook of his elbow. She squeezed once, lightly, then turned as the small party of five horsemen exploded through the gates and into the courtyard. The usual chaos of an arrival ensued, stableboys running all over the place to steady the horses. All five horses were panting hard and frothing in a way that suggested to Jaime that they had been ridden hard and long on the way here. Sansa was flagging down a stable boy. “Get the tack off these horses, have them fed, watered and rubbed down,” she ordered. “In that order.”

                “Yes, my Lady,” the boy gabbled, dashing off again. The milling throng parted, and Tywin Lannister stepped out of it. He had every physical sign of a man who had been in the saddle during a long and brutal ride, face beaten red by the wind, massaging his hands as he approached. He was steaming towards Jaime and Sansa and suddenly Sansa had uncoupled her hand from his arm, and managed to somehow nudge him forward at the same time as she sank into a deep curtsey. He was standing in front of his father – and was given absolutely no chance at all to process it.

 

Tywin had pulled him into a hard, unyielding embrace. It was so shocking and so unexpected that for a brief moment, Jaime had simply stood there rather uselessly, before he realised that he should probably return it. When his arms came up and felt the cold steel of the armour his father wore, he thought almost vacantly that it was a rather fitting embrace – cold steel exterior to match a cold steel interior. He could practically feel Sansa staring. When the embrace ended – sooner rather than later, thank Gods – and the two stepped apart, Sansa stepped forward with a beaming smile.

                “My Lord Father,” she said, voice dripping with warmth. “We are so pleased to welcome you home – we only wish it were under happier circumstances.”

                “Lady Sansa” Tywin said, coolly. She didn't seem to mind. She stepped up, kissed his cheek.

                “You must be tired, my Lord. Would you care to join us for wine and a light meal? I have had it sent up to our chambers already, and I am certain that if your men go to the kitchens, a good meal will be awaiting them too. I am also having a bath drawn for you. It is my regret that it was not ready for you at once, but you rather took us by surprise.” Watching his father closely, Jaime distinctly saw the man's lips twitch slightly at Sansa's frankness. “Of course, if you would like to wash first, I can arrange it?”

                “No. We'll talk first.”

 

That wasn't foreboding at all.

 

Sansa didn't seem to mind though. She seemed positively thrilled to have Tywin in their midst. She'd even slipped her hand into his father's arm, smiled up at him.

                “I'm sure Jaime will not object if you escort me. Will you?”

                “Yes,” Tywin answered shortly. Not that he could really object, of course. The courtyard was far too busy for him to snub her warmth.

 

They made it safely into their chambers before Tywin dropped Sansa's arm.

                “I shall serve,” Sansa said, moving to the table and picking up the jug. “Would you prefer water or wine, Lord Tywin?”

                “Water,” Tywin said. He was stripping off his gloves and gauntlets, dumping them on Jaime's rather disorganised desk. Sansa didn't even blink, just put down the wine and picked up the water. She poured, tapped the jug as she raised her eyebrows at Jaime.

                “Wine,” he said. Gods, he needed wine. He did not miss that she poured herself wine, which actually told him that she was far more nervous than she appeared. He should hold her. That's what he would do if they were in any other situation and she showed her nerves. To hell with his bloody father. He crossed to her, slid an arm around her waist as he accepted the goblet she handed him. Her blue eyes met his as she smiled up at him, and he pressed a quick kiss to her hair. He felt the exhale against his throat, saw the smile as he pulled slightly away. Tywin cleared his throat, and she stepped back at once, a blush highlighting her cheeks.

                “Please,” she murmured. “Sit, both of you.” She was reaching for the plates when Tywin spoke up.

                “I want to speak with my son, Lady Sansa,” he said, rather stiffly. “I would like you to leave us.” Sansa looked up from the table, smiled at once.

                “Of course, my Lord. I quite understand.” Jaime's hand flashed out, catching Sansa's wrist before she could leave.

                “Whatever you might have to say to me, you can say in front of Sansa.” Tywin's face hardened.

                “And I would prefer that she left.”

                “She knows everything there is to know about this poisoner – more when you consider she was conscious where I was not. It is thanks to her we know who did it -" Sansa put her hand on his shoulder, cutting his tirade in half.

                “Speak to your father, Jaime,” she said softly. “I have some work anyway – and I'll be just across the hall.”

 

She slipped out before he could keep protesting, door clicking shut behind her. Tywin turned to him with anger clear on his face.

                “Am I to understand that this is how your marriage is working now?” Tywin said, sneering slightly. “That she is the Lord here?” Jaime blinked at him – then tasted anger at the back of his mouth.

                “Someone tried to kill her, damn near killed me – and your concern is how I choose to live with her? You do not even ask who or why or how?”

                “My concern is how much power she truly holds -"

                "Somebody has tried to kill my wife!" Jaime roared. "My wife, Godsdamnit! And your concern is her use of the power the marriage you planned is giving her?"

                "Three months ago you were doing everything you could to remain unmarried," Tywin snapped. "Don't you act the concerned husband to me, boy. I told you quite clearly that she was not to be trusted, that you were to be on your guard - now I arrive to find she all but rules?"

                "She is doing everything with my consent," Jaime snapped back, hackles rising at the boy. "Everything she does is with my blessing."

                "Marry her, get a child on her - those were my express instructions! Not set her up as a Queen in all but name!"

                "Then you should have chosen someone markedly less intelligent!" Jaime shouted back, fist slamming onto the table between him and his father. "You were the one to underestimate her!"

                "You should be far more worried about yourself," Tywin growled at him. "And who you are underestimating."

                "Who, pray, am I underestimating? Sansa?"

                "Yes," Tywin snapped. "Don't you see? She's playing a part here, she's playing a part with you. Are you so arrogant as to believe that those pretty blue eyes look at you and see anything other than the next step in her plan?" Jaime snorted in open contempt.

                "What plan, Father? What plan do you imagine she has?"

                "When her brother dies, she becomes the only Stark left alive. Even if that damned sister of hers did somehow escape the capital thanks to the blinding incompetence of what was passing as the City Watch then, she was little more than an infant. She'll have died on the road somewhere. That leaves Sansa as the last Stark."

                "You appear to have forgotten that Sansa's name is Lannister now," Jaime shot back. "You may recall you arranged the wedding." Tywin glared.

                "Lannister," he answered, snorting. "She is no more a Lannister than I am a bloody Tyrell. Listen to me. Her brother dies, she becomes the last Stark. There will be Northener's who will start murmuring that she is the Stark boy's heir the moment he breathes his last. There are those among them who will seek to set her up as Queen, do you understand?"

                “Well she'd do a better bloody job than Cersei!” Jaime bellowed. A shocked silence fell. “And as you mention the City Watch, you might be interested to know that it was Janos Slynt who damn near murdered her! If she had drunk from that jug, I would be burying a wife today, instead of arguing with you about irrelevant rubbish! It damn near killed me. You may also be interested to know that the day after I came round, we found Janos Slynt hanging upside down off our battlements, framed perfectly in this very window. Someone had cut out his eyes and sliced off his tongue. We found a message written in Slynt's blood on the battlements over his body, and these papers in his pockets.” Jaime went to his desk, threw the bloodstained packet in front of Tywin when he found them. “That is the inverted Bolton seal,” he snapped.

                “I can see that.”

                “Roose Bolton works for you,” Jaime said, leaning over the table between them. “Look me in the eye, if you ever gave a damn for me. Look me in the eye and tell me you did not pay either Bolton or his bastard to send Janos Slynt after Sansa.” Tywin met his eyes, scraping his chair back as he stood up.

                “I did not pay either Bolton or Snow to send a man after your wife. Why in the seven bloody hells would I? I need Sansa Stark to be alive, whole and married to you in order to secure Winterfell and the North for the Lannister name.”

                “Assuming whatever great plan you have to remove her brother works, of course.”

                “It already has,” Tywin shot back. “I imagine you are intelligent enough to realise that arriving here as I did means I was not in the capital?”

                “What – what do you mean it already has?” Jaime asked, sudden apprehension gripping him.

                “You'll know soon enough,” Tywin snapped.

                “Tell me what has happened.”

 

Before Tywin could answer him, a horrible cry ripped through the air. The sound of running feet came, and Sansa had burst in. Before Jaime could react or ask, she had flown at Tywin, her hand lashing out and catching his cheek. Tywin stepped back, although Jaime could scarcely imagine her slap had actually hurt him.

                “You killed him! You killed my mother! You – you –my family!” Her eyes were glittering as she turned them on Jaime, but he realised that they were quite dry. They were harder than sapphires. “Did you know?”

                “How do you know?” Tywin demanded of her before Jaime could answer her, or ask what she was talking about. Tywin's cheek was turning scarlet where she had struck him.

                “How do I – oh, your guards were only too pleased to inform me, Tywin! I meant to see if they had been shown their rooms, meant to be certain they had all they might need – and they asked me how it felt to be the last wolf.” She was spitting the words at Tywin, her hands clenched into fists. Jaime could feel his guts turning in fear as he began to realise that his father's complete lack of any denial meant it had to be true. “They were bragging, Tywin. My mother, butchered and thrown naked into the Trident, in blatant mockery of her funeral customs. And my – oh, Robb! To do what you did to my brother, my brother!”

                “What has happened?” Jaime bellowed, tired of trying to break in politely.

                “Ask your father!” Sansa screamed, now looking perfectly deranged. “Ask your father about the Red Wedding. Ask your father what he had that vile traitor Bolton do to my brother! Ask him why he saw fit to have my mother, a Lady of the Seven Kingdoms, mutilated and mocked even after she was dead!”

                “Your mother and your brother were in open rebellion -" Tywin began. Sansa advanced on him slowly, her chin well up.

                “Then you should have granted them honourable deaths,” she hissed. “My brother was a hundred times the King your vile grandson is – and my mother was infinitely more a Lady than you are any kind of Lord.” Sansa seemed to be growing in front of them, her red hair catching the breeze off the sea below them and seemingly storming around her face. “You are a coward,” she whispered, the words louder than a shout could have ever, ever hoped to be. “You are a coward, your grandson is a coward, your daughter is a coward. If you and your kin want me and my family dead, then have the godsdamned balls to do it yourself and stop paying crawling traitors to do your dirty work!” She had turned on her heel before either of them could speak to her. Jaime crossed the room, caught her in his arms, only for her to struggle free with a wild look in her eyes.

                “Sansa, please,” he started. She was shaking her head.

                “No,” she said. “I cannot – I cannot be here now. I cannot be in any room that includes him just now.” This time, the door slammed – and Jaime didn't just think she'd closed a physical door.

 

He had to go after her.

 

Tywin's hand touched his shoulder and he shrugged him off.

                “I am going to my wife,” he said coldly. “You can damn well get out. I assume you hardly need to be shown to the guest chambers.”

 

He did not wait for an answer, he yanked the door open and stormed out. Exhaustion be damned. Sansa needed him now.

Chapter Text

Jaime found her in the Sept, kneeling at the feet of the Mother.

 

She wasn't praying. What in the hells would she pray for now? She looked up at him.

                “Sansa,” he said. In her name, she heard the pain, the sorrow, the anger he perhaps couldn't say, couldn't express. He knelt down beside her, looked up at the statue towering above her. “Sansa, I – I am so, so sorry.”

                “Did you know?” she asked him. Her entire being felt numb, as if everything had simply shut down. The only thing she could feel at all was the palm she had struck Tywin with. That felt like it was burning. She watched his face, hoping desperately that she knew him well enough to be able to see it if he lied to her. “Please tell me you didn't know about this.”

                “I didn't know. I swear before the Gods that I did not know.”

                “Did you know that there was a plan?”

                “I knew my father intended it to end in death,” he said. She nodded. She had known that too. “But – not like this. I always assumed – in battle, perhaps.”

 

She searched his face. He wasn't lying.

                “They were all I had left,” she whispered, hating how small her voice sounded. “They were all the family I had left, there was nobody else. And I did not get to say goodbye.” He was reaching for her.

                “Please,” he said. Desperation was saturating his tones. “Please let me hold you.”

                “Why?” she asked, baffled. Did he imagine it would help her? That it might comfort her? There was nothing now.

                “Just – I don't know why. I just want to hold you. I just want to touch you, to remind myself that you are still here, to remind you that I love you!”

 

She stared at him, heart stuttering.

                “L-love?” she stammered. “You – love me?”

                “Yes,” he said, simply. “And if I could take away every vile thing my family has done, if I could give you back your family, whole and well and unharmed, I would make a deal with the Stranger himself if I had to.” She couldn't speak. She couldn't breathe. Her vision was blurring, as if she was blinded by tears. But there were no tears, it was like something had gone off inside her, as if deep down, her heart had been pierced by a shard of ice and that ice was now bleeding through her veins, cold and hard. But for all that, she still fell forward into his arms, burying her head into his shoulder.

 

He held her tight, arms wrapped around her as she shook everything out into his arms. She should be crying, surely? Surely grief like this should be met with tears? Or did this grief go too deep? Was this the breaking point? Had she cried so much already that there was nothing left? That hardly seemed fair to Robb and Mother. Jaime was stroking her hair, and she pulled back a little.

                “Please,” she said, her voice steady now. “I – I want to pray for them.”

                “Do you want the Septon?” he asked. She shook her head.

                “I don't need him to remember them,” she whispered. “And anyway, I shall pray for my mother here – and go to the Godswood for Robb. They named us all in the Light of the Seven – but they washed us beneath the Heart Tree. Robb's there as much as he is here.” Whether he understood or not, he left her to her thought.

 

She prayed wordlessly for her mother. What was there to say? What could she say? Her mother had risked everything for her and Arya – and had paid with her life.

 

She crossed slowly to the Godswood, her steps slow and halting. The sun was beating down relentlessly, just as it had the day they had murdered her father on the steps of the Sept. It was not the first time she wished for the darker, colder climbs of the North. Somehow they seemed more fitting for grief. She remembered her home in dizzying detail – and longed for it in a way she never had before. Winterfell was hers now, she realised with a jolt. What was left of it, anyway. Would Tywin send her there?

 

A raven call shattered the silence of the Godswood and she jumped. She'd barely even noticed she had arrived there. She looked up, saw the birds flying overhead, realised what they would be doing. Those ravens would be carrying the news of Robb's death all over the Kingdoms. Tywin wasn't wasting any time.

 

Ravens.

 

Her heart stopped beating inside her as he stomach dropped several feet. That raven – Robb had sent her that raven, the letter she hadn't understood. Don't believe everything you hear. Had this been what he meant? Had he somehow – surely he didn't mean she wasn't to believe this? How would he have escaped? Did he perhaps just refer to Mother? Had Mother got away? But then – who had Tywin killed? And if Robb had escaped – where had he gone? Was Bolton still alive? Her head was spinning with the questions.

 

She staggered to the bench, her legs shaking. Surely this wasn't what Robb had meant? How could he possibly have got away. They were saying that the wedding had been a massacre, that's what the guards had said – that the camps had burnt. That everyone showing Stark colours had died. Perhaps Robb had had a plan, but in the chaos it had failed. Oh, why could he not have been more explicit?

 

And if he had somehow, by some miracle, managed to escape, then what would happen? Had he just left his army to die? Surely not? Surely he wouldn't? Then how had he done it? She sighed sadly, looked down at her lap. She'd been gathering her dress in her fists again, crumpling and creasing the silk over and over. She released it, smoothed the fabric down as best as she could. He couldn't have got away. Thinking that he could, trying to read this much into those few scrappy lines he had sent – she would drive herself to madness if she wasn't careful.

 

She stood, shook out her skirts. It was only then that the full realisation struck her, and she went back down with a bump. She had slapped Tywin Lannister across the face. She, Sansa Stark, had struck Tywin Lannister. Her palm was still stinging from the blow. Gods, how hard had she hit him? She had to go back. She had accused him of cowardice, of having other's do his dirty work – she had to face him now.

 

By the time she had gained their chambers again, she had dug deep, found something that might have been courage. Perhaps it was just steely self-control, but perhaps it was courage. Whatever it was, it would do.

 

She had her hand on the door handle when she became aware of the voices, and they gave her pause.

                “It was a bloody massacre.” That was Tywin. Were they talking of the wedding.

                “Ten guards dead is not a massacre.” She frowned, confused. This did not sound like they were speaking of the wedding.

                “It was an embarrassment. Still, they told me that all told, only three people got away. Some blacksmith, a boy, and my cupbearer.”

                “Since when did you employ a cupbearer?” she heard Jaime demand.

                “It was a girl. Some little scrappy thing, hair shorn off and all got up in boy's things. Said she was a stonemason's daughter. It was a bloody lie – that girl could read and write and she didn't speak like a stonemason's daughter. My reckoning was on someone's bastard, scampering away after her father had fallen out of favour.”

                “A Northerner?”

                “Almost certain,” Tywin answered.

                “A Northerner like my wife, perhaps? Who has lost everything now?” She could hear the anger still in Jaime's voice. “It was cruel of you to do it in such a manner.” She was almost certain she heard Tywin sigh.

                “If it is any consolation, I cautioned Bolton against it. It would not endear us to anyone. But Bolton has a penchant for the dramatic.”

                “His men sewed Robb Stark's direwolf's head onto the man's body. That is not dramatic, that is despicable. And you know good and well that what was done to Catelyn Stark was a despicable thing.”

                “It was not done on my bloody order.”

                “That's what people will assume. That's what Sansa assumes.”

                “Perhaps she has that right,” Tywin answered. The voices were fading, they seemed to be moving away from the door. She had to go in. She had already lingered for far too long, listening at the door.

 

Although it had served her well at least – if Tywin spoke the truth, the way things had – proceeded – had not been his desire. Another mystery had presented though –the massacre of guards Tywin had spoken of. Still, she could ask Jaime. She took a deep breath, then opened the door before she could keep second guessing it.

 

Both of them looked up at her from their seats on the balcony, and she folded her hands neatly in front of her after she curtseyed.

                “My Lords.” Jaime was already standing up, crossing to her swiftly.

                “Have you told him about Slynt?” she asked, looking towards Tywin. Jaime nodded.

                “Yes.”

                “And the seal?”

                “I have written to -" She held up a hand, cut Tywin off.

                “Do not speak to me, please. Not now. I cannot hear you just now.” She turned back to Jaime. “I have – work to do.”

 

She didn't wait for an answer, just turned and left again. She hated herself for it, hated that she could not steel herself to just stand in front of him.

 

Whether it had been his hand or not, whether it had been his order or not –she could not face him now. It had been his campaign, his war – his family. How could she face the man who might have ordered her death alongside Robb's? How could she look at him and see anything other than the man who had destroyed every hope she had ever had?

 

Robb had deserved a better end.

Chapter Text

She hadn't consented to face his father again until the next morning. Wherever she had found the courage from, she had agreed with grace to him joining them for breakfast. She had made one stipulation, and only one – that nothing more was discussed about her brother or mother within her hearing. But to his great surprise – and no small amount of respect - half-way through the meal she lifted her head, looked Tywin the eye and spoke the words:

                “We need to talk about the Boltons.” Tywin nodded.

                “I agree.”

                “Did you pay him to have me poisoned?” she asked bluntly.

                “No, I did not. And if I had done so, I would have told him not to use an idiot like Janos Slynt – and it would have been done in such a way as to ensure you were the one who was poisoned, not my son and heir.” Jaime was about to call his father on his coldness, but Sansa was nodding.

                “I suspected as much. You know how we found Slynt,” she was continuing.

                “I do.”

                “Someone gift-wrapped him for me, Tywin. He was left hanging upside down in this window.” She gestured with a fork, and Jaime saw his father flick his eyes sideways. “The seal on those papers was inverted – my half-brother uses the same inversion on his seal. Which means, someone has been paying either Roose, or Ramsey himself, to come for me. And I don't think I need to insult your intelligence by telling you who.”

                “Cersei.”

                “Indeed.” Jaime couldn't stop watching them, almost holding his breath. They were dancing around each other like sword fighters, just waiting for the other to land the first blow. “Can I assume you'll speak to her?”

                “I will see this resolved, Sansa, you have my word on that.”

                “Forgive me if I wait to see it,” she said dryly. “But you owe it to Jaime to see Bolton punished for what he allowed his son to do.” Her hand was in Jaime's, she was looking at him now with warm eyes. “I nearly lost him, Tywin. And I – I care very deeply for him.” She might have been talking to Tywin, but she was looking at him. “It might not have been anyone's intention, but you made me a far better marriage than I could have believed,” she finished softly. Jaime smiled at her, touched her face gently.

                “Sansa and I already agree that together, we're everything we require,” Jaime said, taking up the baton. He hadn't been able to shake off his father's words about Sansa only looking at him and seeing the next step in her plan – but it was him she was looking at so warmly and so damn tenderly. And no, she hadn't said love, but she had come to their marriage with far more to deal with he had. “So I suppose we should thank you.” Sansa's lips twitched, the closest thing to a smile he'd seen since yesterday.

                “Yes, thank you Tywin,” she said, looking at his father now. Jaime glanced over too, found Tywin gripping his cutlery in a fist so tight his knuckles were white. There was an expression on his face Jaime had never seen – a mix of sorrow, grief and longing.

                “Your mother would have loved to see this,” he said, slightly thickly. “It would have reminded her too of us when we first married.” Tywin scraped his chair back, he was standing, turning his back. Jaime gaped at him. Was his father – no. He couldn't be. An elbow to the ribs woke him up from his trance. Sansa looked at him, jerked her head towards his father.

                “Go on,” she mouthed. He stood up on uncertain legs, approached his father cautiously. Was he supposed to hug the man? He'd never hugged Tywin in his life before yesterday, at least not as far as he remembered. Sansa would, he thought. If this was Ned Stark, standing in front of her, his shoulders slumped by grief, she would have  wrapped her arms around him in a heartbeat. She had never stood by when someone was in pain and not sought to help. He glanced to her. She nodded at him, as if she knew what he was thinking, then stood up quietly. Jaime watched her slip out of the door quietly, as if she knew they wouldn't like an audience.

 

He gathered his courage, had the bizarre thought of I would rather ride into battle with nothing but a butter knife and stark naked before he wrapped his arms awkwardly around his father's shoulders. Tywin half turned, took hold of him in return.

 

It lasted some time, and it was not awful. He poured everything he couldn't say into the embrace, that he was sorry, that he missed her too. It was Tywin who moved back, adjusting his jerkin slightly self-consciously.

                “She – you really love her, don't you?” Tywin asked apropos of nothing in particular.

                “I didn't plan it. But – yes. Everything she does, she pours her whole self into it. She looks at everything and wonders how she can make it better, and not for herself.”

                “Like with the petitions?” Tywin asked, drily.

                “She's gaining us more loyalty by doing that than anyone in our family ever has by scheming and murdering,” Jaime returned. “If you ever call a draft again, and name her in it, every able-bodied man will rise up out of loyalty, instead of obligation. Although I would advise you to pay them this time.” Tywin shot him a look.

                “The intent was always to make good on those promises. But I had to come to the capital and start dealing with the King.”

                “Someone bloody had to.” Thinking of Joffrey always made his guts twist.

 

He intended to continue – but then the screaming started. He'd never heard anything like that sound, a dreadful, high pitched shriek of primal agony. He glanced swiftly at his father, before all but throwing himself towards the door. He knew it was Sansa from the first sound, and he ran to her, followed by several guards, who were evidently all converging on the noise. Sansa's solar was in disarray, papers littering the floor and Sansa herself making awful keens of horror. She was sat in her chair, her face green, her lips white. Jaime rushed at her.

                "What has happened?" he demanded, reaching for her. She pushed him off, gestured at the desk. A box stood on it, wooden and inlaid with gold.

                "Open it," she rasped at him. "Open it."


Robb Stark's sightless eyes stared blankly up at Jaime. His stomach turned, and he shut the lid. There was a paper in Sansa's fist when he turned back to her, horror in his heart.

                "This came with it."


As I promised you. Joffrey of House Baratheon, First of His Name, King of the Andals


Jaime read no further. He suddenly realised the room was full of guards and he turned to the most senior of them.

                "Find out who delivered this to my wife," he ordered. "Find out who put it here, and keep them with you until I speak to them. Find out who brought it to this castle and keep them too. And all of you get out." He turned back to Sansa and nearly took a step back. The horror on her face had been replaced by rage, there was murder in her eyes.

                "He sent me his head," Sansa spat. "As if my brother was not desecrated enough - you think I haven't heard what they did to him? To Grey Wind? I want the heads of the men who did this on our ramparts, I want the hands of the bastard who sewed Grey Wind's head onto my brother's body on our bedchamber wall, l want the bodies of my mother and my brother found. They threw my mother into the Trident naked, they made mock of the Tully customs and threw her naked body to the fish. I want their bodies, l want Grey Wind's body so I can send them back to Winterfell for burial, do you hear me?"

                "Calm down," Jaime said. It was the worst thing he could have said.

                "Calm down? Calm down? This is my brother's head in a godsdamned box! Do you suggest I write Joffrey a thank you note?"

                "Sansa!" He grabbed her by the arms and forced her to look at him. "I will get you their bodies, Sansa, I swear it. You will send them home. And I will speak to my father, l will see the men responsible for this hanged. The price will be paid -" She wrenched herself away from him, strode to her window.

                "There's no price, Jaime. You could give me the heads of every man who wears the colours of that traitor Bolton, you could give me the Dreadfort painted in their blood, you could let me plunge the knife into Roose Bolton with my own hands and it would not pay the price for this. You could give me Joffrey's head, and it wouldn't pay the price for this."

                "Are you mad?" he hissed at her. "To say that?"

                "Do you think l care?" she shouted. "Do you think my life is some precious thing to me? Your family has taken everything from me but that isn't enough for that bastard - he wants to see me lose everything I ever had, everything I ever loved he has sought to take from me! My father, my mother, my brother, my sister has been missing for years and who is to say Joffrey did not have her murdered too? Who is to say I won't wake up one day to poison in my food?"

                "I won't let that happen!" He was shouting now too. "I will never let that happen to you!"

                "How could you stop it?" she demanded. "Why would you care? Robb's dead - making you the Warden of the North through me. If I die, your family takes Winterfell, leaving you to remarry a Tyrell or a Frey or a Martell. Do you think I have any value to your father now I have brought you Winterfell? I have no importance now -"

                "You are important to me!" he roared. It brought her up short, he saw the shock pass over her face. "Sansa, please. I love you."

                "If you ever gave a damn about me, give me their bodies," she whispered. "Robb, Mother and Grey Wind. If you ever cared, do that for me."


He got her out of her solar, got her past an appalled-looking Tywin, persuaded her to go to bed. He summoned the Maester, who gave her something to make her sleep. He left her with Caliene, to whom he gave strict instructions.

                "Do not leave her until I return. There will be a guard outside this door." Caliene nodded. The waxen pallor of her face told Jaime that word had already spread, but just then he did not care. Tywin had gone somewhere, Jaime had last seen his father storming towards a guard, murder in his eyes.


He and the Maester examined the head together, although it turned Jaime's stomach to look at it. Robb Stark had changed since Jaime had last seen him - his face seemed more angular now, as if the last vestiges of the boy had given way to the man. But it was funny - it seemed also that his hair had darkened slightly, closer to brown now than red. The sudden, horrible idea that the browner colour might be dried blood damn near lost him his breakfast. Even the Maester was looking shaken.

                "It's been preserved," the Maester said, turning it round in his hands. "Whoever sent this wanted the Lady Sansa to get the full visual experience of it."

                "Will it decompose?" Jaime asked, voice thick with the sickness threatening to overwhelm him.

                "Yes, it will. But it would take some time."

                "She commands me find the bodies of her mother and brother," Jaime said quietly.

                "If you do manage it don't let her see them," the Maester answered. "They won't be in a good state - and this is hardly the time for her to be shocked or upset."

                "What?"
                "She hasn't told you? My Lord, I - I am sorry. I should not have spoken -"

                "Told me what?" Jaime interrupted - although something told him that he already knew. The Maester looked uncomfortable, but Jaime held his stare until the man sighed.

                "She's with child. I saw to her a few weeks ago, when she first suspected. I am certain of it now, although I could not have been sure right away."

                "Put that - put him somewhere safe," Jaime said, gesturing at the box. "Until she can bury him as she wishes."


He sent for his father, wondering inwardly why he hadn't returned from wherever he'd vanished off to. He held the meeting at his own desk – Sansa wouldn't have woken if they had shouted, a normal conversation would not disturb her. When Tywin came, Jaime needed nobody to tell him that he was furiously angry. He wasted no time.

                "I want the bodies of Catelyn and Robb Stark, and the direwolf, found and sent to the Rock with all haste. Sansa wishes to see them buried in the North. Then I want the names of the Bolton men who desecrated Robb Stark's corpse. I want Joffrey disciplined for what he has done. I want to know the names of the men who threw Catelyn Stark into the Trident. Traitors to the Crown or not, both deserved better than that - and you know it – and I want the men who brought that thing into this castle punished." More words hovered. He even knew how he would say them. Sansa is with child. If she miscarries now, I shall know who is to blame - and there will be no power in the mortal world that will stop me murdering those responsible. But he did not say them, he bit them back and just stared. Tywin nodded once, jerkily.

                "If the bodies can be found, we will find them. This was not my order, if you can believe that. And I would never, ever have sanctioned this, or anything like it. I have already found that man of yours, Kinston – he has promised immediate action. When I find out which of my men brought it here, I will have him hung."

                "I can believe it,” Jaime said shortly. “Whether or not she can - well. That's a different story, isn't it?"


He had to wait until the next day to talk to her. When she had woken from the sedative, she had sobbed her heart out in Caliene's arms, hadn't wanted him to touch her. She'd cried until she was so exhausted, she had become docile as a lamb, letting Caliene brush her hair and wash her face as if she had been no more than a child herself. But when he'd woken the next morning, she had already been awake. She was still pale, but there was a weary resignation to her that hurt him to see. Still he had to speak to her, whether it was a good time or not. He had them bring breakfast to their chambers, watched her play with it more than she ate it.

                "Sansa? Aren't you well?"

                "As well as I can be, thank you."

                "You're not eating."

                "Would you be, if it had been Cersei's head in that box?" He left that unanswered, because everything about the tone said she did not want an answer.

                "I have spoken to my father," he told her. "He'll see Joffrey sees the error of what he did. Especially given the circumstances."

                "That seems to imply that there would have been a good time for him to send me my brother's head in a box."

                "You know what I mean." She said nothing. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked quietly. She looked at him, and he could see the conflict in her eyes.

                "I wanted to. I wanted to the moment the Maester told me, from the moment I began to suspect. But I didn't know how to say it, or what you'd do. And l was afraid."

                "Afraid?"

                "Not all will celebrate. Not all will see this as a good thing. You know that."

                "Are you frightened?"

                "Very," she said. "There are powerful people who want me dead anyway - and there are powerful people who would choke on their own rage to hear that I am carrying your child." She didn't have to say Cersei's name for him to know for damn sure she meant his sister. He hated that he knew she was right.

                "Are you happy?" he asked bluntly. She raised her eyes to his then.

                "I was until yesterday," she whispered. "I wanted so badly to tell you but I - I know a pregnancy is delicate so early. I could not bear to tell you something so wonderful and then perhaps have to take it all away again." He got up then, he knelt in front of her chair and looked up at her.

                "May I?" he asked, voice hoarse. His hands were already reaching for her belly. She nodded, found a smile.

                "Of course," she whispered. He put his hands on the bodice of her dress, his thumbs touching over her belly.

                "My child."

                "Our child," she answered - and her hands came down over his. "Ours."

                "How - has the Maester given any indication of a date or -"

                "My last blood was when Tyrion was here," she murmured. "But he - he thinks I may have already have conceived, he said sometimes a blood can come while a child already grows. From certain signs, certain symptoms - he thinks that the child will be born between seven and eight moons from hence."

                "Sansa," he whispered, then buried his face into her lap and locked his arms about her slim waist. Her hands went into his hair at once, stroking. "I'm so sorry," he said, voice muffled by her skirts. He turned his head to the side to speak freely. "I am so sorry for what has been done to your family, and at such a time. And I am so sorry that I must be the last man in Westeros you want to bear a child for just now." Her hands stilled in his hair.

                "Jaime, look at me." The wobble in her voice told him that there were tears in her eyes even as he looked up and saw them shining there.

                "I -"

                "I don't care what our last name is," she said fiercely. "You did not do this terrible thing, you were not responsible for placing my brother's head in that box, or for my mother's murder. We do not choose our families, Jaime. None of us are given that luxury. But I believe we do choose who we love - and I loved my mother, and my brothers. But I – Gods, Jaime, I love you too, and the actions of other Lannisters does not change that." He gazed up at her, his heart shaking.

                "I love you too," he whispered to her. She bent to him as he reared on his knees to rise to her, and the fierce kiss they had then tasted of her tears.


She had never said those words to him, had never spoken them to him. He wished beyond all reason that she had said them in a happier time.

Chapter Text

Tywin came to her at dinner. She hadn't been able to bear the Hall. Apparently, he had not either. She had insisted that Jaime go, knowing even under all this, it was important for someone to show themselves. She was sitting on the balcony of their solar, staring unseeing at the waves out at sea. She hadn't even realised he was there until his hand came down on her shoulder, and it was like a physical jolt ran through her.

                “I know that you don't want to see me,” he began.

                “That is correct, and yet here you are.” He didn't answer, and she sighed. “Say what you need to say, Tywin. Then please, I beg you, leave me to grieve for my family.”

                “I did not sanction this,” he said. “I did not order his head sent to you, I did not want this – and I absolutely abhor it.” She felt absolutely nothing.

                “You will forgive me if that is scant comfort.”

                “I have summoned Bolton and his bastard to the capital. When I return, he and his son will pay for what they've done. The poisoning, and your brother and mother.”

                “And your guards? The ones who were only too thrilled to tell me what they had done? The one who brought me Robb's head? Will they pay too?”

                “You can choose the price,” he told her. She twisted in her seat then, looked up at him. Like Jaime, his face was open and honest. When had she suddenly become an expert at reading Lannisters?

                “And if my price is Roose Bolton's head on a spike? If my price is Ramsey Snow flayed alive? If my price is the hands of the men who did this?” She named the prices she had screamed at Jaime.

 

It was always best to keep the lies straight, after all.

                “Then you'll have it – if it's what you want.”

                “I don't even know. My father taught me that the man who passes sentence should swing the sword.” She had never mentioned her father in Tywin Lannister's presence. “He said it was the only honourable way.” Tywin stared at her, and finally sat down. It was odd to face him alone. They hadn't been alone since her wedding day.

                “The honourable way,” he repeated. “Your father despised me, you know.”

                “I'm sure the feeling was mutual. None of us should have left Winterfell. We would all still be alive – I would not be sitting here as the heir to Winterfell, the last Stark – unless Arya has somehow survived.”

                “I don't believe I ever met her.”

                “You didn't,” she said, absently. “It's funny though, I think you would have actually liked her.” He shot her a glance. “She is not like me,” Sansa said slowly. “Arya was never like me. She wanted to be like the boys, to hunt and ride and fight. She was an excellent archer, even at nine – better than Bran, probably better than Robb even, on her day. She'd be thirteen now, assuming she'd survived. You would have admired her spirit.”

                “Did she look like you?”

                “Gods no. Arya looked like my aunt Lyanna – or so everyone said. Like a Stark, anyway. Like father – grey eyes, brown hair, tiny little scrappy thing with a long face and sharp angles – Tywin?” Tywin had gone white, his hand gripping the arm of the chair. Her first thought was poison. But he was waving a hand, leaning forward.

                “Thirteen, you say, and the Stark look?”

                “Yes, why?”

                “My Gods.”

                “What on earth is the matter with you?” she demanded, vaguely concerned. The man looked like he was about to collapse.

                “Your – your sister is alive,” he spluttered. Her heart jolted alarmingly, she was leaning forward.

                “What? You have seen her? Is she well? Where is she? I swear, you will tell me!”

                “She was at Harrenhal,” Tywin said. “I found her there when I arrived, a prisoner of Gregor Clegane – she was unharmed,” he seemed to hurry to say. “She was – she was dressed as a boy, but I saw it. She was my bloody cupbearer!” Sansa stared at him.

                “Your cupbearer?”

                “She told me she was the daughter of a stonemason – I knew she was lying but had no information to directly confront her. Dear Gods, I had her there,” he murmured, as if he had forgotten she was even in the room. “I could have brought her back -"

                “Thank the Gods you didn't,” Sansa said, before she could stop herself. “Is she still at Harrenhal?” Harrenhal was stirring some recent memory. Hadn't that man at the petitions said he had been a prisoner at Harrenhal – who had he been? She had to find his name in the book.

                “Two nights after I left, ten guards were murdered. Three people got away – a blacksmith, another boy – and my cupbearer.” Sansa felt her belly swoop, a mixture of revolted and excited. Had Arya killed her way out? She was reaching for Tywin's arm.

                “What will it take for you to speak of this to no-one but me?” He gaped at her.

                “If I can find your sister, I can marry her to -"

                “Don't you dare,” she said. “Your plan for me and Jaime has worked like a miracle. She would be miserable, furious, no matter who you chose for her.”

                “I could give you the final say on who -" She was shaking her head before he finished.

                “Tywin, please. Please, let her go. I will do anything if it means you do not look for her -"

                “Why?”

                “Because she is my sister. I couldn't save my brothers, I couldn't save my parents – although I tried, Gods know I tried. I prostrated myself before the King to beg for my father's life, I begged for Robb, and it wasn't enough. I have the chance now to appeal directly to you for her – let her go. You have me, you have Winterfell now – Arya cannot give you anything. She's not the heir, she's the younger sister, please, please Tywin – let her go.”

                “She could be valuable.” Was she imagining it, or was he wavering?

                “She couldn't. If it really was her you met at Harrenhal, did she strike you as a Lady? Did she strike you as someone who could be married off and displayed?” Tywin's lips twitched.

                “No,” he admitted.

                “She's no use to you. Please let her go. Let her be free, let her live a life away from your family. Please Tywin.” She only had one card left to play, and she threw it down. “At my wedding feast, you told me that if I bore Jaime a son, you would give me anything I want.”

                “You have yet to have a son -"

                “I'm with child,” she said, desperately, quickly. “The Maester thinks - it's very early, he thinks I must have conceived around a moon ago. I am doing what I promised Tywin. Let my sister go. That's what I want.”

                “A pregnancy is not a live child,” he pointed out.

                “No, it is not. But I will remind you of my mother – five healthy children. I am like her in almost every other physical way, why not like this too? Do this for me, Tywin – and you may consider me in your debt. Let my sister go.”

 

The silence that fell between them was heavy. Tywin was staring at her.

                “You aren't lying?”

                “Ask the Maester if you don't believe me. He'll confirm it – and after all, he's in your pay. Ask Jaime. I am going to bear the heir you were so desperate for – a Lannister child.” He didn't miss her meaning, she saw the recognition in his eyes.

                “As opposed to -"

                “As opposed to three bastards who bear another man's name. This isn't just your heir, Tywin – this is Jaime's child.This is everyone's chance to start again – and all I ask in repayment is for you to let my sister go.” Tywin stared at her, his eyes boring into her. She met his gaze, she would not flinch from him, she would not be afraid. Suddenly, Tywin sat back, a slight smile on his face.

                “You're an exceptional woman, Sansa.” She blinked, baffled. “Very well, Sansa, I shall not seek out your sister. You have my word.”

 

She had to trust him.

 

And anyway, what time did she have to dwell? Kinston had just burst in.

                “My Lord, Lady Sansa – my Lord, three of your guards - they're dead, my Lord.” Everything fell into a flurry. Tywin had all but run from the room, Kinston at his heels. At a loss for what else to do, she followed. Her heart was beating very fast, like a bird fluttering in a cage. She had to keep playing, even knowing now what she did – she had to keep on acting.

 

The guards had been left in the stables. And just like the battlements, there was a message written in blood.

 

For the wolves who still live.

 

Every face had turned to hers, she had to hope she looked nothing but confused. Because that message, that message would mean at least something to Tywin, who she had only just managed to bargain Arya's freedom from. But to her, it meant so much more, it meant so much, it could give away the plain and simple fact that Tywin had made a terrible mistake, that Joffrey had made a mistake – that the gift he had so kindly sent her was not what everyone thought it was.

 

It could give away that somewhere, somehow, by some Gods-granted miracle, she had not just managed to save her sister – but Robb too.

Chapter Text

For a woman who could not have seen much death until very recently, Sansa had kept a good grip on herself. When he'd reached the scene in the stables, he'd found her already there, staring at the bodies. His father was with her.

                “Is it them?” he was asking her.

                “What's going on?” he demanded, shouldering through. He saw the bodies, he saw the blood, he saw the message – and he saw how pale his wife was. “Sansa! Gods, come here, come away.”

                “She stays,” Tywin ordered. “The rest of you get out – the three of us must speak.”

                “Not here,” Jaime snapped.“We can go back to the solar, Sansa should be -" He cut himself off, slid his eyes to her. She nodded.

                “He knows,” she said. Jaime looked round. The guards had vanished on order. They were alone.

                “And you still want her standing here looking at this?” Jaime demanded of his father.

                “No, I want her to tell me what the hell that is supposed to mean!” Tywin snapped, gesturing at the message. Sansa glanced at it then looked away, her lips compressed.

                “I imagine it refers to Arya and I.” Jaime blinked at her. She caught it, looked at him. “Tywin and I have – worked out that – his cupbearer at Harrenhal and my sister are – are probably one and the same person. Perhaps someone else knows or guesses or hopes she's still alive, I don't know!” she said, addressing Tywin now.

                “Who would have known?” Tywin demanded.

                “I didn't even know until today! I have not seen my sister in years! I have no way to know where she has been, or who with – on that front you know more than I.”

                “Could she have done this?” Sansa gave him a scornful look.

                “How should I know? As I say, it has been years – who is to say what she is capable of? And from the wording of the message – it implies someone has done this for her, if indeed it is her. And before you ask, no, I have no idea who would do this.” Jaime slipped an arm around her waist, felt her shaking.

                “Enough,” he said to his father. “I am taking my wife away from this. You can deal with it and then report to us in our solar, where are not three dead bodies to stare at. I'm sure that will be more pleasant than this.

 

He got Sansa away before she could object to it, before Tywin could object. She came with him, but as soon as they were alone she was turning in his arms, tucking herself close, wrapping her arms around him. He gripped her back, tightly, warmly.

                “I've got you,” he murmured. “I have you.” When she eased back, she crossed to the jug on her table, poured them both wine. He was wondering how to bring up his father when she spoke.

                “I am sorry I told your father about the baby,” she said quietly. “I wanted us to – to keep it to ourselves a little longer. And I wanted you to be there. But – we spoke during dinner. He came to me, seeking to reassure me about who gave the order to mutilate my brother. And we spoke about my sister. From the best physical description I could give, he thought she'd been his cupbearer at Harrenhal. He was saying he could have caught her – I asked him to let her go.”

                “Let her go?”

                “Not look for her,” she elaborated. “He wanted to marry her off to some Lord, use her as a piece in his game. I won't let Arya suffer that. I couldn't save my father, I couldn't save Robb – but I could save her, so I told him about the baby, that he was getting his precious bloody heir. In exchange, he lets her go.” He gaped at her.

                “You - you're telling me this?” She blinked, obvious confusion on her face.

                “Of course I am. Why would I not tell you it? You are my husband, I am your wife, and I – I love you.” She’d said it again. He had the strange thought that this probably was not the time to feel a wave of happiness.

                “I am more used to people planning things, then simply informing me afterwards when they must,” he said. She frowned at him.

                “I will not do that,” she said slowly. “You said it yourself – that we're far better together. I would never have discussed it without you if he hadn't – if I wasn't on the spot, so to speak.” He reached for her, pulled her close again.

                “Thank you,” he said, grateful. He tried to pour that into his voice.

                “Together,” she said, taking his hands in hers. “You, and me -" she pulled one of his hands to her still-flat belly, let him rest his palm there. “And whoever this is too, when they arrive.”

 

Before he could respond, a clatter came to his ears. In one move, he had swept her behind him, that had come from the antechamber. His hand went to his sword. He never went without it now. Sansa was clutching his arm.

                “It's probably just Caliene,” she murmured.

                “No, we passed her on our way up here; I saw her with Edric outside the Hall.” She didn't answer him, but her grip tightened.

                “Shall I fetch a guard?” she asked.

                “Not yet. Stay here.” She let go of him and he approached the door cautiously, sword in hand.

 

He kicked it open, hoping for the element of surprise – and he got it. The man had been at the petitions two days ago, he'd been set up as – what, someone's apprentice? A blacksmith. With him was a tiny girlin boy's clothes – and she was both armed and covered in blood.

                “Who the hell are you?” he demanded. “What are you doing here?” The girl was drawing the skinniest little sword he'd ever seen in his entire life. “I wouldn't, girl. You won't win.”

                “I can try, Lannister!” the girl said defiantly. A gasp came from behind him, the sound of quick steps came up behind him. Sansa pushed him aside, stared at the girl – and opened her arms.

                “Arya!” The girl shoved the sword into the man's hands and took off. She jumped into Sansa's arms with force, so much so Sansa rocked under it. He put out a hand to steady her but Sansa didn't seem to notice. She was too busy trying to pull Arya – her long-gone sister – ever closer to her. The man was gaping, obviously baffled. Jaime got his attention.

                “You, with me.” The man followed him out – Jaime had the clear idea Sansa might appreciate the privacy.

 

The first thing he did was lock their chamber door.

                “So my father can't come bursting in. Which of you killed the guards?” he asked. “And what's your name?”

                “My name's Gendry,” the man said, answering Jaime's second question first. “And that was Arry – er, Arya. She heard them talking about her brother.” Jaime nodded.

                “What are you doing here?” Jaime enquired. “And what are you doing in our chambers?”

                “Er - that's Arya again. When we were at Harrenhal she heard her sister had been married off to the Kingslayer – er, I mean you, my Lord. When we got out, she insisted on coming here. There was a bit of an issue with the Brotherhood Without Banners, wanting to sell me to a witch, but she saved me, stabbed a few people. And we did a bunk together.” Jaime was completely lost.

                “Why did the Brotherhood want to sell you to a witch?”

                “Oh, it turns out I'm Robert Baratheon's bastard son,” Gendry said calmly.

 

Slowly, very slowly, Jaime put his head into his hands and groaned aloud. No. He was done. As if having Sansa's wanted sister show up wasn't enough to deal with, she'd brought along one of Robert's bastards? Come to think of it, the man had the look of the King.

                “You dumb shit, Gen, you said you'd keep that quiet.” Arya was striding out of the anteroom, Sansa with her. Gendry shrugged at her as Sansa came to Jaime.

                “You murdered three of Tywin Lannister's guards. We're probably in as much trouble as it's possible to be in.”

                “Why are you here in the first place?” Jaime asked again, this time addressing Arya. “You do realise the risk you took? What if I turn you over to my father?”

                “In fairness, you were never supposed to know we were here. Clumsy here knocked into the table when we were trying to hide. Are you going to turn me over?” the small girl asked, her eyes flashing. Jaime looked up at Sansa.

                “No,” he said. Sansa smiled at him, big, bright, beautiful, eyes sparkling with tears.He took her hand, kissed it. When he looked away from her, he found Arya glaring at her sister. “Your sister would not like it – and I doubt it would sit easily with me either. I am not turning you over to Tywin – but equally, you cannot stay here.”

                “I made Tywin promise me he wouldn't look for you,” Sansa said. “But if you fall into his lap, he'll have you under lock and key faster than we can blink and I cannot guarantee I can get you back out.”

                “I'm not afraid of Tywin Lannister,” Arya said defiantly.

                “Then you're still an idiot,” Sansa said smartly. “If he catches you, he will have you married off somewhere, he will not take your happiness into account and there's no guarantee it would be to a good man. I won't let him do that. I do believe we leant Gendry a sum of money two days ago – I suppose in light of this, you do not have any intentions of taking up an apprenticeship?”

                “Er – no, my Lady. I'm sorry. I did it as a favour for her, you know,” Gendry said, jerking his head towards Arya. “She wanted to make sure you were – um. I mean, she wanted to come herself, but I figured it wasn't the best idea, right?” Jaime knew what he meant about making sure Sansa was something. Arya had wanted to know if her sister was unharmed. He looked straight at the girl.

                “I have never, and will never, hurt your sister,” he said quietly. Arya stared hard at him. Gendry, he noticed, was looking apprehensive.

                “You're a Lannister. My brother's dead because of your family, you killed Jory Cassel and hurt my father and he's dead because of your sister and her fucked up son. My mother's dead on your father's orders.” For no apparent reason though, her eyes suddenly widened while glancing to her sister – but when Jaime looked at Sansa, she was simply staring down at him. “And you fuck your sister,” Arya finished, rather lamely in his opinion. This time, he both felt and saw Sansa wince. He'd never loathed his past so much.

                “All of that is true – and the Gods know Sansa deserves better.” He squeezed her hand lightly. “But you are wrong on one point – my relationship with Cersei, such as it was, has been over a long time.”

                “I should run you through,” Arya growled.

                “I'm sure there are many who would thank you,” he said, bowing his head. “I have not been a good man.”

                “Nobody is running anybody through,” Sansa said, quite sharply. “I don't like to hear you say things like that about yourself,” she added, more softly. Jaime saw Arya's glare – and apparently, so did Sansa. “Arya, please. I know who he is – but now he's my husband. And I have come to love him.” Arya's face turned purple with apparent anger, and for a moment, Jaime was looking at a small, angry, female Ned Stark.

                “Love him?” Arya spat – but then footsteps sounded in the corridor, heavy ones. Tywin Lannister's voice came at the same time the door rattled. 

                “Why is this door locked? Jaime? Get a key!” Sansa swept around the desk, grabbed Arya and Gendry by the arms.

                “Jaime,” she whispered urgently. “Take your jerkin off, open your shirt, wait for me – Arya, Gendry, get into our bedchamber, and under the bed. The sheets should hide you – and for the love of the Gods, stay quiet.”She saw them inside, came back to Jaime – who had done as she asked. She crossed back to him, pulling her skirts up.

                “What on earth are you doing?” he hissed.

                “Why else would we miss him banging on the door like that? Quickly, go and let him in.” Ah. She intended to look like they had been making love on his desk. She was letting go of her dress, the silk of it showing the creases even after such a short time. He crossed swiftly to the door, unlocked it and let in an indignant Tywin – who took in their rumpled states fairly quickly. Some of the irritation cleared at that, but the anger was lingering on Tywin's face – and Jaime was internally panicking. That could not be anything other than a bad sign.

 

It was bad.

 

It was very bad indeed.

Chapter Text

                “I said, the two of you will not continue to live here. Joffrey's wedding is in a moon's turn from hence. You would be leaving in two weeks anyway. You will accompany me back to King's Landing and remain there until Joffrey is married. When the wedding is over, the two of you will depart for Winterfell, and you, Jaime, will take up your position as Warden of the North.” Sansa could only hope that she had her face under complete control, that her swift-whirling thoughts were not visible.

                “I thought, with Sansa's condition -" Jaime began, obviously choosing his words carefully. Tywin shook his head.

                “That is exactly why you are going North. I know something of the traditions – there are enough Northern Lords who will not be pre-disposed to accept Lannister as the ruling family as it is. You two will go up there, you will establish yourselves, and more importantly, Sansa will give birth to the Lannister heir within the walls of Winterfell itself,” Tywin finished with a nod at her.

                “Then why the need to go to King's Landing at all?” Jaime was demanding. “Let me send Sansa North now, minimise the travelling required of her -" She had to admit she did not especially appreciate being discussed as if she wasn't even in the room – but at the same time, she was touched. Tywin was once more shaking his head.

                “Bolton and that bastard of his have been sent summons to the capital. They attempted to murder my good-daughter, damn near killed my son. They must answer for their crimes – and you deserve to look them in the eye whilst they explain themselves,” Tywin said, now looking directly at her. “You both do, if it comes to that.”

                “How do you know Bolton will arrive?” Jaime demanded, obvious frustration in his tones. “I certainly would not.” Tywin, oddly enough, looked quite pleased at that.

                “Very good, Jaime. Very good indeed. Bolton will believe he is being summoned to be congratulated on his role in the Red Wedding. His bastard will believe he is being summoned to be legitimized as a Bolton – did either of you hear his trueborn had died?” Jaime mirrored her own jerky nod. “They will suspect nothing – because the only three people in the entire world who know the truth are standing in this room.” And my sister, and Robert's bastard, Sansa added drily, silently. But perhaps Arya and Gendry couldn't hear. She hoped not. Arya had altered drastically. There was no way of telling what she might do with a name now. “If I teach the pair of you nothing else, I will teach you this –the value of information.” She damn near laughed.

 

If only Tywin knew what she already knew about the value of information.

 

He was still talking.

                “The two of you need to have your servants make you ready to travel tomorrow. I will not have you staying here with an unidentified murderer running around. I've already had them ready a wheelhouse for Sansa. I've spoken with the Maester, he does not want you riding the entire way. Anything you do not require in the capital you can have them pack up and send North to await you.” Tywin stood up then, his news delivered. She cleared her throat delicately, stepped forward.

                “I must confess, it has been some time since I have seen Winterfell,” she said delicately. “But my understanding was that Theon Greyjoy burnt it. How much of it has survived?”

                “You need not worry. I am informed that the buildings survive, the stones anyway. I have already ordered a party North to secure it and rebuild it. By the time the pair of you arrive there, it will be repaired to it's former – standards, and ready for you.” She nodded.

                “Thank you for the kindness,” she said, curtseying briefly. He nodded once, jerkily, left her alone with Jaime – who immediately took hold of her.

                “I would have got you out of it, if I could.”

                “I know,” she said. “I know that. But you don't need to shelter me, Jaime. I survived King's Landing once, when I had nobody at all. I have you now – and I can survive it again. I don't think you realise what you've done for me.” He was frowning at her. “You have made me realise what I am capable of, how strong I can be. You have given me the space to grow, the freedom to learn – and I am stronger now because of it. We are going to be there together – we are going to be fine.”

                “Together,” he echoed, smiling down at her. “Yes, together.” He held her tight for a moment, and she wound her arms around his waist. “Now,” he said, easing back and rubbing his thumb over her lips in a tender way that made her smile. “We need to work out what to do with your sister and her companion.”

                “Yes, we do. But first, I have a lot of questions for her.”

 

She did too. Her reunion had been her dragging her sister as close as she damn well could, refusing to let her go for a long time. Arya, on her part, had gripped her sister just as tightly, her face buried in Sansa's shoulder. They hadn't said anything, had just clung on as if they had always been close, as if they hadn't grown up fighting each other every day. As much as her attire had shocked Sansa, even she had to admit it suited her wild little sister. That didn't mean that there weren't questions.

 

She and Jaime went into their bedchamber – after Jaime had locked the door again. For the best, probably. Nobody in this castle seemed to know or understand how to knock before bursting through doors. Once inside, and with Arya and Gendry out from under the bed, Sansa drew her sister to her, sitting down on the edge of the bed. Jaime pointed out a chair for Gendry, which he sat on so gingerly she nearly laughed.

                “Now,” she told her sister, “I want to hear everything. From the very beginning.”

 

And so, helped occasionally by remarks from Gendry, her sister cautiously began to speak, all the while darting mistrustful looks at Jaime.

                “I got away the day they arrested Father. I was with Syrio – who er – was not teaching me to dance.”

                “Jaime told me,” Sansa said, giving her sister an amused look. “Syrio Forel, the greatest swordsman in Braavos.”

                “Er – yes. He was teaching me how to use this,” Arya said, patting the hilt of her sword rather sheepishly. “Jon gave it to me, Father found it – he said if I was going to keep it, I'd better learn how to use the thing. So I was with him that morning, when the guards came for me – Meryn bloody Trant,” Arya hissed. Sansa felt her stomach turn. “Syrio told me to run away – reminded me of what we say to the God of Death."

                “Which is?”

                “Not today.” Sansa did laugh then, Arya grinning too. “All he had was a wooden training sword – and he held them off long enough for me to run off. I didn't want to go – he said I must. Meryn Trant killed him – and now I'm going to kill Meryn, one day. He's on my list.”

                “You have a list?” Sansa asked, inwardly rather shocked.

                “She recites it before she sleeps,” Gendry broke in. “Every damn night. The people she's going to kill.” Sansa thought she should most definitely be more horrified about this. She just had to dig under the pride and respect to get there – and most assuredly, she did not want to. Even Jaime looked impressed.

                “I went and found our luggage on the cart, ready to leave – and the guards were dead. The luggage had been pulled apart, but they hadn't found Needle. I got it back, used the tunnels and the caverns under the Keep to get into the city, and I hid out in Flea Bottom for a while – catching pigeons and trading them for food and shelter. I lived out there for – until the day they cut his head off. I heard all the commotion, so I ran to the Sept. I was crouched on Baelor's statue, I just – I saw you up there,” she said, turning to Sansa.

                “Tell me you didn't see it,” Sansa said quietly, desperately.

                “I saw it,” Arya whispered. “I saw you screaming, begging Joffrey not to do it – I was trying to get through the crowd by then, to do something, jump up there and run Joffrey through maybe. But Yoren, the Night's Watch man – he was just there suddenly, he grabbed me tight and made me hide my face. But when it – when Father was dead, he was dragging me off – and I saw Janos Slynt holding his head.” There was a fierceness in her face when she met Sansa's eyes. “I truly enjoyed killing that fuck. Knowing what he'd tried to do to you – well, that was just extra motivation.”

                “You killed Janos Slynt?” Jaime asked, speaking for the first time. “You?”

                “I helped her,” Gendry said. “Short-arse over there couldn't lift him on her own. So spindly.” Arya gestured very rudely at Gendry.

                “I might be small, but I could still take you,” she shot back.

 

For the first time, Sansa found herself moved to wonder about exactly what the nature of this friendship was. Gendry must be very loyal to her sister, if he was willing to aid her in murder.

                “I killed him, left him for you to find,” Arya was continuing. “But I'm getting ahead of myself. Yoren cut all my hair off, told me to call myself Arry the orphan boy. He said he'd take me North with the rest of the recruits for the Watch, said he could drop me in Winterfell on the way. I could still pass as a boy back then too. I met this idiot with the rest of them. Neither of us knew who he really was then. His master had sold him to the Watch. So off we went, on the long road North.” Arya paused, glanced at Gendry.

                “Then the Goldcloaks came,” Gendry said, sitting up a little straighter. “This one thought they were after her – but it turned out they were after me. Yoren flatly refused to hand me over.I'd had my suspicions about Arry not being a boy for a while. That day kind of just confirmed it.”

                “He rumbled the ruse – although he was nice enough to keep his trap shut. But then it kind of – went to shit. The Goldcloaks came back, and torched the camp. Yoren died, and a cunt called Polliver took Needle and murdered our friendLommy with it. The Goldcloaks took us hostage, said they wanted Gendry – and I told them they'd already killed him. Lommy died holding Gendry's helmet so we convinced them their work was done. Then we got caught by the Mountain, who dragged us off to Harrenhal. They were torturing prisoners – Gendry was supposed to be next when Tywin arrived and stopped it. He knew I was a girl right off. Gendry’s a blacksmith for real, so he managed to make himself useful. Tywin took me on as his cupbearer. Guess he thought it would save me from ah – unwanted attentions, since he'd outed me as girl.” Sansa felt cold fear wash through her. She seized her sister's arm.

                “Were you hurt? Did anyone touch you?”

                “No. Guess they figured there were easier targets than Tywin Lannister's own cupbearer.” Relief was so sharp it was like a cold bath. “During the Goldcloaks attack – Yoren was taking three murderers from the Black Cells up to the Wall. They were being transported in a cage, they were still in it when the camp burnt. One of them got my attention when I was trying to run. I gave him an axe so they could free themselves – and at Harrenhal I found him posing as a Lannister guard. He said, as I had saved three lives, he owed me three names. I could name anyone I wanted, and he'd kill them. The first name I chose was the Tickler – the bastard who nearly murdered Gendry.” There was a lot of warmth in that name, and Sansa glanced over at the man. He was looking at Arya with a certain fond exasperation.

                “Typical girl. Could've picked King Joffrey, instead names someone useless.”

                “Get fucked,” Arya said – but there was no heat to it. There was absolutely something going on there. “Sure enough, crack of dawn, they find the Tickler with a broken neck. Then Tywin found out I could read, started getting suspicious. Then Amory Lorch figured out that I must be highborn – so he was my second name. It sounds selfish, but I knew if he told Tywin, it wouldn't be very long before Tywin realised who I was.” Arya looked like she was very far away for a moment. “Then Tywin rode away,” she admitted. “He was going to be my third name, I was still stuck at bloody Harrenhal with this idiot and Jaqen – that was the murderer who promised me three murders was called – kept pestering me to give him a third name.”

                “Whose was it?” Sansa asked.

                “His own. I named him to get him to agree to breaking me, Gendry and Hot Pie out of Harrenhal. I said if he got us out, I'd take back his name and consider our debt paid.”

                “And he did it?” Jaime asked.

                “He did it. Killed ten men, and out we strolled. Then we ran into the Brotherhood. They took the three of us in – and then they caught the Hound.”

 

Sansa's entire world halted. For a moment, she half-expected the man to jump out from under the bed too, shouting the odds.

                “He recognised me straight off,” Arya was continuing. “Asked Thoros what he was doing with a Stark bitch – and boom, a prisoner again. They said they were going to bring me to the Twins and ransom me back to Robb. Figured there would be a reward for turning me over. I accused the Hound of murder –  the day by the river? With Mycah and Joffrey?” Sansa nodded, heart twinging as she thought again of Lady. “It was the Hound that killed him. Beric Dondarrion said in that case, he would have a trial by combat, that he'd have to fight Beric – and if Beric won and the Hound died, then the Hound was guilty and the Gods would punish him. And if the Hound won, then it was a sign the Gods had forgiven him. So they fought in the cave the Brotherhood lived in – and the Hound killed Beric.”

                “Beric Dondarrion's dead?” Jaime said sharply. Sansa flicked her eyes to his face.

                “Not anymore. Beric went down, his sword was flaming – the Hound was afraid of the fire, I remember his face. But he still won. Thoros leapt over the fire, knelt down next to Beric, started chanting – and Beric – Beric -"

                “Beric came back to life,” Gendry said. “Thoros brought him back to life.”

                “That's impossible,” Sansa said. “Beric can't have been -"

                “The Hound stabbed him straight through the breastplate. He was dead,” Gendry said shortly. “And – and there's a light that leaves people when they die. He was dead.”

                “But how -"

                “Thoros says he's a – a red priest,” Arya said vaguely. Her eyes still looked far away. “Of the – Lord of Light. He brought Beric back to life, right in front of us. Gendry had to grab me to stop me stabbing the Hound in the neck.”

                “Grab you doesn't cover it,” Gendry said grinning. “I had to literally tackle you to the ground.”

                “Bastard should have died,” Arya snapped. “But he fucking didn't, the Brotherhood just let him go. We started heading west, heading for the Twins. Gendry wanted to stay on with the Brotherhood, be their blacksmith - scab.” Gendry grinned – then he stood up, came to sit down next to Arya. He didn't touch her, but Sansa saw the look that passed between them.

 

She could object, demand that the clearly older Gendry get the hell away from her sister – but something stopped her. Arya was not a child now. She'd done too much, seen too much, been too much – and Sansa had no right to come over all I'm the oldest and therefore you'll do as I say with her. Arya would go her own way – it was best to let her do it with her blessing, instead of her anger. They had parted in anger once before, Sansa was not going to let it happen again.

                “Keep your hair on, Arry. I didn't do it.”

                “Only because they tried to sell you. That's what happened,” she said, turning back to Sansa. “The Brotherhood wanted to sell Gendry to the Red Woman – apparently she's with Stannis Baratheon. I happened to hear them talking about her needing the blood of a royal bastard for some fucked-up ritual. I ran back to the cart, stabbed the guards hanging onto Gendry. We got the horses and rode off, I still had a bow and arrow from practising so I managed to cripple the horses the Red Woman and her guards were using before they could ride after us – and we rode away, him and me,” Arya finished simply. “I didn't want to head to the Twins – I figured mother would take one look at me and have me back in a dress before I could even say hello, Mother, how are you? – and that she'd take Gendry away too. So we headed here. I wanted to make sure you were OK. Guess you are.”

                “I am,” Sansa said. “I – oh Arya!” She threw herself back at Arya, held her close.

                “Hey, I'm fine,” Arya muttered, patting her back slightly awkwardly. “We ran into Polliver too – so I got to take back my Needle.”

                “I can't believe Jon gave you a sword at nine years old,” Sansa said, finding a watery laugh. “And why do you call it Needle?”

                “Because it's little and skinny -"

                “Like you,” Gendry remarked.

                “And I – I actually meant it as a bit of a hit at you,” Arya continued as if Gendry hadn't spoken, her cheeks slightly pink.

                “At me?”

                “You had your sewing needles – and then I had a Needle too.” Sansa laughed properly then. Jaime came over, smiled down at her as he put a hand on her shoulder.

                “And then the two of you got here and killed Slynt?” Arya nodded.

                “Well not right away. We got here the day before you were poisoned, Lannister. Gendry found us a good hidey-hole – and I have to admit that I was spying on you both in the gardens.”

                “That was you!” Sansa and Jaime said simultaneously. Arya had the grace to look sheepish, then shrugged.

                “Suppose you know the rest – I killed Slynt and the guards who were boasting about Robb and Mother. And now here we are.” 

                “Yes, here we are,” Jaime said. His hand was back on her shoulder, his thumb stroking her neck. “And you two should leave tonight. It's not safe – and Sansa and I are leaving tomorrow. We are ordered back to the capital.”

                “The capital?” Arya shouted, jumping up. “You're taking her back there? Are you insane, Lannister? She could leave with us, we could -"

                “Hey,” Sansa said, reaching for her sister's arm. “Calm down – and please lower your voice. I cannot leave with you. Tywin would notice, for one thing. And I know you'll find it hard to accept, I really do – but I love Jaime now. He will keep me safe, I promise you.” Arya glared from her to Jaime, then stepped forward.

                “Then I want a word with him. Alone.”

                “Let's go into the solar,” Jaime suggested at once, stepping forward too – until Sansa stepped between them.

                “You don't need swords to talk. Both of you leave your blades.”

                “I'm not going anywhere with a Lannister unarmed,” Arya said stubbornly. But Jaime was unbuckling his sword belt, laying it on the bed.

                “She can keep hers,” he said. He touched a hand to Sansa's face, rubbed his thumb over her lips. “Just come and save me if you hear me screaming for help.”

 

It left her alone with Gendry, who immediately leapt off her bed like it was burning him.

                “Er – my Lady,” he said, bowing rather awkwardly. Sansa took the measure of him in silence, noting the strong arms, the wide stance, the quiet strength – and came straight to the point.

                “Are you having relations with my sister?” she asked bluntly. Gendry's face went scarlet.

                “No! I mean Gods, no, I mean she's – no.”

                “Do you want to have relations with my sister?” Gendry blushed even deeper – and gave Sansa her answer. “Just - don't hurt her.”

                “I would never. She's saved my arse – I mean, sorry, I mean my life, my Lady – more than once. I'm not ever going to hurt her.” She nodded. The vehemence alone told her he wasn't lying.

                “In that case, would you like some wine?” she asked, moving to the table. “You'll have a long journey, no doubt, wherever the two of you go. You ought to start it in some kind of style.”

Chapter Text

He would be lying if he said he wasn't wary.

 

Arya Stark didn't look capable of murder. She looked like a particularly strong puff of wind could knock her over. Still, appearances could be very deceptive indeed – and there had been nothing of a lie at all about either her expressive little face, or the matter-of-fact way she had told her story. Here was someone to be reckoned with – and only a fool would not be wary. She seemed in no particular hurry to start talking, simply staring at him. Jaime had the feeling she was getting the measure of him – so he took her measure too.

 

Both standing, the top of her head barely reached mid-chest on him. She had all the Stark looks – the long face, the piercing grey eyes, the dark hair. She was the spit of her father, but without the size of them. She looked fragile, except he knew she was not. Sansa had clearly taken the lion’s share of the good looks, but the clear face her sister showed had the promise of a wild beauty. It really was like looking at another Lyanna Stark, the girl so beautiful she had torn apart a kingdom. Arya might never quite match that, but she would be her own beauty one day – and probably would be far, far more spectacular thanks to character. The girl could be Lyanna's, not Eddard's. Robert would have had fits to see her. She had an almost wild grace too – she moved silently, gracefully, almost like she was skimming over the ground. If she had employed that to creep up on the guards, he doubted very much that they would have ever known what had hit them. If Tywin hadn't been going with them, he might have taken her on in the household. Anyone that good at death would be a valuable ally – and a terrible enemy. Finally, she spoke.

                “I won't kill you, because it would make her sad. But I will not forgive you for what you did – and if the day comes that you hurt her, and she gives me the sign, I will slit your throat faster than you can turn around.”

                “I would allow it, if that day came.”

                “Then we understand each other?” she said, gripping Needle's pommel in her palm.

                “We understand each other,” Jaime agreed. “You have no reason to trust me, I would be astonished if you did – but believe me when I say that if that day dawns, I'll hand you the knife, kneel down, and bare my throat for you.”

                “Excellent. Do you love her?”

                “Absolutely, and completely.”

                “Good – because she should be well-loved.” Arya fell into silence, and he leant back to prop himself on the desk. Gods, he was weary. He did not think that this was what the Maester had meant when he ordered rest and relaxation.

                “Where will you go? You and Gendry?” Arya shrugged.

                “When he got us out of Harrenhal, Jaqen offered to take me to Braavos with him, to be his – apprentice, with the Faceless Men.” Jaime nearly dropped his jaw.

                “You do know what they are?” Arya nodded.

                “Killers. He said he could teach me. I had things to do though – I did not go with him. But he told me how to find him again, so perhaps we'll go there. Everyone needs blacksmiths, so Gendry could work.” He nodded, rounded his desk and opened the drawer there. He handed her the bag it had contained.

                “What's this?” she asked, although he imagined she knew the clinking of coin as well as he.

                “Enough money to get you and Gendry safely out of the country,” he said. “With enough left over to get you food and shelter at the other end, wherever you decide that is.” She stared at him.

                “I don't need your money,” she said.

                “No, but take it anyway as it's the best I can offer. That, and an – alternative.”

                “Alternative?” she questioned.

                “To Braavos, if it is decided that it isn't for you. What do you know of Daenerys Targaryen?”

                “That she was married off to some Dothraki. And I heard someone say that she was in Slaver's Bay now.”

                “She is. She would welcome you, I imagine. You're no friend of the King's.” Arya snorted.

                “And when I get there, and she hears the name Stark? I'm sure she'd be thrilled to welcome me. And when I tell her who my sister's married to? Ah yes, that will go well once she hears your name – if she doesn't think I'm a spy, she'd be stupid. If she had any sense, she'd murder me on the spot.”

                “I hear she's far more willing to listen than her father ever was. But it's up to you and Gendry. If Braavos isn't for you, at least you'll have another option.” She nodded slowly, looked at the purse he had handed to her.

                “You know I can't pay it back,” she said.

                “It’s not a loan. And Gendry might as well keep the money we gave him for that apprenticeship.” Arya grinned then.

                “Right. I suppose we should wait until nightfall to leave the castle?”

                “I imagine that would be best. I'd ask you if you needed help but I suspect it might insult you terribly – not to mention that you obviously got in without any trouble,” he finished drily. She smirked at him.

                “It was almost embarrassingly easy,” she drawled slowly. “You need to address your security.”

                “I can only imagine we do. Sansa and I need to start readying ourselves for our own travels,” he said. “Which means -"

                “Which means servants. I know. I'll come back, say goodbye at sunset,” she said. He nodded.

                “Sansa would like that.”

 

She opened the bedchamber door, summoned Gendry to her. He came at once – and Jaime saw how they had got in in the bloody first place. Gendry boosted her up and she grabbed an apparent ridge running across the top of their balcony, pulling herself up and out of sight, thus presumably gaining the battlements. Gendry needed no help. He grinned awkwardly, executed a bow, then stood on the balustrade, leaning in to grab the same ledge she had and pull himself up.

 

Once both of them were out of sight, Sansa jumped into his arms.

                “Thank you,” she was saying, over and over again. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

                “Don't thank me,” he murmured, smoothing a hand over her hair and kissing her forehead gently. “I've done nothing to be thanked for.”

                “You're getting her out, that deserves more thanks than I can give you.” She eased back slightly, but did not leave his arms. She just looked up to see his face. She was up to his chin still. Perhaps she'd stopped growing. There was a softness to her gaze that felt like a caress. Peaceful, gentle, tender.

                “Why are you looking at me like that?” he asked.

                “How am I looking at you?” she asked.

                “Like I'm a good man.”

                “Because you are a good man.”

                “I have done terrible things –“

                “Who has not? You have done terrible things, you are not those terrible things. Come, Jaime,” she said, reaching up to frame his hands in her face. “We have a great deal to do, little time to do it in – especially if Tywin intends to leave tomorrow. Then tonight, we can be together.”

 

That sounded uncommonly like a promise to Jaime, but as his chambers devolved into organised chaos and Sansa flew about with Caliene and Edric, obviously dividing her things into two separate entities – those she would take with her, and those she would send North to wait for her, and he just tried to stay out of the way – he felt the apprehension settle. Arya's indignation at the bare idea of Sansa going back to the capital was nothing on his own. He did not want her going back there.

 

It wasn't because he doubted that she could handle it – he knew good and well that the wife he was going to ride back with was not the wife he'd ridden away with. It had been the equivalent of adopting a seemingly harmless kitten and then realising it was actually a shadowcat. No, his fear was far closer to himself – and what kind of man he really was. He knew his sister well enough to know that she would set out to do the upmost to make Sansa's life the same hell she once had, if she didn't seek to make it a hundred times worse. And he knew Joffrey too, knew the darkness in the boy none of them had ever tried hard enough to check –and knew that Sansa being Lady of the Rock and Warden of the North would not stop him from trying to torment her. What he doubted, in the midst of that chilling knowledge, was how far he personally would go to avenge anything done to his wife- and how far old feelings and old loyalties might still stay his hand.

 

He could be the chivalrous, dashing Knight of his wife's childhood dreams in his own mind, but what would happen if – or when – the situations arose? Would he act, would he fail? No. He would not fail her. She was his wife, she was the woman he loved, she was carrying his child, for the love of Gods. There was nothing he would not do for her, there was nothing he would not do to protect her. He would stand beside her, she would stand beside him, they would help each other.

 

Caliene and Edric proved themselves astonishingly good at packing quickly. At Sansa's decision, only what they required in the capital was to be packed at once. Everything else could be left, and the servants could pack it up after their departure, to be boxed up and sent North afterwards. At nightfall, just as she had promised, Arya returned. She and Sansa shared a long embrace, promises that this was not goodbye were exchanged, whispers he ignored were traded. He got a long stare and a cool nod, which he returned before Arya once more turned back to the balcony. As Gendry had not accompanied her, he offered her the necessary boost for her to once more scale his castle walls.

 

And then she was gone, silent as a cat, disappearing to live some other life, some life of freedom far away across the sea – the life of freedom Sansa had never known, would never know.

 

Perhaps it was because he knew it would be a long time before he would have her again, perhaps it was because he knew their destination, perhaps because he knew she was unhappy. Whichever the reason, he took her that night with a quiet, desperate neediness, pulled her to sit astride him so he could watch the firelight and candles turn her skin to gold and her hair to flames, could see the rise and fall of her chest as he felt her clutch at him with wet, needy heat. He let her take him to pieces with her slow and gentle rocking, buried to the hilt inside her as she moved oh-so-gently while he gripped her hips as tightly as he coulduntil they reached their peaks together.

 

In the morning, both hips were dotted with five black bruises from his fingers, and he kissed each one before he kissed her there between her legs, finding the spots that made her gasp and moan and sigh until she was crying out and falling apart. She spread her legs for him, let him in, wrapped arms and legs around him to cling to him while he loved her, hard and desperate and possessive.

 

When he finally let them both get up, get dressed, face the absolute inevitable, Tywin had already sent three messages demanding that they do so. Still, Jaime did not hurry, and when they finally reached the courtyard, tailed by Caliene and Edric who were being taken with them, he was glad he had not hurried her.

 

It seemed like the entire household had come to say goodbye to Sansa. She made certain to smile at them all, to say individual goodbyes. Several of them pressed tiny bouquets of wildflowers on her, which she accepted with absolute grace and serenity. By the time he helped her into the waiting wheelhouse – a considerably better quality thing that the litter she had travelled in to get here, her hands were full of them and her eyes were sparkling.

 

It wasn't just the household staff who had come – the road out of the gates and down to join the Gold Road was lined with people from the villages. Word had obviously spread very quickly indeed, as the people waved and cheered like she was some beloved Queen. Once on the Gold Road, Tywin drew his horse up beside Jaime's.

                “If you can gain half the love there that she has gained here, the North will be secure in our hands for generations,” he said quietly, before spurring on to ride at the head of the column.

 

It was funny how that sounded like a threat.

 

Chapter Text

Gods, she detested the wheelhouse before the first week was up. She started to feel sick in it, the jolting and bumping combining with the first stages of what the Maester Jaime had insisted on travelling with called a ‘mother's stomach' and giving her near constant nausea. She had very little interest in eating, especially inside the wheelhouse given all the jolting. Jaime was worrying about her, she could tell. He was fussing around her like a mother hen, always asking if she wanted anything, needed anything, could he do anything? When he asked her that on the fifth day, she looked straight at him as she answered.

                “You can get me out of this godsdamned wheelhouse,” she said bluntly. “For as long as it is possible to do.” He grimaced at her. So far, Tywin had barely accepted stopping at night, and had always wanted to be off at the crack of each dawn. Her excursions outside the wheelhouse had been limited to a brief stroll with Jaime each evening as camp was set up.

                “I'll speak to him,” he promised.

 

She expected nothing, expected them not to stop at all, expected Jaime to ride back to her with an apologetic frustration in his voice and anger in his eyes. She did not expect the wheelhouse to halt, for the noises of the whole party coming to a stop to reach her ears. She leant forward to peer outside, saw Jaime coming over, now dismounted and accompanied by the Maester. Jaime opened the doors to the wheelhouse, offered her his hand and helped her down. As the first taste of the breeze touched her, stirred her hair and blew gently over her skin she sighed aloud, tipping her head back with a smile already creeping onto her face.

                “Thank the Gods,” she breathed quietly.

                “You need fresh air,” the Maester said, looking at her closely.

                “Then might I not ride?” she queried. “I should get plenty of fresh air then, and we would not need to halt.”

                “I would not like to risk you on your own horse,” the Maester said carefully. “If you turned sick or faint, and fell as a consequence, you could be badly injured.”

                “I think I have a solution,” Jaime spoke, mischief sparkling in his eyes. “I had them include a pillion saddle when we prepared for the journey. The Lady Sansa could ride pillion with me. Or, I could sit astride and we could have her ride side-saddle in front of me, so I could hold her in case of sickness or faintness.” The Maester had been frowning at the idea of her riding pillion behind Jaime, but at the second idea his brow cleared.

                “I think if the saddle could be arranged for the latter, it would be an excellent solution – if the Lady Sansa is sitting comfortably of course.”

 

She would have been comfortable riding pillion but she had to own that riding in front of Jaime was very comfortable indeed. His arms encircled her, she could rest her head on his shoulder – which she very promptly did, letting out a little sigh as she got truly comfortable for the first time in days. He kissed her hair gently, as if they were alone and nobody was there to watch them and she adored it. After some time, he chuckled at nothing.

                “What is it?” she asked lazily, letting the breeze and the gentle rock of the horse lulled her into complete relaxation.

                “I was remembering something,” came the dissatisfying answer.

                “What?”

                “The last time we rode along this road.”

“What on earth is amusing about that?” she asked, giggling anyway. Sat like this, with their heads so close together, they could talk in complete privacy, without being overheard unless someone rode up direct beside them and stuck their head in too.

“Well, it isn't really. I just – remember how close I had to hold you on that last day, and said it would look like I was whispering to you with words of love. I can't believe it came true.” She remembered that day, the day she would have given anything to extend that journey forever.

“I didn't know you then,” she answered, smiling unseen.

“I didn't know you either,” he said. One of his hands released the reins and went to her waist, squeezing gently.

 

Despite everything it might cost her in the end, she was grateful she had let him in, grateful that she had let herself love him.

 

They rode together in peaceful silence, his shoulder cradling her head and her thoughts a thousand leagues away. She wondered if Arya had got away safely, with the blacksmith friend who seemed willing to follow her anywhere. While she had been embracing her sister to say goodbye, Jaime far enough away to miss a careful whisper, she had murmured everything she hoped into Arya's ear, implored her to be careful, to find Robb if she possibly could and if not join him, then at least confirm he was definitely alive. She could see the questions burning in her sister's eyes, could see the same joy and confusion and fear that she felt all mixed up on her sister's narrow face.

 

She adjusted her position slightly. She knew she had to tell Jaime the truth, that he needed to know -  he would be devastated if Robb resurfaced and it came out that she had not only known, but brought about the circumstance. She would have to tell him absolutely everything – about the secret ravens, the messages – that it hadn't been Robb's head. But when? She had had vague, half-formed plans to tell him once Tywin had gone, once he had returned to the capital – but he had ruined that plan once he had insisted on taking them with him. Now she was faced with whether to tell Jaime before they arrived in the capital, or wait until they headed North. Both ideas had merits. If she told him now, he would know from the first. If she waited until they went North, he would not need to worry about it while in the den of liars and spies that made up the Royal Court. And yet, both ideas had the negative – if she told him now, and her betrayal of his entire family angered him, he could very, very easily turn her in. If she waited until they went North, the fact that she hadn’t taken him into her confidence sooner might seriously hurt him. She gave a little sigh, felt the movement as he looked down at her.

“Are you alright?” he said, his voice tender.

“Fine,” she answered. “Just comfortable. I like this.”

“I like it too,” he said, pulling her a little closer. “I would like it better if we were alone.” She giggled at that.

“Hush,” she reproved him, glancing round to check that they were definitely out of everyone's earshot.

“If we were alone, I would not  need to keep my hands very properly on the reins – I could touch your waist, your hair, kiss you.”

“Jaime!” she protested, now thoroughly scandalised. “You are awful."

“Yes, I am.” Tywin rode up to them then, and Sansa made some effort to straighten up, to sit nicely and upright, as a lady should.

 

She couldn't imagine Arya would have done.

 

The thought made her smile, even as Tywin addressed Jaime.

“We stop for the night at the Inn,” he said shortly. The Maester has indicated it would be preferable.”

“I am sorry if I am delaying you,” she said smoothly, smiling coolly at him. He paused, eyed her speculatively, as if he was trying to decide if she was serious. He had to know she couldn't have cared less if she did delay them.

“You are carrying our heir,” he said bluntly. “We are all slaves to your needs now, my Lady.” She bowed as best as she could from Jaime's saddle.

“Then I am grateful for all consideration, my Lord.” Jaime exhaled as his father rode ahead, shook his head at her.

“You are – unbelievable.” She giggled.

“Thank you.”

 

At some point, she must have fallen asleep, lulled by the rocking of the horse as it plodded onwards, cooled by the breeze and locked safe in the circle of Jaime's arms. She woke with the sun low in the sky, dying Jaime's hair nearly as red as hers, lighting everything with a soft, fiery light. As she lifted her head to look around, Jaime's hand shifted from the reins to her back, rubbing gently.

“You're just waking in nice time,” he said. “We'll be at the inn soon and then it'll be dinner and bed for you.”

“Not for you?” she asked, head still slightly muzzy from her nap. Her back ached too, and her neck, and as she tried to stretch them both out without really moving too much, she winced.

“Well, dinner for me, but then my father wants to speak to me.”

 

As it turned out, she had no need to fear being excluded from their talk. Tywin ordered a private dinner for the three of them to be served in the bedchamber they were to share for the night, and despite her desperate longing to spend a night in a proper bed, she managed to stay sufficiently alert to concentrate. This turned out to be a good thing, because once Tywin got going, there was no beating around the bush.

“I think the two of you are both aware that – certain parties may not be pleased to hear of your condition,” he said bluntly. Sansa nodded. She could see the pain on Jaime's face, reached over to take his hand, to tell him without words that it was alright. “I want this pregnancy kept between the three of us and our own Maester.”

“Not even a slight chance,” Sansa said coolly. “Simply the fact that we have travelled with one will be rousing suspicion. I doubt it would be difficult to guess.”

“And Varys probably knows already,” Jaime chimed in. “His spy network is unrivalled. You know that as well as I.”

“People guessing and people being told are two very different things. As far as anyone in King's Landing is concerned, that is an unsubstantiated rumour.” Sansa sat back, looking at Tywin thoughtfully.

“Why?” she said at last. “Announcing that an heir is expected is strength only second to announcing an heir born. I would have thought that you would want everyone to know as soon as possible.”

“For a number of reasons. First, Cersei will already, does already, want you dead. This would only add fuel to that fire and I could do without it. Second, a pregnancy is – delicate, so early on. A pregnancy is not a live, full-term birth. And third – I do not want any more attention drawn away from the King and his bride-to-be than strictly necessary. The boy needs bloody careful handling, he is more malleable when people watch him, pay attention to him. I want you to remain as much in the background as is at all possible.” Tywin sat back in his chair slightly. “The pair of you are a – formidable pair. I admit that when I married you to each other, this is more than I hoped for. You have both demonstrated tremendous loyalty, political good sense and planning.” Something in her belly turned to hear Tywin call her loyal.

 

She had been loyal, she reminded herself. Just not to Tywin. Not to Jaime either. She had to tell him. He had to know. He had to know, so he could decide whether or not to hate her for what she had done. Inwardly, she wondered about Tywin too – would he be furious that she had managed to double-cross him, that she had been informing on him from the very heart of the Lannister camp? Or would he be reluctantly impressed, that she had managed to double-cross him even when in the heart of his stronghold, and surrounded by his spies.

“If you're so keen on us remaining in the background, why did we need to come now?” Jaime was asking.

“Because, as appalling as it is, Casterly Rock is no longer safe. If someone can get in and poison you, regardless of on whose orders, I cannot condone you both staying there. The only people who should be able to get inside to poison the ruling Lord or Lady should be there on my orders – and Janos Slynt was not.”

“What makes you think Winterfell's any safer? Or King's Landing?” Sansa enquired blandly.

“You're a Stark,” Tywin said, and it was so unexpected that she laughed.

“I'm a Lannister,” she said.

“You were a Stark first. Northern men are nothing if not fiercely loyal. You should be intelligent enough to play on it. And at King's Landing, you will live in the Tower of the Hand, not the Royal Apartments.You will be under my personal guard and for the sake of simplicity, you will share a bedchamber.” Jaime raised his eyebrows at his father.

“Of course we will,” he said bluntly. “I have no intentions of doing anything but sharing a bedchamber with my own wife.”Tywin raised a brow.

“She's already with child. I assumed -"

“You assumed wrong. And I never did care for tradition. If Sansa wishes to remain in my bed, so she shall.” She blinked, rather startled at the turn this conversation had somehow taken. Tywin simply looked between them, something that on anyone else she would have called a smile playing around his lips. On Tywin, it was barely more than a lessening of his scowl. He wiped his mouth on his napkin, pushed back his chair.

“I was you, once,” he said to Jaime. “I was young, with a wife and everything to come to me. And it – pleases me to see you have it too.”

 

Left alone, Jaime and Sansa exchanged shocked glances. She would have commented, but he got there first.

“I think,” he said, very slowly, “that my father has been replaced by a human capable of feeling.” Her eye caught his and she could not hold back that giggle and then the laugh it became. “Come, wife,” he said, standing up and smiling as he put out a hand to pull her up – not that she required help, but it was still very sweet –and pulling her towards the bed. His hands went to the back of her dress and the laces there and she found herself giggling again.

“If you keep appointing yourself as my handmaid, Caliene will be out of a job,” she said lightly. He chuckled in her ear as he tugged inexpertly at her laces.

“I don't think I'll ever be as good as she is,” he murmured, finally figuring out the knots. Sansa gave an involuntary sigh of relief as it loosened.

 

She could have slept for days, could have slept for a week if she'd been given the opportunity. She wasn't. They barely reached moon-rise before she was woken by the screaming.

Chapter Text

She was already reaching for her robe, even as he leapt out of bed and rushed to the door, snatching his sword up as he went.

                “Is there any point asking you to stay here?” he said.

                “Not at all,” she shot back. He had to smile.

 

The screams did not sound like they were coming from a man screaming out his death throes, else he might have insisted she remain in their room. In the bar of the inn, they found Tywin, still fully dressed and bellowing to be heard. Not one person was paying attention – the babble of voice was simply too loud.

                “I tell you, I saw it! Bigger than a stag, great teeth longer than knives -"

                “You're a drunken fool, wolves don't get so big -"

                “Direwolves –“

                “There aren't any direwolves this far south -"

                “I saw it! Eyes glowing blacker than the night -"

                “You will be silent!” Her voice rang out with indisputable authority, higher than the men's could reach, more noticeable than Tywin's deeper voice. Silence fell like she'd cast some spell, every head turned towards her, guards beginning to realise that all three of them were present and hurrying to bow. Even in her nightgown and robe, with her hair in her customary loose plait, she was imposing. “I believe that we are owed an explanation,” she said smoothly. She gestured at the guard who had been raving about the wolf. “What is the meaning of this?” The guard came forward, pale in the candlelight.

                “A wolf, my Lady – a huge wolf. It was a terrible creature, white and grey with huge jaws.” Jaime couldn't help the snort. He could see Sansa struggling to restrain a slight smile, for Gods' sake. Had they really, honestly, been woken up because some guard had, in all likelihood, dozed off at his post and in a half-asleep state, seen a dog and panicked?

                “White and grey?” Tywin asked, finally stepping in. He turned to Sansa and Jaime straightened up from the post he'd been leaning on, stepping towards Sansa slightly as he felt some indefinable apprehension in his heart. “What colour were those beasts your father gave you all?” All traces of humour vanished from Sansa's face.

                “They were not beasts,” she said lowly. “And the only white and grey was Nymeria, Arya's wolf. Grey Wind and Lady - Robb's and mine - are dead, as you well know, seeing as Lady was murdered on the Queen's order and Grey Wind on yours. I very much doubt this man saw a direwolf, Lord Tywin. The lamplight, the long ride – it could twist anyone's vision. There are wolves in the Riverlands, everyone knows that. And the Gods know that wars leave plenty of carrion behind them - they'll have been eating well. Now, if you will pardon me, Sers, my Lords, I will once more retire.”

 

Jaime watched her go, watched Tywin dismiss the guards with threats of whipping if anyone fell asleep on duty, saw his father turn to him. His heart sank a little. The lateness of the hour clearly meant nothing to his father – a talk was evidently in the offing.

                “Sit,” Tywin said, indicating the chair. Jaime sat. “Do you believe him?” Jaime had to pause a moment to collect himself before he could answer. It had not been what he was expecting – although exactly what he had been expecting, he could not have said.

                “You heard Sansa -"

                “I am not asking you what your wife believes,” Tywin interrupted ruthlessly. “I am asking what you believe.”

                “There are no direwolves this far south anymore. Not with Robb Stark's beast dead.” And did he ever remember that particular wolf. He had vague recollections of the wolves the girls had travelled south with –but back then, his interactions with either Stark girl had been limited to the barest of pleasantries if one of them had been in his direct eyeline at the time. But Grey Wind – oh, he had known Grey Wind.

                “Except perhaps the wolf Sansa named as Nymeria.” Tywin said, jolting Jaime back to the table. Jaime shrugged.

                “That wolf fled after the incident with Joffrey and the girls at the Inn at the Crossroads,” Jaime reminded him. “Which is many leagues from here even now. If by some miracle a half-tame pet managed to survive in the wild after being hand-reared, I doubt very much it would have made its way here. No, I do not believe there is some stag-sized monster wolf running loose around the countryside. The guard was probably half-asleep and having a waking dream. But, if you are that concerned, have the area searched at dawn, when there is light enough to see by.” Tywin frowned.

                “Why bother?”

                “Well, if by some wild happenstance there is a giant wolf skulking around, I would imagine it would leave a fairly obvious trail,” Jaime said, standing now. “The dogs would pick it up a mile off.”

 

He excused himself, returned to bed. Sansa seemed already asleep, so he got in as quietly as he could to make the most of whatever remained of the night. He was half-tempted to rouse Sansa, get Caliene, Edric and Kinston, and march North at once. This was not a good start to any journey, and they still had more than a week before they reached the capital and its machinations.He never thought he would ever look forward to returning to Winterfell – now it felt like some glorious haven.

 

Dawn was greeted by the chaos of a column attempting to ready themselves to travel onwards. Caliene came in to dress Sansa, an event which apparently required some giggling on Sansa's behalf, and much beaming from Caliene.

                “What's funny?” Jaime asked, buckling on his sword-belt.

                “Caliene is just telling me that soon she will have to start letting out my laces to accommodate – growth.”

                “It's early yet, isn't it?”

                “Oh, not for quite some time,” Sansa said, smiling at him. “That's why it was funny.” He shook his head slightly.

                “Women are baffling,” he remarked, fastening his boots. That got a giggle from them both.

                “That's why we're so powerful,” Sansa answered, standing up from the chair she had sat on while Caliene pinned her hair up. “If you don't understand, you can't predict us – Caliene, I'm going to be sick.” Jaime leapt forward, literally watching the colour drain from her face along with the humour.

 

Caliene got there first. Pushing Sansa back into the chair, she snatched the basin from the table, throwing the water it contained into the fireplace and shoving it under Sansa's face. She even moved round to block Jaime's vision. Suddenly feeling exceptionally useless, he went to the door.

                “I'll er– fetch the Maester,” he said, slipping out.

 

By the time they returned, Caliene had removed the basin, and Sansa, while still very white, looked more like herself. The Maester made swift work of examining her, then stood back.

                “It's perfectly normal, I'm afraid,” he said. “Many women experience it, it's a mother's stomach.”

                “I feel hungry,” Sansa remarked.

                “You can eat, if you feel better. Indeed, I would encourage you to do so. Nothing too rich, mind. Perhaps porridge, fruit if it can be obtained here, cold chicken if the innkeep has any.”

                “I shall see what I can get,” Caliene said, curtseying low. “Please excuse me, my Lords.” Jaime crossed to Sansa, smiling at her. She smiled back.

                “I am quite well,” she said gently.

                “I panicked,” he admitted. The Maester coughed gently.

                “My apologies, my Lord, my Lady – I need to report to Lord Tywin. At the very least, the start today will be slightly delayed. Lady Sansa should rest a while after her breakfast.”

                “I'm not an invalid,” Sansa protested. “I would not wish to delay all -"

                “Forgive me, my Lady, but Lord Tywin himself has ordered that I report any developments in your – condition to him. Excuse me.” Bowing low, he left the room, leaving Jaime and Sansa to exchange glances. She was frowning.

                “You'd think I was the first woman to have a baby,” she grumbled.

                “It's his heir. The family name living on.” She shot him a sharp look.

                “Our heir,” she said. “I don't give a damn about the name. This is our child, not his.” He smiled at her fierceness, kissed her forehead.

                “Winterfell,” he promised her. “Can you bear it just until we leave the capital again? Then I promise you, you can choose your own Maesters, choose your own schedules, do this -" he said, putting his hand to her belly, “however you may wish.” She smiled at him.

                “However I wish?”

                “However you wish,” he repeated. “You have given me everything, Sansa – your love, your loyalty. I will give you everything in return.”

 

He did not immediately understand the look that crossed her face. It looked like guilt. Like guilt and pain.

                “What's wrong?” he asked.

                “I have to tell you -"

 

But she could not complete the sentence, Caliene was coming back in with a tempting little tray and after that, the flurry of departure overwhelmed them both. There were no more chances either, no moment of complete aloneness. While Tywin was so obviously desperate to reach the capital as quickly as possible while sparing Sansa as far as she could be spared, halts were brief and they were constantly surrounded.

 

But he couldn't forget it, that half-sentence and the look of guilt, even as the capital came into sight. If she was nervous, she did not show it. She insisted upon riding in – and she drew a crowd. By the time they were approaching the Red Keep, people were lining the road – and they were cheering for her. Jaime couldn't see his father's face, couldn't have said what Tywin might think of it – but still, they were cheering for her. Suddenly, a voice rose above the general babble, from somewhere in the back of the crowd –

                “Queen of the North! Queen of the North!” Tywin was turning in his saddle, guards were starting to push through the crowds to find the caller – but more people were taking up the cry now.

                “Queen Sansa! The Queen of the North!” Sansa was staring at him, her eyes wide, slightly fearful – but the gates of the Keep were opening, Tywin was gesticulating furiously at them. He reached for her reins, guided them both through, over the blessedly clear bridge, heard the gates slam behind them as they gained the courtyard. He helped her down, wrapped a guiding arm around her shoulders to urge her onwards.

 

His one clear thought was get her out of here.

Chapter Text

                “Queen. Queen in the godsdamned North.”

                “You know I did not ask for this,” she returned, refusing to break eye-contact with Tywin – who was so angry, he was shaking. “Why on earth would I?”

                “They are calling for you to follow the footsteps of your damned brother -"

                “Who also did not want to be a King,” she interrupted bluntly. “He just wanted my father's murder avenged, to get my sister and I home. He had no design on the Iron Throne – and I have no designs upon any thrones, Northern or Iron. I cannot control what is shouted in the streets, Tywin, any more than you yourself can.” He glared at her, and she absolutely refused to quail away or cringe back.

 

He had summoned her to him barely an hour after they had arrived, then ordered Jaime from the room when he had refused to let her answer the summons alone. Now she sat in the chair before his desk, hands folded demurely in her lap, back straight as she watched Tywin pace and rage.

                “Do you fully realise how dangerous this city is for you as it is?” he snapped at her. “Even without the smallfolk calling on your as the heir to a non-existent kingdom?”

                “Yes, I realise it,” she retorted. “I am not stupid, Tywin. I am fully aware of how many people in this city – or rather, within the Keep – would be delighted to see me follow my father, mother and brothers to the grave. Do you honestly think, even for a moment, that I would willingly and knowingly incite something like that on my first day here?”

                “You were the one who wanted to ride in -" She threw up her hands in exasperation.

                “Because you are the one who wants certain things kept as under wraps as long as possible!” she cried, patience finally snapping. “For the love of Gods, Tywin! What possible motive would I have for this? Why would I do it now if I had planned it? And how exactly do you imagine I planned it while you had people constantly spying on me within the Rock? Do you not think the Maester would have noticed if I was sending ravens? Do you not think the guards would have noticed if I was sneaking around passing letters?” It caught him off, she saw the surprise cross his face. “I would have thought less of you if you had not had me watched,” she added.

                “Explain.”

                “What is it they used to say of us, Tywin? The wolves will come again.” He stared at her.

                “Why do you say that?” She shrugged, spread her hands.

                “To remind you that before you made me a lion, I was a wolf.” It was reckless of course, but she wanted Tywin – the master schemer, the master behind the throne, to understand exactly who he was dealing with. “You were right to watch me. Watch away, Tywin. I am loyal to Jaime. Him, and only him. Everything I do, I do for him now. And I want you to remember that if the day comes when I find a way to bring down your thrice-damned daughter for what she tried to do to me without harming Jaime, I will do it and not think twice about it.”

                “You told me about her children -"

                “Ah, but that would also harm Jaime, or I would have told everyone who'd listen. Do not underestimate me, Tywin. Your daughter and her bastard son taught me a great deal, when they sought to crush me. And if it is done with my absolute last breath, I will cast her down to dust."

                “Why tell me this now?” he enquired, voice quiet. She paused in the act of standing to leave the room.

                “Because I am advancing the cause, Tywin.” She put her hand to her belly. “This child is the child Joffrey should have been. You won't kill me now. I just wanted you to know where we both stood.” He let her get to the door before he spoke.

                “I wonder what your father would think of you now.” She turned to him, bared her teeth into a smile.

                “My father taught me that the man who passes sentence should swing the sword, Tywin. My father would be proud to see me now. I wonder what my father would think of you?”

 

When she got back to the rooms she and Jaime had been assigned, she locked the doors. He raised his eyebrows at her.

                “What are you doing, may I ask? And how was my father?”

                “Surprised and unprepared. And are we alone?”

                “Yes.” She went to him, sat on his lap. His arms went around her at once, he leant in to kiss her neck. It sent a bolt of heat through her at once.His hands were wandering up her waist.

                “Jaime!” It started as an admonition, ended as a gasp.

                “Alone,” he murmured in her ear, his hands gripping her hips and dragging her closer. “For the first time in so long – I want you, wife.”

                “It's been twelve days,” she reminded him. She had to tell him – but Gods, she could feel him under her and she wanted him too.

 

She might as well be selfish. He'd despise her anyway. She let him take her to bed, strip away the layers of her riding dress one by one, let him kiss every inch of her skin. With each touch of his hands, his mouth, she felt herself go boneless. This was her Jaime, she realised. The Jaime who could pull her apart so slowly, make her dizzy with pleasure until he filled her slowly and completely, and the Jaime who could take her so desperately that he left bruises on her pale skin. She never thought she would have loved bruises, but when she had seen the tips of his fingers pressed into her skin as little purple blotches, she had loved them. They had made her feel powerful somehow, like they were little dotted reminders of his absolute desire for her. But this too, when he was so careful with her and so gentle, when he kissed her eager mouth so tenderly, she loved that too.

 

Lying in his arms afterwards, with the afterglow of her pleasure fading and his almost sleepy smile facing her, she felt the guilt creep back in. She should have stopped him, told him before this. Telling him now would only make it hurt the more – and she knew it would hurt him. How could it not? After everything they had said about being in this marriage together, she was going to tell him she had betrayed him, betrayed his family. Admittedly, vows of facing things together had only happened after she had started sending her brother secret ravens, but still. It didn't necessarily make her feel any better.

                “I have to tell you something,” she whispered, before she lost her nerve.

                “You said that at the inn. You never finished it.”

                “Speak softly,” she urged, pressing her fingertips to his lips. He kissed them, made her smile even in the midst of all this.

                “My little conspirator,” he teased, although he obliged by whispering. “What are you planning this time?”

                “It's not something I'm going to do,” she whispered. “It's something I have done.” Jaime's smile was fading, he seemed to be realising that she was serious.

                “Nothing you have done can be so very bad, surely.”

                “That's - that's almost the worst thing. I don't know how bad it is, I cannot even be sure I have really changed things. You will hate me.”

                “I could never hate you,” he said vehemently, lowered his voice when she hushed him frantically. “Sansa, my love, my wife – please. Whatever you have done, or think you have done, it will never make me hate you.”

                “And if what I have done is betray you? Betray your trust?”

                “You’re starting to frighten me,” he said. His hand came to her face, his thumb touched her lips and his eyes scanned her. “Tell me.”

                “I sent ravens to my brother Robb,” she whispered. “I told him that Roose Bolton was your father's man. And I warned him not to go to the Twins.”

 

She saw him freeze up, saw his face pale slightly. She waited for the push, for the anger, for him to leave the bed in a rage, for him to shout at her in hurt shock. The hand still on her face stiffened. She dared not speak, she dared not move. She was bracing to duck the blows. Suddenly his other hand was joining the one already at her face, he was framing her cheeks, holding her so gently. Something she could not understand was dawning on his face.

                “My darling,” he murmured, and then his lips were finding her own and he was kissing her. It was her turn to freeze, pure shock running through her. He broke their kiss. “Don't look at me like you think I will strike you.”

                “I do not – you – I thought you would be furious.”

                “No, my love. I – I don't know what to say. Will you tell me everything?” Still shocked to the bone by his reaction, she began to speak.

 

She told him everything – everything she had said, everything Robb had said, about his last letter that had baffled her so much because it seemed not to make any sense at all – until the day the box had come.

                “He might still be dead,” she finished, with a shaking whisper. “Mother too, I have heard nothing since, nothing at all – but I know my brother, years though it has been. And that was not my brother's head in that box.” His eyes and face were calm when he looked at her.

                “When I saw it – I had my own suspicions,” he admitted. “The hair – the shape of the face. I thought perhaps he had just grown up a little and changed accordingly but now – now I see it true. It was not him.” She gazed at him.

                “I want you to know that it was betraying you that made it the hardest thing that I have ever had to do,” she said. “I don't mean – I don't mean that I thought I would not do it. He was – is – my brother. I had a chance to save him, I had to take it, seize it with both hands. But I will always feel guilty because to have a chance at saving him, it was necessary at that point that I betray you.” She took a deep, shuddering breath. “And I am sorry I did not tell you sooner,” she continued. “I always wanted to, please believe me when I say that. I was going to tell you after Tywin left the Rock, but then he told us we were coming here and we were on the road and now, now you must hate me. Will you tell him? I should not blame you -" He cut off her increasingly rambling whispers with a hard, almost bruising kiss. In her answering kiss, she poured all of her desperation, all of her fear and panic, he was dragging her closer to him to close the gap between them, she was pressed into him from breast to foot. Closer

                “You are so brave,” he muttered when they broke apart, when he pressed his forehead against hers. Of all the reactions she might have expected, that was not one of them. “I will tell nobody, not a single damn soul will hear of this from me. And I do not, could never, and would never, hate you. I wish only that you could have trusted me sooner, that you could have felt you could tell me this from the very start. And if Robb did survive,” he said, whispering it directly into her ear, “then you and I will face whatever that event means together. And in the meantime, my love, you have all of my loyalty, all of my love. When we get to Winterfell, if the Northern Lords would crown you Queen, I will bend my knee to you in a heartbeat. And even if they do not, and Queen Sansa is just the name the Smallfolk call you, you are now, and always will be, the Queen I would have chosen.”

Chapter Text

He would have given anything to stay in that bed with her wrapped in his arms, behind a locked door and as out of harm's way as it was possible to be in this Godsforsaken cesspool of a city. But even as she clung to him, he had to get them up. Politeness and damage limitation required them both to get up and dress, to be presented in the Throne Room. Caliene and Edric were perched on a seat a little way down from their locked door, and he let them in so they could make them ready for such a confrontation. He let Sansa and Caliene take over the bedchamber, while Edric shaved him and helped him into what he mentally termed fancy wear. Gods, he missed Casterly Rock. None of this fuss had been at all necessary back there. And while everyone there had loved Sansa deeply, nobody had called her Queen.

 

Her actions, her confession, it had hit him like a punch to the gut – but he had to admit, when she had started talking about betrayal and saying she had betrayed him, a small, jealous part of him had for a moment feared she had been about to tell him that she had been unfaithful to him. When it had turned out to be that she had been informing to her brother – in all honesty, if he was honest with himself, he had been relieved that it wasn't that she had taken a lover.

 

His head was spinning with it even so – if Robb Stark had survived – and as she had pointed out, all they knew for certain at this stage was that whoever's head Joffrey had sent Sansa, it wasn't Robb’s –the Gods only knew what could happen now. The most sensible thing the boy could do at this point if he was alive was lay low for a while, plan an uprising in secret and wait for the most tactically advantageous moment to create chaos. And if Roose Bolton had killed someone at the wedding at the Twins – well, Roose Bolton should have known it wasn't Robb Stark he was plunging a knife into. How had they swung it? He should question Tywin, he decided – subtly, of course, perhaps under the guise of asking about the bodies being returned North.

 

A jaunty knock came at their door and despite himself, Jaime smiled. He could only envisage one person in the Keep knocking like that, and jerked his head towards it.

                “You can let him in, Edric.” Tyrion sauntered in, smile a mile wide lighting up his face.

                “Where is my good-sister?” he demanded of Jaime.

                “Greetings, brother,” Jaime said drily. “I'm very well thank you.”

                “Oh you're you. I want to see the Queen in the North.” Jaime groaned aloud.

                “Can't you take anything seriously?” Tyrion waved a dismissive hand. 

                “There are many Gods and many men to take things seriously, Jaime. I consider it my job – nay, my duty – to take things as unseriously as possible. Now, where is she?” Jaime waved at Edric.

                “I can finish, Edric, thank you. Will you – and Caliene, when she's finished – make sure our things are brought up?” Edric bowed and left, and Jaime jerked his head to Tyrion. “What's happening?” Tyrion grimaced.

                “Well, Cersei is apoplectic, of course – although even she has had the sense to understand that Sansa could not possibly have planned it. And Joffrey is livid – removing the King in the North has been a jewel in his crown as it were – to now have people within his own city calling for Sansa to be crowned? Makes him look weak.”

                “And have you got any insight on why people are calling for it?”

                “Not yet. Cersei has ordered Varys to investigate, of course. The guards couldn't find anyone who shouted it, it looks like whoever was shouting just – melted away. So ask the spymaster tends to be her go-to, as even she can't execute the entire city.”

                “And – and – everything else?” he asked, hoping Tyrion would understand. He apparently did.

                “She hasn't spoken of you or Sansa since the day you left, at least not in my hearing. But fuck her,” Tyrion said, sitting straighter in his chair. “Plenty of people are desperate to see you both – Margaery Tyrell was all but dancing with excitement when I saw her briefly this morning. And Addam Marbrand is thrilled that you're back.” Jaime sat up himself at that.

                “Marbrand's here? I thought he was in the Riverlands?”

                “He was. Do me a favour, take him with you when you go North, the man's clearly hopelessly devoted to you and it's incredibly annoying.” Jaime rolled his eyes.

                “I'll take him if Father let's him come. Marbrand was a friend to me in some shit times -" The bedroom door clicked open then, and both of them jumped up. Sansa looked stunning. In a clear effort to avoid being linked to the North, her dress was light silk, almost floating around her. She was beaming at Tyrion.

                “Tyrion, it's so good to see you again.”

                “And it's excellent to see you.” Sansa kissed his cheek and he laughed. “My Lady, you will make me blush. You look wonderful sister, if I may say.”

                “You may say,” she said, her eyes dancing. Her eyes met Jaime's.

                “Shall we tell him?” he asked her. She nodded.

                “Tell me what?” Tyrion demanded.

                “I'm with child,” Sansa said softly. Tyrion's jaw dropped as he looked between them, his smile slowly growing to a grin.

                “That's – well. Congratulations, both of you!” He pulled Sansa down to him to embrace her and kiss her cheeks, then yanked Jaime into a hard hug. “I am absolutely overjoyed for you both.”

                “Thank you,” Sansa said, the pink in her cheeks deepening. “We're very happy.”

                “We're - we're keeping it quiet,” Jaime said. “Father's orders.” Tyrion nodded.

                “Of course. Thank you for telling me at least.You both deserve every happiness, and this is so much more than I ever hoped for you.” Neither of them needed to ask what he meant.

 

A knock came at the door. When Caliene opened it, a guard stood there, and Jaime did not know him.

                “The King demands the presence of the Lord and Lady Lannister, Guardians of the Rock.”

                “Of course,” Sansa said. “We will come at once.”

                “I am to escort you.”

                “Then we will come at once,” she repeated. She turned to Jaime. If she was nervous, or frightened, or even slightly reluctant, none of it was showing on her face. She simply shook out her skirts, smoothed the front, and smiled at him. He stepped up, took her arm.

                “Are you coming, Tyrion?” Jaime asked. He nodded at once.

                “Couldn't keep me away.”

 

The walk from the Tower of the Hand to the throne room seemed longer than it ever had. He had wanted to discuss a plan with her, come up with some kind of angle to play, decide how to handle this. Now they had no time, now everything would have to hinge on them reading unspoken cues. For a moment, doubt seized him. He had never been clever, had never learnt to talk in riddles and double-meanings. But Sansa made him better – and she was right there, her hand was steady and light on his arm, he could smell roses on her hair and hear the rustle of her dress as it swept along the flagstones. He could do it. He had to.

 

As if she'd read his thoughts, when they paused outside the doors to the Throne Room while they waited to be announced, she turned to him and lifted a hand to brush along his shoulders.

                “You can do this,” she murmured. “I need to stay back a little – you should talk as much as possible.” He nodded.

                “I love you,” he murmured. Behind them, Tyrion made a noise of surprise but there was no time to glare at him.

                “I love you too.”

                “Announcing Lord and Lady Lannister, Guardians of the Rock!” The voice boomed the words like a death knell, and the doors swung open.

 

The room was full, the entire Court obviously as desperate to see this as Tyrion had been. It helped him relax a little, to calm himself. Nothing too terrible would happen in a room this crowded. Tywin was standing next to the throne, in which Joffrey lounged. His face was screwed into a glower and everything about his attitude suggested he no more wanted to be here than they did. The pressure on his arm did not change, beside him Sansa kept her head up as she walked beside him. He could feel the eyes burning into him.

 

Cersei was sat beside Tywin, her face slightly flushed. He dared not look to her but he could see her. She looked angry – perhaps she did not want to be there either. They reached the dais, Sansa released his arm as he bowed and she curtseyed low.

                “Your Grace,” Jaime said, straightening up as she did. “We are honoured to be invited back to Court to join you in the weeks before your wedding, and we thank you for your hospitality.”

                “We are pleased to welcome you back, my Lord Uncle. And of course, we extend our greeting to Lady Sansa too. How do you find the capital, my Lady?” Sansa plastered a sickly-sweet smile onto her face as she looked up at Joffrey.

                “I find it unchanged, Your Grace – with the exception of some new faces amongst your guard, and some faces that are now absent.I must apologise for one of the missing of course – such a shame about Janos Slynt. I'm sure he has been sorely missed, although it was admittedly a surprise to all that he was not where he was sent.” Joffrey turned puce, and out of the corner of his eye, Jaime saw Cersei flinch. Interesting. “Your Lord Uncle is quite recovered now, of course,” Sansa continued, still in the lightest of tones. “But still, despite that good fortune, traitors have to die.”

                “They do,” Joffrey ground out. Malevolence was clear on his rather weak face. “Which is why I ensured your traitor brother's fate. Did you like my gift, my Lady?” Sansa did not even flinch, the smile did not falter.

                “It was a relief to me to see such a clear demonstration of  power that lies behind the throne, Your Grace. I am terribly sorry, however, that I have not brought back the beautiful box you sent Robb's head to me in. Far too lovely for a traitor. I shall keep it, with your permission? I can look at it then, and it can remind me of what we must do with those who seek to do us harm.” Gasps came from somewhere in the crowd as Sansa mentioned Robb's head in a box. Her eyes were gleaming. So nobody had known then – and Sansa had just announced it. She looked the absolute picture of innocence as she stood there, eyes suitably downcast and hands clasped loosely in front of her. Tywin stepped in then, obviously feeling that things had gone far enough. So much for keeping in the background.

                “I am certain that a great many here wish to reacquaint themselves with the Lord and Lady of the Rock. But there is business to be done.” Tywin nodded at Jaime. “Kneel.” Sansa stepped only slightly aside, her smile now more natural as Jaime knelt. In response to a glare from Tywin, Joffrey stood.

                “Jaime Lannister, given your marriage to Lady Sansa and the recent death of her brother Robert Stark, and in following with the passing of her remaining male relatives, we name you Warden of the North. You are charged with the lands from the Wall to the Neck, and we trust you to defend those lands with all due diligence and to the best of your abilities. Do you accept the charge?”

                “I accept the charge,” Jaime said. Joffrey nodded tightly.

                “Then rise, Lord Jaime Lannister – Warden of the North.”

 

Gods. He was allowed to step aside after that, take Sansa into the background with him. She was gripping his arm like a vice. He placed his hand over her own, squeezed her fingers as they watched the Court begin breaking into groups, some clustering to talk, some approaching the King. He wondered if everyone else noticed that Tywin was essentially dictating everything Joffrey said.

                “Are you alright?” he murmured to her.

                “No.” She didn't have to elaborate. He kept the best hold of her he could while longing to pull her into his arms and hold her, while wishing he could wrap both his arms right around her so she could press her head to his shoulder and close her eyes to collect herself. He could not, of course, but it didn't stop him wanting.

 

Through the crowds, Margaery Tyrell suddenly emerged, her face one enormous smile.

                “Sansa! Lord Jaime, it's so good to see you both again. My Lord, may I be terribly rude and steal her for a time? My grandmother invites Sansa for a light afternoon tea in the gardens.” Jaime smiled at her energy. When he glanced to her,Sansa was smiling too, her eyes warm. He nodded.

                “Of course you may.” Sansa kissed his cheek, nodded at him.

                “I'll see you soon, my Lord husband,” she murmured softly.

 

She slipped away unnoticed, arm-in-arm with Margaery. He watched her go, smiling at her obvious ease with Margaery, just relieved that nobody seemed to have seen her leave. At least she’d have time uninterrupted.

 

At least, he'd thought nobody had noticed her leave – but then there was a clasp on his arm and he looked around to find himself staring into icy green eyes that so closely matched his own.

 

Cersei.

 

Chapter Text

Olenna had not altered one bit.

 

Margaery too, seemed unchanged, her chatter as bright as ever as she walked Sansa to the veranda where Olenna sat in state, offered her a chair and pressed wine onto her. She hadn't realised how much she had missed female companionship until now. Olenna gave her a long, searching look as she sat down.

                “My dear,” she said warmly, reaching for Sansa's hand. “I intended to ask if you were settling down into married life, but I see I need not. You are looking wonderful.”

                “Thank you, my Lady. You're looking well too.”

                “And still a charming, charming girl,” Olenna said. Sansa glanced around. The bevy of Tyrell cousins who usually surrounded Margaery were absent, they were quite alone on the veranda. Tyrell guards stood at each possible entrance. It was as discreet a setting as she would probably ever get.

                “Margaery, I must thank you for your letter. I cannot tell you what it meant to get it.”

                “And I must thank you for your reply. I have missed you greatly. And – oh, Sansa, we were so sorry to hear about your brother.” Sansa had to force her face into neutral sadness, and hope it succeeded.

                “I mourn him as a sister should,” she said, quietly. “And it grieves me greatly that I could not see him one last time before he had to die.”

                “Sansa – you – in the Throne Room.”

                “Joffrey sent me Robb's severed head in a box,” she said bluntly. Margaery’s hand flew to her mouth, horror flooding her face. Even Olenna blanched. She looked directly at Margaery. “If you have some plan to get out of this wedding, get out of it now. I told you once that Joffrey was a monster. I tell you now that he is inhuman.

                “Don't worry, my dear,” Olenna said, leaning forward again. “We can, of course, say nothing – but Margaery will be safe.” She met Olenna's eyes. Ice stared back at her, steely determination matching her own.A silence fell between them, broken by Margaery lifting a tray of lemon cakes.

                “We ordered these specially for you,” she said, smiling. “Won't you join us in one, and tell us about the Rock? I have never been, you see. Is it as beautiful as Grandmother says?”

                “You've seen the Rock, Lady Olenna?” The woman waved a wrinkled hand.

                “Oh, years ago. In my wild youth, I knew Tywin Lannister fairly well – back when we were on the same side, of course. I always thought the place ugly.”

                “I find it – strange. It's very big, you see, and very grand. But I loved it there – the gardens were very beautiful, and the Lord's Chamber there, it looked out over the sea. Just sea, for miles and miles. It wasn't like looking over the Blackwater – I knew there was something out there. Dragonstone, Essos – but there's nothing out there from Casterly Rock. It made me feel – so free.”

                “And how is being married? How is Lord Jaime?” Margaery asked, her eyes dancing.

                “He's very well. I am very happy,” she said, simply.

                “I'm so pleased,” Margaery said earnestly.

                “Enough about me,” Sansa said, looking at them both. “Won't you tell me what has been happening here? News can take such a long time to reach the Rock, you see – I must have missed a great deal?”

                “Well, there was Lord Baelish, of course – had you heard he married Lady Arryn? Your aunt, isn't she?” Margaery asked.

                “Yes – my mother's sister. I ought to write, and extend condolences. I was so – busy, Lord Tywin was in such a hurry to leave the Rock.”

                “Well, they were married – in the Vale, of course, Lady Arryn did not wish to come to Court.”

                “He certainly seemed keen to get back, however,” Olenna remarked, somewhat caustically. “He was barely absent three weeks before he slinked back to Court. Not that I can blame the man – Lysa always was a strange one.”

                “So he has returned?” Sansa mused aloud.

                “Oh yes. Although what for seems unclear – he is no longer Master of Coin now he is Lord of the Vale,” Margaery said.

                “His whores probably missed his guiding hand,” Olenna remarked. Margaery giggled, Sansa found herself smiling too.

                “Grandmother, such scandal!” Margaery protested. “I am sure Lord Baelish has only honourable intentions.”

                “Petyr Baelish has never been honourable unless one  counts honour amongst thieves,” Olenna flashed back. “Still, he is your good-uncle now, I suppose,” she continued, looking directly at Sansa this time. “I don't suppose anyone troubled themselves to present you? I shall find him then. You ought see him, after all.”

                               

Waving aside all objections, Olenna stumped off. It left Margaery and Sansa quite alone, and Margaery smiled at her as she raised her goblet.

                “To your happiness, Lady Lannister,” she said, laughing. Sansa laughed too, touching her goblet to Margaery's before the smile fell and she turned to face the other girl head-on.

                “Are you well?” Sansa asked, lowering her voice enough so that even the guards would not hear. “Has he hurt you? Touched you?” Margaery shook her head at once, reaching for Sansa's hand.

                “He has not harmed me.”

 

Sansa almost hated herself for the irritation that caused her. She had been betrothed to Joffrey as much as Margaery now was, and it had not stopped his cruelty. But then, her family had been torn down, shamed to dust- the Tyrell's star seemed only to rise. Do not blame Margaery, she ordered herself. Blame Joffrey, and his bitch of a mother. Margaery's smile was very soft, as if somehow she understood. She was leaning forward.

                “Sansa, sweetest friend – you must be warned. They cheered for you in the streets, they called for you as Queen. Cersei is very angry, I heard her screaming at Trant just after you arrived. You must be on your guard, you must be on the lookout – go nowhere alone whilst you are in the capital. My grandmother told you not to fear for me – heed her. You must play the game, Sansa. You are her biggest threat now, not I. All I may say to you is look East.” Sansa nodded swiftly, gave a scandalised giggle as if Margaery had said something to induce it. She saw the approval on her friend's face.

                “I have a guard I can trust as much as is wise, Jaime's man.”

                “Sansa!” Margaery cried, giggling as she had herself. “Good. Stay with Jaime, or this guard, or us, as far as you may.” Margaery glanced behind Sansa then. “My grandmother is coming, Lord Baelish is with her.”

 

Sansa needed no other cue. She laughed out loud, even threw up her hands.

                “Nothing else will I tell you! Lady, Margaery, it is not proper – oh!” She heard the tap-tap of Olenna's stick, stood at once to curtsey. “Lady Olenna, Lord Baelish!” She even managed to blush, by making herself remember Jaime's mouth at her core. Perhaps it was slightly too deep a blush, but still, it would do.

                “Lady Lannister,” Baelish said smoothly. He bowed over her hand, almost but not quite kissing it. That he saved for Margaery, who giggled prettily.

                “I invited Lord Baelish to join us for our light refreshment,” Olenna said. “To be introduced to his new niece.” Petyr Baelish smiled, and Sansa thought snake.

                “I have met the Lady Sansa before, Lady Olenna.” Olenna waved a dismissive hand. The diamonds in her rings sparkled very briefly in the sunlight.

                “Of course you have, but not as her uncle.

                “Lord Baelish,” Sansa said, summoning up her prettiest smile, her lightest voice. “I was so pleased to hear of your marriage. Do tell me, how is my Aunt?”

                “Very well,” he said. His smile did not reach his eyes. They were stone-cold, they were calculating – she saw his eyes briefly slide downwards, towards her belly. Did he know? “She was pleased to hear of your marriage.” Lie. She saw it, the hardening in his eyes as the smile stayed in place. It was no secret that after Jon Arryn's death, Lysa was openly mistrustful of anyone named Lannister. Why else would she have retreated to the Eyrie, locking her doors and barring the gates? Her mother had taken Tyrion there.

                “I regret that I was not able to attend your wedding,” she said, treading very carefully. He had been at hers – although unusually for him, he had kept very much in the background. Now she came to think of it, she could barely remember him being there at all. Every instinct was screaming out do not trust this man. “I hope your marriage will bring you the happiness mine has brought me.”

                “Thank you, Lady Sansa. I confess – Casterly Rock has clearly suited you. You are – resplendent.” Oh, he knew alright. How he had found out was another matter, but he knew of her condition, that much was obvious.

                “It was wonderful there – but I confess that I am greatly looking forward to returning to Winterfell,” she answered. She wasn't sure if one of them was winning this game or not. She preferred crossing swords with Tywin, on the whole – she could speak frankly with him. With Petyr Baelish and his hard eyes, she found herself second-guessing and she disliked it. It put her on the back foot.

                “Ah yes, Winterfell. But my deepest condolences, Sansa – Lady Lannister. Your poor mother – and brother of course.” The pause was infinitesimal but she heard it – Robb as an afterthought.

                “Oh, Lord Baelish, how kind of you to say,” she positively cooed. It sickened her to do it. She cast her eyes a little downwards.“But my family sinned greatly against their anointed King, and while I mourn them as a dutiful daughter must, I admire our King's swift action to remove traitors.” From beneath her lashes, she saw the darkness briefly pass over his face. Anger, or perhaps frustration.

 

Olenna interrupted then, and Sansa could have kissed her for it. She was getting to her feet.

                “I must excuse myself,” the woman announced. “Perhaps, for an old woman, the Lady Sansa might assist me?” Sansa rose at once. She curtseyed low to Baelish, embraced Margaery warmly.

 

Olenna took her arm, lead them well out of earshot before a laugh escaped her.

                “My dear child, you are an exception. I have seen many play wits with Littlefinger, worm that he is. You handled him beautifully. I would wager he is still there, wondering what has happened.” Sansa frowned slightly.

                “I fear if I did leave him so, it was more by luck than judgement.”

                “Oh, nobody wins with Littlefinger,” Olenna said. “The man's too slippery for that. But you did very well, my dear.”

                “Thank you.”

                “Now, child, before we are back in the hearing of troublesome guards and meddlesome courtiers, tell me – do you trust your husband?” Sansa knew better than to show surprise.

                “As much as it is prudent,” she said, stepping carefully. Somehow, she did not want Olenna knowing exactly how close she and Jaime had become. We're all liars here,” Petyr Baelish's voice whispered in her mind. And every one of us is better than you. Olenna nodded.

                “Good. Stay close to his side, Sansa. He will prove his value one day.”

 

Olenna had not seen fit to explain, obviously. Sansa simply added the vague hint to those she already possessed – Olenna alluding to a plan to keep Margaery safe, Margaery herself telling her to look East and now this hint about some plan involving Jaime. And of course there was Robb's possible survival – she dared not allow herself to think of it any more positively than that –and Arya and Gendry. Arya had mentioned Braavos – did whatever the Tyrell's were planning also somehow involve the city?

 

She made her way slowly back towards the Tower of the Hand – alone, despite Margaery's warning. Suddenly, as she passed by a dark little entryway, probably a servant's passage, hands shot out and seized her. She would have screamed aloud but for a startlingly familiar hand over her mouth.

                “Little bird,” growled a startlingly familiar voice. Eyes adjusting to the shadow after the bright sun, she stared up at the figure looming over her, features hidden by a heavy cloak. Hidden to all but her – she would have known him if she were blind.

 

Sandor.

Chapter Text

He shouldn't have let Sansa go off with Margaery. He should have gone with her. He should have kept her with him. He should have sent Tyrion with her.

But no, no, surely she would be safe with Olenna and Margaery? Surely Olenna would keep a keen eye on her? Yes, she would – in this situation, him wanting to keep her with him was entirely selfish.

Cersei had dragged him away from the Throne Room, even as he cast wild glances around for a saviour, someone to latch onto, preferably to drag with him as a witness. Tyrion, Tywin - hell, Meryn Trant would do if there was nobody else. But Tywin was still standing beside the throne, Tyrion had vanished off the face of the earth, even Trant was gone. For the love of Gods. She took him into the Small Council chamber – or what had been the Small Council chamber. It was empty now, table gone, furniture removed. Dust was lying in layers, the room had a neglected air – but Cersei wasn't stopping in it. She just kept her grip on his arm, pulled him through the doors at the back leading to the royal apartments in Maegor's Holdfast.
“Cersei,” he began. She ignored him. “Cersei, what are you doing? Let go -" Nothing. Just that same tight grip. He wrenched his arm free, stopped walking. “Cersei, stop. Talk to me.” She stopped, looked around them. There was little on the lowest levels of the Holdfast, a guest apartment that was rarely used, doors he'd never actually bothered to open. Cersei opened on of them, showed a small bare room with a tiny window. She went into it, Jaime hung on the threshold.
“Stop hovering,” she snapped. He did not move – although there was a time when he would have jumped to her order. She'd always been able to do that to him. Behind his back, he gripped his hands together tightly.
“What do you want, Cersei?”
“Can't I associate with my dear brother anymore? Do you need the permission of your wife?”
“No. What do you want?” he repeated impassively.
“You haven't come to find me. You barely spoke to me before your wedding.”
“I'm quite sure you've found ways to entertain yourself,” he answered. She shot him an icy look.
“Father wants to marry me to someone,” she said bluntly. “I'll be damned if he does.”

In another life, that would have made him jealous. Perhaps he would have pushed her up against the door, lifted up her skirts and buried himself in their sin.
“And how, exactly, do you plan to stop him?” he enquired. She glared at him not. She crossed the room in two strides, seized his jerkin and yanked him inside. The door slammed behind him. He disengaged her clutching hands.
“Because I am stronger than you,” she hissed. “I will not kneel down for him to order, I will not allow him to marry me off as you did.” She pushed his chest. “I should have been the man,” she spat, vitriol pouring from her lips as she started pacing. “I would have been so much stronger. He wouldn't have married me off to Ned Stark's simpering brat!” Jaime gripped his temper tight.
“I will not stand to have you speak of her like that,” he said, voice as steady as he could make it. Her lips twisted into a sneer.
“You are her defender now?” She was coming towards him, danger in every line of her. He refused to step back. “I suppose she cried, did she?”
“Cried?” he asked, confused.
“When you fucked her on your wedding night.”
“No, she did not.” He left out the fact that she hadn't cried because he hadn't fucked her.
“Precious little dove,” Cersei spat. “Big blue eyes stayed open, did they? Spread her legs like a dutiful wife, lay still for you? Was it terribly like fucking a wooden doll?” His mouth was hanging open, shock paralysing him. “I thought about you that night,” Cersei continued. She had him backed against the door now, hands on his chest. His arms hung uselessly by his sides. “Was she a terrible bore?”
“This is inappropriate,” he snarled. She laughed, a high, cruel sound that cut him to the bone.
“Inappropriate? You're very high and mighty now, aren't you? Warden of the North. Ned Stark must be rolling in his damned grave.”
“You do not say his name,” he hissed, finally pushing her away. “Ned Stark was a hundred times the man I am, can ever hope to be. But Sansa? Sansa is so much more than you can ever even imagine. Is that why you paid Bolton to have Slynt try and kill her?” He saw the flicker of emotion, pressed his advantage. “Did you feel anything, I wonder, when they told you it was me Slynt actually poisoned? That it was me you damn near killed, with your schemes and your plots and your Godsdamned jealousy?” He saw the anger flare, added the clincher. “For a woman who waited less than, what, a moon's turn to spread her legs for Lancel after Robb Stark imprisoned me, you have a bizarre idea of loyalty.”

Her nails raked stinging paths down his cheek, his skin smarted where she had struck him.
“You dare to speak to me of loyalty?” she shouted, her voice shrill. “When they call that whore you call wife Queen in the streets of this city, the city ruled by your own son – the city your father calls his own? And yet you do nothing! She is not punished, she is not asked what she knows of it, she walks into Joff's throne room like she deserves our name? And you just stand docile, passive, whilst she insults us?” Jaime grabbed her at that, held her by the arms as she thrashed, trying to strike him again.
“Call her whore again and I'll kill you,” he whispered, hoarse with rage. “Attempt to harm her again and not even Father will be able to save you.” Her smile was terrible.
“You won't kill me, dear brother,” she whispered. “I am too much a part of you. We are too much part of each other. We're too much alike.” She got a hand free, slid it up over his chest, along his neck, into his hair. She yanked his head to the side, her lips touched his pulse. He shuddered at the touch.

Whether she took it for desire or knew it was disgust – who knew, but she was dragging his head to hers, her lips were under his own and they were dreadfully, frighteningly familiar. He knew how to kiss her until she was panting with desire, or how to pull her apart to leave her pliant. When her mouth opened as a warm invitation, he tasted wine when he ventured forth.

His stomach rolled, he pushed her away.
“No,” he said. “No.” This time, he saw confusion on her face.
“No?”
“No. I am not yours now. No.”
“Jaime -" She was reaching for him, her anger was sliding from her face. She looked smaller without it, without the arrogance. He hated that it hurt him to see it.
“No, Cersei,” he said, taking a step back. “No.” It was becoming a mantra. “We cannot – I cannot. I made vows to Sansa, I swore fidelity, to forsake all others – before the Gods, I vowed that.”
“Your precious bloody vows have never stopped you before,” she sneered. He could almost see her put on a mask – cold, unfeeling, to hide the hurt her eyes betrayed. “They call you Kingslayer, Oathbreaker, what is a wedding vow in the face of that? And my wedding vows never stopped me, and they never stopped you. You have an awfully convenient way of choosing which vows suit you.”
“Perhaps I just needed the motivation,” he said. Anger flared in her green eyes, mirrors of his own. He had known those eyes in all moods, in all tempers – hot with desire, child-like with hurt, burning with anger. They had never turned his blood to ice before, but they did now.
“The motivation? You disgust me, Jaime. You have lowered yourself to the level of that scheming little bitch and you're too damn blind to see that she will destroy our family the first chance she gets. Gods, do you become a slave for all women when they give you their cunts? You are a damn embarrassment. You disgrace our family name, you disgrace yourself between her legs. She must be a truly amazing fuck. Does she hold you close, Jaime? Does she whisper pretty words as you lie between her legs? Does she flutter her lashes and tell you how handsome you are, how brave, how clever?” The vicious spite in the words cut him to the quick, he felt so stupid – she had always done that, sowed seeds of doubt into his mind and manipulated him into thinking he was as stupid as she said.

No. He was more than that now. Sansa had made him better.
“She loves me,” he said. “She holds me and tells me, when she kisses me I find my strength again.” Cersei gave a raucous laugh.
“She loves you, does she? And is this in spite of what you did to her poor dead little brother? Or does she love you because she lives in blissful ignorance?” She was on him again, whispering into his ear. “You did that for love, Jaime.”
“I -"
“I wonder if she would still love you if she knew about that?” Jaime shoved her off, more forcefully than before, so hard she stumbled a little.
“Stay away from me,” he gasped out, wrenching open the door.

Her shrill laughter rang in his head all along the hastily-travelled route back to his chambers. There was no sign of either Caliene or Edric, and he staggered to the nearest chair, collapsing into it with a pained groan. His cheek was wet, his tears were stinging. When he touched his face, he hissed as he touched broken skin. He was not bleeding, but her nails had cut into him.

Her words had cut deeper. He scrubbed a hand over his mouth fiercely, trying to rub away Cersei from his skin, wishing he could scrub her from his mind too, wished he could remove every last trace of her. He wished he could erase away the memories that kiss had woken, wished he could not have felt desire rising up at her Godsdamned touch.

He wished he could forget that day in Winterfell.

Sansa – Sansa would despise him. She would be destroyed by it, she would kill him – oh Gods, he would beg her for death. He was nothing, he was broken, a sinner, a monster, a craven fool. He was beyond repair, beyond salvation, there was no forgiveness for what he had done in his life. He was not fit to kiss the ground Sansa walked on, never mind touch her.

The sob hurt. The bile that rose in his throat hurt. The guilt in his soul burnt black and hurt. He was worthless, nothing. Cersei had crawled back into his mind and spun her webs, her laughter still reverberating in his ears. He groaned, a pitiful, broken sound he did not recognise as his own voice, covered his ears with his hands to try and block out laughter that came from his memory. It just got louder. Useless, stupid fool. You disgrace us. He shook his head, like he might be able to shake it away. I am part of you, as you are part of me. She will never match me, she cannot save you. Sansa, where was his Sansa? He needed her, needed her sweet voice and her loving eyes – did not deserve her, but needed her.

He poured wine, but the smell of it turned his stomach. He threw the goblet at the wall, disgust rising like vomit in his belly. The red wine spilt like blood across the stones, sprayed up the wall like he had slit a throat. Perhaps he should slit his own. She could tell their child stories of a loving husband then, instead of stories of hate-filled pain.

Their child, for the love of Gods. If he told her, and the child looked like him, would she ever be able to look at them without –. He stopped the thought in its tracks, hated himself for having it at all. Sansa was not like that, she was good and kind. She would love their child, she would hate him. Another sob burst out.

Soft hands were on his face, a sweet voice was close by, worry lacing loving tones.
“What has happened, my love, my husband? Jaime, my Lord, who has hurt you?” She was crouched in front of him, her face alight with worry, with fear, with tender care – he turned away because how could he look at what he did not deserve, and do it with a clear conscience.
“I – I –“
“Oh, my sweet love,” she murmured. She was trying to pull him to her, to hug him, no, no, if he let her touch him he would be lost.
“I cannot touch you – you are too good, Sansa, please -" She ignored him, she was pulling him closer. He went boneless, slid off the chair and into her arms. He rested his head on her shoulder and shattered in the circle of her arms.

He told it to her through sobs.
“I pushed your brother Brandon from that tower. He saw me with Cersei, so I threw him from the window. I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry.”

The silence that fell was absolute. The stillness that overtook her body was complete. Her arms went stiff around him.

Pain opened its jaws, and swallowed him whole.

Chapter Text

He was glowering down at her in the half light.
“What in the seven hells are you doing strolling around here alone, girl?”
“What am I – what are you doing here at all?” she gasped, too shocked to be polite. “At least there isn't a literal price on my head!”
“I'm not here alone at least,” he grunted. “Come with me.” His big hand took hers, and she followed him without needing to think about it. Her mind and her heart were racing. He was here. All the months of wondering, all those months of worrying – and here he was, right in front of her, his hand in hers. And what the hell did he mean by not alone? Who was he with? He pulled her down the entryway a little, then down into another passage, even darker than the first. He stopped at a door, rapped three times in quick succession, then two shorter ones. A secret knock. What was he dragging her into? The door unlocked from the inside, swung open.

The room was very dark, no windows allowed in the sunlight. A single candle was in the middle of the table, and Sansa blinked, eyes adjusting to the darkness. Shadows moved, two people moved into the circle of light. Her eyes fell on Arya first. She leapt at her sister, taking her by the shoulders and shaking her sharply.
“Get off me!”
“What in the name of the Gods are you doing?” Sansa hissed at her, angry beyond belief. “Braavos! You said you were going to Braavos!”
“We were. Are. Maybe.” Sansa released her grip and massaged her temples. Gendry pulled a chair out from the table and she all but collapsed into it, staring round at the three of them.
“Sit down,” she said briefly. “And one of you, any of you, I don't care which of you, tell me what the fuck is going on.” Sandor snorted with what sounded like laughter at the curse. She glared at him.

The three of them sat, Sandor apparently reluctantly. Gendry produced a wine skin and a single, dented pewter goblet. He poured her a measure of the wine, then passed the skin to Arya, who swigged straight from it. Sansa held the goblet for something to hold, something to do with her hands while she listened.
“We had every intention of heading to Braavos,” Arya said, passing the skin back to Gendry. “We left the night before you, made it as far as Deep Den. Ran into this idiot,” she said, gesturing at Sandor.
“Watch it, wolf bitch.”
“He's been very pleasant company,” Arya said sarcastically. “Once we finished scrapping, Gendry made us sit down and talk. Sandor was heading East too, planning to get out of the country. Three's safer than two, figured we could travel together. Then we – we found Nymeria.” Sansa sat up with a bump at that. Her sister looked so happy.
“She's alive?”
“She knew me, Sansa, right off the bat. And I knew her. She's pretty wild now, it took a day to get her to even come near us.” As her sister spoke, something huge butted her knees under the table. Sansa damn near shrieked when a huge head thrust onto her lap. “Yeah, there's my girl.” The head withdrew, and a massive shadowy shape emerged. Nymeria took her breath away. Good Gods, the wolf was absolutely enormous.
“She – she – oh my Gods.”
“About covers it,” Gendry observed.
“Were – were you – we stopped at an inn one night -" Sansa muttered.
“That was not intentional. Nymeria was snooping around for me – I – Sansa, when you had Lady – did you ever – dream about being her?” Arya asked, biting her lips.
“Once,” Sansa whispered. “Just once. When we were still at Winterfell. I dreamt we were hunting. I dreamt that I – I tasted the blood in my mouth. I ate the flesh and woke feeling full, I felt her heart beat in my chest.”
“I can do it too,” Arya murmured, leaning forward. Sansa leant in too. “When I dream, I see through Nymeria's eyes. I can control what she does, where she goes, but not all the time. Mostly I'm just there. I hunt as her, like you I've tasted her kills. If you dreamt it once, maybe – maybe if Lady was still alive, you'd still be doing it. I don't know what it is, or how it happens. I was in her that night, I was just planning to creep around and see if I could hear anything. But like I said, I can't always control it, it slipped a bit and she got too close, one of the guards saw her, starting screaming his bloody head off. We cleared the hell out of there pretty quick.”
“But - we're going to circle back to this – but what are you all doing here? Sandor has a twenty gold dragon price on his head, it's only because people think you're dead that there isn't one on yours. And let's not get into Gendry being here, my Gods –“
“Sansa,” Arya said, grabbing for one of her wildly gesticulating hands. “Calm down. We came here because of you. Sandor wanted to make sure you were safe.” A lump rose in her throat, she had to swallow hard to get rid of it. He had come for her.
“Sandor -"
“Don't,” he said harshly. She swallowed again, nodded. Arya spoke again.
“We don't plan to hang around. I was in the crowds when you rode into the city – I heard what they were calling you.”
“Please tell me you weren't shouting it too.”
“Of course not, Sansa, I'm not a complete dribbling idiot. But you need to -"
“Be careful, yes, I know. Joffrey has named Jaime the Warden of the North - don't, Arya. I know. But it's why Tywin married me to him in the first place. We go back to Winterfell as soon as the King's wedding is done. Winterfell is in the North, it is the North – and whatever they've made my name, they still support the Starks. I can fortify it and make plans -"
“Think your husband will like that?” Sandor growled.
“He supports me,” she said forcefully. “Sandor, please – he keeps me safe.” She'd hit a nerve, the candlelight showed it – but his words shocked her.
“I offered to keep you safe.” Arya stood up, got Gendry by the collar.
“We need to go and buy food. Cloak on, Waters, come on – no, Nymeria. Stay. Protect.” Arya dragged Gendry out by apparent main force.
“You can't just go out, this isn't a – holiday,” she finished weakly as the door closed.
“Don't worry about them. That girl can come and go unnoticed, the boy isn't bad either. I'm the obvious fucker.” Silence fell, a horrid, heavy one.
“I should have gone with you,” she said abruptly. “I – Jaime is good to me, I love him now, being with him has helped me – but there are still days when I wish I had gone with you.”
“I can see your happiness, little bird. You're glowing with it. I don't wish it away – but I wish you'd come with me too.”

She couldn't have said if he reached for her, or if she reached for him, or if they reached for each other. But his hands took hers, her hands took his, and they sat hand-fast for a long time in silence that was no longer horrible. Perhaps their clasped hands spoke more words than they could vocalise. Perhaps the few words they had said had said everything there was to say.
“Where will you go, the three of you?” she asked quietly.
“No idea. We're out of here tomorrow though, I know that much. They've got money, enough to buy all three of us a passage. There have been mutterings about Slaver's Bay.” She frowned slightly.
“Daenerys Targaryen is in Slaver's Bay – Gods, you cannot go there! A Baratheon bastard, a Stark, you? No. If Daenerys Targaryen has even half a brain, she wouldn't trust you three. Go to Braavos, for the love of Gods.”
“It's my preference,” he grunted. “Look at you, little bird,” he said softly – so softly from him, it shorted her breath. “Schemes and plots and plans – Queen indeed.”
“I stopped wanting to be a Queen a long time ago, Sandor.”
“I know.”
“If I were Queen,” she said, watching his face carefully. “If I were Queen, would you be my shield?”
“I'd bend the knee to you gladly, little bird. It'd be an honour, protecting you.” Something must have shown on her face, because he gave her a grim smile. “Surprised to hear me talk of honour? Man's got to have a code. It's limited, but it's there. If those Northern cunts do put a crown on that pretty head of yours, I'll come back to you.” It was a promise, she heard it in the conviction in his voice. “Maybe we can protect each other then.”

Arya and Gendry came back unscathed, carrying a leather bag. She looked up hurriedly, did not let go of Sandor's hands.
“You weren't -"
“Nobody even looked twice at us. Has – has Sandor explained? We leave tomorrow?”
“Yes. Arya – did you hear anything – Robb?” Arya shook her head, sadness creeping in.
“These two know everything, by the way.” Sansa nodded, slightly relieved. “We kept our ears open but there was nothing. No news, no word, not even a rumour. If he's alive - he's laying very low.”
“If he's got any sense, he'll stay that way,” Sandor growled. “You've got any sense, you'll make your peace with it.”
“I have to know,” Arya said shortly. “And Sansa has to know too. We leave in the morning, Sansa, but like Sandor says, if Robb's got any sense he'll lie low and if at all possible, get out of the country. We'll have a chance of finding him if we're on the same continent at least, perhaps hearing talk. It's still infinitesimally small, but let's face it, we could search Westeros for the rest of our lives and probably never find him.”
“You should get back to your husband,” Sandor interjected then, letting go of her hands. “He'll be wondering where you are.”
“I still want to – the wolves – no, you're right, I know. I know.” She pressed the tips of her fingers into her eyelids. They were cool. It felt nice. “OK. We aren't going to be able to meet again,” she said, putting a cloak of practicality on to regain some semblance of control. “Are you alright for money?” Arya nodded.
“Lannister is generous, if he’s nothing else.”
“Good. Now, I don't know how you keep getting in and out of forts but whatever you do, I know the guards always used to change at sunset, then when the moon is highest.”
“We've got it covered.”
“Yes, but how?”
“Well, think about it – nobody actually knows who Gendry and I are; or what we look like now, it's been years. We just walked in. Did the same at Casterly Rock too. We literally just walked in.” Sansa blinked at her sister.
“And nobody questioned you?”
“We said we were servants. Walk in with a bag of carrots or whatever, nobody looks twice. See that's the thing about these places. They're designed to keep out armies, not individuals. There are tunnels all over the city, you know. We got Sandor in through one of them, we'll get him out the same way. Don't worry about us, Sansa,” Arya said, patting her sister's hand. “Worry about you.”

Goodbyes were better this time. Gendry still bowed awkwardly but Arya gave her a fierce hug. When she stepped up to Sandor, he looked down at her almost sadly.
“Goodbye, little bird.”
“Goodbye, Sandor. Be safe, please.”
“I'm a big fucker,” he answered. “I'm hard to kill.” Her own smile was sad now.
“Yes.”
“I'll keep an eye on the girl,” he said. “You know, make sure she doesn't kill too many people, make sure she's as safe as I can make her. For you.” She nodded.
“Come back alive,” she said. “And that's an order.”
“I'll vow it,” he said, suddenly. “You two, get over here. We need a witness.” Arya and Gendry came, he turned back to her. Drawing his sword, he knelt down.
“Um -"
“Shh,” Gendry hissed sharply, elbowing Arya in the ribs. Ignoring the interlude, Sandor spoke.
“I am yours, my Lady. I will shield you back and keep your counsel, and give my life for yours, if it comes to that. I swear it by the Old Gods and the New.” Sansa's voice wobbled a little as she spoke. She'd heard these words spoken only once. Please Gods she still remembered them.
“And I vow that you shall always have a place by my hearth, and meat and mead at my table. I pledge to ask no service of you that might bring you dishonour. This I swear, by the Old Gods, and the New.”

Sandor got up, armour clanking a little. He held her eyes with his, and she stared back unflinching, unwavering.
“Would you ask anything of me?” she asked, quietly.
“I – no.”
“Ask it,” she said, taking one step towards him.
“I would ask for a kiss,” he grunted. “Just one kiss, my Lady.” She stepped up, he had to bend his head.

It was nothing like the kiss they had shared after the Blackwater. She led this one, one hand pressed against his scars as she angled her lips to fit over his. Neither of them attempted to deepen in, neither of them moved to passion. When she moved back, there was something on his face she could not name.
“Fly away, little bird,” he said roughly, turning away. “Fly home, fly safe.”

She went, not knowing what her sister might make of all that, not particularly caring. Her heart was jumping in her chest.

The mess in their chambers nearly frightened her, the greeting died on her lips as Jaime gave a sob. She flew to him at once, panic rising. She framed his face in her hands, found tears, saw the scratches there. Good Gods had – did Cersei – it didn't matter right then. She'd never seen a man so broken.
“What has happened, my love, my husband? Jaime, my Lord, who has hurt you?” She was crouched in front of him, trying to get him to look at her, to meet her eyes, to bring his attention onto her. He turned away, staring back at the door, he was almost panting as he tried to talk.
“I – I –“
“Oh, my sweet love,” she murmured. She was trying to pull him to her, to hug him, somehow she felt that if she could hold him, if she could wrap her arms around him, she could make it better for him. He was resisting, she did not understand, it was frightening her as much as it baffled her.
“I cannot touch you – you are too good, Sansa, please -" She ignored him, she tried to pull him closer. The fight drained from him almost physically, she saw it leave him like an exhale on a frosty morning. He went boneless, slid off the chair and into her arms. He rested his head on her shoulder and she wrapped her arms around him as tightly as she could, desperate to reassure, desperate to heal whatever tortured him so badly that he was weeping.

And then he started talking.
“I pushed your brother Brandon from that tower. He saw me with Cersei, so I threw him from the window. I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry.”

The silence that fell was absolute. As his words sank into her, as she processed what they meant, ice washed over her, freezing her in place, consuming her whole as she realised everything, everything – had been a result of one act from him.

She couldn't even let him go. The roaring in her ears blocked out absolutely everything. The only thing she could think was no.

Chapter Text

She wasn't saying anything.

 

That was the worst part, her silence. She had pushed him away eventually, fallen back onto the floor. The horror on her face killed him.

                “Please don't hate me,” he had said. She had said nothing in reply, she had just stood up, gone into the bedchamber and closed the door between them. She had not slammed it, just closed it quietly. And he knew for all that, knew as clearly as he would know if she had screamed at him, slammed the door, struck him – he knew that she didn't want him in there with her.

 

He sat on the balcony. When Edric and Caliene came back, apparently to make them both ready for dinner, Sansa sent Caliene away again almost immediately. She and Edric had a hurried conversation, Edric nodding, and just like that, Edric was tidying up instead of going through clothes, and nobody was talking to him. He had the sense to know she wouldn't have told Caliene. If he spoke up and asked what was happening, he was fairly certain someone would have had answered. He just couldn't bring himself to ask. He couldn't think of anything that wasn't Sansa – so close to him and yet wrapped in so much silence that she might as well be leagues away.

 

Caliene was coming back with what looked like a meal, a meal for the two of them, she was carrying it into the bedchamber. He just watched, absolutely numb to it all. Then she and Edric left, and Sansa appeared framed in the doorway. She crossed the room to lock their chamber door. The sound of the bolts slamming home sounded like death knells, each of them. When she stood to stare at him, he could barely even look at her.

                “Look at me,” she said. Her voice was so quiet. He looked. The very least she deserved was for him to do that. It did not look like she had been crying, her eyes were clear. She was so pale.

                “I -"

                “I requested Caliene to send our apologies to the King. I cannot face him, I cannot pretend there is nothing wrong, I – I cannot sit beside you and smile and laugh knowing what I know now.” She caught her breath, he heard it, and he died a little to see it.

                “Sansa, please. You – I don't ask for your forgiveness. I don't deserve it – I don't deserve you -"

                “Have dinner with me,” she said. “We have to deal with this. We have to work out where we go from here.” He followed her to the table set up in their bedchamber, sat down and waited. He glanced around. It didn't look like she had started packing at least. Although – where would she go?

                “Sansa -"

                “Just – just wait. I have – I have thought about this. I – I still love you. I think you need to hear that.” As soon as she said it, he knew she was right. He had needed to hear it. He wanted to reach for her, but her hands were folded into her lap, away from his reach. “But I – I have to know why, Jaime. He was just a child. And I think I should tell you before you start – I know everything about Cersei. I know you were her lover before you were my husband. And from what you said, I suppose Bran saw you with her in a compromising position.” He took a deep breath. Cards were on the table.

                “I cannot defend what I did, and I will not insult you by trying to. I – was a terrible person, I did terrible things when I was with Cersei. She –she and I were in that tower at Winterfell, we'd been apart so long on the road. We just finally found a place to be alone and took advantage of it. Robert was off hunting with your father, she found the place. It was Cersei who saw Bran. He'd climbed up, obviously, heard us. He was just curious. He saw us, Cersei was panicking, I was panicking. I got hold of him, he was swearing he wasn't going to tell – I believed him but I knew –I knew it would be such a risk to let him go. For all that – Cersei kept on and on, she kept on saying he had seen us, I – I had hold of Bran by the front of his jerkin, he was half inside – and I looked at Cersei, the woman I loved, and I just – I pushed him.”

                “And how did you feel?” she asked, her voice very low. “After you threw my seven year old brother out of the window for witnessing you fucking your own sister, how did you feel?” He met her eyes.

                “Better men would have felt terrible. If I was a better man, I could look at you now and tell you that what I did gave me an immediate, crushing sense of absolute guilt, that I have carried that guilt with me ever since, that I have felt nothing but agony since the moment his jerkin left the tips of my fingers. I felt nothing at the time. If I felt anything, it was relief – relief that he wasn't going to be able to say anything.”

                “And when you pushed him,” she said, voice still so, so quiet, “was it your intention that he die?”

                “Yes,” he said, completely honestly. “That was my intention.” She seemed to slump down, he saw the tension leave her shoulders, saw the fight drain out of her.

                “You said -" She paused, he saw her gather herself to continue. “You said you felt no guilt then. Do you feel it now?”

                “Yes. I hate myself for it now.”

                “And did you start to feel this guilt before or after you married me, Jaime? At what point did you start to regret trying to murder him?”

                “I regretted it almost at once. I told myself it was necessary to keep the secret, I felt no guilt, but I did wish that I had found another way. The guilt – I began feeling guilt after your mother let me go.”

                “Good,” she said, rather unexpectedly. “Because I do not think I could bear it if you had only started feeling guilty after you tangled yourself with me.” She paused, he saw her hands take a fistful of her dress. She did that when she was frightened. “Will you do the same to me, if I tell you that not only am I fully aware of your relationship with Cersei – but that I know about Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen? That I know you are their true father, not Robert, and that Stannis Baratheon was absolutely right when he said that Joffrey has no claim to the Iron Throne?”

                “No. Sansa, no, Gods, I would never hurt you. You have to believe that, you have to believe that if you believe nothing else about me.”

                “I don't know what to believe about you anymore,” she whispered. “I thought I knew you. I thought I had seen the worst and loved you anyway, I forgave you for Jory Cassel, for injuring my father, because in my head, Jaime, I could rationalise all of that, I could understand why you did those things – because you were Kingsguard, because you were following orders. I could understand that, and so I could forgive.” She gave a tiny, bitter laugh. “Septa Mordane would have said that it is not in my gift to forgive. That I am human as much as you, and nothing gives me the right to assume power over you by presuming to forgive. She would say only the Gods may grant forgiveness. But you don't believe in the Gods, you have long since turned your back on them and long since moved out of their teachings.” She looked at him then, a long, hard, searching look. The old Jaime might have ducked his head. The Jaime he was now – thanks in no small part to her – kept her gaze. “I can't forgive you for this. I hate what you have done, I hate you for that act – but you are not that man now. You – I look at you, I see the Jaime who was beyond kind to me on our wedding night, when I was so afraid of being hurt. I see the Jaime who holds me when I am afraid, the Jaime who I know would do anything to make me happy, the Jaime I lovelike I have never loved anyone –and I just cannot reconcile you with the man who would push a child from a tower. But how can I – how can I still love you? I almost wish this had broken it, that hearing this from you took that love from me. And yet I still look at you, and I still love you. You have broken my heart, and still I love you. What do we do, Jaime?” There were tears in her eyes now. Even with his own vision blurring, he could see the sparkle of unshed tears filming her blue eyes with pain. “Where do we go from this?”

                “I don't know,” he answered. “I don't know. I would die, here and now, if I thought it would help you. I would seek your sister out, and let her kill me, if you said that it was what you wanted. Oh, Sansa – you deserved so much more than me. I wish I could fix this by giving you some answers, by telling you what can be done. But you're right – how can I be forgiven? How can I be absolved? There's no price for this.”

                “No, there isn't,” she agreed. “But what I do know is that we are in a city filled with people who would happily harm one or both of us. We cannot stand divided now, or we'll never get out alive. I need you to stand up under this, as I must. But I also know that if we can get through this, we'll survive anything. But I – I just feel so lost.” She looked so small, so afraid. He wanted desperately to gather her into his arms but did not dare. A tear slipped down her cheek. Her eyes were brimming. “I cannot eat,” she said, standing. “I can't bear this.” She was trembling, he could see it. She was turning her back, he saw the tears before she could turn away, and he was on his feet before he could tell himself it was a bad idea. He had her in his arms before he could think properly. She was cold, unyielding, standing like ice as he wrapped his arms around her, pressing himself against her back.

                “In any other moment, if those tears were caused by anything else, this is what I would do. I would hold you, I would tell you that I love you, I would tell you that I would do anything, anything to stop whatever was hurting you. I was a selfish, arrogant, foolish cunt, Sansa. I have made you cry; I have caused your pain and I do not ask or expect forgiveness from you, for I do not deserve it. But I ask you to allow me this – please.”

 

It was wholly inadequate, and he knew that. He was just waiting for her to fling him off, strike him or shout at him. She did none of those things. The stiffness left her back and shoulders, she was turning in his arms to slide her own arms around his waist. He buried his face into her hair, clutched her tight, and loved her so much it hurt.

 

She deserved so much more.

 

 

Chapter Text

She could barely even think.

 

He had been, at least, entirely honest with her. She could see that in his face, in his eyes, in the unshed tears that glittered like diamonds. He had been true – had not attempted to defend or excuse, nor even to rationalise. He had explained, admitted and apologised. She had almost expected him to blame Cersei, to say something about emotional manipulation or sexual blackmail. But then, he was a soldier, a man, he'd probably rather cut a hand off than admit he had been bested.

 

She hadn't been lying when she had said she still loved him. She hadn't been lying when she had openly admitted to downright hating him. She still saw her husband, her Jaime, the good man with the good heart. But now she looked at him and saw the man who had torn apart her family. Had he cut open her chest, removed her heart and stamped on it, it would have hurt less than this. She wanted to hate him.

 

Even standing in his arms, even now still drawing strength from him, she wanted to hate him. It would be so much easier if she could just despise him and have done with it, if she could resign herself to the loveless marriage she had always expected. But she had tasted love, had eaten tenderness until she was full of it, and while anger rolled beneath the calm, she still felt it. This man in front of her, holding her, begging her for a chance to prove himself –she loved this man.

 

It was shredding her, tearing her apart, but she loved him still. Staying in his arms was a test as much as a necessity. She was waiting for disgust at her behaviour to hit her, waiting for the hate to take precedence, waiting for full realisation to take effect. Her mother would be furious to see this, her mother would despise her to see her stood in the arms of her brother's would-be murderer and embracing him as her lover, her husband.

 

Was it possible to feel so much and not break? She felt so full, she felt like one move from either of them would shatter her like glass. Perhaps that would be the best thing, if she just broke now and had done with it. She had prayed for death before her wedding. She did not want it now. Whatever she felt, unexplainable even to her, she must, absolutely must, keep going. She had to keep her head up, keep fighting, keep meeting their eyes. She had to maintain her place in the game, or everything would be lost. One crack in her armour and she felt certain it would take men like Littlefinger and Tywin approximately a heartbeat's span to find out every single secret she kept. One sign of weakness, Cersei would swallow her whole, Joffrey would have her crawling again.

 

No. This was not going to break them. It would cut deep, the knife would be twisted, it would wound them both like bears in the pit – but like the bears in the pits, they were big enough, strong enough to keep on fighting. If behind closed doors they never recovered what they had had, in public at least she could still be in love with him. Compartmentalize, divide and conquer, smile. She could divide the polar opposite halves of her feelings for Jaime. She was strong enough to do it, had done it before when she was begging for Robb's life and Tyrion had come and saved her. Sandor's cloak and Tyrion's warm hand had given her strength then. Her child, Jaime's child could be her strength now. She could still love him in public then reject him in private. She was hardly required to fuck him anymore, she was already pregnant. She drew back from him, took his chin in her hand and held his gaze.

                “This is what we are going to do,” she began, her voice hard. “For worse or better, we are married, I am with child. There cannot be any question of that. We are surrounded by people who wish us harm, who would seize any display of division as a chance to drive a wedge between us neither of us will be able to remove. In public, so far as every single person knows, nothing has changed between us. We are as in love as we were just this morning. We stand together, we act together, we fight together. We’ve managed it once, when we knew nothing of each other. We can manage it now when we love each other. In private – when we two are alone, like this – well, we take it a day at a time. We share a bed, we take our meals, we touch if the other requires touch. But I will not lie with you. I cannot. I cannot do that just now. We are fortunate in our fertility, we need not continue trying for something already happening. We start again, in short. When we married, you were kind enough to wait. I ask you now to wait again. Can you agree to this?” The pain on his face hurt her, but he nodded.

                “Anything,” he said, simply. “Anything you ask of me now, I will give you. If this is it, then it's yours.”

                “Very well.” She moved out of his reach, gestured at his face. “Shall I assume that is Cersei's handiwork?” she asked.

                “She kissed me,” he confessed. That did not even register. There was no more room in her heart for any more pain. “I kissed her back, briefly. Then I pulled away.”

                “Did she hit you before or after that?”

                “Before. It's how she always was, how we were, passion in all things.” Somewhere, in the single remaining tiny part of her that wasn't already aching, jealousy registered. She also dimly recognised that he was giving her honesty.

                “I kissed Sandor Clegane today,” she said, bluntly. “My sister is in the city, he is with her and the blacksmith Gendry. He swore himself to me, knelt and pledged his service. I accepted his vow, and asked if there was anything he would ask of me. He asked for a single kiss, and I gave it to him. They leave for Braavos on the morrow.”

                “I see.”

                “You have no right to be angry,” she said, voice level.

                “No, I don't, and I am not angry. I am envious, confused and hurt that where I have failed you, he has come through – but not angry. Never angry.” They watched each other a moment. “I made a promise to your sister that if the day came where I hurt you, I would kneel down and bare my throat for her to cut. Would you like me to go to her, confess my sin, and do so?” Her breath caught in her throat. He was serious.

                “Would you do it, if I said yes? If I told you, right now, where she is, would you lay down your sword and go?”

                “If it was what you required. If you demanded blood for blood, I'd pay the price.”

 

So this was it then. This was the hour of testing her father had sometimes talked of with Robb and Theon and Jon. That at some stage in a man's life, he faced the choice between personal satisfaction, and the right thing, justice. Was justice for Bran Jaime dying?

                “No,” she said slowly. “You dying now would probably heal the agony. But it would not make me happy. Bran was the one you sinned against, not me, and whatever else happened to him, he has no more pain or suffering. I am not the wronged. I cannot demand the price.” He nodded.

                “Then I will live,” he said, simply.She turned away then. Gods, but she was exhausted.

                “I am going to bed,” she said. Even she could hear how distant she sounded. “May I be alone for a time?”

                “Of course.” He bowed to her, the distance already growing. “I shall come later.”

 

And so the routine began. During the sun-drenched days, so at odds with her inner darkness, she and Jaime stood together. They smiled and danced and were sure that they stole away together. They bowed to the King, spoke meaningless pleasantries to Cersei. It was with no small pleasure that Sansa took Jaime's arm, gazed at him warmly, rested her head briefly on his shoulder. Even in the midst of this, she still found her strength in his hand on her back or waist, from the smiles he found for her. For Tywin, Littlefinger and Varys, they stepped it up a stage – they were caught kissing, laughing like newly-wed green children who had married for love, they whispered to each other. Littlefinger, she noticed with interest, looked increasingly bitter during these moments. Varys seemed almost amused, and Tywin, utterly despairing.

 

But once the chamber doors were closed behind them at night, they barely spoke at all. The strain was starting to show on him, and she knew that she was growing weary. The facade that she had insisted on was wearying her to the bone, but she slept badly and briefly, lying a span away from him in their bed, her back to him. It took less than a week for her to know that Tyrion knew there was something very wrong. She had observed them down on an old dock having a hissed and furious conversation while she was walking down from the Godswood. Jaime said nothing about it to her, and she could not find the energy to ask.

 

She went nowhere alone. Tywin had been livid to get word that she had been, however briefly, unguarded on her very first day in the capital. Wherever she went now, Kinston and one of Tywin's own men went with her. During her daily teas with Olenna and Margaery, they joined the stern Tyrell guards without demur from Olenna, and accompanied her as soon as she left. They waited outside the Godswood when she went to pray, and no matter how long she stayed, they were always still there when she emerged.

 

It was a matter of time before one of them cracked, before the strain broke one or both of them and destroyed them completely. It was a matter of time before Tyrion would not be the only one who had noticed. She would go to bed first, almost immediately, he would follow some time later. Invariably, she would still be awake, unable to stop her swirling, addled thoughts. He would undress in silence, climb in beside her and she would feel his eyes on her – before he would give a soft, sad sigh she hated, and roll over to face away from her. She felt she grew a little colder every night that passed, that she had to curl up tighter to grow warm enough to slip into some uneasy sleep. She was burning to reach out for him, her mind screamed at her to roll over and reach out a hand, to say his name. Her limbs would not obey, her body would not unlock, and night after night she lay beside him, cold and longing and unmoving.

 

It was him who reached out first. They were taking dinner in their own chambers, when he suddenly dropped his knife with a clatter and gave a noise of pure pain.

                “I cannot do this for another moment,” he whispered hoarsely. “I cannot keep pretending there is nothing wrong during our days and then sitting in this damned silence every night. Sansa, please – shout at me, curse me, strike me if you must – but I need to hold my wife again, I cannot keep this up. Give me every piece of your anger and your hatred and let me endure it, it's nothing less than I deserve but I beg of you, Sansa, my love, say something.I cannot endure this for another moment.”

 

She met his eyes, felt the anger that had bubbled for the entire two long weeks it had been – and felt it snap inside her. She was on her feet, rounding the table, he was standing too, and she was kissing him, anger and sorrow and hate and love all burning into one bruising, biting kiss.

 

I love him. I hate him.

 

I need him.

Chapter Text

He could taste her passion, felt his own rise to match it.

 

Her hands were knotted into his hair, her breath coming in hard gasps as he ripped his lips from hers and tore a path to her throat. Her hands were tearing his jerkin open, throwing it aside even as he yanked her head back and bit over her fluttering pulse. She growled at it, used her grip in his hair to drag his lips back to her own. When she nipped his bottom lip in her teeth and then broke from him to glare, he was lost completely.The past two dreadful weeks of that crushing act had destroyed him, he was ready to take even pain. Her hand was in his, she was dragging him to the bedchamber to shove him, with not inconsiderable force, down onto the bed to lie on his back. She got his shirt off him before she stood back.

                “Take your breeches off,” she ordered – and an order it undoubtedly was. He obeyed it, unquestioning, stripped naked even as she stayed fully dressed. She joined him on the bed, still fully dressed, but when he sat up to reach for her laces, she pushed him back. “No,” she said, voice deadly. “This is on my terms.”

 

She took off her smallclothes without showing him anything, straddled his waist.

                “I love you,” she panted as she sheathed him within her wet heat. He grunted at the suddenness, at how ready she already was. She moved torturously slowly, her hips barely rocking over him. Her dress was crumpled around her waist, probably ruining the silk. He didn't give a damn, just put his hands on her waist to try and ground himself.

                “I love you too.”

                “I hate you,” she said, almost venomous but for the shake in her voice. She never stopped moving in that slow, torturous grind, just rocking herself back and forth. “Gods, Jaime, I love you so much, but I hate you for that.”

                “I know.”

                “Good.” She bent, crashed her lips to his, and he responded in kind. Half his brain was pointing out how fucking bizarre this was, to feel her wet heat wrapped around his cock while she informed him a part of her hated him, the other half just loved her. She broke the kiss, resumed the upright position, increased the speed of her movements. “But I don't want to keep hating you,” she panted. “I can't. It's too painful. I want – Gods – I want us both to remember who we belong to. Who we are together.” Her kiss this time was gentler. “Take me,” she whispered. “Please.”

 

He turned them, lay her on her front to untie each lace and tear away her dress. He was certain he heard something rip, but couldn't have cared less when it meant she was naked when he turned her back to face him. When he started kissing a path down her chest, over her belly, she craned her head to look at him.

                “You don't – oh, Jaime.

                “I want to,” he responded. It was so long since he'd tasted her. He could swear she was sweeter than ever before. She was gripping the sheets within minutes. Once upon a time, she might have grabbed his hair.

 

He made her peak with hands and mouth before he retraced his path up her body. Her eyes were bright, slightly hazy, he could see the aftershock of her pleasure running through her as little tremors.

                “We don't have to – if you'd prefer not – I would understand -"

                “Jaime, she interrupted. “Please.” She was reaching down between them, wrapping her fingers round him to guide him into her.

 

It was peace and love and some kind of hope, he supposed, as she wrapped her legs around him and urged him in. He had missed her, missed her more than he could explain to himself or indeed to anyone. She'd been there, been right beside him, but if he had looked into her eyes, he had seen the distance in them as she wished herself away. It had killed him, but her eyes weren't distant at all now. They were burning hot and searing into him and he could not tear his gaze away.

 

Her hands were gripping his waist, her knees hitched around his hips.

                “I'm yours,” he gasped, already slightly breathless.

                “Yes,” she groaned. “Mine.”

                “And you?” He needed to hear her say it, one way or another. Whether she hated him or not, he had to hear her say it.

                “Yours,” she said, her fingers digging in. “Always yours.”

 

It was part reclamation, part redemption, part forgiveness. There was nothing but love in her eyes as he stared down at her, as his thrusts became erratic and he let some of his weight touch her – not to pin her, not to hurt her, just to make them as close as humanly possible, seeking to close the emotional gap by closing the physical. She wrapped her legs around him and put her arms around his shoulders to keep him there atop her, her legs urging him deeper with each thrust. Her nails raked a path down his back when suddenly, unexpectedly, he felt her stiffen beneath him, her back arching slightly as her eyes went dark with pleasure. He followed her over the edge, fell beside her gasping. It didn't stop him reaching for her. She crawled into his arms and rested her head in the curve of his shoulder, laying her palm on his chest.

                “I can't apologise,” he said, voice low. “I would say I was sorry if I broke something of yours, or spilt wine on your favourite dress, or I was late to dinner. It isn't enough for this situation.”

                “I know,” she answered. “I know you regret it, Jaime, at least now. And I know that the man who did that Gods-awful thing is not you. Not anymore. It's going to take me time, but I don't want us to spend the rest of our lives living under its shadow. I already know it's going to haunt you but – I want you to know, Jaime, that you're still a good man.” His breath caught. She moved beside him, rolling to her front as she folded her arms on his chest and resting her chin on them so she could stare at him. “You don't believe it.” It was a statement, not a question, but he answered her anyway.

                “Of course I don't believe it. I have done terrible things - you're the only person in the entire world who knows all of me, who knows all of the stories. They call me Kingslayer to my face. Gods know what they say behind my back. Good men don't break vows.”

                “Good men are not decided by their deeds,” she responded. “You saved so many lives with one death that day. It's still following you. And Bran –it was a vile, despicable thing to do, and you will regret it. That's why you're good, Jaime. You at least recognise and acknowledge that what you've done is awful. But you aren't those awful things.”

                “You really believe that,” he said, craning his neck to look at her. She nodded.

                “It's going to take me time, Jaime, she repeated. “But it's tearing me apart to hate you.I just can't keep on hating, it'll destroy us both – and it's not just us we have now.” She was talking about their child. He moved, rolled to face her as she rearranged herself.

                “We're together?” he asked, reaching for her hand. She spread her fingers to let him entangle his fingers with hers, and he rubbed a thumb over her knuckles.

                “Yes,’” she answered, voice clear. “Together. Nobody gets a chance to come between us, we stand together.” He dragged her close, kissed her. She responded in kind, stroking his face gently with the tips of his fingers. The scratches from Cersei's nails were long gone by now, but he could swear she was tracing where they were. “I have to ask, Jaime – sooner or later, Cersei is going to find a way to separate us again. One of both of us is going to end up alone with her at some point. Do I know everything? Is there anything left, anything at all, she could seek to use against you to try and drive us apart?” He shook his head.

                “No. You know everything.”

                “Good.” She didn't say anything for a long time, just reached out again to touch his neck, tracing idle patterns there. “Together,” she said abruptly. “The two of us.”

                “Together,” he agreed.

 

She slept in his arms that night. Despite being bone-weary from the nightmare of the last two weeks, he watched her sleep for some time, watched the flicker of her eyelids as she had some dream perhaps. It seemed to be a good dream. She was smiling on and off. It warmed the hollow his confession had left inside his chest.

 

He’s felt so useless and so broken, all Tyrion had had to do was ask why he looked so bloody miserable, and he'd spilt his guts to his brother without holding back. Tyrion had been appalled at the confession, furiously angry – Jaime had accepted his brother's anger, let it consume him in the way he was starting to wish Sansa's would. Anything but the silences and the games and the lies that were started to confuse him and break him down to a ruin. He had told Tyrion absolutely everything. He hadn't cared if he sounded scared, lost, pathetic, reprehensible. He had just needed someone so badly. Tyrion had thumped him, yelled himself hoarse – and then sat down and talked.

 

It had been the longest conversation Jaime had ever had with his brother, indeed with any other man. During the course of it, he had been reduced to absolute flinders – not an uncommon occurrence. Tywin and Cersei had frequently done that to him, then swept off to leave him there. Tyrion, on the other hand, reduced him to flinders – and then took the time to put him back together again. He had been the one to tell Jaime to just be honest with Sansa, to tell her what it was all doing to him, to admit how low it was bringing him. When Jaime had pointed out that that was no less than he deserved, Tyrion had cuffed him round the head. Of course you deserve it. Deserve a hell of a lot worse too. But there are limits to all punishments, and if she keeps this up, she'll end up breaking both of you.

 

It had taken him nearly another week to summon the courage, but he was glad he had now. They were going to be on a damn long road, and on a damn hard one, but they had not broken. The worst he could do was already done, the worst she could do in response was done. There was nothing else now. She knew the worst of him – and he knew the worst of her.

 

He had to admit that the selfish bastard he'd once been still lingered – and that that part of him was wildly, insanely jealous of the kiss she had freely given Sandor, by her own admission. Part of him wanted the murder the man on the spot for daring to even think about kissing her. Part of him wanted to buy the man an ale and commiserate. Part of him wanted to ask him why he cared. He wondered if their reasoning would match.

 

Beside him, Sansa shifted in her sleep, turning away from him with a low mutter he didn't catch. He made himself comfortable, settled down. Sleep was already dragging him under.

 

When he woke the next morning, it was to urgent whispers. He rolled over, found the bed empty.

                “Sansa?” he called out, getting up and pulling a nightshirt over his head. She appeared in the doorway, and he noticed the dress at once. Lannister crimson, for a Lannister bride. It was the Dornish silk he had ordered for her so long ago. “Isn't that -"

                “My dress for Joffrey's wedding,” she said shortly. “Yes. You must get up at once, Jaime. Joffrey is to marry Margaery Tyrell today.” He gaped at her. Tyrion stepped inside too, his face twisted in a frown.

                “What the hell is going on?” Jaime demanded.

                “Sansa has summed it up neatly enough. Get dressed, for the love of Gods, Jaime.”

                “But why today? What is the sudden hurry?” he persisted even as Edric came in and started setting up to shave him. Sansa met his eyes with a terrible kind of amused despair.

                “Margaery Tyrell is with child, apparently.”

Chapter Text

When Tyrion had come in to find her already up, her first act had been to hush him, knowing Jaime was still sleeping.

                “Did you just -"

                “Jaime is still asleep,” she explained in a low voice. “Can I offer you -"

                “This is not a social call,” Tyrion interrupted. “You need to summon your maid, have her dress you in your best clothes, Jaime too.” She sent the message before she turned back to him.

                “Why?” she asked, frowning.

                “We have a wedding to attend. The King is getting married today.”

                “Today?”

                “Yes, today. It's all over the Keep, the city too I shouldn't wonder. They say the Lady Margaery is with child.”

 

It had all been a blur after that. Tyrion had wanted to rouse Jaime at once, but she refused him, pointing out he had shaved properly the day before, that he would not need long to dress – and that he had been exhausted the night before. What Tyrion knew, she could not have said for certain, but there was a comforting hand on her shoulder when she sat down to let Caliene braid up her hair.

                “I'm very glad,” he said simply.

 

Once Jaime was awake, everything began to happen very quickly. Before she knew it, she was standing outside the Sept with Jaime and Tyrion, watching Tywin Lannister storming towards them.

                “He means business,” Tyrion observed, leaning casually against the curved wall of the doorframes.

                “Everything is business to our dear father,” Jaime said drily, watching Tywin get waylaid by a Tyrell man. “Even embarrassments like this.”

                “I asked Caliene to keep an ear on the servant’s gossip,” Sansa said idly. “She says the maids are saying Maester Pycelle confirmed Margaery's pregnancy this very morning.” Tyrion gave her an approving nod.

                “Ears everywhere, my dear sister. I congratulate you.” She gave him a swift smile.

                “If ever one requires information on the secrets of the highborn, all one need do is ask the servants,” she answered.

                “Who taught you that?” Jaime asked, grinning at her. “Your mother, to warn you about what to say before them?”

                “My Septa,” she retorted drily. Tyrion laughed just as Tywin reached the three of them.

                “I am glad you find this amusing,” Tywin spat at his son.

                “It was my fault,” Sansa said smoothly. “I'm afraid I made a joke. Poor taste, I know, and I do crave pardon for it. You asked to see us?”

                “I asked to see you two. You may leave us,” Tywin said, gesturing at Tyrion who made an exaggerated bow.

                “Of course, my Lord Father.”

                “Now,” Tywin said, turning to her and Jaime with a heavy glower. “You two have heard the rumours, I suppose?”

                “Yes,” Jaime said. “Are they true?”

                “Pycelle says so,” Tywin ground out. “Regardless of that being questionable or not, this must now be gone through with all due ceremony. You will escort the King,” he snapped at Jaime, before turning his gaze onto her. “You will stand alongside Lady Olenna and the Dowager Queen, as the wife of the Warden of the North.” Sansa blinked slowly, hoping it would be enough to stop her wanting to close her eyes and pray for help. It didn't, but she found a smile. If she could at least stand between the pair, she and Olenna might be able to keep her entertained. Distracted. Whichever of the two it was, it would be more than welcome.

                “Of course, my Lord,” she said, curtseying low. “Shall I go in at once?”

                “If it isn't too much trouble,” Tywin said drily. She turned to Jaime.

                “I'll see you at the Feast,” she said sweetly. She could see the worry in his eyes, and knowing it was for her warmed the hollow place inside her a little more. She pressed a kiss to his lips, ignored Tywin's grunt of disapproval and swept inside without a backwards glance.

 

She had been looking for Olenna for some time before it dawned on her that Olenna was more than likely with Margaery. She cursed to herself, started looking around for alternative allies – not that she had much choice.

 

In the end, the enemy found her first. Terribly familiar sharp fingers gripped her upper arm through the red silk of her dress, forced her to stop walking. She smelt the perfume first, then the tang on wine. Cersei's eyes were gleaming malevolently when Sansa looked into them – noting with a certain vicious pleasure that she stood eye-to-eye with Cersei now. How things had changed.

                “Dear sister,” Cersei cooed. “I haven't had a proper chance to speak with you since you returned so hastily to King's Landing. Did you miss the capital terribly?”

                “Every day, your Grace. I prayed for you every day.”

                “You always were such a good child. Praying. I remember you praying during the Battle of the Blackwater.” And I remember you drinking yourself stupid, Sansa thought, stretching her lips into her sweetest smile.

                “It was a troubling time, your Grace. We all could use a little prayer, to soothe our souls – and to be forgiven for our sins.” You could pray for a lifetime and still never find forgiveness. Cersei's eyes brightened with rage at the implication of Sansa's words.

                “Sins. So interesting that you should bring them up. Tell me, is my dearest brother kind to you, Sansa?”

                “He is very kind. He has been very good to me. So considerate – so honest – so open with his affections.” She increased the sweetness of the smile. “I am so fortunate that my good-father, Lord Tywin I mean, was so good as to make me such a match.” Cersei looked like she was being force-fed vinegar. Or horse piss.

                “Yes,” Cersei spat. “As the daughter and sister of arraigned traitors, you were fortunate indeed.”

                “I'm sure that had you and the King been permitted to arrange my marriage, I would have been equally happy,” Sansa continued, pressing her advantage ruthlessly. “But Jaime – I beg your pardon, Lord Jaime – has been more than good to me. And it's so wonderful that the Gods saw fit to spare him from the claws of Janos Slynt.” Cersei blinked then, her expression that told of unfathomable rage faltering slightly. Her grip on Sansa's arm loosened slightly, enough for Sansa to step slightly away and remain out of the reach of the woman's clutching fingertips.

                “Yes. Fortunate.” Sansa curtseyed gravely. She had finally caught sight of Olenna. Please the Gods, the woman could save her from this madness. She made to walk past Cersei, but once more the woman was gripping her arm. “I know things about him,” Cersei hissed. Sansa looked around then, but none were left on the upper walkway of the Sept. Everyone had clearly gone down to the Sept floor to await the bride.

                “You forget yourself, Your Grace.”

                “Do not presume to admonish me,” Cersei spat, her face scarlet with rage. “You are nothing but a traitorous whore. I know things about dear Jaime that could turn your hair to white. I know -"

                “That your children are his, not your late husband? That your brother was fucking you almost from the day you were sold to Robert Baratheon like a breeding cow? That he threw my brother from a tower for the crime of seeing it?” Cersei looked appalled, horrified, looking around herself for witnesses. “I know it all, your Grace. You underestimate his goodness, his strength. You underestimate mine.” Sansa stepped closer. “I have seen the worst of him, I love him all the better for the understanding of him knowing those things brings me.” Sansa freed her arm. “Call me sister again,” she said, flatly, lowly, “and I'll strangle you with your own hair.”

 

She got to Olenna on shaking legs, drew the woman to one side. Olenna looked her up and down, gave her an approving nod.

                “Very pretty, my dear.”

                “Thank you, Lady Olenna. How is Lady Margaery? Is she nervous? I was terribly nervous,” she said, with a little laugh. “I had hoped to see her on the morning of the wedding – only -" She paused, bit her lip. She did not want to insult Olenna by drawing attention to the hurried nuptials. But Olenna was laughing, patting her cheek in a motherly way.

                “Only even the best laid plans are sometimes disrupted, are they not? Oh, it's a shame of course, but I shall see you get a little time with my granddaughter.” Sansa was busy trying to think of a subtle way to ask if the wild rumours currently circulating were at all true, when Olenna puckered her lips in clear displeasure.

                “Don't look now my dear, but here heads a snake.” A moment later, a smooth voice was directly beside her.

                “Lady Lannister, Lady Tyrell. How beautiful you both look.”

                “Lord Baelish,” Sansa said, once more summoning the most honeyed tones she possibly could. Jaime would be lucky if she so much as softened her voice once she got back to him, she thought ruefully. She was burning all her sweetness on the vipers that sought to bite her. “How kind of you to say. “ His eyes raked over her.

                “How very like your mother you look,” he murmured, stepping a little closer. “She too was a beauty. Seeing you here – why, it is Catelyn Tully come again.” She had to grit her teeth to keep the smile in place.

                “Thank you, Lord Baelish. I am greatly flattered.” His eyes were so cold, so calculating. She wouldn't have trusted him to take care of a kitten. Why in the name of the Gods had she once genuinely believed he would be her knight in shining armour, swooping in to rescue her? He would never have rescued her unless he could have used her to his advantage as a result.

                “Lady Sansa –“

 

He never finished. The trumpets sounded, Olenna yanked Sansa to stand beside her – not next to Cersei, thank the Gods – and the King strode in.

 

Sansa braced herself. This was certain to be truly awful.

 

She couldn't have imagined how right she was.

Chapter Text

He could see Sansa out of the corner of his eye as he stood at the foot of the steps after escorting a smug-looking Joffrey to the altar. She was standing with Olenna and Cersei, as ordered – although thankfully not next to Cersei herself.

 

He occupied himself by watching the crowds. Littlefinger was standing behind Sansa, he realised, a further towards the edge – and appeared absolutely fascinated by Sansa's hair, given the intensity of the man's gaze. Jaime frowned at him. There was a look in Littlefinger's eye that screamed trouble, a coldly calculating look – but there was a heat to it that Jaime recognised. He looked at Sansa like that himself. He found himself clenching his hand on his sword belt, not that he could do anything. The High Septon would have a hysterical fit if Jaime spilt blood in the middle of the Sept. There had been enough dramatics today already. Mind, if that man got anywhere near his wife out of the Sept – well, that would be unfortunate now, wouldn't it? Joffrey was tugging at his collar up on the platform. It was warm in here, it had to be said – but perhaps the boy was nervous. Jaime had been nervous. It was admittedly hard to believe that the boy was capable of such feeling, but still, there he was, tugging on his collar again. Jaime wanted to slap his hands down.

 

The trumpets sounded at the doors, and in came Margaery Tyrell. The white gown she wore nearly made Jaime laugh out loud. Gold for the love of Gods – and incredibly revealing. He wasn't the only one looking either. Cersei looked like she'd swallowed vinegar. Last time he'd watched a bride walk through this Sept, it had been his own wedding day. He'd had a revolting headache from all the wine he'd drunk with Tyrion the night before, he had barely been able to turn his head without renewing the thumping pain. Sansa's gown hadn't been gold though, had it? No, it had been silver, with white lace. He caught her eye now, saw the smile on her face, wondering if she was thinking the same, remembering the same. Gods, she’d looked absolutely beautiful. She looked beautiful now. She was smiling at something Olenna was murmuring to her, nodding along.

 

Mace Tyrell was escorting his daughter, a beaming smile on his face. Bastard looked almost smug. Jaime had the wild thought that if he had been escorting his daughter down the aisle to bind her for life to a monster like Joffrey, he would not look so thrilled with life. At least Joffrey had stopped yanking at his bloody collar. He looked pleased, at least. Both of them looked happy, bride and groom.

 

Once it was all done with, and the Kingsguard had taken over escorting duties, he stepped up to Sansa's side. Cersei at least had vanished, but Littlefinger was lingering about and he did not want that man to have even a chance of getting too near his wife. He slid a hand onto Sansa's lower back, squeezed her waist gently.

                “Hello, my love,” he murmured.

                “Jaime,” she murmured, turning herself slightly towards him. “Are you alright?”

                “Fine,” he answered. “Are you?”

                “Perfectly so. I – encountered Cersei before the ceremony but we both made it clear where the other stood. I was just – this morning, Jaime, this wedding being brought forward. Tywin said we were to stay in the capital until it was over -" He thought he knew where she was going with this.

                “You want to start making preparations to leave?"

                “Yes, but not at once,” she said, surprising him. He would have thought she'd be desperate to leave. “Tywin also said Bolton and his bastard have been summoned here. I want to see them first. I want to make sure Tywin keeps his promises.”

                “We'll stay if you so wish,” he said, tightening his grip a little. “Shall we speak of it tonight? Alone?”

                “Absolutely,” she agreed. “I think we should make our way out, though. Everyone else seems to be leaving.”

 

Joffrey's wedding feast took place in the gardens. There was the dinner – considerably more lavish than his own had been. Sansa, he noticed, was fiddling with her food. He doubted it was because she didn't like it, or that she objected to the company. Joffrey appeared to have deliberately sat them at the farthest possible point on the high table and shoved Tyrion next to the two of them. He leant in.

                “Don't you like the food?” he asked. She pulled a face.

                “It's delicious, I just – seem not to want any of it. The Maester said it was normal,” she added, even as Jaime opened his mouth. He shut it at once, and she smiled. “He said I might have times of not having much of an appetite.”

                “Does your rather beautiful dress have pockets?” Tyrion asked idly.

                “As it happens, Caliene and I did sew pockets in it, yes.”

                “Just wait for the desserts,” Tyrion said, gesturing with a fork. “I happen to know that lemon cakes are on the menu. You could wrap some up and take them away with you for later.” Sansa's eyes lit up.

                “Really?”

                “Yes, really,” Tyrion said, shooting Jaime an amused smile. This piece of information seemed to cheer Sansa considerably, and she ended up making a fairly decent meal, much to Jaime's relief. It was hot, the High Table shaded only thanks to a thick awning he could swear was just making it hotter. The last thing he wanted was for her to faint through lack of food.

 

After the dinner was over, guests began to mingle more informally below the high table. The court chattered and laughed as they moved around, and Jaime felt a warm hand cover his. Sansa was smiling at him.

                “Should we mingle too?” she asked. “Build some connections?”

                “Yes, please.” She laughed, let him take her arm when he stood up. Tyrion looked up too, relief all over his face.

                “Thank the Gods, if you're leaving then I can leave too. I'm going to find Pod and Bronn. They'll have wine.”

 

They watched him vanish into the crowds, and Jaime smiled down at Sansa.

                “Who did you particularly want to talk to?” he asked her as they left the platform. She pulled a face.

                “How did you know I had anyone particular in mind?”

                “Because I know you, and I don't think you've ever done anything without a goal in mind.”

                “That is incorrect,” she protested, laughing. “I married you, did I not?”

                “I always assume you have a long-term plan on that and you simply have yet to reveal it.”She laughed, sighed dramatically.

                “Ah, you've seen right through me. Lady Stokeworth! How are you?”

 

He watched her charm her way through multiple small conversations, casual chatter and gossip about her dress. When they were walking away from some minor Riverlands lord, he glanced at her.

                “How do you do it?”

                “Do what?” she asked.

                “Know what to say to people. Know how to charm them. Know all their names.”

                “I've always been good with names,” she said. “My mother says – said – that by the time I was eight namedays, I could be shown any single person in Winterfell and tell you their name. And I knew all these people once.”

                “These people all stood by and did nothing to save you –“ He paused, suddenly reminded forcefully of another conversation.

 

He'd stood in the Throne Room as Ned Stark strode in for his very first council meeting. 500 people stood by and did nothing... 500 people and this room was as quiet as the grave. Apart from the screaming, of course. She was looking at him oddly.

                “Of course they did nothing. What would doing anything, saying anything, have achieved? Them in the line right along with me. I was the daughter of an arraigned traitor, the sister of a man jn open rebellion against the King. It would have been exceptional stupidity for anyone to do anything. That's how the game is played, Jaime. Keep your head down, be clever – and don't make eye contact with someone on their knees, being beaten by the Kingsguard.” It hurt to hear her say that.

                “I would have spoken -"

                “No, you wouldn't, and it's alright that you wouldn't. We didn't know each other then. You don't have to posture, Jaime. I like to think that had Joffrey ordered you to do it, you would have declined, but had you just been an observer? You would have observed like everyone else here. We all like to think that we would be the best person in the worst situations, but the trouble with that is we don't know until we're actually in the situation. Bit that was then, this is now. These people might be allies one day. They will remember a charming young girl. They will remember how I smiled, and laughed, and asked after their children.”

 

In the depth of conversation, he never realised how close they had wandered to the High Table.

                “Uncle Jaime!” Joffrey's voice sounded cruel. He nearly flinched, but for Sansa's reassuring hand on his arm. They had no choice but to approach the High Table, bow to Joffrey and his new Queen. “You and my Lady Aunt look very deep in conversation. Are you not enjoying the festivities?”

                “Very much so, your Grace.”

                “Your uncle and I were talking about how much we wish you and your Queen the happiness we have found," Sansa added smoothly. “All we have spoken to agree – and say that you make a most handsome couple.” Margaery gave Sansa a smile.

                “Thank you, Lady Lannister. But I think you outshine even me today. Does she not look good in crimson, your Grace?” Margaery said, laying a hand on Joffrey's arm. Jaime frowned, wondering if she knew what she was doing. Joffrey looked furious – but good breeding surely dictated he say yes?

                “She looks wonderful, of course,” Joffrey sneered. “But of course, I already knew how lovely Lady Sansa looked in crimson. I gave her – red things myself.” Jaime stiffened. Was he really referring to having Sansa beaten? Margaery looked discomfited at once, Jaime hoped to the Gods his fury was not showing – the only one smiling was Sansa herself.

                “You were always exceptionally generous, your Grace. I treasured each gift.” Joffrey’s face flushed an ugly puce, and he snapped his fingers at the wine server. As his arm came down, Jaime saw him quite deliberately knock the goblet to the floor. It clattered to a halt by Olenna's feet. She stared at it in distain.

                “Pick that up, my Lady Aunt,” Joffrey said, smiling in a very ugly way. “It can be another gift.” Jaime put out a hand even as she turned to go to it, stopping her.

                “I shall fetch it,” he said, his voice low, ominous. He did so – and saw Olenna bend to pick it up as he got to her. He stopped her. “Lady Tyrell -"

                “I'm not so old I cannot bend just yet,” Olenna said tartly, nevertheless handing it to him. He took it by the rim, turned back to Joffrey to find Cersei glaring at him.He ignored her, handed the cup back to Joffrey for the wine to be poured in.

 

He took Sansa away after that, let them melt into the dancers that were starting to gather as music was played. The sun was starting to set.

                “We should go,” he murmured into her hair as they stood together by the edges of the crowd. “We've stayed long enough to be polite – and you were up with the ravens this morning, I think.” She agreed at once.

 

Back in their chambers, there was no sign at all of Caliene and Edric. He raised a querying brow at her and she offered him a sweet smile.

                “I gave them both leave to enjoy the festivities. All the servants receive a flagon of free beer today. I rather imagine that your squire and my maid are off somewhere secluded, taking liberties with each other.” He laughed, sitting on the side of the bed to pull his boots off.

                “Just like in the songs,” he teased.

                “Exactly like the songs,” she agreed, laughing. “Let's just hope they know how not to conceive. I can hardly see Edric being permitted to marry her, after all. Isn't he your – cousin?”

                “Something like it, although the Gods know for sure. My family is – sprawling.” She laughed.

                “It is that,” she agreed. “Help me with the laces, please? I can't reach them. And undoing knots is very tricky indeed when you cannot actually see the knots.”

 

He unlaced her, tormented her, brushed his fingers against skin as he unlaced her shift too, got her head dropping back against his shoulder as her cupped her breasts through the thin linen.

                “My Gods, I have wanted to have my hands on you all day,” he murmured. “Lady Margaery was right – you do look delicious in crimson.”

                “That is not what Margaery said – Jaime, Gods!” His hand cupping her sex through her smallclothes, he had starting to massage her gently, pinching a nipple with his free hand.

                “You're always so responsive, my Lady,” he murmured to her. He nudged her forward until they reached the goal he had in mind. “Will you let me show you something new?” She nodded, and he started slipping the shift off her shoulders, baring her breasts to him. It caught at her hips, but he left it – just for the moment.

                “Please,” she whispered.

                “Bend forward, grip the table,” he murmured in her ear. She did it, and now he took the gathered material of her shift, gathered it with her smallclothes as he urged it down over her hips to leave her naked before him.

 

She was wet for him, but not enough. He pressed himself against the curve of her arse, snaked a hand around her hips to press against the bundle of nerves that always made her incoherent. She would be able to feel him, pressed against her like this.

 

He played her until she was moaning, pressing back against him. He slid inside her, heard her cry out his name.

 

She was wet and hot and tight. He could see her knuckles go white as she gripped the sides of the desk. Her hair fell over her shoulders like curtains, and he kept the pressure on her sensitive point.

                “Look up,” he whispered, bending over her back. “Look up.” She raised her head – and their eyes met in the mirror in front of her. The pink in her cheeks deepened as she saw herself. “You're so beautiful,” he murmured.

 

With a cry and a clenching around him, he felt her go over the edge. It took him no time at all to follow her, gasping out her name. He got her to the bed, somehow, and she remained naked beside him, curling in at once.

                “My septa,” she said, slightly breathlessly, “never told me about that.

 

It was dawn when the door burst open. Sansa woke with a scream, Jaime saw the panic in her eyes as she scrambled to clutch the covers to her bare chest. He glared at the guards.

                “What is the meaning of this?” he demanded furiously. “Get out at once!”

                “My Lord, you must come with us,” the guard apparently leading this madness said impassively. “You are under arrest.” Shock filled his ears. Sansa was sitting up straighter, anger replacing the panic in her face.

                “On what charges? And how dare you burst in here without permission? My husband is the Warden of the North! Get out immediately, you may wait to state your business until we are ready to receive you!” The guards had the grace at least to avert their eyes.

                “My Lady, we beg pardon -" one started, hesitantly, before their leader silenced him with a wave of his hand.

                “Get up and dress, my Lord. You are under arrest for the murder of King Joffrey Baratheon. Get up and dress, my Lord – or we will take you as you are.”

 

 

Chapter Text

                “My Lady, you cannot go -"

                “What in the seven hells is the meaning of this?” she shouted, burning into the Council chambers. Her vision was scarlet at the edges. The guards had dragged Jaime away less than an hour ago. She had waited only to dress before hunting down Tywin, whom she had found surrounded by the Small Council. Her eyes swept over them. Even Littlefinger refused to meet her eyes. “You will release my husband, you will inform that mad bitch you call a daughter that he could not possibly have done this thing, and you will explain to me exactly what you think you are doing.” Tywin Lannister's face flushed an ugly red. He rose to his feet.


She supposed if she hadn't been so blindingly angry, it might have checked her. As it was, she put up her chin as he approached her, seizing her arm in a bruising grip. She tore it away from him.

                “Do not presume to handle me, Tywin. Did you ever for a moment suppose I would allow this?”

                “Allow –

                “You forget me,” she said, icily, drawing up to her full height and meeting his furious glare. “You know he did not do this,” she added, voice lower now.

                “Wait for me in my solar,” he growled, taking her arm again and marching her to the door. “Now, Lady Lannister.”


By the time he eventually put in an appearance, she'd damn near worn a path in his floor from pacing it. She flew at him and he grabbed her forearms to stop her storming him.

                “Calm yourself, Sansa,” he growled. “Jaime will be released within the day.” She wriggled her arms free.

                “Jaime will be released right now. For the love of Gods, Tywin. Even Cersei cannot seriously believe this of him?”

                “Cersei has just lost a son, Sansa. Jaime was handling Joffrey's goblet at the feast, she's running mad with grief – Jaime was someone to blame -"

                “I was right there, Tywin, does she intend to blame me too?” The look on his face answered her question. “Ah, she already does. So will they be dragging me to the Black Cells?”

                “No.”
                “Jaime did not, would not, do this. He had no reason to. For the love of Gods – Joffrey is his son, we both know that. If it came down to the two of us, I had more reason to murder Joffrey than Jaime did!”

                “I know, Sansa.” Hearing her first name, without title or courtesy, jolts her into calm. “Listen to me – Margaery woke this morning to find Joffrey dead beside her. She, naturally, screamed the place down and when Cersei got there, she immediately sent guards to arrest Jaime – because he handled Joffrey's cup.”

                “Nonsense,” Sansa spat. “Plenty of people would have handled that cup – Pycelle won't have been able to confirm a cause of death so quickly! It could have been anything -"

                “It was poison. His tongue was black and his eyes were bloody. Nothing kills like that except poison.” He stood. “The line of succession is now in question, Sansa. If Margaery Tyrell births a boy – a boy she has sworn blind is Joffrey's child – that infant will be King. A regency will need to be enacted now, until we know what child Joffrey got on the Tyrell girl. Nine moons of chaos – and it may be for naught, if the child is a girl or born dead. Then the throne would pass to Tommen, who is just a child himself. Cersei needs to be contained, that much is obvious – and you need to leave the city.”

                “I will go nowhere without my husband.” Tywin glared at her.

                “This is not the time for romantic loyalties -"

                “My loyalty is to Jaime. Joffrey once took everything from me. Everything, Tywin. Jaime gave all of it back to me – I will not leave him in this madness. I am not arguing, Tywin, I am stating a fact.”

                “Gods, you remind me of Joanna,” Tywin groaned. Sansa blinked, caught off guard by his open admission. He grimaced at her and she tried hurriedly to smooth her face into neutrality. “She was passionate, bright, clever. Listen to me carefully now, Lady Sansa. I am having Jaime released. Even now, my own guards have confined Cersei to her chambers and the Kingsguard are being rounded up. For the time being, the Small Council has elected me to act as Regent, which means I now control the Kingsguard. My first order is to release Jaime. Once that is done, the two of you need to get out of this city – before the calls for you to take your brother's so-called throne start to grow in strength. The last thing we need is another Godsdamned rebellion.”

                “I have no intentions of leading one. Once Jaime is released, we will leave this city – on the sole condition that even in the midst of this, you bring Bolton and his bastard to justice for what they tried to do to me, and did do to Jaime.”

                “I'll see it done.”

               “Good. Tywin – may I at least see Jaime? Tell him this?”

                “No. You'll see him within hours. Go back to your rooms – take Kinston and Marbrand with you.”

               “Who is Marbrand?”

                “The guard outside the door. He's Jaime's man, but he's been in the Riverlands. Kinston and Marbrand would both die for Jaime, their loyalties lie with you as his wife. Go back to your rooms – have that maid of yours and Jaime's squire start packing the bare essentials for the road. I want you, that child you carry, and Jaime well out of this city before nightfall. There's enough suspicion on you as it is, with this Queen in the North business and now your prime tormentor dead.”

                “I would have chosen something considerably slower than poison,” she said. Tywin glared at her.

                “This is not the time for you to try and be funny, Sansa.”

                “I'm not trying to be,” she shot back. “He was a Godsdamned monster. Do you think any of these wars would have happened if he had been reasonable, if Cersei had been reasonable? If he had let my father take the Black, if Cersei hadn't been insane with fear about what he could tell people – none of this need have happened. I don't absolve Jaime,” she said, as he opened his mouth. “If he and Cersei hadn't been – well. Stannis could never have questioned the lineage, Renly would never have risen up as the spurned younger brother, my brother would have had nothing to avenge, Balon bloody Greyjoy would have lacked an arena to jump into.” She paused, frowning suddenly. “And if my father had never been Hand –“ She glanced at Tywin. “That's where all this began,” she said slowly. “Jon Arryn. He died – someone poisoned him too. And whoever did it – must have known the chaos that would ensue. Or guessed, at least.” Tywin took his seat at last, gestured for her to continue. “All this – it all started with Jon Arryn dying. If I had to guess – whoever murdered Jon Arryn probably had a hand in Joffrey's death too. With Margaery Tyrell pregnant – whoever did this would know what doubt that casts over the succession. They would know a Regency is not ideal, that it is unstable and ripe for the picking. Someone in this Court is playing your family for fools,” she finished, staring at Tywin. “Somebody wants the realm torn apart.”

                “Someone wants to be King,” Tywin said, a furious light burning in his eyes. Sansa nodded.

                “Exactly. This is not about killing Joffrey, this is not about killing King Robert, this is not about killing Jon Arryn even. This is about war. Someone wants this country to burn, Tywin.”

              “Who?” She shrugged.

                “I don't know – yet. But it's someone close. Not Stannis - he's too straightforward. He just knows Joffrey isn't Robert's son, that's his motivation.”

                “Agreed. Greyjoy?” She shook her head. She was so deep in thought she momentarily forgot to whom she was speaking.

                “Not close enough. Greyjoy is an opportunist. He would have stewed away forever if three separate King's hadn't declared themselves.”

               “There's the Targaryen girl. She uses the Westerosi titles.”

                “She wouldn't know enough about the inner workings of King's Landing. No, Tywin, she's too far away to reliably cause this much trouble. Whoever is behind all this - they're a courtier. They've been here since the beginning.” She stared at him. “Protect Margaery,” she instructed. “Whoever this is – if it is their goal to seize the Kingdoms simply by causing enough chaos to do it unnoticed until it's too late, then it would be nothing to them to murder a woman and her unborn babe just to press their own advantage.”

               “It'll be done,” Tywin answered briefly.

               “See it is.”


She obeys him as far as going back to her own chambers is concerned, but she does not sit idle once there. Ordering Kinston and Marbrand to let in nobody but Jaime or Tywin, she sits down at a table to scribble a hasty list. Caliene and Edric are watching her fearfully, but she doesn't move until the list is complete. Standing, she folds the paper and shoves it inside her bodice as the safest place for something so important, and beckons them both to her.

                "Lord Jaime will be released today, I am assured. I want you, Caliene, to pack up our things - prioritise the valuables. Pack things we can easily travel in. Leave anything intended to be worn in the court here - we're taking nothing but what we need for the journey. Edric, take Ser Kinston and go to the kitchens. Get enough food for a week on the road. Then come straight back here, do you understand?" Edric bows and hurries out, leaving Sansa with Caliene, who hesitates before she speaks.

                "My Lady? Are you alright?"

                "As I can be, Caliene, thank you." She gives the girl a smile that feels weary on her face. "I don't feel sick, if that's what you mean." Caliene nods, curtseys.

                "I'll start packing, My Lady."

                "Anything you're uncertain of, just ask," Sansa said, waving her away. She feels a little guilt over her detached attitude for the girl, but hopes it can be forgiven under the circumstances.


With Caliene moving around the bedchamber and alone with her thoughts, she moves unseeing over the window, and stares blankly out over the city. A noise behind her disturbs her solitude and she turns to find Marbrand slipping inside.

                "My Lady, I apologise for disturbing you. Lord Tyrion is outside, do you -"

                "Let him in," she answered immediately.


She has to wonder what has happened to her life that she's giving out orders to allow only Lannisters to enter her rooms.


Tyrion is paler than normal when he slips inside and Marbrand steps back outside. Relief highlights his worried features when he sees her.

                "Thank the Gods," he says, with feeling. "I'd heard some wild rumour you'd been arrested with Jaime."

                "No," she answers. "Although I have absolutely no doubt that the order was given for it. Are you -"

                "Safe, for now. Drinking oneself into a stupor with friends seems like a wise decision during a wedding." She can't help a faint smile of amusement.

                "Your father has assured me he is releasing Jaime at once," she tells him. "Then we're leaving, bound for Winterfell." She gives Tyrion a look. "You may join us, if you wish." He shakes his head.

                "I cannot leave. The Master of Coin cannot abandon his duties so casually - no matter how much he may wish he could.”

                "The invitation will be open, if you ever change your mind," she said. He smiles at her.

                "Thank you, Sansa. I'll bear it in mind."

                "Have you heard anything?" she asked him. He sits down at her table before he answers her.

                "Not a great deal. Margaery Tyrell has locked herself into the Royal apartments, surrounded by her family. Pycelle has confirmed poison, though as yet he cannot identify the kind used. My father is declaring himself Regent and struggling to maintain control."

                "Olenna Tyrell will not be happy with a Lannister regent," Sansa observed, sitting down with him.

                "No, I don't imagine she will. It concerns me that she has locked herself in with Margaery and the rest of her family. It's not like her."

                "You think she's planning something."

                "I would be," Tyrion said.

                "That's a good point. I imagine the entire family are planning something. Everyone is, I suppose."

                "Even you?"

                "My plan is to get the hell out of this city," Sansa said flatly. "To take Jaime and put as many leagues between us and this nest of vipers as we can."

                "It's a good plan," Tyrion said, pretending to raise a glass to her. "I salute it."

                "What's your plan?" she asked him.

                "To do as I always do," he answered. "Drink and wait."

                "I'd offer you wine to get you started, but nobody has so much as brought me breakfast yet, let alone wine."

                "You've had no breakfast?"

                "I wouldn't have eaten it even if someone had brought it," she says, waving a dismissive hand. "I'm too - keyed up."

                "I understand. But you ought to eat something."

                "You sound like Jaime."

                "Good, it means he's finally said something sensible." Sansa giggled at that. Tyrion smiles at her and slips off his chair. "I'm going to bring you some breakfast," he announced. "And get us some refreshments."


She doesn't bother arguing. She knows she has to eat something, do something other than sit and brood.


She needs to know what is happening, wants to know what is being done behind the scenes. Edric returning provides her with an opportunity and she sends Marbrand off to see what he can hear.
                "Not just in the Keep either," she instructed. "Speak to the City Watch if you can, I need to know what the people are saying."


If the people are still calling for her as Queen in the North, she knows well enough that Tywin can't ignore it, not with the King dead and the succession so uncertain. At best, he would make her make some kind of announcement as to her intentions. At worst, he would arrest and confine her. Her desire to leave, to flee North and get behind Winterfell's walls is only intensifying.


Tyrion returns with the promised breakfast, with his squire behind him carrying wine and water.

                "Sansa, I don't believe you've met Podrick, have you?"

                "Not to my knowledge."

                "Well, this is he. I've left my man outside to join Kinston too. Podrick, pour the Lady some water and then go and help her maid. Is there anything you need doing, Sansa?"

                "I'm quite sure Caliene and Edric could find something for him," Sansa said, smiling at the boy. "Thank you Podrick."

                "My Lady," he answered, with a bow and a retreat.

                "Eat," Tyrion instructs her gently, pushing the plate towards her. "You'll need your strength - it's a long road North."


She eats for something to do, as opposed to having any real desire for food. The hours drag by and still there is no sign of Jaime. Marbrand can report nothing of note when he returns and somehow she is disappointed. A sign of support being shown to her would have at least been something to plan for, something to anticipate. In the absence of it, she feels useless, redundant, anxious.


Finally, she snaps, the tension pouring out of her as a shout.

                "Where is he?" she snapped at Tyrion, as the nearest convenient target. "Your father said his first order was to release Jaime, what could be taking so bloody long?"

                "I'm not certain. Would you like me to go and ask?"

                "No," she answered, drawing up to her full height. "I shall."


Tywin Lannister was going to learn to his cost that she would not be sidelined, fobbed off or lied to. The people called her a Queen even in the capital. If they were going to call her that in the North too - well, perhaps it was time she practised.


And her first order would be to free her husband.


Chapter Text

Time passes strangely in the Black Cells.


He has no way to tell how long he's been down here, in the blackness without light or visitors. Even the door is solid wood, not even a barred slot to let in torchlight from the guards stationed outside. Somewhere in the dark, he can hear a rat scratching.


Where is Sansa? Has she too been arrested, thrown into a filthy cell in the darkness? The fear of it is so vivid, he can see it in his mind's eye, Sansa's face white and fearful, streaked with dirt, a manacle chafing her delicate skin scarlet. Gods, if Cersei has locked her up too, there'll be no limits to what he does to her.


Nobody comes, not even an assassin to quietly dispose of him. Not knowing what is going on in the castle above him is killing him. He stands carefully, starts to pace as much as the manacle chaining him to the wall will allow him to. It's been a long time since he last felt fear like this, this level of panic rising up to block his throat with it. If he just had some assurance that Sansa was safe - no.


Tywin Lannister was a harsh man, on occasion he could even be brutal. But he cared about his family, or at least the family name. Sansa was pregnant with the heir to the Lannister name, fortune and lands. Tywin would intervene to save her. His lips quirk into a rueful smile. If Sansa is free out there, he'd pay good money to see her. She'll be livid.


For all he knows, he's been down here days when a rattle reaches his ears. He scrambles up from where he'd been sitting against the wall. A key turns, and light floods in. Automatically, he brings up an arm to shield his eyes against the sudden light.

                "Dear Gods," a female voice breathes. His arm comes down.


Lit only by torches, she looks like something from a song - some ancient fiery Goddess, skin glowing, hair shimmering.

                "Sansa?"

                "Unchain him," she orders, glaring at the guard beside her.

                "My Lady, I have orders from the Queen -"

                "The Queen is Margaery Tyrell," Sansa says fiercely, turning on the guard with all the fierceness of a mother wolf protecting her pups. It's hardly the time, but Jaime gets a distinct stirring at the sight of her so magnificent. "And I have the backing of Lord Tywin Lannister, the Regent of the seven kingdoms. Unchain him immediately, unless you wish me to bring them both here to tell you themselves?" The guard hesitates for only a moment. "I'm waiting," Sansa says, her voice sweet.


The guard unchains him, and heedless of the state he must be in, Sansa holds out her hand to him.

                "Come with me," she says. He does not hesitate. He takes her hand, and out they walk, Sansa's head well in the air, every inch a Lady as she sweeps along.

                "What's happening?" he asks, as she leads him along corridors full of people who edge out of Sansa's path with something like apprehension.

                "What isn't happening?" she replies drily, leading him through the doors into the Tower of the Hand. Here, at least, this place is deserted. "Margaery Tyrell has locked herself into her chamber with her family. Your father has had the Small Council elect him Regent, until Margaery either births a live child or otherwise. Cersei has been confined to her rooms, again by your father, who has seized control of the Kingsguard and the City Watch. And we're leaving - as soon as you've changed," she adds, a sidelong glance at his attire nearly making him laugh.

                "Leaving?"

                "Winterfell," she answers shortly. He recognises Marbrand outside his chambers. He drops Sansa's hand, strides towards the other man.

                "Good to see you," Marbrand says, relief clear on his face. "You did it then, My Lady?"

                "Did you doubt it? Everyone inside, now." When Sansa sweeps into the bedroom, the mess of packing visible through the open door, Marbrand gives him a look.

                "She's a tigeress, that one," he remarks. "Now I'm really sorry I've been gone so long." Edric is hurrying out with a change of clothes for Jaime, Caliene following with water and soap and towels. He starts stripping out of his shirt.

                "Not a tigeress," Jaime corrects. "She's a direwolf. Sorry we don't exactly have time for a good catch-up," he remarks, starting to scrub industriously at his hands and arms. "Kept well, I hope?"

                "Aye, kept well. I'd ask you too, but it looks like the answer's obvious. Married life suits you."

                "Thank you," Jaime says drily. The water's already a horrible murky grey but he scrubs his face anyway, emerges from the cloth to see Sansa standing in front of him, her face very soft. Marbrand and Kinston melt away like ghosts, slipping back outside the door. Still shirtless, still a little damp from his hasty scrub, he strides towards her, drags her into his arms.


Her kiss is eager, warm, accepting. His could only be described by the most diplomatic as demanding.

                "You're magnificent," he mutters, peppering her face with kisses. "Truly magnificent, and I adore you for it."

                "I love you," she replies. "And loving you made me strong." The door flies open and an apoplectic Tywin strides in.

                "I said I was having him freed," he growls at Sansa. In a flash, she's up to her full height, every inch of her queenly as she turns eyes of flashing blue fire onto Tywin.

                "You said it was your first order. I gave you long enough, and nothing happened. I took action because you were not prepared to. We're leaving today, Tywin, whether you like it or not. If you cannot keep us safe, then I shall."

                "Your interference is starting to irritate me," Tywin warns, his voice the danger-quiet of a furious man. "Remember who guarantees you safety and who put you where you are."

                "I remember quite well who put me here, Tywin," Sansa flashes back. "Joffrey put me here. Joffrey put me here when he taught me what it was to suffer, to be humiliated. Joffrey put me here when he had the clothes torn off my back and had Meryn Trant publically beat me. If he had not been so cruel as to mis-use me, you would have had nothing going spare to buy you Winterfell. I owe your family nothing. Jaime and I are leaving today. I'll secure you the North, but I will not stay here to help you play your games, Tywin. I know my duty."

                "Family, duty, honour," Tywin says, eyeing her.

                "Jaime is my family," she replies stonily. "Jaime is my duty. Jaime is my honour." A long look passes between them that Jaime doesn't understand. He doesn't particularly care - everything he has is focused only on his wife, standing straight and upright like a marble statue.


Oddly, strangely, from who knows where, a sudden wistful feeling takes him. The steely warrior before him is not the girl he married. This queen of steel is not the frightened porcelain doll of a girl he once sat with in the Godswood and told her she had to marry him. He celebrates her strength, but sometimes he looks at her with regret. She was forced to grow up much too quickly.

                "I'm already having a closed litter prepared," Tywin says abruptly. "I originally planned to have you meet Jaime outside the city, but you have scuppered that. You'll leave without any fuss, both of you in the litter. I don't want anyone knowing it's you, not now. If they call for you as Queen again - the situation is far too fragile to risk. There'll be horses waiting for you both when you're out of the city. Get to Winterfell," Tywin instructs. "Get to Winterfell and once there, bring it back into line with the rest of the Kingdoms. I don't care how you do it, just do it." Sansa drops into a curtsey, grave and graceful.

                "When do we leave?" Jaime enquires, feeling that he ought to say something.

                "Within the hour. Be ready."


Sure enough, an hour later finds them passing slowly through the seething streets in a tense silence - inside the wheelhouse, at any rate. Outside it, the city is a babble of noise, none of it distinguishable through the thick walls, just a persistant buzz in his ears. Sansa's hand is in his, despite the wary presence of Caliene and Edric travelling with them for now. They are flying no banners, showing no sigils. They are anonymous as it is possible to be. And yet - he still feels as if he's waiting for something, as if they all are.


It's Sansa who gives the nervous tension in the air a voice.

                "I feel as if we'll be stopped at any moment," she murmurs to him. "As if I'm waiting for the guards to come and arrest me at any moment. I never thought to live like this again." He adjusts them to wrap his arms around her, tucking her head down to nuzzle his shoulder. Her own arms wind immediately around his waist, holding him tightly.

                "We'll be out of the city soon," he promises her. "We're almost at the gates."

                "I will feel safe when I close the gates of Winterfell behind us," she returns. "When my banner flies once more from the gate house and flutters on the walls, I will feel safe. Until then, I will fear."


Her banners.


It's that thought that keeps him awake, even as they do leave the City unhindered and unquestioned, even as they start to head North and the distance between them and the viper's nest continues to grow. Her banners. Will she fly the Stark banner? Has she been waiting only for this, for Winterfell to be handed to them? Will he stop her if she has? He certainly wouldn't blame her. If they're calling for her as Queen in the capital, what will the Northmen do for Ned Stark's wronged daughter? What will they do to him? Would she be able to stop them? Would she stop them if she could?


He had told her, in what seems now like another life, that if the Northmen chose to put a crown on her head, he would bend his knee. He had told her she was the Queen he would have chosen. If her people hated him, if they called for him dead, would his Queen step forth to save him? He had to believe she would.


To think otherwise was where madness lay. And she was smiling at him, his beautiful, brave wife, sitting on her horse beside him as they looked down over the flat plains between them and Winterfell. She was smiling at him, her cheeks pink with the bite of the wind, her hair loose down her back in a waterfall of red, save for the twists keeping it off her face. She was reaching out for him, her gloved hand sure and steady in his own, her smile radiant.

                "Jaime," she said, her voice river-cool and steady. "Welcome home, my love."

                "Together?" he asked, raising her hand to kiss her knuckles.

                "Together," she agreed. "Now, and always, in this as in all things - together."


Whatever waited for them, if she was Queen or Lady, if he was reviled or revered, if they were accepted or rejected - it would be together. And he found that he could breathe again, that he was not afraid as he had so often been, that he was confident as they rode together towards the castle.


Beside him, his wife smiled as the walls rose up to greet them, and he looked up to see Stark banners flying alongside Lannister. And his wife was wearing black and gold as she rode through the open gates, reclaiming her home for Stark and Lannister and the baby in her belly.


He was not afraid.


It felt good to not be afraid. They would do this together, and they would rule, and together they would triumph. If Robb Stark rode home as conquering hero or defeated soldier, they would meet it and survive it. If the North rose up in revolt at being ruled by Lannisters, they would survive it. If King's Landing tore itself apart without a ruling King, they would survive it.


Together, in this as in all things. He kisses Sansa in the courtyard of her ancestral home, and he is not afraid.


Together.