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Dancing for You

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When her daughter was three years old, Catelyn Stark took her to her first ballet class. Little Sansa had seen an advertisement for the Winterfell Ballet Company and imitated the movements she had observed for several weeks, before Ned, with an affectionate smile, suggested to his wife (they were both observing Sansa’s attempts at a pirouette) that perhaps their little daughter was lucky to have discovered her calling so early in life. Therefore, Catelyn made the necessary arrangements, and Sansa was auditioned by the Winterfell Academy of Ballet — one of the most prestigious classical dance academies in the Seven Kingdoms, if unhappily located so far in the North. She was accepted: her beauty and natural grace, unusual for so young a child, made her the perfect candidate.

The mothers were welcome to stay and observe the classes, and Catelyn watched with pride and joy, how Sansa, delighted, performed the exercises better than any of her peers. Their way home was animated by constant excited chatter coming from the back seat.

Sansa’s love for ballet grew with every lesson. It was not only the beauty of the movements that enticed her or the compliments of her teachers — it was the dream that one day, if she worked very hard and ate very little, she would be the physical epitome of beauty, elegance, and graceful perfection, who enchanted viewers from stage and TV screens. She would hold onto this dream for fifteen years.

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“Did you pack some warm clothes?” Catelyn inquired, a frown on her face.

“Mom!” Sansa groaned. “No — it’s King’s Landing! It’s warm there!”

“Well, King’s Landing or not, you, young lady, will be packing some warm clothes. Winter is coming,” Catelyn said in a voice full of determination.

Sansa could only sigh. If her mother wanted her girl to have winter clothes in the South, she would end up having them regardless of her protestations. She did not voice any more objections, however, wishing to indulge her: she knew Catelyn was taking to the separation harder than anyone had expected, especially considering that Robb had gone to college a year earlier and Jon the year before. But it was more than that: Catelyn Stark was far from liking the idea of her sweet, innocent girl entering the Lannister Ballet Company, regardless of what wonders this would do for Sansa’s career.

A nest of vipers, Catelyn thought. And I don’t care that they say Jaime Lannister is the most talented ballet dancer ever to have graced the world with his presence; nor that his brother — what was the Imp’s name, again? Tywin? No, that was the monstrous patriarch of the Lannister family, completely separated from the artistic world — nor that the dwarf is a genius director like his brother, capable of creating the most magical productions and who has connections to the entire artistic world!

Sansa’s mind, meanwhile, went back to the red and golden envelope that had arrived several months before, shaking the quiet Stark family life to its very core. Sansa had applied to the Lannister Ballet Company without telling her parents (or her siblings, for that matter). She did not care that her father disliked Tywin Lannister, once his business partner, with all his honorable Northern heart. The dancing company had nothing to do with Tywin. On the contrary, it had been created from the ground up by the Lannister siblings: Jaime and Cersei Lannister were the principal dancers, who shared the responsibilities of director with their younger brother, Tyrion. The company wavered the storms set by Tywin Lannister, who had been desperate to bring his heir back to his senses, so that instead of “jumping around in tights” he could one day head Lannisters & Co; withstood the scandal occasioned when Jaime was accused of murdering Aerys Targaryen. Even when Cersei left the stage to marry Robert Baratheon (a marriage that was heartily disapproved of by Ned Stark, who wanted better for his close friend), the Lannister brothers continued to divide the responsibilities of director: the older in charge of the dancers and choreography, Tyrion responsible for the music, mise en scène, and all that constituted the company’s relationships with the outer world, which was despised by Jaime Lannister. Despite Cersei’s departure, the Lannister Ballet Company continued as the most successful and prestigious ballet company in the Seven Kingdoms, and any dancer (Sansa Stark included) dreamed of nothing but getting his or her foot in the door.

When her senior year at the Winterfell Academy of Ballet had brought the excitement and horror of applications, Sansa submitted her portfolio for consideration to the Lannister Ballet Company. She did not allow herself to hope and was taken entirely by surprise when she had been invited for an audition. Lest her parents prevented her from going, she enlisted the help of Ygritte, her brother Jon’s girlfriend, to drive with her to King’s Landing for the audition. Ned and Catelyn labored under the impression that their daughter went traveling with her friend over break.

Walking down the corridors of the Lannister Ballet Company for the first time was a breath-taking experience for Sansa, a moment between dream and alternate reality. To her disappointment, most of the dancers were away on a tour in Dorne, but she was auditioned by none other than Tyrion Lannister himself. Sansa took an immediate liking to the little man, whose kindness and wit compensated for his small stature. Her performance was more than usually inspired: it seemed as though her pointes never touched the luxurious flooring, as though she floated, wrapped in music, as she danced in the light-filled studio. Tyrion was impressed. Two weeks after her return from the audition, the red and gold envelope had arrived, leaving her overjoyed yet facing the necessity of confronting her family.

“Out of the question!” had roared Ned Stark. “My daughter will not step foot into the hell-pit they call King’s Landing and into Lannister jaws! Over my dead body!”

Of course, a few days later, the father relented. And now his precious little daughter was going away; away into a world he knew was cruel and unfair — especially where the Lannisters were concerned. Sansa thought she was about to enter a world of dreams.

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 “Have you completely lost your mind?!”

Tyrion grimaced. It was not often that Jaime and he had disagreements, but, occasionally, his elder brother proved he was called a diva for a reason.

“Why would you make this assumption?” Tyrion replied coolly, trying not to envision the lengthy discussion that lay ahead.

“I don’t know! Perhaps, because you decided to hire a bloody Stark without consulting with me!”

“I thought we had agreed that, this year, I was in charge of auditions?”

“Of auditions — yes, but we had no agreement you would sabotage our company by taking on a horse-face in order to curry favor with the Starks! Favor, which, might I add, we don’t need!”

Jaime was fuming. One day, he was away on a tour in Dorne and all was well, the next, he came back to find his younger brother had lost his mind. And what was worse, Tyrion remained blind to the problem.

“What are you going on about so loudly?” the ever-curious Margery Tyrell, one of the female leads, stuck her head into the office.

“Marge, not now!” barked Jaime before Tyrion decided to literally walk away from the conversation by using his girlfriend as a pretext. Margery judged Jaime’s fuming to be at a nine out of ten and, with a look of sympathy in Tyrion’s direction, wisely disappeared behind the door.

“Will you please calm down and let me explain?” the younger Lannister tried, but Jaime was having none of it.

“Calm down?! Is that what you want me to do? Calm down? Ned Stark dragged our family’s name through the mud on more than one occasion; his younger brother nearly put me behind bars, and you decided to hire one of them into our company? You’re mad, if you think I will tolerate this!”

Tyrion took a deep breath.

“First of all, I did not hire Ned or Benjen Stark — they both would look terrible in tights.” Jaime rewarded his jibe with a glare. “Second, I will not break a girl’s career because of her name. You and I both know what’s it like to be judged by the deeds of our relatives, and I seem to recall you’ve always objected to such prejudice.” Jaime’s face showed that he could not argue against this point, even though he remained unconvinced. “Third,” continued Tyrion, “we must think of the company — ” but Jaime could stand this no more.

“The company has been around without the Stark girl, and it will be here long after I terminate her contract!” he interrupted, and, before Tyrion could object, continued: “Besides, what does she have to do with the company?”

“If you would only let me finish!” Tyrion was beginning to lose his patience. Jaime fell silent but continued pacing, his lips pressed into a tight line. “You haven’t seen her dance, Jaime! I have never seen anyone dance like this, besides you! And she’s only eighteen, a graduate from some frozen Winterfell Academy of Ballet!” That got Jaime to stop pacing, and he looked at Tyrion with disbelief, but the little man would not be fazed by skepticism. “The company needs young talent, especially such talent!” Jaime resumed his pacing. Tyrion delivered his last line in a quieter voice, lending it more emphasis: “She truly is outstanding.”

Jaime turned to face his brother, his index finger pointing at Tyrion.

“Fine! You want your Stark — you can have her! But when her thick-skulled father comes charging here like a bull or Mother Stark sets fire to the damned place, I will leave it to you to clean up the mess!”

With this, hurricane Jaime Lannister whooshed out of his brother’s office, slamming the door shut behind him. Tyrion sat back into his chair. By the Seven, but he could do with a little break! His thoughts went back to Margery, and he wobbled out of his chair to go in search of her. After this interlude with his brother, he certainly could do with some calmness and affection.

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Walking the halls of the Lannister Ballet company for the second time still felt like dreaming to Sansa. This time, though, the corridors were alive with dancers: stretching, rushing into the studios; walking out of them slowly, covered in sweat. It was no secret that the perfection achieved here was payed for by long hours of training and subsequent weariness. She found the office she was looking for without difficulty. She knocked and, hearing a rushed “come in,” entered, glad to see a friendly, familiar face.

 “Yes, and tell Sandor not to scare them away like he did last time…” Tyrion Lannister was talking on the phone and, offering her a warm smile, motioned for her to sit. “Listen, I have to go now, but I’ll call you back. Yes, yes, I will. All right, bye!” He hung up and turned to her, still smiling.

“Well, Sansa, it’s good to have you back. Are you excited for the new season?”

Excited? She was barely containing herself from jumping with joy and squealing.

“Of course, I am! Thank you for this opportunity!”

“Very glad to hear it, very glad! Well, I will come straight to the point, then. All new dancers who join the company are required to go through a year of training first. Depending on how good you are coming in, this term may be shortened,” he raised his eyebrows at her, “or prolonged,” he sighed, motioning his large head into the direction of the corridor.

“I hope I will not disappoint,” Sansa said. She was disappointed: she had assumed she would start performing (or at least preparing for a performance) right away.

“Of course not!” Tyrion exclaimed, indicating with his assurance that he had every confidence she would leave the “preparatory ranks,” as they were referred to, very soon. “Now, have you already moved in?” She nodded. “And your roommate is?..”

“Tyene… Tyene Sand, I believe?” she was not certain. A bubbling, laughing girl had met her excitedly when she was moving in and provided a welcome contrast to Catelyn’s frowning face. Ned, after a long battle between the spouses, acquiesced to remaining at home in order to avoid unnecessary confrontations with Sansa’s superiors. Tyrion’s voice returned her to the present.

“Ah! Wonderful! Jolly girl! She’s the daughter of two of our leading dancers — Oberyn Martell and Elaria Sand, who will also be your teachers. I’m sure you’ll get along.” He paused. “Sansa,” he resumed in a more serious, gentle tone, “I know that our families do not have the strongest ties…” She let a small, nervous giggle escape her and almost regretted it before finding an answering grin on his face. “Oh, well,” he continued more gaily, “let’s be frank: there is a lot of bad blood between the Lannisters and the Starks.” And again, more seriously: “However, I and the other members of this company value and admire the dedication and courage it took you to get here. Everyone — and I do mean everyone — will give you the respect you deserve.” Pausing, he added: “Otherwise, send them to me, and I will remind them about the rules of hospitality and politeness. All right?”

Sansa gave him a grateful smile:

“Thank you, sir.”

He waved his little hands at her in horror:

“Oh, by the Seven, do not call me ‘sir!’ It sounds so important, I will be tempted to look around to see whom you’re addressing! Ah, you’re laughing, very good.” His phone rang. “Unless you have any questions?..”

“No, Mr. Lannister, thank you!”

“Call me Tyrion, please, or I might think my father’s here and call for my bodyguard, Bronn!” he laughed, picking up his phone, winking her goodbye.

Sansa left the office smiling. It was good to see Tyrion again.

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Sansa was settling into her new life. She was relieved to learn that she had been assigned to the highest level of the preparatory classes, one with fewer students, who were taught master classes by the stars of the company in addition to other sessions. Her roommate, Tyene, was kind, if a little wild. Like Sansa, Tyene was one of the students at the highest level of the preparatory classes, so the girls were thrown together most of the time. Although her easy laughs and seemingly innate sensuality contrasted markedly with Sansa’s wary smiles and reserved nature, she and Tyene were becoming friends. In their dancing, they were opposites as well: whereas Sansa danced with cold grace, each step learned to perfection, Tyene’s sensual movements were more spontaneous; sometimes, she invented steps rather than followed choreography. While Tyene left to party all over King’s Landing at night, Sansa remained in her room before a full-length mirror, practicing dancing steps.

All of Sansa’s training sessions were going well, except two: the master classes taught by Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand caused her no end of grief. It was not that either Oberyn or Ellaria were unkind — on the contrary, they were eager to help their daughter’s friend, and the disproportionate attention they paid to Sansa made her feel nervous, thwarting any chances she otherwise could have had at performing to her best ability in class.

Oberyn’s dancing explained his daughter’s penchant for improvisation: he wanted his students to not only dance seductively but also to be able to come up with steps on their own. His worst task, as far as Sansa was concerned, was when he would give his students (victims, really, she thought) two steps and they would be forced to invent at least three new ones to perform in between the two they were given. Ellaria’s classes were hardly any better. Oberyn’s wife was responsible for a peculiar mixture of modern dance and ballet, and if ever there had been a style for which Sansa had neither liking nor talent, contemporary dance was the one. And as if modern dancing on its own would not have been bad enough, Ellaria took the uninhibited motions of seduction from modern dance and incorporated them into the rigorous technique of classical ballet. Sansa, who had achieved perfection in the coordinated movements of classical dance, was near tears each time she exited the studios of her friend’s parents.

“Sansa, dear, you’re too stiff,” Ellaria would say with sympathy in her thick Dornish accent. “Relax. Let your bones melt into your muscles, dance not like a leaf, whose shape is predetermined, dance as though you were water, taking endless shapes, never static. Again!”

“Sparkle!” Oberyn had given her that nickname during the first master class, when he had observed a lock of her red hair that had wiggled its way to freedom from her punishing chignon. “Sparkle, I give you point A and point B,” that was how he spoke of the two movements he would give the students as the starting and finishing points of their improvisations. “Your job is to seduce as you go from one to the other. Come on, try again! Be like fire!”

No, however kindly they showed her the steps and no matter how hard they tried to make her understand the sensuous freedom of their dance, Sansa dreaded their master classes. Seduction had been so far away from her; she had never really fallen in love, except with knights from ancient tales. How could she, as she danced, make herself burn with a passion she had never felt, let alone lived? No, Sansa would have been glad never to set foot into either studio ever again. On the weeks when she had no master classes with either of Tyene’s parents, she felt happier than on holidays.

No one, not even Ellaria or Oberyn, could accuse her of not trying hard enough: Sansa worked nights before her mirror, trying to shake her body out of the confines of virginal grace, which had never failed her before; but no matter what she tried, she kept hearing: “Try being softer!” and “Less steel, more fire, Sparkle!” from Ellaria and Oberyn. And this was not all. She had tried preparing for Oberyn’s torture, as she referred to it in her mind, but the day the Dornishman discovered her attempts at curtailing improvisation, he took her aside after class and told her:

“Sparkle, I know when you invent the movements on the spot and when you don’t. I can see it in your face, the way your eyes are either scared or serious. Rehearsals are valuable, but not for this class. I know that this is hard for you. I know you’ve never done this before — but this is why we teach you, so that one day that cold fear goes away from your eyes and is replaced with fire and confidence.”

“But why do we need to know how to improvise at all?” Sansa attempted meekly. “In a performance, all the steps are choreographed anyway.”

She was looking at the floor, stubborn in her rare act of mutiny.

“When I was performing with the Lannisters for the first time (it was a collaboration between the Dornish company where I worked then and the LBC), one of the ballerinas had sprained her ankle in the middle of the second act, when it was just the two of us on stage,” he sounded nostalgic, awash with fond memories, and a sly smile played on his lips. “Now, the performance could not be interrupted and she could barely move her left foot. We were able to finish our segment, however, before she could be whisked off stage because we both knew how to improvise. And, of course, later, we had a daughter who embodies the very force that saved our careers and brought her parents together…” Sansa looked at him with wide eyes before realizing he was talking about Ellaria and Tyene; Oberyn smiled wider and placed a hand on Sansa’s shoulder. “Sparkle,” he said with emphasis, “I know you think this is just a useless exercise designed by the Stranger to cause you misery… No, don’t try to argue, I know this is what you think! But you have to find a way to embrace the technique, because what you learn in my classes will come in very handy if one day you need to improvise on stage. After all,” he added with a kind smile, “isn’t this what it means to be a great dancer? To be able to perform regardless of whether the world is collapsing around you or your dancing partner has sprained an ankle?”

He patted her on the shoulder and walked away. Sansa was not quite comforted. If anything, listening to stories about sprained ankles had made her even more nervous.

One evening, after Sansa had a particularly frustrating session in Ellaria’s class, which, if possible, was even worse than Oberyn’s, Tyene found her roommate sitting on the floor of her room, crying in frustration, her knee sporting an ugly bruise from where she had hit her bed while practicing.

“Hey, hey,” Tyene came to hug her friend. “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t!” Sansa was wailing and screaming, her usually soft tones abandoned. “Don’t you see?! I will never be able to dance like you and your parents! This isn’t what I was made for! This isn’t what I can do, no matter how hard I try!”

Tyene looked at her with a warm smile.

“You mean you were not made for love? Everyone was.”

“Love? What are you talking about?!” Sansa’s voice was tired and gruff.

“Dancing is like making love — ” she began, but Sansa interrupted with an angry movement of her shoulders and a quiet but enraged:

“Well, I would not know about that either.”

Tyene continued:

“Your movements, your eyes, your face — they are so beautiful, but you look lonely. It’s as though you were dancing only for yourself, and you were blind. No, dancing is like when you stop being a body and become a heart — you are dancing because every part of your being is pulsing with desire, and the only way to achieve satisfaction is by seducing your love with your movements.”

“See, I could never do that! I just couldn’t… And anyway,” Sansa looked away, somewhere between embarrassment, prudence, and sadness, “love isn’t something you show to anyone, and you don’t make love in front of other people!..” she finished her thought practically outraged.

“Usually not, but it’s because you can’t make love on stage that you have to dance in a way that shows the viewers how beautiful love is.”

Sansa only shook her head. It was only then that Tyene noticed her bruised knee.

“By all the snakes of Dorne,” she exclaimed, “Sansa, what on earth happened to your knee?!”

“I was practicing,” she sniffed, “and I didn’t notice the bed.”

“Sansa, you shouldn’t practice in a small room with furniture! You could really hurt yourself! And then what?”

“What could I do instead? I have to practice, or I won’t make any progress.”

“I have keys from my parents’ studios. I can give you one — or both! It’s not like I use them to go practice at night…”

Sansa gasped.

“Could you do that? But isn’t this horribly against the rules?”

“Who cares? You’ll be able to practice without hurting yourself, and what the people don’t know won’t hurt them.” Tyene saw that Sansa was unconvinced and sighed. “But if you’re such a goody-two-shoes, you can check with Tyrion if it would be all right. Whenever I want something, I always go to Tyrion — he rarely says no to people he likes, and I know he likes you!”

“How could you possibly know this?”

“From Margery!”

Sansa knew Margery Tyrell well. She, too, taught master classes, and Sansa loved going to her studio. Each lesson reminded her of what it had been like to dance in Winterfell: Margery admired Sansa’s grace and hard work, complimenting her movements and progress. The praise she received from her meant more to Sansa than the approval of any of the other instructors combined.

“Margery… You know she’s Tyrion’s girlfriend, right?” Tyene asked.

Sansa nodded, thinking about how cute they looked together and how much love she saw on their faces whenever they were in each other’s company. Tyene confided in her friend:

“Marge told me about a huge fight Tyrion had with Jaime — such an asshole that Kingslayer even if he does dance like a god — anyway, he didn’t want you to come here because you’re a Stark, but Tyrion stood his ground, and told him he wouldn’t terminate your contract because of your last name.”

“Jaime Lannister didn’t want me here?”

Always bad at preventing her emotions from waving across her face, Sansa could not even moderate the horror that showed on her features. The horror and the hurt — Jaime Lannister, the greatest dancer of their time, maybe of the age, did not want her in his ballet company?

“Oh, don’t worry!” Tyene laughed. “Jaime does not like anyone, except Tyrion, I think. Don’t let that bother you. But do go to Tyrion, and when he says yes, I will give you the key.”

If he says yes,” Sansa corrected.

When he says yes,” insisted Tyene.

The next day Sansa made her way to Tyrion’s office and knocked lightly on the door, smiling when she heard the cheerful “come in!” She was embarrassed to ask for any favors, especially after finding out how much Tyrion had already done for her; but the same silent power that drove her tired legs to perform one more pas, that forced her tired, shaking arms to stay steady as she moved, that gave her the strength to go against her parents’ wishes in applying to the Lannister Ballet Company, that very same power now gave her the determination to talk with Tyrion. The latter seemed happy to see her as he motioned for her to sit:

“Ah, if it isn’t Sparkle herself!” noticing her surprised frown, he continued in a remorseful tone. “I apologize if my use of your nickname offends you, Sansa. It’s just that it suits you so terribly well.”

“Because I have red hair?” she inquired sullenly.

“That, too. But did Oberyn ever tell you why he’s bestowed this name on you? No? He did tell me.” Tyrion paused for greater effect. “He told me you’re the most talented young woman to have walked into his master class in years! (A fact, which, might I add, I already knew.) More talented and hardworking, Oberyn said to me, than his own daughter.” Tyrion imitated the Dornishman’s accent: “ ‘But not yet the fire!’ Apparently, you’re a sparkle who will soon become a powerful flame, or so he tells me. I must admit, between him and Ellaria, the nickname has caught on, so you better come to like it and wear it like armor! But I keep prattling on, and you had something important to tell me, forgive me. What can I do for you, Sansa?”

Sansa was blushing from the praise, especially unexpected as it was coming from Oberyn of all her teachers. But she composed herself and proceeded with her request:

“Tyrion, I know this is rather unusual, but I was hoping I could ask if I might have a key to practice in one of the studios at night? I’ve been practicing in my room, but it isn’t very large, and when Tyene saw my bruised knee — ” Seeing Tyrion’s worried expression, she hastened to add: “Oh, nothing serious, but she said I could really hurt myself and suggested that I ask if I could use one of her keys for her parents’ studios…”

Tyrion wore a small smile.

“Sansa, you’re already better than most dancers here, even some of those who perform. Why on earth would you wear yourself out practicing at night when you must rest?”

She glanced at her hands, fidgeting with the edge of her skirt.

“I… I… I am not as good as I can be. And I won’t stop practicing, but I would rather do it in a studio, if it’s not inconvenient, since I live close by anyway, and it’s a quiet neighborhood… Please, Tyrion?”

He looked at her with surprise and seemed as though he was about to say something more, but checked himself and instead told her:

“If this is your decision, all right then. But don’t bother taking Tyene’s keys — I’ll have a set made for you!”

As Sansa jumped to express her gratitude, Tyrion watched her, smiling and thinking: If Cersei had half the girl’s sedulity, could she have been as good as Sparkle here will be when she grows into herself? How different could our lives have been if she had a third of her kindness? And Jaime…

But Sansa was late for class and, having thanked him profusely, had rushed off, and Tyrion’s phone was ringing and ringing and ringing as though crescendo was its modus vivendi, tearing his thoughts away from his siblings.

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Tyrion was as good as his word. In a few days, Sansa had her own set of keys, their chain adorned with a small plush toy, which was in the shape and the color of a small flame. She smiled whenever she looked at it. After Tyrion’s explanation, she had grown rather fond of the nickname that embodied the hope her mentors placed in her. And she grew to love her evening training even more. Her days ended at four, and she returned home, ate, and gave herself to the pleasure of a daytime nap. By seven in the evening, however, she would return to the Lannister Ballet Company building, open the backdoor with her keys, and sneak in. Usually, she was alone, and she danced as the sun set and disappeared, danced with the moonlight and streetlights shining through the large windows of the studios. She disliked turning on the light, preferring the cover of semi-darkness for practicing the wanton movements she learned (or was supposed to, at least) in Ellaria’s class. With no one around and no bright light to intimidate her by showing her a crisp reflection in the large mirrors, she could free herself a little. When she looked at herself, all she saw was an ephemeral shadow. And though shadows are tied to the objects they follow, her ghostly reflection seemed free to Sansa.

Sometimes, the orchestra of the company would practice in one of the larger studios in the evenings. Although she got less work done on such occasions, Sansa loved when they gathered. Tyrion would usually show up, more often than not accompanied by Margery. She loved being around them. Having grown up in a loving, loud family and known nothing else, Sansa felt a little lonely in King’s Landing, and it warmed her heart to be around people who not only loved each other but had affection for her. Sometimes Oberyn and Ellaria also came, filling the air with innuendos. It was at one of these musical rehearsals that she met Brienne and her fiancée, Tormund.

Brienne was an imposing woman. Over six feet tall, she towered above everyone, even the men. She played the cello. In her presence, Sansa thought she understood how Tyrion must have felt on a daily basis. The latter, however, seemed to delight in making jokes about what an odd pairing he and Brienne could make. Brienne’s fiancée was by no means a less colorful character than his lady: almost as tall as Brienne, Tormund was built like a bull. In addition, he sported wild hair and a fairly long beard. He was a redhead, like Sansa, and partly because of this and partly because, like himself, she came from the North, the trumpet-player took an immediate liking to the young ballerina.

“We are both kissed by fire,” he would say to her. “So, if anyone here causes you any trouble, you just tell me, Sparkle.”

“I know another girl kissed by fire, she’s also from the far North,” she told him once.

“You do?”

She nodded.

“What’s her name?” Tormund asked.

“Ygritte,” Sansa replied fondly. “She’s my brother’s girlfriend. She came with me here when I was invited to audition.”

“Jon Stark’s the one she’s been going out with?” he asked, surprising her.

“Yes, that’s right. My brother Jon… but how did you know?”

“She’s my younger sister, that’s how I know. They came over to meet the family last year. You’re Sansa Stark, aren’t you?”

She confirmed her identity.

Sansa remembered Jon’s fond stories about Ygritte’s family and the mock terror with which he spoke about her brother, whom he clearly liked: “a bear-man if ever I saw one.” Sansa smiled affectionately — it was almost as though she had found one of her family, a connection to her far-away home. Tormund had suddenly taken her in his arms and, after giving her a bear hug, placed her easily on one of his shoulders, and, suddenly, she saw everything from higher up even than Brienne. Tormund marched them over to his fiancée, saying:

“Did you know, lass, that this here,” pointing to Sansa seated on his shoulder, “is a soon-to-be sister of mine?”

“What are you talking about?” Brienne inquired with an indulging smile. He told her, and from that moment Sansa was adopted by their little family. Brienne would sometimes check in on her in-between classes, as though suspicious that Sansa worked too much. Tormund certainly thought that she was not eating enough and had once brought her a sandwich, which Sansa thought she could not eat in three days if she tried. As politely as she could, she refused, explaining that her diet did not allow for such indulgences. Tormund clearly tried to understand the intricacies of self-starving that were being revealed to him but afterward only asked, with a worried frown:

“What do you eat then, lass?”

Sansa explained her preference for fruits and vegetables. Tormund looked perplexed, but, in a few days, he brought her an enormous bag filled with ripe oranges, the best she had ever tasted in the city.

“You’ve got to eat, lass,” he said with concern. “After I mentioned to Ygritte that you and I have met, she’d kill me, if you died from hunger on my watch.”

(Sansa had received excited texts from her friend, who was relieved that her boyfriend’s sister had family around and “not just the Imp, though he sounds awfully nice.”)

But on the days when the musicians were not playing, Sansa found herself quite alone in the darkness of the Lannister Ballet Company building. She did not feel lonely or afraid — these halls were as familiar to her as the palm of her hand, and she loved them, the life and chances they enclosed, the autonomy they gave her. She found that, although she could not invent the steps for Oberyn’s class in advance, she could practice nonetheless. She made it a habit to turn her music on at random and dance — no practice, no choreography, no thinking. Tyene had compared it to making love, but for Sansa it was not about a relationship between people: it meant surrendering to music, letting it guide her wherever it went. And in the darkness, no one could see if she missed a step.

One night, Sansa got so caught up in the harmony of music and dance, she completely lost track of time. It was not eleven as usual when she had finished. She came to her senses when she almost lost her balance and realized her limbs were shaking, her body dripping with sweat. She could not tell how long she had danced for. Taking her phone from the arm band, too exhausted to care if her headphones fell to the floor, she glanced at the time: it was two in the morning. Cursing silently into the soft darkness cut only by the rays of streetlights, Sansa made her way to her bag and, throwing her phone into it, exited the studio. The halls were reigned by complete gloom, and she started rummaging through her bag to find her phone and light the way, as she continued slowly advancing toward the exit. Her phone was not cooperating: the damned thing kept sliding from her fingers, as though consciously escaping her shaking hand. Her eyes had grown used to the darkness, and she gave up on finding the offending device.

When she was passing one of the larger studios, Sansa was surprised to hear what sounded like voices. Curious as to who had stayed up so late aside from herself, she came closer to the half-opened door. What she had first thought to be voices were moans. Terrified that a dancer had hurt herself, she advanced, but was stopped dead in her tracks when she heard male grunts join the woman’s moans. It was too late, though: Sansa was right before the half-opened door and her eyes went to the source of the sounds.
A half-dressed couple was pressed against the wall mirror. The first and only thought that had come to Sansa’s head on the heels of the blood that rushed to her face, was: They are beautiful. They look like tango dancers. The man’s left hand was on his lover’s back, his right one gripping her thigh, bringing her closer to him, his face hidden in her neck and luscious curls. The woman’s hands were tangled in her lover’s hair. Sansa looked at them, transfixed. Their heavy breathing, their erratic, urgent movements, the moans they could not contain, made her heart drop and disappear somewhere; when it came back, it was filled with a strange ache. She watched the man with fascination. Unable to see his features in the dark, she could still admire his strong built, the leonine grace of his taut muscles. The sounds he made caused Sansa’s breath to catch.

For the first time in her life, Sansa wanted to be someone else.

She wanted to be the woman whose hands were now on his broad shoulders, hugging him closer to her body. She wished it were her hands that reached for his face, pulling his lips to hers.

“Jaime…” the woman moaned, and Sansa was jolted from the hypnosis that had possessed her.

Jaime? As in Jaime Lannister? But the woman?..

Illogically, Sansa wondered if in truth she was not seeing Oberyn and Ellaria. Their frequent, passionate kisses and dancing styles made them natural suspects. Yet no female dancer in the Lannister Ballet Company had hair as long as this woman. She had moaned a different name; the man swallowing the cries of ecstasy from her lips did not look like Oberyn Martell. As though she wished to leave Sansa without doubts, the woman chanted “Jaime” again. Simultaneously, the lights of a passing car caught the lovers’ faces, and the adrenaline in Sansa’s blood turned to panic. Her heart thumping like a torrential rain, she bolted from the building, running as though the Stranger was at her back, the image of two sets of reflections haunting her — the ones of the couple in the mirror and the way their faces were slightly metamorphosed reflections of each other. The same faces, the same eyes that had looked at her from posters on the building’s walls every day — the images of the company’s founding dancers, Jaime and Cersei Lannister.

Chapter Text

Sansa rushed into her and Tyene’s apartment, thinking her lungs would burst. Dropping her bag, she made for the kitchen, tripping over things and cursing silently. Water, she needed water. Water and some drug that made people forget all memories within the range of an hour. She was spilling her drink all over the place and could barely bring the glass to her lips. The effort proved useless, and even had she succeeded, she risked knocking out her teeth — it was not just her hands that were shaking. She ended up accidentally dropping the stupid pitcher into the sink and waking up Tyene, who, for once, had returned before Sansa.

Tyene had left the party early because the only person she had wanted to see had not deigned her with his presence. Not one to sulk for long, she had returned home, watched a stupid melodrama, and went to bed. She was awakened by a terrible noise, and, upon entering the kitchen, she discovered her roommate, white as a shroud, shaking all over as though she had seen a ghost.

“What in the Seven Kingdoms is the matter?!” Tyene exclaimed.

Sansa’s eyes were barely focused, and she was soaking wet from sweat and the water she had spilled. She seemed unable to speak. Tyene rushed toward her, taking her cold hands into her own.

“Are you all right? Are you hurt?”

A nod and a shake seemed as much as Sansa could manage by way of response.

“Did someone scare you?”

Sansa shook her head, but her face and the way her shoulders betrayed her desire to curl into herself suggested to her friend that whatever was the matter, someone could be blamed for it. Realizing that she was not about to get an answer, Tyene led her friend to the couch and almost had to push her into the cushions. She took the almost empty glass from Sansa, filled it, and added a straw. Sansa drank obediently as a child, her eyes still glassy, if less wild. With each gulp of water, she seemed to return to her senses, and, soon enough, she looked almost like her usual self.

“Do you want to tell me what happened?”

Tyene’s question seemed to snap her out of whatever had taken hold of her. Sansa tried to smile, looking embarrassed and guilty.

“I’m sorry I woke you.”

“That’s all right. It’s a good thing you did, or you’d have a tooth or two fewer.”

Sansa smirked, but it was half-hearted. She fiddled with the straw.

“It’s very silly, really.” She looked oddly uncomfortable, and for a second Tyene wondered if her friend was lying, but dismissed the idea as entirely out of character for Sansa, who continued: “I thought I saw something in the studio and I got scared, so I ran home.”

“What did you see?”

Sansa opened her mouth, then closed it, and looked away. She reddened.

“I never turn on the lights, so it was probably just my own shadow. I’m sorry I woke you. Go back to sleep, and I will take a shower — as you can see, I’m filthy sweaty.”

She attempted another smile, before heading to the bathroom. Hearing the friendly purl of water, Tyene went back to bed, a little disconcerted at Sansa’s panic and her cavalier dismissal of whatever had caused her fear.

Chapter Text

Jaime Lannister had thought he was having a good day. He had been more than usually satisfied with his solo performance at Olenna Tyrell’s charity event; early in the evening, Robert Baratheon had drunk himself to the point of being sent home, and he had Cersei all to himself. He had not seen his twin in a while, what with the ballet company’s tour in Dorne, his solo performances in Essos, and her own manic career building at the Lannisters & Co. After the gala, they had escaped to the studios, and he could finally take her, relishing in her body, her moans, her heat. No sooner had they come down from the carnal high, however, than they heard rushing footsteps. Cersei had been furious, chiding him for what she termed his “carelessness.” Perhaps, he should not have pointed out that it had been her idea to come to the studios after declining his invitation to go to his apartment: she had flown into a rage and, doing a poor job of fixing her attire, which had made him want to grab her and take her again before she was out of his reach, she had left him in the darkness, telling him to “fix this.” So now, at the ungodly hour of eight thirty in the morning, he was pacing in his brother’s office, as he waited for Tyrion to return from a meeting.

Tyrion knew he was about to have a bad day. Meeting Stannis Baratheon was as dull an affair as staring at a white wall. Meeting Stannis at eight in the morning instead of making sweet love to Margery was a cruel, unmerited punishment. But Stannis — funnily enough, all incest things considered — was his brother-in-law, who wanted advice on good preparatory ballet classes for Shireen. Stannis’ daughter wanted to dance, and the man loathed everything contemporary with a passion. A text from Jaime, which read “we msut spaek NOW,” added to Tyrion’s bad mood. Jaime’s dyslexia never reared its head at a good time, and Tyrion had learned to recognize his brother’s muffled texts as a warning sign. No, Tyrion was not going to have a good day, especially considering that Stannis was talking politics and a fuming Jaime was the next thing on his menu of misery.

As expected, Tyrion found Jaime in his office, pacing.
“Slow down or you’ll wear out the rug,” he warned his brother, who did not heed him.

“Who could have been in the building yesterday night while Cersei and I fucked in one of the studios?”

“And good morning to you too, dear brother.”

To say that Sansa was having a bad day would have been the understatement of the century. She overslept; and she had never overslept anything. However, for obvious reasons, she had forgotten to turn on her alarm the night before (because of the master classes, her schedule constantly fluctuated, making the daily alarms she had used in Winterfell impractical). She awoke with a start and, as adrenaline was pumping through her, reached for her phone and discovered that, unless she could teleport to class in her pajamas, she would be seriously late. Then, the realization that she would be late for Margery’s master class hit her (because it had to be Margery’s class that day, so she could not even console herself with the thought that Ellaria or Oberyn would have a little less time to torture her). She burned with shame as she jumped around, getting ready and trying to wake Tyene, who had given up on alarm clocks altogether now that Sansa was around to wake her up every day. The girls made it to class half an hour late.

Margery made no comment as they sneaked into the studio, looking like children accused of stealing marmalade, but raised her delicate eyebrows. Tyene’s lateness did not surprise her, but Sansa’s tardiness made her almost worried: the Northern girl operated as if she were a well-oiled machine, for Mother’s sake!

Like many in the Lannister Ballet Company, Margery Tyrell was having a bad day. It all started when she did not get sex for breakfast (and she was on a very strict diet, thank you very much!). After Tyrion had not fallen for her seductions, she decided to use the advantage of her height, straddling the small man, pinning his arms, and catching his lips in a fierce kiss. Tyrion Lannister was not to be easily restrained, however: she could not figure out still how he had managed to break her grip on him and tickle her until she laughed so hard she had tears in her eyes, while he used his chance to escape from her clutches. That was cute, she had to admit with a small smile. Being deprived of morning sex was not, however. And all this fuss because he was meeting Stannis of all people! She had seen pieces of wood that were more entertaining than Renly’s brother! To add to her annoyance, a few minutes before she began the master-class, Tyrion had sent a text in which he did not even pay her the courtesy of apologizing for his mistreatment of her.

Text From: Most Loved Little Man to Queen of Love and Beauty

Send Sansa to my office THE MOMENT you finish your masterclass, please!

Although with time Margery had almost come to believe in Tyrion’s omniscience, she still did not think he could know that her most talented student was late for class. Nor did it make any sense for Tyrion to care if he did know. So, Margery’s bad day was worsened by worrying whether anything had happened to anyone in the Starks’ large family. She did tell Sansa that Tyrion wanted to see her ASAP at the end of class and was startled by the girl’s reaction: her eyes widened, she paled, then looked at the floor and turned crimson.

Whatever was the matter with Sparkle?

Come to think of it, Sansa was not at her best during class. She looked almost sleep-deprived. Margery had too much confidence in her own charm, Tyrion’s character, their relationship, and the Starks’ honor (as well as Sansa’s guilelessness), to suspect that anything was up between them. The fact that Tyrion and Margery had left the building together the night before and she could account, with satisfaction, as to where and how he had spent the night, also helped. She wondered, however, what could have caused the girl to react in this manner.

“Is everything all right, Sparkle?” she asked.

“Everything’s just great!” her student replied with a friendly smile that mingled oddly with a level of sarcasm that Margery suspected was unhealthy for the girl’s good Northern blood.

As she walked to Tyrion’s office, Sansa was on the verge of developing a multiple personality disorder.
There is no reason why Tyrion would suspect I’ve observed his brother’s incestuous tryst the night before. He probably called me for some other reason altogether.

Riiight. Because you’re his go-to person for emergencies, and you’re totally not the ONLY person known to be roaming the building at night.

But they probably didn’t even hear me over all the noise they were making. 

Jealous, are we?

Irrelevant.
Point taken. But you did dash away at such a speed that your footsteps could probably wake the dead. 

Nonsense! I bet I was quiet as a mouse.

Is that what you’re telling yourself Ms. Elephantus?

Oh, Seven, they probably did hear! And Tyrion knows I’m the only one who could have been around! Oh, gods, I am so screwed!

Unless Jaime Lannister has kept his dirty little secret from his younger brother…

YES!.. Wait, whose side are you on, anyway?!

Before her second inner voice could answer, she had reached Tyrion’s door. Taking a deep breath, she knocked, and felt her heart hurry to take residence somewhere in her heels when she heard a strained, not a customarily cheerful, “come in!” Opening the door, she was certain she was walking into a nightmare. Surely, the man whose tense back seemed vaguely familiar was not Jaime Lannister? He turned, his green eyes fixing her to the spot, and Sansa wanted nothing more than for the ground to swallow her whole.

“Ah, Sparkle, thanks for coming. I think I have something for you,” Tyrion said.

Oh, thank you, Mother! It had nothing to do with his elder brother after all. Steady, Sansa, whatever this is, you’re one lucky girl it’s not what you feared it was!

“You do?”

“Yes.” Tyrion picked up her headphones from his desk. “I believe these are yours?”

I’ve searched for these for two precious minutes this morning!

Not recalling that she had last seen her headphones in the studio the night before, Sansa reached for them happily:

 “Oh, I’m so glad you found them!”

She froze when Jaime Lannister’s cold voice came from behind her, making her spine tingle and her heart do a somersault:

“Actually, you should thank me for recovering them for you yesterday.”

You idiot! Late trap alert! Late trap alert! her brain screamed — belatedly, alas.

Jaime watched as her shoulders tensed. Coupled with the way her eyes had widened in fear when she had first seen him, this was not a good sign at all. What was her name, again? Sparkle? Who named their children this way? Was her mother a drunken whore or an imbecile? The redhead turned to him slowly, pale as the snow that probably ran through her veins. The steadiness of her answer, however, took him by surprise.

“Well, then, thank you very much.”

Tyrion chose this moment to introduce them:

“Sparkle, this is my brother Jaime Lannister.”
“Oh, I know who he is,” Sparkle replied in a strange voice as they shook hands. Of course, she does! And what a memorable first impression Cersei and I must have made on her.

“Indeed?” he asked, not letting go of her hand, which was as cold as a White Walker’s.

He thought he had caught a flash of panic on her face before she surprised him once again.

“Well, your face is plastered all over the building,” she sounded a little annoyed and, taking her hand from his, stepped as far away from him as she could — an odd thing for any woman to do in his presence. She tried to run a hand through her hair as though she had forgotten it was pulled into a tight chignon, and added: “Not to mention that you’re probably the most recognizable face in the world of ballet, and I am a professional dancer.” The flattering words came out sounding more like an accusation than a compliment.

Damn you, Sansa, did you have to say that? “Most recognizable face?” Why don’t you just go ahead and scream: “Yeah, sure, I saw you fucking your sister yesterday?!”

Between sleep deprivation and odd feelings that took hold of her the moment she had seen Jaime Lannister in Tyrion’s office, Sansa knew she was in way over her head. Any children of Tywin’s were probably masters at playing with people’s minds, even if half of the stories her father had told about the Lannister patriarch were true. And they were likely all true.
Tyrion cleared his throat — something she had never seen him do before — and began:

“We’re in a little bit of a delicate situation here — ” only to be interrupted by his brother.

“Oh, for the Stranger’s sake, Tyrion!” he exclaimed in a voice full of irritation and advanced onto Sansa, his body language anything but friendly. “Did you or did you not see me yesterday in one of the studios?”

Sansa felt blood pulsing in her throat, and she knew she was turning beet red. She’d sell her soul to the Stranger if it meant she could evaporate from this room.

Tyrion felt very sorry for Sansa. His brother’s wrath was generally feared, and he imagined it must be rather petrifying if at times Jaime managed to unsettle even him. The poor girl had turned red, seemingly from head to toe, and looked near tears. Although something told him, and he had realized this with surprise, that she was considerably more embarrassed by the situation as a whole than afraid of his brother, who pressed on:

“It’s a simple enough question even for the stupidest doll, but as you are clearly lacking in wits, I’ll repeat it for you: did you or did you not see me yesterday? It’ll serve you better to answer me quickly, minx! Tyrion, does she always blush this much?” he added casually.

Whether it was the emotional overload or sleep deprivation, Sansa would never know. The moment this fuming, lionesque man several feet taller than she began admonishing, threatening her, as though she were in the wrong, something snapped in her. This man, whom she had imagined to be the pinnacle of perfection, when she had stayed glued to her laptop’s screen, watching him dance, believed her unworthy of being in his dancing company because of her too honorable last name; this man, to whose real presence her body reacted in ways she could not control, behaved like a true monster, and would likely ruin her career because of his own indiscretion.

“Believe me, Mr. Lannister, when I tell you that I imagined my evening going rather differently as well!”

Unable to credit his ears with correct sensory intake, Tyrion watched in wonder as his brother’s eyebrows almost touched his hairline.

“What did you just say to me?” Jaime growled at the girl, coming closer, thinking that the minx’s eyes looked almost intimidating in her righteous fury. If Jaime had had the time to expect an apology, he would have been sorely disappointed.

“Regardless of what I’ve said, I meant to convey that if I had ever screwed my married brother,” she could not keep the grimace of disgust from her face, “and was caught red-handed, I hope I would have enough decency to at least look ashamed instead of going around admonishing and threatening people who were unfortunate enough to witness it!”

In her anger, Sansa did not realize she had accomplished no small feat in leaving both Lannister brothers speechless. She went on:

“I’ve no interest in sullying myself by making this distasteful information common knowledge, which is what you fear, I assume, since I cannot imagine another reason for my presence here. I would never dream of repaying the kindness your brother has shown me by washing his family’s dirty linen in public.” She paused and took a step toward Jaime, her finger pointing at him. “But trust me, this may change if you ever look like threatening me again!”

By the end of her tirade, Jaime had come sufficiently to his senses to grab her forearm. She shuddered — from disgust at his touch, he assumed with bitter rage. Bloody Northerners and their stupid morals. Taking vicious pleasure in yanking her toward him, he snarled in a low voice:

“If you so much as breathe a word of this to anyone, I swear I’ll — ” but she did not let him finish:

“What? You will kill me, like you did Aerys? I supposed murder is neither new to you nor beneath you. But are you sure your brother will stay silent? He seems like a decent human being to me — I suppose that makes him the outlier in the family. Or you’ll kill him, too?”

She noticed that his face went blank and his grip on her loosened. As suddenly as it had come, her rage and her courage were gone.

“Excuse me, I’m late for class,” she added almost calmly, her voice shaking a little. Freeing herself from him, she grabbed her headphones from the desk and mumbled, almost shyly, “thank you for returning these to me, Tyrion,” before running out of the door.

Tyrion had never laughed so hard in his life. He laughed until he had tears in his eyes and he was weeping with mirth; laughed until his sides ached and he was coughing. His brother’s face was priceless.

 “What the hell was that?” Jaime asked him, livid if still a little dazed.
Tyrion could barely articulate over the guffaws that kept escaping him.

“I must… [laughter] give it… [more laughter] to Oberyn… [laughter, laughter, more tears, laughter] he sure does have a way with nicknames!.. [laughter] That, my dear brother, though you may not believe me, was the shiest, most reserved, and innocent girl I’ve ever met — Sansa Stark. And may I drop dead right here, right now, if ever I’ve dreamed I'd see her put you in your place.” Seeing Jaime’s agitated face, Tyrion took pity on him and added: “You don’t need to worry. If there’s one person whom I would trust with a secret, it’s Sansa Stark. She won’t tell anyone. Besides, I’m sure she’ll have a stroke from all the blood rushing to her face if she ever tries voicing her… hmmm… shall we call it ‘observations’?” He laughed again. “But dammit, I cannot believe I had not thought to snap a photo of your face just now! I could have enlarged it and put it on my wall — don’t you think it could win the prize for ‘best office décor?’ I bet you, it could.”

The only answer he received was an irritated “fuck you, Tyrion” and the sound of his office door slamming shut. Goodness, but this day turned out surprisingly well. And what a little fury could Sansa Stark become when her righteous feathers were ruffled! Speaking of Sansa, he’d better go and find her: not only to make sure Jaime did not (although Tyrion doubted Sansa was in any real danger from his temperamental brother), but also because he suspected that her brave front may not last.

Having a stroke was not in Sansa’s future, but suffocation was a very real threat. As she was rushing down the corridor, Sansa almost knocked Ellaria off her feet. At seeing the friendly face of her weekly tormentor, Sansa’s willpower gave out and she collapsed onto the older woman in hysterical tears. Shocked and concerned, Ellaria managed to literally drag the weeping girl into her studio and shut the door before anyone could observe them.

As she tried to make her sit down, Ellaria realized that Sparkle was worse off than she had initially thought: she was crying so hard she was choking, sobs shaking her slender frame and convulsing her pretty face into a pitiful grimace.

“Hey, pretty girl, what in the name of all snakes is the matter?”

But Sansa could barely breathe, so speaking was definitely out of the question.

What have I done? she kept thinking, if indeed the scurried things rushing through her head could be called by that rational name. He’ll kill me!

Ellaria had hugged her and was muttering, trying to calm her down.

“Darling,” her warm Dornish accent was soothing to Sansa’s ears, “you’re all right, everything’s all right. But, dear, you must tell me what’s going on?”

Sansa kept crying. Before Ellaria could say anything else, Oberyn walked in without knocking, his seductive smile falling when he took in the scene that greeted him.

“Just call Tyrion, the little man always knows everything that’s happening in this company,” his wife told him in lieu of an explanation. Oberyn did not have to be told twice. He dialed.

“Tyrion, we’ve a hysterical Sparkle here. No, we’re in Ellaria’s studio. Oh, you are? Very well then,” he hung up. “He says he’s coming. Kingslayer was an ass.”

Ellaria’s face darkened:

“I swear by the sands of Dorne, one day, I will wipe that fucker’s grin right off his face,” she hissed.

“I think Sansa has done that for you, El.” Tyrion stood at the door. He approached Sansa and sat on the other side of her. “Now, Sansa, why are you crying?” he asked in a soft voice.

Oddly enough, Sansa found the words to answer, between hiccups and sniffling:

“He’ll kill me! [hiccup] He’ll ruin my career! [sniffle] I’ll probably not be able to teach [hiccup], let alone dance [sniffle], even at Winterfell!”

She resumed her crying, burying her face in Ellaria’s neck.

Oberyn’s voice was threatening when he spoke:

“What in Seven Hells did your brother say to her?”

“Nothing much,” Tyrion replied hastily. “Mostly, it was Sparkle yelling at him.”

The couple turned to consider Sansa’s sniffling form with skeptical admiration. As if it could not get any worse, Tormund’s voice sounded behind the door:

“Ellaria, can a man come in after knocking three times?”

“Come in!” Ellaria called before Tyrion could send him away. Now, he feared for Jaime’s life. Naturally, when Tormund took in his “sister’s” state (from her muffled hair to her red eyes and puffy cheeks), his nostrils shook with rage and there was murder in his eyes.

“What happened here?”

“Jaime Lannister happened here,” supplied Ellaria vengefully.

Tormund nodded and closed the door behind him.

Text from Little Monkey to Kingslayer:

If you value your life, run! Or at least, lock the door and don’t let Tormund in before I get there!

Text from Kingslayer to Little Monkey:

The fuck’s going on, Tyrion? I’m hivang coffee aournd the croner.

Text from Little Monkey to Kingslayer:

Tormund considers Sansa his sister-in-law. What do you think he’ll do to you after seeing her in tears?

Text from Kingslayer to Little Monkey:

Why is hse in treas? She was yelling ta me! Besdides, I think Icna take care fo Giantsbane.

Text from Little Monkey to Kingslayer:

Just take the rest of the day off, and I will catch him — hopefully before he finds you.

Chapter Text

In the week following what Sansa referred to in her mind as “the fallout,” she was surprised that her contract had not been terminated: after all, she did yell some offending truths into the face of one of the directors (not to mention one of the owners) of the ballet company. She suspected that she owed her career to Tyrion yet again. When she had been crying on Ellaria’s shoulder, describing all the horrors she expected Jaime Lannister to bring down on her, Tyrion had told her:

“Why on earth would I let my brother fire you? If anything, I will check to make sure your contract ties you to us for a long enough time!” When she had looked at him in confusion, he had added with a devilish grin: “And if you ever feel like putting Jaime in his place again, be a dear, make sure you get me a photo of his face!” He had finished the odd request with a wink.

Nevertheless, Sansa spent the days following her outburst feeling like she was walking on thin ice. She did not dare venture into the building at night, even though she felt restless and wished she could practice again. Each time she rushed down the corridors from one class to the next, she prayed to the Mother to shield her from running into Jaime Lannister. And for an entire week, the Mother, in her mercy, had granted her request.

The week after that, Sansa, as well as all the other students who were attending master classes, received an email from Rose, one of the secretaries, informing them that their schedules for the next day had been cancelled and that their time would be devoted to a masterclass taught by Jaime Lannister. The email further advised them that whenever they would be notified of a master class with him in the future, they should understand it would take up the whole day. But this was not all. Apparently, Jaime Lannister disliked rising too early in the morning after fucking his sister all night (the email did not actually say that, but Sansa could draw her own conclusions, thank you), so they would start two hours later and leave two hours later as well. Sansa was anxious enough to face Jaime Lannister again as it was, but her apprehension was increased tenfold when she received a text from Margery, who sounded ominous.

Text from Margery Tyrell to Sansa Stark:
Whatever you do, stop doing it now. Get as much rest as you can, go to bed early. Take a teaspoon of the milk of the poppy if you must but you HAVE to sleep. Tie Tyene to the bed if necessary: she is NOT to go party tonight. Set two alarms at least. Remember what they say behind the scenes: the Kingslayer knows no mercy. ;) 

When Sansa was reading the sinister warning out loud to a confused Tyene, the latter’s phone rang. It was Ellaria, who, unwittingly, repeated Margery’s advice — the girls were to go to bed early, get a good rest, set multiple alarms. No sooner had Tyene received her mother’s admonition than her father decided to call as well. Oberyn repeated the same message, but added: “If at some point you feel you cannot move anymore, don’t push yourself. I don’t care about family pride — no one is left standing by the time Jaime is done with them anyway. If you can’t get up, stay on the floor. If he so much as tries to make you, tell him I’ll tear his head off if I find my daughter unconscious from exhaustion after his class. You understand me? Good. Best of luck tomorrow, my little sand snake!”

The girls looked at each other with fear. What was Lannister going to do with them? Was anyone else going to issue a warning? As though in answer to their last question, Sansa’s phone announced that Tyrion had contacted them as well.

Email from Tyrion Lannister to Sansa Stark; cc: Tyene Sand:

Evening, girls! I’m sure you’ve heard by now that you’re in trouble! ;) Tyene, please tell Sansa no to panic, thank you. Just get some rest, BOTH of you. That means no partying for you, Tyene, and no dancing all night for you, Sparkle. And please understand that no matter how much my brother roars, he’s still called a lion only in a metaphorical sense. Cheers!

They did as they were told. A nice long bath, a tea spoon each of the milk of the poppy, and they were in bed. Sansa set five alarms on her phone. Even Tyene set an alarm. As she waited for the drowsiness to overtake her, Sansa listened to Tyene’s measured breathing and wondered if she would live to see Winterfell again or die in King’s Landing.

She was wearing a dress the color of blood. Her red hair was down, her locks curled. Soft darkness had enveloped her, and she wondered how she could know colors when the world was entirely devoid of light. Her heart jumped in her chest when she felt a presence behind her. She knew it was him. She felt strong hands on her sides as though she and Jaime were performing a pas de deux and she was about to do a pirouette. But they were not dancing, and she felt a few strands of his hair brush her shoulder as his lips touched her neck, sending sparks of electricity down her bloodstream to her very core. Her heart disappeared from her body, as though his lips had sucked it out through her skin. Suddenly, he turned her, bringing her body flat against his. She was mesmerized, watching his green eyes. She had never seen eyes so cold. He leaned toward her, but a moment before his lips would have touched hers, she heard him whisper with distaste: “You’re not Cersei.” Suddenly, she was alone, blinded by the darkness.

Sansa jolted awake, sitting up in her bed with a speed that made the world spin. Her room was filled with morning light; the alarm clocks were going nuts; Tyene was cursing; and the lion of Lannister awaited.

“What were you dreaming about?” Tyene asked her with a sly smile, and Sansa realized she was breathing heavily, her cheeks flushed.

“I… I don’t remember,” she lied unconvincingly.

“Uh-huh,” was Tyene’s skeptical reply.

Their bags had been packed the evening before, their clothes laid out (on Sansa’s insistence). They ate, dressed, and did their hair in nervous silence. Even Tyene, who was always chirping like a bird (unless she was grunting from a bad hangover), was silent. They left their apartment feeling that, perhaps, they should have stayed.

They were the first to enter the largest studio in the building, which greeted them with emptiness. In a few minutes, they were joined by Podrick, one of the violinists and the lucky protégé of Tyrion and Brienne. A young man with chubby cheeks, usually very cheerful, Pod was frowning. The other dancers were filling the studio little by little as well. Everyone was quiet: the laughter and banter that ordinarily followed their group wherever they went seemed to have abandoned them. The tension in the morning air was so thick it could be cut with a knife. A moment before nervousness could turn to panic that suggested thoughts of escape, Jaime Lannister entered the studio and went to discuss something with Podrick. The Lannister’s swift walk and careless air did not agree with the warnings his victims had received from various sources the day before. If anything, it made them suspicious.

Sansa’s heart was beating so quickly in her chest, she found it hard to draw deep breaths. Tyene came to stand next to her and squeezed her hand, a tight smile on her face — she knew of Sansa’s encounter with the Kingslayer two weeks earlier from her parents. She kept holding her cold hand in her warm one. Loras Tyrell, Margery’s younger brother and Sansa’s dancing partner, came to stand next to them. Loras liked Sansa — she danced well, which made his life easier; she was friendly and reliable. Moreover, he knew from his boyfriend, Renly, that Robert and Ned were old friends, which placed Sansa within the small circle of his own family and friends. Not to mention that Margery loved the girl. He knew from his sister that Jaime disfavored Sparkle, so he came to stand beside her.

When Loras’ sister entered the studio, the young dancers seemed to have collectively released the breath they had been holding. The tension lessened. A familiar and friendly face — Margery was loved for showing kindness and consideration to her students — served to lighten the gloom of Jaime Lannister’s presence. She nodded a quick greeting to him, then went to Sansa.

“Listen,” she said to her favorite in a low voice, “I would never say this to a student under any other circumstances, but hear this: you’re the most gifted dancer to have crossed this dancing company’s, read any dancing company’s, threshold in a while. You’re strong and you’re brave. He,” looking toward Jaime, “will intimidate you more than others, he’ll work you harder than others. He has a cruel tongue. Don’t let him see that he gets to you. If you can make it through today without showing weakness, he’ll be a lot easier to handle in the future. If he sees fear, he will make your life a variation on the seven hells.” She smiled. “Not saying he won’t do that anyway, but if you are fearless this class, you might have a chance. And Sansa,” she added with reassurance, “I’ve been watching you dance for weeks. You can stand your own, even against Jaime Lannister. All right?”

Sansa nodded, too stunned to blush. Giving her a pat on the shoulder, Margery resumed her place in front of the class. In a few more minutes, Jaime Lannister, satisfied that the stuttering Podrick had understood his instructions, joined Margery in front of the class.

“So here are the dancers at the highest level of the preparatory classes.” “In my company” was left hanging in the air. He took the time to look each of them over. When his eyes landed on Sansa, a dangerous smile appeared on his lips. Sansa could only watch him. He said nothing, however, and continued studying the other dancers. When he had appraised them to his satisfaction, he spoke again.

“Every master class you take here is designed to teach you the skills you will not learn when practicing choreography or training your muscles. Years of experience that each leading dancer has accumulated are presented to you, so that you may benefit from our knowledge. The Lannister Ballet Company has no interest in amateurs…”

Why is he giving me that look? He thinks I’m an amateur? Oh, Gods! I should never have said anything to him! went through Sansa’s mind as she lowered her eyes, trying to avoid his gaze.

“… consequently, we train all the new dancers we hire to make them worthy of representing this company. Thus far, you have had classes with Oberyn Martell, Ellaria Sand, and Margery Tyrell. Each of them has been teaching you what they consider to be most important outside the regular training you receive: how to improvise, how to seduce with your body; how to incorporate the freedom of contemporary dance into the somewhat stiff movements of classical ballet; how to move with grace, making each plié, each brisé, each pirouette an elegant instinct.” He paused. “In my studio, as in any other, you are expected to incorporate all that you’ve learned into your dance. But I want more from you: I want strength. My master classes will teach you endurance. So that if you’re forced to rehearse all day and then perform at night, not a single muscle of your bodies will shake. The rules are simple: you’re prohibited from sitting down in my studio. You sit, you lean against the wall, you fall, you lie down — you’re done. You’re not allowed to leave until I dismiss you. If any one of you gives up within the first four hours, I suggest you start looking for another place of employment. None of you will be permitted to go on stage as part of this ballet company before you can work through three master-classes consecutively.”

There was dead silence.

Oh, Mother! He will force us to dance for seven hours straight?! She felt her heart sink. Then, a mad hope filled her. Wait a minute! I’ve done that! I’ve danced from seven till two the night I saw him for the first time! I might actually be able to do this!

She felt stares directed at her and realized that her hope had brought a surprised smile to her face. Jaime Lannister fixed her with his piercing eyes for a few moments, then looked at the rest of the class.

“Let’s begin. Margery and I will show you the thirty-minute segment you will be learning today. Watch carefully, because we will only do it once. Your memory and your grasp on the movements have to be sharpened as well.”

So Margery isn’t going to stay…

He signaled to Podrick and the lad began playing. The music seemed familiar to Sansa, so did the movements.

The segment opened with a slow, painfully sad melody. The dancers’ motions were languid and gentle. With every gesture and every bar of the music, however, the tempo increased until the dance was fast-paced and passionate; Jaime and Margery were moving so quickly, one had to concentrate intensely on their figures to grasp the details of their elegant motions. Sansa had never seen Jaime Lannister dance in real life. It was breath-taking. He was graceful yet powerful. His dance annihilated memory and self, reducing viewers to absolute spectatorship. He seemed to dance outside of the confines of his body, as though capable of becoming an abstract force. Sansa had forgotten who he was, that he was a living being, as she watched him, enthralled. Her heart was beating quickly, her mind racing, and her limbs were restless with the desire, the need to dance. Constantly worried about her performance, she had almost forgotten the passion that had animated her for so long. The rebirth of this inspiration was more powerful than fear, embarrassment, or rage. She did not remember that this was a man despised by her family, accused of murder, guilty of incest. She did not remember he was dangerous and that he terrified her. She was only aware of a yearning to dance like he danced, to dance with him. She was filled with a mad dream of obtaining the magical power to move in a way that made him watch her with the fascination that filled her as her eyes followed him.

The dance ended; but the spell it had cast lasted a few more seconds before some hesitant claps were heard.

Jaime Lannister, who was not even out of breath, raised his hand.

“Save your applause for the theater,” he bit out. “Get with your partner. Your turn to dance.”

Sansa was very lucky to have been fascinated by the Lannister Ballet Company for years. She knew this pas de deux by heart, even though she had never tried performing it before: she considered it one of the most beautiful pieces of dance. It was a part of the most famous and beloved ballet in the Seven Kingdoms, the Lannister siblings’ original composition.

She and Loras stood together waiting for the music to start.

“Do you know this piece?” he asked her quietly. She nodded.

“I don’t,” he said, “and I am not sure I will remember everything.”

She put a hand on his forearm in reassurance.

“I will be whispering your next movements when we try it the first time, all right?”

Jaime had not realized that Sansa Stark would be in his master class. When he spotted her among the dancers, holding hands with Oberyn’s daughter, he thought with satisfaction that vengeance was a dish best served cold. He would enjoy watching the self-righteous Northerner collapse before the hour was through. In his experience, girls like her — pretty but uptight — did not last very long. She kept surprising him, though: the small smile he had caught on her face as if she wanted nothing more than to dance for seven hours without pause; the way she looked when Margery and he had finished dancing — eyes a little widened, her pupils so dilated her blue eyes had almost turned black, lips slightly parted, her chest rising and falling a little too fast. She made for an enticing picture.

In the past, the students would spend the first hour or two trying to get the movements right. He had the music played to them for the first time, so they could attempt repeating the movements and appreciated the difficulty of the task he had set before them. He would proceed by going over the movements with them a few at a time. Then the game for endurance really began. This time was different. They were all dancing. Not without flaws, not without missteps; some were a little behind the music; but they were all dancing. He watched them carefully. In the first few moments, he realized that the eyes of all students were glued to one couple, whose movements they mirrored. Sansa Stark and Loras Tyrell. The girl’s lips were moving, as though she was praying. His eyebrows rose when he realized just what the minx was about: she whispered Loras’ movements to him. Jaime scrutinized her with interest. Although she was whispering, her dreamy eyes seemed far away. She danced with a grace and ease that he had never witnessed in his masterclasses previously — few could afford either of these qualities when trying to grasp new movements. Sansa Stark stood apart from hundreds of dancers he had seen come to his studio over the years. She surprised him. He began to move between the dancers, correcting their movements, but his gaze kept returning to her face, as he watched the unfocused blue eyes and moving lips.

The pace Jaime Lannister had set was better than what Sansa had anticipated: each time they completed the thirty-minute segment, he would give them a ten-minute (standing) break. It was comfortable for Sansa, who was used to working an hour and taking twenty minutes to catch her breath. It had been two hours, and although she was covered in sweat, Sansa did not feel exhausted yet. She began to wonder if she could last the entire session but pushed the thought from her mind, focusing on her movements. With Jaime Lannister in the room, she refused to be anything but her absolute best; she would not let him dismiss her as an amateur. The fire his dancing had awakened in her kept burning as she danced under his gaze, and it gave her strength and joy to polish her movements under his instruction. She felt the delight, which the circumstances of their first meetings had temporarily overshadowed, of being in the presence of the greatest living dancer, and she relished in it. She was surprised that he corrected her movements with the same careless amiability and japes as those of the other dancers. She responded to his criticisms obediently, eager to improve. She forgot who he was outside the studio. The melody captivated her, pushing her mind into the familiar state where her body was ruled not by thoughts, but by music and choreography.

Jaime would lie if he said he was not impressed with Sansa. The girl’s dancing style showed excellent training, to say the least. Her movements were considerably less stiff than what he had expected from a graduate of the Winterfell Academy of Ballet. He suspected that Ellaria and Oberyn were responsible for this. Of course, he would have chewed off his tongue rather than admitted his admiration for the Stark girl. Besides, grace and good training would avail her little, he thought, when a few hours elapsed. He was surprised — yet again! — when she kept dancing, the inspired expression never leaving her face. Each time the music drew to a close, he expected her to give up. She did not.

It had been three hours, and one pair of dancers was seated, breathing heavily and dripping with sweat. A strange combination of shame, despair, and exhaustion was etched on their faces. Sansa forced herself to look away and turned her mind to the music before she could begin to register the tiredness of her own body.

By the fourth hour, when they had danced the segment six times, several more couples sat down, now that dismissal from the company did not threaten them. Some couples had split, and those who remained formed new pairs. Tyene was still standing, though her partner had changed. Mercifully, Loras, sweatier than she had ever seen him, was still standing too.

“Again!” came Jaime’s voice, and Podrick, who looked a little tired himself, resumed playing the familiar tune.

Tyene gave up on the fifth hour, and Sansa felt a pang in her chest as she watched her friend leave the dance floor and lie down. Loras followed her, leaving Sansa with a new partner, Jojen Reed. Sansa was tired as well, but she would not back down if it killed her.

By the sixth hour, Jaime was a little bemused: Sansa Stark was still dancing — one of only four. Every other break, she would follow some of the dancers to the side of the dance floor, make her way to her bag. Grabbing a towel, she would wipe the sweat off her face and neck, would reach for a drink of water, would occasionally gulp down a few bites of an apple. But at the end of each break, she returned to the dance floor. Her facial expression began alternating between the inspired one that had come to her face at the beginning of the class and a stubborn combination of pursed lips and furrowed brows.

Sansa could not believe that they were about to dance for the last time. For the past hour, she had been promising her body that, if it did not betray her now, then tomorrow, regardless of whether or not she had class — Sansa could not even remember the day of the week — she would stay in bed, venturing only to take a nice long bath.

But now, I cannot start shaking. I cannot stop. Not now, not when he’s looking. Not when I know how perfectly he can dance. 

Jaime Lannister was rarely dead wrong. In fact, he was unsure if he had ever been as incorrect in his assumptions as he had been this day.

Little Sansa Stark was the last one standing.

When, after the final dancing segment, he had announced that the seven hours were through, her dancing partner had, quite literally, collapsed where he had been standing. But Sansa Stark, like a robot, albeit a very graceful one, made her way to her bag and was now drinking. Still standing. The sight of her straight back, showing every vertebra, her alabaster skin glistening with sweat, irked him.

“All right, everyone,” he smirked, observing that they expected him to dismiss them. “Let’s see if that break did some of you any good. Do I have any volunteers for the last round? I’m thinking especially of those of you who gave up early.”

He could not see her face, but he observed how her back tensed. No one spoke. Good.

“Anyone?” he repeated with humor, but his smile failed him when she turned.

“I could dance one more time,” she said in a voice that sounded like steel wrapped in silks of fatigue. “They say in the North that practice makes perfect.”

She was scared, scared of his reaction. She was scared that her muscles would cramp or start shaking. She was scared she would faint with weariness. But she would not give up. She expected him to throw a jibe at her. She had never dreamed he would laugh.

Jaime Lannister guffawed. The minx had spirit and stamina, he would grant her that. After watching her give her best to every movement for seven hours, he felt magnanimous enough to acknowledge her fortitude and his failure to wear her out. He turned to the rest of the dancers, who watched the scene with a mixture of admiration and horror.

“All right, gentlemen, the lady has spoken. Who will stand with Sansa in the last round?”

Not a single one of them moved. A grin on his face, he turned to her:

“I’m afraid you’ve been proven wrong, Lady Stark. It appears you cannot dance one more time, after all.”

She took a step toward him, a strange expression on her tired face.

“I said I could dance one more time. I was not proven wrong, since I never claimed to be two people instead of one. I do need a partner, and you, sir, are still standing.”

Jaime’s eyebrows went up.

Did she just challenge me?

Did I just challenge Jaime Lannister?! Oh, Mother, have mercy! Why can’t you keep your mouth shut in his presence, Sansa?!

His eyes narrowed as he approached her.

He does look like an angry lion, and I don’t think it’s because I’m hallucinating from fatigue!

He came so close to her, their chests were almost touching, and she was forced to crane her neck to meet his gaze, which was even more hypnotic than in her dream. She thought she saw his lips twitch, and for a second, she fancied she had read respect — or was it admiration? — in his eyes. But whatever flashed in the green depths of his irises was so fleeting that she dismissed it as a figment of her imagination.

Jaime watched her, intrigued. What a strange combination — timidity and fearlessness. He suppressed a smile. He did not think he had ever met a girl like Sansa Stark. Nor had he ever seen such beautiful blue eyes.

He stepped away from her abruptly, breaking the enchantment he had cast on her. With theatricality, he extended his hand to her. She took it and felt a ball a lightening materialize in her chest at his touch, generating electricity through her whole being. Her breath coming out in irregular puffs, she followed him to the center of the dance floor. She felt she had entered into an alternate universe. Was she really about to dance with Jaime Lannister?

You’re not Cersei, reverberated in her mind.

He motioned to Podrick, whose face was twisted in a comical combination of apprehension and disbelief. The music started.

With her heart in her throat, Sansa began the familiar motions. As she danced, her eyes remained fixed on Jaime’s face, and he was all she could see. She was aware only of the music and his gaze on her. Suddenly, the exhaustion had left her, and she felt reborn, blood twirling in her veins to an elated song. The feeling of his arm on her waist, the touch of his hands on her body were not a dream. Overpowered by the magnetic steps of the dance that kept taking them apart and bringing them close, Sansa danced like she had never done before, her whole being dedicated to keeping his eyes on her.

Dancing is like making love… When you stop being a body and become a heart — you are dancing because every part of your being is pulsing with desire, and the only way to achieve satisfaction is by seducing your love with your movements, echoed in her mind. Could her arms whisper “stay” to him?

Jaime was strangely entranced by her. Her blue eyes sparkled as she danced with a passion he would not have thought her capable of. The sequence he had choreographed, the steps he knew so well, suddenly regained the power to inspire a longing for his dancing partner that he had not felt since Cersei and he had performed together. This slip of a girl from the North made him forget the world for a while, a time in which he was conscious only of the feeling of her agile, warm body in his arms and his desire to wrap them more tightly around her.

Tyrion always dropped in at the end of Jaime’s first master classes. “To prevent suicides,” he invariably explained with a sly grin. This time was no exception, as he made his way to his brother’s studio. He was a little surprised to hear music still playing. That had never happened before. When he pushed the door open, he gasped at seeing his brother’s face. His first thought was that Cersei had dropped by; but the sweaty young girl in Jaime’s arms was not his evil sister. It was Sansa, though he could barely recognize her. She was soaking wet from sweat and her hair was untidy; what differed this girl especially from the Sansa Stark he had known these past months was her face. Sansa — if indeed this woman was her — looked possessed, her eyes wild and dark. The strange apparition hardly moved like her, either: it seemed as though she had shed the cold skin that had imprisoned her body and emerged burning with a new fire. Tyrion looked back to Jaime. His brother always danced beautifully, but since Cersei left, Tyrion had not seen him dance with desire in his eyes, which had rendered his movements so poignant. Until this night. Tyrion felt tears pricking his eyes and released a shaky breath.

The couple was beautiful, unreal.

Was this possible? Could Oberyn’s nickname have prophesied a fire that would set his brother free?

Chapter Text

Sansa thought she was going to die. As she heaved over the toilet in the bathroom of her and Tyene’s apartment, she cursed the gods for giving her a stomach, or any other organ or limb for that matter. All her body ached. Every cell, every tissue, muscle, bone, her very skin and hair caused her acute pain as her organism protested her stubbornness. She felt another wave of nausea overwhelm her and moaned in misery. Tyene was rubbing her back, a sympathetic expression on her face.

“That’s what you get for pushing yourself too far,” she said in an unusually soft tone filled with compassion. Sansa, who was heaving, could not reply.

“How’s she?” came Ellaria’s voice from behind them.

“Terrible,” Tyene admitted honestly.

“Yeah, wait till the headache sets in,” the mother replied with a sigh.

“Headache?” came Sansa’s pitiful voice from somewhere in the toilet.

“And you thought you could just pirouette for almost eight hours without consequences, huh?” Ellaria sounded annoyed. She sighed again, and Sansa could hear the smile in her teacher’s voice when she spoke next. “Though you might think it’s worth it, seeing as Jaime Lannister could not take his stunned eyes off you.” Her observation was punctuated by sounds of Sansa vomiting. “I almost felt sorry for him,” Ellaria continued, unfazed, “you do realize that you’re the first dancer in the fifteen years he has tortured students with his endurance masterclasses to make it all the way to the end without collapsing?”

“But Jojen also made it,” objected Tyene in confusion. Her mother scoffed.

“That boy was on the floor by the end, no?” Ellaria asked, and Tyene nodded. “Well, there have been a few over the years who had danced for seven hours — four or six. But no one, and I mean no one, could ever stay on their feet afterwards, let alone dance for another thirty minutes! And dance like she did — beautiful, impassioned. She’s got it bad for the Kingslayer, yeah?” Tyene shrugged her shoulders:

“I don’t think she likes him…”

“I DON’T!” Sansa squealed her protest between nauseating spasms.

“I cannot imagine a woman going through so much misery unless she wanted to make sure a man would never forget her. And Jaime Lannister certainly won’t be forgetting this day any time soon,” laughed Ellaria.

“I think she’s just too proud,” Tyene proposed. “She wouldn’t back down, especially after Margery told her not to.”

“Don’t even try to pin this on me!” Margery walked into the bathroom, a glass of water in her hand, and came to kneel next to Sansa. “Here, dear, rinse your mouth and try taking a few sips.” She turned back to Tyene and Ellaria: “I didn’t tell her to try killing herself! I warned her not to show weakness, but I never dreamed she’d be so insane as to go for an extra round!”

“What was he thinking, anyway?!” Ellaria sounded enraged. “He knows she’s just an eighteen-year-old girl who doesn’t know any better, how could he have allowed her to do something so stupid?!”

“Because Jaime Lannister is a self-centered idiot with a competitive streak,” Brienne tried to squeeze her large frame into the crowded bathroom. “How are you feeling, Sansa?”

“Awful,” Sansa admitted in a gruff, exhausted voice, “but I think my stomach is done punishing me.”

She tried to get up and almost fell: on her feet for the first time after crouching before the toilet for a good quarter of an hour following eight hours of dancing, Sansa screamed in pain as a series of cramps hit her. Tears streamed down her cheeks. Fortunately, the women caught her. Brienne elbowed her way to the girl — just in time, because Margery, Ellaria, and Tyene were not doing a very good job of keeping her upright — and picked her up easily.

“No, no, I have to clean my teeth,” Sansa protested weakly when the large woman tried to carry her out of the bathroom.

“Fine, but you’re sitting down,” Brienne replied in a tone that did not leave room for discussion. She sat her down on the toilet seat, and Sansa brushed her teeth, wincing every now and again as more cramps hit her in places where she never suspected she had muscles.

“Why did you have to run home on your own when Tormund or I could have carried you?” she asked with soft admonishment, when Margery and Ellaria left and Tyene busied herself with the bathtub.

What could Sansa say to this? That after surviving the deepest of seven hells and dancing with Jaime Lannister she csould not allow him to see the weakness that lay behind her brave front? She shrugged and continued brushing her teeth. Her memories were not as easily dismissed as Brienne’s questions, however.

They took her mind back to the enticing moment when the music had stopped but she was still in Jaime’s arms, his green eyes blazing at her as they searched her face in consternation. She was breathing heavily and smiling — she felt rather than knew how beautifully they had danced. Her fear of him gone, she contemplated his face, wondering if he had felt a fraction of the elation she did.

Then the applause started. It came from the dancers within the studio but also from the doorway, where she saw Tyrion and Margery, Ellaria and Oberyn, Brienne and Tormund. They were clapping too. Tyrion wore a strange, unreadable expression. She had not even noticed them. Something changed in Jaime’s face at the sound of clapping. The searching look was gone from his eyes, and he took a step away from her. She felt orphaned without his arms around her, and, as though she had drawn strength from his body like Antaeus from the earth, when Jaime retreated, the whole of her fatigue hit her like a train, and she staggered. He steadied her with a quick hand.

“Sansa?”

She looked up at him expectantly, and he sighed.

“Let’s call a truce,” he proposed with an easy smile and extended to her his right hand. She shook it, offering him a bashful smile. Giving him a small nod, she forced herself to leave him. As she walked to her bag, she still felt his eyes on her. It was when she bent to get her towel that her head had started to spin and the first wave of nausea had hit her. She gathered her things quickly and, not waiting for Tyene like she usually did, almost elbowed her way through the small crowd at the studio’s entrance. Despite their protestations of her hurried departure, she ran to the apartment, set on breaking down in the privacy of her own bathroom. She had not expected Ellaria, Margery, and Brienne to follow her roommate back to their apartment.

Meanwhile, Tyene had run a bath.

“Oh, no, you have to wash, too!” exclaimed Sansa when her friend announced that the bath was for her. Tyene laughed happily at her foolishness.

“I will, silly! But we have to wash you first. Besides, the warm water will do you good.”

“Here,” Ellaria had returned with a few bottles of oils and salts, which she handed to her daughter. “Add these to the water while I undress her.”

“Oh, are those Dornish oils?” asked Margery, who had followed Ellaria and was now helping Tyene with the bath. (Brienne, blushing, left when she saw what was afoot — the only one to consider Sansa’s privacy; the dancers were far less shy than the cellist.)

“Wash me? Undress me?” Sansa asked in confusion. Truth be told, she was too tired to understand half of what people were saying to her.

“Yes, wash you! You can barely stand, and you certainly cannot wash yourself!” Tyene laughed again. Ever after the masterclass, Sansa’s roommate was in a ridiculously good mood, proud of her friend for whipping the self-satisfied grin off the Lannister’s face. She had liked Sansa for a while, but that day her feelings turned to admiration.

“If I had half of Jaime Lannister’s sadism, I would have liked to see you try wiggling yourself out of your leotard and tights! Luckily for you, though, I will help you undress before you get a really bad cramp,” said Ellaria, adding with a suggestive smile: “However, I think sadism is not quite the right word to describe what he’d feel watching you take your clothes off.”

“Please don’t talk like that,” Sansa, red-faced, begged in a weak voice.

“Fine, but you and I are having the talk about birds, bees, and protection in the near future whether you like it or not,” Ellaria announced as Sansa reddened further and almost sobbed with embarrassment. She thought that Ellaria’s insinuations were entirely unwarranted and could not understand why the Dornish woman decided to start teasing her about Jaime Lannister of all people! She could not imagine anyone less likely to have such an interest in her.

Ellaria undressed her while Sansa lay meekly against Margery, who was supporting her limp form from behind. The women helped her into the bathtub and washed her, the warm water and oils easing some of the pain from her battered body. They helped her out and dried her off, like a baby, wrapping her in a bathrobe before calling for Brienne, who, against Sansa’s weak objections, carried her into the small living room. Tyene remained to take a shower, but Margery and Ellaria followed Brienne. In the living room, Sansa was greeted by another round of standing ovation from Tyrion, Loras, Podrick, Tormund, and Oberyn. Brienne laid her down on the sofa and covered her with a plaid, while Tyrion opened a bottle of champagne that had mysteriously materialized in their flat. Sansa was surprised to see all the men — she had assumed that only her female friends were in the apartment. Tyrion was pouring champagne into glasses — where did the champagne flutes come from?, wondered Sansa — and Podrick presented her with a glass, looking very proud to have had the honor. Tyene joined them, and when everyone had a glass:

“Well, Sansa Stark, I take my hat off to you!” Tyrion proclaimed as all echoed with “Here, here!..” “To Sansa Sparkle Stark, the Lion-Tamer!” he roared, raising his glass to her, and everyone laughed happily. Sansa smiled as she looked at the faces of her friends, basking in the admiration and kindness shining in their eyes. They felt like family.

Loras and Tyene, talking over each other, revived the moments of the masterclass for the benefit of those who had not witnessed it in its entirety. Even Podrick, who usually restricted himself to smiling quietly in company, chirped in. Listening to them, Sansa could only smile and roll her eyes, accusing them quietly of exaggeration. Surely, the fearless girl they described, who would not back down from any challenges Jaime Lannister had thrown her way was not really her, Sansa? The apartment was filled with jokes (a few at Jaime’s expense), laughter, celebration. Sansa asked herself why Tyrion seemed so pleased. She could tell he loved his brother with a fierce devotion, which made her wonder why he seemed even happier than everyone else.

Tyrion was watching Sansa with entirely new eyes. For him, she had ceased to exist on her own that night, her being tied in his imagination to his brother’s possible happiness. After witnessing the dance she and Jaime had shared, he could no longer look at her without getting lost in the images of the future his brother could have. In Tyrion’s eyes, she was the embodiment of a hope he had given up on years ago. Now this hope was reanimated, bodied forth by Sansa Stark, and it went to the small man’s head like the champagne with which he toasted her.

From a very young age, Tyrion had harbored no illusions concerning his sister. Cersei could rival the sunrise with her beauty, there was no denying it, but he knew her to be manipulative and selfish. Her cruelty to him personally Tyrion could have disregarded — after all, he would not have been able to enumerate all those who had been unkind to him; but her disloyalty to Jaime, the hole she had created in his brother’s life, Tyrion would never forgive. He loathed his sister not for the ways she had scarred him, but for the future of which she had robbed his elder brother. No matter how he taunted Jaime, from his beautiful hair to his dyslexia, Tyrion worshipped him. From as far back as he could remember, Jaime was his knight, an ideal being Tyrion could admire and whose love he cherished. The only person in their family to have truly loved him; loved him unconditionally, blind to his small stature and stunted legs. Tyrion also understood, however, that the same traits in his brother’s character that left him unaware of the defects in his own appearance also veiled from him Cersei’s more serious flaws. When Tyrion had realized that Jaime was in love with his twin, he did not care about incest — Jaime could do no wrong in his eyes. Tyrion worried, rather, that their sister’s failings would eventually hurt his oddly naïve brother. Over the years, watching him go deeper and deeper into the abyss that was Cersei became the bane of Tyrion’s existence.

He had tried telling himself that Cersei would never coldly use Jaime like she did others; but she proved him wrong when she married Robert Baratheon and had Jaime’s children, solidifying her power over him and creating new means of keeping him around. When Jaime raged at the news of the wedding, drinking himself into a stupor, Tyrion was praying that he might see light, but was sorely disappointed. Considering that his elder brother had a reputation for dishonor, Tyrion found bitter irony in that loyalty had never damaged anyone’s life as it had Jaime’s. He had tried introducing to him beautiful women, intelligent women, wanton women, and women who combined these and other qualities, but to no avail; he had considered telling Jaime that Cersei was unfaithful — he knew that Robert was neither the first nor the last man the vile woman had screwed behind his brother’s back — but he could never bring himself to do it. What would he accomplish? Jaime would be broken, he might start drinking, destroy his career, and Tyrion was not sure that he could patch him together afterwards. At last, hope had abandoned Tyrion, leaving a hole in his chest that ached whenever he remembered that family and the love of a good woman did not seem to be in Jaime’s future. But this night, this beautiful night, when, for the first time in his life, Tyrion saw someone other than Cersei capture his brother’s eye, even if Jaime himself did not realize this, Tyrion’s heart almost leapt out of his chest. In the game over Jaime’s soul that the little man played against Cersei, he, for the first time, had the trumping card. A passionate, kind, loving, beautiful girl whose Northern blood ran like innocence through her veins. A girl who could make his brother happy; who could set him free. Tyrion had never thought the world so beautiful as he did that night. He made his way to Margery and kissed her hungrily, happily. He was elated, and he was not ashamed of the happy tears in his eyes.

“What’s gotten into you?” she asked him, brushing her hand over his hair.

“I love you,” he said quietly but with more feeling than he had ever dared.

“I should hope so,” she said with a sly smile, but something in his eyes made her serious, and she cupped his face with her hands, looking him dead in the eye: “I love you, too, my wonderful man.”

Perhaps my brother will know true love, too, one day. Now I can hope again.

He turned to look at Sansa and found Sparkle snoozing peacefully, a small smile of contentment on her lips. Sparkle? No. Lion-tamer!

Chapter Text

In the days following the celebratory night, Sansa alternatively regretted being born at all or wished she had died on the evening following Jaime’s masterclass. Tyrion had forbidden her from coming anywhere near the studios, saying that the security would simply not let her inside the building. Sansa thought he overestimated her body’ strength. Not only was she unable to walk — she could barely get up to move around her apartment, while any environment outside her bed and the hot bathtub filled with Ellaria’s Dornish oils and salts became entirely uninhabitable. Her body was in active revolt against its mistress, fully set on showing her that it would not tolerate such treatment as she had afforded it. The proverbial war between the body and the mind became no joke to Sansa, who was physically unable to dance, but whose dreams filled her with a powerful desire to put on her pointes and tell the pain in her muscles to go screw itself in the seventh hell. When she was asleep, her body’s protests silenced, her mind set to work, conjuring before her slumbering eyes flashes of her and Jaime’s dance. Sometimes they felt more like memories; other times, they were definitely the creative work of her unruly subconsciousness. Most frequently, she dreamed the same dream that had visited her on the eve of the masterclass, and after hearing him whisper, “You’re not Cersei,” Sansa would wake up cranky.
On the third day of her confinement, she woke up on time without her alarm clock and decided that she had had enough. Rebelliously, she threw off her covers, ignoring the ache with which her body protested her resolution to leave the bed, and proceeded to get ready for class. Tyene, strangely enough, had not even returned home the night before, and Sansa decided to use her opportunity to escape. She took with her only the barest necessities, reducing the weight of her bag to a minimum, and headed to the Lannister Ballet Company building. Just as she was about to enter, a member of the security team stopped her.

“I’m sorry, miss, but I am under strict orders from Tyrion Lannister not to let you in.”

Sansa thought that Tyrion had been kidding when he had warned her about this measure.

“Please, sir, I’m sure he didn’t mean it. I can call him…”

“Sorry, miss, Mr. Lannister went out to a meeting.”

“Maybe you could call someone else?”

What was the name of the head of security and Tyrion’s bodyguard slash drinking buddy? The one who looked like a thug? Ah, yes…

“Can you get Bronn, please?” she asked.

The guard seemed to have taken pity on her and retreated to call his superior. Bronn appeared within a few minutes.

“Bronn, thank goodness! I know Tyrion told your colleagues not to let me in, but could you please explain to them that this was only a joke?”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that for you, lass. I’ve received the same orders.”

“But this is ridiculous! I’m not a criminal!”

“No, you’re not. But from what I’ve been hearing, you may be suicidal.”

“Su — What? I’m not!”

She realized that people in the lobby were looking at her with curiosity and reddened. How could Tyrion, this kind little man, have pulled such a cruel, humiliating stunt on her? She thought they were friends! Her body was hurting, she was sick of staying alone in the apartment all day, and she wanted to dance! She knew she would feel better if her muscles warmed up.

“What’s going on here?” came an indignant snarl from behind her.

Oh, no, not Jaime Lannister, too!

 “They won’t let me in,” she explained quietly, looking at her feet.

“They what?!” Jaime sounded oddly menacing.

“Tyrion asked me not to let Sansa in,” Bronn hurried to shift the blame onto his employer.

She dared a side glance in Jaime’s direction to find him looking at her with a mischievous smirk.

“Why, Sansa, what have you done? Did you steal someone’s pointes?”

She reddened further.

“I’ve done nothing of the kind!” she exclaimed, and watched in misery as his smirk widened. Turning to stare at the floor, she explained: “He just doesn’t want me to practice for now.”

“And why’s that?”
Because I nearly killed myself in your damned class!

“Hmm… I guess he worries that I work too hard.”

For whatever reason, Jaime decided not to press the issue.

“Come on,” was all he said as he started walking toward the turnstiles.

“But Jaime,” called Bronn, “Tyrion did ask me not to let her in.”

“And if he asks you how she did get in, you can tell him that she took down the entire security force on the floor. When he does not believe you, refer him to me as a key witness.” He turned to stare Bronn and the rest of the security down, no longer joking: “And I don’t ever want to hear that Sansa Stark was not allowed into the building, is that clear?” The men nodded, and Jaime walked on.

With no one preventing her from entering anymore, Sansa rushed after him before he changed his mind. She caught up with him easily enough.

“Thank you, I really appreciate your help back there.”
 “I wasn’t raised to leave a damsel in distress to her own devices,” he replied with a playful smile. Observing her annoyance, he laughed. “Come, Sansa, you may be from the North, but you cannot be entirely devoid of a sense of humor.”

“I just don’t like being made fun of,” she mumbled. Why was he so tiresome?

“That’s really too bad,” he told her with a smirk before making a turn. She shook her head in annoyance and continued on her way.

“What do you think you’re doing here?” Ellaria looked a little scary.

“Oh, please, I’m sick and tired of staying in that room!”

“No, you’d rather be vomiting from exhaustion!”

“Please, I want to practice.”

Sansa herself could not believe that even Ellaria’s class seemed very appealing to her right now.

“No. You need to take a break for a few days.”
“It’s been two days already! Please, let me stay.”

“Absolutely not,” Ellaria declared.

Sansa clasped her hands as though in prayer and made her best attempt at puppy eyes:

“Please?”

Ellaria looked almost wavering for a moment, then shook her head and said “no” with renewed bresolution. Sansa sighed in defeat.

“Can I at least stay and watch?”

“Fine, but you’re sitting in the armchair, not on the floor.”

“Yes! Of course! Thank you!”

“Go on,” Ellaria motioned toward the chair with an indulgent smile.

At least Tyene was not around to pressure her. But where was she? Sansa wondered. Tyene had never skipped class before.

Watching people dance did not help Sansa at all. She was fidgeting, feeling almost ticklish with the desire to move. When none of the instructors allowed her to dance, her squirming only grew worse. By the end of the day, she was nearly bursting with frustration. She wanted to dance! She made her way to Tyrion’s office and knocked.

Hearing his unusually happy “come in!,” she entered.

“How did you get in?” he asked without a hint of remorse for placing her in that idiotic position.

“Jaime helped,” she mumbled.

“He did, didn’t he?”
What is wrong with my brother? Tyrion wondered.

“Tyrion, please tell Ellaria and the other instructors not to stop me from training.”

“Trust me, if Ellaria thought you should practice again, there would be nothing I could do. As it is, she needs no convincing from me that you must rest.”

“What about the other instructors?” she asked.

“Now, to them, I did make a suggestion or two,” he admitted.

“Tyrion, please, this is unfounded! I’m perfectly fine!”

“Sansa, can’t you understand that if you start practicing again after pushing yourself too far, you may seriously injure yourself? Go home, take a bath…”

“I’ve done nothing but take baths for two days! Tyrion, please, I’m begging you! I’ll go insane, if I have to stay in that room for longer.”

“Sparkle, I will not let you harm yourself, and, fortunately, I have the means to make sure you don’t. Go sightseeing, do some shopping, read a book! There are plenty of things to do in the world besides dancing.”

She started crying in frustration. Sad little sounds escaped her throat and tears ran down her cheeks. Tyrion was shocked and remorseful, but her emotional volatility only served to convince him further that his decision had been the correct one.

“Sansa, please, don’t! It’s for your own good!” Tyrion approached her and was patting her hand, but she kept crying quietly.

“Please, I just want to dance…”
The door opened.

“Tyrion, why do we have the next fundraiser scheduled for — ” Jaime’s eyebrows almost touched his hairline when he observed the crying Sansa. “What in Seven Hells? Tyrion, what’s the meaning of this?”

“Jaime — ” Tyrion began, but his brother interrupted.

“Oh no, don’t Jaime me! This morning, your thugs wouldn’t let her in, the afternoon she’s crying in your office. What’s going on?”

Tyrion barely contained his smile. Now, that was interesting. Look who was getting a little protective!..

Sansa, however, was not about to let Tyrion explain to his brother in humiliating detail exactly why he thought she was unfit to practice.

“Nothing, it’s nothing!” she hurried to say, “I’ve just heard that my dog has died, and Tyrion was kind enough to comfort me.”

Really, Sansa? Killing Lady was the best you could come up with? her inner voice judged her.

“Excuse me… I… I will let you get back to work, Tyrion. Thanks again,” she said and walked out.

Tyrion turned to Jaime.

“What about the fundraiser?”

“You do realized that I know she lied about the dog?”

“On the contrary, she spoke the truth. Her dog died this morning. Hit by a car. Tragic thing, really,” Tyrion lied smoothly.

Jaime gave him an exasperated look, but, pretending to play along, he asked with mock sincerity:

“And you’ve spent hours trying to comfort her?”

“No, not hours, but maybe fifteen minutes. She got the call when she was in my office.”

Jaime’s smile said he was going in for the kill.

“And what’s its name?”

“Whose name?” Tyrion asked, confused.

“The dog that Sansa’s mourning.”

Fucker, was all Tyrion thought but replied without missing a beat:

“Snow.”

“And do you think that’s the name she’ll give me if I ask her the same question?”

Tyrion’s habitual wins in poker were not explained only by his aptitude to math. His bluffing was also good.

“Certainly,” he answered. “Now, what did you want to talk about concerning the fundraiser?”

Text from Tyrion Lannister to Lion-Tamer:

If Jaime asks, your dog’s name is Snow, and it died tragically under the wheels of a car this morning.

Text from Lion-Tamer to Tyrion Lannister:

Thank you. 

Text from Tyrion Lannister to Lion-Tamer:

Np. But you’re still not practicing this week.

Sansa sighed and threw her phone on her bed. Why were they so set on driving her mad? Dancing was part of her metabolic process. She could not just stop. And where was Tyene?

Her roommate returned late that night, looking very mad.

“Hey, where have you been all day? I haven’t seen you — ” Sansa began but did not finish.

Tyene had tears of anger and pain in her eyes. She threw her clutch against the wall with surprising strength and growled. Sansa jumped off the couch, throwing away the book she was attempting to read, and ran to her, placing her hands on her friend’s forearms.

“Tyene, what happened?”

The girl looked angry for some more seconds; then, her face crumbled, she wrapped her arms around Sansa, and, hiding her face in her red hair, began to cry. Sansa whispered soothing nothings to her, stroking her short hair.

“He doesn’t want me… [sniffling] We’ve been fucking each other’s brains out for months, and now he thinks we should ‘move on?!’ He left so quickly yesterday after telling me it was over, I didn’t believe him! I spent the whole day in his stupid apartment waiting for him, and do you know what he told me when he got back?!”

“No, honey, I don’t. What did he say?”

“That I shouldn’t have ‘waited up’ for him! Oh, I could kill him right now! I’m sorry I didn’t!”

“Who is he?” asked Sansa hesitantly. When she had first met Tyene, she had assumed that her roommate was exploring her numerous options, but then came to believe that there was someone special in Tyene’s life.

“I can’t tell you, you’ll judge me,” she whined lamentably.

Believe me, with the dreams I’ve been having about Jaime Lannister, I’m the last person who will judge your choices.

“Of course, not. I promise.”

Tyene raised her head from Sansa’s shoulder and considered her friend. Sansa watched mascara running down the Dornish girl’s cheeks and thought that, without the perfect make up, Tyene looked younger than she normally did. Sansa smiled at her and wiped her friend’s tears.

“I promise not to judge.”

Tyene looked down, uncertainty on her face, but the desire to share her troubles with her friend won over.

“It’s Bronn,” she said. When Sansa just stared, Tyene began clarifying: “He’s the head of security — ”

“I know who he is!” Sansa said. “I just never would have thought he was your type.”

“He isn’t. I just like sleeping with him. A lot. I thought he liked me. He was getting kind of cute a few weeks ago, then something changed, he started being busy all the time and — ” her voice shook and she started crying again. “I don’t even know what happened!”

“Well, did he say anything?”

“No, just that we’ve had fun and now it was time to move on! I hate him!”

“I have two elder brothers who can make him into a punching bag if you like,” Sansa offered with a smile. Tyene laughed a little before resuming her weeping. After more proclamations of hatred and working out detailed plans of Bronn’s execution, they settled on watching a movie together, a saccharine melodrama that even Sansa privately thought could cause diabetes.

The next day, Sansa was allowed into the building but was again prohibited from dancing. In the morning, she was sitting in Margery’s class, watching her peers with undisguised envy. Margery had been gentle in her refusal to allow Sansa to join their ranks, but it had been a refusal nonetheless. Sansa was wracking her brains to find a solution to her predicament, when she remembered the keychain with a plush toy in the shape and the color of a small flame. She had not used it since the night she had seen Jaime and Cersei in one of the studios. She wondered if that was their usual meeting place, or if perhaps it had been simply an unhappy coincidence.

Maybe I could ask him, she thought desperately.

Ask him what? If he needs the studios at night to screw his sister? Are you completely crazy?

But maybe he isn’t even here. Maybe I can just sneak in at night, and no one will be the wiser. 

I can even think of someone who will look very stupid if she stumbles for the second time onto the Lannister twins going at it in the darkness.

That much was true. With a deep sigh, Sansa dismissed the thought. That was in the morning. By the end of the day, however, she was desperate enough to reconsider.

Jaime Lannister hated attending fundraisers. Organizing them was even worse. Tyrion insisted that several important decisions could not be made without Jaime’s approval, and his little brother had an uncanny ability of forcing Jaime to do things he hated. For instance, he found himself fighting his dyslexia to look through the seemingly endless pages of administrative nightmare the insufferable little man had dropped into his email. Jaime sighed, feeling the onset of a headache. He needed a break. As though by magic, he heard a hesitant knock on the door. He called out for the visitor to come in, glad of the interruption. To his surprise, Sansa Stark walked into his office, looking like a deer caught in the headlights.

“I’m sorry if I’m interrupting…” she motioned toward his computer screen.

“I’m not,” he replied. “One more moment, and I would have thrown the damnable thing against the wall. Please, sit down.” He motioned to the armchairs before his desk. She sat down in one of them, and he came to lean against his desk in front of her.

“What brings you into the lion’s den, Sansa?”

She shifted uncomfortably, but her lips were set in the same stubborn way he had observed during the masterclass.

“I…” she began, blushed to her hairline, and paused, looking at her hands.

Jaime laughed softly.

“Whatever it is, now I’m sure it’s worth my while.”

Another wave of blushing came over her. He did not realize a human being could turn such a deep shade of pink.

“Breathe, minx, or you might have a stroke,” he said with mock concern.

“I…” she failed again.

“Yes, you! We’ve established that fact already. What it is, Sansa? I’m not getting any younger here.”

Jaime was enjoying himself immensely. He might have been unable to get under her skin during the masterclass, but she was clearly not immune to teasing. She took a deep breath, like someone who is standing on a cliff preparing to jump, then rushed into her tumbled narration:

“The night when I saw you…” she lowered her voice, “with you-know-who…”

Jaime guffawed.

This was going to be good. What was it Tyrion had said? She might have a stroke from blushing if she tried talking about that incident out loud?

She was annoyed, but he thought that the way she wrinkled her nose in irritation was highly amusing. She took one more breath and continued:

“Well, that happened because I’ve a spare key from the backdoor, so that I can come in and practice.”

“Tyrion’s told me as much.”

“He did? All right. Well, obviously, I’ve not gone to practice in the evenings like I used to since…” she motioned vaguely in his direction.

“Why is this obvious? Could you clarify?” he goaded.

She reddened further, and he caught himself wondering just how far on her body the blush extended.

“What do you mean? Well, I could not know if you would be there!”

I wonder if it is possible for her to blush more?

“Could have asked,” he said. “Cersei and I are rather private people, but I’m sure we could consider preforming for you.”

Sansa was so scandalized, she actually looked up at him, mouth agape and eyes wide.

Ah, so she could turn redder still.

“That’s not what I meant at all!” she sounded panicked. “I meant I didn’t want to interrupt — ”

Jaime was laughing heartily.

“I didn’t want to walk in on you two ever again!” she exclaimed.

“Are you sure?” he said between laughs.

“Yes!” she almost screamed.

Is that what she sounds like when she’s urging her lover on?

“It’s almost offensive, the way you say it,” he admonished.

Sansa dropped her red face into her hands and did not lift her head when she spoke again.

“All I wanted to ask was whether I could start practicing at night again or if you and your sister would be there?” she sounded miserable, but Jaime was far from having had his fill of fun.

“Minx, I don’t see the problem. You can practice at night all you want. And, since you’re good at keeping secrets, I don’t foresee any problems even if we run into each other. Or rather if you run into us.

To his disappointment, Sansa jumped out of the armchair and picked up her bag.

“I’m sorry to have bothered you, I’ll try to find another way. Thank you for your time.”

She made for the door, and he could not resist catching her forearm and spinning her around with ease.

“Sansa,” he said softly, “you really need to learn to recognize humor.”

Still red and annoyed, she looked at him.

“This isn’t funny,” she said stubbornly.

“Maybe not for you,” he acknowledged, “but laughter is like sex, Sansa. You can’t be too selfish, since you aren’t alone.”

She tried to bolt again, but he caught her around the waist, laughing.

“You, Northerners, and your prudish ways!”

“It’s not about prudishness, it’s about common decency! Please let me go.”

 Unwillingly, he obliged her.

“You have nothing to worry about, minx. My sister and I will find better places to enjoy ourselves than this building. Practice away,” he winked at her and saw relief wash over her face, relaxing her features.

“Thank you,” she said with gratitude.

“Personally, I think it would have done you no harm watching us — ” he began, but she almost ran out of the door, and he laughed heartily as he watched her go.

Well, if he did not just find a wonderful source of amusement!

Chapter Text

Looking back, she thought that the horror of speaking with Jaime Lannister, which proved even worse than Sansa had anticipated — How could people say such things and not catch fire from shame? Oh, right, like Jaime Lannister knew what shame was! Ha! — was worth it the moment she had unlocked the back door of the Lannister Ballet Company building and slipped inside the welcoming darkness. The quiet reminded her of the bustle that reigned this place during the day. It seemed that the halls and studios were resting from the commotion, dozing peacefully under the soft cover of night. She loved being here alone with no one but the mirrors to see her, not a single instructor to judge whether her movements were performed well or not. In the night, she could dance any way she wanted; she could be silly and make mistakes; she could forget the world altogether.

Barely restraining her triumphant giggle, Sansa rushed down the familiar route to the studio in which she usually danced. She loved its roof windows, which let in the last rays of sunlight and then filled the studio with magical moonlight. The lively yellow street light would mingle with the coldness of the moon, creating an enchanting atmosphere.

Fixing her phone to the arm band and putting on her headphones, she thought with ridiculous pride how she had fooled Tyene, who, like every other one of her friends, was part of the conspiracy against Sansa’s dancing. Tyene was having bad cramps in her left leg, so Sansa ran her a bath. The careless and happy sound of her roommate’s humming coming from the bathroom suggested to Sansa that if she were to quietly, very quietly, dress, pack her bag, and leave, Tyene might not even hear her. It turned out she had been right. She thought herself pretty clever.
Finally, she was about to dance. How she had missed it. Her heart was beating faster as she started the music. There was no one to chide her, to stop her. She had never felt so free. She started moving, her body still sore, but she did not care. There it was, the beating of her heart synching with the rhythm of the music. She started off with easy, soft movements, mindful of all the warnings she had received. But the music bewitched her, and she had forgotten the danceless days had ever existed. Recovering her body’s strength with every motion, she became bolder and followed the crescendo. Pirouette, fouetté arabesque. She felt her body shake off its fatigue and staleness. The petit allegro had never seemed like a liberation before. The soubresaut had never filled her with so much life. She had never felt her feet leave the floor so acutely with every part of her being. Glissade, jeté. How beautiful it was to dance! Coupé, step, jeté. Her muscles were as flexible as well-kneaded dough, she felt like a fountain — unrestrained, exultant, elastic. Pas de chat. What a wonder it all was!

Dancing again after such a long break filled her with deranging joy. She forgot about caution, dancing ecstatically, almost laughing her merriment. Her limbs moving of their own accord, proclaiming the end of captivity, the dawn of a new era. She felt omnipotent, unstoppable. She could overcome every obstacle, her body now stronger than ever before. She dashed around the studio in a celebration of freedom, of happiness, of dance, metamorphosed into one of the snowflakes she had watched twirl nonchalantly over Winterfell. She pirouetted, she jumped, feeling the youth of her body and the abandon in her heart, reveling in her quiet power.

That was how Jaime found her. A swift vision of innocence and bliss. In the dusk of the studio, slipping in and out of the light, she looked surreal, ephemeral. A magical spirit, perhaps a jubilant sylph, or a fictional memory. Her limbs graceful, her body energetic, her movements filled with a distracted, guiltless glory. Weary of Tyrion’s papers, he had come to tease her when he had heard the light, hurried footsteps. He stayed to watch her, captivated. He did not admire ballet as a dance anymore: it was his life, his work; he invented, criticized it. But she had stopped him in his tracks with the ingenuous beauty of her movements. Enchanted by the spellbinding harmony she brought into being, he watched her. The considerable skill and good technique he had noticed in her before acquired a flow of even greater delicacy, and her motions were replete with the same passion that had transfixed him when they had danced together.

She did not observe him in the shadows of the doorway. She did not see anything at all, her eyes turned inward. In her mind, kept flashing the visions of him dancing all those days ago. She missed the bemused smile that now played on his lips, the wonder in his eyes as they followed her form. When she stopped, standing with her hands on her hips, breathing deeply, he was suddenly reminded of reality. Shaking his head, he left noiselessly, the look of an awakened sleepwalker on his face.

“Where have you been?!” Tyene was fuming. “Oh. My. Gods. Did you sneak off to dance at night?!”

Sansa, still in her dancing leotard, legwarmers, and hoodie, was covered in sweat, but her eyes were glowing.

“Yes, I have.”
“Are you out of your mind?!”

Sansa, too content to pout, smiled happily.

“Apparently not. I’ve danced for three hours, and I feel great. Better than great, actually: I feel reborn.”

Tyene raised an eyebrow at her skeptically.

“It’s true,” Sansa said, more at peace than Tyene had seen her in weeks. “I’ve danced for three hours without pause, I feel great. I am going to class tomorrow, and I don’t care what they say to me — I’m going to dance.”

Sansa hugged Tyene in passing and headed to the shower. She felt strong. She felt bold.

The next day, there were no masterclasses, just the regular training sessions. Sansa walked in, ready for a fight and was stunned to find that no one tried to prevent her from practicing. Despite her brave words and her inspired dancing the day before, her body was still recovering. She decided to reign in her eagerness and, since she had a day worth of training, replaced the night practice with a nice long bath. Another reason for her caution was that on the morrow she had a masterclass with Ellaria, and she wanted to look as fresh as she could in hopes of convincing her unbendable instructor to let her rejoin the class. A part of her, which was conscious of a change in the way she danced and the way she felt when moving, wondered if she could do better in Ellaria’s class now.

Ellaria was already in her studio by the time Tyene and Sansa arrived.

“I heard that you were practicing!” the older woman said by way of greeting. “I thought Tyrion had that under control.”

“Guess he decided it was all right,” ventured Sansa.

“Well, I certainly haven’t decided that,” Ellaria stated.

Before Sansa could begin to argue, the atmosphere in the room had somehow shifted. Turning, she saw Jaime Lannister, who bore a resemblance to a self-assured lion, walk into the studio.

“I think, Ellaria, you’re taking it too far. She’s made it through my masterclass. She can certainly handle yours,” he spoke with playful condescension.

“I’ll thank you to mind your own business and never to attempt to mandate what I do in my studio again!” Ellaria bit back with venom. “She needs a break.”

“And she’s had it. Four days is more than enough,” he answered, unperturbed by her acrimony. “Besides,” he added, “she’s been training yesterday and looks fine to me.”

“The regular training sessions only last an hour with twenty- and forty-minute breaks between them. This masterclass lasts three hours. She’s not ready for it.”

Jaime sounded annoyed:

“Ellaria, when I hired you into this company, I don’t remember seeing a degree in medicine on your CV. Did I miss it, or have you acquired one in the time you’ve been with us?”

“I don’t need to be a certified maester to know her body will give out if she practices without stopping for three hours!”

Jaime smiled in a sly, triumphant way.

“She’s already done it,” he said calmly.

“What?”

“She’s danced for three hours the night before yesterday and was feeling well enough to attend class the day after.”

Wait! He knew I would practice at night, but how does he know for how long I’ve danced?!

“I still think she should not have done it and is not ready to resume her full schedule. I’m doing this for her own good.”

Jaime’s smile was unsettling — even for Ellaria, Sansa suspected. She herself was glad not to be at the receiving end of it.

“Her own good?” Jaime asked, a quiet challenge in his voice. “Very well, then. If you don’t allow Sansa to resume her normal schedule, your masterclass included, I will offer her an additional masterclass. Taught by myself,” he ended with a smirk that said he knew he had Ellaria just where he wanted her.

Sansa was not sure if she hoped Ellaria would acquiesce or refuse. But when the woman said, “Fine, Lannister,” signaling to Sansa to get onto the dance floor, the girl could not help feeling a pang of disappointment.

“Pass the message along to your husband and Margery,” Jaime said before walking out the door. Sansa followed his retreating form with a mixture of gratitude and regret.

Having agreed to Sansa’s participation, Ellaria would not go easier on her than she had in the past. Despite Sansa’s high hopes, in the first hour of the class, she kept hearing the same old “you’re too stiff,” “relax that back, Sansa!”

During the break, Ellaria approached her.

“How are you feeling?” she asked, making a poor attempt at hiding her concern. Sansa placed a hand on her forearm, smiling with all her heart.

“I feel great! I’m all right, truly. Thank you.”

“Here’s what I want you to do, then. Try to remember what you were thinking when you were dancing with Jaime the other night. I don’t know what it was, but you do. Look for it, find it, use it. Got it?”

Sansa nodded.

The only thing that had been different was Jaime’s presence. She remembered dancing two days ago when she was imagining his eyes. Maybe that was the secret? Jaime’s eyes?

“All right, everyone!” Ellaria called. “Let’s do it again!”

Sansa shut off the world surrounding her, calling up the memories. The music entered her bloodstream and filled every cell of her being. Her motions grew certain; her body’s stiffness fell away.

“Yes!” came from somewhere far away. “That’s it, Sansa, hold it. Yes! Faster! Arms a little higher! Loose that tension in the hips! Good! Spin, spin, spin, and… jump! Yes! Again! One, two, three — move! Beautiful!”

When the music was cut off, Sansa returned from her daze to find Ellaria’s triumphant eyes on her. The woman looked practically bloodthirsty as she smiled with pride.
“Finally!” she said. “Fire. Again!”

It was the first class during which Ellaria had been fully satisfied with her performance. It would not be the last.

Sansa was only too happy to resume her full daily schedule. No matter how much strength she felt in the morning, however, by evening she was too tired to drag herself out of bed, so her nightly practice would have to wait another week. It was not all bad, however. The same magic that had worked in Ellaria’s class helped her in Oberyn’s studio as well.

“I was promised a great deal by my wife,” he said to her when she entered his studio the week after Ellaria’s class. “I expect she did no lie to me? What say you, Sparkle?”

“I’ll try,” Sansa answered with a small smile. Oberyn nodded.

He gave them the starting and finishing points for improvisation. Sansa closed her eyes and breathed in before her turn. She did not worry about pausing before beginning. The music would keep playing: in Oberyn’s class, it never stopped and never repeated. No one rushed her. She imagined herself in the darkness of the studio, dreaming of green eyes as she moved. She released her breath as her unseeing eyes opened. She started, allowing the music to overtake her completely, laying on its altar the sacrifice of her embarrassment and her Northern understanding of propriety. She danced the way the music ordered her as it chanted seductively in her ear. She had never dared adding more than two or three steps to Oberyn’s two before, but that day, she had rebelled against her own limits. She danced like she did when no one saw her. She did not count the steps, seeing an uninterrupted sequence emerge in her mind as it had on so many occasions in the comfort of her accepting solitude. When she ended on the pas Oberyn had outlined, she looked up at her instructor.

Oberyn had a ridiculous expression on his face. Bewilderment did not even begin to describe it. It took him a few moments to overcome his astonishment. He blinked a couple of times, then he laughed. Heartily, merrily.

He cut off his laugh as suddenly as he had started guffawing, and fixed Sansa with deadly serious eyes. She shifted on her feet uncomfortably.

“Who are you and what did you do to Sansa Stark?”

“What?” she asked, confused by his reactions. He laughed again.

“Well, Sparkle. It appears I’ll have to come up with another nickname for you. Ladies and gentlemen, behold fire! Hahahaha! Yes! Great! Whatever drugs you’re taking, Sansa, keep taking them! Hahaha! Next!”

Sansa was finishing her lunch alone in a pleasant little restaurant close by the Lannister Ballet Company building. Tyene had rushed off somewhere, with a conspiratorial, up-to-no-good air; Sansa only hoped she was not seeing Bronn again — the man seemed like a total asshole to her.

She was joined by Tyrion and Margery.

“Ellaria and Oberyn are amazed by your progress, Sansa — congratulations,” said Margery warmly.

“Thank you. I’m just glad to be dancing again. I look forward to your class next week,” Sansa replied and Margery smiled at her.

“I hope you don’t hold a grudge against me, Sparkle,” Tyrion winked at her as he bit into his sandwich. She smiled.
“I don’t. Especially since you did tell my instructors from the regular training sessions to let me practice.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, even before your brother had asked Ellaria to let me return to class, my daily instructors had allowed me to dance.”

“I’m afraid I had nothing to do with that,” Tyrion stated simply. “I just learned that you were training again on the day you made your triumphant comeback in Ellaria’s class and decided to let the sleeping wolves lie.”

Margery looked sly.
“I bet it was Jaime’s doing,” she said.

“Probably,” Tyrion agreed.

Before Sansa could ask any questions, they were approached by a rather plump man, bald, whose yellow suit and red tie, though elegant, struck a discordant note with his serious face and intelligent eyes.
“Ah, Varys, friend, good to see you!” Tyrion exclaimed. The men shook hands.

“Likewise, Tyrion, likewise. Lady Margery, you look beautiful as always. But who is this lovely young lady?” he asked, looking at Sansa with interest.

“This is Sansa Stark,” Margery introduced them. “Sansa, this is Varys, an old friend of Tyrion. He knows everyone’s darkest secrets.”

“You flatter me, my dear, truly, you do. I’m simply a good listener. But what is a Northern wolf doing so far in the South?”

“I’m one of the new dancers in the Lannister Ballet Company,” she explained.

“How exciting!” Varys exclaimed. “And how long have you remained incognito in King’s Landing?”

“I do not hide my identity from anyone,” Sansa protested with a confused smile as she watched the strange man.

“You must lead a rather private existence if I haven’t known you were here.”

“Guilty as charged,” she admitted.

“Curious,” he mumbled to himself pensively.

“Well, ladies, if you’ll excuse us,” Tyrion said as he wolfed down the last of his sandwich and got up. “Varys and I have some talking to do about the next fundraiser. Sansa, I’ll see you around.” He turned to Margery, “And I’ll see you later tonight. Still remember we’re going to the new restaurant Oberyn suggested?”

“I wouldn’t miss it,” she smiled at him. They kissed, and the men left.

Margery turned to her:

“Did you know there was a restaurant in the city where Dornish singers performed each night?..”

Email from Varys to Mr. Lannister:

Dear Sir,

I have made a curious discovery today, which may be of interest to you. Did you know that Sansa Stark, Eddard Stark’s eldest daughter, has recently joined the Lannister Ballet Company? She is reputed to be a promising young dancer.

Yours etc.,

Varys

Chapter Text

Sansa was glad. That evening, she had awakened from her nap, revived. She was changing into her leotard, set on resuming her evening exercise, while Tyene was perfecting her makeup and jewelry before a mirror, her party clothes glittering.
“You’re going to see Bronn again, aren’t you?” Sansa said with a half-smile.

“I am!” affirmed Tyene, happy and playful. “A few days after he told me it was over, I showed up at a place where he often goes for a drink and… Well…” she looked at Sansa suggestively, “I made sure he wanted nothing more than to have me back.”

“But what if he hurts you again?” Sansa asked, not trying to hide her concern.

“That’s love. It warms you and it burns you, but it’s not like we can live without it.”

Sansa was taken aback.

“You love him?”

It seemed that, before her question, Tyene had not quite realized what she had said. She looked almost self-conscious for a moment but shrugged and returned to her carefree mood.

“I guess I do. Better make sure he does, too.”

Sansa decided against saying that love was not supposed to burn you. Real love was supposed to be like that of her parents — gentle and comforting. She also did not convey to her friend her personal doubts concerning anyone’s capacity to make others love them at will. The girls exited the apartment together but went their separate ways.

Sansa slipped into the studio and began dancing. Just as she was about to lose herself in the music, she thought she had noticed movement but dismissed it as an optical illusion. The next time she pirouetted, however, she collided with something — or someone? — and nearly jumped out of her skin with fright. She had not heard anything, of course, over the music, and had been convinced she was alone. Instinctively, she jumped away from whatever it was that had appeared before her in the darkness and lost her balance. She would have fallen, if strong arms had not caught her.

Jaime restored her to her feet; she took out her headphones, her fingers shaking.

“Minx, if every time you see me, you’ll scream like that, it will occasion some odd encounters in the hallways,” he said, amusement dripping from each syllable.

Sansa did not realize she had screamed. Adrenaline was coursing through her, her heartbeat wild with the fright he had given her. She pushed him hard into the chest with all the strength she could muster, but he barely stumbled and rewarded her poor attempt at bodily harm with a chuckle.

“Someone is in dire need of anger management,” he commented.

“Gods, you scared me to death!” she cried. “Why on earth would you sneak up on me in the darkness? Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to frighten innocent people for your perverse amusement?!”

She saw an odd, pained expression flash over his features at the word “mother.”

“If my mother had lived long enough, I supposed she would have,” he said caustically.

“Sorry,” Sansa mumbled quietly. Like everyone else, she had heard of Joanna Lannister’s death. Jaime’s mother had been so young when she had passed. Regardless of what anyone thought, and however justifiably, about Tywin Lannister, Sansa had always felt sorry for him when she heard about his wife.

Jaime’s anguish was gone as quickly as it had come, and an impish smile Sansa had learned to recognize as a warning sign appeared on his face.

“I’m sorry, minx, I had forgotten it was your prerogative to sneak up on people in the night and watch them in their unguarded moments. At least I had the decency to show my face.”

“Did you?” she asked with a goading smile of her own.
Oh, stupid girl. Don’t rile him up.

His raised eyebrows dared her to finish her thought. Sansa, don’t! Don’t you even think of —

“When you were talking with Ellaria about letting me practice, how did you know that I had danced for exactly three hours the night before?”

Oh, you idiot!
He seemed surprised for a second, but his teasing expression quickly returned.

“I’m sure Catelyn Stark would have told her daughter that eavesdropping is highly unladylike. Could she have failed in her motherly duty?”

Just leave it at that. Shut your —

“Don’t change the subject.”

… mouth. Now you’ve done it!

He came to stand right in front of her, grinning as he invaded her personal space. He bent his face to hers, leaving a taunting inch between their lips. She watched him, hypnotized by his presence so near her own body and the closeness of his mesmeric green eyes.

“What if I had watched you dance? You’ve watched me do much more…” he savored the pause, tasting her breath on his lips, and smiled a salacious smile, “... intimate things.”

She jerked away from him, and although he could not see colors in the darkness, he knew she was blushing. He threw his head back in laughter as though to shake off the memory of just how close her lips had been to his and how her breath had called to him.

“I forbid you to speak to me this way!” Sansa shrieked desperately.

She sounded enraged. Good, he thought. Then he processed her words.

“You forbid me?” he questioned between bewilderment and mirth.

It was not that Sansa did not realize the ridiculousness of her statement. It was that she had nowhere to retreat in this conversation.

“I do.”

He took another step toward her and she took a step back, afraid of being too close to him. His smirk told her that her withdrawal had not gone unnoticed.

“And what will you do if I disregard your interdiction?”

Why was every word he said so heavy with innuendo? And why did her heart have to beat so quickly?

She remained silent.
“Come, Sansa, you aren’t at a loss for words, are you?”

I hate you. When she did not reply, his voice became a little more mocking.

“Oh, but you are, aren’t you?”

“You’re a horrible person,” she said halfheartedly, wondering why he wasted his time making her life miserable.

His replied seemed automatic.

“Trust me, there are worse.”

“I doubt that!”

“Don’t. Come, minx, how can I compensate you for having scared you as much as you claim I did?”

She wondered at the sudden generosity and watched his face suspiciously, searching for signs of mischief. He seemed genuine enough. And there was something she needed help with. Despite her enormous improvement in Ellaria’s class, new movements still often puzzled Sansa. The one they had learned (she tried to, at least) the day before was simply not working for her. After all the praise she had received, she hated the setback one particularly annoying pas caused her. She considered Jaime. What had she to lose by asking the greatest dancer in the world to help her? Sure, he could mock her. But words could only cut so deep. If, however, he did help her, she could overcome another obstacle.

“Fine,” she said, steeling herself for the jests she thought would follow. “I want your help with one of the movements we have gone over in Ellaria’s class. I cannot get the hang of it, and it’s been driving me crazy.”

If he was surprised, he did not show it.

“Which movement is that?” he asked.

She tried showing him.

The minx was not playing coy when she said she couldn’t do it.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this one before. Do you mind doing it again?”

“I want your help, not your mockery, Jaime.”

She had never called him by his first name before. I like the way my name rolls off her tongue.

“You know this movement very well,” she continued. “It’s in almost every part Ellaria has ever danced.”

“Now you’re exaggerating. Come on.”

Warily she came to stand next to him. He rolled his eyes at her caution and dragged her to stand in front of him.

“The reason you can’t get it right is because you are afraid of falling.” Now how did he know that?! He placed his hands gently on her sides, and she only hoped he did not hear her breath catch. “Now you won’t,” he added. “Think of it as an arabesque that has caught a modern dance flu.”

Sansa laughed.
“Try now,” he told her, his voice oddly soft. She did, her body rather than her mind trusting him to catch her. Her movement came out perfect, but his hands remained on her waist. “Again.” She complied with the obedience of a mechanic doll. Her movement was perfect yet again.

She laughed.

“Why are you laughing, minx?”

“Because no one should be allowed to be that good!”

“Careful, minx, you begin to sound a little friendly.”

“Thank you,” she said then, smiling.

“A Lannister always pays his debts,” was all he answered.

She watched him for a moment, taking in his handsome face, the golden hair that framed it. She felt an odd urge to memorize his features while they were illuminated by this kind smile.

His phone rang, reminding her — and him — of that outer world, which Ned Stark thought so cruel and full of treachery. Jaime picked up.

“If it isn’t my favorite sister!” he said by way of an answer.
Cersei. Sansa felt as though a bucket of cold water had been emptied onto her. What was she thinking, allowing herself to behave so foolishly with this man? How could she be so forgetful? He was not a person to ask for help, not a friend. He was a murderer, he slept with his sister, for Mother’s sake! And if she felt that the world did not exist when she was around him, caught between a flurry of flusteredness and wonder, then she should have at least been smart enough to avoid him. She went to her bag and headed for the doors quickly, forcing herself to give him a curt nod before leaving.

He had seen her expression change, her shoulders and back stiffen. Sansa was too caught up in her own ire to notice the way the muscles of his jaw flexed when he observed her reaction.

Although Sansa was firm in her decision to avoid Jaime Lannister in the future, she would not give up her evening practice. To her relief — because she was not disappointed — it was he who did not appear.

A few days after she had triumphantly demonstrated her mastery of the new movement in Ellaria’s class, Sansa returned home to discover a red envelope in her mail. Inside, she found a golden sheet of paper. The words spelled in dark crimson made her heart drop. She did not read past the first line before screaming in panic, “Tyene!”

It went thus: Lord Tywin Lannister kindly invites you to…

“What is it?” Tyene came running in, toothbrush in one hand, toothpaste in the other. Sansa turned to her wide-eyed, looking like she had received the order for her own summary execution.

“I — ” she began, then thought that, surely, this was all simply a mix-up of some kind. The letter must have been delivered to her by mistake. She glanced at the envelope; her name was printed on its red paper with golden letters. She looked at the golden sheet; her name was spelled in red. “I… Why would I get an invitation from Tywin Lannsiter to go to — ” she checked, “... to a gala held by the Lannisters & Co?..”

They were gathered in Tyrion’s office. Specifically, Tyrion, Margery, Tyene, Ellaria, Oberyn, and Sansa were gathered in the little man’s office. Varys was lurking in the corner. Apprehension and perplexity were the dominant emotions; irritation was also high on the list.

After the first wave of the shock at receiving the invitation had passed, Sansa had dialed Tyrion’s number, not caring that it was almost midnight. It took a few trials, but then Margery had picked up.

“I hope you have a good excuse for interrupting my sexapade,” purred Margery into the phone.

“I’m so sorry, but I do,” Sansa had replied, and her anxious voice had made Margery pass the phone to Tyrion.

“Sansa, good evening. I hope it’s nothing serious?”

“I was hoping you could tell me if it was anything serious,” she said nervously.

“If so, you’ll have to be more specific,” Tyrion advised.

“I have in my hands an invitation to the Lannsiter gala signed personally by your father.”

“Shit.”

The way Tyrion had cursed must be clarified: it was a martyr’s sigh, prolonged on the single vowel.

So, the next afternoon, they were all gathered in his office. The Dornish family, strictly speaking, did not need to be there. However, their protectiveness of Sansa and their distrust of Tywin Lannister, which was considerable, had ensured their presence.

“Maybe I could just say that I’m ill?” Sansa proposed.

“Say that, and you might very well get ill under mysterious circumstances,” said Margery without mirth. “How does it go? ‘Tywin Lannister kindly invites you… RSVP or beware?’ Needless to say, in this context RSVP stand for ‘thank you for your gracious invitation, I’d be honored to attend.’ ”

“The real question is why does he invite Sansa Stark at all?” mused Oberyn. “The breach between the families is considerable, why issue an invitation?”

“Tywin may dislike Eddard Stark with all his heart, begging your apology, my dear, but this makes it all the more likely he would invite his daughter: make ties with a new generation, so to speak,” Varys supplied. “Politics are not made by ignoring people one dislikes. Moreover,” he continued, “the old lion would never have it said about him that he is anything but a gracious, if petrifying, host.”

“What’s even more interesting is how he found out that Sansa was in King’s Landing in the first place?” came from Ellaria.

“That, too, I can answer for you,” Varys replied. “I personally informed Mr. Lannister of Lady Stark’s presence in the city.”

Tyrion nodded, his suspicions confirmed.

“But why would you do that?” Oberyn asked.

“I am the lion’s spider. If I don’t deliver such information, I become a useless liability.”

“I think,” Margery said, wiggling her eyebrows mischievously, “there’s only one question that remains to be answerer: what will she wear?”

“I can’t go!” Sansa sounded terrified. “Father will kill me!”

“What are you, five?” Tyene exclaimed and received a gentle clip on the back of her head from Oberyn. Margery clarified:

“No, Sansa, your father will, maybe, scold you;” pointing to Tyrion, “his father might kill you.”

Tyrion rolled his eyes.

“Let’s not exaggerate, either. I will say this, Sansa: I think it highly advisable that you go. Marge and I will be there, so you won’t be on your own. Jaime as well, for that matter, though I fear it’s little consolation. Socialize, drink some free champagne. You’ll be fine.”

I know who else is going to be there. And I hope to all the gods that she does not know that I’ve seen her with her brother. 

Sansa always loved shopping. The glitter of window screens, the bustle of customers, the laughter, the hunt for the perfect fit, the ideal color; the excitement of seeing that dress, which was better than any of the dozens of dresses in her closet, or this sweater, which had simply no equals in the loveliness of color and the quality of material. And of course, what better way to go shopping than with your friend? But, walking with Margery, whose taste and sophistication she appreciated, Sansa felt none of the joy that usually filled her on such excursions.

“Come, Sansa, don’t be so grim! My grandmother is flying from Highgarden to be there, and she’s dying to meet you! Besides, I’ve met Tywin many times, and he really isn’t that terrifying.”

Sansa gave her a look that said she did not believe a word of it.

“Well,” Margery relented, “fine, he is a little terrifying.”
“A little terrifying? Margery, do you realize that when I was five and refused to go to bed, mother would say that if children behaved very badly, Tywin Lannister would abduct them in the night?! And that father would tell her Tywin Lannister was far too terrible to be used as his children’s boogeyman?”

She had never dreamed that the refined Margery Tyrell could guffaw so loudly, laughing until tears were streaming down her cheeks, having to lean against a window screen in order to stay upright, heedless of the saleswoman’s protestations and Sansa begging her not to be so loud.

“Oh,” the Reach girl said, wiping tears, “this takes the cake! Wait till I tell Tyrion!”

“You mustn’t! It’s his father we’re talking about.”
“It is, which is why he will enjoy it so much,” she put her arm through Sansa’s. “Come, sweet, damaged child! We have two perfect dresses to find and only so much time in which to accomplish it before you’ll be coming face to face with your bogeyman!”

They found a lovely gown for Margery. It was the color of the most tender lilac Sansa had ever seen, and it suited her friend’s light, grey-blue eyes, chocolate hair, and fair skin. They walked around a while, drove to multiple locations, but Sansa could not find anything she liked that was appropriate for the occasion and suitable to her complexion. They were driving to a seafood restaurant when she saw that dress. It resembled the one she kept seeing in her dreams. Of course, there were differences, but Sansa found the similarities striking all the same. She hastily asked Margery to stop the car.

“Crimson,” her friend commented when Sansa had tried it on. “A bold choice. And oddly enough, it does not clash with your hair. If anything, it makes it look redder. And it contrasts with your skin marvelously. Elegant and classic but unique, which is rare. Well-caught! But let me check something before you pay.” She pulled out her phone and dialed. “Hello, Shae. Margery Tyrell here. Listen, what color is the bitch wearing to the gala in two weeks? Gold? You sure? Very well, thank you!”

“What was that? And who’s Shae?” Sansa asked, surprised at the use of the expletive.

“Cersei’s stylist and, consequently, a wretchedly unhappy human being. I was just making sure you would not wear the same color as the mistress of the house. Red, after all, is as Lannister as it gets.”

“Perhaps, I should wear blue or gray instead?”

“I will let you go naked there before I allow you to wear a grey dress. Blue would suit you well, but I doubt you’ll find a gown quite as pretty as this one. I think you should get it.”

Sansa was convinced of the opposite; but she wanted to wear that dress.

“I don’t see any need for it,” Jaime said.

Tyrion sighed and sank deeper into the pillows of his and Margery’s bed. Why, oh why, was his brother blind and stubborn in addition to being difficult?

“Truly, Jaime, don’t be an ass. The girl’s frightened, and it will only make her more nervous if she has to go alone.”

“She’ll be alone with only a few hundred people,” Jaime quipped, but Tyrion ignored him.

“I cannot take her for the wonderful reason that I already have the prettiest girl in the room as my date,” Margery kissed him on the nose for that and he winked at her. “Oberyn has Ellaria, Loras is going with Renly…”

“He is? As a couple?” Jaime interrupted; hearing Tyrion’s confirmation, the elder brother chuckled evilly: “Oh, I can’t wait to see this!”

“Regardless of the small drama in the Baratheon corner, you have to go with Sansa. Father will be so pleased if you don’t show up alone. Again.”

And our bitch sister will be sooooo furious, Tyrion thought to himself with a smile. He wiggled his eyebrows at Margery, who was stifling her giggles with a pillow.

“Pleased and drawing incorrect conclusion,” Jaime answered.

Or the right ones, Tyrion thought, depending on how much of an idiot you are. 

“I’ll take it upon myself to personally explain to daddy dearest that you only accompanied Sansa out of the goodness of your kind heart.” The things I do for your stupid ass, Jaime, the things I do. “Seriously, Jaime, I don’t know why you haven’t told him you’re gay.”
“Because I’m not?”

“I’m not sure there’s a polite term for your condition,” Tyrion grumbled.

“Don’t be a prick.”

“You neither! Go with Sansa! Find some mercy in your cold, withered, black heart.”

“Fine!” Jaime growled. “But father’s on you.” With that, he hung up.

“Did he say yes?” Margery inquired. Tyrion only raised his hand for a high-five. She squealed.

“Point one for Tyrion!” she said and kissed him. “You’re one clever little man,” she told him.

“I know,” he said brazenly.

“What will you do with the evil queen?”

“I will make sure she never forgets this evening,” he laughed lightheartedly, rubbing his small hands with glee.

Chapter Text

Tywin Lannister considered himself a kindly, benevolent, long-suffering father of a dysfunctional family. A dwarf, a ballet dancer, and… well… Cersei. He could not blame Joanna for their offspring, of course, but he did not think himself at fault either. He gave them opportunities few could dream of, and they kept squandering them like stupid, careless children. There was his eldest son, for instance. Jaime was blessed with abilities few men possessed and belonged to the most powerful family in the Seven Kingdoms. What had he chosen to do with these blessings? His eldest son and heir, still unmarried and childless, was a ballet dancer! An entertainer for crowds of dim-witted fools, who aspired to be something higher than they were. There was no denying that the Lannister Ballet Company was a success, and Tywin had been surprised more than anyone when he had been unable to dissuade his children from the mad pursuit or to stifle it in its crib. But success in what? Dancing?!

Then there was his youngest child. A dwarf. A constant mockery of Lannisters’ reputation for producing handsome sons and beautiful daughters. True, Tyrion’s mind was more practical and he was less inclined than Jaime to keep his head in the clouds. Unlike his elder brother, Tyrion had at least graduated, with honors, from King’s Landing University. And what were his degrees in?! Well, yes, business, but also — theater management. Theater management! Tywin almost chocked on the words each time. True also, Tyrion at least had found himself a suitable woman from a good family. All that Lannister charm was not for nothing, after all. But what had he done, once he was lucky enough to have captured the heart of Margery Tyrell? Did he propose? No. Did they at least plan to get married? “Not in the near future, father!” Not in the near future. When, then, if not in the near future? When he was dead and buried, and they could hold the celebration in the crypt over his bones?!

And Cersei… The return of the eldest of his prodigal children was a poor consolation. He had told her not to marry Robert Baratheon. Did she listen? You guessed it, she didn’t! True, Myrcella and Tommen were quite adequate, if not particularly bright at their advanced ages of five and three. He could only hope they would turn out better than either of the parents. His daughter worked at the Lannisters & Co, which, publicly at least, was a good thing. But her vicious character and constant, crazy intrigues created needless conflict and problems where everything had been running smoothly. Tywin would see himself publicly hung before he admitted that he used Tyrion’s words — “the mother of madness” — to refer to his daughter in his mind. And now that mother of madness had taken to drinking like her swine of a husband.

Yes, Tywin occasionally thought that his children were an unjustified punishment. If he had not been present at their births, he might not have believed they were his.
As if this was not enough, now the Starks were moving into the city. His city. Ned Stark, an honorable fool, had been dragging the Lannister name through the mud for decades, and Tywin loathed the man with an intensity that would have tempted a lesser man to make a dartboard out of his face and place it in his study for amusement during breaks from work. Being a man who could always rise above himself, Tywin had placed the already-mentioned dartboard in his private gym.

And how did it come to pass that the Starks were invading King’s Landing right under his nose? Haha! Yes, indeed, it was because his sons had hired one into their ballet company! Haha!

Tywin threw a dart that landed on the tip of Ned Stark’s nose, but even this habitual amusement did not help him relax. He had been forced to invite the girl to the party. What else could he have done? Joanna would be spinning in her grave at the speed of light if he had not invited a girl from a good family and newly in town to the gala. Tywin threw another dart, but he was so angry, he missed the dartboard altogether and made a sizable hole in the seat of his new exercise bike. That was the last straw. Tywin Lannister needed a drink before the guests began arriving.

Chapter Text

Margery had picked her and her dress up in the morning, laughing in Sansa’s face when the latter had told her that even she thought they could not possibly need all that time to get ready. Depositing the gown at her and Tyrion’s apartment, Margery had driven them to a spa. It was Sansa’s turn to laugh: there was little chance that all the famous spa salons of King’s Landing combined could relieve her tension. It was not just meeting Tywin Lannister the Boogeyman, or even coming face to face with Cersei the Megaera of House Lannister, that unnerved her; Sansa thought with equal apprehension of her parents’ reaction, should they ever find out she attended that gala (and she would not be telling them). What would mother say? kept resonating in her mind; and, Father will kill me! But Margery had been adamant, and to the spa they had gone. Sansa had been forced to admit that it did help, a little. They then returned to the apartment. It was a large, comfortable place that spoke in equal measure to the personalities of the two people who inhabited it. Here, a vase of flowers arranged in the Highgarden style; there, a book too serious ever to have enticed anyone but Tyrion; on the counter, his enormous set of keys from the Lannister Ballet Company building’s every door; her purple scarf coiling languidly on a chair; her favorite oil painting of a young Olenna Tyrell; his beautiful black and white photograph of Margery in a split leap.
“Ha, I see you didn’t dissolve in that spa after all!”

Tyrion moved his reading glasses to the tip of his nose and diverted his attention from his laptop, watching the girls enter. He was seated on the couch, his legs outstretched, and a cup of coffee steamed on an elegant little table next to him.

“Of course, we didn’t!” Margery approached him and kissed him on the lips. “We wouldn’t dream of leaving you all alone with your family.”

“No, you couldn’t possibly do that! If Catelyn Stark believes that Tywin Lannister abducts bad children at night, I would be in no small danger, if left to my own devices and without your protection. I’m told I’ve always been a very naughty little boy,” he wiggled his eyebrows at Margery.

Sansa reddened.

“Tyrion, I’m so sorry. I should never have said anything like that to Marge.”

“Are you kidding?” He looked surprised. “It’s the best thing I’ve heard in years! I’ll make sure it becomes proverbial in this city,” he winked at her.

“Come, no time for chatter, we’ve too many things to do as it is!” Margery took Sansa’s hand and dragged her into her boudoir where they would remain for hours, getting ready.

Sansa was becoming more nervous with every minute they spent in the room, which was stuffed with everything a sophisticated woman needs to get ready, but which may seem entirely devoid of purpose to the unrefined part of humanity. Sansa did not suspect then that her stress levels would get progressively worse as the evening went on.
“Jaime will be here in five minutes, so you better be ready, or I’ll never hear the end of it!” came from Tyrion’s walk-in closet.

“Don’t worry, love, we will be!” Margery called back.

Beginning to panic, Sansa turned to her friend, eyes wild:

“What does he mean ‘Jaime will be here?!’ ”

“He didn’t tell you?” Margery asked, surprised.

“Tell me what?” Sansa squealed, adrenaline rushing through her veins. She had mentally prepared herself for avoiding him all evening; by no means did she expect to see him without some few hundred people to hide behind.

“Jaime’s your date tonight!” Margery sing-sung happily.

“My what?”

Oh, no, this was not happening. She would not have to deal with him and those emotions in addition to everything else tonight!

There it was. Sansa was about to pass out.
“Sansa? Sansa?! Breathe, Sparkle. Yes, just like that. Deep breaths! Tyrion!” Margery called loudly, “Get me a glass of water!”

“Is it a makeup emergency?”

“Tyrion, NOW!”

This isn’t happening. This is NOT happening. This CANNOT be happening to me!..

Tyrion came rushing in with a glass of water as fast as his small legs would carry him. Margery forced Sansa to take a few spasmodic gulps.

“What’s going on?” Tyrion exclaimed, observing that Sansa was hyperventilating. “Did you forget to do a pedicure or something?”

Margery gave him a nasty look.

“Apparently, no one,” she emphasized the words, “had thought to inform Sansa that Jaime will be accompanying her tonight!”

“What?!”

“Yeah, ‘what!’ She’s just found out, so now she’s freaking out.”

“I always knew my brother had a strong effect on the fairer sex, but this is a little too much — ” Tyrion tried to laugh, and Sansa’s panic attack turned to rage.

“ ‘Jaime’s effect on the fairer sex?’ Are you kidding me?!” Tyrion looked slightly stunned by her animosity. “It’s not a question of the fairer sex or Jaime Lannister, dammit! Are you trying to get me killed or grounded for life?! I’ll be in a lot of trouble as it is with my parents, if they find out I went to Tywin Lannister’s gala, but what do you think they will do to me when they hear their daughter went out with the Kingslayer?! Not to mention into how many little pieces Cersei Lannister will tear me when I show up at the party with her lover on my arm!”

“I thought I heard my name, and, since the door was open, I decided to investigate,” came the smooth, sardonic voice from behind her. At least Margery and Tyrion had the decency to look guilty. She turned to face him, and there he was, looking more debonair than ever in his perfect tuxedo, a self-satisfied and mocking grin on his lips.

Sansa almost sobbed in despair. This! This was a nightmare!

“This isn’t happening!” she exclaimed, as she tore past him into the kitchen.

Tyrion noted with satisfaction the way Jaime’s eyes had followed her, drinking in her form.

They all went after her. Sansa, who had forgotten the first thing about being a considerate guest, was tactlessly rummaging through kitchen cupboards.

“Sansa…” Margery started carefully, her voice betraying her lack of confidence in her friend’s sanity, “what are you looking for?”

“Alcohol,” Sansa threw back unceremoniously. She needed a drink!

“Behind you,” advised Tyrion.

What was it that Robb and Jon always said? “One for the road?”

Wide-eyed, they watched as little Sansa Stark poured herself some Essosi rum and gulped it down. She sat down at the bar and put her forehead on her crossed arms, which she leaned on the counter.

Jaime was the first to come to his senses. He approached and leaned onto the bar next to her.

“Minx,” he said in a derisive imitation of a lecturing tone, “you’re blowing things out of proportion. Poor Ned Stark will never find out his little wolf was running around with lions. If anyone shows such terrible judgement as to tell him, he will probably bloody their nose and call them a liar. As for Cersei, I assure you, she will have many other people to tear limb from limb tonight aside from you. Come on, you’ve had your night cap, let’s go before we are seriously late.”

“I hate you,” Sansa said in a very convincing manner; but she did get up and return to the boudoir. As she followed her friend into the her dressing-room, Margery looked surprised by the effect of Jaime’s words; Tyrion wore an infernal grin. The women were ready, as they so often are, some twenty minutes after they had said they would be. The men sipped a drink as they waited. It was going to be a long evening.

Sansa’s trials were far from over, of course. When they exited the apartment building, she saw Jaime walk to a black sports car and realized that Margery, car keys in hand, and Tyrion, who were going in the direction of the elegant creation her friend called an automobile, expected her to follow Jaime. Sansa froze in her tracks, then turned to go after Margery and Tyrion, eager to escape to the backseat and click her seatbelt in place before anyone noticed. She was not spending twenty minutes in the small space of a sports car with Jaime, listening to his beastly jokes and dying from fear at his driving — she had a bad premonition concerning his understanding of speed limits and a nagging suspicion that, what with his dyslexia, he had never bothered with reading the rules.
“Where do you think you’re going, minx?” Jaime was standing before the opened passenger door of his car, his hand still on the handle.

“I am not riding with you!”
Jaime closed his eyes and sighed.

“Minx,” he sounded exasperated, “stop behaving like a spoiled brat and get inside the car.”

Tyrion and Margery paused to observe the scene with interest. They looked ready for some popcorn.

“Absolutely not,” she replied, turning her back to him — a bad idea! — and continued on her way to Margery’s car.

“Minx, turn around and get into the car, or, I swear to the Stranger, I’ll throw you over my shoulder and you’ll spend the ride to father’s house in the trunk!”

Sansa ignored his words: she was almost in Margery’s car, and this ridiculous episode would be over soon.

“Don’t even think about throwing her over your shoulder, Lannister!” Margery barked. “You’ve no idea how much time I’ve spent doing her hair!”

“He’s threatening to put me in the trunk, and you’re worried about my hair?” grumbled Sansa as she reached for the handle of the backseat door.

She did not even hear him coming. The ground simply went out from under her feet, as Jaime scooped her up bridal style with offensive ease. For the first few moments, she was simply too stunned that he had carried out his threat to move or protest, and then the warmth of his chest and arms pressed against her body disoriented her. When she came to her senses and began to struggle for her freedom — “Put me down immediately, you beast!” — they were already halfway to Jaime’s car. He sat her into the passenger seat with surprising care, all things considered, and her heart nearly jumped out of her chest when his hair brushed her décolletage as he buckled her up. He closed the door and had the nerve, the bastard!, to lock the car while he went around to his own seat. Sansa thought she would have steam coming out of her ears soon.

“Don’t pout like that, minx,” he winked at her, the scoundrel, “you don’t want to get early wrinkles, do you?”

“What I want is to slap that grin off your face!”

He laughed and took off. Sansa paled. Her worst expectations concerning Jaime Lannister’s driving style were quickly confirmed. He drove like a madman. She tried closing her eyes, but it did not help. She hoped the City Watch would stop him, but then thought that his plates probably allowed him to drive like the Stranger. Sansa did not want to speak to him, but she truly believed she was going to die.

“Slow down!” she gritted through her teeth.

“What was that, minx?”

Oh, how I hate this insufferable man!

“I said, Jaime, slow down!” she tried louder, gripping the door until her knuckles went white.

“Don’t tell me you’re used to getting around in horse-drawn carriages, minx? How backward is the place you come from, anyway?”

Oh, Mother, he was not about to overtake this truck by venturing onto the lane with the oncoming traffic!..

Sansa’s instinct for self-preservation proved stronger than her pride.

“Jaime, I’m beginning you, please, slow down this car!” she screamed in fear.

He rolled his eyes at her but obliged her request, though he continued going well over the speed limit.

“My gods, minx, you’re such a goody-two-shoes!”

Sansa, breathing hard, was trying to calm herself down and did not deign him with an answer. He was surprisingly quiet for the rest of the way.

Jaime had not liked Tyrion’s idea of him accompanying Sansa to the gala for several reasons. First among these was his father. Tywin Lannister had been pestering his eldest son about marriage for longer than Jaime could remember. He did not want to create a situation that would encourage him to reopen the subject. Another reason was Cersei. Regardless of how amusing he found the minx, he had no desire to deal with his sister’s unfounded jealousy. He wanted Cersei to scream for entirely different reasons when the gala was over. Another reason he had not considered, but perhaps should have, was Sansa herself. She looked magnificent in red, with her hair loose and curled. (Little did he know about Tyrion and Margery’s argument concerning Sansa’s hair the night before. Margery won, eventually, saying that there was nothing like using the trait a man liked in his current lover to attract him to someone new.) Jaime was unsettled by his heightened awareness of her beauty and his all too ready amusement at her irrationality. He spent most of the car ride cursing his younger brother.

Chapter Text

To call the living thing clawing at her stomach nervousness would not do justice to the creature that was little by little outgrowing her body, as Sansa ascended the grand flight of stairs leading up to the entrance of Tywin Lannister’s mansion. The house was beautiful, its classical architecture and grandeur the epitome of Southern craftsmanship. Every window was bursting with light, and an enormous wave of people, elegantly dressed and glittering with jewelry, was storming the place with laughter, which poorly masked the agitation filling the air. Sansa did not realize she had sunk her fingers deep into Jaime’s upper arm until he told her with infuriating nonchalance and complete disregard of her misery:

“Minx, a little more pressure, and you might crack my bones. I will sue you for ruining my career.”

“Sorry,” she mumbled and relaxed her grip.

“What has your knickers in such a twist, minx? Surely, it’s not the thought of tripping over your dress!”

Now, why did he have to say that?! Like she needed something else to worry about!

The reason Sansa liked her red dress as much as she did was because it looked like an ankle-long romantic tutu — a style for which she had an unsurpassable weakness. She was wearing high heels, however, and if one of them got caught in the thick clouds of red material...

Jaime bent to whisper in her ear:

“Smile, minx, smile, or the security might have to escort you out. No one is allowed to wear such an expression to a Lannister party — not even an angry little fox from the North.”

“I hate you,” she whispered with enough venom to take down a Wildling mammoth.

He laughed, and she knew people were staring. They had received enough curious glances as it was. She only prayed there was no one here whom she knew from back home.

Of course, there were two sets of stairs. One leading up to the entrance of the mansion itself, the other leading to the entertainment floor. On the entrance level, there was considerably bustle, as the guests handed their coats to footmen, who ran to and thro in the vestibule. Jaime helped her out of her coat, like a perfect gentleman, but, as he did, his fingers grazed the open skin of her tense shoulders, sending electricity down her spine and chest.

So, this was the seventh hell; and there were Lannisters in it.

“Why are you blushing, minx?” he threw over his shoulder, as he handed her coat to one of the servants.

Sansa reddened further but with anger. She took a step toward him and, taking hold of one of the lapels of his tuxedo, said in a low, threatening voice:

“Call me by that name in public one more time, and, I swear by the old gods and the new, I will find a way to kill you, if it takes me the rest of my life!”

His smile was unfazed as he bent his face to hers, watching the fury in her blue, stormy eyes with pleasure.

“I quite like the idea of you plotting my death for the remainder of your existence… Sansa,” he said her name quietly, in a way that was far too intimate for her mind’s liking. Her body felt differently: the treacherous thing made butterflies dance deep in her stomach.

Neither Jaime nor Sansa realized the picture they cut to the outside observer. They stood too close to each other; the young girl looking up at the man with too much emotion, grasping at his tux a little too forcefully; he bending his face to hers with a smile too pleased and eyes too playful. But what Jaime and Sansa did not understand about their interaction, the rest of the world noticed only too keenly.

Tywin Lannister, like Tyrion, but for somewhat different reasons, had practically given up hoping to see his eldest son wedded. And like Tyrion, the Lannister patriarch felt a peculiar wave of feeling overcome him when, looking down the stairs into the lobby, he observed Jaime with Sansa Stark. At first, he had not believed his eyes at all. For a fleeting moment, out of a habit to bemoan his children’s choices, he thought: By all the gods! Did it have to be the Stark girl?! But then, when Tywin fully appreciated what he was seeing and the possibilities it opened before him — for instance, little redhead grandchildren with sharp green eyes whom he could groom to inherit Lannisters & Co. — his gaze acquired a bizarre softness and his lips, not knowing what was happening to them, were not far from curling into a small smile. Tywin Lannister looked almost… hopeful? Dare we say happy? The guests whom he had deigned with his presence before the pair had caught his eye, once they were able to overcome the shock of seeing a cheerful Lord Lannister, followed his gaze. A few of them found something oddly touching in the ruthless tycoon’s reaction to his wayward son’s love life.

While Tywin Lannister was living one of the few moments in which a child of his had not made him miserable (he would not go so far as to say he was “happy”), standing much closer to the couple who had caught his father’s attention, Tyrion lightly touched Margery’s elbow, and, following his gaze to Jaime and Sansa, she offered him a conspiratorial smile and wiggled her eyebrows. Tyrion was also searching for someone else with his gleeful eyes. Soon, he found her.

Cersei had glimpsed the nearness between Jaime and — who was the little slut? Tyrion watched with pride the way her beautiful face contorted into a delightful grimace that was a combination of jealousy, rage, and signs of evil plotting. He took a deep, pleasurable breath. What a night this was going to be!..

Meanwhile, Sansa had stepped away from Jaime, and he had offered her his arm. Taking it, she felt the nervousness that had animated her for so long return. One more set of imposing stairs and she would be deep in the lions’ den.

“Sansa,” came Jaime’s voice, and she would have readied herself for another jibe if he did not sound kind, as he occasionally did for reasons unknown to her. He turned her slightly toward him and found her eyes with his. “You have lived through the Martell family, my masterclass, and you’re still here. I think you can handle a party. Keep your chin up.” Sansa tried to smile gratefully, but it was not quite convincing.

A tall man with broad shoulders watched them carefully as they ascended the stairs, blatantly studying their every move. His grey hair contrasted oddly with the vigor and power emanating from his imposing frame. He wore a closely cut beard and looked to be in his early seventies. His face had no doubt once been remarkably handsome; and even now, he looked rather dashing. His tuxedo — no doubt the prized work of a talented tailor — sat on him perfectly. Sansa found piercing eyes to be his most striking feature. Their lagoon green shade commanded attention and exuded the same force of life and iron will that was conveyed by his entire presence. Sansa found the figure oddly familiar, although she was convinced she had never seen him before.

He looks like Jaime probably will in some forty years… Oh, GODS!

But it was too late. They had reached the end of the steps and came to the doorway, in which Tywin Lannister stood tall, greeting his guests.
“Father,” she had never heard Jaime use this tone of voice. It was a paradoxical combination of coldness, respect, and rebelliousness. “Father, may I introduce,” he caught her eyes and read in them a warning not to call her “minx” in front of his father for fear of imminent death; the threat brought a small smile to his lips, “Sansa Stark of Winterfell. Sansa, this is my father, Tywin Lannister.”

“I am delighted that you could join us, lady Sansa,” Jaime’s father sounded oddly sincere. Why is that, I wonder?

Tywin extended his arm to her, and she unwillingly let go of Jaime.

“Jaime,” Tywin said with a softness that had surprised Sansa, “be a good lad — greet the guests, while I introduce your lovely companion to some interesting people, who look forward to meeting her.”

“Of course, father,” Jaime said in a tight voice, and Tywin Lannister guided her away.

My gods, but how much alike they are! The mannerisms, that commanding presence!.. Wait, did I just see Jaime take a dismissive order from someone?

Sansa tried very hard to suppress her amusement, but a small giggle still escaped her.

“I must admit that humor is not generally considered my strongest suit,” Tywin remarked as he took two flutes of champagne from the glistening silver tray that was quickly presented to him by a waiter. Before she could begin to worry, he turned to her, offering her a glass and, when she took it, his arm, and gave her what looked like a small smile: “What makes you laugh, lady?”

She looked sheepish, but the honesty, which had gotten her into so much trouble with his son so many times, bubbled to the surface.

“It’s comforting to know that there’s at least one person in the world capable of giving orders to Jaime Lannister,” she said.

Again, Tywin almost smiled.

“Is my son very bossy, then?”

The unusual choice of words surprised Sansa.

“I would call it controlling rather than bossy. Very few people get so far out of line that he would feel the need to bully them into submission.”

“And are you one of the very few people who provoke him?” he asked, watching her face carefully.

“Not by choice,” Sansa admitted. “I am from the North, you see,” she tried to explain, “I’m afraid that gets me into trouble here.”

“I see,” he said with interest, looking reminiscent.

How she reminded him of Joanna. The soft manner clearly combined with a spine of steel that did not prevent her, however, from having a kind heart. Just the right girl for my Jaime.

“There is Jeor Mormont, one of the most gifted surgeons in the Seven Kingdoms,” he pointed with his eyes to a bear-like man with a kind face. “A few moments ago, he was telling me about his most gifted student,” Tywin made a pause. “Apparently, your older brother Jon is a promising young man,” he continued as they made their way through a sea of people — a sea that parted obediently before him. Sansa was pleased to hear that Jon was spoken of so highly by his mentor; she had heard him go on for hours, in gruesome detail, about Dr. Mormont’s surgeries. Tywin introduced them, and Sansa, yet again, hoped against hope that accounts of this night would never reach her parents’ ears. They talked for a few minutes, mostly about Jon, and then Tywin effortlessly guided them on. He kept introducing her to his guests; some of them she had heard of, others she knew not at all. All were smiling and obliging; none dared be otherwise with a guest to whom Tywin Lannister paid such unusual attention.

When Jaime and Sansa went upstairs, Cersei approached Tyrion and Margery, her face enraged.

“Margery, dear,” she murmured, “you look lovely tonight. Even your pug nose cannot spoil this wonderful dress!”

Margery was not to be intimidated:

“Cersei, I’m delighted to be in your company again! I see your latest facial lift is healing up nicely. Do pass me along the name of your plastic surgeon: I might have need of him in another twenty years — assuming he lives that long, of course,” she said with a saccharine smile. Tyrion smirked: gods, he loved the woman! And she had a way with Cersei.

“No plastic surgeon will help you, if you don’t learn to keep your mouth shut!” his sister warned.

“Threaten Margery again, Cersei, and no maester will be able to help you,” Tyrion sounded threatening, his small stature notwithstanding. He turned to Margery: “My dear, I apologize for my sister’s behavior. Please, go say hello to your grandmother for me — I would hate for you to stay for the ugliness that I know will follow soon.”

Margery smiled at him in a way that said she could handle some serious ugliness, but she kissed him and started toward the stairs. Passing Cersei, she said:

“I will try to save you a glass of wine — I know how you’ve come to rely on it. That is, if your husband does not drink it all before I reach the bar.”

Cersei rewarded her with a glare and turned to Tyrion:
“Who’s the redhead slut you’ve put on Jaime’s arm?”

“First of all: she’s not a slut but a lovey, innocent girl from the North. Secondly, I did not put her on Jaime’s arm, as you put it,” that was not quite true; but it would torture Cersei for some time before she learned the truth. “You should have seen him carry her to the car this evening — they make a beautiful couple, wouldn’t you say?”

But Cersei only stormed away.

Payback is a bitch, sister, Tyrion mused as he contemplated her retreating figure. I’ve watched you fuck your way through King’s Landing behind Jaime’s back; now I will watch you bark uselessly while he slips away from you into the arms of Sansa Stark.

Oh, what a night, what a beautiful night this was!

Tywin had just introduced Sansa to Davos Seaworth, one of the most important people in the Lannisters & Co., a friendly and intelligent man, when Margery came to find her.

“Ah, Margery, good evening,” Tywin greeted her amiably. “As always, a pleasure to see you looking lovelier than ever.”

“Lord Lannister, I’m delighted to be here: thank you for your most kind invitation. This is a spectacular party!” she replied sweetly. “I must, however, beg your leave to whisk Sansa away for a few moments — my grandmother is dying to meet her.”

“Of course,” he turned to Sansa. “Enjoy meeting Olenna Tyrell, lady Sansa.”

“I’m sure I will. Thank you for introducing me to all the wonderful people who are here tonight,” she replied.

Tywin nodded, and Margery spirited her away.

Olenna Tyrell was an intimidating woman. Her outspoken remarks and her frankness were like daggers, and she did not shy away from plunging them into people’s sides. She was delighted, however, to meet Sansa in person. They had seen each other briefly when Margery spoke to her grandmother via RavenTime, and the older woman was enraptured by the selfies of her granddaughter and Sansa, which Margery kept sending her. Loras was also there, and Sansa renewed the acquaintance with his boyfriend, Renly Baratheon, whom she had met many years ago, when the Baratheons had visited Winterfell. They were chatting gaily, laughing at Olenna’s biting jokes, when the soft music of a waltz began to sound.

“Ah,” said Olenna knowingly, “there it is. Joanna’s waltz. You have to give it to Tywin: the man is nothing if not consistent. Every year, the same gut-wrenching melody opens the dancing.”

Personally, Sansa thought the music and the tradition beautiful and touching.

“I am sorry the music depresses you, lady Tyrell. Next time, I will arrange for some loud, bombastic composition the young prefer nowadays especially for you,” came Tywin’s voice.

“I wish you would!” the old woman exclaimed, completely unfazed by the Lannister patriarch — from years of habituation, Sansa suspected.

“As things now stand, I will ask lady Sansa to open the dancing with me,” he said and extended his arm to Sansa, who took it.

They were the first couple to step onto the dance floor. Tywin was a graceful dancer, and she found irony in his well-known distaste for his son’s career considering his own proclivity for dancing.

“You have the same look as my son does when he’s thinking something clever. Do share, lady Sansa.”

It was strange to her, being compared to Jaime. Odder still was that, despite her expectations, she did not find Tywin Lannister to be a monster. There could be no doubt that he was a cold father and a ruthless businessman; but a monster? No.

“I was thinking — and it’s my professional opinion as a dancer — that it was your genes that were responsible for Jaime’s career in ballet.”

Tywin sneered.
“Believe me, my dear, my genes would have had a very different effect. His mother was the rebel in the family,” he added with sad fondness.

“I was merely saying that he must have gotten his natural talent for dancing from someone. I suspect it was from you. His mother’s rebelliousness could have pushed him to follow his inclination.”

He gave her an odd look.

“Could be,” he agreed. “And how did you begin dancing, lady Sansa?”

“I was three years old and saw excerpts of ballet on television. My mother brought me to my fist ballet class the same year. I have pursued dancing ever since.”

“That certainly takes patience.”

“I’m afraid I cannot boast of this admirable quality,” she contradicted gently. “I do not dance because I have to. I dance because I am unable not to.”

Chapter Text

Thank you to the most talented and generous Clarimel for this gorgeous art! I am so proud and honored to add it to this story!

 

Jaime was in a foul mood. Not only did he get stuck in his father’s shoes, greeting the guests as though it were his house, which, he adamantly insisted, it was not, but he had also observed Cersei’s more than usually hateful grimace. Apparently, she was mad at him. He knew not what had gotten into his sister — he had not even had the time to greet her yet, how could he have provoked her displeasure already? Adding to his irritation was the way his father treated Sansa. He had never, in his entire life, seen Tywin leave someone else to greet his guests as he personally made introductions. Jaime disliked seeing Sansa, whose naïveté was matched only by her utter guilessness, under his father’s wing. Besides, Tywin rarely bestowed his attention on anyone without an ulterior motive, and the amount of time and consideration he had shown Sansa made Jaime’s mind search frantically for his father’s aims. He could think of nothing, and this heightened his annoyance. Finally, all the guests had arrived, and Jaime made straight for the bar. He cared little for champagne — he needed a real drink. Once he was armed with good Northern scotch, he turned his eyes to the dance floor. Sansa looked lovely as ever, waltzing, the skirts of her dress floating around her.

Tyrion was having a wonderful evening. Olenna Tyrell had been unusually kind to him, much to Margery’s delight. The Queen of Thorns was warming up to him, after all. And now he had the double entertainment of watching Cersei watch Jaime watching Sansa. It was tremendously enjoyable. Jaime’s displeasure at Sansa’s time with their devious father was an encouraging sign of protectiveness. Tyrion wondered how he could bring his brother and Sansa back together after their father had so mindlessly broken them apart, when Tywin surprised him. The music had stopped, and, after the applause, Tywin led Sansa right toward Jaime. Tyrion came a little closer to be able to hear their conversation.

“The next dance is a foxtrot,” Tywin was saying, “and I am far too old for it.” Privately, neither Sansa, Tyrion, nor Jaime believed a word of it. Looking at his eldest son, Tywin continued: “But lady Sansa is such a wonderful dancer, I think it would be unkind to deny us the pleasure of seeing her on the dance floor. Jaime, I think you should be a gentleman and invite her to dance.”

“Of course, father, how could I not?”

Tyrion found Jaime’s caustic voice not at all surprising, considering that his brother had been fuming for the past forty minutes. Jaime offered Sansa his arm, and they walked to the dance floor.

Sansa wondered what had spoiled Jaime’s playful mood in the brief time since she had seen him. She considered asking him what was the matter, but decided against it.

Foxtrot was one of her favorite ballroom dances. While it kept the elegant flow of the waltz, she thought it had more liveliness. Jaime maneuvered with excellent dexterity between the couples, his movements, as always, confident and full of leonine grace. Sansa did her best to avoid meeting his eyes, fixating her gaze above his shoulder on whatever glided past them.

“You look awfully concentrated on whatever’s behind me, minx,” he said to her after a few minutes, and she was forced to meet his eyes. In truth, she had been concentrated on not getting lost in the feeling of his arm around her waist, their clasped hands, and his chest so near her own; the falling motion of the dance kept bringing them closer.

“I thought we had agreed you wouldn’t call me that,” she reminded.

“No, you told me you would try killing me if I ever called you ‘minx’ in public. You’ve never said anything about my use of the nickname when we were alone,” his smirk was back, so was the playfulness in his eyes. Now that she was stuck with him for the duration of the dance and his teasing mood had returned, Sansa knew that she was at the mercy of his taunts. She caught herself thinking that she preferred him to be playful rather than resentful, even if it meant putting up with his innuendos and goading.

“We’re hardly alone, Jaime. I don’t even know how many people are here.”

It felt as though we were, flashed through his mind.

“A few hundred. But the point is, minx,” he emphasized his use of the nickname, “that no one can hear.”

“I still don’t like it,” she pouted.

“How did you find father?” he asked her, changing the conversation rather suddenly. “Did he live up to your expectations of a bogeyman?”

“Who told you that?” She was going to give Margery a piece of her mind. 

“Tyrion did,” he answered. So she was going to give Tyrion a piece of her mind. “But you evade the question.”

“I don’t have to answer any of your questions, if I don’t want to. This isn’t an interrogation room!”

Jaime only smiled the sly smile she feared a little, knowing that it never prophesied any good. She had been right to worry; taking a firmer hold of her waist, Jaime began twirling them across the floor with a speed that could only be sustained by a professional dancer.

“Are you trying to twirl me into answering?” she asked, trying not to smile.

“I’m only attempting to make your head spin — maybe that will make you more communicative,” he answered and kept up his ridiculously rapid pace.

But they could not keep spinning the entire dance— that would be ridiculous! His self-satisfied grin was as good a proof as any that his real intent had been to blackmail her with public embarrassment.

“Fine, I’ll tell you, just stop this foolishness!” she exclaimed, and he immediately resumed the more languid movements of the foxtrot.

“I’m listening,” he said to her. She thought he was too full of himself.

“I don’t think your father is a monster, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Did your father mislead you?” he inquired in mock horror.

Sansa looked at him in anger.

“My father would never lie!”
“And yet, here you are: waiting to find a monster where there’s only a cold-hearted businessman.”

She was silent.

“I wonder what else did good old Ned tell you that was slightly, how shall we put it, ‘exaggerated?’ ”

“Next you’ll be saying that Aerys Targaryen fell off the balcony without your help!” she snapped, infuriated by the suggestion that her father could be anything but truthful. She regretted her words the moment they were out of her mouth. She thought she saw pain flash in Jaime’s eyes, though she could not be sure, and his expression darkened. His jaw muscles flexed, and she could feel with her own body how his went rigid. Before she could try to take her words back, the music had ended, and she was forced to clap. When the applause had died away, Jaime’s face was a mask, and she knew she was locked out of his teasing world. As he led her to Margery and Tyrion without a word, she told herself that if he did not speak to her or seek her out, it would be for the better; but she failed to dispel a nagging little pain in her chest or dismiss the anger she felt with herself.

When Jaime had led Sansa to the dance floor and the sweet sound of foxtrot music had filled the room, Tyrion did not bother locating Cersei. He watched his brother and Sansa dance, saw how, within moments of holding her in his arms, Jaime’s face had brightened. Despite the shortcomings in his own appearance, Tyrion was attracted to the beautiful, admiring it without envy. And there was no denying that a lovelier couple than his brother and the Lion-Tamer could not be found. They danced impeccably, their bodies perfectly in sync, and Tyrion gazed at them happily. Someone bent toward him, but Tyrion did not turn to see who it was, too caught up in watching the figure of his brother and Sparkle float to the sound of music. He nearly jumped out of his skin, when he heard his father’s voice right next to his ear. Usually, Tywin never bent toward his son, as it would only highlight his progeny’s deficiency.

“Why didn’t you tell me about my future daughter-in-law?”

Oh, that again.
“Father, I told you many times: Margery and I — ” he began, but Tywin interrupted:

“I am not talking about Margery at the moment, though we will have that conversation at a future date. I am talking about Sansa Stark.”

Tyrion turned toward his father. The Seven preserve us, Tywin Lannister looked pleased! Tyrion was too stunned to fully grasp his meaning.

“What do you mean?”

“What do I mean?! I am asking why you did not tell me that Jaime was finally seeing someone, and that this someone was Sansa Stark?”

Tyrion knew that lying to his father was, as a rule, a stupid thing to do.

“They aren’t together,” he grudgingly admitted.

Tywin looked skeptical.

“They are not,” Tyrion repeated. “It’s the truth.”

“Well, anyone who can see them together knows that, although they may not be a couple officially yet, they very soon will be.”

“I should hope so,” Tyrion said.

“Hope?” Tywin sneered. “No, my dear boy, that’s the last thing we will do. Hope is for fools. Lannisters don’t act like fools. We do not hope — we act! I’ll have Ramsay call you and set up a lunch.” Seeing Tyrion’s questioning stare, Tywin explained with some exasperation: “So we can talk about making sure that Jaime doesn’t let Sansa Stark slip through his fingers!”

With that, the Lannister patriarch unbent himself and, giving Tyrion a pat on the shoulder, walked away.

“My dear boy;” a pat on the shoulder; and matchmaking. What did his father drink? Regardless of what it was, Tyrion thought he should find out what kind of whiskey they served at the party. Just as he was sampling one, Margery came over and kissed him on the neck.

“You have an unusual expression on your face,” she purred, biting his earlobe playfully, “like the all-knowing Tyrion Lannister is confused.”

“Confused?” he replied. “Try ‘bewildered.’ Our matchmaking firm has just benefited from a new member.”

“Yeah? Who?”
“My father!”

“No! You’re kidding?”

“His personal assistant is calling me tomorrow to set up a brainstorming brunch.”

“Wow!” she exclaimed, surprised.
“I know.”

Margery glanced toward the dancing figures of Jaime and Sansa.

“Poor dears. They’ve no idea how the plot thickens,” she mused pensively.

Jaime had left her with his brother and Marge. It always came down to Aerys. He needed fresh air and quiet. He made for one of the balconies. For many years now, these had been his least favorite parts of any house. How could he have known the bastard would trip and fall to his death? On the other hand, had Aerys not fallen, would he have stopped himself? Or would he have beaten him until the son of a bitch had died under his fists? The worst was not being accused of murder or having honorable, if simple, men like Ned Stark spit on him and his family. The worst was not knowing, perpetually wondering, if he could have stopped himself? As he stared into the darkness, Jaime could not quite understand the painful anger that had seized him at her words. He had been about to ask her if the Kingslayer was not as horrible as she had heard either, when she had thrown Aerys in his face. He was glad that her cutting remark had saved him from voicing the words that had been left frozen on his lips. Who was she that her accusation provoked such a strong reaction? No one — a slip of a girl from the North. And yet, Sansa’s innocence, her kindness, and her unrestrainable honesty were qualities that had made him hope — foolishly, alas! — that he might get a fair hearing in her court of justice. The disappointment tasted bitter on his tongue.

As she socialized, smiling and chatting, Sansa waged a mental battle of no small proportions. It went something like this: one moment, she would mentally kick herself for not keeping her mouth shut; the next, she would mentally give herself another kick for caring if the Kingslayer was offended by her words or not. What should I care if he’s upset? She kept beaming and talking, pretending that her eyes did not scan the room for his tall figure and blond hair.

Margery was snatched away by Loras, who wanted to introduce her to someone. Left without entertainment, Tyrion decided to find himself a sister to torment. He found her surrounded by a group of two-faced flatterers. Truly, she had as poor a taste in friends as Jaime had in women — at least, up until very recently. With a few cutting remarks, Tyrion drove them away.

“Have you seen Jaime and Sansa dance?”

Cersei remained silent, but one of her facial muscles twitched. Very nice. Tyrion went on.

“I really think they look marvelous together. Imagine all the wedding photographs! Father is beside himself with joy, I barely recognize him. And then: tap-tap-tap and top-top-top — the patter of tiny feet. I always thought it cruel how little time Jaime had with Tommen and Myrcella. I doubt Sansa will put any restrictions on his relationship with his children. I wonder if they will have blond hair and blue eyes or red hair and green eyes? Maybe both? Her mother has six children, I think, so Jaime and Sansa —”

“Shut your mouth!” she hissed. Ah. So, you didn’t like that, did you? “Every time you draw breath is an offense against this world!” She crouched in front of him, so that she could speak in a lower voice: “Jaime and I shared a womb. We were born together, we belong together. This will never change. Not with your scheming, not with the tight little cunt of Sansa Stark. Jaime is mine. He will always be mine.”

She straightened and gave him a condescending look-over, which never failed to make Tyrion feel the flaws in his personal appearance with acute misery. He gave a curt smile.

“You’ve never seen them dance,” he said.
“Of course, I have. The whole gala did.”

“Not the foxtrot. I meant ballet. You’ve never seen them perform that pas de deux you used to dance together. I have. I’ve seen him dance it with you, and I’ve seen him dance it with her. There’s a difference, and it’s not in your favor. It’s not just the way Jaime looks at Sansa, or the way she looks at him. It’s about a deeper physical connection between them when they dance. One that goes deeper than your bond with him does, and they’ve only known each other a few months. Then, of course,” Tyrion decided to add insult to injury, “there’s the plain fact that Sansa’s a much better dancer than you could ever have dreamed of being. I know that. Jaime knows that. And when she steps onto the stage, which will be soon enough, the whole world will know that.”

“There’s no need to wait that long,” Cersei sounded very pleased, inspired, and Tyrion heard alarm bells go off in his head. She bent slightly toward him, a predatory smirk crawling like a toad across her lips. “We can find out how good she is right away.” Cersei walked off.

Shit.

Margery looked flushed and flustered when she burst into the small circle made up of Ellaria, Tyene, and Oberyn, who had arrived later and with whom Sansa had been speaking. Grabbing her hand, she said a little breathlessly, “we need to talk now,” and dragged Sansa away.

“What’s the matter?” Sansa asked.

“We’ve a problem,” Margery replied in anxiety.

“What kind of a problem?”

From her friend’s tone, Sansa was certain she did not want to know.

“Tyrion’s just told Cersei you were a better dancer than she,” Margery said with empathy and remorse.

Sansa’s heart dropped.

“He. What?!”

“I don’t know how or why, but he got the bitch so riled up, she wants blood.”

“But what can she do?”

“I don’t know, but it doesn’t sound good. I didn’t want her to catch you off guard. Sansa, I’ve seen her dance. She’s not that good. A very beautiful woman, not a very good dancer. So you’ve nothing to fear from a direct comparison.” Sansa almost felt relieved. “Which is why there will be no direct comparison, probably.” And… her heart dropped again.

“Margery, you’re freaking me out. She’ll probably find many creative ways of making my life miserable in the future, but what could she possibly hope to do right now?!”

As if in answer to her question, Cersei, her golden dress catching light and making her sparkle like a precious stone, walked to the center of the dance floor. The guests parted to let her pass. She waved an elegant hand in the direction of the band, and the music ceased. As the dancing stopped, the dance floor emptied. There was only Cersei standing there, glowing like a venomous snake basking in the sun.

“We have among us an exceptional young dancer,” she said with a smile. “A rising star of the Lannister Ballet Company, I’m not afraid to say. Sansa Stark.”

Oh. Mother. Maiden. And Stranger. 

“Come, little dove, come here.”

Tyrion, if I live through this, you will regret it.

She made her way toward the elder woman. She had never been so close to Cersei before. It occurred to her that, for some reason, Tywin had not introduced them.

Text from Little Monkey to Kingslayer:
Main ballroom. NOW, Jaime!

Cersei was beautiful. But not as beautiful as Sansa had expected. Wrinkles showed here and there. Her skin was mostly taut and fresh, but her face looked worn regardless.

“I am glad to say that Sansa and I are close friends,” she continued in her honeyed, a little breathy voice. I’ve never heard a more blatant falsehood in all my life! “So I hope she will not refuse me, when I ask her, from the name of all present here, to gladden our hearts with a dance.”

Oh, for the sake of the Drowned God!

Sansa did not know why Theon’s favorite curse had occurred to her. Perhaps, because she was about to suffocate on this empty dance floor?

Sansa smiled with all her might — maybe I can still get out of this alive.

“You honor me with your praise, Mrs. Baratheon, and while I would love nothing more than to dance for you, I’m afraid I’ve left my pointes at home.”

“That’s all right, darling,” how could a voice so appealing repel so much? “I will lend you my very own,” she said. Damn this cunning bitch to the deepest of seven hells. Cersei added very quietly: “I hope you’re pleased. I’ve heard you’ve been wanting nothing more than to walk in my shoes.”

Cersei waved her hand, and a woman brought Sansa a pair of pointes. She stared at them a moment before a familiar phrase echoed in her mind.

You’re not Cersei.

How these words, said in a breathy voice, haunted her at night. How they irked her. She did not want to be this woman, whose beauty seemed so poisonous to Sansa, she felt almost surprised Cersei did not reek like one of the moth-eating flowers Arya cultivated. Jaime was not here. He left her to his sister despite his assurances. He would not save her, and she did not need him to. She made it through a winter and merciless training. She would not go home humiliated. She would fight her own battles and win them, too. This was only a cunning woman. She had no evil powers, beyond her honeyed voice. She will not see fear. Not in me. I’m a Stark of Winterfell. I’m a direwolf, not a scared little dove.

When the girl raised her eyes from the pointes, Cersei, for the first time in a long while, felt a cold little fear snake its way down the back of her neck. Sansa did not look like a dove; she looked like a dangerous creature, her eyes gleaming with an odd light.

Oberyn and Ellaria had been watching the scene anxiously, but when Sansa had raised her eyes, Ellaria released a breath of relief.

“Cersei Lannister will lose tonight,” Oberyn stated with satisfaction.

Sansa smiled a cold smile that agreed with her deep blue eyes. Looking toward Tywin, she spoke:

“With your permission, my lord?” and her voice sounded confident, menacing.

Tywin’s lips twitched. He motioned to the dance floor invitingly.

“By all means.”

Sansa took the pointes and sat unceremoniously on the floor. The ballet shoes were not a perfect fit, and her feet would be blistered tomorrow, but she was not in danger of injury or falling. She tied the pointes securely. Thank the gods her skirt ended at her ankles and its fluffy material would be forgiving to ballet dancing. She rose and flexed her feet.

This is nothing I haven’t done before. I’ve danced after seven hours of grueling practice. I’ve improvised for months and for hours on end. It’s just a room with more people and a smaller dance floor.

“May I have some music?”

Cersei, who had fully recovered her confidence, smiled widely.

“Of course, dear.”

She motioned to the musicians. Sansa recognized the melody; she did not know it well, however.

Think of the darkness; the shimmering light; how there’s nothing more beautiful than dance. 

There was dead silence in the room. The music played, but the dancer had not moved a muscle, her eyes closed. When they opened, her face was devoid of expression, but the blue of her irises was oddly burning. A striking chord sounded, and Sansa began to move.

The faces around her melted into an expressionless, unembodied mass, and she was alone. Alone with the music and the beating of her heart. Her mind entered the comfortable grey zone she had carved out during hours of practice, in which seeing disintegrated into hearing and hearing turned to motion. She opened her soul to the music, and it flowed in like liquid metal. Hissing, it flowed quicker than blood to her limbs, whispering chants to her body. In the burning of her dance, green eyes, as always, began to float before her mind’s eye. The transformation was complete. She was not a dove, a fox, or a wolf. She was a phoenix — red and fictional, dying and being born again to the sound of maddening music. Her arms felt like red wings, enormous and all-encompassing. If she jumped, she flew. When she did not, her pointes seemed barely to touch the ground. Soon, her body had fallen away into the same oblivion that had engulfed the faces, and the boiling metal was free from its containment. Sansa, or rather the abstract, mindless being without pain or fear that she had become, began a jeté entrelacé. On the third jump, she was torn slightly from her trance, because she did not land. Strong arms had supported her and raised her high until she felt she was one with the blinding light of the colossal chandelier. She slowly, artfully adjusted her pose to the support she had been provided with, and her body stilled. Just in time. The musical segment contained a dramatic pause. Because of this, her partner’s entrance, though doubtlessly sudden, was elegant and fitting. His improvised intrusion had created an arresting, climactic pose for the duration of mute stillness.

Hundreds of people in the Lannister ballroom, and it was silent as a crypt, the viewers more immobile than headstones.

Sansa had returned to her state of abstraction by the time the music had begun again, softly, each note exquisitely pronounced. She knew the arms that had raised her into the light; she trusted them. She would have recognized his arms in the pitch darkness of the seventh hell. She had never known euphoria to be so deeply tangled with the agony of flame. The sizzling liquid metal inside her veins chanted, and his hands burned her body wherever they touched.

Dancing with Jaime, she did not need to follow his motions to know his next pas. She only had to watch his green eyes to move with him. The music raged, and they raged with it, their dance burning the air around them, their breathing fanning the flames. Each step they took brought them closer to music and further away from the abstract mixture that had become the world around them. In this empty space, where melody reigned supreme and fire burned according to its wishes, there were no Starks and no Lannisters; there were no murders or intrigues; no sins that could not be blazed away; no innocence that was too cold. In this kingdom of the phoenix, where they were winged beings who were born and died in conflagration, she could allow his green eyes to consume her.

If it were not for her eyes, their deep shade of indigo, he would not have known the fire sorceress. He had come to save her, swallowing his bitterness, and found she did not need a rescuer. Seeing her, however, the bewitching motions of her body, the wild dance of her red hair and skirts, which seemed to create a blazing aura around her form, had called to him to reach out and touch her, if for no other purpose than to confirm she was a being made of flesh and blood. Reaching for her waist as her legs pushed her high into the air, he lifted her above his head quickly, knowing she would catch on. Perhaps, she needed saving, after all. He knew the piece Cersei had chosen. The trick was in the pause, which sprung out of the crescendo like an assassin from the insanity of a street masquerade. As his hands held her small waist, the pads of his fingers felt the song of her blood, the warmth of her body through the stiff fabric of her corset. He wished nothing more than to sink his fingers into the material, tearing it away from the soft flesh underneath. As when they had danced before, she fixed her eyes on his face with a startling intensity and colored his world in shades of blue. He knew her motions before she began them, felt her breath before she filled her lungs, and savored the ephemeral feeling of embracing a living flame.

Tyrion was not a man whose mind lent itself naturally to alternate states of consciousness; but only when the burning spirits that were Jaime and Sansa had ended their dance, did he realize how deeply they had hypnotized him. He threw a quick glance around the ballroom and saw that hundreds of people had shared in the same feeling. Tywin’s guests looked like they had been shaken from a deep, magical slumber and could not quite understand what had occasioned the end of the reverie. He turned back to Jaime and Sansa’s faces and knew that there was danger in feeling so deeply a passion so transfixing. They were looking at each other as though they had neither identities nor names, and the colors of their eyes could mix. Tywin had been right like he, Tyrion, had been right: magnetic forces were bound to collide.

Another moment lasted the stillness, the magic lived one more batting of lashes. Then, there was an uproar — applause, yells of ‘bravo!,’ and other screams he could not decipher. The dancers were shaken from their trance, and a strange, lost look flashed across both their faces for a moment as, inevitably, they separated. Margery, screaming her excitement, was the first to reach them, throwing her arms around her friend. It only took one to break the barrier of waning magic that had demarcated the dance floor. The crowd, loud and unrelenting, advanced to worship in adoration.

Sansa could not quite understand what Margery was saying: her friend was not quite coherent, and Sansa was still a little dazed. People surrounded them and filled the emptiness that had bound her to Jaime. She could not see him over their excited faces. Olenna, who had lost all her thorns somewhere, was complimenting her heartily; Oberyn and Ellaria were practically hysterical with laughter and pride; Tyene kept screaming “lion-tamer,” referring to Cersei’s defeat, no doubt; Tyrion had said something profoundly gentle; Tywin watched from the side, unprepared to mingle with the crowd, but a small smile played on his lips; Loras and Renly were laughing about something to do with a kicked lion cunt. It became too much soon, and she whispered to Margery to take her away. It was not an easy fit to accomplish, but, finally, Margery was able to lead them out of the room under all sorts of excuses. They went down a corridor, and Sansa seated herself heavily on a small recamier that stood in the inviting shadow of an enclave. Margery sat next to her.

“What do you want, triumphant darling? A glass of water?”
“Just…” Sansa breathed and smiled a grateful smile, “Just a little peace.”

Margery understood, and left her, grinning back at her before she disappeared around the corner.

 

Chapter Text

Thank you to the most talented and generous Clarimel for this gorgeous art! I am so proud and honored to add it to this story!

 

 

Sansa sat quietly, enjoying the silence and the semi-darkness. Her mind was having trouble readjusting to a world that was filled with borders, rooms, things. A world where he could be somewhere far away. A world where, for some bizarre reason, that was supposed to be a good thing.

I should not have said anything about Aerys. I know it has upset him. And still… He came to my aid when I did not even know I needed him. I would have missed that pause without him.

She was unaware of how long she had sat there. Her attention was brought back to reality when a door opened. An elderly but strong man came in, two small children following closely at his heels. Sansa noted absent-mindedly that it was strange that they were wearing pajamas underneath their coats.

“Now, we’re in agreement,” the old man spoke, and she instantly liked the sound of his carrying, patient voice, “I will go and try looking for your mother or uncle, and you will stay here, quiet like two little mice. And if she’s too busy to come down to see you and he isn’t there, I will take you home, and you will go to bed like good little children. Yes?”

The two little people nodded their acceptance of these terms. The man left them and went down the corridor, squaring his shoulders. When he passed Sansa, he gave her a tight, apologetic smile.

Whose children were they? Was the man a babysitting grandfather? What had occasioned the late-night visit?

The two children shuffled where they were left for a few moments. Then, noticing Sansa, they stared at her. Sansa gave them a smile — what else to do when children watch you? Interpreting her kind expression as an invitation, they approached her. The girl appeared to be around five; she held hands with her younger brother. The boy looked like he had been crying. Sansa was glad of something to distract her from the odd jumble in her head.

“Well, hello there,” she said in a friendly voice. The boy, enheartened by her welcoming attitude, let go of his sister’s hand and crawled into Sansa’s lap. He seemed in need of comfort.

The girl looked at her with apprehension.

“Sorry for my brother — ” she began.
“Oh, that’s quite all right,” Sansa said with warm sincerity, as she put her arms around the boy and stroke his hair. She felt more keenly than ever how she missed little Rickon. And Bran. And even Arya. She had grown used to her elder brothers being away in college, but she had never spent so long apart from her younger siblings. She missed mother, too. The warm comfort of her presence and how small Sansa always felt in her gentle arms. She missed her father’s loving smile. The boy seemed to appreciate her embrace and snuggled. She thought how odd it was for a little boy to be so quiet. Seeing that her brother’s actions had not provoked any displeasure, the little girl came to sit next to Sansa.

“Your brother seems a little shaken. Has something happened?” Sansa asked.

The girl had taken the liberty of fiddling with a lock of Sansa’s hair.

“He had a nightmare,” she answered without looking up. “He was so scared. He woke me up with his screams. He won’t tell me what it was about. Only that he wants uncle. Or mother.”

Sansa felt her heart go out to the little boy and his sister. She remembered a time when she was little and had nightmares. Her brothers had watched a film about the White Walkers, which had terrified Sansa. For a long time, she would wake up in the darkness, imagining pale, skeletal forms in her room. She would run to her parents’ bedroom and crawl into the warmth between them. Father would say that if a White Walker showed up, he would take the large, ancestral sword, Ice, and defend his little girl. Her mother would take her downstairs, to the kitchen, and make her hot cocoa. Sansa had loved these night vigils, when she had sat in her mother’s lap before the roaring fire in the semi-darkness of the family room, drinking the warm, sweet liquid and listening to the throaty sound of her mother’s lullaby.

“You know,” Sansa said, “when I was little like you, I also had nightmares.” She felt the boy stiffen in her arms and made her voice as soothing and quiet as she knew how. “My mother would make me hot cocoa, and I would be less scared.”
“Mother doesn’t like cooking,” said the little girl. That did not sound good.

“Well,” she tried, “if my mother was too tired to wake up, father would take me back to my room and tell me stories before I fell asleep. When I was too scared, he’d leave our family’s sword, Ice, near my bed. The thing was larger than I was, and it gave me comfort.”

“We don’t have a family sword. And father…” a look of shame, odd in one so young, came into the girl’s face. “When he gets very tipsy, he’ll start telling stories, but I don’t like them, and mother always gets very angry and tells us to go to our rooms.”

Oh, Mother, whose children were these poor kids? What kind of family sounded like that in the mouths of the young?

“I like uncle’s stories,” the boy peeped in. It was the first thing he had said in the entire time. There was a deep longing in his voice. “I wish uncle was here.”

“I do, too,” the girl agreed quietly.

The pitiful way in which she had said it broke Sansa’s heart. That was it! She was going to make the children some cocoa. And if Tywin Lannister killed her for messing around in his kitchen, she would die with a clear conscience.

“Have you been in the house before?” she asked the girl, who nodded. “Do you know where the kitchen is?” Another nod.

Sansa tightened her grip on the small boy and was about to get up, when she had realized she was still wearing the pointes. She carefully disentangled herself from the child, sitting him next to her when the girl had made room on the recamier. The boy made no protest; only his crestfallen expression told of his dejection. Sansa found unsettling that a small child, who could not be more than four, knew how to mute his demands for affection. She bent down and unlaced her pointes; her feet were grateful for the freedom. So what, if she walked barefoot? What did she care? She took the boy back into her arms. He looked surprised and pleased. Sansa got up with him, and the girl stood next to her. Sansa looked down at her conspiratorially:

“Where was that kitchen, again? I think you’re more than overdue for some hot chocolate.”

An uncertain smile played on the child’s lips, and she turned to rush down the dark corridor. The boy’s voice, for the first time since she had made their acquaintance, sounded like that of a normal child:

“You’re gonna make us hot chocolate?!” he squealed in excitement.

“You bet,” she said and followed the girl. The child knew her way around the house surprisingly well. She stopped, walked through a doorway, and turned on the bright lights. They were in a large kitchen, which would have been more at home in a restaurant than a private residence. But the sophisticated equipment was not what held Sansa’s undivided attention. Out of the dimness that had covered their previous interaction and in the bright light, she could clearly make out the children’s angelic features. Their golden hair; their green eyes. She froze.

Mother’s mercy. What are they doing here?

The girl looked like Cersei, only a child, devoid of hatred. Her eyes. Where had she seen such eyes? Like Jaime’s, only more round. A little like Tyrion’s! She turned to the boy and felt her breath turn to cinders, burning her lungs and suffocating her. Only someone blind would fail to see his father’s features in his face. There was not a drop of Baratheon blood in these children. Cersei’s children. Jaime’s children. Sansa felt faint.

“Are you all right?” the girl asked her with concern. She certainly had eyes like Tyrion’s. Her uncle’s. Her other uncle was her father.

Mother. Sansa did not mean one of the Seven. She thought of her own mother. She did not know what to do.

“Is something wrong?” the girl asked again, tearing Sansa from the wild kaleidoscope of her spiraling mind. Sansa looked at the child, trying to find in her a hint of depravity, a suggestion of future viciousness, but the green eyes were as clear as a Northern lake. Clear and innocent; concerned for a stranger. Sansa looked back to the boy. He looked just like a miniature Jaime with chubby cheeks. His spitting image. And the lost, apprehensive look that was in his eyes she had seen flash across his father’s face. Only the child did not know how to hide it behind cold insolence and affected nonchalance.

“I — ” Sansa began and paused. Her voice broke. How could sin produce such innocence? “I only just realized that I didn’t know your names,” she finished.

“I’m Myrcella,” the girl smiled and made a lovely curtsey.

Sansa felt the boy gently pull at a lock of her hair.

“And I’m TOMMEN,” he announced.

Sansa smiled despite herself.

Gods. How? How is it possible? How could a woman so venomous and an act so vile create such beautiful, sweet children?

“What’s your name?” the girl asked, a little timidly.

“I’m Sansa,” she said. “Well,” her voice was a little higher-pitched than usually, “let’s see if we can get some hot chocolate ready for you.” Suddenly, she imagined her mother’s disapproving eyes. I don’t care, mother. The children have done nothing wrong.  “Any ideas as to the location of cocoa, chocolate, milk or sugar?”

Tommen and Myrcella shook their heads.

“Guess we’ll just have to look for them.”

The kitchen was enormous, and Sansa thought it had been organized by a lunatic. Eventually, however, they found some dark chocolate, sugar, and milk. It was not perfect by any means, but, with the right proportions, it would do fine.

While Sansa, cursing silently, was trying to figure out how the stove worked, becoming more convinced with each moment that the Stranger had had a hand in its making, Myrcella and Tommen sat themselves around a small table in a corner to the left.

“Your hair is redder than I’ve ever seen,” Tommen announced.

Unbeknownst to the trio, his father had thought the same when he had seen Sansa for the first time.

“Are you a red priestess?” asked Myrcella with curiosity.

“No,” Sansa laughed. “My mother’s from Riverrun,” she explained. “Red hair is quite common there. Though mother has darker hair for some reason. And in the Far North, too, there are quite a few people with red hair.”

“Is your father from the Far North?” Tommen asked.

“No, my father’s from the North. But my brother’s girlfriend is from Beyond the Wall.”

The Wall still stood, but now people migrated freely. Sansa’s grandfather was among the most important supporters of the Free Folk Migration and Fair Employment Bill many years before Sansa had been born.

“That’s so cool!” Tommen exclaimed. “I’ve always wanted to go there! Mother said she would not let me, but uncle told me that when I was older he’d take me.”

It’s so strange how he talks about Jaime. The love and worship in his voice. It’s a little like when Tyrion says his name. 

“I don’t want to go to the North,” said Myrcella. Then, realizing that she might have given Sansa offense, she explained apologetically: “Sorry. I don’t like the cold.”

“It’s all right. Nobody really does, except my father, maybe,” she smiled. “Where do you want to go?”

To her surprise, Myrcella blushed. After all the painfully embarrassing jibes Jaime had made about her own blushes, Sansa assumed it was not something the Lannisters did.

Tommen had a look exactly like Jaime’s when he teased her; Sansa experienced an odd sense of déjà vu.

“It’s because she wants to go to Dorne,” he said with adorable mischief. “Her sweetheart is there!”

Sansa thought the concept of five-year-old Myrcella having a sweetheart endearing.

“What’s his name?” she asked kindly.
“Trystane,” the girl answered very quietly.

“Is his last name Martell by any chance?” Sansa inquired, surprised. She had listened to Tyene gush about her six-year-old nephew; she had seen photographs of him. The son of Doran, Oberyn’s elder brother, was a handsome child.

“It is!” Tommen exclaimed in wonder, looking at her as if she were a seer. “How did you know?”

Sansa smiled at him.

“I happen to be roommates and close friends with his cousin, Tyene.”

“You are?” exclaimed Myrcella. She looked embarrassed but inquired: “Could you ask her to pass a message to him from me?”

That was odd.

“I could, of course. But why don’t you text him or call him?”

The children looked uneasy. What did I say?

“Father says that the Martells are eastern trash and that they are only fit for Baratheons to wipe their boots on them,” Tommen repeated the long phrase with some difficulty. He looked sad and troubled. Myrcella was angry and upset.

“I did not get to ask his number,” she complained in some anger.

WOW. Maybe they are lucky Robert Baratheon isn’t their father. She caught herself. Well… in a way…

“Tyene and I could pass on a message or get you his number. Whatever you prefer.”

Myrcella looked surprised and happy.

“Oh, his number, please!” she exclaimed, then added with feeling, “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it,” Sansa said and poured some hot chocolate into two cups she had managed to find. “Here you go.”

“What about you?” asked Tommen.

“We can share,” Myrcella suggested.

How is this possible? Sansa wondered again.

“You’re very kind.” It’s true. Kind and considerate. “But I could not swallow a bite — I just danced, and I do not want to eat or drink yet.”

They looked hesitant but drank their hot chocolate, not forgetting to mention how good it was and to thank her.

How can this be? Sansa watched them, wondering.

Tommen raised his eyes to her:

“Will you tell us a story? About the North?”

Sansa took a breath. How did I end up here?
“Of course. I can tell you the story about a dragon and the Children of the Forest.”

After the dance had ended, Jaime’s eyes had been still on Sansa even as the crowd separated them, when he felt the unmistakable feeling of his sister watching him. Cersei motioned for him to follow and disappeared around the corner. With a final look at Sansa, he took in her dazed, smiling face, and followed his sister.

“How dare you?!” was the first thing he heard when he had entered one of the sitting rooms where she had disappeared. He sighed.

“Calm down, Cersei.”
“How dare you come here with this slut, parading her in front of me?”

He felt anger at the unjust characterization of Sansa, but bit it down.

“Don’t be ridiculous. The girl doesn’t know anyone in the city. It would hardly be — ”

“I don’t care about your motives! I want her out of the ballet company. Tomorrow.”

What was that?
“Come again, I don’t think I heard you right.”

“I said, I want the little bitch out of the ballet company. I want you to terminate her contract and send her packing, back to the frozen hell she has come from.”

Jaime laughed. It was not a good sound.

“Maybe you’ve forgotten that you left the company to marry a truly fine specimen, Robert Baratheon. You’re no longer part of the hiring decisions,” he said with heavy sarcasm.

“That’s why I’m telling you to fire her!”

“And on what grounds would I fire her?”

“That’s of no interest to me. I want her gone, Jaime.”
“No.”

“What do you mean, ‘no?’ ”

“No, I will not fire Sansa because of your ravings. The girl is the most talented dancer I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been around the dancing scene for a while.” He added with a bitter smile that looked more like a scowl: “You were right: she is the rising star of the Lannister Ballet Company.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. She can barely dance. If anything, the exhibition she made of herself proved that.”

Jaime felt anger rise in him again.

“She did not make an exhibition of herself. You wanted to see her dance, and she obliged you. If you cannot accept that you’ve failed to intimidate her or make her look a fool, at least do me a favor and don’t take your anger out on me.”

“You were the one thanks to whom she didn’t miss the pause! You knew what I was trying to do, and you sabotaged me!

“Listen to me carefully,” he said in a low, threatening voice, “in your attempt to humiliate Sansa Stark, you came close to demeaning not only her, but my ballet company, which she represents. I warn you: do not try it again, Cers. Sansa Stark will stay, and you will leave her alone. Do you hear me?”

“You want to fuck that little slut!” she said in enraged bewilderment.

He did. But if he ignored his own body, he was not about to listen to her.

His phone buzzed. It was Tyrion.

Text from Little Monkey to Kingslayer:
You really need to see this. Come to the kitchen, if you can find it. 

How drunk was his little brother?

“All right, Jaime,” she said coldly. “As long as Sansa Stark stays here, don’t even think that I will let you anywhere near me.”

His phone buzzed again. Tyrion must have read his mind, as was his habit.

Text from Little Monkey to Kingslayer:
Jaime, don’t be an idiot! I’m not drunk. Come right away.

The only answer Cersei received was the sound of the door closing shut behind him. He felt tired, exhausted by her venom. He made his way toward the kitchen. He saw light coming from within and wondered what Tyrion was up to. He reached the doorway and was about to enter, when he felt his heart skip a bit. Then it jumped into his throat and disappeared.

Sansa was sitting barefoot at a kitchen table with Tommen and Myrcella, whose eyes were glued to her face. She has that effect on other Lannisters as well, it seems. Looking at them with a smile, she seemed to be finishing a story:

“… and so the dragon, grateful to the Children of the Forest for their kindness and help, saved them from the White Walkers.”

Jaime could not help but smile.

“I like that story!” Tommen exclaimed.

“Me too!” came from Myrcella.

“Well, I’m very glad,” the minx smiled.

Tommen, who could never sit still for more than a few minutes in a row, began to fidget and noticed him standing in the doorway.

“Uncle Jaime!” he exclaimed, and ran toward him. Jaime caught his son and held him in his arms.

“Hello there, big fella. What are you doing here in pajamas, flirting with one of my dancers?”

“I had a nightmare, so we asked Barry to bring us here, since we knew you were at grandpa’s tonight.”

“And where’s good old Barristan?”

“He went to look for you or mother and haven’t come back yet,” supplied Myrcella, always glad to have the necessary information. She came to hug him as well.

 “And how did you end up in the kitchen with Sansa?”
“How do you know Sansa?” Myrcella seemed pleased.

Sansa, who had not said a word, was watching him carefully. Fearing, apparently, that he might say something inappropriate, she cut in:

“Your fa — ” She caught herself. So she knows. “Your uncle and I are colleagues.” Colleagues? “I’m one of the dancers in his and your uncle Tyrion’s company.”

“You’re a ballerina, like uncle Jaime?”

Sansa laughed uproariously. It seemed that, although she thought him a monster, her judgement was kinder where his children were concerned.

“Yes, I’m a ballerina, just like your uncle Jaime,” she said, still laughing.
Jaime rolled his eyes.
“She’s just envious because I look much better in a tutu than she does,” Jaime clarified.

Myrcella and Tommen laughed, and Sansa rolled her eyes, but she was still smiling. A warm, affectionate smile Jaime had never seen on her face when he was around. Why was she always so guarded when she was with him, when her smile could make the world so much brighter, somehow?

“All right, tell me, though, what are the three of you doing in the kitchen?”

“Sansa’s mother always makes her hot chocolate when she has nightmares. So she made some for us,” Myrcella clarified.

Jaime looked at her in bewilderment, a strange expression of fear and awe in his eyes. When Tommen had run into his arms, she had seen a rare, unguarded smile on Jaime’s face. The way the children’s eyes had lit up when they saw him spoke volumes about their relationship with their father. Their father. Who they think is their uncle. Because, technically, he’s both.

Jaime seemed to have trouble pulling any of his usual masks onto his face. His expression still showed apprehension, but also surprise and gratitude. A small frown betrayed his fight to cover his feelings.
“Sansa was very kind to care for you while Barristan was away,” he said, brushing a few locks of hair away from Tommen’s face, his other hand on Myrcella’s mop of blond curls. He lifted his head and looked at Sansa, his eyes raw with emotions she could not quite comprehend. “Thank you,” he said to her, his voice a little odd. It’s not like I saved their lives. I just made them cocoa.

She shook her head.

“Really, it’s nothing. I just made them some hot chocolate, and we had wonderful fun gossiping and telling stories,” she said, feeling uncomfortable to be thanked in such a way for something so small.

“It’s more than you know,” he said.

Barristan Selmy, Tyrion, and Margery entered the room then. The kids ran to greet their other uncle with excitement, but it was clear to Sansa that their relationship with Tyrion, although full of warmth, was different from what they shared with Jaime, to whom they turned with undisguised reverence. Barristan suggested that it was time for the children to be back in their beds. Myrcella and Tommen said their goodbyes to Sansa, hugging her with the easy and deep affection of which are capable the hearts of little children. Myrcella was disappointed that she did not have her phone with her and could not get Sansa’s number, but Tyrion promised he would text it to her, “if Sansa doesn’t mind.” Six pairs of eyes turned to look at her, laden with expectation and apprehension. Well, who do they take me for? Like I was capable of causing the child pain! she thought indignantly.

“Of course, I don’t mind,” she said and smiled. Like a wave, the tension rolled away.

The kids left, and Sansa watched them go with a little sadness. The darlings had no idea how they had shaken her world. She wondered if she would ever see them again. As soon as they were gone, Tyrion announced that it was rather late. The evening was over. It was time to leave. Margery, a considerate friend, had brought Sansa her shoes. The four of them made their way back to the entertainment floor in silence, lost in thought. The house seemed very quiet; most guests had already left. They thanked Tywin Lannister for the party and, just like that, they were standing outside again.

 

Chapter Text

Your violent words break me,

My tears can’t touch you;

But I find brutal rapture

In your rage and my sorrow.

 

She wondered whether Margery and Tyrion or Jaime would drive her home. The valet brought his car around first. Jaime walked to it, and Sansa asked herself if she should follow. When he went to open the passenger door, she said her goodbyes to Margery and Tyrion and approached him. She was about to get inside the car but turned back to look at him.

“You’re not going to drive very fast, are you?” she asked hesitantly.

“I’ll go slower than a turtle,” he reassured her.

She gave him a small smile and got in.

She did not fully believe his assurance and was surprised when he exceeded the speed limit only a little. They drove in silence. She wanted to apologize for what she had said about Aerys, knowing her words had hurt him; yet the ghost seemed like a protection from his presence in her life. She wondered if whispering “sorry” could turn back time. Scared that it might, she remained silent and settled for watching his reflection on the windshield. His eyebrows were furrowed, and he looked out into the night illuminated with street and traffic lights with so much concentration, she wondered if he saw any of it.

He didn’t.

His mind was in turmoil. Jaime disliked caring what anyone thought of him. He did not want anyone’s forgiveness. But Sansa’s condemnation made him loathe being beyond redemption and abhor the strange power she had over him. Knowing her indignation at his relationship with his sister, he never wanted her to see Tommen and Myrcella. His children would not be judged — not even by Sansa Stark. Seeing her with them had moved him deeply, leaving him vulnerable before her. Jaime had grown used to insults and accusations directed at him; he knew how to dismiss or return them with interest. But he did not know how to defend himself from words spoken against his children, and he feared her words. Her prejudice against him and her quickness to judge left him exposed, now that she had seen deeply into the problems for which he had no solutions. If ever he felt shame because of his involvement with Cersei, it was triggered by his inability to do more for his children. He harbored no illusions concerning his sister’s mothering style. She might love her children, but the ordinary kindness that came so easily to Sansa was beyond her reach. He wondered for a moment why Cersei could not have a little of the minx’s gentleness. Every time he thought of Sansa, images of her dancing would come to his mind, unbidden. Never in his life had he seen anything or anyone so beautiful as she was when she danced. The more powerfully he was affected by her, the more he desired her in spite of himself, the more ferociously he felt how out of his reach she was. A beautiful, unattainable being, who seemed to him a merciless judge in her cold Northern innocence.

Sansa was jerked from the reverie of watching his face when he stopped in front of her apartment building. She wondered why he got out of the car to open the door for her, when he could have simply dropped her off and driven away. Not knowing what to tell him, she gave him a nod and was about to walk away, when his words stopped her.

“I wanted to thank you for what you did for Myrcella and Tommen tonight,” he said in a voice more serious and severe than she had ever heard from him. He was looking straight in front of him with empty eyes. “They don’t see a lot of… kindness.”

“They seem like lovely children, Jaime,” she said softly.

The softness of her voice enraged him. No one could be that kind. He did not need her pity or her lies.

He turned to her, and she was struck by the violence in his eyes.

“I’ve always appreciated your honesty, Sansa,” he said in a low, angry voice. “I know what you think of me, and I can only imagine what names you’ve been calling my sister. I know what you think of us. Don’t try to pretend that when you look at my children you don’t see their parents or think them an abomination,” he closed his eyes as though to drown his anger and resumed in a more controlled, tight voice. “I’m very grateful that, notwithstanding your resentment, you were charitable enough not to recoil in horror.”

She was breathing heavily, tears of anger and hurt in her eyes.

“Blackguard! You appreciate my honesty? Well, here it is. I’ve never seen children more beautiful than Tommen and Myrcella. They are kind, intelligent, and profoundly good. They remind me of my little brother, Rickon, whom I miss terribly. Yes, they look like their parents, but they share none of your sins. You and your sister are an abomination. Your children are not. I would never blame them for your wrongdoings. And if you,” she stabbed his chest with her pointing index finger, “had any fatherly feeling toward them whatsoever, you would have taken them away from that horrible woman and her pig of a husband!”

“And how would I do that, huh? I’m their uncle, remember? I have once made the mistake of asking Cersei to allow me shared custody of them after I had seen that drunken oath raise his filthy hand to my son! I nearly tore him to pieces — just like your precious Aerys! I had threatened Cersei with going to the press, the authorities. Do you know what she said? That if I so much as breathed a word of this to anyone, she would accuse me of rape, and I would never see them again. So instead of giving me advice, you ignorant little fool, why don’t you mind your own fucking business?”

Before she knew what she was doing, her hand flew out, and she slapped him hard across the face. Angry tears running down her cheeks, she took a step back from him, realizing what she had done in terror, and the next moment, she was flying up the stairs to her apartment.

She shut the door behind her with a bang, crying in earnest. At least Tyene, still out partying after the gala, was not at home to witness her tears.

This is what you get for being a stupid idiot!

She wiped at her tears in frustration, but they kept falling all the same. She wanted to hear only one voice. The one voice that could make everything better, always. She dialed and had to wait a few heartbeats.

“Sansa?” her mother, worried and sleepy, had never sounded so sweet. Sansa cried harder but tried to hide it.

“Hey, mom,” she greeted shakily.

“Sansa, what’s the matter? Are you all right? Are you hurt?” Catelyn sounded fully awake and ready to handle any emergency as only a mother of six children knows how.

“No, I’m all right, I didn’t realize it was so late. I’m sorry I woke you.”

Catelyn’s voice was calmer and especially warm but not free from worry.

“Why are you crying, little heart?”

Jaime. Jaime. Jaime. Jaime. Jaime.

“I… I just wanted to hear your voice,” she said. Her mother’s silence on the other end of the line pressed her for further explanation. “I… saw two little children today. They were so lovely. The boy is Rickon’s age and I… I just miss him… I miss you… and dad… I miss you all so much!..”

She cried harder.

“Oh, sweetheart… You know, you can always come home.”

No, I can’t. I’ve worked too hard to give up. I want it too much to let go.

“No, it’s not that. I… Can you just tell me a little about you all? And I will let you go back to sleep.”
Catelyn sighed. She, too, had tears in her eyes. She missed her little girl.

“Well, Rickon is obsessed with knights and fighting. We had to put Ice away for fear he’d try reaching for it.” How Sansa relished in her mother’s kind voice! “Bran is as serious as ever. He plans to be an engineer now.” Last week, he still wanted to be a biologist. “Arya…” her mother had a smile in her voice, “Arya is being Arya. She got into a fight in school…”

“Again?” Sansa, too, was smiling.

Catelyn sighed.

“Again. Apparently, one of the boys said that you’re were a Southerner now that you live in King’s Landing (stupid children), and Arya — she misses you enormously even though she won’t admit it — well, she just jumped on him. Fortunately, they pulled her off before she could do any serious harm. But the kid! Oh, Sansa, he looked awful! Bloody nose, scratches!.. I don’t know what we will do with her.”

Sansa was very touched that Arya defended her. She missed her sister.
“And dad?”

“Oh, he misses you more than you know, though he keeps quiet about it, knowing we all miss you. You know how stoic your father is.”

Yes, she knew. Stoic and honest and good. Nothing like any Lannister.

Her mother went on:

“I found one of your old dolls in his study the other day. The one he gave you for one of your birthdays, remember? In a pink silk dress? I thought one of the children had brought it there, so I took it away. But it reappeared on the day after that, so I just left it alone. I guess it comforts him to have it there.”

Sansa was crying softly again.

“We’re all looking forward to the holidays, when all of our children will come home to us,” Catelyn said, knowing that thoughts of a happy future are the best medicine from melancholy.

“I know. Me, too, mother.” You have no idea just how much.

It is not an infrequent occurrence that when happiness diminishes somewhere, it increases elsewhere. Margery and Tyrion entered their flat in high spirits. Opening the door, Margery came in first, placing the keys into their usual place: a shell she had brought from Essos the year before; the trip (including wild shopping sprees) was Tyrion’s present for her last birthday. She had been very surprised when, in addition, her boyfriend gave her a beautiful bracelet of white gold and purple garnets that now adorned her wrist. Tyrion loved spoiling her.

“What a night!” she exclaimed, taking off her coat.

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget my sister’s face after the dance was over!” Tyrion said with pleasure.

“I know! And the look on Jaime’s face when he saw Sansa with the kids? Awww!.. It was such a great idea to hide away and let him take in the scene as we found it, by the way!”

“Why, thank you, my lady!”

He, too, took off his coat.

“I’ve never seen him so moved,” she added.

“The strange thing is — neither have I,” Tyrion admitted.

“I was surprised by how at ease Sansa seemed to be with Tommy and Cella…” Margery kicked off her shoes and walked to the kitchen barefoot.

“Why? She’s kind-hearted and has many younger siblings — she’s probably used to it,” Tyrion said as he followed her.

Margery grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl on the counter and sliced it in two. She offered a half to Tyrion, but he shook his head.

“Yeah, but she knows about the kids’ parents. Couldn’t have been easy for her, especially considering how she looks at Jaime.”

They left the kitchen and went to the living room. She collapsed onto the couch and bit into the apple.

“I wonder,” Tyrion said as he sat, taking her feet into his lap, “if it wasn’t partly because of Jaime that she treated them with such kindness.”

“It’s still remarkable, especially considering what a bitch your sister’s been to her,” Margery remarked.

Tyrion nodded.

"And their dance! My gods, I’ve never seen anyone dance like that!" added Margery.
"They certainly have a good instinct for each other’s movements — it will probably come in handy later," Tyrion jested, and she guffawed.
“It’s funny the way Tywin gushed over her!” she added with good humor. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him like that, even with me. It’s a little startling, considering his dislike of Ned Stark.”

“True, but father has dreamed of seeing Jaime married and with kids, I believe, since my brother was born. I think at this point, father would not have cared if she was a commoner or a whore,” he theorized.

“Or a common whore,” Margery winked and got up, walking to the bar cabinet. “Luckily for him, though, it’s a virtuous, loving girl from a very good family. Do you want a drink?” she asked, pouring herself some Essosi rum.

“When have I ever refused to drink with you?” he asked with a grin, and she smiled at the fond memories.

“You’re going to go to that lunch with your father soon, probably,” she said as she poured him a cognac — she did not need to ask what he drank after parties.

“And?”

She walked back to him and held out his glass.

“Better tell me all about it in copious detail,” she warned.

“Of course I will,” said he, as though it was the most natural thing in the world. “I must admit, I’m curious to know what devious plans are ripening in father’s mind. I’ve a feeling he’ll spare neither time nor money where Jaime and Sansa are concerned.”

“I almost feel sorry for them,” she said with a smile that conveyed that she was, in fact, not sorry at all.

“Almost!” he echoed with mirth as they clinked their glasses.

When Jaime stormed into his apartment — a beautiful place with a view of Blackwater Bay — the left side of his face was still burning from Sansa’s slap. Who would have thought that the minx had strength enough for such a blow? The stinging sensation served as a memento of another, more unpleasant, feeling, which was unlikely to go away as easily or as quickly. Jaime Lannister — an uncommon occurrence — was plagued by pangs of conscience. The feeling — in itself rather disagreeable, and to which he was largely unaccustomed — fueled his rage. But the more he raged, the more his conscience tormented him. It was a vicious cycle.

You and your sister are an abomination. How these words scorched his ears, resonating over, and over, and over. Her kindness was not for him, whom she had judged and convicted. He was an abomination. He thought her the purest thing he had ever seen.

If you had any fatherly feelings whatsoever, you would have taken them away from that horrible woman and her pig of a husband!

He knew she was right; and he knew equally well that he was powerless. An abomination he may be, but there was some comfort in her thinking him the lesser of two evils.

He could not quite grasp how his decision to thank her for the kindness she had shown Myrcella and Tommen had spiraled into the angry scene of which he was reminded by his burning left cheek. His frustration over his leading part in the unpleasant exchange added to his exasperation. The root of the problem, of course, was that she had taken him by surprise, once again. He had expected her to throw condescending, accusing words in his face; he had expected her to pronounce her judgement on him cruelly. The kindness in her soft voice was so utterly startling that he dared not believe it, thinking it a lie or an expression of commiseration. His pride, already revolting against her influence, was wounded by the thought that he might be an object of pity in her eyes. A man who has fallen so far beyond any hope of redemption that his children, and by extension he himself, were to be commiserated. The thought left his ego severely bruised. Combined with the way she had won his grudging admiration and utterly captivated him by her dance, her glowing blue eyes, while remaining oddly unapproachable in her thrice-damned Northern righteousness, it was hardly surprising that, in a moment of bitterness, Jaime’s mind could not credit with belief the extraordinary generosity of Sansa Stark. He could do so now that her presence did not overwhelm him, and the thought of his own callousness filled him with remorse, making him wish dearly he had chocked on his words. The slap in the face he had received from her was more than deserved. The greatest torture, generously supplied by his memory, was the image of her angry tears and the hurt expression on her face. When he was driving to his place, it haunted him; in the darkness of his apartment, it hounded him; and when he fell into a restless sleep, Sansa’s indignant face hovered accusingly above him.

Chapter Text

 

By the most talented Clarimel

 

 

Sansa awoke late the next morning, taking advantage of the weekend. The enticing smell of coffee reached her nostrils, and she decided that staying in half-slumber was less appealing than a cup of warm, energizing liquid. She rolled out of bed and headed for the bathroom, from which she emerged refreshed, her desire for caffeine heightened. She went to the kitchen, which was separated from the living room only by the bar. As she reached for a mug, her eyes fell briefly on the sofa. When her brain registered a form there, her gaze instinctively returned to it. She felt her blood turn to ice water in her veins, when she observed the Kingslayer sitting on her couch, a cup of coffee in his hand, his back to her. At first, she thought it was an illusion. She squeezed her eyes shut, hoping the mirage would disappear, but when she opened them again, he was still there, his head slightly turned to the side as though to better hear her movements.

“What are you doing here?” she asked in an unfriendly voice. And where was Tyene? She had heard her return in the wee hours of the morning, but she seemed to have left already.

He got up lazily.

“I came to apologize.”

“Not interested,” she stated bluntly. “Where’s Tyene?”

“I’ve known her since she was very young: smart girl, but with the attention span of a three-year-old.” That much was true. “When I gave her my credit card for the morning, she forgot to ask why I came by at all,” he finished with a sly smile.

My own friend sold me out to the beast. Granted, Tyene did not know about their last conversation, but it felt like a betrayal nonetheless.

“Can I make you a coffee?” he asked her.

“This is my apartment. This is my coffee. And I’ll make it myself. Now, get out.” She wanted him as far away as the world extended.

“I’m trying to apologize,” he reiterated in a soothing voice.

“And I don’t want your apologies. I want you to leave me alone.”

Sansa’s hostility had several sources beyond her ire from the previous evening. Regardless of how intensely she disliked him when she went to bed, in the night, his eyes had invaded her dreams. She was miffed that hearing him say to her “mind your own business” had the power to wound her; this was worsened by the statement’s underlying truth — she should have minded her own business and stayed as far away from his as possible. She did not and had paid for it. She detested that, in spite of his caustic words, she sympathized with his powerless urge to protect his children. Moreover, she was seeking desperately to outmatch with her asperity the willingness to forgive him, which she was infuriated to discover in herself. And there was the fact that, after she had slapped him across the face, he decided to show up with apologies, making her feel almost remorseful. She was fuming.

He came to stand next to her, and she despised her body for its awareness of him.

“All the same, I won’t go anywhere until you hear me out.”

Sansa suspected he was more stubborn than a mule. The poor animal had nothing on Jaime Lannister.

“Fine. Say what you’ve come to say, then get out,” she said, deciding, of course, that this was simply the fastest way to get rid of him. She was not interested in his words. Not one bit.

“I’m sorry for the way I spoke to you last night.”
She raised her eyebrows in irritation — that was putting it mildly.

“As you understand, very few people know the truth about Myrcella and Tommen’s parentage. I was not expecting you to increase your already oddly deep knowledge of my life.”

She remained silent, and there was a pause. His voice sounded a little accusing when he spoke next.

“You judge swiftly and harshly, Sansa, hardly realizing how deeply your arbitrarily thrown words may cut.”

Seriously?!

judge? When was that, pray? When I was making the children you fathered on your sister cocoa or telling them stories?!”

“This isn’t what I meant. I’m very grateful for your unusual kindness toward them.”

She turned her head away from him. Unusual kindness.

“Yeah, Lannister, I’m the picture of cruelty,” she said with heavy sarcasm. “Are you sure you went to the right address? Because it sounds to me like you’ve got the wrong lines here.”

You’re not Cersei.

He smirked, and she turned away from him entirely, busying herself with unloading the dishwasher. She needed to have something to do, or she would start screaming.

“What can I do to make up for it?”

She would not be bribed in any way, shape, or form.

“See, this is your problem! Not just you — the entire South has it. You think that, no matter what you do, you can make up for it later. Has any one of you tried not doing all the things you then need to make up for?”

He was silent, and she hoped desperately that he would just leave, please Mother. He did not.

“I’d like to try earning your forgiveness nonetheless,” he sounded indomitable.

Like hell you are. But in spite of herself, Sansa was surprised. She had never suspected Jaime Lannister had such deep reservoirs of humility. She considered him for a moment. There was one thing that tormented her more than others; one truth she could only hear from him.

He was watching her face keenly and saw the moment she began to relent. He wondered about the price for her amnesty. There was nothing he expected less than what came out of her mouth.

“You want my forgiveness? Fine.” She closed the dishwasher with a bang and faced him, a hand on her hip. “I want you to tell me the truth about Aerys. What happened on that balcony?”

He took a deep breath. His lungs were about as efficient as if they were balloons poked full of holes.

Sansa watched his eyes widen, noticed his quick intake of breath, the way his jaw clenched. She expected him to refuse, to snap at her.

“Fine, but I’m making coffee,” was all he said.
Grudgingly, she stepped aside. He took the mug from her and reached for the carafe of the energizing liquid.
“Sugar?”

“Two spoons.”

“Cream?”

“A little. Start talking or leave.”

“Let’s begin with what you know. What have you heard about that wonderful event?”

“Same as everyone. Aerys and you were seen talking on the balcony one evening. By the next day, he had been found on the ground below it. He was assaulted before he died.”

What are you doing? Do you even realize, you stupid fool, that you’re talking to a murderer?

“You were accused of killing him, seeing as he was the King of Ballet and your only real rival at the time, but the case was closed for lack of evidence. Most people say it was your farther who had arranged for you to be cleared.”

“You have the facts more or less straight, minx,” he said, passing her the coffee, “but you’re missing all the interesting details.”

He went to the sofa and sat down, not looking to see if she followed. She found it unnerving but sat next to him and took a sip of coffee, noting with annoyance that it was delicious.

“Aerys was never good enough to be my rival,” he began.

She rolled her eyes at him.

“I’m not saying this to boast," he clarified calmly. "I’m merely explaining that I did not need to kill him in order to have a successful career. The Targaryen Theater had been dying a slow death for many years by then. The Lannister Ballet Company was the future — everyone knew it. Aerys knew it better than anyone, and this hardly endeared me to him.” He paused. “One night, Cersei and I were careless, and he saw us. When I went to confront him, he said that he liked what he had seen.” Jaime’s voice was full of scarcely controlled bitterness and rage. “He described to me what he was going to do to my sister — I will spare you the details — and said he would keep me around to watch. There were rumors about him — prostitutes tortured to death — but his family was throwing their last money to make the stories, and the evidence, go away. That night, I saw madness in his eyes, and I knew that if he had gotten it into his head that he wanted Cersei next, he would not stop until he had her.”

“Why not go to the City Watch? Any other authorities?”

“And tell them what? I had no evidence. If I began making accusations, I would have to explain how the idea occurred to him in the first place. And they would not have been able to stop him, even if they had believed me.”

“What happened after he told you?”

“If you’re wondering whether it was I who had assaulted him before his death, the answer is yes. I kept hitting him until he tripped and fell off that damned balcony.” Jaime paused, and a bitter grimace overshadowed his features. “So technically, I did not kill him. But I don’t know if I would have stopped, had he not fallen.”

Sansa was staring into her cup of coffee as if she could read in it the correct way to judge that night. He did not want her to think him a villain. How to make her understand? He grabbed at a straw:

“I understand you have a sister?” he inquired, and she nodded. “Let me ask you this: if a man you knew to be guilty of torturing and killing several other women had told you that he would hurt and humiliate her before your eyes until she died from the pain, and you could kill him — what would you have done?”

Sansa thought of Arya’s laughing, happily insolent face. How fiercely she loved, though she never showed it. Her vivaciousness. Her spirit. Her pride and her dreams. And a monster who could snatch it all away. She felt tears and bloodthirst rise in her.

“I would have killed him,” she said quietly, still looking into her half-empty cup of coffee. He thought he had misheard her, but then she looked at him and repeated more loudly, her eyes fierce, and an uncharacteristically ruthless expression on her face: “I would have killed him and thrown his body from the top of the Wall.”

There was a long pause, and she turned away from him, sipping at her coffee quietly, lost in thought. She was trying to distill a very strange fact — that she was one of the few people who knew the truth about Aerys’ death (she sensed that Jaime had not lied); and knowing it, she could not find it in herself to condemn the Kingslayer. She realized with some horror that had Jaime even thrown the monster from the balcony with his own hands, she would still think he had done the right thing — in her eyes, if perhaps not her father’s. She kept thinking of her own siblings and knew she would have protected them regardless of what acts she had to commit. Her earlier conversation with her mother came back to her. If Arya threw punches when someone called her sister a Southerner, what would her little sister have done in Jaime’s shoes? She knew Arya’s answer to his question would have been considerably more detailed and gruesome than her own had been. She thought of how Jon and Robb always came to her aid, no matter how insignificant her troubles, their looming forms threatening and their eyes blazing. If someone had told them they would rape her or Arya they would have killed them and asked questions later. No, not only was she unable to condemn Jaime, she realized that she herself, Arya, and her brothers would have done the same. It was an unsettling reality, one that shook her previously black and white world.

Jaime, as was his habit, hid his astonishment at her words behind a joke:

“I doubt good old Ned would approve of such behavior, minx,” said he, but his voice sounded too tired and apprehensive to imbue the jest with necessary humor.

“Probably not, but I doubt I would have thought of it.”

Such an honest little minx.

“Careful: next you’ll say that you’re not your daddy’s little girl,” he warned her, his humor almost restored.

“Not in everything. Father didn’t approve of my going to King’s Landing — yet here I am.”

Jaime had wondered how had Ned let her go to the Lannister Ballet Company.

“How did you convince him to allow you to come here?”

She smiled as a fond memory floated before her eyes.

“Mother and I wore him down eventually,” she replied.

“And why would Mother Stark let her baby girl travel to the pit of the world?”
“Because she knows that working in the Lannister Ballet Company is a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She knows, because she watched it for fifteen years, how much I have worked for my dream — and she didn’t have the heart to rip it out of my hands. I guess… She was willing to take a chance on me, knowing that she had taught me right from wrong.”

He stayed quiet for a while. Talking of Aerys always revived the same memories. The rage and the fight; the inescapable despair that came with being a murderer; the loneliness of growing used to scorn. But there were other memories as well, no less dark ones. The anxious agony of fighting for a company’s future while building one. And Cersei’s wedding.

Seeing the odd, dead look in his face, she put her hand on his forearm, dragging him back from the pit of memories that felt like nightmares with her warm, gentle touch. He seemed to return to reality, and a playful smile, which she knew to be his strange shield, came to his face.

“Now you have to forgive me, minx, or I’ll never trust the word of a Northerner again: better not let your people down.”

How much warmth her smile could bring to his world.

“I guess I’ll have to,” she agreed. “I’m afraid I’m becoming a little Southern.”

Her phone buzzed and, seeing it was Ellaria, she took the precaution of stepping away from Jaime before taking the call.

“Hi, Ellaria — ” she began but was cut off:

“Do you still remember about our brunch today? Tyene and I are at the Rose Garden, like we agreed. If you’re fucking the Kingslayer, you have my permission to hang up.”

Sansa blushed so deeply she thought her capillaries would burst.

“I’m not!”

“Then get your little ass here,” was the instant reply.

“I’m on my way,” she said in a voice so full of pleading for her friend not to say any more that Ellaria, wicked woman that she was, laughed.

“Oh, he’s still there, isn’t he? Tyene has so many shopping bags, I’ll be surprised if there’s anything left on his checking account… Though I doubt it’ll put a hole in that pile of gold the Lannisters shit so profusely.”
“Ellaria, I’m getting ready as we speak. I’m going to hang up now and see you in a few minutes!”

She threw her phone and rushed to her room, knowing that if she did not show up soon, she would never hear the end of Ellaria’s crude remarks about Jaime. She was running around, trying to locate her belongings, when she felt his eyes on her.

“I’m sorry, I have to run,” she jabbered, “I completely forgot about my lunch with the Sands!”

“I’m known to have a sclerosis-inducing effect on women,” he said slyly. The jesting Jaime Lannister was back. She would not admit that she had missed him. She rolled her eyes.

“Don’t be so full of yourself!”

“I will let myself out, minx,” he said, amusement in his voice at observing her antics as she ran around, trying to find her thingst.

“Wait, I almost forgot!”

Text from Sparkle to Sand Snaky:

Text me your nephew’s phone number, I’ll explain later.

In a few seconds, Tyene let her know the number with a simplicity that prophesied a grim interrogation in the nearest future.

“What is it, minx? Want to kiss me goodbye?”

She blushed at his remark while she wrote down the number and offered him the sheet of paper.

“Please give this to Myrcella when you see her. I promised I would get her this number.”

He gave her a quizzical look:
“This isn’t a number of a drug dealer, is it, minx? I think you and Cella may both be too young for it.”

Did he just compare me to a five-year-old?!

“Ask her yourself if you want to know,” she said, calculating this would be a better punishment than a retort.

“I will.”

He left. And she was going to be so late!..

 

Chapter Text

He heard the sickening sound of flesh hitting the pavement, and the red shroud that had covered his eyes disintegrated, leaving him in the darkness, alone and aghast. He did not remember how he had made his way to Tyrion’s apartment. His little brother had to pour several glasses of whiskey into him before he could tell him, however poorly, what happened.

“Oh, Jaime, you idiot! You fucking idiot!” Tyrion exclaimed in anguish. “How could you have been so stupid?!”

“He’d have found a way to hurt her, Tyrion.” His voice was dull and toneless. He had suddenly stopped caring for anything at all.

Tyrion squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Even if you needed to kill him, why not be smart about it?”

Jaime had no reply for this. He had never decided to kill Aerys — he had simply felt an unstoppable drive to annihilate the mad monster after his despicable threats had registered in Jaime’s mind.

Tyrion was intelligent enough to help his brother, drunken on shock and Stormlands’ whiskey, to change into new clothes. He cleaned his bloodied knuckles meticulously, but Jaime’s hands, so graceful when he danced, were bruised and bloody. As he fussed around, his short legs more of an obstacle than ever, Tyrion could barely bite down his panic and anger. Anger at them both for their indiscretion; at Cersei for her absence, on an evening like this; and despair at the thought that his brother, his hero and champion, could be taken away from him, because he was so foolish as to have put his life on the line for a woman who did not deserve it. Tyrion hated his sister more than ever and blamed her for Jaime’s predicament. For the first time in his life, he kept thinking of his father’s face with hope and had a mad need to speak with him. For the first time, Tyrion mentally turned his eyes to his father for protection and help. For the first time, he was glad that Tywin’s influence knew practically no bounds. His father was the last thing standing between Tyrion and the dark abyss his life would become without his brother’s smile. When he had put an almost unconscious Jaime to bed, he dialed. The wait felt like an eternity.

“I hope you have a good excuse for calling at this hour,” his father’s cold voice was music to his ears.

“I do. I can’t speak about it on the phone. You must come to the apartment immediately. It’s Jaime. I can’t say more,” Tyrion’s voice poorly hid his anxiety. He did not feel a shred of the pride that, in any other circumstances, would have made him choke on his words: “Please, father, come right away. Make sure no one sees you leave your house and use the backdoor to come up.” Not wishing to hear anything that would diminish his hope, Tyrion hung up. He kept pacing, his brain running in circles, as he tried to find a plausible alibi for Jaime and to steel himself against whatever came next. Tywin arrived at the apartment within forty minutes.

“If you dragged me here for anything that is not a matter of life and death, Tyrion, you will regret it,” he said in his condescending, threatening voice.

Tyrion nodded, closing the entrance door softly and went straight for the bar, pouring his father a generous glass of scotch. He knew that, regardless of his father’s cold tone or his words, Tywin’s appearance at his apartment within an hour of the call was a sign of his apprehension.

“Will you tell me what’s the matter, or keep up this charade?” the father bit out.

Tyrion proffered him the scotch:
“I think you better sit down,” he said.

“What’s the meaning of this?! I will not sit down, until I am fully informed about Jaime. Where’s he?”

“Asleep, in the bedroom.”

“Asleep?!” Tywin looked menacing.

“He just returned from a meeting with Aerys Targaryen, who threatened to brutalize Cersei. The King of Ballet is dead.”

He had never seen his father pale before. Tywin sat down heavily into the armchair, almost as though his strong legs would no longer support him. Some of his scotch spilled, but he did not seem to notice. The Lannister patriarch closed his eyes and stayed still for a moment, waiting for the world to stop spinning, but kept feeling as though the ground had been pulled right out from under his feet.

“How?” was all he managed to say, eyes closed still, his strong voice, for once, not backed by his general appearance.

“He — ” Tyrion began but had to swallow against the strange tightness in his throat; he went to the bar and poured himself another drink. He did not know how many glasses he had already drained — the agitation seemed to evaporate all alcohol from his bloodstream before it could take effect. He swallowed a large mouthful of the burning liquid. “He threw punches until Aerys stumbled and fell from the balcony on which the fighting took place.”

Tywin opened his eyes and drank a generous swallow of scotch.

“Did anyone see them?”

“He doesn’t know, but he would’ve certainly been seen coming into the club and coming out of it. Considering it was dark, whoever saw them on the balcony won’t make for a convincing witness.”

His father did not seem quite himself yet, but there was no time. Tyrion shared the most terrible idea that had occurred to him while he had paced, waiting for Tywin:

“The club has cameras, even in the private rooms where Jaime found him, if they caught it on tape — ”

His father’s motion was so swift it barely registered. He dialed.

“Give me Roose Bolton,” he barked into the phone and waited. “Bolton? Tywin Lannister speaking,” he turned to Tyrion, “what club was it?”

“The Flaming Dragon,” his son supplied.

“No one sees tonight’s tapes from the security cameras of the Flaming Dragon, do you hear me? No one. Not you, not your men. I don’t care how you do it, have them destroyed. Now.”

He hung up and looked at Tyrion.

“What else?”

His younger son was for a few moments too stunned by the swift solution of the problem to speak. Then:

“They could have been heard.”
“That does not prove anything.”

“Unless whoever heard them also heard the noise of the fight. Moreover, when Jaime came in, he was covered in blood. I don’t know if anyone noticed it when he left the club, but if they did — ”

“They might remember it when a body is found in the morning,” Tywin finished.
“It’s probably been found already," Tyrion said, "I think they’ll come for Jaime in the morning…” he paused. “Which is why you should not be here, come sunlight.”

“They may not come at all: there will be little evidence left by the time Bolton is through with the club’s security footage.”

“Unless they’ve already seen the tapes,” Tyrion countered. “The witnesses are likely to have reported Jaime’s presence in the night club. After the many altercations that have been observed between Jaime and Aerys over the past year, he will be the prime suspect.”

Few times had Aerys seen Jaime without throwing insults at him, envious of his rival’s success, and Jaime, short of temper and with the tongue of a wasp, had returned them with interest.

Tywin remained silent. Tyrion suspected he was still trying to come to terms with the cards life had dealt him that night. He knew he had to break through Tywin’s denial.

“Father, they will come for him tomorrow or the day after that, at the latest. You must prepare yourself for that.”

Tywin did not deign him with a reply. His son surmised it was because he did not have an answer.

“What will we do about the witnesses?” Tyrion inquired, looking up at his father with worry.

“They can be bought,” was all Tywin said.

“And the City Watch?”

“I’ll take care of it.”

“He’ll need a very good lawyer.”

“The High Sparrow owes me a favor.”

Despite the odd nickname, the ever-wrinkled clothes, and manic eyes, he was the most feared and successful lawyer in the Seven Kingdoms, maybe the whole world. He had never lost a case.
“What about the prosecutor?”

“I’ll buy him, too. I’ll have Varys start identifying the witnesses and persuading them that they have sclerosis. I will call him from the car.”

“There’s more,” Tyrion went into the kitchen and returned with a garbage bag, which he handed to his father.

“What the hell is this?” Tywin asked indignantly.

If he were still capable of mirth, Tyrion would have laughed.

“It’s his clothes. We cannot have them in the apartment when the City Watch shows up — they are covered in blood. Burn them when you return to the mansion.”

Tywin took the bag wordlessly. The next moment he was gone, and Tyrion felt strangely more lonely and afraid than he had when his father’s large figure had filled the living room. He went quietly into the bedroom and watched his brother’s sleeping face, as he had done on many nights before, when they were children and Tyrion could not sleep. He had been right: the City Watch came for his brother at dawn. And with the first of their knocks on the door, Jaime had awakened from one nightmare and stepped right into the black hole of another.

Jailed, questioned, despised, and accursed, Jaime had lived the worst months of his life. The press, hungry for a story of a rebellious heir killing his rival to pursue a career his father condemned, latched onto it like a starved leech onto flesh. Daario Naharis, one of the most daring reporters in King’s Landing, was the one to invent the nickname “Kingslayer,” which caught on. Jaime hated it. In those days, he first began wondering if he was a murderer; if he would have killed Aerys, had the monster not lost his balance. The first scornful jibes and looks of contempt thrown his way lacerated his pride; he never dreamed that he would have to get used to them. He kept hoping Cersei would visit him in prison, but she did not come, offering various excuses the few times he got to hear her voice on the phone. Tyrion came every day.

Benjen Stark was the prosecutor assigned to the case. Impossible to bribe or persuade, he proved the biggest problem. Finally, Tywin was able to pull the necessary strings higher in the hierarchy to replace him. Soon after, the case was closed, and Jaime was released. But this was only the beginning. Ben Stark, outspoken in his accusations and backed by his brother, Eddard, decried the corruption of the justice system and dragged the Lannister name through the mud whenever they were asked to comment on the case, its result, or Ben’s removal. And they were asked often.

After the effort he had put into liberating his son and the blow the family name had suffered on his account, Tywin expected Jaime to return to the fold. When Jaime refused, father and son did not speak to each other for a year. Tywin redoubled his efforts to crush the Lannister Ballet Company and force his children into the Lannisters & Co. But Tyrion and Jaime did not sleep nights, inventing new compositions, looking for donors and dancers to keep the company from going under. It was then that Ellaria Sand and Oberyn Martell had joined the LBC. Ellaria, who had given birth to Tyene a few years before, was unable to find employment in Dorne, but the moment Jaime and Tyrion had seen her dance, they knew that the few pounds she had yet to lose were immaterial. The Martell family joined the ranks of the foot soldiers in the Lannister Ballet Company. It was a difficult time, and Cersei did not care for it. Too soon, the last blow of that dark time fell on Jaime’s head — his sister left the ship she thought was sinking and married Robert Baratheon, King’s Landing mayor, two years later, plunging Jaime deeper into an endless, constantly spinning abyss, where there was nothing but a gruesome fight for survival. Regardless of his anger at her, his boundless jealousy, or his disappointment, getting lost in his sister’s body became Jaime’s only consolation.

Chapter Text

 “I’m so sorry I’m late!” Sansa exclaimed, rushing into the Rose Garden and joining Ellaria and Tyene at their table. Tyene was literally surrounded by shopping bags with logos of the best labels in the Seven Kingdoms and imported luxury brands. How many are there? Fifty? More? “Oh my gods, Tyene! What’s all this?!”

“Oh, that’s just what I like too much to leave in the car,” she waved her hand carelessly. “The rest is in the trunk. When Jaime Lannister gives you his credit card for the morning, you don’t take it lightly.”

Tyene put a piece of lamb, dripping with gravy, into her mouth. Clearly, this was her day for self-indulgence. Ellaria was smiling.

“Why did Jaime want to get rid of Tyene so much that he was ready to take the risk of letting her deplete his bank account?” asked the older woman with a knowing smile directed at Sansa.

“Yeah, and what did you need Trystane’s number for?” asked Tyene, still chewing.

The second one was a lot easier.
“I met Jaime’s niece, Myrcella Baratheon, during the gala. She wanted to have Trystane’s number because she’s rather fond of him.”

Very nice, Sansa. Enough, but not too much.

“How did you meet her?” Tyene continued her line of questioning. So long as I don’t have to answer her mother…

“The chauffeur who doubles up as a nanny, Barristan Selmy, brought them over because Tommen had had a nightmare. I made them hot chocolate while we waited for their uncle or mother to come down. We chatted.”

“That’s just the sort of thing I would expect you to do,” Ellaria said with an affectionate smile, but then her expression changed to one of wiliness. “What about my question?”

Damn it!

“Which one?” Sansa asked with assumed innocence.

Ellaria, not fooled, was about to say something — apparently, rather awful, if her canny expression was anything to go by — when she was interrupted.

“Would you like to order, miss?”

Saved by the waiter!

“Yes, please…”

Sansa spent an extraordinary amount of time giving her order, asking detailed questions about each dish she considered before she decided. She hoped Ellaria’s attention would be diverted, but the mother was not as easily distracted as the daughter.

“Don’t think for a moment that I’m forgetting you haven’t answered my question. Why did Jaime sacrifice,” she glanced at the shopping bags trying to estimate the total value, “more than what some people make in a year in order to have you alone this morning? What did you do to him?”

Sansa was red.

“I didn’t do anything to him,” she mumbled.

“Well, then what did he do to you?” Ellaria asked with pleasure.

Sansa went redder.

“Nothing!” she squeaked.

“All right, let’s take it once again from the top,” Ellaria continued with infernal patience; Tyene, the traitor, was grinning from ear to ear. “Why did Jaime have to get you alone today?”

“What makes you think he had to?”

Ellaria only raised an eyebrow, pointing to her daughter’s trophies with her eyes.

“Well, why does this make it about me?”

Ellaria’s eyes said two words: Bitch, please!

Oh, Mother, please let me think of a good lie! Sansa pleaded.

Nothing. She could come up with nothing. Why didn’t she lie as smoothly as the Lannister brothers or know how to turn people’s words against them like they did?!

“I don’t know why you always have to make everything about sex,” she said lamely.

Ellaria laughed.

“My poor, innocent, little dear! am not making anything about sex.” Sansa thought it was untrue, but Ellaria went on: “It’s just that any person caught in the same room with you and Jaime begins to get goosebumps just from looking at you two! And when you dance… I wonder how many people have orgasmed just watching you perform yesterday! Hells, even Oberyn and I were turned on!”

Oh, I think it worked! It’s very bad, but at least I don’t have to answer the question!

“That’s the most nonsensical thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” Sansa said matter-of-factly.

Tyene nearly spit a mouthful of her drink and looked at her with wide eyes, seeming almost concerned for her friend.

“You can’t say you don’t feel it or notice it?!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but whatever it is — no!”

Liar, liar pants on fire!

Tyene, stupefied, took a timeout, but her mother jumped back into the ring:

“You mean you don’t notice the way he looks at you, or that you don’t realize how you look at him?” she asked patiently, shrewdly.

“I don’t look at him in any way! And he doesn’t look at me! I don’t know what the two of you are going on about!”

The Dornish women smiled knowingly.

“Honey,” Ellaria began in a sympathetic voice that was nevertheless filled with humor, “I can share with you the way I read glances. If Jaime Lannister could, he would lock you up in his bedroom, and I don’t think he’d ever let you leave. And from the looks of it, you wouldn’t mind!” she winked.

Sansa chocked on her food. It took some painful minutes of coughing, getting even redder, alerting half of the restaurant staff, worrying her friends, and forcing down some water before she could breathe again.

“I’m sorry you chocked, darling, but it’s the truth,” resumed the merciless Ellaria, “and I have an inkling that even you can feel it all the way down to your frozen Northern bones.”

“I can’t, and I don’t think you’re right at all,” Sansa persisted.

“Fine, but what did you talk about today — that is, if you did any taking at all?”

Oh, no, not that again!

“Can we please change the subject?”

“No!” mother and daughter cried in unison.

“Fine.”

Southerners! It was easier to give them what they wanted right away, rather than, in addition, to live through the torture they would put you through trying to get it— they had what they wanted in the end anyway.

“I will only tell you so much, but after that, I don’t want to hear a word on the subject from either of you,” she looked at each of them pointedly. The women nodded, curiosity radiating from their faces. Sansa sighed: she doubted they would keep their wordless promise. “We both said some pretty rude things to each other yesterday evening and… um… I may have slapped him — ”

Tyene interrupted before her mother cold stop her:

“That doesn’t explain why he came by today!”

“He came to apologize,” Sansa explained. She never dreamed the effect her words would have on her listeners: Ellaria and Tyene went silent, frozen in astonishment. Some long moments elapsed before Ellaria blinked a few times and tried to clarify:

“I’m sorry, I don’t think I’m following what you’re telling us here. You and Jaime had an argument yesterday night, right?”

Sansa nodded.

“At the end of which you slapped him?”

She nodded again.

“And then he came to apologize?”

Another nod.

Ellaria leaned back heavily against the booth, as though the shock was too much for her to bear without support. Tyene just looked on, a little stupidly.

“You’re kidding?”

Sansa shook her head. Ellaria and Tyene exchanged glances then laughed — uproariously, hysterically. No matter what she did, Sansa could not get them to calm down. The whole restaurant was looking at them. Tears were in their eyes by the time they could control themselves. Ellaria motioned to the waiter and ordered champagne.

“You know, my dear,” she said to Sansa, wiping at her wet cheeks, “maybe, instead of giving you advice, I should ask you for some. I would like to be able to slap Oberyn across the face and then have him spend outrageous sums of money just to have the chance of apologizing!”

“Same,” agreed Tyene.

“And you haven’t even slept with him yet?” Ellaria asked with delight.

“What do you mean ‘yet’? I have not, nor will I ever sleep with Jaime Lannister!” Sansa exclaimed, annoyed and outraged.

Mother and daughter laughed again.

“Well, this sounds interesting!” came a voice that sounded like silver bells.

Oh, no, please! Mother, Maiden, and Crone! 

Margery joined them at the table.

 “What are you doing here?” Sansa asked, trying to prepare herself for another round of interrogation.

“Tyrion’s lunching with Tywin, and I have arranged to join you and the Sand Snakes when I learned from Tyene you were hanging out. Aren’t you happy to see me?”

“Of course, I am.”

I just wish you came a few moments later — or maybe not at all, considering the topic of our conversation.

“What did I miss?” Margery asked, picking up a menu.

Ellaria, still with wonder in her eyes, decided to update her:

“Our virginal goodie-two-shoes here has Jaime Lannister in such a state that after she yells at him and slaps him, he’s only too happy to drop his defenseless credit card into my daughter’s grabbing little hands,” she pinched Tyene’s cheek lovingly, “just to be able to apologize to her.”

Margery turned to Sansa with a bemused smile. She, too, was speechless. Mother, please, be good, I need some help here!..

“Sansa!” came children’s voices.

The women turned and saw the Baratheon cherubs rush down to Sansa as their mother, her ominous face arranged in a tight smile, followed them. Tommen hugged Sansa, and Myrcella kissed her cheek. Only then did the children greet the others.

“Ah, if it isn’t the dancing club!” came Cersei’s condescending voice. “Come children, let’s go. I thought I had taught you better than to associate with the riff-raff.”

She patted them lightly on the backs, and, hanging their heads, Myrcella and Tommen continued along to the usual table at which they sat whenever their mother awarded them enough time to share a weekend brunch with them. They turned around and, noticing that she was not looking, waved a timid goodbye to their new friend. Cersei was about to follow when Ellaria held her up:

“Tell me, Cersei, in your experience of your twin, which, as all know, goes deeper than it usually does among siblings, is it quite normal for him to waste money buying time for apologies?”

“What are you talking about?” Cersei asked with dismissive exasperation.

“Just answer me this: if someone your brother knew only a few months would have slapped him across the face, would he be likely to make any effort to apologize?”

“Of course not!” Cersei snarled, and Ellaria’s grin was, by any measure, triumphant.

“Apparently, not anymore,” she said with vengeful pleasure.

“What do you mean?”

Ellaria looked as casual as if she were updating her on the weather:

“Seems like he was so out of line yesterday evening that Sansa had to slap him. Oh, but don’t worry — they’re reconciled. After he came to apologize, of course.”

During the entire conversation Sansa wished dearly she could dematerialize. The ground swallowing her whole was another very appealing option. She did not quite feel the power adrenaline had given her the night before, and by the end of Ellaria’s speech, she was genuinely scared for her life. Cersei turned on her, eyes blazing with jealousy and hatred.

Ellaria, why do you have no filter?!
“Stay away from my brother, you little whore,” Jaime’s sister hissed.

Sansa was too perturbed to answer; Ellaria was not:

“She would, if she could! But, you see, it’s Jaime, really, who’s the catalyst. He just won’t leave her alone! Imagine that?” Ellaria was positively gleeful; so were Margery and Tyene. Cersei ignored her and leaned toward Sansa, her delicate perfume stifling her unwilling interlocutor.

“Stay away from Jaime, or you will regret it,” she repeated her warning and left.

“Did you have to do that?!” Sansa barked at Ellaria when Cersei was out of sight.

“Darling, it’s for her own good! The faster we learn that a certain stage in our lives is over, the better it is in the long run!” she answered and winked.

Text from Margery Tyrell to Most Loved Little Man:

I’ve got the best of news. You won’t believe it! Apparently, Sansa and Jaime had an argument last night, and she slapped him. Guess what? He gave Tyene his credit card for the morning to get rid of her and APOLOGIZE to Sansa!

1 minute pause.

Text from Most Loved Little Man to Margery Tyrell:

No shit?! 

Text from Most Loved Little Man to Margery Tyrell:

OMG!

Text from Most Loved Little Man to Margery Tyrell:

Wait till father hears this!

Text from Margery Tyrell to Most Loved Little Man:

I know! :D

Tommen and Myrcella were very quiet, thank the gods. They were usually far too chatty for her liking. Cersei Lannister was convinced of several things: one, that she was the most beautiful woman in the world; two, that, as such, she could do as she pleased; and three, that her twin brother would always be hers, no matter what she did. It would be difficult for Cersei to differentiate between love and possession. They seemed like natural continuations of one another. She loved being loved, knowing that someone belonged to her. Jaime was the one she liked having love her more than anyone else, because her twin had this way of loving — giving all of himself to her, leaving nothing to the rest of the world. And she liked taking his love more than anything. She had never once doubted that Jaime, her brother, her lover, would always be hers. After all, could there be a bond stronger than that of blood and flesh? The other men were distractions, amusements, diversifications. It was as though Jaime was the good red wine she always liked, but one cold not live on just one drink. She always drank red, but she never drank only red. That was how it was with Jaime and the other men. As her brother and a being almost as perfect as she, Cersei felt Jaime was the only man entitled to take her for the first time; the only man whose children she would condescend to have. She had deigned to place him on the step right below her own and considerably above everyone else. She had his children because she had realized that, one day, Jaime might want a family and could be so misguided as to consider having one. Of course, he would never leave her behind, but it would be an inconvenience — it was easier if he was alone. Besides, at the time he was so mad about her marrying Robert Baratheon, she had to do something…

Cersei liked seeing her brother come alone to father’s galas, family dinners, and other social occasions. His solitude was a silent, secret symbol of her ownership of him — like a collar. When she had first seen him with the redhead bitch, Cersei had not believed her eyes, thinking they must have simply run into each other inside. Not until Jaime had offered the little slut his arm did she begin to realize that — for the first time — Jaime had not come alone. She assumed the devious monkey had something to do with it. Although she did not believe for a moment that Jaime had any feelings for the little cunt, she disliked seeing him, her brother, her lover, accompany another woman. Cersei had lived many unpleasant minutes that evening.

The way father could not stop showing the whore off was infuriating — how could he not realize, she had wondered illogically, that this was all a farce? A façade necessary to prevent her and Jaime from being discovered?

Jaime was a good actor, she had thought, as she had watched them interact. You could almost believe that he liked the girl. But even Jaime could not keep up the charade too long, and he had left the Stark whore after the foxtrot. Tyrion, unsurprisingly, had tried spoiling her evening with the annoying chatter of weddings and children. Cersei enjoyed humiliating people who annoyed her — it was one of her many useful gifts. Besides, making the Stark slut realize how infinitely beneath her and her twin she was would clear her and Tyrion’s ugly heads of any ideas. Sansa’s eyes, full of fury, had unsettled her a little, and even though the girl had danced fairly well, Cersei waited with patience for the pleasurable moment when Sansa would stumble onto the pause. She had not expected Jaime to interfere with her plan.

She had not liked the way he watched the girl when they danced. There was unmistakable lust in his eyes, which she knew well, but there was something more — an odd admiration that looked almost like adoration. She could not say for sure if he had ever looked at her this way; certainly not in a while. This was all the children’s fault — they created unnecessary complications. Like when he had flown off the handle when she had refused him shared custody: the very notion was ridiculous! Nevertheless, it was Cersei’s policy to be safe rather than sorry, and she had demanded, with every right to it, she thought, that he dismiss the girl from the company. His uncompromising refusal had surprised her, but it would not last — after all, whenever she wanted anything from any man, sex was the answer. Withhold it, and he would gladly do her bidding. Jaime, like most men, was rather simple in this way. She did not allow herself to doubt — that was just a way of getting early wrinkles. She would wait. After all, good things always come…

Tyrion had been awakened at the ungodly hour of eight in the morning by the buzzing of his phone and greeted by the ghastly voice of his father’s personal assistant.

My gods, but Ramsay Bolton sounds like a serial killer! Perhaps, that’s why father’s hired him — there’s little anyone won’t do to end a conversation with the creep as quickly as possible, Tyrion thought as he wiggled out from under Margery, who, even in her sleep, was rather hard to shake off. Tyrion could grumble all he wanted, but he treasured the way she clung to him in slumber — it never failed to make his heart jump as happily as a puppy. He was surprised when Ramsay explained that Mr. Lannister wanted to lunch with him that same day. The son had expected his father to find time for him within a month of the gala, maybe two weeks — but not on the next day. He assured Ramsay the Creep that he was free to lunch with “Lord Lannister,” and crawled into bed, where Margery’s arms cuddled him back to sleep. It seemed he was only dozing for a few minutes, but the uncompromising alarm clock soon announced the official beginning of the day.

Now, hours after Ramsay’s disturbing voice had invaded Tyrion’s morning, he was seated in front of his father at the restaurant atop the Red Keep, one of the tallest skyscrapers in the city (read: the world) that took its name from the historical site located in its vicinity. Tywin Lannister frequently lunched there. His favorite table was always ready for him, always kept unoccupied in the expectation of his arrival, even if the Lannister patriarch was not coming. They had just ordered, when Tyrion’s phone buzzed. Disliking having to take out his phone in his father’s presence, he looked discreetly at the screen — it was a text from Margery.

“I thought I had at least taught you that staring at your phone at mealtime is the height of bad manners,” Tywin commented drily.

“Sorry, father,” Tyrion apologized. Was he four, to be reprimanded in this way? And worse: how could he, a man in his early thirties, still be affected by the admonition? “It’s from Margery…” he said and returned to reading the text. He had to re-read it; and re-read it a few more times, before a happy smile that illuminated the world with brotherly love spread across his face. He quickly typed the replies and turned to Tywin. “You’ll never guess what happened!”

Tywin’s aspect indicated that he did not care for this expression.

“Apparently, Jaime and Sansa had an argument, which ended with her slapping him.”
Tywin’s face fell, and Tyrion paused. Satisfied with the effect, the son continued:

“And, it seems, Jaime gave his credit card to her roommate, Tyene Sand, so that he could apologize to Sansa.”

Tywin looked very pleased.

“Good,” was all he said. “Now, you and I — will you put your phone away for one hour, Tyrion?! — we must discuss how to ensure that Jaime and that lovely girl spend as much time together as possible.”
“And how will we arrange that?”

“I understand that in your line of work,” Why does he say it as though we run a drug dealing ring? , “there’s a constant need to invent something new, isn’t that right?”

“Of course,” Tyrion said, still wondering what his father had come up with.

“Any new ballets you’re planning?”

“There’s one we’ve been brainstorming for, yes.”

What did the old tyrant have in mind?

“And Jaime will be the male lead?”

“Yes.” Ladies and gentlemen, today: Tywin Lannister — the bleeding obvious! “Father, where are you going with this?”
“Tyrion, if you haven’t caught up yet, you’re a fool!” His son was silent, and Tywin went on: “Don’t scowl, it makes you look like one of my late uncles. Sansa should be cast to perform the female lead — nothing could be simpler, really, especially considering her outstanding talent.”

Damn. That was a good idea! All the rehearsals, the dancing, the late nights spent polishing steps. Tyrion grinned and was shocked to see a mirroring expression on his father’s face. It was odd for him, plotting something with his father — the last time they had done so was the night before Jaime had been arrested and charged with murder. No less odd for Tyrion was seeing his father smile: watching the thin lips, always grim, express anything other than coldness created a major cognitive dissonance in Tyrion’s mind.

“What is the plot of the ballet?” Tywin inquired.

They had never talked about ballet before; usually, Tywin avoided discussing his sons’ careers, unless it was in an attempt to persuade Jaime and Tyrion to give them up. He had never before expressed an interest in what they were creating. Tyrion felt oddly nervous. He cleared his throat.

“The oldest story in the world, really. A king invades a land, where he discovers the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Unwittingly killing her betrothed at her wedding, he takes the young woman prisoner and, with his army in tow, returns to his kingdom. There, the King’s mistress has anxiously awaited his return, but he ignores her, captivated by the beautiful woman he had discovered during his conquest of the foreign land. No matter what he does, the beauty rejects him, but he no longer wants his mistress, whose attempts to win back his love prove unsuccessful. Finally, the mistress, driven to madness by jealousy, comes to her rival’s bedchamber to kill her, and is surprised to find that her unwilling adversary wants nothing more than death. Though she’s in awe of her rival’s beauty and courage, the mistress kills her before the King and his guards can stop her. The King tries to execute the murderess with his own hand but cannot, so he orders her to be thrown from the wall of his castle. She falls to her death, leaving him alone and unconsoled.” Tyrion took a breath, surprised that his father had not interrupted. “I think Sansa will be wonderful as the prisoner,” he added.

“On the contrary — Sansa should play the mistress,” Tywin countered as though it were self-evident.

Tyrion could not believe his ears.

“The rejected mistress?”

“The loving, seducing mistress, who is so passionately enamored of her beloved, she’s ready to kill her rival at the risk of her own life,” Tywin clarified. Seeing his son’s incomprehension, he explained his line of thought: “The reason Jaime is not doing everything in his power to win Sansa over, regardless of how he may feel about her, is because he fears rejection. Much like you did when you and Margery had first grown close — before you ran into each other one night when you were too drunk to be afraid…”

How in the Seven Hells does father know that?!

“Who told you about this?” Tyrion asked in a tone that was none too friendly. Tywin did not reveal much:

“I have my sources,” he admitted and returned to the earlier point of discussion: “Jaime’s case is worse, I’m afraid. His fear of rejection is so colossal, he cannot see through it long enough to overcome denial and admit to himself what he wants.”

“Have you been taking Psychology courses at King’s Landing University while we weren’t looking?” Tyrion quipped.

“Your misplaced humor is not appreciated, Tyrion. Jaime does not need to be rejected — he needs to be loved and seduced. Which is why you,” Tywin pointed at his younger son with his index finger, “will make sure that Sansa Stark is cast as a loving and passionate character rather than a cold and rejecting one.”

Regardless of his surprise at his father’s oddly profound analysis of Jaime’s truly hopeless case or Tywin’s knowledge of his own relationship with Margery, Tyrion had to admit the truth behind his father’s words. Sansa could indeed come across as reserved and unapproachable, but when she danced, she had the power to enchant and tempt. And if Jaime saw her in the role of a woman who loved him desperately enough to commit murder — something he himself knew a thing or two about — he could find the image enticing enough to risk his pride and his understanding of his own identity and dive in. Tyrion could not help the conspiratorial grin that twisted his lips.

“I see you’re finally on the same page,” Tywin said and raised his wine glass. “To the new production of the Lannister Ballet Company,” he toasted, and they clinked their glasses. Tyrion was surprised that his father could drink to the success of his and Jaime’s company without chocking.

Meanwhile, the girls had finished their brunch and had walked around long enough to find a nearby coffee shop very inviting. They sat down at a table on an open terrace, enjoying the sun, and gave their orders. Ellaria’s eyes were closed and a smile of contentment was playing on her lips. She took a few minutes to enjoy the sun, then turned to her friends.

"I’m actually very glad we’re all here," she began; Tyene looked giddy for some reason, and Ellaria brushed her cheek with exceeding gentleness. "There are some news I would like to share with you."

Margery and Sansa looked at her curiously.

"Oberyn and I are going to have another child," she said with a joyful smile. "Tyene is all grown up now, and we still have strength for one more, I think."

Margery and Sansa squealed and jumped to embrace her.

"How long have you known?" Sansa exclaimed.

"Do you know if it will be a boy or a girl?" asked Margery.

"Margery, look at her, she isn’t even showing yet! How can they possibly know?!" Sansa laughed, remembering all the excitement that had surrounded her mother’s latest pregnancy and Rickon’s birth. She was so happy for Ellaria.

"You’re not leaving the company, are you?" asked Margery with concern.

“I’ll keep teaching until I have the baby in my studio," Ellaria said with determination. “I’ll have to stop performing for a time, but I’ll be back soon after I give birth — it’s nothing I haven’t done before!" she said, winking at her daughter.

Sansa took her hands in hers.
“I’m so happy for you," she said with feeling. "And for this world, too — how wonderful to have one more of your family in it! I hope you let me babysit, once you think the baby is old enough: I am fully qualified, what with three younger siblings. Besides, I know you’ll want to get some time alone with your husband," she added.

"Oh, Mother! Sansa, did you just make an inappropriate joke?" Margery exclaimed.

Sansa looked at her aghast and turned a deep shade of red.

"What? No! That’s not what I meant at all!..”

The plot of the ballet comes from one of the most beautiful, famous, and tragic Russian ballets — The Fountain of Bakhchisarai.

Chapter Text

The next day, she had Oberyn’s masterclass. When Tyene and she entered, her friend’s father exclaimed:

"Ah, there you are! Tyene, snaky, you go stand with the others, and you," he pointed to Sansa, "come stand by me."

With a look of confusion in Tyene’s direction, Sansa approached him. Oberyn was busying himself with the laptop, which was connected to the projector. The projector was not on, but, looking at the computer screen, Sansa noticed that he had pulled up a webpage from the most popular dancing videos website in the Seven Kingdoms and beyond. Sansa was unnerved by the unusual situation. After he had arranged everything to his satisfaction, Oberyn turned to look at the group.

"When Sansa first came to my studio," Oberyn began, "I thought to myself: how much beauty and grace, but no fire! So, as you all know, I called her Sparkle, and I think it’s a most appropriate nickname. Sansa may look like one of those Northern snowflakes, but that won’t fool me anymore. She’s a deceitful snowflake, who masquerades as frozen water but is really something else! Now, we all know that Sparkle works harder than is healthy for a human being to do, and I’m proud to say that her work, her dedication, and her passion for dancing has paid off. Her first class, she was one of the stiffest and most awkward improvisers I had ever seen." Sansa was reddening with embarrassment at his critical words. Suddenly, Oberyn scooped her up and sat her on his left shoulder, simultaneously projecting the webpage for all to see. "Students, I give you one of the best improvised performances I had the pleasure of seeing in my entire life. By our very own Sparkle."

Still keeping her on his shoulder, as if she were a child, Oberyn hit play. It was her and Jaime’s dance from the gala. One of the guests must have recorded it and put it online. Perhaps, the official photographers had captured it with their cameras — the quality of the recording was very good. Sansa could not recognize herself in Jaime’s partner. The couple was so beautiful, more alive than anything she had ever seen. Their movements certain and perfect, they looked as if they had performed this dance hundreds of times before. She kept looking at Jaime, but then the somewhat delayed realization that she was seeing herself hit her and drew her eyes to the female dancer. The young woman’s expression was inspired, her blazing eyes fixed on her partner’s face. Sansa had never seen a face so foreign to her or so transfixed with passion. Surely, this young woman with eyes that spoke of fervor and determination could not be she, Sansa Stark of Winterfell? Then, she looked back at Jaime, and her heart skipped a beat when she saw his face. Now that his hands were not on her body and his presence did not fill her mind to the brink, until she felt she could take in no more feeling, no more images, she saw the passion which had transformed her own features mirrored in his eyes. Her heart leapt in her chest, but she caught it with both hands before it could fly away — it was not for her, this passion; it was just the way he danced. She need not project her own emotions onto him. She must not.

She tried watching the dance as, over the years, she had watched thousands of other videos on this website, but could not. She kept recalling the feeling of being alone with him in a room full of people, of existing in a universe where she could drown in his eyes with every one of her breaths and feel the warmth of his hands on her waist, sense his strong body move in harmony with hers. She was again mesmerized by him, her mind and body catching fire at her memories. But, as it had during the gala, the dance was over soon. She was still perched on Oberyn’s shoulder, when the video had ended. The Dornishman said loudly:

"A round of applause for Sansa, ladies and gentlemen! A round of applause!" They all clapped, smiling, admiring, a little surprised. Oberyn put her back on her feet and gave her a graceful bow. "Sparkle," he said, "I’ve nothing more to teach you, I’m afraid."

Martell began the class, but Sansa kept feeling curious looks directed at her. Loras whispered "bravo" when they formed a line to begin their improvisations, and Tyene, like she had done on several occasions before, clasped Sansa’s hand with feeling, a happy smile on her face.

When the shock Oberyn had dealt her wore off somewhat, which had not happened until sometime after the masterclass was over, Sansa’s brain was paralyzed by one terrifying thought.Oh. My. Gods. It’s online. Dad.Horror overcame her. Mother! Her terror increased.Oh, no! As if in confirmation of her fears, when she looked at her phone, dreading to see unanswered calls from her parents, she was greeted by two messages. One from Ygritte, the other from Talisa.

Text from Ygritte to Sansa:

Girl! R u fuckin the Kingslayer?! ;D

Oh no, was all Sansa could think. The apocalypse had begun. She looked at the other message.

Text from Talisa to Sansa:

Hey, friend! Ygritte’s just sent me a video of you and Jaime Lannister dancing. You look really beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you dance like that. Just in case, I’m not showing it to Robb, unless you want me to. :)

Maybe there was still a chance to fix this. If she was very, very lucky, that is.

Text from Sansa to Ygritte:

Yg! 1) NOT sleeping with JL 2) Show that video to anyone else in the family besides Talisa, and I’ll never call you a friend again! I’m serious. And gods forbid Jon ever sees it! Please, don’t do this to me!

Text from Sansa to Talisa:

Thank you, darling! PLEASE DO NOT TELL ROBB OR ANYONE IN THE FAMILY ABOUT THAT!

Text from Talisa to Sansa:

Sure thing, friend! :)

Her frantic, panic-stricken mind was estimating the likelihood of anyone else in her family finding out. Father did not even know the website existed. Unless someone showed him the video, he would never see it. Luckily, except herself, no one in his acquaintance was actually connected with dancing in any way. And what Ned Stark did not know could not hurt him; or lead him to filicide and double murder. Mother did know about the website, but only because Sansa periodically brought her own laptop to Catelyn to show her something she liked. Mother did not have an account there, so she would not receive any notifications. Like father, unless shown, Catelyn would never see the video.

Her train of thought was interrupted with,

Text from Ygritte to Sansa:

Girl, you sound a little too defensive. You need to get laid. ;P But ok, not sharing the video with anyone. You guys look hot, though. I almost wish I could show it to Jon, just to see his reaction. Don’t worry - i won’t, i won’t. ;) But, girl, fuck that man — I bet he’d show you a good time! ;)

Sansa let out a breath. At least Ygritte was not being too difficult. Her mind returned to her list. Jon and Robb had not seen the video; they did not know about the website, and they did not care for dancing; and since Ygritte and Talisa were being silenced by her pleading and threatening texts, that was covered. Arya would rather eat her own sports shoes than watch anything dance-related. Sansa had never been more grateful for her sister’s lack of interest in her profession. Bran was interested in dancing no more than Jon or Robb. Rickon was a baby, thank the gods, and one who did not like dancing either, always sleeping as he was through her performances. That was it, wasn’t it? She was safe! But another dreadful thought came to her.

Theon.

That, on the other hand, was bad. She hated Robb’s friend, who always went out of his way to make her life miserable. Speak of the Stranger, and he doth appear. Her screen lit up with,

Text from Prick Greyjoy to Sansa Stark:

Someone’s having waaay too much fun in KL. Have your parents seen this yet? I’m pretty sure they’ll be curious to know their little girl’s eyefucking the Kingslayer. Or is it just fucking?

Her heart dropped.

Damn it, damn it, damn it! DAMN HIM! Think, Sansa, think!

Then, an idea occurred to her.

Text from Sansa to Ygritte:

I need a favor. Greyjoy’s seen the video and is threatening to show it to mom and dad. Please tell him not to. He’s scared of you. Pretty please?

Text from Ygritte to Sansa:

On it, girl! Don’t fret. :) But do me a favor, then — think about fucking the Kingslayer, will ya? ;)

Text from Jon’s Redhead Murderess to GreyFuckerJoyless:

Theon, if anyone sees that video of Sansa and the Lannister, I will personally show you everything I’ve learned in Dr. Mormont’s operating room. WITHOUT anesthesia. Got it?

5 minute pause.

Text from GreyFuckerJoyless to Jon’s Redhead Murderess:

Fine, I won’t. Chill, Yg. Please.

Two days after Oberyn’s wife had announced the happy news to her friends and a day after Sansa had temporarily managed a potential crisis, Jaime Lannister entered Ellaria’s studio at the beginning of the master class. Ellaria had not arrived yet. As soon as he walked in, the laughter and talking ceased, replaced by a silence that sizzled with apprehension. Sansa, who had by then realized that Jaime’s bark was worse than his bite, found this a little amusing. After all, if he did not murder her on the spot for slapping him across the face, surely, her peers had nothing to fear from him for talking before the class had even begun.

"I’m glad to see you lot still remember me," he stated with a smirk, which showed he understood that their apprehension was explained by the collective trauma he had given them the last time they had met during his masterclass. Sansa bit back her smile. "Ellaria isn’t coming today," he continued, "the lazy woman didn’t feel like teaching you loafs this morning."

Sansa turned to Tyene with a worried frown and whispered:

"Where’s your mother?"

Her friend glanced at Jaime and smiled warmly.

"Jaime and Tyrion managed to get her as a patient to the best obstetrician in the city — maester Luwin. He delivered even Tommen and Myrcella Baratheon! He’s so renowned, he doesn’t take new patients anymore, but when the Lannisters ask…" She did not need to finish. You don’t refuse a Lannister.

Sansa was surprised to learn that master Luwin, whose patient her mother had been since she had Robb, had also delivered Jaime’s children.

Meanwhile, Jaime was saying:

"Now, seeing as Ellaria will not be here today, I’ve got you all to myself." He paused, and Sansa took a deep breath, beginning the mental mobilization of courage and strength for seven hours of dancing. "We will continue what you’ve been doing in her class," he added casually, and Sansa was certain she was not the only one who had breathed a sigh of relief.

She was surprised by how well Jaime taught Ellaria’s class. Like during his own masterclass, he corrected the students’ movements with a careless air that was at odds with his ability to notice even the smallest imperfections. Sansa felt enormous relief when he did not refer to her as "minx," or behave differently with her than the other students. Of course, she preferred the professional tone he had adopted with her during class. She did not at all feel as though she wasn’t given enough attention. She did not suspect how many jokes Jaime had to swallow, trying as he was to be considerate.

In the middle of the class, Jaime spotted his little brother coming toward the studio accompanied by a young man with dark, curly hair that reached almost to his shoulders. They stopped by the open doors, and Jaime did not like the way the young man’s eyes had immediately focused on Sansa, nor the way his face had lit up with a smile, which announced that he had missed her. No, Jaime Lannister did not like that at all. He liked even less that the moment Sansa caught sight of the intruder, she paused mid-movement and, with a cry of delight, rushed to the young man and threw herself into his harms, kissing his cheeks and laughing.

Who the fuck was he?!

"What are you doing here?" Sansa was questioning excitedly, and Jaime wondered, with displeasure, if he had ever seen her so happy. He approached the pair with an expression more menacing than he realized.

"Mother mentioned you were sad when you were talking a few days ago, so I cleared my schedule as quickly as I could to come and make sure you were all right," the dark-haired youth was saying.

So she knows his family, too…

"You’re such a dear to have come!" The minx hugged the young man again and turned to Jaime, a thrilled smile still on her lips and pleading in her eyes. "Oh, Jaime, do you mind if I skip the rest of the class?"

Do I mind?!

Sansa was going to skip his class because of some somber looking kid, who was not nearly good enough for her? Was she kidding?!

“Of course — ” I mind he began saying, but Tyrion, nasty little monkey, cut him off before he could finish:

"… he doesn’t mind at all! You kids go and have fun! Sparkle, show Jon all there is to see in the city when one has only a day!"

At least he wasn’t staying.

Letting out a squeal, which Jaime considered entirely undignified, Sansa quickly gathered her belongings and left with Jon — whoever the fuck he was.

Tyrion looked at his fuming brother with amusement, enjoying the sight of Jaime’s jealousy, when his sibling turned on him in fury:

“Why in seven hells do you think you can allow my student to leave my classroom without my permission?!” he growled, and Tyrion chuckled. So many my’s. After watching with satisfaction how Jaime’s angry eyes had followed Jon and Sansa down the corridor, he took pity on his elder brother.

“Jaime, the young man is Jon Stark, he came to see his sister,” Tyrion said in an artificially indifferent tone and observed with satisfaction how his brother’s face became a palette on which relief mixed with annoyance. Father’s right. Jaime’s in denial. Big time. He’s probably imagining now that he was merely concerned for Sansa’s general well-being. (His brother was, in fact, telling himself just that.) Tyrion continued in the same careless voice: “Unlike in our family, the relationships between the Stark siblings are rather uncomplicated and ordinary — dull even." He swore he could see Jaime’s eyes blaze with additional rage for a moment. "Besides," he noted casually, "Jon Stark has a girlfriend, Ygritte, the sister of that very Tormund, who still thirsts for your blood over your treatment of Sansa."

"My treatment of Sansa?"

Before Jaime could tell him everything he thought about this comment, Tyrion decided to remind him that he had a masterclass to finish:

"Your students eagerly await, Ser Jaime," he said and was rewarded with a deadly glare. If looks could kill, Jaime’s eyes might have done something his lawyer would have regretted.

"Who was that angry-looking fellow who seemed to want nothing more than to snap my neck?" Jon asked when Sansa had re-emerged from the changing room and they were walking toward the exit. All the while, Sansa kept repeating to herself like a mantra: If he had seen that video, you would have known it by now. He simply talked to mom, who has not seen it either. You’d hear of it if she had.

"Who, Jaime?" she asked, recalling that the Lannister had looked rather angry for some reason. I should not have asked to skip the class… But Jon’s only here for so little time…

"How would I know?" Jon answered. "The tall one, with blond hair."

Oh, thank the gods! He has NOT seen that video. Otherwise, he would not have been asking me who Jaime was.

"That’s Jaime Lannister," Sansa answered with affected nonchalance.

"The Kingslayer?" Jon did not even pretend to hide his surprise — or displeasure.

"Don’t call him that, but yes."

“Why not?” Jon questioned. She only shrugged by way of an answer, and he continued: “When you said you were going to the Lannister Ballet Company, I don’t think any of us realized he’d be teaching you.” He sounded a little reproachful and quite worried.

“Jaime only does so very rarely," Sansa admitted and decided to speak of something safer and more pleasant: "I cannot believe you flew here all the way from the Wall just to check on me!"

The Wall Hospital and Medical School, renowned for its clean air and outstanding professionals, was where Jon studied to be a surgeon under Jeor Mormont’s mentorship.

"Of course, I did," her brother replied, and she smiled.

When they were very young children, who had been born only one year apart, Jon and Sansa had a little bit of a war for their mother’s affection. The siblings’ jealousy caused Catelyn a lot of trouble. As they grew older, however, they became closer. Jon’s quiet nature made him Sansa’s confidant after she had a fight with her best friend, Jeyne Poole. When Sansa, and not Jeyne, was cast in the leading role for the Winterfell Academy of Ballet Children Production, her friend told Sansa she would never forgive her. That evening, Catelyn brought his ten-year-old sister home from ballet practice, and Jon noticed that Sansa had been crying. He was quick to forget the antagonism that usually colored their interactions, and kept patiently asking her what was the matter for as long as it took her to tell him about Jeyne. Unlike Catelyn, who, dismissing the gravity little Sansa perceived in the fight, urged her daughter to make peace, Jon told his sister that Jeyne was an envious, mean girl and did not deserve to be her friend. Sansa had been surprised to find such support in her rival for mother’s affection. This incident had initiated a truce, in the course of which they became close friends, who shared secrets, dreams, and daily troubles. Sansa was the first to know of Jon’s infatuation with Ygritte, for instance. One night, shortly after the first school year when Jon was not at home had begun (and she missed him terribly), he had called her from college, complaining about a wanton girl who was making fun of him. After a detailed interrogation by Sansa, Jon grudgingly admitted that he liked Ygritte despite her beastliness. His sister encouraged him to pay the girl a little more attention, rightly guessing that teasing was her way of making Jon notice her. In other words, Jon and Sansa were more than siblings — they were best friends.

"Mother and I spoke a few days ago, and she sounded upset," Jon was saying, "After some questioning, I found out you had called her earlier, crying. She said it was only homesickness, but I wanted to make sure it was nothing more. You’re lucky I’ve convinced Robb not to fly down as well, or you would have both of us sleeping on your couch tonight."

"I don’t think you and Robb would fit on that one couch. Honestly, I doubt you alone will be comfortable, either," she said. "How’s he doing? I haven’t spoken to him in the past two weeks."

Robb, the eldest Stark child, was a little wild. No particularly troublesome event had stained his biography, but, unlike Jon, who was serious and reserved, Robb was a careless party animal. He took two gap years between high school and college to go hitchhiking across the Seven Kingdoms and the Free Cities, doing side-jobs to get the little money he needed. Catelyn and Eddard had been seriously worried about his future. Then, during his time in a Volantis ER, where he had been forced to pay a visit after a small brawl the night before, Robb had met Talisa Maegyr, a serious and level-headed girl, who volunteered at the hospital during her gap year and dreamed of going to the University of Highgarden to get a degree in public health. Robb, who had fallen deeply in love with her, applied to the same school. He was now studying engineering, which surprised his family even more than his decision to pursue higher education. Needless to say, the way she had put Robb on the right path forever endeared Talisa to Catelyn and Ned Stark.

"He’s still studying engineering, if that’s what you’re asking," Jon joked, "and Talisa still puts up with him, thank gods… But I’m more interested to know how you’ve been doing."

"I’m all right," she said. "As you know, I have friends, who are wonderful, if occasionally aggravating."

They called each other at least a few times a week, and she had told him all about Tyene, Margery, Tyrion, Ellaria, Oberyn, Brienne, and Tormund. All of them… Except Jaime.

“You know, Tormund keeps sending Ygritte updates on you — I enjoy listening to them. He’s worried you aren’t eating much — ”

“I eat enough!”

“Don’t get so defensive, ballerina. As long as the Northern wind cannot blow you away too easily — ” She punched him on the arm. “Ouch!” he exclaimed, faking pain. "By the way, have you heard that Arya knocked some sense into a kid who claimed you were a Southerner?"
"I have!" Sansa smiled.

"Thank the Warrior someone is left to defend family honor!" Jon declared with mock concern.

They laughed, then he suddenly turned serious, as if an afterthought occurred to him.

"Sansa, why does Jaime Lannister look at you like Robb does when Talisa smiles at any other guy, even if he’s ninety years old?"

No! She was not about to hear that from Jon. She would not read anything into Jaime’s anger today — he was annoyed, because Jon and she had interrupted his class. That was all. She would not allow herself to remember the expression she had first noticed on his face in the video Oberyn had showed in class and which she had, secretly, found and re-watched many times on her own.

"Jon, that’s nonsense. Don’t be silly. Jaime Lannister thinks himself the best thing that has happened to this world since Eldric Shadowchaser. Believe me, he’s far too high and mighty to be looking with jealousy at anyone."

Jon looked almost convinced. Thank the Mother he was not as persistent as the Sand Snakes.

"If you think so, all the better. But I still don’t like him."

"I give you leave to dislike him all you want," she said. "Now, where do you want to go for lunch?"

Jon made an expression of mock astonishment:

"You mean you will actually eat real human food and not whatever you and the rest of the Children of the Forest consume on a daily basis?!"

"You know, I can always take you to a wonderful little restaurant that serves exclusively salads," she suggested with an evil grin.

Jon’s face fell.

"Have mercy, Sansa. I did not fly all this way to eat some tasteless leaves of no nutritional value!"

"No, you flew here to see me!" she replied with amusement. "What do you care if we eat salads or steaks?" Noticing her brother’s dejected face, she took his hand in hers and said: "But, seeing as I will never have it said about me that I let my own brother starve, I guess I’ll have to feed you some grilled meat, after all."

"Please," Jon sighed in relief. It was one thing to drop everything and come see Sansa; it was a wholly different matter to be deprived of a good meal in the process.

By the time Jaime had finished the masterclass, he was in a thoroughly bad mood. The day had somehow lost its charm without the minx, though he would break his own legs before admitting this. He found Tyrion lounging in his office.

"Don’t you have some work to do, fundraising or in some other useful capacity?" he grumbled. Tyrion was surprisingly pleased by his rude words.

"Are you still sore because you didn’t get to ruin Sansa’s day with a brother she misses and doesn’t see very often? You cannot possibly be so callous.”

"I think she shouldn’t jeopardize her career because one of her siblings — of which she has more than some rabbits do — dropped down like unexpected snow."

Tyrion had the audacity to laugh, but Jaime cut off his guffaw with an angry look.

"I see Sansa’s a touchy subject," his little brother observed with humor. "Anyway, we must discuss the casting for the upcoming ballet."

"What’s there to discuss?"

"Ellaria’s pregnant and cannot perform, so we need to figure out who’ll get the part of the mistress."

When he had first learned of her pregnancy, Tyrion could not believe his luck. Then, he wondered irrationally if his father had anything to do with it, but realized just in time that he was being paranoid. Even Tywin Lannister could not regulate other people’s reproductive decisions. Thank the gods for small mercies. Regardless, the happy coincidence provided Tyrion with a perfect segue into the cunning plan he and father had cooked up. Jaime interrupted his thoughts:

"I’m guessing you have someone in mind," he said.

Tyrion decided to play coy:

"I do. Don’t you?"

"No, I don’t." Jaime sounded annoyed.

What crawled up his ass, anyway? Tyrion wondered. He could not, rationally speaking, be jealous of Jon Stark? Oh, wait, jealousy was not rational. He was jealous of Sansa’s brother. All was even better than father and he had anticipated.

"All right, I was thinking that Sansa Stark could take on the part."

There was silence. Tyrion watched Jaime’s face very carefully and was almost disturbed to find his brother’s expression unreadable even to his experienced eyes. Whatever Jaime was grappling with, it affected him enough to place an impenetrable mask on his features — in their family, Tyrion knew, a sure sign of considerable emotional strain.

"She hasn’t completed the three masterclasses," Jaime finally objected.

Oh, for Crone’s sake!

"Jaime, she’s the only person in more than a decade long history of this ballet company to have danced an extra round in your masterclass. She’s ready for the stage. We both know that."

Why is he frowning now?

"I’ll consider making an exception."

Tyrion’s patience was running out.

"Oh, why do you have to be so tiresome?! Jaime, there’s nothing to consider! She dances better than anyone in this company, with the possible exception of you, and maybe Margery and the Martells."

She does, echoed in Jaime’s mind, and when she steps onto the stage, there will be a lot of people other than her brother dropping in to see her. But the minx dreamed of this; and she deserved it more than anyone.

"Fine," was all he said.

He had no way of holding her back, even if he wanted. Besides, the minx was not his to keep.

"Great," Tyrion said, looking all too pleased with himself. “I’ll send out the necessary emails tomorrow."

Catelyn Stark, her husband, and their youngest children were seated before the fireplace in the family room. Catelyn was embroidering, a task with which she occupied herself more often now that Sansa was far away. Looking through various designs, choosing the right colors of threads, and making careful stitches had been their joint amusement for many years, and it now made Catelyn feel as though her daughter was a little closer. Arya and Bran, faces screwed with concentration and competitiveness, were playing Cyvasse on the floor. Rickon was dozing in his father’s arms, lulled to sleep by the excerpt his father had read to him aloud from yet another history book that engrossed him, but not his youngest son. This evening, like all the others, Catelyn felt acutely that three of her children were missing — Robb’s loud jokes, Jon’s serious face, Sansa’s girly laughter. With a small sigh, Catelyn returned her attention to the canvas. A few moments later, the laptop, always opened in the evenings in case one of the children used RavenTime to call instead of the phone, began to make the happiest sound in the world — one that announced she would soon see one of her babies. The whole family was alerted by the sound — Arya and Bran forgot their game; Ned raised his eyes from the book expectantly; even little Rickon awoke. Catelyn reached the laptop first and was overjoyed — it was a joint call from all three of her elder children. On the screen, split into three boxes, Sansa, Robb and Talisa, and Jon and Ygritte’s smiling faces appeared. The remaining Stark family sat on the couch, placing the laptop on the coffee table before them.

"Well, what is it?" Robb was asking Sansa impatiently. "Now that everyone is gathered, can you finally tell?" He received a gentle smack on the arm from Talisa for his inability to wait.

"What is going on?" Catelyn inquired, smiling, infected by the excitement that was radiating from their faces. Sansa especially looked agitated.

"I’ve no idea," supplied Jon. "She just called, squealing, requested we all RavenTime and call you — won’t say anything."

"She will, if you and your brother will just shut your loud mouths for one moment," Ygritte proposed.

"Sweet girl," said Ned to Sansa, his solidarity with Ygritte clear, "you have some good news, seems to me. Why don’t we all listen to you?"

Sansa took a breath, and words tumbled from her mouth, her unusually high-pitched voice filled with pride and joy:

"I got a part in the Lannister Ballet Company’s next production!"

There was a short moment of silence, then all spoke at once:

"Oh, my darling, that’s so great!" (Catelyn)

"What’s the plot?" (Bran)

"HA! Sansa, girl, you’ll kill it!" (Ygritte)

"Is it the leading role?" (Robb)

"Are you going to play a damsel in distress?" (Arya)

"Congratulations, sweet girl — you more than deserve it!" (Ned)

"Sansa, congratulations, I’m sure you’ll be the most beautiful dancer on that stage!" (Talisa)

"Is the Lannister going to be performing in it as well?" (Jon)

Sansa was laughing happily, catching a few words here and there, without even trying to make sense of the jumble. Finally, Catelyn shushed them all and turned to her daughter:

"Darling, we’re all so happy for you, so proud of you! Tell us a little more about the ballet."

"Well, it’s a love story, of course," she began.
"Of course," Arya grumbled in disappointment.
"I think you might like this one," said Sansa, smiling, and Arya considered her with surprise. Normally her elder sister said, "you’re just too little to understand" or, "you’re a tomboy, that’s why you don’t appreciate it." But Sansa smiled at her with love instead of the usual pout, and Arya was moved. The youngest Stark girl cared more about her sister’s opinions than anyone would have guessed; and though she took pride in her wild, unladylike ways, Arya was a little hurt that Sansa dismissed her undertakings and fights as “childish behavior” or “her tomboy ways.”

"It’s about a king, Azor, who takes prisoner a beautiful woman named Tanea, with whom he falls in love. He returns to his kingdom with her, but Tanea wants nothing to do with him. Then, the king’s mistress, Nissa, who waited anxiously for him to come back to her, grows mad with jealousy and murders Tanea. The king, unable to kill Nissa himself, has his guards throw her from the castle’s walls. The last scene is of the king sitting alone, looking absent-mindedly into the waters of a fountain."

"Well, that’s quite a tragic story," said Ned.

"And you were cast as Tanea?" asked Catelyn.

"See, I told you!" Arya exclaimed, "I told you she’d be the damsel in distress!"

They all looked to Sansa, who seemed triumphant, a small smile of delight on her lips.

“I’m not going to be dancing the part of Tanea. I was cast as Nissa."

There was silence. Except Ygritte and Talisa, they all had last seen Sansa dance in Winterfell, and the girl who had graced the Northern stage could not perform the part of a seductive mistress — they knew that.

"You are going to be the murderous mistress?" Arya said in disbelief, but there was a hint of interest and admiration in her brazen eyes.

"Well, little heart," Catelyn spoke in a voice that was slightly apprehensive, "I’m sure it will be exciting if perhaps a little… challenging."
"Well, of course, it will be challenging!" Sansa exclaimed with nervous laughter. "It’s my first time performing an important role in a major company. Not to mention that it will be an original composition! But I am so excited, aren’t you?"

They hummed and nodded their acquiescence, one thought on the minds of the Starks: What were they thinking, these so-called "professionals" of the Lannister Ballet Company? Have they never seen Sansa dance that, instead of casting her as a reserved, virtuous girl, they have given her the part of a murderous and jealous woman?

Only Arya was thinking: What happened to Sansa if she’s excited to perform the part of a jealous mistress?!

Chapter Text

Notwithstanding her enthusiasm, Sansa was feeling nervous when she entered Jaime’s studio. The main dancers — himself, Margery, Oberyn, Ellaria, even though she would not be performing, and now Sansa — were to begin meeting daily to conceptualize the ballet. Though Jaime was in charge of the choreography, he took into consideration the thoughts of those of his colleagues he deemed capable of providing useful feedback, especially considering that they would be the ones dancing the main parts alongside him. Tyrion, as the second most important person in the Lannister Ballet Company, whose instinct for composing dance was as good as his body unfit to carry out the motions, was also there. The other people present were Renly Baratheon, Podrick, Brienne, and Tormund, who lounged near his fiancée, watching Jaime with an unfriendly expression. Sansa was not sure what they were doing there. Tyene had tagged along as well. Remembering her fight with Jeyne, Sansa was worried that her friend would be envious or consider her casting unfair, but Tyene was sincerely happy for her, and there was not a shade of resentment in the Dornish girl’s eyes. Sansa treasured this.

"Well, thank the gods, minx, we were worried you got lost in one of the hallways!" Jaime’s voice greeted her. Concerned that she was late, she looked at her watch then turned to him:
"I’m ten minutes early!" she exclaimed, indignant at his baseless insinuation.

"And since everyone is already here, you’re late," he said with a self-satisfied smirk.

I hate him SO much.

His smirk grew when he caught her glaring, but then Tormund, provoked by the exchange, approached him.

"If you ever make my future sister-in-law cry again, no one will call you pretty by the time I’m done with you," he growled.

Jaime’s playful smile grew a little dangerous, a little less pleasant. He had been leaning against the wall when she had come in. Now, with Tormund’s tense form standing in front of him, Jaime pushed himself off the wall lazily and straightened to full height. The movement held the same grace and menace as that of a stretching lion. Sansa was stunned when she observed that Jaime was taller than Tormund.

"When you are done with me?" he asked with cold mockery. "Let me tell you something, Tormund," he said, placing an arm around the man’s shoulders, and Sansa was surprised by how frightening this simple, friendly gesture could become at Jaime’s will, "threaten me again, and they will carry out what remains of you in garbage bags. Remember, that, unlike you, I’ve already killed one man." That statement seemed to numb Tormund somewhat. Sansa suspected it was less out of fear than surprise at Jaime’s reference. The Lannister went on, "I could easily do it again, if forced to. Are we clear?" he patted Tormund on the back. "I’m glad we understand each other," he added before stepping away from him.

Sansa, who had observed the exchange with the fascination of a baby ocelot who had caught sight of a boa constrictor, had never dreamed Jaime could look so menacing and was surprised that he had brought up Aerys on his own. Knowing the truth behind the monster’s death, she understood that Jaime’s threats were a bluff — albeit a chillingly convincing one.

As though remembering his larger purpose in being there, Jaime brightened up and spoke to all who had gathered:

"All right, now that everyone is finally here," a playful wink in Sansa’s direction, "let’s see if we can’t produce the best ballet this company has put on yet. Since we must start somewhere, let’s begin with the first act."

The tension in the room lessened.

The first act opened with the wedding ceremony — the elegant entrance of well-wishing guests, the happy dance of the bride and groom, followed by the intrusion of King Azor’s troops and the murder of Tanea’s betrothed. That day, they were crafting the entrance of the guests, which would be performed by the less prominent dancers. Renly, who was the company’s composer was present to ensure that the dancing and the music were created simultaneously, as a harmonious, interdependent whole. He had brought the drafts he had produced after a discussion with Jaime, and now they could be altered, even completely changed, to fit perfectly with the choreography. Brienne and Podrick, whose close friendship with the composer and their impeccable skill at playing their instruments allowed them to follow where Renly and Jaime led, were here to provide the dancers with the music of more than one instrument. Renly favored the piano for his compositions, which he played with wonderful expression, but Sansa had an inkling Jaime preferred string instruments. She could understand this — she, too, thought there was more inspiration to be found in the melancholy cry of a violin than in the gentle weeping of a piano.

Sansa, who had never witnessed the invention of a ballet before, was surprised by how much fun it seemed to be. Of course, that, she had to admit, was mostly achieved by Jaime’s playfulness and leadership style. She had not expected he would be receptive to ideas that did not originate in his own head. True, at times he was loath to modify the sequences of movements he invented; but the choreography, which seemed to magically take shape in his mind, was so beautiful and perfectly coordinated, there was rarely any cause to alter it. Mostly, he was the one in charge of invention; the others tried the movements of which he had thought and adjusted them slightly. Occasionally, one of those present — mostly Oberyn, Ellaria, and Tyrion — suggested a few motions, and Jaime would seamlessly incorporate them into the arrangement he had created. Excited but unsure of herself in this new environment, Sansa viewed with enthrallment how Jaime’s eyes gleamed with a creative light, how inspiration animated him and filled his face with exhilaration. She was absorbed in watching him in this new role.

Jaime felt her eyes follow him. When asked, she performed the motions accurately and well along the rest of them, but she did not voice an opinion or suggest a combination of steps. In fact, there was a lost look on her face he had never seen before. He had grown rather used to her confidence, her unpredictable remarks, and he wondered what had caused her to become so uncertain of herself. It had been almost two hours; Tyrion and Oberyn were arguing passionately about the latest set of movements they had all been working on, and Jaime took the opportunity to approach Sansa. When the argument had begun, she had retreated to the side and was now leaning on a ballet bar. He came to stand next to her.
"What’s with you, minx?" he asked her, deliberately looking away as though concentrated on Tyrion and Oberyn when, in fact, he watched her from the corner of his eye. He saw her turn her head toward him.

"What do you mean?"

He faced her then.

"Let me rephrase that: what have you done to the girl I danced with at father’s gala?"
"She’s still here," Sansa replied with an uncertain, slightly confused smile.

"Is she? I guess she’s hiding so well I can barely see her." He paused. "You not only dance well, minx. You have a gift for inventing movements on the spot. That’s why you’re here. But instead of sharing new ideas, you decided to impersonate a wallflower. Why’s that?"

"I don’t know," she said and he raised an eyebrow at her, demanding an explanation.

"Don’t you?"

“I — ” she paused, wondering why, when she had entered his studio that evening, she had felt like she had in the first few weeks of her life in King’s Landing: small, stiff, and unsure. "I told my family I got a part in the new ballet…" she began. He was watching her, patiently waiting for her to continue. She shrugged her drooping shoulders. "They all thought that I would play Tanea — ”

"You want Margery’s part?" Jaime was surprised, and it was evident in his voice. He suddenly thought that, if she asked, he would probably give her the role.

"NO!" she almost screamed, horror and indignation dominating her tone of voice and coloring her face in red shades. "Of course, not!"

He felt relief. He had been alarmed when he had suspected Sansa of envy and manipulation — an emotion and tactic he knew well in his sister, but which he thought the minx to be entirely without. He was strangely gladdened when her entire countenance had rejected the notion with disgust. After her outburst, she quieted, her nervousness and uneasiness returning. She fixed her eyes on the floor.

“I — ” she swallowed. “They all think that I’m not fit for my part. They did not say it outright, but I could see it in their faces. They don’t believe in me… Not in this role, anyway."

As she said it, Sansa recognized that her sister’s taunts, her mother’s uncertainty, and the perplexed, worried expressions of the rest of her family had affected her much more deeply than she had realized. Jaime used the knuckles of his index finger under her chin to lift her face, forcing her to look at him.

"I’m not sure how qualified your relatives are to assess your dancing abilities, so instead of criticizing their opinions, let me give you my take on the matter. I don’t know how much weight it carries — after all, I’m only the best ballet dancer in the world," he smirked at her, then his face turned serious once more. "I think you will be an exquisite Nissa," Sansa felt her heart, the stupid thing, do a somersault in her chest. Jaime, still holding her chin in a gentle lateral grip, continued: "Neither Tyrion nor I would have given you a role we did not feel confident you could perform better than anyone else. Frankly, I doubt there’s a part you cannot dance. So stop whining and begin contributing to the choreography, or I will make sure you have no say in the design of your costume," he finished with a prurient smirk and released her chin. Sansa, too touched by his words to care about his innuendos, caught his hand with hers:

"Thank you, Jaime," she said with a smile of gratitude that told plainly how much his words had meant to her. He looked at her oddly. Realizing that she kept holding his hand, she let go of him. He gave her a nod, saying only, “the work awaits," before he walked back to the rest of the group, who had been too invested in the fight between Tyrion and Oberyn — their mutual insults were growing more creative and hilarious with each moment — to have noticed Jaime and Sansa’s short dialogue. Sansa followed him back.

Encouraged by his words — his praise, his belief in her — she began to voice her suggestions hesitantly. She had feared he would taunt her, but he did not, listening to her carefully and incorporating the changes she proposed with even greater care than those of others. She felt warm inside, as though a small, friendly candle was glowing in the chamber of her heart.

They worked on the entrance of the guests for a week and a half. When they all agreed that the choreography conveyed the festive mood and the steps could not be refined further, they moved on to the dance of the bride and groom. This was particularly exciting for Sansa, who had always loved duets. Margery, who danced the part of Tanea, and Oberyn, who performed the role of her betrothed, formed a wonderful dancing couple.

As more time passed, the uncertain faces of her family began to fade and, under Jaime’s eyes, which held not a shred of doubt in her abilities, she recovered her good humor and the self-confidence she had built over time at the Lannister Ballet Company. She suggested quite a few movements for the dance of the bride and groom that were just right (Jaime said so). More days passed working out the dance of the newlyweds. Then, the choreographing of the fighting scene began. The suspense of the music, the hunting movements of the dance were very effective. They hit a wall, however, at least as far as Jaime was concerned, when they tried arranging the duel between the groom and the king. They had been working for hours, and Jaime had driven everyone, even Sansa, to the end of their patience. He did not like this and he did not like that. Sansa thought he was being difficult.

"Jaime, we’ll have to settle for something, and you’ll have to be a little more assenting!" Sansa exclaimed after the fifth hour. Her words gave voice to a sentiment widely shared by the rest of the group, but they had little effect on him.

“Minx, it’s all been done. None of these combinations are new. You can’t hold the viewers’ attention by showing them something they had seen before. And, more importantly, we cannot remain the leaders and innovators of ballet if we always do the same stale things.”

Sansa sighed in frustration. He was being difficult!

Tyene suddenly looked up, excitement on her face.

"Why don’t you try real fighting, then?" she suggested.

Jaime turned to her. Unused to being incapable of easily arranging the movements to his liking, he, too, was reaching the limits of his patience.

"Say what?"

"Why don’t you try real fighting? If well choreographed, it can be very elegant. I think it would give the scene the flair that, so far at least, we were unable to convey with a dance."

Jaime looked interested, so she continued.

"I have a friend who knows how to fight with real swords, I can call him."

He smirked and motioned with his hand.
"Be my guest. Call your mystery friend."

Tyene took out her phone and went to the corner of the studio to make the call.

"I bet she meant Bronn," Tyrion mused.

"You ever done any sword fighting, Martell?" Jaime asked Oberyn with a look filled with poorly concealed mischief.

"I haven’t," the Dornishman replied. "But when I was a youth, there was little I liked better than throwing spears at targets."

Sansa, who was standing next to Tyrion, asked him:

"Is it just me, or does Jaime look oddly happy at the prospect?"

Tyrion grinned lovingly.

"Oh, he certainly does."

"Why’s that?"

"Because when Jaime was eight, he wanted to take a dancing class. That did not go down very well with father, as you might imagine." Sansa could almost hear the conversation. "So Jaime did the next best thing — he took up sword fighting, which he practiced rigorously until he was old enough to figure out a way to sneak off to Cersei’s ballet classes without father finding out. It’s rather singular how he managed to catch up all the years he had missed and still make such a successful career," Tyrion said with pride. "Most people start dancing very early, you know, but Jaime only started when he was… twelve, I think?"

"Did he give up sword fighting after he started dancing?" Sansa wondered, curiosity gnawing at her.

"No," Tyrion answered with a sly smile. "Have you ever compared Jaime or Oberyn’s bodies to, say, Loras’ or Jojen Reed’s?”

Sansa shook her head.
"But if you were to, there would be some differences, right?"

Jaime looked considerably stronger and more masculine; his muscles were much better developed than Loras’ and Jojen’s, whose figures were slender, a little effeminate. The same was true of Oberyn.

"Now, I don’t know what side sport Oberyn does," Tyrion continued, seeing that she had caught his drift, "but Jaime never quite knew how to quit things. True of sword fighting in more than one way, if you know what I mean," the little man concluded, wiggling his eyebrows.

Did he just make an inappropriate joke about his brother’s relationship with his twin sister? What is WRONG with this family?!

Meanwhile, Bronn showed up, carrying practice swords.

"Now," the ruffian said by way of greeting, "a little bird told me that you lads want to stop dancing menacingly like peacocks and try fighting like real men?" he asked, his face the picture of impudence.

Jaime walked toward him, baring his teeth in the smug smile that annoyed Sansa to no end, when it was directed at her, but which she liked in that moment. There was something a little exciting in watching him intimidate others, she thought, although the scolded herself for the feeling immediately upon acknowledging it. The excitement persisted, however, despite her better sense. Jaime took one of Bronn’s swords with a languid air.

"These are somewhat light, Bronn. Getting a little old for real swords? Should I place an advertisement in the newspapers for a new bodyguard for Tyrion?"

Bronn, who disliked being shamed in front of Tyene of all people, decided to use the element of surprise and swung at Jaime without a warning.

Sansa, who had never seen sword fighting in real life, could not help the little cry of fear that tore from her throat. There had been no need for it — Jaime blocked Bronn's sword effortlessly.

"Careful, Bronn: this is a much more genteel audience than what you’re used to," Jaime taunted, and then the fighting really began.

 Although she was annoyed that Jaime had noticed her little scream and used it in a jibe, Sansa soon forgot her vexation. With fear and fascination, she watched the combat, which, to her eyes, seemed nothing short of real fighting. Jaime was really good. He could stand his own against Bronn, a professional bodyguard, without losing that nasty smile or breaking a sweat. Sansa, who had seen him dance, should not have been surprised by the grace of his movements when he used a sword. Now that she watched him, she understood why this training had given Jaime an advantage in the late start of his career as a ballet dancer. He moved with the same effortless, leonine elegance when he fought as when he danced. Though the fighting lasted quite a few minutes, in the end, Jaime’s sword was at Bronn’s neck, and Sansa had to make a considerable effort to keep her squeals of delight to herself. She had never thought that sword fighting could be as beautiful as dancing. She could see now why Tyene had suggested incorporating real fighting into the dance and could appreciate her friend’s acumen.

Watching Jaime fight reminded her of the time she had seen him with Cersei. Like making love, sword-fighting was an activity in which she could not join him, but it made her ache to feel his hands on her waist as they danced. It made her body want, at the risk of outraging her dazed mind, that these strong arms would enwrap her, that he would pull her close, so she could feel his body with every part of hers, that he would kiss her, that he would never let go.

You’re not Cersei.

Her mind awakened, ordering her to come back to a reality where Jaime Lannister was a man in love with his sister, not her. I should remember this.

The more time she spent with him, the more often she saw the dream that had come to her for the first time in a seemingly different age, and the more longing she felt when his presence startled her in the darkness of her slumber. This was not a dream, however, but a reality in which she still liked to think herself the mistress of her thoughts, one who could trample her pointless desires.

Jaime, Bronn, and Oberyn focused on choreographing the movements of the fighting sequence, mixing real fighting and ballet dancing. Tyrion judged from the side, every now and then giving voice to constructive criticism. Sansa sat down on one of the pillows Margery and Ellaria had wisely (and in profusion) brought to the studio and watched the action. It was engrossing. She felt with pride that, thanks to Jaime’s drive to innovate and her friend’s smart proposal, the Lannister Ballet Company was about to introduce a formidable novelty into the way ballet fighting scenes were conceived. She smiled to herself. In the end, Jaime got what he wanted — something no one had ever done on a ballet stage before.

It was almost a month since they had begun, and the first act was choreographed to Jaime’s satisfaction, the ink had dried on the music sheets from the last bout of edits. The wedding, the fight, the abduction — it was all over. They had begun supervising the rest of the dancers who started learning the movements. The days were now spent in making sure everyone knew their steps to perfection. On Tyrion’s insistence, their group was taking a short break from invention. Soon enough though, they would gather again in the late afternoon and continue to create.

Sansa was anxiously anticipating the meeting — her turn was next.

The second act was filled with emotion and passion. It began with Nissa awaiting her king and lover in the palace. Her dance had to convey the fear of a woman who longs for her beloved to return safely from war, but then, when she looked from the window and saw him in the distance, Nissa’s dance had to acquire a joyful and happy tone. Sansa, loathe to leave anything to chance, used the free evenings to come up with the steps. She had asked Renly for the music that he had drafted for her first dance, when she found out he always recorded his compositions in addition to writing them down. She expected Jaime would direct most of the dance, anyway, but, just in case, she did not want to be caught unawares. Besides, watching him invent the choreography filled her with a powerful desire to create a dance that would last longer than the time it took to improvise it.

The first night, she had danced where the music led her, trying to remember the steps, but she had been so engrossed, she could not quite recall the sequence later on. So the night after that, she recorded her dance. She felt awkward in the first few moments and could not start moving, now that a camera would catch her every misstep and light glowered down on her, but she forced her mind to imagine the welcoming darkness and the friendly reflections of streetlights and moon. She began dancing and, as always watching green eyes in her daydreams, she forgot about the phone she had placed on the piano. When she returned home, she looked through the composition and made notes on how to revise it. She incorporated her new ideas into the dance the next night. She continued this routine for several days and began to notice small imperfections in the music: where it could be gentler, more sorrowful; the moments when she needed the rhythm to be faster or slower to accommodate the pace she thought best for her dance. If she did not have to turn on the light when she practiced, she would have loved the process without any reservations.

"You haven’t been coming up with new steps," Tyrion remarked when Jaime and he were lunching two days before the scheduled meeting. "Are you having dancer’s block?" he quipped.

Jaime had a cunning smile on his lips.
"I’m not, though you’re terribly kind to be concerned, little brother."

"Then why haven’t you planned anything? We’ll be meeting soon, and you always take your sweet time when you’re drafting the movements," Tyrion observed.

Jaime looked entirely unconcerned.

"I’m not inventing anything for the next meeting," he declared, his voice as neutral as though he were commenting unenthusiastically on the food. Tyrion’s hand froze before the fork had reached his mouth, which remained agape. He blinked and, putting the raviolo back on his plate, asked:

"I’m sorry, I think I’m hallucinating or have developed a hearing problem. Did you just say you are not inventing anything for next meeting?"

Jaime remained as unperturbed as if he were a talking piece of furniture.

"That’s exactly right."

Baffled, Tyrion guffawed.

"Are you planning on canceling the meeting?"

"Not at all."

"Then what will we be doing without choreography?!" He cried out, driven to his wits’ end.

"There will be choreography, just not mine,” was the reply.
"What the hell do you mean?"

Jaime rolled his eyes in annoyance at his brother’s uncharacteristic dullness of mind.

"Tyrion, what’s the next scene we’ll be working on?" He asked with exaggerated patience.

"Nissa’s waiting dance,” Tyrion replied, still confused.

Jaime lifted his hands and motioned as though in praise of his brother’s singular deductive achievement.

"Precisely," was all he said.

"You don’t — ” Tyrion’s mind could not digest the only obvious conclusion. "You don’t mean that you left it all up to Sansa?"

That’s impossible! He’s a complete control freak when it comes to his choreography. Sure, he’s generous and smart enough to allow some foreign ideas to trickle in, but this… He’s never even let Cersei come up with her own steps, no matter how she whined!

"You can’t mean that!”

"Of course, I do."

Tyrion took a sip of wine. This was madness. Had he drifted into a parallel universe?

"That’s insane," he declared. "I don’t believe you."

Jaime laughed.

"You’ll see for yourself. The minx has been busy crafting her dance. From the little I’ve seen, it’s quite good."

"From what you’ve seen?" Tyrion echoed, his mind still reeling.

"Well, she does practice in the building, so, naturally, I’ve glanced at what she’s been coming up with. Mostly, I left her alone, though. It’s her dance. I didn’t want to interfere."

At this point in the conversation, Tyrion could only stare, a little helplessly. There was one option left before he asked the waiter for help.

"Have you been taking some kind of happy drugs?"

Jaime laughed heartily, shaking his head.

"Excuse, me, waiter!" A man came up to Tyrion. "Would you mind pinching me, please? Yes, I mean it. Ouch! Thank you so much. Now that we’ve established I’m fully awake, may I trouble you for some whiskey? Make it a double.”

Jaime laughed harder.

"I cannot believe it!" Tyrion cried in the evening of the same day, still overwhelmed by Jaime’s announcement. He was pacing the living room of his and Margery’s flat, while his girlfriend watched him with an amused expression.

"Why not? It’s not news to you that Jaime has a soft spot for her," she reasoned, but Tyrion, who had reached the point where panic and remorse warred for dominance, was beyond reason.

"I just cannot believe it!" he exclaimed again. This is bad. And it’s not funny or cute anymore!

"Why are you so worried? It’s not like it’s a bad thing."
"Not a bad thing?! Marge, do you hear yourself? My brother’s undergoing a personality transplant under Sansa’s influence, and you see no cause for alarm?"

She shrugged, looking confused but entertained.

"He never let Cersei near the choreography!" Tyrion shrieked, loosing some of his dignity to his fears.

"He has good judgement on that account at least, where she’s concerned," Margery commented dryly.

"That’s not the point!" Tyrion screamed in exasperation. "Do you even realize the… I don’t know what to call it, the depth of feeling he has for her, however unconsciously? How much he trusts her? Marge, ballet has always been Jaime’s second mistress, one he guarded carefully even from our bitch sister. And now he just left it in Sansa’s hands, as if he did not care?!"

"I’m sure her ideas will be splendid!" Margery began to console him, observing Tyrion’s labored breathing and the fear jumping in his eyes.

"NOT THE POINT!" he yelled again.

Margery was undaunted.
"Then you’ll have to be more specific," she said flatly.

Tyrion came up to her, grabbing her hands by the wrists, as though she could pull him out of his terror.

"What if she doesn’t love him back?" he inquired with dread, half-whispering, half-moaning the words. He grew progressively more agitated as he spoke. "All these years of worrying he’ll never get over Cersei, I forgot about that little problem they call unrequited love! What will I do if, after he finally got rid of her, the other one doesn’t love him back? Huh? What will I do?!" Tyrion let go of her hands and resumed his frantic pacing.

Margery laughed.

"And you call your brother a control freak," mumbled she, then said more loudly: "As an authority on female feelings, I guarantee you that your brother’s heart is not in danger of being broken by Sansa. She looks at him as if he were the sun and stars."

Seeing that her words had failed to convince Tyrion, she reached out and caught his hand, pulling him toward her. She placed her hands on his shoulders and, looking him square in the eye, said:

"Tyrion, love, you need to calm down. Your panic attack, no matter how adorable, is entirely unfounded. You need…" she kissed him and spoke against his lips, "… to relax."

And gods know I can think of a few ways to deal with that pent up energy, which are much better than making a hole in our Meereen rug…

"All right, everyone, let’s get started, we don’t have all day!" Jaime proclaimed, when they had gathered two days later. "Minx, the floor is yours," he added.

Sansa’s eyes widened. He didn’t just say what I think he’s just said?

"Huh?" was all she could do to voice her disbelief.

"Minx, please, while we’re still young!" he replied, biting back a small smile. "Or do you need to discuss something with Renly before you start?"

Sansa just stared. Then, she looked at the faces of the others. Except for Margery, who was grinning, and Tyrion, who looked concerned, everyone wore the same idiotic expression of utter confusion: wide eyes, mouths agape, brows lost somewhere in the hairlines.

"What’s going on with you all today?" Jaime exclaimed impatiently. "Have I grown a tail or sprouted a second head? Minx, I’ll ask you one last time: do you want to alter the music or do you want to start right away? Time’s ticking!"

Sansa, finally snapping out of her shock, rushed toward Renly — if only to hide from Jaime behind the piano. She had to repeat her kindly worded suggestions several times before Renly began responding. The composer certainly looked at her as if she had grown a tail and a pair of animal ears. Finally, she was able to explain to him what adjustments she needed right away in the rhythm, correctly assuming that more considerable changes would have to wait until Renly resumed normal functioning. Then, she had to abandon the safe haven of the piano’s shadow and walk to the dance floor. She had never been more petrified in her whole life. Bracing herself for the staunch criticism that would follow, she began the dance she had conceived. It was fortunate that she had memorized the motions, because, in the first few moments, she could barely feel her legs, let alone think clearly. She kept watching Jaime’s face for signs of displeasure, but the small smile that had come to his lips at her initial confusion never left his face and his eyes followed her with satisfaction and what looked like pride. She took heart in it and allowed her mind to retreat into the darkness reigned by shades of green.

When she had finished her dance, Jaime looked at Tyrion with a triumphant grin:

"What did I tell you? The minx can save me a lot of trouble." Then he turned to Sansa. "Now, minx, what did you want to change in the music?"

Sansa began explaining her ideas. Jaime mostly agreed, though he offered several suggestions she had not thought of. Renly, recovering his wits, chirped in, and they began altering the music. When they had redrafted the score somewhat, they resumed working on the choreography. Sansa still expected Jaime to take her dance apart one step at a time, but he did not. He proposed some changes, which she considered highly valuable, and her choreography gained from them without loosing the emotion and flow she had designed. She could hardly believe it. Neither Margery nor Oberyn had any such say in their dances. Why did she?

Jaime did not give her such freedom because he wanted to humor her. Having seen her dance more than once, he knew the minx had a talent that could bring novelty and beauty to the overall composition. He had betted on her and won. Her dance was not simply good — it was, by any standard, excellent and highly original. He owed Tyrion for having hired Sansa. The whole company did. Occasionally, however, Jaime wondered if his life would not have been less complicated, had he never laid eyes on Sansa Stark. He knew it would lack colors. Blue and red, especially.

Chapter Text

My memories devour me,

Like hungry lions their prey;

With new stories regale me

To keep these ghosts at bay.

Tyrion’s father rarely called him. Occasionally, of course, Tyrion would receive a phone call from his parent; the brief conversations, however mundane in subject, always ended with either one of two questions: had he and his brother grown smart enough to return to the Lannisters & Co. and assume their rightful places as heirs? Or: was Tyrion ever going to propose to Margery Tyrell? Which of the questions Tywin would ask was unpredictable; it was entirely certain, however, that one of these (at times, even both) would be used in the concluding lines of their every conversation.

This time had been no different in what concerned the two catechisms Tyrion had been subjected to (years before, he had dreaded this brief round of interrogation, but now dismissed the inquiries with a certain nonchalance); however, it was somewhat odd that Tywin had personally invited Tyrion to pay him a visit the coming evening. Usually, the Lannister patriarch left the scheduling of his meetings — even those with his children — to his personal assistant. The strange sign of attention left Tyrion more anxious than pleased.

For as long as he could remember, Tyrion had wanted to make his father proud. Since he was a very young child, not old enough to understand that parents could be cold and children — dwarfs, he had sought Tywin’s approbation. He knew that Jaime — and even Cersei — had wanted the same. Tyrion would make a drawing of an imaginary land and wait for the weekend, when father would return from King’s Landing to Casterly Rock, to show it to him. He would overcome the intimidating sight of the huge door that led to Tywin’s solar and knock; invited to come in by father’s distracted voice, he would find him before the antique oak desk, which was weighted down by a laptop and piles of business papers. He would approach and wordlessly place the drawing before his father. Tywin would say that imagining lands that did not exist was a waste of time and tell him to study maps instead. By the weekend that followed, Tyrion would make a copy of a map of the Westerlands and Tywin would say that he could make a map of the entire Seven Kingdoms, could he not? So, Tyrion would work tirelessly, even shortening his time with Jaime — no small sacrifice for a young child short of friends — to make a detailed map of the Seven Kingdoms, copying it carefully with his uncertain, childish hand from a book too large for him to even lift (he had had to ask the maester, in charge of the Rock in father’s absence, to get it for him from a shelf too high for him to reach). The evening of Friday would come, and with it his father, his tall, strong, powerful figure filling the space of the Lannisters’ age-old residence like no one Tyrion had ever seen before or since could. Tyrion had always admired his father — his intelligent eyes, his powerful presence, his handsome, severe features, even his coldness. At the time, he had thought that, one day, he could break through this frigidity. Tyrion had waited excitedly for farther to return, thinking that, finally, Tywin would commend his achievements. Tywin did look at the map and noted absentmindedly that his youngest son had forgotten to indicate Sunspear. Tyrion had tasted bitter disappointment for the first time that evening; it was also the first time he had noticed that father avoided looking at him. That night, he could not comprehend why; later, when he had grown old enough to realize that fathers could be unloving, mothers dead and buried, and children — dwarfs, he understood; or at least, he thought he did.

The more he came up against his father’s coldness, the more Tyrion came to depend on Jaime’s kindness. Like their father, his elder brother was a sight to behold with his golden hair, strong built (even as a young boy), and sparkling green eyes; but Jaime was unlike father in one crucial respect — he was never distant and he never played down Tyrion’s achievements, praising his little brother more than even Tyrion himself thought he deserved. Jaime’s love, as unconditional as their father’s coldness was inevitable, made Tyrion seek him out constantly, looking for and basking in his approval, regardless of how easy it was to gain.

Roaming the grounds of Casterly Rock, however slowly because of his small, stunted legs, Tyrion would find a large dead beetle, the yellow and green wings of which would seem beautiful to him (partly because the colors reminded him of his brother’s eyes and golden hair), and he would seek out Jaime, who was puffing angrily while doing his homework, and show him the odd creature he had discovered. Jaime would leave aside his work to look at the beetle with Tyrion, despite the pressure he faced from father at performing well in academics notwithstanding his dyslexia, which, when first discovered a few years before, had for many months transformed Jaime’s weekends into an unendurable hell, as father, cold and unperturbed, with a patience of the Stranger, sat him down to read for hours each day. The brothers would spend some time examining the dead beetle together, and then, somehow, they would be playing outside, laughing happily — one forgetting his dyslexia, the other his small stature — at least before Cersei would attempt to ruin the fun Jaime was having with someone other than her.

The affection his father, more absent from the residence than he was present, would not show him, and Jaime did, made Tyrion look to his brother for the love of a fatherly figure. In ways that he had grown to appreciate only much later, his brother, not many years older than he, had raised him. The younger Lannister would repay him with a devotion and a loyalty the degree of which even Jaime did not suspect. It was at this time, when he was five, that Tyrion had developed the habit of sneaking into his brother’s room at night, when he himself could not sleep, and watch the peaceful beauty of Jaime’s slumber.

Tyrion had never known his mother — a beautiful woman he had grown to love, looking at her face, which smiled at him from the pages of family photo albums, and hearing what little Jaime had by way of stories about Joanna Lannister. One day, Tyrion must have been four or five, he was inspecting the wedding photographs of his parents, examining with curiosity the happy smile on his father’s face and the warmth in his eyes, when Tywin entered the drawing room where his youngest son was engrossed in the pictures.

"What are you doing there, Tyrion?" he asked.

Flustered, Tyrion could only turn the opened family album toward his father. When Tywin saw the photographs, Tyrion noticed for the first time something of warmth and something of pain flash in his father’s eyes. Tywin came to sit in the armchair, next to which Tyrion had lain sprawled on the soft carpet, and extended his hand for the album; Tyrion immediately placed it in his father’s hand, concealing as best he could the effort the action took his small body. Tywin turned the pages slowly, and Tyrion came to stand next to him, rising on tiptoes to glimpse the images that now engrossed his father. Noticing his son’s effort, Tywin allowed Tyrion to climb onto his lap — the only time Tyrion remembered doing so in his life.
"That’s your mother," Tywin said, and he had never sounded the way he did then: soft and loving. “She — ” Suddenly, his father’s voice caught, and he went rigid. Tyrion fixed him with his large eyes and watched Tywin’s face turn cold again, as if it were becoming stone. "She died," Tywin said in his usual stern, unemotional voice.

"I know," was all Tyrion replied.

"Isn’t it time you were in bed?" Tywin asked, getting up and placing his son on his feet. "Where is Miss Osha?"

"She’s coming later," Tyrion explained. "My bedtime’s not in an hour."

"Hmmm…" came from his father who, lost in his thoughts, avoided looking at his youngest child as he left the room.

Tyrion knew that mother had died giving birth to him — Cersei had informed him of the fact a year or so before, in a tone even more vicious than the one she usually used to address him. Jaime — enraged — had nearly slapped her and shook her as if to force some consideration into her, refusing to speak to her for days after spending hours consoling his younger sibling who had nearly drowned in silent, savage tears of despair, as he clung to Jaime’s neck. That was when Tyrion had first learned self-loathing; when Jaime had first glimpsed Cersei’s heartlessness.

Osha, their governess, did what she could to help Jaime bring Tyrion out of the darkness his sister’s words had covered him with like a shroud. A woman from Beyond the Wall, who had come down South for reasons unknown to anyone and ended up in the Lannisters’ household because, in ways none knew of, she had managed to convince the maester to hire her to look after the children, Osha was a powerful and unbreakable presence, unflinching even in the face of Tywin Lannister. Tyrion and Jaime had loved her from the moment she had first come, from her gruff voice and unmusical laughter to her odd Wildling ways. Looking back, Tyrion and Jaime had both wondered why father had tolerated her presence in Casterly Rock, particularly as the governess of his children. Her excellent degree from the Wall University and Medical School must have played a role, they had decided, as well as father’s disinterest in them all, but the brothers remained puzzled nonetheless. Osha, despite her good heart, was fairly brutal even to those she cared for, and she could not give to the Lannister children the gentle affection they — the brothers, at least, — had desperately needed. Cersei, unlike her siblings, loathed the woman with a burning hatred, which often paved the way to loud confrontations between the women. In his entire life, Tyrion had not known anyone aside from father and Osha to be able to put Cersei in her place, and it was all the more reason he loved the Free Woman, as she called herself.

When Tyrion turned six — old enough to attend school — the three siblings, their belongings packed and in tow, were sent to join Tywin in King’s Landing, along with Osha, who would care for them in the years to come. Jaime and Cersei’s homeschooling came to an end, and the three of them were forced to face a world that was unforgiving even to the privileged children of the great Tywin Lannister.

With years, Tyrion, much like his siblings, had realized that father was a man hard to please and harder still to impress, but easy to disappoint. When the twins were fourteen, Tywin had come to Jaime’s national sword fighting competition, in which his eldest son had overwhelmed the competition, easily winning gold, but all father had said was, "good," in a voice which indicated that anything else would have been unworthy of a Lannister. Tyrion had seen Jaime’s triumphant smile fall at the words. The same year, the Lannister patriarch had come to Cersei’ ballet performance, in which she had danced beautifully the leading part and, again, he had said, "good" in the same voice. When Tyrion was twelve, Tywin had come to the national debate competition in which his youngest son had triumphed. Tyrion had received the same "good" as his elder siblings and observed, as by then he was used to, how father avoided looking at him for too long. With time, Tyrion noticed how Tywin grew somewhat better at being able to lay his eyes on him, but, sooner or later, father would avert his gaze.

Cersei was the first to give up on seeking Tywin’s approbation, silently disregarding his opinions and disobeying his orders. Jaime and Tyrion never quite could break the spell father had on them, adapting to feeling disappointed in and frustrated with themselves for their inability to make the lagoon green eyes shine with pride at their achievements. Unable to discard their need for father’s approval, the brothers had learned to pretend that his opinion did not matter — even if, deep down, they knew it did. When, years later, Jaime and Tyrion had fought for their company — fought, essentially, against their farther and the claim he seemed to have on them as his heirs — they had fought, although neither would acknowledge this even to his brother, to prove to Tywin Lannister that his sons were capable of withstanding even his wrath. As if that could impress him.

Tyrion was pulled from his thoughts when the taxi had stopped before Tywin’s mansion, the place where he had lived until, at the age of sixteen (to stay closer to Jaime, Tyrion had used his superior intellect to skip grades), he had exchanged the luxury of this house for the comparatively small room in King’s Landing University dorms — much to father’s annoyance; Jaime and Cersei had moved out two years before, and Tyrion would frequently sleep over at Jaime’s place, regardless of the awkward encounters between the siblings this sometimes occasioned.

Tyrion paid the driver generously and ascended the long stairway to the entrance — as always, with considerable difficulty. Before he could even ring the bell, Ramsay Bolton opened the door: the personal assistant was as considerate as he seemed repugnant to Tyrion, despite the young man’s polite smiles. Tyrion was led to one of the few smaller living rooms, where his father, a glass of scotch in his hand, was sitting before a raging fireplace. As his father aged, Tyrion had wondered if the infirmity of late years would eventually make him less intimidating, but even as the silver had replaced the gold of Tywin Lannister’s hair, Tyrion had realized that the hope had been in vain. His father aged gracefully, never losing the power of either body or mind, his presence becoming oddly more impactful. Tyrion sat in the armchair to the right of his father, pressing his lips together in a greeting that was neither a smile nor a cold nod.

Tywin took a sip of his scotch, waiting a few minutes before speaking to his son, though he had acknowledged Tyrion with a movement of his eyes before restoring his gaze to the fire. His son waited patiently, having grown used to this odd ritual over the years. Finally, the Lannister patriarch inquired:

"How is the new ballet coming along?"

Tyrion knew the question was not about The Fountain of Tears but about Jaime and Sansa.

"It’s going well," he said with pleasure.

"Is it?" Tywin asked, and the small hint of humor in his eyes, odd for Tyrion to see, indicated that his father was aware of the unspoken challenge in his son’s refusal to breach the subject that interested them both. "I’m overjoyed," he said, though his voice did not support the statement. "And how is Margery?"

If there was one thing Tyrion could not reproach his father with, it was Tywin’s utter consideration for Margery. Never had the older man failed to inquire after Tyrion’s girlfriend or be attentive to her when she was in his presence. Granted, Margery was the first woman Tyrion was involved with to have been honored with father’s regard, but the son appreciated it all the same. After all the lectures he had heard from his father about his relationships with women — and many of these relationships were only half as long as the conversations Tyrion had been forced to endure (Varys only knew how Tywin even found out about those) — Tyrion never would have guessed that he would merit his father’s approval by his choice of woman. Occasionally, Tyrion even wondered — in spite of himself — whether Jaime was not a little envious of this considerable achievement.

"Margery’s well, she sends her regards," he answered, and his father nodded in satisfaction.

"And Jaime?" Tywin continued.

Tyrion smiled — something he rarely had cause to do in his father’s presence.

"He’s all creative energy: we’ve started rehearsing a few weeks ago," he supplied.

"What about Sansa Stark?"

"Sansa is very well. She’s adapting swiftly to her new role as one of the leading dancers in the company. A very talented young woman and very helpful with the choreography. Jaime listens to her more readily than to any one else, I think," he finished and realized that, unintentionally, he had provided the segue into the conversation Tywin wished to have, notwithstanding his previous decision not to do so. He wondered if he had caught a small smirk flash across his father’s lips, or whether the reflections of flames on Tywin’s features were playing tricks on his eyes.

"Good," Tywin said, and his voice indicated not that the opposite would have been unacceptable, but that, from this point forward, he expected events to develop even more favorably. "Are they spending enough time together?"

"Quite," answered Tyrion. "Or at least as much as possible for two people who, for now, are friendly colleagues and nothing else."

This time, there could be no question about it — Tywin Lannister definitely wore a pleased, if small, smile.

"Only a few weeks before, they were not yet friendly," he observed.

"I wouldn’t say that," Tyrion disagreed. "Jaime kept teasing her — ”

“Jaime teasing her and them both being friendly are two entirely different matters," Tywin stated with authority, and Tyrion preferred shrugging to acknowledging a certain truth in his father’s words. "What is he like around her?"

"For now, I haven’t noticed anything particularly different from a few weeks before: he’s still admiring her, in spite of himself; he keeps teasing her, but not when she makes suggestions about the choreography."

"Good," Tywin repeated. "If there is any way of getting them to spend more time together, I trust you will not neglect the opportunity of making sure they do."

Tyrion nodded, acknowledging with an annoyed smile his father’s orders. He did not need Tywin’s instructions where Jaime and Sansa were concerned — as it was, he was doing everything he could without arousing suspicions; and he was certainly not doing it because his father had told him to. He was fighting his own, decades-long fight, against the ripping claws Cersei had buried deep into Jaime’s soul. Meanwhile, Tywin spoke again.

"I plan to invite lady Sansa to lunch — I see no reason wasting time getting to know my future daughter-in-law," he declared.

Tyrion let out a small guffaw.

"Aren’t you getting ahead of yourself? They’re barely even friends," he objected.

Tywin sighed, a sound that combined resignation with slight condescension.

"Tyrion," he said in a voice that told the world of his infinite patience, "I have never seen Jaime look at any woman the way he watches Sansa Stark. Have you?" When his son shook his head, Tywin continued: "Believe me when I tell you, she will not remain a Stark for very much longer. When I met your mother — ” his father’s voice could never quite stay even whenever he mentioned his wife. "Well, let’s just say, I’m quite certain I looked at her the same way." There was a pause before he asked: "And when are you going to propose to Margery?.."

Tyrion returned home with a sense of relief: meeting his father always caused him to mobilize all his mental and physical energy. It was quite late: Tywin was a night owl (though he rose early), and Tyrion had called on him at a time when the evening had already turned to night. His and Margery’s apartment embraced him with a peaceful darkness. Margery, who, he guessed, had gone to bed, had left several small lamps on so that he could find his way easily to her. He walked toward the bedroom, following the path she had traced for him with the glowing lamps, turning them off as he past them. They led him to the bar, and he smiled softly: Margery knew he always needed a drink whenever he returned from his meetings with Tywin. Tyrion poured himself some whiskey. Watching the golden brown liquid fill his glass, he pondered his father’s words. Tywin’s certainty in Jaime’s feelings gave Tyrion increased confidence. Of course, father did not know about Jaime’s attachment to Cersei… On numerous occasions, Tyrion had even contemplated betraying the twins to Tywin in the hopes that their father might have enough influence on Jaime to put an end to the affair but always decided against it, fearful of losing his brother’s trust. Tywin’s ignorance of Jaime’s decades-long love for her could make him more inclined to be hopeful than Tyrion considered reasonable. However, though he thought his father excessively optimistic, Tywin’s belief still affected Tyrion’s perception of reality, and the wings of his own hope grew stronger. He finished his drink, turned off the light near the bar, and continued walking toward the bedroom, darkening the other lamps one by one. They guided him to his walk-in closet, where he changed before going to their bed.

Margery lay on her side, curled like a cat, her back turned to the last lamp she had left on for him. He joined her under the enormous blanket and turned off the bedside light. It took her only a few minutes to turn to him, still mostly asleep, wrapping her limbs around him and burying her face in the crook of his neck.

"How… was… your… dad?.." she mumbled sleepily. Awake, she never referred to Tywin as his "dad," taking her cue from Tyrion and using the much more formal "father."

Her lover stroke her hair gently, always afraid in moments like these that, if he touched her, she would fade away like dreams always did.

"The usual," he answered for the sake of simplicity, though he did not think it quite true. Ever since he had seen Jaime with Sansa, something had changed in Tywin. Although, Tyrion mused as sleep began to claim him, perhaps seeing Sparkle with his brother had deepened a change that had come earlier — when Tywin had first been introduced to Margery Tyrell as his son’s girlfriend.

Chapter Text

Sansa’s phone rang at the despicable hour of seven o’clock in the morning. At night, she always left on the setting that would only allow the third consecutive call from the same number to come through, in case something happened and someone in her family — or from among her friends — needed to get hold of her. She reached for her phone, worry tugging at her heart, but a number, not a contact name, lit up on her screen. Whoever this was, they were persistent.

"Hello?" she asked, her voice groggy from sleep.

"Lady Sansa Stark?" the voice on the other end inquired. She did not like its sound — the tonality reminded her of the endlessly creaking doors in the horror movies Jon, Robb, and Theon had loved watching as adolescents.

"That’s me," she answered and asked in turn: "whom am I speaking to?"

"Ramsay Bolton, at your service, my lady. I’m the personal assistant of Lord Tywin Lannister. He would like to lunch with you sometime in the near future. I’m calling to inquire if you’re available and schedule a time."

Damn him, Sansa thought in irritation. Did he have to call at this hour? And did she have to get out of bed, look for her planner, waking up completely, to oblige this madman? If she were still the same Sansa who had come from Winterfell to King’s Landing months ago, she would have done just this, but she had been in the capital long enough to learn that, occasionally, you had to push back.

"Mr. Bolton, is that right?" she asked frigidly.

"Exactly, my lady," the owner of the awful voice confirmed.

"Mr. Bolton, my successful work at the Lannister Ballet Company requires, among other things, sufficient sleep. I will kindly ask you, therefore, to call me back at a more civil hour, when we will be able to schedule a time for my lunch with Lord Lannister. Until then, I wish you a very good day." With this, she hung up.

She placed the phone back onto her bedside table and pulled the covers over her head. She was not getting up for another two hours at least. One of the many advantages of working at the Lannister Ballet Company was the late start time. She fell asleep, but her slumber was fitful and her dreams unpleasant. She had a nightmare about a large black dog that was growling at her and bit Lady. Her alarm clock had mercifully pulled her far from its jaws.

It was one in the afternoon when her phone rang again. She was having brunch with Tyene and Margery. (Ellaria’s mother had come to visit when she had heard the news about her daughter’s pregnancy, so the third member of their girl’s club was unavailable; Tyene had been only too glad to escape from her grandmother.) The same number flashed on Sansa’s screen as some hours before. She accepted the call, steeling herself to the unpleasant voice of Tywin’s personal assistant. Ramsay Bolton apologized, most courteously, for waking her up earlier in the day, and they scheduled the lunch for next week. She was glad when the conversation was over, but it had reminded her nevertheless of the angry black dog she had seen in her nightmare.

"Who was that?" inquired Margery.

"Ramsay Bolton," Sansa answered without enthusiasm, and Margery grimaced at the name. "He called to schedule a lunch for Tywin Lannister and me." She paused. "I actually wonder what Jaime and Tyrion’s father wants to talk to me about," she added.

For a moment, Margery looked like she had heard a funny joke, but she bit down on her amusement.

"I think he just wants to get to know the only Stark in town," she said in a voice that seemed pregnant with some enigmatic meaning.

Sansa raised and lowered her eyebrows to indicate incomprehension.

"It’s odd," she stated. "It’s not like they’re best friends with father."

"That’s probably the last way in which I would describe their relationship," agreed Margery. "But I don’t see any harm, Sansa. I don’t think the old lion will eat you after you’ve domesticated his son," she winked. "He has a soft spot for his sons’ girls, I can tell you this from personal experience," she added.

Sansa rolled her eyes.

"You’re always talking such nonsense," she said.

"Perhaps, but I’ll give you good advice just the same: don’t even think about paying for your lunch with Tywin. I’ve once made the mistake of suggesting we split the bill, and the man looked at me as if I had spat in his face! Lannisters and that gold they shit with so much arrogance…"

In a few days, Sansa took a cab to the Red Keep Building, where she was to lunch with Tywin. Between Ramsay’s call and her oncoming meeting with Jaime’s father, she had not stoped wondering why the Lannister patriarch seemed to be paying her so much attention. She remembered his gallantry at the gala and the utmost consideration he had shown her in introducing her to guests at a party where, by virtue of her newness to the city, she would have otherwise known only very few people. Needless to say, she dismissed Margery’s interpretation of his attention to her on the grounds of utter unrealism.

The tales she had overheard her father tell her mother about Tywin Lannister the Bogeyman had long since drifted far away from her. Probably the first moment Ned Stark’s words had begun to fade was when Sansa had first seen Tywin Lannister’s lagoon green eyes and realized how much he reminded her of Jaime. Even then, before she knew much about Jaime’s past, the father’s resemblance to the son had suggested to her that Tywin could not be entirely evil. Indeed, Sansa felt that no one who looked so much like Jaime (with the possible exception of his twin sister) could be as awful as her father had led her to believe. And if Jaime — the man for whom Ned Stark had always reserved the coldest scorn — had risen so highly in her eyes, she could not quite withhold her regard from his father. Besides, her knowledge of the truth behind Aerys’ death made her see the entire situation — and its main players — in a different light. She could not judge harshly a father for using his influence and resources to shield his son, who had done nothing more than defend his sister.

When he heard Sansa’s name, the maitre d’hotel personally escorted her from the ground-level lobby to the highest floor where the restaurant was located. Walking onto the rooftop terrace, Sansa found the view of the entire city — from the proud towers of the Red Keep castle to the glittering surface of Blackwater Bay — breathtaking. She could easily understand why Tywin liked this place well enough to make a habit of lunching there. She was led to the table where the Lannister patriarch sat engrossed in a newspaper. Seeing his guest approach, Tywin swiftly put aside his reading and rose to greet her.

"Lady Sansa," he said in his low, pleasant voice, "how delightful that you could join me."

"Thank you for your kind invitation," she replied with a smile.

They were seated; the waiter took their drink orders and disappeared.

"I must congratulate you," Tywin began with a small, almost sly smile. “I’ve heard you got one of the leading roles in the newest production of my sons’ company."

Sansa beamed.

"Thank you," she said warmly. "I was so happy when I was told."

"And how is the ballet progressing?" he inquired.

"I think it’s going rather well," she replied.

"Are you enjoying being part of the production?" he asked then.

"I am. I’ve never before witnessed the creation of a ballet — I only ever learned the steps in Winterfell and did not have the chance to contribute to the invention of one, so I find it not only very exciting but also very interesting." She paused. "Forgive me," she added, and Tywin looked at her with half-raised eyebrows, which seemed to communicate that he had already forgiven her for whatever she was going to say and that there was nothing to forgive in the first place, "I can’t help but wonder at your interest. I know that you don’t necessarily approve of your sons’ careers, so it surprises me a little that you care to discuss the production at all."

Tywin smiled a wistful smile.

"True enough. I cared to learn how you liked being a part of it," he said and sighed, almost — but not quite — in defeat. "I’ve always wanted them, Jaime especially, because he is the eldest, to take my place at the Lannisters & Co. It is a very great… disappointment to create a company so powerful from scratch only to realize that your heirs will not step into your shoes when you pass. It’s like giving away a child to strangers you don’t trust — it’s ours, it belongs to the family. It should remain in the family."

Observing her knitted brows he paused, and she took the chance to ask:

“ ‘From scratch?’ I thought that it has been around for generations."

Tywin’s expression hardened when he explained:

"My father, Tytos Lannister, had run the company into the ground. When I began building it back up, I started with worse than nothing — I had to fight the assumption that Lannisters were toothless lions." He paused, and Sansa noticed how, even almost half a century later, Tywin could not forgive his father for the damage he had done to the family name and company. "When Jaime entered the dancing profession," her interlocutor continued, "I had at first hoped that he would eventually return into the fold. Then, when I realized he would not, I had hoped that at least Tyrion would see reason, but neither did he."

"What about your daughter?" Sansa asked, feeling sympathy for the older man’s chagrin. Tywin snorted.

"My dear, I think that, notwithstanding my best efforts, you had the dubious pleasure of meeting my daughter at the gala. Being an intelligent girl, you must have realized that Cersei isn’t half as smart as she thinks she is. The trick she tried pulling on you — from which, might I add, you emerged an undisputed winner — is a classic way in which she fails. You see, Cersei is convinced that she’s quite the cleverest devil that’s ever lived and everyone else is no match for her. Not knowing the apprehension of defeat, she’s regrettably incapable of crediting her enemies with the ability to overcome her. As a result, she fails to outmaneuver them. For instance, she did not believe you were a very talented dancer, despite having received every indication to the contrary, and was rewarded for her efforts to bring you down by unwittingly handing you a triumph. I am most pleased it turned out this way in that particular case, but, when it comes to running a company, it is most unfortunate to provide with victories the people you mean to crush."

Sansa nodded. The waiter brought their drinks.

"In that case," she mused after taking a sip of her apple juice, "I’m almost surprised you were unable to kill the Lannister Ballet Company — it seems like you were ready to make every effort to accomplish this."

It was common knowledge at the LBC, as well as outside its inner circles, that Tywin Lannister had done all he could to destroy his sons’ enterprise. The man in question, however, looked like he thought himself the cleverest devil that had ever lived.

"I’ve never said I was unable to do so," he objected.

Sansa looked at him in confusion.

"But I thought… I mean, that it’s a truth universally known that you were not… Umm… Supportive of your sons’ endeavor."

"Not in the least, and I did try crushing it with all the means at my disposal."

She was so lost, she thought she would never find her way around her puzzled brain again. What Tywin was saying was entirely illogical, yet she could not believe that he lacked where rational thinking was concerned.

"I’m afraid I don’t quite understand."

"I tried squelching the Lannister Ballet Company, that much is true. I was taking their sponsors away one by one — buying out some, threatening to annihilate others. Then," he seemed to hesitate for half a moment, "then the Aerys scandal broke out." He paused as if appraising her reaction. She waited, wondering what he expected her to say. "I imagine your father and uncle have told you all about it," he added with a barely perceptible edge to his voice, which reminded her of the way Jaime spoke about that ignominious series of events. It was the first time Tywin had ever mentioned her father or uncle in her presence. Sansa looked down at the napkin, with the soft material of which her fingers were fidgeting restlessly.

"My father and uncle do not spare expressions of outrage whenever they speak about that incident," she admitted quietly, but the sympathy she had for her listener and her regret were obvious in her voice. "However, my family’s words are not the only account of Aerys’ death I’ve heard." She paused. "Jaime… He told me what really happened on that balcony," she said quietly. And I will bet anything that, ironically, I know more about the events leading up to that episode than you do. “I’ve come to see the happenings of that night from his perspective. You’ll not find me unsympathetic to what your family’s been through, Lord Lannister, and I daresay I now regard the whole affair from a point of view that is radically different from my father’s or uncle’s. Moreover, I believe that, had they known the truth," or at least a part of it, she mentally corrected, "they would not have been as uncompromising in their accusations."

Tywin Lannister looked at her with the gentle expression she had only ever seen come to his face when he talked to Jaime.

"He told you, didn’t he?" he said softly. "That is well." He paused, and the pleased expression she had noticed when he had greeted her returned to his face. "I’m enheartened to know that your own views on the matter diverge from those of your less… well-informed relatives," he finished diplomatically.

"What happened after Aerys’ death?" she asked quietly after a brief pause, curious to learn more about Tywin’s role in the shaping of the LBC and wishing to change the subject. He accommodated her unspoken request.

"I thought that after everything I had done to clear him of the charges, my son would show me his gratitude by taking his rightful place as my heir. When he didn’t, I redoubled my efforts of forcing him and Tyrion to do as I wished. Neither of my sons would accept defeat — I knew how hard they had to work to keep the ship I was sinking afloat. I had almost succeeded in bringing it down, when someone, whose opinion I trust considerably, alerted me to the fact that, even if I were able to destroy their company, my sons would not give up their careers — that they would simply enter the employment of one of their competitors." He paused.

That evening, many years ago, Varys had paid a visit to Tywin’s residence in King’s Landing. The spymaster had been in his employ for decades and was oddly loyal for a man of his profession. Varys’ keen intellect had gained Tywin’s respect early on; his sound advice had gone a long way to earn the Lannister’s trust. They were seated before a blazing fireplace. Tywin sipped at his scotch slowly; Varys nursed a drink of Dornish flower liquor.

”Lord Lannister," Varys began, "I’m afraid no one will tell the lion when he’s going after an antelope made poisonous by the venom of a snake; so I guess I’ll have to. My lord, I must beg you to reconsider your destructive intentions toward your sons’ company." Tywin punctuated this statement with a snort, but Varys pressed on. "I know that you wish to see your prodigal sons return to the Lannisters & Co., but they won’t, my lord; especially not if you destroy what they’ve labored so tirelessly to create. Even if you succeed in eradicating their company, they will simply continue their careers somewhere else, no longer masters of their own fates but at the mercy of someone else’s whims. They will not return to the fold, my lord, but, moreover, they will never forgive you. Think of the late Tytos Lannister — did you forgive him?”

Tywin had not given any indication that he had heard Varys at all, and the spymaster soon left him to his thoughts, but his words kept ringing in the ears of the Lannister patriarch. That night, he had dreamed of Joanna. His late wife appeared to him crying, her bright green eyes sad and red-rimmed. Why, Tywin? she asked. Why do you keep hurting them, our children? Why, my love? He had been shaken by that vision.

Sansa Stark’s curious eyes returned Tywin to the present.

"Lannisters working for someone! My sons — someone’s employees, at the beck and call of an overseer!" The eldest Lannister was indignant at the prospect. "I would eat my own insides before I allowed that to happen," he finished with rancor. "Forgive me, my dear," he added in a gentler tone, "I get quite carried away every time I speak of this issue."

"It’s quite all right,” Sansa smiled. "So when you stopped trying to sink them, they reached the safe harbor the company now enjoys?"

"Not quite," he answered. "I had done considerable damage, as you can imagine. At the point where I decided it was better that they worked in their own company than someone else’s, they may not have been able to reach that safe harbor."

"Then how?.." Sansa tried.

"Have you ever heard which was the biggest sponsor the Lannister Ballet Company had attracted in its early days?" Tywin questioned.

Of course, Sansa knew. She had studied the company’s history since she was a little girl. Witnessing its brilliant rise to prominence, even as a young child, Sansa had known she was living history.

"The Frey Enterprises," she answered.

Tywin smirked in a self-satisfied way that, she realized, Jaime had inherited from him.

"The Frey Enterprises were then being acquired by the Lannisters & Co. By the time the Lannister Ballet Company had received its donation from the Frey Enterprises, the lawyers’ ink had dried on the acquisition papers. No one knew this, of course: I rarely permit such large deals to be publicly advertised. Except for very few people in the Lannisters & Co., you’re the only one who knows this. I am quite certain you’re the only person in the Lannister Ballet Company who does. I trust you will remain the only one?”

Sansa could only stare. Unless she was having considerable auditory hallucinations, Tywin Lannister had just informed her that he had prevented the LBC from going under. She nodded, acknowledging his request for her silence, and kept watching the older man with incredulity, unable to say anything. He looked quite pleased with the effect his tale had had on her.

The morning after Varys and Joanna — in different ways but, it seemed to him, with a joint purpose — had visited him, Tywin Lannister instructed Davos Seaworth to add a new clause to his acquisition of the Frey Enterprises: they would be sponsored to provide a substantial donation to the Lannister Ballet Company; they were never to tell of the source from which the money had come.

The waiter materialized before them, and, with utmost reverence, inquired whether they cared to look at the menus.

"I know what I am going to have, but fetch a menu for Lady Sansa," Tywin requested. The waiter instantly produced the menu, and Sansa had to make an effort to concentrate on the letters.

"I can’t decide," she complained quietly after a few minutes. Indeed, her mind was still reeling from Tywin’s story, and she would be unable to tell chicken from fish.

"Might I suggest you try the Dornish Lamb?" Tywin proposed. "If you taste the dish and do not like it, you will order something else, of course."

She nodded.

"A Dornish Lamb for the lady and a Dothraki Beef for me," ordered Tywin. "I’ll have the Casterly Rock wine — lady Sansa, would you care for a glass?"

"No, thank you," she declined softly. She had never been one for drinking alcohol during the day — it made her unpredictably either too agitated or too drowsy.

The waiter vanished as quickly as he had appeared.

"There’s one thing I don’t understand," Sansa said. "If you were the one to save the LBC, why haven’t you ever come to see a performance?"

No less notorious than his attempts to dismantle the LBC was the fact that Tywin Lannister had never graced his sons’ productions with his presence.

"I wasn’t invited," he replied with a blatant simplicity that was poorly mitigated by his affected indifference.

Of course not! Sansa thought with some irritation. Because you and your sons were too proud to make peace. Still, she found it ludicrous that the father had never seen a single one of the dozens of ballets his sons had produced over the years. Lannisters and their damnable pride. Well, she thought, I’m not too proud; and I’ll get Tywin Lannister an invitation to the next ballet, if Jaime and Tyrion kill me for it.

They talked more about the oncoming production, and Sansa kept wondering how Tywin Lannister — a man who reportedly despised ballet ever since his sons had bound their lives to this art form — knew so much about it. It was not simply his understanding of the art that surprised her — this could have been explained by his remarkable intelligence and learning. No, Tywin’s vocabulary was that of a person who knew ballet thoroughly enough to carry on a conversation filled with the specific jargon common in studios and among connoisseurs.

Their dishes arrived, and Sansa was, yet again, amazed by Tywin’s consideration. He inquired several times if the lamb was to her liking and, each time, she replied with a smile that she had never had a better prepared dish in her life. She did not lie — the lamb was delicious.

They talked of other things as well in the course of the meal. Sansa discovered that Tywin’s sons had both inherited the graceful charm of his conversation. She liked speaking with him, and she appreciated the brilliance of his intellect as well as his wide knowledge of the world, from ballet to history, to business, to politics. She caught herself thinking that she wished she had such conversations with Jaime, realizing that, for instance, she had no idea whether the son agreed with his father on the flaws of the Free Folk Migration and Fair Employment Bill. Tywin considered the legislation in itself practical, but he criticized some points that had been added to the bill in a finer print. Sansa found herself agreeing with his arguments, which raised issues she had never considered before.
He asked her about her relatives but was more interested in her siblings than the older members of the Stark family, and Sansa could understand this. He inquired after Jon and his studies under the guidance of Dr. Mormont. Sansa spoke of her brother with affection, proud to boast of his accomplishments, surprised that Tywin had remembered her brother and his mentor. She also spoke of Arya, describing her sister’s dislike for commonly accepted rules of behavior. Speaking of her family was always bitter-sweet, now that she was far away and had not seen them in months, even if she spoke to them almost everyday. Her tales of Arya’s escapades reminded Tywin of the pranks for which Jaime and Tyrion were nearly kicked out of middle school. Sansa laughed till her sides ached at one particularly comical account that involved the two brothers pretending to discover a bomb at school: apparently, the principal, who had earlier offended Tyrion, made quite a fool of himself trying to save the lives of his students and colleagues from what turned out to be nothing more than an alarm clock and some batches of confetti.

When it was time to say goodbyes, Sansa regretted the swift passage of time and happily agreed to lunch with Tywin some time again in the future. She was even more strengthened in her resolve to procure him an invitation to The Fountain of Tears. It was fair to say that, on this day, Ned Stark’s stories about the head of the Lannister family became to her just that — stories. Sansa wondered if her father’s trusting nature had not been taken advantage of by people who filled wolves’ ears with falsehoods about lions.

Chapter Text

In hatred, look for an old passion;

In jealousy, find love.

If your dreams haunt you,

Lock them away in stones.

The scene following Nissa’s first dance was the duet of Azor and Tanea. In the castle, the king visited his prisoner, offering her his love, his riches, and his kingdom, but the young woman, grieving for her betrothed, rejected his killer and her captor. It was a beautiful and moving scene, filled with the ache of two hearts burning with loves that would not be abated.

Jaime and Margery had been practicing for several hours, working out the steps with the help of their colleagues and friends. A large part of the sequence had been outlined, and the two dancers were performing it for the first time with the altered music. Though Sansa had seen him dance many times by then, Jaime’s movements still had the power to hypnotize her. In his dance that day, and in his face, there was a different expression from any Sansa had ever observed before. It was as if this dance brought heavy thoughts to his mind, making his heart contort with venom.

Jaime disliked being interrupted when he worked on choreography; consequently, his apartment had a large dancing studio where he could be alone with the music and the movements it made flicker before his mind’s eye. When, several evenings before, he had begun inventing the steps and was listening to Renly’s score for the first time, noting immediately the passages that needed revising, his mind kept going back to the last time he had seen Cersei. It was as though the music called forth his sister’s face. Her angry face.

Ever since her marriage to Robert Baratheon, their relationship had been strained, to say the least. It was not simply Jaime’s jealousy — it was his utter inability to comprehend why Cersei had chosen that repulsive man. He shuddered with disgust and saw red whenever he imagined them in bed together. He knew she did not love her husband, and he doubted she saw any redeeming qualities in him — no one did, except perhaps for Ned Stark, Robert’s childhood friend. Worse than igniting Jaime’s jealousy, this choice made him question his sister’s integrity — and, sometimes, even her dignity.

From the twins’ very first night together, Jaime had begged her to run away with him or to bite down on fear and announce to the world that they loved each other and that anyone who did not like it could go to whichever of the seven hells they preferred. What had Cersei and he to fear from scorn or outrage, if they could be together? He hated the secrecy in which his sister tenaciously draped their relationship. He was galled by her insistence that he did not claim her publicly — he was hers, why could she not be his?

Tyrion had been much closer to the truth than he realized when he had hoped that Cersei’s marriage would break the back of Jaime’s patience. If it were not for Myrcella’s birth a year after the wedding and Cersei’s assurances of her fidelity, which Jaime, blinded by the sight of his newborn daughter, believed, his wounded pride and the powerful feeling of betrayal he felt might have been too much for him to overcome. Though he remained hers, Jaime became more and more aggravated with his sister as time went by, and his ire increased daily as he watched his children grow up addressing as "father" a drunkard hardly worthy of being called a man. As powerfully as he had wanted to claim Cersei, he wanted to call their children his, and the perplexity he felt regarding his sister’s choice of husband grew to a wholly different degree where her choice of father for their children was concerned. The more he resented her actions, the more relief he found in her supple, warm body.

Impersonating in dance a man rejected by the woman he loved, Jaime kept seeing Cersei’s face. The face of his sister, his lover, the mother of his children. The woman who, for some idiosyncratic reasons, had never been truly his. He danced with Margery, but he barely saw her — golden hair and irascible green eyes seemed to float before him.

Sansa could be naïve, but even she was not blind enough to ignore the impassioned, almost furious way in which Jaime danced. Sadly, the observation hardly led to sensible conclusions.

The more she watched Jaime and Margery during practice, the more quiet Sansa grew, until, by the time they were going though the motions of the long sequence, she had sat down, looking at the pair sulkily from a dark corner.

She kept asking herself why Jaime danced like this with Margery; why the rejection and frustration etched on his face seemed so real. She could not help speculating whether, perhaps, his relationship with his sister was not the only passion he had known. She wondered if Jaime had some inclination toward Margery, and whether he fought against it out of love for his brother. She kept thinking that in dance, a passion always surfaced very easily. She could not help comparing the feelings she had seen on his face and memorized from the recording of their dance — for she dared not give credit to her own recollections of it without some evidence — to the ones her pained eyes could see as he danced now. He looked happier when he danced with her, she thought and wondered whether darker feelings were by their very nature more powerful than the ones that filled gazes with light. Her own emotions were certainly rather painful at the moment. She had never seen Jaime dance with Cersei and, somehow, she had grown used to imagining that, in dance, he belonged to her, Sansa. But now, she could see with clarity that, even with her dance, she could not claim a part of him; a part of him she had not known how desperately she wanted until she had realized she did not have it, would not have it. Sitting in the dark corner, she hated Margery with a painful, self-destructive loathing. She asked herself why the thought of Jaime caring for her friend filled her with so much vehemence and pain — she had always known he belonged to another woman. Why had she felt so much less enmity toward Cersei when she had seen Jaime’s sister at the gala several weeks ago? Was it because she had never actually seen them together, safe for that one time when she had stumbled onto the lovers in the darkness? Or was it because, in the past weeks, Jaime had been so kind to her that she had forgotten a little to keep her heart’s gates on permanent lockdown? In the depth of her misery, Sansa was almost physically aware of how much she wished she could be what occupied Jaime’s thoughts, even if they were filled with rancor. It was in this moment that she had felt her breath leave her lungs and fear materialize like an invasive, deadly pathogen, clawing its way to every cell of her body.

No.

Mother, have mercy.

She took a breath but could barely release it. Here eyes were still glued to the dancers, and her breathing grew shallow and ragged.

I’m not. I can’t be. I mustn’t be... falling in love with him.

But it seemed the gods were set on playing a cruel joke on her. The tragic stories of first loves she had read and cried over with pleasure as a child seemed so insignificant in comparison with what her own would be. She should never have been in that dark studio; she should never have come close to the half-opened door; and if she was fated to meet him in King’s Landing, would to gods she had stayed in Winterfell! She could be naïve, but Sansa was not stupid. She saw a dark abyss of future pain open before her, its hungry jaws wide and filled with hunger. From her beloved stories, she knew only too well the agony that could be brought by unrequited love.

She gathered her belongings quietly and made to leave the room. She doubted anyone would notice. They did. Green eyes grew even darker when they had caught sight of her retreating form.

"Where do you think you’re going, minx?" his voice, tinted with irritation, lacerated her.

"I’m not feeling well," she replied. It was only half a lie.

"Sansa?" the irritation was gone; he sounded concerned. She did not turn to face him, still frozen in the doorway.

"It’s nothing, really. I will get some sleep and be good as new tomorrow," she said and left without looking back. Those words were an utter lie. She doubted she would get any sleep. Even if she did, she knew his eyes would haunt her. And tomorrow, she would be as devastated over her realization as she was today.

Jaime’s considerable ill humor, provoked by thoughts of Cersei, increased at a pace so rapid after Sansa’s departure that he ended the meeting early. It was as though her presence tempered his rancor, and when she left, his demons could pounce and devour him without fear. Moreover, he kept worrying, and scolding himself for doing so, about what was the matter with the minx, who — always so energetic and cheerful — had turned taciturn and lethargic that evening. When he returned to his flat, the emptiness of which he felt more acutely than ever — Tommen and Myrcella should have been there — Jaime’s mind was a dark place.

He did not expect to find Cersei lounging on his sofa. His sister was still wearing her black coat, but she had helped herself to a glass of red wine.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, as he threw his keys onto the bar. He did not sound friendly and he did not care.

"I was wondering what you’ve been doing," she replied, heedless of his unwelcoming attitude. "You haven’t called, and I haven’t seen you in days." She let out a cold laugh. "Don’t tell me you’re mourning because Sansa Stark has left?"

He felt adrenaline crawl between his ribs, down the inside of his spine, like a large snake. What the hell did she mean, talking about Sansa leaving?

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I assume you’ve sent her back to Winterfell by now," she purred.

He released a breath of relief. Cersei was not privy to Sansa’s sudden takeoff from King’s Landing. The minx was still in the city, glowing like a small, red fire in a dark pit.

"On the contrary, I’ve just given her one of the leading roles in the next production," he said, taking considerable pleasure in vexing his sister. He poured himself a glass of scotch. "I’m tired, Cersei," he continued. Tired, tired of you tonight. My rage and disappointment have exhausted me. "So whatever it is, make it quick."

She came to him, embracing him from behind, and rested her head between his shoulder blades. Her hands traced the planes of his chest; her voice was as soft as the rustle of silk.

"Send the Stark girl back to the North, and all will be as it was," she whispered. He reached for her hands and disentangled himself from her arms.

"I think we’ve already discussed the subject. My answer is still no," he said, walking away from her. He did not have the time to wonder why, notwithstanding Sansa’s talent, the thought of never seeing her again filled him with anger and fear.

Cersei began undoing the buttons of her coat. Of course, she had nothing underneath — his sister never entered negotiations unprepared.

Didn’t she say she would not have me until Sansa was gone?

"I told you, I’m tired," he said, and her hand froze on one of the middle buttons. Her surprise did not last, however. Still in her half-opened coat, she approached him again.

"You’re never too tired to take me," she said with a smile as she reached for his face with her hands. Her lips touched his softly. Whenever she wanted something, Cersei’s lips could acquire a surprising gentleness. He deepened the kiss, burying his hand in her luscious blond hair. Feeling a rush of desire, he moved to kiss her neck, his hand molding her warm breast.

"Promise me," she breathed, threading her fingers through his hair and massaging his scalp, "Sansa Stark leaves tomorrow."

She should not have said it. For the first time in her life, Cersei Lannister had misjudged her brother. The moment Sansa’s face flashed before his eyes, his sister’s body lost some of its hypnotic hold. He remembered that the minx was not feeling well, and that he did not know if she was any better. Thoughts of her sobered him from the intoxication by his twin. It was as if a magic spell was waning.

So, Cersei did not come because she wanted him. She came because she wanted something from him. Something more than all he had already given.

He grabbed her by the roots of her hair, turning her face toward him, looking heatedly into her eyes for a hint of feeling other than lust and vengefulness. She was watching him with an inviting smile, her eyes brimming with seduction. She wanted Sansa’s career, and he would not give it to her. He pushed her away from him.

"Sansa will remain at the Lannister Ballet Company. This is final. If you want me — stay. If you want something else in addition — leave," he said and, as always, he hoped that he would be enough. He wasn’t: her face contorted in angry snarl.

"I want her gone, Jaime!"

No, she did not want him. She wanted destruction. He started walking toward the front door, and she followed him, in her fury not realizing where he went.

"Do you hear me, Jaime? I want her gone!"

He opened the door.

"Get out," he said coldly.

"We both know that sooner or later you’ll do what I ask. You can never say ‘no’ to me, Jaime. You can never stay without me too long," she added, caressing his thigh. He caught her hand and used it to twirl her, a little roughly, out of his apartment.

"Go to the seventh hell, Cersei," was all he said before shutting the door in her face.

Text from Jaime Lannister to Sansa Stark:

Feeling any better, minx?

There was no answer. He went back for his glass of scotch.

Margery was sitting before the mirror of her vanity table, brushing her hair. She kept thinking of how ill Sansa had looked. The Tyrell girl had noticed that her friend had grown progressively more silent, watching her and Jaime dance with a pained look in her eyes.

"For the sake of our plan, I’m glad that Sansa’s jealous of me, but I’m much less inclined to be happy about it considering that she is a close friend," Margery asserted, still watching her reflection.

"Jealous of you and Jaime?" Tyrion mused from the bed, with faked carelessness. "Should I be concerned, too?" he asked, poorly hiding his apprehension behind an attempt at humor.

"Yes," Margery said in a grotesque voice so full of mockery, he knew that she had detected the doubt and jealousy in his own. “I’ve discovered the insurmountable charm of your tall, handsome brother and have been dreaming of nothing but shagging him in a dark corner."

Tyrion, who, in spite of the humor in her tone, had been irrationally, deeply wounded by her words, thought her cruel. He rarely felt jealous with Margery, and even more rarely did he give voice to the feeling. He tried not to allow himself to be jealous, knowing it was a trait that could disadvantage much more attractive suitors. Besides — usually, at least, — Margery showed him that she cared for him too well for him to feel the torturing emotion; but Tyrion idolized his brother, and it was not difficult for him to imagine that even Margery could be affected by his charm. Sensing his anger and pain, she put down her brush and came to straddle him, pinning down his arms and brining her face close to his. No matter how difficult it was for him, given his short neck, Tyrion turned away from her, stubbornly refusing to let her see the ache in his eyes.
"Look at me," she said in a commanding voice that had lost all humor. He did not move. "I love you, you stupid little man. You, and no one else. Not your pretty brother, not your boorish friend, not the guy next door. You."
He met her eyes, still feeling an agonizing mixture of anger, jealousy, and self-loathing.

"Do you? Love me? An ugly dwarf?"

She rolled her eyes.

"I cannot believe that after four years we’ve reached this point!" she exclaimed in amazement and baffled irritation. "Four years is a long enough time to figure shit out, Tyrion. You never said any of this nonsense when we first got together — why start now?"

"Because at first I thought I was just an exotic amusement for your carnal appetites," he said in a wounded voice.

She rolled her hips against him and smirked at his body’s immediate reaction to her.

"Well, guess you’ve done such a great job satisfying my 'carnal appetites,' I got rather attached to you," she laughed and tried to kiss him, but he turned his face away again, the expression of torment on his features intensified, and she was exasperated: "Oh, for fuck’s sake, Tyrion, what’s gotten into you?! I love you! How many times do I need to say it? I love you! How can you be less certain of my feelings after four years than you were after one or two?!”

"Because I did not love you so completely then!" he cried, his voice so desperate, it resonated with pain in her heart. He spoke the next words so quietly she could barely hear him: "Even later, I tried not to… I tried hiding little pieces of my heart from you, but you found each and every one of them with your greedy hands and… If you left me now, I would be… I don’t know what I would be… There would not be enough humor, or drink, or whores in this world to fill the hole you’d leave in me. I now that I’m a funny little man, but it’s because of you… it’s for you… my every joke and my every breath. All of them for you."
She kissed him hungrily, thoroughly. She kissed him long and deep, and he almost forgot what she had said, or what he felt, or how short his legs were. When she looked at him, her eyes were so full of fire, she scared him a little.

"I. Love. You." She said slowly and with rage. "I don’t care what you think of yourself, or what others think of us. I love you, and I will never let you go. You hear me? Never."

He looked away for a moment, then restored his gaze to her. There was so much hope in his eyes and so little humor, she could not look away from him if the sky started falling down on her.

"Never?"

"Never."

"Then you might as well — ” he began jokingly, but his voice cracked, “… marry me?" he finished so softly, it was barely even a whisper.
"Not if you don’t have a ring," she joked, her laugh a little nervous. "Honestly, Tyrion, it’s in such bad taste to propose to a girl without a ring."

He smiled a smile that was so sheepish and self-reproachful, it made her yearn to be able to read his mind. He made to get up, and when she did not let him, he said:

"I need to grab something, let me go, tigress."

Watching him warily, as though he might try to run away from her, she let him go. Tyrion walked to his office, and she followed him, the same vigilant expression in her eyes. He went to his safe and opened it, reaching for a small, black velvet box. Inside, he knew, was a ring he had ordered for her from the best jeweler in the city after the first year they had been together. It was just like the one he had seen his mother wear in the photographs he had loved inspecting as a child. Only this ring did not hold a green emerald in its golden mounting but a purple diamond — a precious stone of Margery’s favorite color. He never thought of actually proposing to her, waiting, each year with mounting anxiety, that she would leave him. Every now and then, when he caught himself dreaming of a long life with her, he would open the box and watch the violet stone to remind himself who he was and that fate did not have a princess in store for a dwarf like him. He would put the ring back and wait for her to leave him. She did not, and he would have to look at it again to stop himself from dreaming. He felt as though all the dreams he had tried expelling from his heart had accumulated in the glittering stone. After watching the box in his hands for a few long moments, he almost fled the office, Margery following closely at his heels. He could not force himself to return to the bedroom for her rejection, a place where she had said she loved him, and he could not stay behind, so he went to the living room. He opened the box and kneeled awkwardly, fully realizing the ridiculous picture he must cut. Not daring to raise his eyes to her, he said, as if to prove to her that she would never acquiesce:

"Will you marry me?"

He never heard an answer — she knocked him to the ground, breaking his fall with her arms, cradling his large head in her hands. She kissed him again with that hunger, that love he had felt in her earlier kiss, before she said:

"Yes, you stupid, stupid little man. I will marry you. And if after that you ever again complain about not being tall, I will give you a pair of stilts for our wedding anniversary. Now, give me that ring — I’ve never seen a prettier bauble in my life! When did you get it?"

"Three years ago," he said sheepishly, still dazed by her answer, watching her as if he had seen the sun for the first time.

"Three years ago?! How much longer were you planning on waiting?!”

"I didn’t plan on waiting — I never thought of actually proposing," he looked at her beautiful hand on which the ring now sparkled. "I simply looked at it, dreaming," he answered simply. "I love you," he said, and there was so much feeling in his voice. "I can’t believe you agreed to marry me," he added, a little bewildered. She caressed his face with affection, love shining in her eyes, and smiled.

"I cannot believe you kept this pretty thing from me!" she joked, unable to take his doubts about her affection seriously for long — it was so evident to her that she loved him. "I bet any girl would agree to marry you if you showed her this ring! Ah, don’t you dare pout! Don’t you dare, Tyrion." She kissed him and grinned slyly. "You know what’s the difference between me and those other girls?"

"Can’t even imagine," he said, a small pout still warring with a smile on his face.

"It’s that I would marry you if you didn’t have a pretty ring or anything else beyond your jokes, your smartass remarks, and that wonderful cock I clearly cannot get enough of."

He shut her up with a kiss, and she smiled against his lips.

"I can always return the ring," he teased.

"Don’t you dare say that, Tyrion Lannister!" she screamed in mock horror and added with gentleness: “I’ll never take it off, I promise." Her seriousness did not last, however: "Our great-grandchildren will have lots of trouble getting it off my protesting corpse!"

Chapter Text

Don’t reject me,

I’m trying to seduce you.

Leave me in this darkness

If you can’t give me light.

With the email that had announced the first meeting to outline the choreography, Tyrion had attached a spreadsheet with every major participant’s contact information. Sansa had diligently made sure she had everyone’s number in her phone address book and added Jaime’s. She felt rather silly about it at the time — why would she call him? She had certainly never expected to receive a message from him. After her screen lit up with —

Text from Jaime Lannister to Sansa Stark:

Feeling any better, minx?

— she could only stare. Then, she closed her eyes and placed her phone back on the bedside table. She almost wished he did not show her kindness. Perhaps, if it were not for his encouraging words, which had shielded her from self-doubt, she would never have begun falling in love with him? Maybe she would at least not have realized she had? Her senseless, senseless heart skipped a beat when she had seen his name and read his words, but her mind, afraid and apprehensive, seemed to scold:  I told you to keep your mouth shut; I told you not to get closer; I told you so many times you would get hurt. And now you will. And I told you so.  She thought of his dance with Margery, of his passionate embrace with his sister.

You’re not Cersei.

He will never be mine.

She did not text him back, turning on her bed to stare at the wall instead.

I should not want him to be mine.

When Tyene returned home, she began asking what was wrong. Sansa, who knew only too well what ailed her, could not stand mumbling any more lies, so she gathered her things and left for the only place that could bring her peace.

She slipped into the cozy twilight of the Lannister Ballet Company building and went to the studio she considered to be hers this time of day. She did not care to rehearse anything that night. She wanted nothing more to do with reality, which loomed over her heavily, ominous and rumbling like a storm cloud full of lightening. She came to the darkness glowing with street lights and moonlight because she needed healing.

She would not call her mother in the middle of the night again — gods knew, then father would come to check on her for sure. He called much more often ever since she had awakened mother with her tears. Ned was worried for his little girl, and Sansa preferred depriving herself of comfort to causing her parents any more anxiety. They had their hands full with Arya. She smiled a little. She wished suddenly that she were more like her little sister — careless and free. Arya would probably never have become infatuated with Jaime Lannister. Maybe her sister was right that day a couple of years ago when they had had a horrible fight — maybe Sansa was a stupid girl with stupid dreams.

She could not call Jon or Robb for the same reasons she did not want to call her parents. Besides, what would she tell any of them? If she so much as breathed a word of Jaime Lannister… She refused to even envision the nightmare that would ensue. She did not want anyone in her family to learn how foolish she was; she wanted her new friends to know of her idiocy even less, so she could not call Margery or Ellaria and had to escape from Tyene. She wished she could talk to Margery — she had never had a girl friend she liked and admired as much as her. Sansa’s jealousy had quieted, partly because reason had not abandoned her completely, partly because she was overpowered by the much more shaking realization of the feelings that had caused her resentment. Left alone with her pain and the mortification at her own imbecility, Sansa resorted to the only other consolation she knew.

With habitual movements, she fixed her phone to her arm band and put on her headphones. She hit "play" and let herself go to a place where heartbreak did not exist, where music filled her being so completely she could not feel anything besides its beat. She danced, and the waves of pain ebbed from her heart. She danced, healing a little. She danced, danced, danced her heartache away. The darkness, the yellow and silver light were blurring, and the green eyes she saw brought her no torment.

Then, an awareness zipped through her body and offset the calming effect of her remedy. She stopped, and, though the music still sounded in her ears, it no longer permeated her body. She could be standing with her back to him, but she felt his eyes on her. She knew he was there.

The glass of scotch had done little for Jaime. His thoughts and his anger made him restless. He had tried working on the steps for another sequence but found himself unable to concentrate. Exasperated, he had picked up his keys and left his apartment. Speeding down the empty streets of King’s Landing did little to soothe him. Finally, he drove back to the company’s building. He knew that the minx seemed to find a bizarre kind of peace in its gloomy studios; perhaps he could, too. He did not expect to see her there after she had left the meeting almost two hours early, citing her health as an excuse. Like the night he had stumbled upon her when she was dancing as if she were a jubilant sylph — it seemed a lifetime ago — he paused to admire her motions, hoping that watching her would assuage his chagrin. There was something strange in her dance that night: she did not look like a magical being. Instead, her movements called to his mind a day at Casterly Rock, decades ago, when, as a child, he had seen a bird, her wing broken by someone’s well-aimed stone, start falling toward the ground, her healthy wing clapping frantically but uselessly at the air. The bird — it turned out to be a young black kite — had fallen dead at his feet.

He did not know what gave away his presence, but she stopped and stilled. She took out her headphones and turned to him, standing with her back to the light, and he could not see her face.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, and he almost did not recognize her strained voice.

"I could ask you the same, minx," he parried. “Be careful of your answer, though — remember, you left the meeting earlier today because you were not feeling well." He made a point of looking her over. "You look fine to me."

He denied feeling any relief at the conclusion. She bowed her head like a guilty child, and Jaime realized that the minx had lied. He found it too amusing to be believed and had opened his mouth to throw another jibe, when something in her dejected countenance stopped him. He came to stand closer to her.

"What’s the matter, minx?" he asked her without mockery. "It’s not the doubts plaguing you again, is it?"

What doubts could there be? she mused. She was falling in love with him and would pay a high price for her heart’s blunder.

"No," she answered, her voice a little shaky.

He tried turning her face up to see her eyes, but she gently moved his hand away from her chin, and her gaze remained downcast.

"What are you doing here?" she repeated.

So she has learned that attack is the best kind of defense.

"I was looking for peace, but I found you instead," he said with a smile.

She was silent, so he asked her, as if his questions could prevent her from leaving:

"Have you been trying to come up with new movements?"

"No," she answered. "I was looking for peace, but then you decided to waltz in."

She threw his words back at him without mirth or gleam of rhetorical victory.

He smiled more broadly.

"At least I haven’t startled you like I did last time," he offered.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Were you leaving, then?" he asked.

She shrugged again.

"Minx, it’s dangerous talking to you," he quipped, "one might never get away from your chatter."

No answer, not even a smile.

"Minx, are you sure you’re all right?"

I’m sure that I’m not.

"I’m fine," she lied. You should leave, her mind warned her. Stay, an evil spirit chanted invitingly. She was frozen in indecision, and he spoke again.

"Well, since it seems that we’re both affected by insomnia, we might as well use the time productively," he said in a cheerful voice that did not sound quite as careless as usually. "Have you thought of Nissa’s second dance yet?"

She shook her head.

The second time Nissa appeared was a pas de deux performed by her and the king. Driven to desperation by her lover’s coldness, Nissa would go to Azor, trying to seduce him, to remind him of their love, but to no avail. Sansa had not had the opportunity to think of that second dance, preoccupied as she had been with rehearsing the first and then shattering with her realizations.

Dancing is like making love… when you stop being a body and become a heart — you are dancing because every part of your being is pulsing with desire, and the only way to achieve satisfaction is by seducing your love with your movements.

The voice of her reason was fading, and her heart was calling; hope trumpeted its summons. She remembered the admiration of all those who had seen her dance at the gala; Jaime himself had said on multiple occasions that she danced well. People often told her she was pretty, and her mother believed her to be beautiful. Perhaps… Perhaps, if she could just dance well enough, she could break through into the depths of his green eyes. Perhaps, she could at least see again that look in their green abyss that made her breath catch when she replayed and replayed the recording of their dance and dwelled on her memories of him.

She took her phone from her armband and walked to the speakers to connect it. Renly had sent her the draft of the music he had created for the scene a few hours before. Her heart was beating a wild staccato in her chest and her hands were shaking. She thought she knew in that moment what Nissa would have felt.

In the semi-darkness, she could almost, but not quite, imagine that Jaime Lannister was not there, and the man standing before her was the figment of her inflamed imagination. But his presence was too powerful, too real, to be ascribed to her dreams. The music started, its tone seductive and plaintive. She began to dance and lost the erratic motions of a wounded bird. The grace, the splendor of her movements seemed more soft, more sinuous than ever before. For the first time since she had begun dancing for green eyes, she did not fall into a trance-like state. She saw him just as he stood before her, real and tangible, and he was more powerful than daze. Dancing with her heart, she had never been so awake, so free of reverie, so focused on the reality before her. It seemed that she saw every line of his face with greater clarity, as if her eyes had refocused. Her every motion began in the depth of her soul and was performed for him, as if her movements were ribbons she was throwing like paper streamers, and they could bind him. She danced around him, as if to encircle him in the magic ring of her steps. His eyes followed her, waiting, and she believed he would not miss a single batting of her lashes. She began to narrow her magic circle, coming closer, a little closer to him with each pas. She reached him just as the music softened almost to a complete pause. She stood before him, watching his face as the melody whispered and died around them, learning to see him and know this was he — the man she was unwittingly falling in love with. It was paradoxical, like seeing a familiar face for the first time. The music revived, its tempo and volume rising, and they began to move together. She had never felt more powerfully herself than in that moment; she had never before been so completely Sansa and no one else; and she had never wished for anything more strongly than for him. She could not read his face.

Every time Jaime saw her dance, he caught himself thinking that it was impossible for her to be more beautiful than she was as she floated or burned to the sound of music; and every time he saw her dance anew, she seemed more magnificent than she had appeared before. He watched her bewitching dance; watched as her white skin reflected streetlight, even as it seemed to shine with moonlight from within; watched her red hair catch fire every time she came out of shadows; watched her near him and stop, her eyes bright with a soft flame, her chest rising and falling with deep, slow breaths. He began to dance with her in the magical sphere she had brought into being. Holding her waist, the touch of their hands — sensing her warm body — made him loathe to feel cold emptiness against his palms.

The air they were breathing seemed to grow thinner; the ephemeral touch of the dance became less fleeting, as though they could savor more the same momentary brushes of hands. Her frantic heart was beating, singing its blood song to him. The music died another diminuendo, and they separated — Nissa’s seduction was bound to fail. The last bout of impassioned music was meant to accompany the beginning of her jealousy, her madness, her despondency.

The moment his hands left Sansa, her mind reared its head: He will never be mine. Just as Azor would never be Nissa’s.

She danced to the song of despair. She let herself imagine that she could caress him from a distance with every arabesque and every pirouette. The further she moved away from his body, the more she wished her motions could make him come closer. Like on the night she had first seen him, all she wanted was to take the place of that woman with long, curly blond hair, who could pull him as close to her as she liked and trace the line of his strong shoulders with her lips while she gave herself to him. Watching his expressionless face, she began to burn, and she danced in that flame — for him.

Jaime watched her retreat, the darkness nearer to her than he, the shadows fortunate enough to cling to her shape. He absorbed the sight of her glowing skin, her graceful limbs; the soft curve of her long neck; her lithe, balletic body; her tempting, slightly opened lips; and her gleaming blue eyes that called to him as nothing had before.

He wanted her. The longing was so entirely overpowering, there was no hiding from it, no ignoring the craving he felt for her body. He wanted to explore with his tongue every part of her mouth, learn every motion that made her whimper and moan. He wanted to feast on her youthful breasts, making her arch her back like a cat. To move to her sweet, wet cunt and kiss it until she lost all coherence, the last shreds of her coldness. Every inch of her alabaster skin he wanted to trace with his lips; every one of her long, slender limbs he wanted wrapped around him, pulling him closer as he thrust deep into her, enveloped by her heat. He yearned for her slender fingers to tangle in his hair as he fucked her until the only thing she knew was how to scream his name. He wanted her to always look at him the way she did now. He wanted her to feel for him the maddening lust that was sweeping him off his feet, and yet for her eyes to remain soft, so that when he took her enough times to be able to make love to her slowly, she would chant his name and look at him as if there was nothing in this world but him. He wanted her to love him with every part of her beautiful, innocent being. And it was this desire that pulled him from the tumult of lust and reminded him that he was the Kingslayer and she a virginal, virtuous slip of a girl from the incorruptible North.

The music ended, and she had stilled in the final pose. Another track started playing, breaking the enchantment; she walked to her phone and killed the sound. Her back turned to him made him want to bring her against him, trace the curve of her neck with his lips, warm his palms on her skin.

"I don’t think I will remember the entire sequence," she said, and her voice startled him.

He would. He would remember every way in which her lungs drew breath. But before he forgot himself, pulled her against him, wrapped her legs around his hips, and covered her mouth with his own, he had to leave.

"Then you’ll have to invent again, minx, — not the worst of tasks," he said.

Sansa was surprised by the sound of his voice, how low, and quiet, and strained it was. She turned to him and searched his face for a sign that could give her heart a single argument against the imminent onslaught of her mind. She discerned nothing in his unreadable expression.

If he watched her look at him in this odd way one more moment, he would act on the madness that had possessed him. He gave her a curt bow and left. Rushing down the corridor, he ran his hand through his hair, as if to pull himself back to his senses.

I must be going insane.

He left her in the darkness. There was nothing for her heart to hold onto. Her mind was victorious over its vanquished, moribund foe.

See how that hurts? And I told you it would, her reason whispered in savage vindication, as her heart collapsed onto itself.

He shut his flat’s door loudly behind. If, when he had exited the apartment some time before, Jaime thought that he might return less restless than he was when he had left, he was cruelly disappointed. Images of Sansa kept flashing in his mind, constricting his chest a little too much to allow for normal breathing. Aside from his sister, no woman had ever been able to hold his attention long enough for him to desire her, yet there was no denying he wanted that blushing, Northern minx. Jaime threw his head back and laughed — it was not a happy sound. Truly, there had never lived a man less fortunate in his desires than he. He needed as much scotch as was to be found in his apartment, maybe more. He pretended that he could drown his lust in alcohol, refusing to acknowledge that the sickness of desire could not be cured with liquor. Surely, this attraction to Sansa was occasioned by his prolonged separation from Cersei. Certainly, it was an illusion — like the flickering light that made her hair seem as if it were woven from fire. Doubtlessly, tomorrow’s hangover would be the last adumbration left of this deranging mirage.

She returned home to find that Tyene had left. Her roommate took to spending more and more nights without returning home until morning, if at all. Sansa only hoped that Bronn would treat her friend right. She disliked the emptiness of the apartment even more than she had Tyene’s questions.

Her mind kept spinning the circles of the seven hells, in which she found reflected Jaime’s face.

Why did it have to be him?

She grew intimately acquainted with despair that night. When she laid her woeful head on her pillow, she tossed and turned for what seemed like hours before she fell into a fitful sleep.

The twins were clinging to each other tightly. She tried pulling them apart, screaming in anguish, but it was as though her hands could not touch them and her shouts did not reach their ears. Like a wild bird that cannot understand the concept of a cage, she was beating against the invisible wall that separated her from them. Then, suddenly, she had taken the woman’s place. She was encircled in his arms, her legs wrapped around his hips; his lips caressed her neck. Just as she was falling into a blissful, warm abyss, he brought his face close to hers as if to kiss her. His green eyes looked at her with accusation and distaste.

You’re not Cersei.

Sansa sat up with a jerk, waking. Oh, she was going to go mad! She put her face in her hands, breathing heavily. What had she ever done to be punished thus? How was she going to live, working at the Lannister Ballet Company, plagued by fervent nightmares and no less insane daydreams?

Text from Sparkle to Ellaria:

Can you and I get together tomorrow? Just the two of us? There’s something I need to talk to you about.

She did not know why she had reached out to Ellaria, and not to Margery or Tyene. She intuitively sought a motherly figure, if one who was very unlike Catelyn Stark. She never thought she would be able to speak to her own mother about something like this, partly, because she would never be able to hide anything from her like she could from Ellaria; partly, because she would be too afraid of unvoiced judgement or disappointment. Of course, mother would never say that Sansa had done something wrong, but she would fear reading this in Catelyn’s Tully blue eyes. And she did not want to. Somehow, she was convinced that she would not see condemnation of her feelings in Ellaria’s brown eyes. She hoped to find council and strength in their warm, chocolate depths.

Text from Ellaria to Sparkle:

Sure thing, hon. Does it have anything to do with why you left early tonight?

Sansa could not help a sad smirk. Of course, Ellaria would have noticed.

Text from Sparkle to Ellaria:

No, I just forgot to eat and had a headache. But I do want to talk to you, please.

Text from Ellaria to Sparkle:

Alrighty. Rose Garden Café?

Text from Sparkle to Ellaria:

Somewhere less crowded with acquaintances?

Text from Ellaria to Sparkle:

How about my place? I’ll kick Oberyn out ;)

Text from Sparkle to Ellaria:

That sounds lovely. Thank you.

Tomorrow, then, she would begin learning how people lived on with hearts maimed by unrequited love.

Chapter Text

To know joy,

Reap happiness in a field of pain.

To lessen sorrow,

Close your ears to the sound of rain.

Ellaria and Oberyn’s apartment was like a miniature Dorne. Golden tones and bright colors — yellow, green, orange — dominated their interior decoration. Large windows let in the light and the breeze of the sea. Silks, rugs, furs of exotic animals; the smell of spices, aromatic oils and candles; the soft chatter of wind chimes; the inviting pillows and divans; the colorful decorative pottery — all imparted a distinctly Dornish atmosphere to the place. Sansa loved Ellaria’s home. Her friend was making fruit tea in the large, light-filled kitchen, while Sansa sat on a barstool at the kitchen counter.

"So, what did you want to talk to me about?" asked the older woman.

Sansa took a deep breath.

"Please, promise me you will not laugh at me or tease me. I’m… I’m in enough pain as it is," she pleaded in a small voice.

Ellaria looked concerned.

"If anyone has hurt you in any way, just tell me, and I’ll castrate them and fuck them in the ass with their own cocks," she growled deep in her throat, dark brown eyes flashing.

"No! My gods, no!" Sansa cried in shock. Why did Ellaria always have to be so explicit and extreme in her wild opinions? "I just want your advice… I know you won’t judge me and… I wanted to talk to you because I don’t think my mother would understand…"

Ellaria reached for the young girl’s hand.

"Sansa, you can tell me anything — anything at all — and I’ll tell you the truth as I see it, no judgement attached," she winked, "you know I always do." Ellaria squeezed her hand and let go, returning to making tea. "As a mother, however, I can tell you that there’s nothing we won’t understand about our babies."

Sansa shrugged. She did not want to take any chances where her mother’s understanding was concerned.

"So what is it?" persisted Ellaria.

"I… I think I’m falling in love with someone who will never love me back," Sansa said hesitantly. Ellaria seemed as if she knew whom Sansa had meant.

"Are you talking about Jaime?” she began. “Because — ”

  1. GODS! flashed in Sansa’s mind, and she hastened to interrupt:

"I’m talking about someone else!" she yelped her lie in panic.

"Oh." Ellaria looked surprised; anxious; and a little disappointed. "Who, then?" she inquired.

"Someone else!" Sansa repeated. "Look, it doesn’t matter who," she added and sighed. "The point is: that person will never love me back. So I want to ask you this: is there a way to live with this… Learn to get around it? Like a disability or something?"

Ellaria looked pensive for a few moments, as if sad memories called to her from the past.

"Yes," she said, and Sansa released the breath she had been holding. "Yes, there is."
The hopes she had placed in Ellaria were not in vain.

"Could you teach me how?" she asked.

Ellaria proffered her a cup of the delicious fruity drink and walked toward an orange divan that stood before an open balcony. They sat and drank in silence for a few minutes.

"You’re right to compare it to a disability," Ellaria said finally. "It’s like dyslexia, or ADD. It’s always there, making your life a little harder than everyone else’s. You can curse and despair, but it won’t go away… So you learn how to go on in spite of it; how to overcome it. With unrequited love… What you learn is to find the little happiness you can. Don’t think, 'he doesn’t love me,’ or 'he loves someone else.' Focus instead on a friendship, perhaps a few warm words. Learn to be happy with scraps until something changes, or you can move on."

The Dornishwoman took a sip of her tea.
"What if I don’t move on?" Sansa asked almost in a whisper. In truth, this question petrified her more than any other.

"Nothing lasts forever," replied Ellaria with conviction, "not even love."

"But my parents will always love each other," Sansa countered, "so some love does." Ellaria’s smile was a little rueful.

"When love is returned, it can last an eternity; but when it’s not — sooner or later, the heart shakes it off. It’s like a bad dream: it may seem you’ll never stop running, but at some point, you do wake up."

They paused, watching the sea and the white boats in the far distance.

"When I fell in love with Oberyn," Ellaria began, turning to examine the pieces of fruit in her teacup, as if to read in them her fate, "he didn’t pay me any mind. It was nothing but a fling for him, and he wouldn’t have known what faithfulness was if you showed him the definition in a dictionary." She smiled a wistful smile, pained still by the memories. "So I learned to close my eyes to his escapades: even if I killed his lovers, it wouldn’t have mattered — he’d simply find new ones. So I pretended to be blind, opening my eyes only when he was mine, if for a brief time, dedicating the rest of myself to my art. I was jealous but patient. I loved on, regardless of how my whole body seemed to ache and blood boil when I caught a whiff of feminine perfume or noticed stains of lipstick on his clothes." She paused. "I learned that I was happier when I was with him even if he wasn’t mine than when I was without him at all." She turned to Sansa and put a warm hand on her knee: "Learn how to be happy hearing a laugh or a kind word; learn to ignore the pain — it won’t go away, so put it on a back burner. Find comfort in a smile that you have brought to his face; feel happy because you do get to speak with him, see him. You would be more miserable if you didn’t. If you’re certain he’ll not love you…" Sansa nodded in discouragement, "something I find hard to believe, " Ellaria commented, "accept that you can change nothing and that you must be content with what you have, and you have more than just the love for one person: you have a wonderful family, adoring friends, and a promising career."

Sansa had never dreamed Ellaria had experienced heartbreak firsthand. She had simply assumed that her friend would have sound advice based on what she had seen in others.

"What happened then — with Oberyn?" she inquired hesitantly, gently, so as not to disturb an old wound.

"I domesticated him," Ellaria smiled with good humor. "After a while, he’d stay longer, return sooner. He wanted me more and the others less. He grew to depend on me, because I refused to depend on him — I was the one he could talk to, knowing I would never throw a fit over his words. He started sharing secrets and dreams with me, and I did the same. At some point, I could tell it was just me he was with. He didn’t say anything, didn’t make any promises, but the perfume and lipstick were gone from his clothes and I knew where he was almost every hour the day — partly, because he was never far from me. Then, one day, we were in a bar, and a big Dothraki guy began flirting with me. Oberyn flew into a terrible rage. I thought he would kill that guy — Sansa, and the big brute was three times Ober’s size! Anyway, when we returned to my place, I started cleaning his bloody, bruised hands, and it was the first time I’d ever reproached him for anything." She smiled at the fond memory. "He pulled me against him and told me that he’d tear anyone who tried taking me away from him to pieces. I got angry, I slapped him, but he never let me go. I told him I did not make similar threats and that he should show me the same curtesy. He said he wouldn’t, and that I was welcome to claw anyone who looked at him in ways I didn’t like. I almost kicked him out of my apartment, I was so mad." Ellaria chuckled and shook her head. "Anyway, we shouted a long time that night — at first in anger, then with pleasure. And that day, something changed between us: we knew it would only be us and no one else. A year later, he asked me to be his wife; then I had Tyene, and Oberyn went nuts — I never imagined a guy like him would turn to putty in his daughter’s hands."

Ellaria paused, drinking more from her cup.

"Why did you never change your name?" Sansa asked. She had pondered this for a while.

"I was known as Ellaria Sand professionally, so I couldn’t change my name. I worried Oberyn wouldn’t understand, but he did. Tyene took my name, because she wanted to continue the 'female line.' I think Oberyn’s still a little wounded," finished Ellaria with mock sympathy, which poorly hid her pleasure at her daughter’s choice. Sansa had noticed early on that, in the Martell-Sand family, there seemed to be a latent competition between the parents for their daughter’s smiles.

She smirked into her cup; the sweet aroma of Dornish tea surrounded her like a soft, warm summer wind. Ellaria tucked a lock of Sansa’s flaming hair behind the girl’s ear.

"There’s no telling how love will turn out, Sansa," Ellaria said. "Whoever he is, he might never love you, or he might fall in love with you someday, or he might love you already and you simply don’t know it yet. On average, men are slow creatures when it comes to feelings — it takes them longer to go from willful ignorance through denial to acceptance. In the meantime, look for small joys and try not let your heart dream of greater ones. Nothing cures unrequited love so well as friendship, darling."

Sansa nodded, recognizing the truth in Ellaria’s words. After all, what choice did she have?

They drove to the LBC building together, chatting cheerfully along the way as if they had never known heartbreak and one was not teaching the other to live with it, yet a bitter sweetness seemed to float around them like perfume.

When they arrived to Jaime’s studio, they walked into the arena of a heated argument. That day, they were supposed to continue crafting the dance of Azor and Tanea. Margery and Jaime were arguing with venom.

"That movement doesn’t work, Lannister!" Margery was screaming at the top of her lungs, but Jaime would not be contravened:

"Of course, it does! You’re simply too clumsy today for whatever reason to carry it out! Yesterday, you were spouting none of this nonsense!"

"I told you yesterday it wouldn’t work! And it doesn’t! You won’t be the one risking to sprain your ankle to satisfy some lunatic’s ideas! I’m telling you, I won’t be doing this!"

"Don’t be ridiculous, Marge — not even a one-legged dancer would sprain her ankle doing this simple pirouette!"

"What’s happening here?" Ellaria inquired.

"He’s trying to make me do this crazy pirouette!" Margery complained, annoyance heavy in her voice.

"Which one?" asked Sansa.

Margery showed it without preforming the motions fully. It was difficult — but hardly impossible.

"But you were doing it fine yesterday,” noted Ellaria in confusion, and Jaime bowed to her in exaggerated gratitude.

"Traitor," bit out Marge and went for a drink of water.

Margery Tyrell was not, ordinarily, a person to be pissed. She could be annoyed, exasperated, or mad but, generally, she would not describe herself as “pissed.” That day, however, she was unable to find in her rich vocabulary a more appropriate word to summarize her emotions.

She was elated the night before — the man she loved had finally gotten a hint and asked her to marry him. No sooner had she seized his proposal (and the accompanying ring, which, by the way, was the prettiest thing she had ever seen in all her life), than Tyrion began saying that they should wait before announcing their engagement. At least he had the decency not to state anything like that while they made love through the night — but did he have to spoil her morning? She wanted to put the magnificent piece of jewelry on her finger — where it officially belonged now — and tell everyone that Tyrion Lannister was off the market for good, back off bitches. But no. Tyrion had to start saying stupid nonsense about how the ring needed to be refitted (it absolutely did not, of course — it was a special order, after all); then he began suggesting that they should wait to tell the news anyway ("father will not leave us alone until we’re married, and I want some quiet time to savor getting used to the idea," he said). At first, Margery laughed him off, but he was more persistent than a bulldog who had seized his owner’s slipper and would not unclench his jaws. Finally, after a prolonged argument, her fiancé made a statement, which, in ridiculousness, rivaled any foolish thing that had ever been said. He declared that he simply would never believe that she did not act on impulse unless she had time to "think the whole thing through." Margery tried reasoning with him; she tried some dirty tactics; she tried false tears, threats, and puppy eyes, but Tyrion was indomitable. She would have time to reconsider whether she wanted to or not. Margery was outraged, but, in the end, she had no choice but to give in.

She wanted to tell everyone, most of all her grandmother and Sansa, but her stupid, stubborn fiancé had somehow managed to temporarily cheat her of this fun. At least, she could take some small pleasure in his new title — though she could not say it aloud, damn it! Margery was not a big believer in delayed gratification, and if she lacked one virtue, it was patience. She wanted a wedding, a wedding with Tyrion. She had waited for at least two years already, though glimpses of a future with him had begun flashing before her eyes much earlier than that. Weddings took so long to plan — good ones, anyway — why could they not take the time to “think the whole thing through” while preparations were underway? It was not like the outcome would be different — she would just have to wait longer until she walked down the aisle.

She was not sure if she wanted a wedding in the Great Sept or on a beach somewhere… Perhaps a garden? Oh! Maybe they could go to Highgarden and celebrate there, at grandmother’s estate? She wondered what Olenna, Sansa, Ellaria, and Tyene would think of these ideas, but she could not ask them! Because Tyrion, no matter how wonderful in any other matter, was being absolutely impossible in this one! Margery even considered secretly telling Tywin and so having the problem taken off her hands entirely; but she knew that Tyrion would think this a betrayal, and she could not very well betray her own husband-to-be? She smiled, but then a frown came to her face — she really liked the term but could not share it with anyone!

Yes, there could be no doubt about it: Margery Tyrell was pissed. And she was not in the mood for dealing with Jaime Lannister’s crazy ideas about stupid moves no one cared about anyway when they wanted to get married to the love of their life!

That day, the rehearsal was difficult. Although usually inventing steps was a pleasant and exciting occupation, Margery was distracted and unenthusiastic the whole afternoon, her mind seemed far away, which irritated Jaime, because it hampered the progress they were supposed to be making with the scene. By the time the session was through, everyone was more than happy to retreat.

Fortunately, in the days that followed, Margery’s irritability left her. In fact, she seemed happy, and her eyes acquired a sly look as if she had pulled a prank on the entire world without anyone’s knowledge. Not one to focus on the negative, Margery decided to enjoy her secret, realizing that sooner or later — though she wished it would be sooner rather than later — Tyrion would accept the fact that he was in her nets and she had no intention of ever loosening them.

In the next few weeks, Sansa, who had taken Ellaria’s words to heart, tried acting on her advice. Her good sense triumphed completely over the petty feelings she had felt toward Margery, partly because Jaime’s strange rancor had disappeared from his dance as inexplicably as it had come. The return of his good humor certainly helped Sansa keep her own sulkiness at bay. Soon enough, they had finished the dance of Azor and Tanea, and it was time to rehearse the dance of Nissa and the king.

Sansa had not tried arranging all the steps on her own, mainly because it would be challenging to do so without a partner. Besides, she would not presume to invent Jaime’s movements for him — he could do it just fine on his own. In the nearly three months they had been working on the choreography and music, the only sequence that had been coordinated without Jaime’s lead was Nissa’s waiting dance. Sansa realized that she had been given such freedom with this scene because she would be the only one on stage in its duration. Dances that involved more than one person, however, had to be coordinated when everyone was present. Still, she had thought of various combinations beforehand.

She was pleasantly surprised when Jaime decided to keep a large part of the dance they had invented a few weeks before and was astonished by his detailed memory of the composition, which she remembered much more dimly. In the beginning of the dance, Nissa moved spirally, in a circle that continuously narrowed until she reached Azor. She would come to stand next to him by the first diminuendo of the music and then, like they had done the other night, Jaime and Sansa would dance together. As far as Sansa could tell, they did alter the steps somewhat, but the overall structure remained the same. Her suggestions were also incorporated.

Trouble came later.

The dance essentially consisted of three parts: Nissa’s seduction as she neared Azor, which was followed by the king temporarily succumbing to his former lover’s charms during their joint pas de deux; then came his rejection and Nissa’s frantic, desperate dance that would initiate her descent into the madness of jealousy. The music was supposed to adhere to these divisions and reflect the changing feelings of the characters. Renly thought that it did. Jaime, however, stated plainly that the melody following Nissa and Azor’s pas de deux had to be changed almost entirely. The argument that ensued between the choreographer and the composer had been terrifying. In the end, Jaime prevailed. Considering his position as the co-owner of the company and artistic director, this was unsurprising. Moreover, Tyrion had sided with his brother, making the directors’ vote unanimous: the music that followed Azor’s rejection had to have more passion, its rhythm had to be faster, its volume more violent.

One of the major alterations in the steps Jaime and Sansa had invented several weeks before came at the end of Azor and Nissa’s joint dance. When music froze, her arched body was fully supported by his outstretched arms, their faces inches apart, their gazes locked. They would sustain this arresting pose for a long pause. Everyone, even Renly (after some convincing), agreed that the music for the third part of the dance, which followed the pause and centered on the rejection and the inception of jealousy, had to begin briskly, on a strong note. The problem they faced in choreography was how to follow the swift beginning of the music from the complex and still pose which they would hold during the pause. It was an issue that had been occupying their minds for the past two days. They had tried different ways in which Jaime could deposit her back on her feet while conveying Azor’s rejection, and yet none of them seemed right or fitted the altered music. They were trying another one, when Sansa, who enjoyed the feeling of Jaime’s arms around her without reservations, seeking to find happiness where she could, as Ellaria had advised, was enlightened. Jaime was about to begin lowering her to the ground, when she said urgently:

"Wait!"

He stilled, his strong arms supporting her body effortlessly, and looked back to her face.

"Do share, minx," he said, and a smirk began tugging at his lips. The serious and somewhat annoyed expression that had settled on his features in the past hours left his face and his eyes turned teasing.

"What if you threw me?" she asked excitedly.

"Come again?"

It was an odd way of having a conversation: their chests pressed together, her hands resting lightly on his shoulders, her back arched and her legs thrown over her head as his arms, aligned with the backward curve of her legs, supported her thighs, his hands reaching her knees. During pauses, when they waited for the music, she never fully realized how intimate this pose was: she was quite literally enveloped in him. She fought the blush that crept into her cheeks and, still relishing, though not as guiltlessly as before, in the alignment of their bodies, explained:

"I said: what if you threw me instead of lowering me to the ground? It would go well with the music and would be a perfect way of communicating Azor’s rejection."

She saw a flash of interest in his eyes and knew that he agreed with her, but then his expression became neutral.

"It’s too risky," he said. "You might not land well and hurt yourself."

"Put me down," she ordered, and he returned her to her feet. She might be able to enjoy being close to him without holding back, now that she looked for such moments and caught them when she could in her continuous search for small joys, but this did not mean she had lost her sense of propriety entirely.

"I’ve seen something similar in a Dornish ballet once, quite a few years ago. The ballerina who performed it didn’t seem to have any problem, so it can be done. And I think we should at least try it."

"It’s only been done that one time," Oberyn cut in. "Jaime’s right — it is rather risky, Sparkle."

"You hear that, minx?" Jaime said with a self-satisfied smile.

"You’re the one who says we need to innovate!" she accused him.

"Yes, but not at the cost of our limbs," he countered. "Minx, you do realize that the expression 'break a leg' is a metaphor?" he jibed.

She rolled her eyes at him.

"Let’s just try it!" she urged.

"Absolutely not," was his categorical answer. "Now, let’s return to the last step we’ve thought of."

She was pouting as, again, they tried the different ways of breaking from the pose. They worked for another hour without making any progress. Everyone — Margery, Tyene, Tyrion, Ellaria, Oberyn, Renly, even Podrick and Brienne — was suggesting different ways of solving the difficulty in Jaime and Sansa’s dance. Jaime kept thinking of new movements as well, and Sansa gave up her moping, trying to come up with a solution. They diligently tried everything, but to no avail. The music was perfect for the dance, but it made its demands.

"Sansa," Tyrion spoke when they were all taking a break, their sullen silence a gloomy indicator of their frustration, "do you think you could land safely if Jaime were to throw you?" he asked quietly.

"I think so," she said with more confidence than she felt, but Jaime would hear none of it.

"The matter is not up for discussion, Tyrion," he said uncompromisingly, his tone a warning.

"How about we try it with Oberyn as stand by? He can catch me," Sansa ventured.

"And who will be your stand by on stage, minx, huh?" Jaime inquired mockingly.

She took a deep breath and felt exasperation fill her lungs.

"I’m just saying we should try it," she said stubbornly. Before Jaime could refuse yet again, Tyrion spoke:

"Honestly, Jaime, I think she’s right. You should try it. If it works, we can figure out the precautions later."

Jaime’s eyes flashed:

"Well, that’s a great idea, Tyrion!" he exclaimed with heavy sarcasm. "And pray tell: will those ‘oncoming precautions’ be handy enough to heal her broken bones or sprained ankles?!"

"Oh, don’t be such a drama queen, Jaime," Sansa said, and the flaming eyes turned to her with doubled anger. Seeing that he was fuming, she put a hand on his forearm, a gesture that seemed to quiet his indignation. "I really don’t think it’s that bad."

In the past month, she had noticed that her touch had a strangely calming effect on him when he was irate. Since the disturbing realization that she was falling in love with him and her conversation with Ellaria, Sansa had clenched her teeth and prepared for the worst. Somehow, however, she found that her friend’s advice was not impractical. Having never doubted Jaime’s unavailability, it was not impossible for her to accept that he would not be hers. She tried being happy with what she had, which, she constantly reminded herself, was not little: a promising career, a loving family, and caring, wonderful friends; even Jaime, although sometimes the sight of him made her heart sting as if from the bite of a venomous snake, was a kind, gently teasing presence. She came to realize that, though he had an odd way of showing it, what with his nickname for her and constant jibes, Jaime respected her as a dancer. His teasing was a form of endearment. She grew to warm herself with his taunts and ever more often she was able to return his japes with interest. He did not seem to mind. Since their argument and his revelation of Aerys’ death, there was a sense of kinship between them. His support for her in her moment of doubt about her dancing abilities was something she would recall when she felt blue, and the memory never failed to bring a small smile to her face. Sansa was proud that she did not allow the ill-placed inclination of her heart drag her down. In her understanding of her own feelings and her acceptance of them, she had found an odd sort of peace. The bondage of love was not without its sense of freedom.

There were moments, however, when she felt acutely the bitter ache of wanting someone she could not have. Every so often, at night, when she could not stay brave, she would hide her face in the pillow and deny that she cried softly, wishing at times that he could be hers, at times that her heart were not his; but she did not let sadness turn to depression and fought against melancholy by looking for bright spots in her garden of shadows. She simply refused to give up on happiness because she could not chose whom she loved. More often than not, it was around Jaime that she found peace. In his presence, she rarely felt forlorn, and she discovered that she herself had a pacifying influence on him.

His deep sigh returned her to reality. Jaime was clearly fighting against multiple degrees of irritation.

"Minx, for the last time, we’re not going with this crazy idea," he said, exhaling. Seeing that she opened her mouth to protest, he added: "I’m warning you: if you bring up the subject one more time, I swear, I’ll ask Varys for old Ned Stark’s number and inform him of his daughter’s dangerous carelessness."

Sansa pursed her lips in annoyance, and an infuriating smirk spread itself on Jaime’s.

"Well, thank the gods for the stern Northern parental authority! Now, where were we with that other movement?"

It was unlike Sansa to give up after the first attempt. Next morning, she talked Oberyn into trying the movement in secret. They made a pact: if anything went wrong, Sansa would not tell Ellaria on him, and Oberyn would not betray her to Jaime. Both conspirators were rather unsettled by the wrath that the Sand Snake and the Kingslayer would unleash upon them, if they even discovered before time that they had practiced the risky step.

As Sansa had predicted, the movement, although it required considerable concentration and unusual care in execution, was neither too dangerous nor too challenging. Oberyn and she practiced until they both felt confident that Sansa could perform the motion without any hiccups, and they could boast of their achievement to the rest of the group. Despite their high hopes, both felt somewhat uneasy when they walked into Jaime’s studio the same evening.

They waited, upon tacit agreement, until the search for the right way to break out of the pose began to fuel irritation and respite was called for. Then, they walked to the center of the dance floor together.

"Renly, be a good man, take it again from the pause, will you?" Oberyn asked as he lifted Sansa into his arms. She noted absentmindedly, not for the first time that day, how Oberyn’s arms did not affect her at all: it seemed as though there was something magical about Jaime’s embrace, a secret to making her whole body glow, which no one else knew.

The silence lingered, and then Renly’s piano, accompanied by Brienne’s cello and Podrick’s violin, launched into the tumult of passionate music. With the first, resonating note, Oberyn’s arms flexed, and Sansa flew backward through the air, landing gracefully on her feet and immediately beginning the steps she was supposed to perform. She only made a few motions to show how seamless was the transition. When she paused and the musicians stopped playing, Oberyn wore a pleased, proud smile he was accustomed to displaying when his student’s achievements were in evidence; adding to his satisfaction was his own contribution to the discovery of the successful transition. Sansa looked to Jaime and was taken aback by his expression. His face betrayed a petrifying fury, yet his eyes could not conceal his admiration. He flexed his jaw muscles and, without saying a word, advanced on Oberyn. Everyone tensed, bodies ready for preventive measures. Tyrion, leaving his place next to Margery, even followed his brother cautiously. Jaime came to stand so close to his colleague and friend that their height difference forced Oberyn to look upward to meet his eyes. Sansa knew this intimidation tactic of Jaime’s very well.

"Oberyn, was I not clear yesterday when I said — and several times, too, — that we were not going to try this movement because it might jeopardize Sansa’s health and ability to perform in the ballet we’ve all been working on tirelessly for the past three months?"

"Jaime, listen — ” Oberyn began, but the Lannister was not in the most open-minded of moods.

"Was. I. Not. Clear?" he repeated, his voice quiet and dangerous.

Sansa would not let Oberyn be pulverized for helping her. She approached the enraged lion fearlessly.

"Jaime, calm down," she began soothingly, as if, truly, she were entering a cage with a wild animal, entreating him not to tear her to pieces, "I asked Oberyn to help me practice. If he had not agreed, I would have gone to someone else. It was better that he helped me, considering that he’s one of the most experienced dancers in — ”

Jaime turned on her, and she was immediately daunted by his anger.

"YOU!" he exclaimed with a passion. "I have no words for you! What kind of an imbecile jumps, forgive the pun, into something so remarkably stupid?!"

Sansa was resolved not to feel like a scolded child, but her determination had availed her nothing. She looked down at her feet. Tormund, who had been coming every now and then to the meetings, his trumpet in tow, began approaching them, when Jaime whipped his head toward him and growled:

"One more step, redhead, and you’ll regret it."

Tormund would have kept advancing, but Brienne, by far the more reasonable of the two, put a hand on his arm, stopping his progress. Sansa was still grateful for the reprieve. Jaime turned back to her, and she tried defending herself:

"Listen, you can see for yourself that everything’s fine. You’re overreacting!"
"Overreacting?!"

"Yes!"
"I should fire both of you for disobeying direct orders from your superior," he barked.

Oberyn bit back a nervous smirk, but Sansa gave full voice to her indignation:

"This isn’t an army, Lannister! And if you dislike having your 'orders' disobeyed, maybe you should have just been less stubborn and tried doing the step with me when I asked you to!"

Jaime’s astonishment and outrage at her words rendered him speechless for a moment. Tyrion took advantage of the pause to join the conversation:

“Jay,” he used the shortened form of his elder brother’s name very rarely, "I also happen to think you need to calm down," he began, and Jaime redirected his gaze, which called to mind the muzzles of dueling pistols, onto his younger brother. Tyrion was perhaps the only one entirely unfazed by his sibling’s temper. "Sansa can clearly perform the movement very well and without any risk to her health, so we should acknowledge her and Oberyn’s hard work, incorporate the movement into the composition, and — finally! — move on. We still have quite a bit of choreography to get through, and we’ve been stuck on this dance for far too long as it is!"

My gods, thought Sansa, he looks like a bull about to charge. Indeed, the only thing Jaime Lannister lacked, as far as the resemblance to the above animal was concerned, was the ability to beat the ground with hooves. Seeing as this was not an option, he ran a hand through his golden hair. The gesture was filled with animosity and irritation.

"Why do I bother?" he asked rhetorically, though it seemed as though the question truly interested him.

After a prolonged argument, he grudgingly agreed to attempt the movement. ("Minx," he had commented angrily, "if and when you sprain your ankle or break a godsdamned bone, don’t complain and whine about wanting to dance!") The way Sansa saw the matter, however, his acquiescence was still quite a victory.

He refused to let her land on her feet right away, making Oberyn catch her the first few tries. The entire time he wore an expression of annoyance, but Sansa could see that there was worry in green eyes and felt the unusual tension in his muscles. Is he worried about me?, she wondered happily, and her heart, always ready to jump to conclusions, sang. She felt a little giddy.

Finally, she, Oberyn, Tyrion, and Margery insisted that sooner or later they would need to try the movement without a stand by. (Ellaria, like Jaime, was glaring daggers at the group.) Jaime muttered something barely audible, but Sansa, who was standing close to him, caught the words "a bunch of idiots." During the break they were taking before trying the throw for the first time without Oberyn’s help, which, she knew, had been entirely superfluous in the first place, Sansa watched Jaime’s face and was left without a doubt that he really was quite concerned for her.

"You’re worried about me," she stated with a pleased smile as she came to lean on the wall next to him.

"Why would I be worried about you?" he grumbled. "A foolish minx with nothing but wind between her ears and a liking for trouble?"

She grinned.

"I’m a very smart minx, who saved us a lot of trouble," she returned cheekily.

She observed that he was not simply worried. Jaime seemed agitated and apprehensive. She placed her hand on his arm.

"What’s eating at you?" she asked gently.

"Your stupidity," he said tartly. "It’s a rather corrosive chemical."

"I’m not letting you throw me across the room with that attitude, you might enjoy it too much,"she joked. That seemed to have hit a nerve.

"I’d throw you out of a window, if that would help add some grey matter to your brain," he bit out. "I’m afraid, though, that your case is rather hopeless."

She would not let his angry remarks get to her. Watching him carefully, she thought she understood the source of his annoyance and his concern.

"You think that if you throw me too strongly or not strongly enough, I’ll get hurt because of you?" she asked.

She took his silence as a yes and moved to stand in front of him. He was deliberately looking at a point beyond her head, drinking water. There was something neurotic in the simple action.

"Jaime, I trust you, and you should, too. I know you will do perfectly well — we’ve done it several times already and, as you like to remind us all, you are the best dancer in the world. I’m certain it’ll be just fine — great, even."

His deepened frown was the only indication that he had heard her and that she had not convinced him.

"Listen, people sprain their ankles and what not all the time in ballet," she tried. "Even if something were to happen," he looked at her menacingly, but she soldiered on, "I would never blame you."

His eyes displayed an odd combination of coldness and burning anger.

"And, of course, you take me for a heartless egoist, whose own conscience wouldn’t bother him in the slightest while you were hopping around on crutches?" he said with venom. Sansa could not help but smile.

"I really don’t think it’ll come to that," she said and walked to the dance floor, indicating that it was time to pick up where they had left off. He followed her with the same expression of disapproval that had stuck to his face since the episode had begun.

Jaime had not been particularly surprised that Sansa went behind his back, stubborn in her determination to get the transition right. He was not even surprised that she had been able to master the movement. But he was mad beyond belief. Her obstinacy made him livid, and he wanted to crack a few of Oberyn’s bones for indulging her dangerous whims. That her idea did solve the problem they had been unable to overcome exasperated him even more, because he realized it would be harder to prevent her from pushing the dangerous step into the choreography. Then, there was the additional displeasure of seeing her in Oberyn’s arms… All in all, Jaime felt like breaking things by the time the morons had finished their little demonstration.

At the same time, he could not help admiring how beautifully she held her limbs as she flew through the air and the graceful ease of her landing. He was no more able to neglect marveling at her performance of the challenging movement than he was to prevent the fear that made his blood run cold when he had first observed Oberyn’s arms flex and realized the Dornishman was about to throw her.

While raging at the band of idiots that he had made the mistake of surrounding himself with, he had not realized that he would end up worse off than he had started. He grasped this only when they had talked him into trying the movement, and he was faced with the unnatural task of taking Sansa’s small body into his arms and throwing her away from him with strength. Had he tried, he could not have imagined an action he liked less. Breaking contact with her flesh in this violent manner was unthinkable, and his body practically refused to do so. It was enough that he had to fight daily the magnetism that drew him to her, to watch her leave him every time he wrapped up the choreography meetings — now he had to act against his instinct and better judgement in throwing her away from him. What was even worse, was the absolutely blinding fear that he might hurt her. He had memorized her shape so well in the past few months, had traced almost every one of her muscles and grown used to feeling her warm body under his hands; he knew that, in spite of her stamina when it came to dancing and her unrivaled willpower, her body was delicate and alarmingly breakable. Throwing her as he was forced to do by the grace of her devious mind, Jaime felt his heart shrink somewhere deep inside his chest as his eyes anxiously traced her trajectory and he waited for her to land. He kept anticipating, with considerable horror, that her face would contort in pain. He did not know what he would do if she hurt herself — his mind blocked any thought past the excruciating images of her agonized face, which it was powerless to thwart.

In the end, they had tried the motions enough times that even he was (somewhat) convinced that it could be done. That Sansa had not hurt herself seemed a magic trick to him; but if there was anyone whose falls the gods would cushion, Jaime felt certain it would be the minx’s. The group of careless dimwits hailed the atrocious invention and forced his hand into adding it to the dance. He hated all of them for it with a passion. When they ended the session, he roughly took Tyrion’s flask from him. Ignoring the little monkey’s galling look, he downed the entirety of the whiskey the flask contained, disregarding his dislike of that drink, which ran strong ever since Tyrion had poured it down his throat on the night of Aerys’ death. He considered procuring himself a similar container for some scotch — after all, if he was forced to throw the minx like that for the foreseeable future of rehearsing the dance, he just might need it.

Chapter Text

If you are unlucky in the game of chance, you will be fortunate in love.

— A Russian saying

It had almost been two weeks since they had begun rehearsing the second dance of Azor and Nissa. Now that they had solved the problem with the transition, the choreography was coming out nicely. Jaime still grumbled about it, but, luckily, they had done the step over a hundred times without any hiccups. Nevertheless, he would mumble "foolish minx" almost every time they would go over the motion or mention it, as if it was a refrain to his general song of disapproval. His unwavering dislike of the movement notwithstanding, Sansa felt that when she and Jaime were inventing steps together, the world blurred away, and it was just the two of them — inventing, laughing, adding to each other’s ideas — until Tyrion’s, or Oberyn’s, or Ellaria’s, or Margery’s remark would bring the surroundings back into focus. She grew to love nothing more than arranging steps with Jaime: he seemed more carefree than in any other context she had ever seen him, and she loved the happy sparkle in his green eyes. On the other hand, she had to admit that she also basked in being near him and that the invention of the ballet was what afforded her the opportunity to do so.

Occasionally, she wondered if the playful and happy mood that characterized him during the rehearsals always animated him when he was with Cersei. (Had she voiced her thoughts to Tyrion, he would have assured her of the contrary.) No matter how she tried to push such thoughts aside, occasionally, they would come after her like a pack of hungry hounds, who had caught the smell of some luckless fox’s blood, and images of the Lannister twins — naked and laughing — would burn the inside of her eyes, penetrating deep into her mind and gnawing at her soul from within. In such moments, Sansa could not rely on Jaime’s presence to comfort her, the way it usually did when she was plagued by thoughts — or, rather, feelings — of misery common to those who believe themselves to suffer from unrequited love. Seeing him when hungry hounds of his and his sister’s happy laughter were at her heels only made her visions worse, so she sought out the company of her female friends. Margery, Ellaria, and Tyene, with their shopping sprees, their mirth of contentment, their endless innuendos, to the pricks of which she had grown accustomed, usually dispelled the images that haunted her. Ygritte and Talisa were another powerful resource for mood management. If her girl friends did not help, she would call Jon an additional time, talking of nothing and sipping comfort from the gruff sound of her brother’s voice on the other end of the line. When all else failed, she would call her mother and listen to Catelyn go on about Arya’s misdeeds, or Rickon’s gluttony, or Bran’s endless new pursuits. All in all, Sansa managed to keep her head above the waters of despair and melancholy — an achievement that made her proud. It was the modern age, and in it, there were no helpless maidens who withered away from unrequited love. There were real women who watched sadness in the face and found antidotes to her venomous stare.

She was walking to Jaime’s office in order to discuss a movement they had devised the evening before. Reaching the door, she knocked and proceeded to enter, lost in her thoughts and oblivious to whether or not she had heard an answer. Jaime was not in his office; instead, she discovered Myrcella and Tommen cuddled together on a sofa and flipping through the pages of a beautiful children’s book. When she came in, two pairs of green eyes considered her with obvious pleasure.

"Sansa!"

The Lannister — Baratheon!, she corrected herself — cherubs rushed to greet her, hugging her tightly.

"What are you doing here?" Tommen asked, but Marcella answered him before Sansa could.

"She works at the company with uncles, don’t you remember?"

Tommen clarified:

"But what is she doing here?"

Sansa smiled as she embraced the children, surprised that they still remembered her, and with so much fondness, too.

"I’ve come to speak with Jaime about a step we’re working on," she explained and proceeded to ask, in her turn: "But what are you guys doing here?"

"Mother decided to have a spa day, so Barry brought us to uncle. Uncle told us he’d come as soon as he can get out of his meeting," explained Myrcella.

Of course! She had completely forgotten that Tyrion and Jaime had a meeting with some sponsors that afternoon.

"And how long have you been here?" she asked. The kids shrugged. Uh-oh, she thought, this means “quite some time,” I bet. "Well, while your uncle is coming, why don’t we go get some ice cream? I know a wonderful place around the corner," she suggested.

"Ice cream!"

Chubby-cheeked Tommen could barely contain his enthusiasm. Myrcella’s smile suggested that, despite her infinitely better manners, she was not averse to thoughts of ice cream either. The little girl proved to Sansa, yet again, that Cersei’s children were not particularly spoiled with their mother’s attention:

"You have time?" she asked doubtfully.

"Of course, I do!" Sansa reassured her, thinking, And even if I didn’t, how could I leave the two cooked up in Jaime’s office? Although, by any standards, the Lannister’s office resembled a living room more than anything else.

She sent Jaime a quick text, and then the children and she proceeded to exit his office and head down the corridors, out onto the bustling street, and toward the ice-cream shop Sansa had mentioned. Tommen hung onto her right hand unceremoniously, but Myrcella slipped her delicate little hand into Sansa’s left one gently. The slight hesitation in the gesture had tugged at Sansa’s heartstrings with the realization that cuddles — or any form of gentleness, probably — were in all likelihood tragically foreign to their mother.

"So, Myrcella," she began with a kind smile, and the girl looked up to her with an answering warmth in her face, "have you had the chance to chat with Trystane?"

Myrcella blushed a little but looked happy.

"Yup," chirped she. "And we text, too! He sends me pictures of Dorne — it looks so pretty!"

Sansa smiled broadly. Jaime’s daughter was adorable — there was no denying it. As if to remind her that Jaime’s son was absolutely no less adorable, Tommen tugged at her sleeve.

"Do you think, if we ask uncle, he’ll take us to Dorne?" he wondered aloud. "He could take only Myrcella, if he had to. I know she wants to go, and I could stay," Tommen added, bowing his head a little. Sansa felt her heart do an "awww…" and become putty in the little hands of Tommy Baratheon.

"I’m sure that Jaime could take both of you to Dorne and that he would never leave you behind, Tommen."

It’s Jaime who they hope will take them there, not their mother — and small wonder.

She disliked Cersei more acutely each time she observed her children’s reticence, so uncharacteristic of their age. Myrcella looked forlorn.

"You know mother won’t ever let him," she said to her brother with disappointment, and Sansa observed how Tommen’s shoulders slumped a little.

"Sorry, Cella. I know you want to go," he said.

No, this is monstrous! Sansa screamed internally.

"Even if your mother doesn’t think it’s a good idea for you to go to Dorne," Sansa reasoned, though in her own mind she did not formulate her thoughts quite so diplomatically, "I'm sure Trystane will come to meet his little cousin, and that won’t be so very far off now," she consoled, reminded of how her own mother had always found silver linings among the clouds of her children’s small woes. "And when he comes, I'm sure you'll be able to see him — just ask your uncle, I don’t doubt he’ll be happy to help."

Suddenly, Tommen giggled, as if he had remembered something ludicrously funny.

"You know," he said, gulping with an excitement so strong, it made him swallow some of the letters, "uncle Jaime called you 'minx the matchmaker' after he found out you gave Trystane’s number to Cella!"

Sansa laughed. Knowing Jaime, she found this easy to believe.

They reached the ice cream shop and approached the counter.

"All right," Sansa said, motioning to the delicious assortment of flavors, "which ones do you want?"

She had no idea what torment her simple question would unleash. Everything was simple enough with the ladies: Myrcella wanted vanilla covered with chocolate glaze; Sansa went for her usual guilty pleasure — raspberry, lychee, and rose flavor; but Tommen… Poor Tommen spent a quarter of an hour (and nearly all of his intellectual energy) deciding on a flavor. It was as amusing as it was heartbreaking to watch him being torn by indecision. Sansa suggested he get two different flavors — perhaps even three — but this hardly helped the poor boy.

"Your children are lovely," noted the saleswoman, smiling.

"Oh, they aren’t mine, I’m just babysitting," answered Sansa casually, even as in the back of her mind she wished for a moment that they were — the thieving desire flashed like a small ember.

Finally, Tommen asked Sansa to pick a flavor for him, and she took pity on the poor child’s soul. She chose chocolate flavor, and the way the little cherub consumed it — resembling a small, hungry animal more, in that moment, than he did a putto — assured her that it had been the right decision.

They went back to the LBC building. As they entered, Sansa checked her phone, wondering if there was a text from Jaime, but the empty home screen announced that the art directors were still busy.

"Are you gonna go work now?" inquired Myrcella with an air that informed Sansa the girl expected nothing else.

"I was actually thinking we could hang out in your da— I mean, uncle’s studio," she suggested, and her little companions smiled gleefully at the prospect.

Damn it, Sansa! U-N-C-L-E. How hard is it?

It was hard, though, for her to refer to Jaime as the children’s uncle, and the more time she spent with the father and the children, the more carefully she had to watch herself to avoid a slip of the tongue. It occurred to her in that moment that if she, a virtual stranger, found it difficult to keep up the pretense, then, for Jaime, it must be considerably more so. She knew the charade wounded him, and she was certain the children were less happy because of the arrangement. In fact, she was convinced that Jaime would have done a considerably better job of raising them than their mother.

The children seemed at home in their father’s — uncle’s! — studio, something Sansa had not expected. In fact, they seemed to know more about it than she did, despite her daily presence there during the rehearsals. As soon as they entered, Tommen went to a wall closet and, opening it with a sure hand, produced a teddy bear, which he immediately placed under his arm, and kept searching for something else.

"Do you want to play Dragons’ Landing?" he inquired over his shoulder as he kept searching on the lower shelves — the only ones he could reach.

"Of course," Sansa replied.

Dragons’ Landing, a simple board game that had grown very popular since its inception a decade ago, was based on the legends surrounding the arrival of Targaryens to the Seven Kingdoms many centuries before. It had never been among Sansa’s favorites, and for a good reason: she always lost. Among siblings, prone to merciless teasing — at least until Jon or, before they had become friends, Robb would stand up for her — Sansa had hated playing it. With Myrcella and Tommen, however, her utter lack of luck would be advantageous. While Tommen searched for the game, she contemplated the closet with interest. The division of the shelves was clearly demarcated: wherever the children could reach, their possessions prevailed and chaos reigned supreme. Further up, however, Jaime’s things were arranged with considerably greater success at order. She smiled at the observation. Finally, Myrcella joined Tommen in his efforts to locate the game; soon, they found it, and the three of them began playing. Sansa was not surprised to discover that her luck — at least where board games were concerned — had not changed over the years, an occurrence which caused parcels of giggles to escape the luckiest child who had ever lived, Tommen, who seemed to always get the very best combinations on the dice; even Myrcella was laughing merrily at Sansa’s utter lucklessness. Sansa, of course, punctuated with exaggerated groans of defeat each time the dice rolled — not in her favor, of course, — which made her lucky competitors laugh even more at her "misfortunes." They hardly noticed how time flew by, but, eventually, Tommen’s eyelids began to droop and even Cella allowed a few yawns to escape her. Sansa gently suggested a nap, something Catelyn always enforced despite her children’s protests. The Baratheons acquiesced and, after the three of them had arranged the pillows, which Ellaria and Margery had brought to the studio, into a credible imitation of a sleeping place, Sansa was tugged by the little lions to settle in the middle, and the children curled into her and dozed off with an immediacy that amazed her. Their even breathing, the warmth radiating from their small bodies, and the comforting memories of her own childhood naps lulled the supposed grown-up to sleep with a speed that would have made Catelyn Stark smile.

When Jaime — finally! — escaped the meeting to which Tyrion, as always, had dragged him with utter mercilessness, it was almost three hours after Barristan had called to let him know he could drop off Tom and Cella at his office and nearly two hours since Cella had called to inquire how soon he could come. Jaime was angry — he did not see his children nearly often enough to be careless about missing several hours with them. Besides, he disliked the idea of the two being alone in his office — gods knew, he kept forgetting to isolate those seven-times-damned power sockets, or make someone else do it!

Barristan was a good man, whose heart could not remain indifferent to the contrast in Cersei and Jaime’s treatment of the children: the careless inattention of the mother; the love and care that shone in the uncle’s eyes. Jaime suspected that, not being blind (or constantly drunk), Barristan had probably put two and two together, which made him all the more grateful for the older man’s willingness to risk incurring Cersei’s wrath by bringing the children to him whenever an opportunity presented itself.

Jaime raced down the streets, cursing under his breath the other drivers, Tyrion, the meeting, and useless streetlights (and, in his opinion, all streetlights were useless). When he had finally reached his office, all Jaime discovered was an abandoned fairytale book. Between the two brothers, Tyrion certainly had stronger claims to rationality, but Jaime was not a lunatic either, although, when it came to his children, his sanity was frequently put to the test. His first thought was kidnapping?, and a potent mixture of fear and murderousness began to brew in him. He reached for his phone, looking to call Barristan — Perhaps, they have already left? But I thought he said Cers was out for the day? — when he noticed two messages from Sansa. One was from an hour and a half ago, and it read:

Text from Minx to Jaime Lannister:

Jaime, please don’t freak out. Tommen and Myrcella are with me. We went to get some ice cream (just around the corner).

Jaime released a breath of relief. If Tom and Cella are with Sansa, gods help anyone who dare threaten the two of them. He smiled and looked at the text she had sent forty minutes later.

Text from Minx to Jaime Lannister:

The kids are still fine, Jaime. We’re hanging out in your studio.

He chuckled softly. Perhaps, he should not have been surprised that the minx guessed he would be grateful for a second update. He walked to his studio and found her and his children sleeping peacefully, blonde curls tangled with crimson locks. A lovelier scene he could not have imagined had he tried, though why the sight that greeted him affected him so powerfully, he could not quite tell. It was most likely the combination of the same qualities that had astounded him before in the minx — the generosity with which she carelessly gave away her kindness in handfuls, seemingly unaware of her precious gifts; and the gentleness of which she was capable despite her strong, unfettered spirit. This time, however, her goodness did not wound his pride. He knew her well enough to understand that seeing Tom and Cella alone in his office, she had decided to make them happier than they had been before she had found them — an action brought on not by condescending, self-righteous commiseration, but by a genuinely tender heart, which was oddly unique in its capacity to care about the joys and sorrows of two little children. His two little children.

Jaime could not tear his eyes away from them. He had seen Tom and Cella sleep on multiple occasions. Sometimes, when the rehearsals or other LBC-related business kept him away from them too long, he would unceremoniously use the key he had from the back door of the Baratheon mansion and come to see his children sleep. Sometimes, Cella, who, unlike Tom, slept very lightly for a child, would wake up with a sleepy smile on her face. Usually, she would say, "uncle," and extend her little arms toward him. He’d sit by her bed and talk her back to sleep, telling her stories or sharing news about the LBC. Once, though, when she was younger, she had called him "dad," and Jaime knew in that moment that, though he would not trade his children for anything in the world, he regretted having had them with Cersei. It was not a late-coming pang of consciousness over his relationship with his sister — he refused to believe that love could be wrong, especially theirs, no matter his twin’s flaws. He regretted with bitterness that made his eyes burn and his heart ache that his daughter would likely never call him "dad" again.

Lately, he was able to free himself much more often and spend time with Cella and Tom during the day, but still, every now and then, he would come at night to the Baratheon mansion and watch them sleep, refusing to admit, partly for fear of his own actions, that he worried about his children living under Robert Baratheon’s roof. Robert was a loud, perpetually drunk womanizer, and Jaime wondered what had kept him from loosing his position as mayor for so long. He suspected that Stannis had something to do with it — the younger brother was phenomenally good at quieting the scandals that followed Robert around like the retinue a king. Jaime had not lied to Sansa when he had told her that he had nearly killed Robert once, when he had witnessed the man — drunk as always — try raising a hand to Tommen. Jaime did not remember, nor did he care to, what Tommen had said or done to provoke his "father’s" displeasure, but he could recall distinctly how his vision had gone red. He had thrown Robert against the wall, and his hand’s deadly grip around the man’s throat was enough to considerably sober up the swine; he had told him that if he ever saw him raise a hand to Tommen again, he would not have hands to speak of by the time he was through with him. Jaime knew from Barristan, Myrcella, and even Varys that no other such incident had ever occurred since. Another, even darker thought, that tore at Jaime’s mind with sharp, brutal claws, was the idea that one day, when Myrcella grew older, Robert, in a drunken stupor, might not be able to tell his daughter from a whore. And this thought made Jaime’s blood run cold. He had never told even Tyrion that, on multiple occasions, he had considered kidnapping his own children and taking them far across the Narrow Sea, buying with Lannister gold a new life for the three of them. He was prevented from doing so by the realization that, in case of failure, he would not only never see them again — he would not be around to protect them either. How could Cersei allow their children to grow up with a man to whom Jaime would not entrust a gold fish, let alone his children?

A movement from the pile of pillows on which the direwolf and the lion cubs slept peacefully had caught his eye and brought his attention back to the present. His gaze was captivated by Sansa’s face, which was framed by locks of red hair that had wiggled themselves free from her chignon as she slept, and he could not look away. He had never seen her sleep — an action so simple and yet somehow intimate. Without her blue eyes looking at him, preventing him from watching her too long with their innocence, he could trace with his eyes every line of her face. She was beautiful, and even compared to his sister, of whom Myrcella’s closeness to the minx’s form reminded him, he thought Sansa dazzling. He caught himself thinking that he could probably watch her features for hours, heedless of time. Unlike his sister’s face, which he had come to associate with rage and pain as well as love, Sansa’s features reminded of their mistress’ kindheartedness. He wondered for a moment — and only for a moment — how his life could have been different if Sansa had been born earlier and had come into his life before, as it seemed to him, he had reached the point of no return. The thought left him incomprehensibly bitter. He did not recognize in this virulency the cruelty of fate, which placed before him the vision of a possibility that seemed out of his reach.

As if she had sensed his mood’s astringency, Sansa opened her eyes lazily, sleep still reigning over her, clinging to her lashes. Her sleepy smile at seeing him made his heart jump and his breath catch, when for a second — and only for a second — he had imagined waking up to her smile and her sleepy blue eyes. She turned to consider the children and, noticing that it would be impossible for her to disentangle herself from them without waking them, looked back to Jaime with a sheepish grin. The sleep was almost gone from her face, and he missed the drowsiness of her smile. He came to sit next to the three of them and spoke to her in a low voice.
"You didn’t have to do it, you know," he said, only half-serious, smiling with an affection he could not keep from his features, "babysitting isn't part of your job description."

He noticed how indignation flashed across her face for a second, but, as she did so often now, instead of burying him under her Northern virtuousness, she rolled her eyes and smirked — a new expression that seemed odd but endearing coming from her.

"I think this makes the job considerably less attractive," she returned, and he chuckled softly: the she-direwolf had certainly learned how to use her claws.

"You are probably the only one who’d think that," he supplied with good humor and was rewarded by another roll of her eyes. She decided to change the subject:

"How was the meeting?" she asked.

"I don’t think I remember anything but boredom and hurrying to get away," he answered, and it was her turn to laugh in a whisper.

"I wonder what answer Tyrion will give me," she quirked.

"The same as always: I was impossible," he prophesied.

She raised her eyebrows suggestively:

"You can be rather impossible," she agreed, and he was the one to roll his eyes.

"Don’t even get me started on that stupid move you've pushed into the choreography," he grumbled, and she chuckled.

"It’s a wonderful transition," she said teasingly but with conviction, "you know that as well as I do."

"I know that you are — ”

"… 'a foolish minx,' " she finished for him and sighed. "I know. I've heard you say it repeatedly over the past week."

He had never seen her pout before, he thought: a stubborn expression of certainty that she was being treated unfairly for no apparent reason. Her slightly pushed out lower lip made him want to catch it between his own.

"Don’t pout, minx," he said teasingly as if he could dispel her unwitting magic with a jibe, "or you just might break my heart."

She laughed quietly.

"You don’t have a heart to be broken, Lannister," she said in a tone far too playful to lend her words any credibility.

I do have one. I just don’t know anymore to whom it belongs.

Chapter Text

Of infidelities

There are two kinds:

The ones of bodies

And of minds.

 

As for loyalty,

There’s just one kind:

With trials aplenty,

Like love, it’s blind,

 

But never wavers.

And, like time,

It’s as benign

As it is endless.

Cersei Lannister found herself perplexed by Jaime’s behavior and unable to explain it. In the past, whenever they had a quarrel or she simply wanted something from him, she would not see him, least of all sleep with him, until she got her way. It really was that simple. He was always the first to apologize, regardless of how their quarrel had started or who was to blame; he always caved into her wishes. But that was before. Before that little whore, Sansa Stark, had come to King’s Landing. Except for defending Tyrion against her, the only thing Jaime had ever refused Cersei, the only time in their lives when he had not given her what she wanted, was when she had demanded the ruin of Sansa Stark’s career. It was worse than just this, however. Jaime did not seek Cersei out: almost as if, although this was surely impossible, he did not want her anymore. She could never have imagined that Jaime would be able to go without sex for so long: her brother’s hunger, empowered by, she thought, a frankly irritating stamina, would have been intolerable if he did not make her come as hard as he did. And now, it had been weeks since they had been together last, yet he was not showing up at her door, his ravenous lips muttering between deep kisses apologies and promises she knew he would keep. Although she had never dreamed this day would come, she even wondered if her brother was not finding satisfaction elsewhere. She could not have it. She would not have it. Jaime was hers to keep.

She was distracted by the feeling of Lancel's lips on her shoulder and shrugged him off. The boy was useful in his utter inability to keep her uncle and father’s secrets from her as she rode him hard. Tywin was cutting her out of the loop more and more insistently lately, and she needed every secret she could get her hands on. She blamed Davos Seaworth for her father’s decision to reduce her responsibilities.

"Dress up and leave," she told Lancel coldly but not harshly.

"Can’t I stay the night?" he asked in a whining tone that irritated her so much she wanted to slap him.

"Sure you can," she said mockingly, "if you wish for my husband to catch and castrate you." That certainly galvanized Lancel into dressing quickly. The pretty fool was afraid of Robert’s loud bark. Her husband, whom she had married for the very simple reason that she wanted to be the wife of a mayor and, one day, of the man who would lead the Seven Kingdom’s government, was incapable not only of biting — he was incapable of anything at all. She saw clearly now that he would never head the Seven Kingdoms, unless it was in a contest of drunkards. This cruel disappointment of her ambitions had solidified her resolve to one day control the Lannisters & Co. She did not care much for working at her father’s company, wasting time on dreadfully dull business reports, which she always relegated to someone else. No, she wanted to be the company’s single owner, its leader. Her preoccupation with that pursuit had forced her to neglect some other aspects of her life — like Jaime.

Cersei did not have confidantes. She did not need any, always knowing as she did the best course of action. Besides, she would never ask for advice — that was not something Lannisters condescended to do. Moreover, she would not trust anyone with her secrets. However, she was somewhat in need of another person’s opinion, so she dialed the only being who had ever come close to what others might have called by that name which inspires trust.

"Good evening, Cersei," came the languid, cool voice from the other end of the line. Melisandre’s voice. "Why do you call?"

"I’ve something on my mind," she replied, not too eager to admit her musings.

"I’m listening."

Objectively speaking, Mel was the best person to call in her situation. The woman had accomplished something none would have even thought possible — seduced Stannis Baratheon, a man who seemed no more likely to feel passion than a piece of cardboard. Even more remarkably, she had proved able to wring from her stingy lover sums of money that would have seemed inconceivable even to the most accomplished, high-end prostitutes of King’s Landing. Cersei and Melisandre were not friends. Initially, on the few occasions that they were brought together, Mrs. Robert Baratheon had treated the Essosi whore with the disdain appropriate to the differences in their stations. It takes one woman willing to sell her body to know another. Melisandre was not to be provoked by words, and instead, sought to cultivate a queer form of companionship with Cersei. Stannis’ lover swallowed insults and waited, biding her time. She soon came into the possession of a few compromising negatives of Cersei as well as some sensitive information that could help Tywin’s daughter with her intrigues at Lannisters & Co. Melisandre had kept half of the negatives for herself; the other half, as well as the information about the Lannisters & Co, she delivered to Cersei. As she had intended, the gesture alerted the Lannister woman to her hazardousness and, paradoxically, served as a sign of good faith. Grudgingly, Cersei admitted Mel into her circle of well-selected cronies. The two women had a lot in common, and although, by their very natures, they were incapable of forming a friendship, they acknowledged a certain kinship. On the very few occasions that she wanted to hear someone other than herself talk, Cersei resorted to Melisandre, recognizing that the Red Woman — as she was called with so much spite by the high society to which Cersei was Melisandre’s ticket — could be very, very useful.

"What’s the matter?" Melisandre inquired after the pause had stretched for too long, her cold but soft voice suggesting her willingness to help as well as her utter disinterest in whether or not Cersei Baratheon was well.

"I’ve been thinking about men’s natures," Cersei began as if to mask a practical concern under the guise of philosophical discussion.

"They are rather simple," came the Red Woman’s reply. She sounded no more interested than if she were discussing the latest studies on the mating behaviors of frogs.

"Generally, yes," Cersei agreed. "Occasionally, however, there’s a more curious case."

"Of course, there is," agreed Melisandre in a voice that announced she bowed before her interlocutor’s statement — even if, privately, she doubted its wisdom.

"Say, a man has always been faithful but is oddly distant," Cersei began, “some would say he has a new interest; others — that he grew bored; and yet, sometimes it’s neither of these things. So I’ve been thinking, theoretically, of course —"

"Of course," Melisandre confirmed.

“…I’ve been thinking what other reasons a man might have."

"A disagreement is usually at fault," Melisandre ventured. Cersei pricked up her ears. Yes, that sounded about right. "In such cases," the Red Woman continued, "when a man gets stubborn over a minor matter, it is the best course of action to remind him of the important things in his life and deal with the minor matter when he is quite aware of just how much his partner truly means to him."

"Indeed," Cersei said as though she had thought of this answer herself. She made some more remarks on the same “philosophical” issue, then changed subjects. The women spoke of the latest lingerie line that was opened by a hussy from the East but, although they agreed she was up to no good, neither one nor the other could remember her name. Soon enough, their conversation dried up, and they said their goodbyes.

Cersei’s ability to prioritize was perhaps her finest quality. Sansa Stark was a problem for later — Jaime’s indifference was an emergency to be solved immediately. She had learned from her mistake during their previous encounter, which she saw clearly after her conversation with Melisandre: she would not mention the Stark bitch this time as she seduced him. But after… Sometimes, men were truly easier to deal with once they had gotten what they needed.

She went into her boudoir. For Cersei, picking out lingerie and perfume, the perfect stockings and the right shoes, was an action as practiced and fine-tuned as that of a thug cleaning his old, trusted gun. Her weapons were made of the best silk and the finest lace; her poisoned arrows were the most prized scents to be had in the world. She armed herself with care, taking her time, her motions as determined as fate. Satisfied with her appearance — from the roots of her glorious blond hair to the ends of her perfectly pedicured toenails — she left the Baratheon mansion.

A driver was waiting for her by the time she had descended the steps of its porch. She ordered him to drive to her brother’s flat, and the streets of King’s Landing flashed before her: the passers-by enjoying the evening; the shop windows glittering; the streetlights dancing. It all felt old to her. She felt a little aged that evening. It was not that she had any new wrinkles or — gods forbid! — had put on any weight; it was that Jaime’s lack of attention concerned her, making her ponder anxiously — however much she would tell herself not to — whether two decades was too long a time for a woman to be able to keep a man: even a man like her brother; even for a woman like her. She shook her head: no, Jaime was hers, would always be hers. Of course, they had had a few fights and misunderstandings over the years, mostly due to his odd ideas about the way a couple ought to behave; but the foundational truth of this universe, in Cersei Lannister’s eyes, was her brother’s unending and intransigent devotion to her.

The car stopped before Jaime’s apartment building — a luxurious enough skyscraper with a view of Black Water Bay he could not get enough of for reasons she did not understand. All seas looked the same to her.

She sent the driver away, as she had done several times before. The servants were too low, too small a folk for her to take into account: after all, she thought, they could always be silenced with a threat or some cash if ever they were so misguided as to make a sound.

She entered the flat, wondering if he would be there. It was early evening, and she was hardly surprised to find the place empty. She poured herself a glass of wine — he still had bottles of red waiting for her, the one she liked but he did not, and this pleased her. She set the air conditioning to a slightly warmer temperature and discarded her coat. In high heels and elaborate lingerie, her golden hair falling in curling locks to her waist, Cersei Lannister was a sight to behold. She was beautiful, unreal; she was perfect. So perfect, indeed, it seemed that nature, having bestowed so much beauty on this woman, could not have given her anything else. It appeared almost reasonable that a body so alluring could not be endowed with a soul equally fine. And yet, there was also a dissonance in finding anything but inner beauty within a being whose appearance gave representations of perfection a run for their money.

Her wine glass in hand, Cersei roamed the apartment as she waited. It was odd, she reflected, how long she had not seen him. Except for their two brief arguments at the gala and a couple of weeks ago, they had hardly been in each other’s company in the past months. That was an oversight on her part. As she walked around, tracing with the tips of her slender fingers photograph books, sketches, and notes that always drowned Jaime’s place whenever a new ballet was afoot, she realized that she had missed him. That was something to use to her advantage when he returned, she thought. Never was emotion as effective on one’s viewers as when it was truly felt by the speaker. She had never had time to miss him before, she reflected, and this was all the more reason to have him back as soon as possible and keep him preoccupied with her body as long as she could. Tonight, and many nights to come. She had been careless with inattention, having assumed that she could neglect Jaime without consequences. After all, he had always been at her beck and call. Well, she would not make the same mistake twice. Else, she stood in real danger of losing one of her favorite pastimes — coming hard around her brother’s cock deep inside her. She waited, her leisurely walk around his flat taking her to the large home studio.

Being in a ballet studio reminded her of their tryst all those months ago when someone had seen them. In spite of her questions, Jaime had never informed her as to who had witnessed their escapade, only telling her that she had nothing to worry about. She wondered now if it was not that little red-head bitch again — who else would Jaime cover up for? She could not understand his odd tenacity when it came to that half-grown child — no more than she could ever understand his penchant for defending their misformed brother, a tiny monster who had killed their mother, ripped her body apart with his large, ugly head.

She flicked off the lights and left the studio, returning to the living room. Just as she entered it, she heard the sound of a key turning in the lock, and Jaime came in. She disliked that he did not immediately sense her presence. She liked even less the warm half-smile he wore on his lips and the distant look of a dreamer in his eyes. And what she did not like at all was that when he did see her, a frown came to his face. Ordinarily — or should she have thought "before"? Before all the problems that followed her marriage, their children’s birth? Before the Stark girl? — previously, when he saw her, Jaime’s face would instantly brighten, and even with all the issues they had had over the past couple of years, hitherto she had never seen him frown upon discovering her presence. The breath he released was tired, annoyed, as if his good mood and his energy were sucked away by the sight of her. She could barely discern even lust in his eyes, and that emotion, certainly, had always been there heretofore.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, and she thought the question utterly idiotic. She was standing in the middle of his apartment in nothing but her latest lingerie set — what did he think she was doing here? She would have told him not to be a moron, but, in her experience, men were easier to handle if they thought themselves the smartest in the room. She approached him instead, becoming more acutely aware with each step that he watched her with irritation rather than desire. He did not seem pleased to see her at all, and it was not out of anger or hurt brought by their fights; it was a much more dangerous feeling, it seemed to her — a candid dislike of her very presence. She came to stand close to him. In her high heels, she reached nearly to his lips. She had always hated their height difference, his greater physical strength — it seemed to her a sleight of hand that nature had not dealt in her favor. She dragged her palms languidly over his shoulders, reacquainting herself with their strong muscles. Her hands locked on the nape of his neck, like two snakes joining; she had almost forgotten how she liked his body, despite its superior strength. She moved still closer to him, feeling his chest against hers — unyielding, robust flesh, so unlike her own.

"I’ve missed you," she said, and, for once, her breathy voice did not lie. There was no joy in his eyes, only expectation. Expectation, she realized, of her next demand, which he was not interested in granting. She smiled at him — a smile that, despite its well-calculated effect, conveyed some of her own weariness. He did not smile back.

"What do you want, Cers?" he questioned again.

"You," she said, quite simply. "Just you, Jaime.” And she kissed him.

He did not respond right away, as if he could not decide between pushing her away and bringing her closer, so her arms made their way to around his back, pulling herself closer, ever closer to his body. When, in a few moments, she felt his hands on her waist and he returned her kiss, she immediately noticed a change in him. She could not say if it was the way he touched her — somewhat less gently, somehow less urgently — or that he did not say her name like a prayer, the way he used to; but it seemed to Cersei that he was not entirely hers in these moments, almost as if he thought of someone else. But that was impossible — he would always be hers, she mused; and then his lips and his strong hands, which knew her body so well, displaced even her incessant thoughts. She relished in his body, in their joining, and knew that she had missed him more than she had realized.

Jaime’s ability to forgive Cersei practically anything had always been rooted in the way the world, her flaws, even his self, fell away when he was with her. He had always been able to lose himself in her body — the soft silk of her hair, the swamps of her green eyes, the opiate of her flesh. But not tonight. Whether he watched her with intensity or pulled her closer, the green and gold blurred before him, replaced, with each one of his thrusts, by clear images of blue eyes and hair red as fire. It was by some strange luck that the minx’s name did not tumble from his lips as he came deep inside his sister.

Tyrion Lannister had never been one for self-pity. It was a luxury that only the tallest and most handsome could afford, in his eyes. The youngest Lannister sibling always thought that if he started a pity-party, one that, he imagined, would begin with complaints about his height, it just might never end, and he would drown in his long list of grievances. As such, Tyrion was used to swallowing whatever it was that bothered him and moving on. This night, however, he could not.

As he downed drink after drink — he had long ago left Bronn far behind where the number of consumed shots was concerned — Tyrion felt more and more dismayed by the world. It was irrational; it was inexplicable; it was "deeply idiotic," as Bronn had pointed out; but Tyrion could not help it. The incredible high, to which Margery’s acceptance of his offer of marriage had thrown him, had been replaced by something akin to depression. No matter what he tried telling himself, Tyrion could not convince himself that Margery had truly agreed to marry him because she loved him. Skeptical — nay, suspicious — of her decision, which he himself could not rationally understand, Tyrion tormented himself by imagining wild and awful reasons for her acceptance of his marriage proposal. Perhaps, it was that she wanted to be a Mrs. Lannister? But who, in their right mind, would want to marry into their family? Maybe it was to secure her position at the LBC? But her position was secured long ago thanks to her talent and hard work. Could she be pregnant? The thought had for a fleeting moment filled him with a blinding joy, but he stomped the feeling — who would be mad enough to risk having a child with him? And regardless, since abortion was legal and good clinics abounded throughout the Seven Kingdoms, pregnancy was hardly a good reason to marry, especially not for a young woman like Margery, who would never have been heedless of her career. No, Tyrion Lannister could not understand why she had not left him; why she claimed she wanted to marry him; or why she would do any of it if she did not love him like she said. Unable to give credit to the latter or find a believable alternative for her motivations, he excruciated himself with dark imaginings and wallowed in his misery.

"You are crazy," Bronn was presently saying. “You got yourself a beauty of a girl, who loves you and not your bank account, and who, on top of it all, agreed to marry you. And considering that everyone in your family is completely fucking mad, this is as good a proof as any of her loving your stupid ass. And instead of kissing her feet and placing a diamond ring on each one of her toes, you, pampered little shit that you are, are spending your time getting drunk with me in this dirty bar."

Tyrion, who was well in his cups by then, retaliated with an uncertain tongue:

"And you? How are you any better? You’ve got a beauty of a girl who loves you though you are old enough to be her father, even though you have no family and what you had once probably was not something to recommend you… And yet," he hiccuped, "here you are… Getting drunk with me in this liiiittle baaaar…"

"That’s a whole different thing," Bronn countered, "I’d be fucking my girl right now if it weren’t for a bit of a duty I have in making sure you actually get home — or Marge will have my head, so she will."

Tyrion gulped down what little was left in his glass — he could not distinguish by taste what drink it was that he had finished nor remember what it was he had been drinking. He called for more, but the bartender shook his head.

"Can’t a man get properly drunk anymore?!” Tyrion exclaimed with mild indignation — he was too inebriated for any sharp emotion.

"Not when your father will drive me to the end of the earth if you die of alcohol poisoning because you got too wasted in my bar," the man replied.

"Ah, my father! My father, the mighty Tywin of House Lannister!" Tyrion roared, standing up shakily on his chair and toasting the air with his empty glass. Bronn smirked at him.

"Come on, let’s get you home," he suggested.

"You’d bring me home to my fia-a-a-ah!-ncée," he barely managed to sit back down, even with Bronn’s assistance, "in this state, you’d let her see me in this state, you bastard without heart or conscience?" Tyrion exclaimed in incomprehension. "She’d probably never agree to set eyes on me again after beholding me in such a condi-," he hiccuped, "-ition!"

"I’m sure she’s seen you drunk before," Bronn said as he got up.

"Yeeessss…" Tyrion dragged out, raising his index finger as he clarified, "but not when she was sober herself. No," he declared decidedly, "I shall go to my brother! What are brothers for, if not drunken conversation?"

"If that were true, you and me would have been brothers," Bronn remarked with his usual sarcasm.

"And so we are — drunk brothers! No — drink brothers, that’s what we are! Bounded by the whiskey, and scotch, and…" he hiccuped. "Come on, drink brother, take me to the Kingslayer!!" Tyrion roared the last word as if to petrify the few remaining patrons. He was rewarded for his efforts with a few grunts of annoyance.

"All right!" Bronn agreed easily, only too happy to let Jaime deal with the wasted Tyrion and go back to Tyene, "To the Kingslayer we shall go."

While Jaime was in the shower, Cersei returned, once more, to pondering his strange attitude. When she came to from the heights of her orgasm sufficiently to contemplate him, she thought he looked like a man who had seen a ghost. His breathing was heavier than she had ever noticed before. He breathed as heavily as if he had run a marathon, and there was an odd look of consternation on his face. In other words, without delving too deeply into the thickets of analysis, which was not Cersei’s favorite territory by any means, she knew that Jaime looked nothing like a man is supposed to look when he had just come inside the woman he loves. The scarcity of caresses she received from him after he had caught his breath alarmed her. If it was not for her insistence that no one should ever see her with wet hair and running make-up — especially not a man whose interest she meant to keep — she would have followed him under the spray of warm water in order to find a solution to the riddle of his behavior.

Her musings were interrupted by the doorbell and loud knocks (which were more banging than anything else).

"Jaime open that fucking door, or I swear I’ll piss all over your 'welcome' rug!" came Tyrion’s drunken slur and the banging renewed.

"He’s not kidding you on that one, Lannister," Bronn’s laughing voice confirmed.

Cersei, even if they were about to break the entrance door, would not dignify them with her presence. The sounds of the shower ceased, and Jaime, water still streaming all over his body, with nothing but a towel around his hips — a welcome sight, she thought — exited the bathroom.

"Couldn’t you get the door for once, Cers?" he threw over his shoulder in irritation as he passed by. She heard him open the door and then Tyrion’s drunken footsteps, accompanied by Brown’s steadier ones, invaded the flat. Since her childhood, in fact, from as early as Tyrion could crawl, she had hated the sound of her baby brother moving around. It seemed to her that the irregular, cacophonic sound, was a trumping of her mother’s insides, and she hated every single one of his steps.

"I’ll leave him to your good care," she heard Bronn say.

"Thanks for brining him over, Bronn" Jaime replied, and she — as always when her twin readily accepted to care for the imp — was surprised not to hear sarcasm or irritation in his voice.

As soon as the door closed behind Bronn, she emerged from the bedroom, wrapped in one of the sheets.

Tyrion was leaning heavily against the underbar, his eyes nearly closed as he breathed heavily. She hated every one of his breaths, too. It seemed utterly unfair to her that a creature like him — ugly and vulgar, full of envy, drunkenness, gluttony, and lust — should draw breath at all; and it seemed a preposterous joke that something so low should exist at the price of her mother — a being so beautiful and perfect; the only being Cersei had ever fully loved. Tyrion’s breaths, every single one of them, rightfully belonged to her mother, and she loathed him for taking them from her. Tyrion half-opened one of his eyes and took her in. At first, he did not seem to recognize her, and he opened both his eyes, which lit up with hope, and remorse at his interruption flashed in them; when he did see her for who she was and not whoever he had taken her for, he grimaced in distaste.

"What is she doing here?.." he moaned, as if in pain.

Jaime was silent, and she fumed wordlessly — her mind had been too preoccupied with deciphering her twin to shift easily into angry banter with her youngest brother. Tyrion detached himself forcefully from the underbar and, swaying heavily on his even ordinarily unsteady feet, made his way toward Jaime, mumbling all the way, "Leave us alone, Cersei, leave us alone!.." He braced himself against his brother’s leg, the support of which he badly needed, encircling the long limb with his small arms like a tarsier hugging a tree branch, and paused for a minute, probably waiting for the world to stop spinning.

"Just make her go, Jaime!" he whined, like he used to do when they were children, and he was very young, so young, indeed, that he was not yet ashamed to whine, although, even then, he had only done so very rarely. He grew quiet after this outburst, exhausted by the effort it took him to move and make loud sounds. Then he mumbled again. "Make her go…"

She saw Jaime’s eyes acquire that peculiar softness that always rose to them when he dealt with a troubled Tyrion or one of the children. Even with herself, Cersei had rarely seen him look so gentle lately, and she resented Tyrion for this immensely. Jaime ran his hand absentmindedly through his brother’s tangled, curly hair — an unconscious action she had later seen him carry over to the children — and he smiled at him indulgently. She hated Tyrion for how Jaime always indulged him. The few times she had been able, when they had been children, to tear Jaime away from Tyrion as her baby brother cried, had been some of the happiest and most triumphant in her life. After Jaime and she had become lovers, it was somewhat easier for her to make him forego Tyrion’s company, but by then, her youngest brother had grown too old to give her the pleasure of his tears.

Jaime turned to her, still smiling, but his expression changed, becoming more somber when their eyes met.

"I think it’s time for you to go, Cers," he said.

She was breathing heavily. How could he — how dare he! — choose that ill-made creature over her? And then she noticed Tyrion’s pleased drunken grin, his head with eyes closed still resting against Jaime’s leg as if he was ready, despite his condition, to fight for his brother in a tug of war.

"Why would I go?!" she exclaimed with rage. "Why not put the drunken little beast into a cab and send him off to his Highgarden whore?!"

Jaime closed his eyes. There was no indecision in his face — only exasperation. Tyrion tugged at his towel to get his brother’s attention. When Jaime looked down toward him, Tyrion was looking up at him with wide-open eyes.

"Jaime," he complained in a soft voice. "She’s saying such terrible things. Why do you let her say such terrible things to me?"

And Jaime remembered.

He remembered the words:

"Jaime, she’s saying such terrible things. Why do you let her say such terrible things to me?" spoken in a small voice full of surprise and pain.

He remembered the warm, sunny day at Casterly Rock. The sea was kissing the beach gently, with the innocent insistence of first love; the green of the trees was so full of life’s juices, it looked good enough to eat. And his sister had just told his baby brother that he was a monster and that he had killed their mother. With an expression of bloodthirsty viciousness, which had disfigured her pretty face, she had told him he was the ugliest, worst creature that had ever lived and that, one day, he would die in as much pain as their mother, only he would be all alone. Tyrion had not started crying right away. He looked to Jaime, who was lost, disoriented by Cersei’s hatred. His little brother had looked to him for protection, just as he did now.

"Go, Cersei," he told her as he had told her a little over two decades before.

Chapter Text

When doubts plague us,

The choices we make

Shape the victory trophies

We’ll leave in our wake.

Jaime did not want any of this. He had never asked for his mother’s death or a brother, whose pain at being unlike others, which he could not heal, he would carry inside him with impotent rage at the world and a burning pity for the little, defenseless boy asking for his love and care. He had never asked for a sister who would refuse to share this burden; who, with her loathing, would drive deeper the wedge of their mother’s death, which had split the family apart like a fisherman’s auger the ice of a frozen lake. He had never asked to love a woman so full of hatred. He had never asked for children he would be unable to call his own. And what he certainly had not asked for was a red-head slip of a girl to bring further chaos into his universe of gloom. He was tired of the unending wretchedness that overwhelmed his family. He was in fear of his inability to dismiss thoughts of Sansa. And he thought apocalyptic that he no longer could find refuge from this spinning madness in Cersei’s body. His sister’s angry snarls brought the present back into focus.

"I’m warning you, Jaime, get rid of him! Get rid of that malignant creature before he destroys us!"

He wanted to tell her so many things. That she was mad, merciless, inhumane. That she had destroyed their family more, perhaps, than their mother’s death had. That if he could erase their twin birth from the annals of this universe, he would have done it. But he did not want to hear anything more from her, especially with Tyrion listening, however drunk he was. She had said more than enough. He resorted to the tactic he had discovered in their childhood.

"You can stay, for all I care," he announced, as he picked his little brother up and carried him to the sofa, "but I will be taking care of Tyrion," he informed her in a tone that allowed for no negotiations, and added with vicious sarcasm, while he gave his full attention to laying Tyrion down and taking off his shoes: "You can stay and help me, if you like."

He was aware of her heavy breathing — the telltale sign of her rage and jealousy. He saw how, in spite of her evident desire to mend things between them, which had surprised him by its lack of demands, she was no more capable of overcoming her hatred for their brother than she was of not being the center of attention. To be overlooked in favor of Tyrion was beyond her limited endurance. As he expected, she picked up her coat, turned on her heels, and went to the bedroom. Soon, she walked the straight line from there to the entrance door and left without a backward glance or a goodbye. The moment she exited the apartment, Jaime felt relief — a feeling that had never accompanied her departures before. There was no regret, no disappointment, no anguish; there was the sense that someone, in unbound mercy, had removed shackles from his lungs.

He turned to Tyrion, next to whose lying, relaxed form he was sitting. His brother never looked so young or behaved with such infantilism as when he was drunk practically beyond consciousness. A childish Tyrion always brought to Jaime’s mind memories of his brother when he was just that — a child — and it never failed to stir tender feelings in his heart. Tyrion was watching him with so much immature pleasure and self-satisfaction, it was clear that, in spite of his compromised sobriety, he had not missed a moment of his and Cersei’s argument and had enjoyed every second of Jaime taking his side over their sister’s. Smirking like a benevolent conspirator, Jaime pushed a few locks of hair out of his brother’s eyes.

"Why are you so drunk, Tyrion?" he asked with a smile.

Tyrion’s face changed: frowning, he looked away from his elder brother, and his hands went to play with the edge of the plaid Jaime had covered him with, knowing his baby brother always felt cold when he was so drunk. It seemed to Jaime that his simple question sobered Tyrion up a little, proving that he had a serious reason to explain his intoxication.

"You wouldn’t have a little bit of scotch or whiskey?" Tyrion asked instead of addressing his question. "Maybe some cognac?"

"I have all three," Jaime answered with humor, "but you are getting neither. And in case you try reaching for a bottle yourself, I will put them so high up, you won’t even be able to see them."

Tyrion pouted, but he was not offended. Jaime was the only person in the world who could make such teasing remarks about Tyrion’s height without, somehow, making him feel misformed, ugly, or monstrous. Perhaps, it was because Jaime never actually made fun of him in any way that was hurtful; perhaps it, was because they had an unwritten pact of making fun of each other’s disabilities, and Tyrion knew that he himself was considerably more nonchalant with his japes concerning Jaime’s dyslexia than Jaime had ever been with his dwarfism. Most likely, however, it was because Tyrion knew that Jaime’s love was as blind as it was unconditional, and that, in reality, his elder brother did not care how short in stature he was.

There was a brief pause, a harmless contest of wills: Jaime watched Tyrion, expecting an answer to his earlier question, knowing that, even in his drunken state, Tyrion had not forgotten it; Tyrion, on the other hand, did his best to avoid his brother’s query — and his eyes. But then, as it had always been the case, when he felt something was truly wrong with his baby brother, Jaime’s carefree nature receded before a persistent and nagging attitude. He cupped his brother’s face and repeated:

"What’s the matter, Tyrion?"

Tyrion swallowed, then sighed heavily. He felt oddly vulnerable even before Jaime, his sworn shield.

"Marge…" he began and saw fear come to his brother’s eyes.

"What happened?" Jaime asked in a strained voice.

"I…" Tyrion refused to spill drunken tears. “I… proposed…" he managed.

Jaime’s eyebrows rose, and the light of pleasant surprise filled his features, but then his eyes narrowed. Tyrion saw, with surprise, a cold light fill their green depths, which spelled peril to his offender.

"What did she say?" he asked in a dangerous voice, which reminded Tyrion of their father.

"She…" Tyrion swallowed heavily once more, his intoxicated mind’s clarity further compromised by the tension rolling off his brother. "She says she wants to marry me… and I… I think — ” but he did not get to finish. Jaime shot out of the sofa with an almost angry cry:

"Oh, you first-class moron!" he exclaimed in exasperation and relief. "Why the fuck would you make me think (against all common sense!) that she left you, then, huh? You fool!"

"She doesn’t want to marry me," Tyrion protested. That got Jaime to sit down, but, his suspicions once aroused, he continued to eye him skeptically.

"Did she say that?" he inquired.

Tyrion pouted again.

"No, Jaime," he replied, annoyed, "she did not  say that…"

His elder brother interrupted him.

"Then why do you think that?" he asked, not without amusement.

Tyrion’s pout grew considerably worse, and he lowered his gaze again, but he did not answer. It was this stubborn resolution to keep silent that showed Jaime the way into the puzzle of his brother’s inadequate behavior.

"Oh, Tyrion…" he said and laughed.

"It’s not funny," came his brother’s sullen voice.

"I think it is. You cannot possibly think that Marge agreed to marry you if she doesn’t love you?"

Tyrion did not reply, looking injured by how lightly Jaime was taking the matter.

"You’re mad," his brother stated with humor, a playful smile on his face.

Tension had left Jaime completely. With the exodus of both Cersei and the fear of Tyrion being heartbroken, he felt so carefree, he could almost pretend that visions of Sansa had not invaded his mind so brazenly only a few hours before. He sat back comfortably on the sofa, his right hand resting over his brother’s knees.

"Marge is not the kind of person who does anything she doesn’t want," he continued. "If she didn’t want to marry you, she would have told you so. And besides, she would not have stayed with you for… How long has it been, now? Four years? She would not have stayed with you for four years if she didn’t love you. I can barely make her do a pirouette she doesn’t like — I pity anyone who would try marrying her off to someone she had not chosen herself."

“But — ” Tyrion protested weakly, only to be interrupted again:

"But what?"

"I… She…" Tyrion tried and looked up at his elder brother. Jaime’s one raised eyebrow announced plainly that he did not think much of his brother’s eloquence. "She cannot possibly love me," Tyrion whispered. He expected Jaime to roll his eyes or to groan like he usually did when Tyrion claimed he was not good enough for something or someone. Instead, his elder brother laughed.

"You’re quickly becoming the stereotype lover from one of those atrocious love songs they forced us to memorize in first grade," he said and laughed again at Tyrion’s indignation. He placed a hand on his shoulder to get his attention. "When you began telling me you were in this state because of Marge, I was afraid that she had hurt you, but I still found it hard to believe. In the four years you’ve been with her, I’ve never known you two to have had any serious problems." Like Cersei and I do, for instance, he thought bitterly but with relief that his brother was at least spared this particular variety of pain. "I think you need to trust her more," he suggested gently. "I wouldn’t say that," he added, "you know I would not, if I didn’t believe she deserved your trust. I know I can trust her with you — and it’s more than I could ever say for anyone else."

Suddenly, Tyrion, who had been listening to his brother’s words carefully and whose eyes, little by little, had been permeated with belief, grinned in a malicious way.
"You’d trust Sansa with me, though, wouldn’t you?" he asked out of the blue.

He watched his elder brother’s face very carefully, and Jaime’s displeasure at the suggestion did not escape him.

"What does the minx have to do with anything?" Jaime countered in a voice that even Tyrion would have thought unchanged if he were not listening as intently for the subtle modification of tone. Easily absorbed, as he always was prone to be, in advancing his brother’s happiness — even when untangling the nots of his own demons on the strings of his blessings — Tyrion was eager to investigate. Having taken his brother by surprise, he decided to press his advantage, even if, due to his inebriation, he could not help a cunning grin from spreading on his features.

"Oh, I’m just wondering," he said as if it were the alcohol talking, "if I was involved with Sansa and had asked her to marry me — would you have trusted her to keep my heart safe like you do Marge?"

He watched Jaime like a hawk, registering the waves of emotions that chased one another across his brother’s face: the annoyance, the anger — these red flags of jealousy he recognized with satisfaction as rapidly as they had flashed in Jaime’s eyes. He did not expect anything else, but, caught up in Jaime’s expressions like a seer in deciphering the signs revealed by a crystal ball, he watched other feelings spark: resignation and love. Tyrion knew his brother so well, having always followed him with careful fascination, that Jaime’s feelings, unlike his unpredictable ideas, hardly ever bewildered Tyrion. But his brother’s next reply shook Tyrion to his very core.

"Yes," Jaime answered simply, and Tyrion felt like he had been hit in the stomach as two incredible thoughts emerged in his mind. He was convinced in that moment, like he had never been before, that Jaime, whether he knew it himself or not, would one day love the Northern girl with all his heart — without reservations, more than he had ever loved Cersei; and that, although Tyrion had always cherished his elder brother’s love and been grateful for its uncompromising power and its protective nature, his pride in his own devotion to Jaime had fooled him into thinking that he loved Jaime even more than Jaime loved him. And yet here was his elder brother, effectively admitting he would not have stood in Tyrion’s way even if he wanted to claim the woman Jaime himself was falling in love with — something Tyrion was uncertain he would have been able to do. Tyrion closed his eyes, unable to watch his brother’s loving smile, which was his first memory. His throat was constricted as if he was being suffocated, he felt tears burn the back of his eyelids — tears that no alcohol could ever bring — and Tyrion was humbled. Humbled by his brother’s love; humbled by Jaime’s oddly serene sincerity in the face of his own humorous probing. He lifted himself up with effort and, overcoming the spinning world all around him, embraced his brother with all the strength he had in his arms. Jaime held him close, and Tyrion hid his face in his strong shoulder as a few tears escaped him. It seemed to him in that moment that everything was fair in this world — when one had a love so strong to fall back on as Jaime’s, the rest of humanity had almost no right to love one at all. Like he had always done, Jaime had given him the strength to look the world’s many monstrous heads in the eye, and feel he could cut off each one, and every one that grew in their places besides.

"Your drunkenness is gifting you with new symptoms, brother dearest," Jaime’s teasing voice soothed him.

Tyrion whipped his eyes hastily, and sat back, crowding his small body to his brother’s side, and finding the comfort, undiminished over the years, in Jaime’s heavy arm around his shoulders. It had always seemed to Tyrion that the heavier were the burdens placed by the world on his own shoulders, the stronger his brother’s arms grew to keep them from crushing him. They sat like this in silence for a while, and Tyrion lost track of time. He grew drowsy. He never noticed that he fell asleep.

Jaime sat silently as Tyrion snored peacefully at his side. A smile played on his lips. He was happy for Tyrion: like many of his brother’s friends (not to mention his father), he thought it odd that he and Marge had not married earlier. They were happy together, that much was obvious. She loved him, he had no doubt. And, of course, it was plain for all to see that Tyrion saw the sun rise and set in her eyes. This train of thought reminded him of his brother’s fiancée.

Text from Kingslayer to Marge:
Tyrion’s ovre ta my plcae. Jsut in case yuo were wondrieng.

Text from Marge to Kingslayer:

Why the fuck is your dyslexia playing up? Has something happened? Is Tyrion all right?

Jaime cursed silently. Trust his dyslexia to serve as the barometer of his mental state.

Text from Kingslayer to Marge:

Evevrything’s fine. He’s jsut whacked otu of hsi mind.

Text from Marge to Kingslayer:

If something happened, and you are lying to me, Jaime Lannister, I will kill you.

Text from Kingslayer to Marge:

Carzy woamn. I’m telilng you: evevrything’s fien.

He smirked: who would ever have thought Marge could be such a mother hen?

When Tyrion and Marge first got together, Jaime had been worried. He knew Marge to be somewhat unscrupulous and rather willful; at the time, he thought her very selfish. Consequently, he had hoped that Tyrion and she would not stay together long, fearing that his brother might get seriously attached to her and that she would end up breaking his heart. Then one day, Jaime had witnessed a scene, which convinced him that, after all, Margery Tyrell could have been the right woman for his brother.

Tyrion and he were seated at a bar, lazily sipping their drinks and talking about the LBC, when Marge and some of her cousins, who had come to visit from Highgarden, entered. Jaime noticed how Tyrion shrunk into himself a little, seeming eager to be able to dematerialize, and hoping that his lover would not see him. Tyrion’s defensive pose would not have brought the attention of any other observer to the change in his mental state, but Jaime knew it all too well: the way his brother would pull in his head a little, like an alerted turtle, and draw his arms closer to his body — he had seen it often enough before. They both expected Margery to walk past and either not notice them at all or pretend she had not. Instead, almost as soon as she and her cousins were seated (they were too large a group to fit in a booth, and the waiters had to push together two tables), she observed them at the bar and immediately yelled:
"Tyrion! What are you doing here?.. Anyway, come over here, I want you to meet my cousins!"

Tyrion, surprise in his eyes, looked to him uncertainly, and Jaime motioned his head slightly toward Marge in encouragement. His brother left his seat awkwardly and walked toward the group of Highgarden girls. His small stature was evident, of course, when he walked. Marge shooed away some of her cousins, her brother Loras, who was with them, brought over another chair at her command, and she seated Tyrion next to her. The moment he sat, she kissed him unapologetically on the lips. She introduced him as “my lover, Tyrion Lannister,” and then came the scene that had once and for all convinced Jaime that Marge Tyrell had enough sense to have appreciated his brother like he deserved. Having observed the kiss with a grimace of disgust, one of Margery’s cousins laughed at the introduction.

"Well, Marge, you always did have an undiscriminating taste," she said with a nasty smile. Jaime noticed Tyrion’s pained smirk, and then he saw something that made him curious: Margery’s face was disfigured by rage. She rose so abruptly, her chair fell backward, and an uncomfortable muteness invaded the bar. She was breathing heavily, her nostrils flaring like those of a rabid horse. As quickly as she had risen, she moved toward the cousin who had spoken and pulled her off her chair roughly by the arm. Jaime was certain that her fingers, which had dug deep into her relative’s flesh, would leave bruises.

"Get the fuck out of here, you loud-mouthed little bitch," she growled quietly, "and if I ever see you again, I will pull out some of your hair extensions."

With these words, she pushed her toward the entrance. The shocked girl stumbled but did not dare protest. She left the bar with eyes wide as saucers, and Marge stared her down as she went with a menacing look in her eyes. When the revolving door had twirled away the offending cousin, Marge turned back toward the group with a smile as pleasant as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

"All righty," she said. "I’m getting the drinks! What do y’all want?"

They muttered their drink orders. She gave Tyrion, who was still speechless, a peck on the lips; she said, "I know what you’re having," and winked. Then, she made her way over to the bar to give the order to the bartender — an action that was entirely unnecessary, considering that there was no shortage of waiters.
"You’re awfully protective of my brother," Jaime noticed with a teasing grin: he was relieved, he was delighted. She turned to him, and he saw that indignation and anger were jumping still in her eyes even as her hands shook. He recognized the symptoms; he had displayed them many times in his life: Tyrion had never lacked for mockers.

"I’m surprised I did not gauge out her eyes," she muttered.

"Oh, no, we could not have you in jail — Tyrion might miss you," Jaime said with humor, but a genuine smile was on his face. Marge smiled back briefly, distractedly: she was still overcome with adrenaline.

He helped her carry some of the drinks to the table, a waiter with a heavy tray following them. He said his goodbyes right away and made himself scarce under the pretense of an early morning meeting. He smiled the entire drive back.

And now his baby brother had proposed. Jaime was not surprised that Tyrion would get married, and before him. Since he had realized that Cersei would never agree to stay brave under the assault, perhaps even the prosecution, they would face if they ever made their relationship public, Jaime expected that Tyrion, one day, would marry, and he himself would not. Yet he could not help but wonder, like he did when he was sixteen and deeply in love, what his life would have been like if Cersei were not his sister. And he could not repress a question that he had never internalized before, notwithstanding his father’s, and, he knew, even his brother’s efforts: what could his life be like if he loved someone else?

Before his thoughts could take him farther down this dangerous path, he tried remembering again that night when he had come to trust Marge — a fond memory. Instead, he recalled, unwillingly, the end of that evening. He did not drive to his apartment: he drove to Cersei. She was lying in his arms, languid and spent; he was tracing mysterious patterns on the soft skin of her back. He was so happy that he forgot — or, perhaps, he had deceived himself into forgetting? — Cersei’s invariable animosity toward Tyrion, and he shared with her that he thought Tyrion had finally found someone who would truly love him. She tensed in his arms, then sat up, moving away from him. He could not quite remember now exactly what she had said. Something along the lines of murderers not deserving love, and that she wished Tyrion would one day die in as much pain as their mother. Jaime left quickly and did not speak to her for days.

He did not want to think about Cersei now. He was tired of thinking about her. He searched in his mind for something to lighten his mood. Images of Sansa napping with Tom and Cella rose before him, and he smiled. But just as swiftly, the smile was gone, replaced by contrition. He did not know how to even begin understanding his utter inability to escape Sansa when he was with Cersei. It made him feel like a thief, and it terrified him. Like a man of ancient times, a lone survivor of carnage, standing on the ruins of his temple, Jaime felt he was falling in spite of his immediate stability. His world, which he had build on the foundations of his love for Cersei, had begun crumbling all around him. Two columns were left of this beautiful imagining, standing tall and proud among the ruins that surrounded him: his brother and ballet. Elsewhere, all around him, was chaos and devastation of the past. And like the survivor of his city’s sacking, whose gaze is lowered in contemplation of the ruins, Jaime remained blind to the bright red dawn that rose on the horizon of the future, which he obstinately refused to face.

Tyrion awoke in the middle of the night — a frequent occurrence when he was very drunk before yielding to somnus. He noticed Jaime asleep next to him — still sitting on the sofa, as if guarding him against the darkness. His brother’s words had given Tyrion courage, and they fought his demons for him; but the doubts still clamored with their weapons, harpoons of sorrow and spikes of fear. There was one person, always, who could annihilate them completely — or, alternatively, give them such power that they would drag him into the abyss of seven hells.

He rose, feeling the onset of a violent headache, which grew worse with the effort it took him to carefully push Jaime into a supine position and cover him with the plaid. As quietly as he could, he made his way out of his brother’s apartment. Knowing all too well that Jaime’s phone would still be on silent after the morning meeting with the sponsors, Tyrion texted him:

Text from Little Monkey to Kingslayer:

Yes, I’ve sobered up enough to leave.

Then, he sent another message.

Text from Little Monkey to Kingslayer:

Thank you.

He took a taxi to the nearest twenty-four-hour pharmacy, where he procured some hangover pills, water, and much needed mint chewing gum. He had to be as presentable as possible, he thought, attempting to give his tangled hair a semblance of order. The driver was waiting for him, and he told him the address while he slipped into the backseat. When they drove off, he dialed.

"Yes, I must. Wake him, then, I don’t care."

He waited the interminable pause.

"Tyrion?" came that voice. Always that voice.

"Father."

Chapter Text

The wee hours of our lives

Maintain a power over us.

In the darkness of their slumber,

How prone, indeed, we are to flounder.

As by they pass,

We make mistakes;

They raise the stakes,

We seek forgiveness.

As, in time, they move asunder,

We offer reparations for our blunders.

Tywin Lannister was dressing unhurriedly. If he was awoken in the middle of the night and made to get up, the least Tyrion could do was wait while he made himself fit to be seen. Like many of the older generation, Tywin never began his day in anything other than a three-piece suit. On the rare occasions he spent an especially relaxed morning, he would wear a heavy, woolen housecoat instead of a jacket. The housecoat — of prized wool, well tailored, and covered with elegant, inconspicuous embroidery — still looked more official than what most men wore to business meetings these days.

The semi-darkness that surrounded him was a compromise between the inappropriate hour for the beginning of the day and the need to rise. It did not impede him — he had dressed following the same ritual for over half a century. Adjusting his tie automatically, he glanced at the old clock in the heavy guided frame that stood on the chest-of-drawers: it was four in the morning.

Half an hour earlier, he had heard a soft knock on his bedroom door. When he had called for Ramsay to come in, his personal assistant entered with the phone in his hand.

"I beg your pardon, ser," he said, "but your son demands to speak with you. He’s very insistent."

Tywin extended his hand for the phone, and Ramsay promptly placed the device in his palm.

"Is it Tyrion or Jaime?" he asked Ramsay, bringing the phone to his ear.

"It’s Tyrion, ser," came the answer.

Tywin nodded, indicating to his personal assistant that he would not be needed for the duration of the conversation. The Bolton boy disappeared behind the heavy door, closing it noiselessly behind him.

"Tyrion?" Tywin inquired in a voice that, because of his recent awakening, did not carry the full strength of disapprobation that the situation warranted. Of course, Tywin was not concerned for his son — his children were adults, and adults were not supposed to need supervision. He sighed. If only.

"Father," Tyrion sounded odd. A note of tragedy reverberated in his tone, and the impudent challenge that Tyrion always imbued into his voice when addressing him was gone. Tywin shook his head — was there no end to the troubles his children got themselves into?

"What’s the matter Tyrion?" he inquired, "I trust this late-night call," although, in all fairness, it was early morning, "is not again occasioned by Jaime’s… carelessness?"

"No," Tyrion sounded guilty. The last time Tywin had heard guilt in his son’s voice was when, in spite of his father’s categorical interdiction, the young rascal, high as a kite, had taken his favorite antique automobile for a drive and smashed its whole front part beyond recognition. If Tyrion had hurt himself in addition, Tywin would have probably killed his offspring himself.

"Tyrion, I trust you’re aware that it’s nearly half past three in the morning," he said, irritation seeping into his voice. It was not his son calling him that annoyed him; it was that he had never been able to impress upon his children common notions of propriety. "I would dearly like to know the reason for this call."

"I need to speak with you," was all Tyrion said in answer, and it did miracles to, figuratively speaking, raise his father’s blood pressure.

"We are speaking at this very moment," Tywin bit out.

"No, I’m on my way to the house right now," Tyrion stated unapologetically and with an unyielding determination in his voice. "I need to talk to you in person," he added in a different tone, one that sounded more like a plea.

Tywin sighed. The gods certainly had sent his children to teach him patience.

“Seeing as you are so determined — ” he began and was infuriated when Tyrion cut off his generous invitation.

"Great, I’ll see you soon!" his son announced, and the line went dead.

Tywin nearly threw the phone against the wall. That was what was so deeply wrong with the young generation — their utter inability to comprehend that there were rules according to which life was organized. One did not call people at three o’clock in the morning, least of all to schedule a meeting only an hour in advance; people did not meet at four in the morning, period, unless they were mobsters planning a raid. One did not interrupt one’s elders, especially parents; one did not hang up on people who were so high above oneself in their station.

Tywin sighed. Sleep had left him completely. He would have a headache by afternoon, but there was no point in trying to stay in bed, now that irritation, rather than peace of mind, dominated. Besides, if Tyrion, the little whipping top, was coming to the house, Tywin’s chances of getting any sleep were close to nil. The Lannister patriarch sighed again and sat up, his feet landing into comfortable slippers finished with soft fur. He reached for his printed dressing gown, which he donned on top of his sleeping clothes. The routine motions, always performed when the sun was already up, alerted him once more to the contrast between the way life normally was (the way it ought to be) and how his children were prone to twist it.

As he finished adjusting his tie and reached for his waistcoat, he wondered what had brought Tyrion to him in this ungodly hour. Clearly, if it was an emergency, it was not a life threatening one — otherwise, Tywin was sure his youngest child would throw civility entirely to the wind and burst into his room. He snorted, imagining his own indignation at the action. However, his son’s visit still served to unnerve him. Ever since the last time he had been forced to meet with Tyrion in the middle of the night — an evening that was followed by Jaime’s arrest — Tywin disliked waking or being woken in the middle of the night. In fact, although he would not admit it, Tywin feared it. He took his time buttoning his waistcoat and putting on his jacket, as if to delay the discovery of the reasons behind Tyrion’s impromptu call.

Tyrion, ushered into the small living room by Ramsay, was pacing in front of the fireplace in which his father’s personal assistant had lit a fire. The reason Tyrion had gone to his father was simple: a divorced dwarf or a dwarf left at the altar was worse than a dwarf only. His father’s maniacal preoccupation with the family name, as well as Tywin’s disregard for other persons’ feelings, particularly those of his children, were guarantors, in Tyrion’s mind, of his objectivity. If Tywin thought there was even the slightest chance that the family would be humiliated, he would tell Tyrion as much, whether this served to break his son’s heart or not. Jaime, on the other hand, Tyrion could not trust entirely, knowing that his brother would bite off his own tongue before he let hurting words slip past his lips. Of course, father was obsessed with getting his sons married, but even this drive, Tyrion felt, was less powerful than preserving family honor. That was how Tyrion rationalized his visit to Tywin.

There was, however, another aspect to the call. Regardless of the powerful way in which Jaime, squaring his shoulders, had tried to fill the large emptiness of a fatherly figure for Tyrion, both brothers had never ceased to look to their father, hoping against hope, that one day, for some reason, they would be able to find in him the solace they had always sought. Unconsciously, Tyrion’s engagement — that which his father had always wanted — pushed him to look for his father’s encouragement one more time.

His father’s entrance, as always, got his full attention.

"Don’t pace," Tywin Lannister said by way of greeting. "How many times have I told you not to pace?"

Tyrion smiled. Of course, that was something father would say. He smiled also because he found something oddly endearing yet funny in that, even at four in the morning, father looked the way he always looked — dressed in a fine suit, not a hair out of place. He admired this discipline, this style, in spite of himself, the way Jaime also did: the brothers always made jokes on this subject, as if to convince themselves and each other that they did not revere their father in the slightest.

Tywin sat in one of the armchairs before the fireplace and motioned for Tyrion to do the same, only to purse his lips slightly upon noticing that his son had sat at the same time as he, not waiting for an invitation. There was no respect for tradition in the young. Before father and son could begin a conversation, Ramsay brought in the tea tray, which he placed before the two men. The personal assistant poured the tea and, with a small bow, made himself scarce.

"I thought tea would be more appropriate, seeing as we are meeting so early," Tywin noted in a matter-of-fact way, which still served to berate Tyrion for his scandalous behavior.

Tyrion took one of the silver tea glass holders, the tea glass itself filled with the dark brown liquid, and took a sip. It was the taste of weekends, when father came to Casterly Rock; it was the taste of moving to King’s Landing; it was the taste of childhood, of youth, of his father. Cersei had always hated it. It was always the same tea. Black, strong, with lemon and sugar. Where had father picked up this way of drinking tea, Tyrion never knew. Had he asked, perhaps, his father would have told him that Joanna, who had travelled the world in her youth, had brought the recipe and the glass holders from her travels, and that Tywin, who revolted at first, grew used to it over the years, and when she passed, drinking this tea was like drinking memories of her with every gulp.

Tywin was sipping the tea quietly. Then, the older man fixed his son with his immobilizing stare, which demanded an explanation, demanded one immediately. Tyrion, always uncomfortable under such scrutiny by his parent, reached for a biscuit, as if sugar could give him courage. Tywin watched him, patient and exacting.

"I…" Tyrion began but faltered. He took a deep breath. He knew that the moment he mentioned his and Margery’s engagement, he would never hear the end of it from his father until they were married. On the other hand, he thought, from where he saw things at the moment, there might not even be a wedding… Regardless, family name came first for Tywin: if his son was on the brink of making a fool of himself and, by extension, of the whole Lannister clan, Tywin would pull him back with a decisive yank of both hands.

"Tyrion, silence is a virtue only when one is not expected to provide an explanation," Tywin observed, sipping at his tea.

"I proposed to Margery," Tyrion blurted.

Tywin was frozen in his seat, his tea glass holder still in his hands. The same expression that had come to Jaime’s face now animated the father’s: his countenance was all pleasant surprise, he even smiled.

"My dear boy — ” he began, and then, just like Jaime’s, his eyes narrowed when he connected the news to the context in which it was announced. "And?.." he inquired in a tense voice.

"And…" Tyrion said, "she said 'yes' but — ”

"Aha!" His father’s happy exclamation cut off Tyrion’s expression of doubt. He was annoyed by the similarity in his brother and father’s reactions. Were they deliberately ignoring his concerns?!

"I don’t think she wants to marry me…" he tried.

Tywin looked insulted.

"Why on earth would you think that? Who would not want to marry a Lannister, a — ” but Tyrion could stand this no more. Someone was going to hear him, or he would burst.

"It’s not about a Lannister, or your son, or anything else! It’s about a beautiful, intelligent, ambitious woman condescending — for reasons I am incapable of understanding! — to marry an ugly dwarf!" he cried.

He was breathing heavily, watching his father. He did not know what to expect. Never before had his father and he confronted the defects in his appearance so bluntly.

Tywin Lannister had a cunning expression on his face, on his lips swayed a ghost of a smile, which was barely distinguishable from his usual grim expression.

"So what have you come to me for?" he said calmly, as if his son had not just shouted in his presence.

"I…" Tyrion stumbled. What had he come here for? Reassurance? Sympathy? He might as well have gone to the insane asylum, if that was what he expected to find in his father’s house. He stared down at his tea. He was not mad, however; he had come here for judgement, an execution to relieve him of his pain. He swallowed thickly. "I want you to tell me that a young woman like Margery would never stay with a brute like me; that I am a delusional fool who has set his sights too high; that I should stop this charade before the great Lannister family is forced to pay for my foolery."

There was silence. He looked up at his father, like the kneeling prisoner at his executioner. Tywin still wore the same cunning expression.

"You want me to tell you she’s too good for you and that you should cut your losses while you can?"
Tyrion nodded. Here came the swing of the sword.

"I won’t." Tywin stated with gravity.

Tyrion looked up at him in bewilderment: the sword had hit the rock with a singing of metal — he had been spared.

"What?" he mumbled in incomprehension.

"If you want someone to indulge this baseless self-pity, go to Jaime," Tywin suggested coldly, "he always gratified your penchant for rue, but I won’t. I’ve seen many flaws in you over the years, Tyrion," he added, "but I’ve never known you to be a coward," he finished with an odd intensity. Tywin paused, and, as if he had realized at the last moment he may have been too harsh, as if Joanna’s ghost had shaken her head in reproach from the other end of the room, he continued in a softer tone. "Have a little pride, Tyrion," he said almost gently, "Margery Tyrell is a woman who knows her own mind. She can have very little mercenary motivation — she’s from a good family, she’s rich, she’s young, she has a successful career. No, she doesn’t need to marry you. Apparently, she wants to." He paused once more, and his tone became gentler, almost soft, nearly soothing: "I have seen you two together. There’s no doubt in my mind that she loves you." As unexpectedly as it had come, the gentleness was gone, and Tywin was stern again: "Now, you can continue to whine, or you can congratulate yourself on having won over such a wonderful young woman, but — as I hope you yourself understand — only one of these actions is worthy of a Lannister."

Tyrion was silent, taking in the words, processing his emotions.

"You don’t think she’s marrying me even though she doesn’t love me?" he asked once more.

"No," Tywin said, as he placed plum jam on his croissant, his voice indicating his exasperation as well as his self-sacrificing willingness to be patient.

"You think she loves me and wants to marry me?"

"Yes," in the same tone. He bit into the puff pastry.

“You — ”

But it was too much: Tywin threw down the remaining piece of the delicacy with distaste.

"I think," he said with emphasis, "that you sound like an insecure girl! For gods’ sake, Tyrion, yes, she loves you; yes, you should get married…" He interrupted himself as a realization dawned on him: "When are you getting married? Have you set a date yet?"

"No!" Tyrion cried, relieved almost that his father had resumed his pestering.

Tywin pinned him down with his stare like a butterfly with a needle:

"You have given me to understand that you have proposed and been accepted," he said in a tone that accused Tyrion of serious misdemeanor. "How come you haven’t set a date yet?"

"It’s a recent development," Tyrion lied. He would not admit he was the reason behind the delay, fearing his father might have a stroke from fury at this admission.

"Ah," Tywin took up his croissant again. “Well, in that case, I suggest you set it for summer, some lovely day at Casterly Rock — ”

"Father," Tyrion cut off his musings, amused by his father’s dreamy tone.
"What?" Tywin asked, irritated at being interrupted. Yet again.

"If I know Margery at all, she’ll probably like to have the wedding in Highgarden," he said with a smile.

"Hmph…" came from Tywin. "I don’t see an issue. Have two ceremonies: one in Highgarden, one at Casterly Rock. There is historical precedent for that, you know, even in our own family. Now, one of our ancestors…"

It was morning when Tyrion left, but Tywin still had several hours before he needed to head to Lannisters & Co. He made his way up the grand flights of stairs to the roof terrace. Joanna, who had always disliked being far from nature, had talked him into creating a garden on the roof. He had protested for weeks, but she wore him down eventually. He was still proud of having been able to withstand the demand for that much time. After her death, although the garden was maintained in prime condition, with the same flower arrangements that she had left, he rarely went there, like he rarely went anywhere that reminded him of her if he could avoid it. Something in this day, however, had drawn him thither.

He walked onto the roof terrace. The sun had not yet risen fully, and the world was suffused in a soft light that enveloped it in the shades of purple. He picked up the silver scissors with the gilded handles — they were just where she had left them, hanging on a hook near the entrance. He went to the bed of roses, her favorite flower, perhaps the only thing that was unoriginal about her yet was made unique by the very strangeness of this predictability. He cut a few roses — the red, the color of love; the white, the color of innocence; the yellow, a strange color of friendship and jealousy; the violet rose, a rare extravagance, the meaning of which he did not remember. When he plucked the pink rose, his thoughts had drifted away from his actions, and he thought of Tyrion, his son, getting married, finally, and to the unabashed Margery Tyrell, no less. They made a good couple. Maybe Jaime will come around to his senses, too, he thought. He made his way to the small table mechanically, taken a vase from the bottom shelf by habit; he filled it with water and arranged the roses he had gathered. By habit? Yes, for having never done it himself, he had seen Joanna do it countless times. He sat on one of the benches not far from the bed of roses, breathing the fresh morning air, which was perfumed by the aromas of flowers. Perhaps, Joanna had been right, he mused. Perhaps, there was something in this morning air, in this odd light, in this serene quiet. He took a deep breath, and it filled his lungs with youth; he could almost trick himself into thinking that she was sitting next to him. How strange was the smell of roses — well-suited to joy and sadness alike, indeed, the most bitter-sweet of all flowers. He stayed there for a while, breathing in the blossoms’ melancholic joy. He watched the sun rise for the first time in decades.

Tyrion did not go home straight from his father’s: he did not want to wake Margery. Instead, he found an open coffee shop and dealt with his emails while sipping a double espresso. He then made his way to the LBC building, where he showered and changed — he would not face her with any remaining traces of the wild drinking he had done the night before. On his way home, he bought her flowers, as he was prone to do.

When he came in, the apartment was already awake, it seemed; the sounds that never disturb a place of sleep animated it: water running in the shower, the angry puffing of a kettle that had just stopped boiling, the noise from the street rushing in on the back of the breeze through the open window. He was about to make his way to the kitchen to put the flowers into a vase, when the sounds of running water died away, and Margery, in her silk bathrobe, emerged from the bathroom.

"There you are!" she called happily. "Even though Jaime assured me you were fine, I was still kind of worried."

"Why?" Tyrion asked as he extended her the flowers, which she took, kissing him lightly on the lips.

"He texted me yesterday night, probably after you fell asleep. His dyslexia was through the roof, and you know how he always starts mixing up letters when something’s wrong."

"Ah, yeah, Cersei was over when I came by…" he explained.

"That had never triggered his dyslexia before! What happened? Don’t tell me the lovebirds have had a fight?" she finished with mock concern.

"Something like that — I’m hazy on the details, to be honest."

She let out a small laugh. "How much did you drink?" She looked him over and asked as she went into the kitchen: "Where are you coming from? You look way too tidy.”

He laughed.

"I dropped by the LBCB to change — couldn’t subject you to watching me in the hangover style.”

She rolled her eyes:

“Like you could have shown me something I haven’t seen before — ”

"Trust me, it’s a good thing I did not come the way I was: you might have thrown me straight into the washing machine…"

She laughed as she arranged the flowers. He watched her profile from the kitchen’s threshold. He loved seeing her do such ordinary things: arranging flowers, doing her hair, rehearsing dance movements when she thought she was alone. Her hand caught the sun coming from the window, and her engagement ring glittered in its rays. He wondered whether she meant to start wearing it notwithstanding their previous agreement. He would not mind — in fact, he wondered how he could suggest to her that he wanted to damn it all and try telling the world that she was his, if only to see it laugh in his face. She noticed him watching her hands.

“Oh, I know, I know,” she said, “you don’t want me to wear it in public, because you are not completely sure yet if you really want to marry me.” She laughed, but there was a strangely insecure note in her voice — a note he had never heard before, and, frankly, would never have thought her capable of. He must have imagined it, he decided. "But," she continued, avoiding looking at him, "I can wear it at home when it’s just us… That is, unless you decide to take it away." She smirked, but the teasing did not reach her eyes. No, he had not imagined it — Margery was a little shaken.

"Marge," he called, and she stopped arranging flowers in that slightly neurotic, hurried way she had been doing. "I’d never take it away."

She was not looking at him: her eyes focused on the violet roses he had brought her, her fingers playing with one of the flower heads absent-mindedly. He came to stand closer to her, and looked up into her face. Free of make up, it was framed by her wet hair — she looked even younger than her twenty-six years, almost like a teenage girl; and her eyes were full of tears. Seeing this, Tyrion felt his heart drop and land somewhere on the ground floor of their apartment building.
"Marge!" he exclaimed in terror, reaching for her hand. She let him take it in his own, but she still would not look at him. "Marge, what on earth is wrong?"

Had something happened?

"Margery, you’re scaring me," he pressed, when she did not answer him. Was Olenna not well?

"I don’t know, Tyrion," she said, and her voice was strained in a way he had never heard it before — like he had never seen her cry, even a little, like she did now. "One day you ask me to marry you, the next you’re saying we should keep it a secret; you act weird for days, and then you go off and get drunk and don’t even come home… If you’ve changed your mind, you can just tell me, you know…" she sniffed, and, as if the sound had alerted her to her condition, she wiped at her tears furiously and took several deep breaths to calm herself.

"Marge, I want to marry you!.. I — ” He meant to say: I just want you to be able to leave me, if you must, but then he remembered Jaime’s laughter, his reassurances; he remembered his father’s words, "I’ve never known you to be a coward;” and, most of all, he remembered how it had always pained his brother that he could never claim Cersei for his own. He, Tyrion, could declare to the world that the woman he loved loved him back. He was given a blessing, and, perhaps, he ought to stop questioning how it had come about. Perhaps, his father was right — he ought to be brave, else he might loose her. As if he had been awakened from a poisonous, immobilizing slumber, Tyrion squeezed Margery’s hand and said: "I love you. I don’t want any secrets. Let’s… Let’s tell our friends, let’s tell your grandmother…"

Margery laughed:

"So she can start pricking you with every thorn she’s got?"

"So she can start pricking me with every thorn she’s got," he confirmed and added: "I love you."

She narrowed her eyes at him in playful warning that was not yet fully free of the pain she had let slip through the generally careless confidence of her demeanor:

"You better, or I will make your life a living hell," she said and kissed him.

It was a strange day, Sansa thought, as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other, warming up in Jaime’s studio. Tyrion and Margery were late — and they were never late. They were not answering her texts either. Neither were they answering Ellaria, Oberyn, or Tyenne’s. What was stranger still, Jaime was late. And Jaime was always on time, making terrible fun of people who were less punctual than he. Where were they? It had been a half hour after they were supposed to have started. She looked at Ellaria, who shrugged her shoulders. They waited some more time.

Jaime was the first to arrive. To Sansa, he seemed a little tense, as if something he could not shake off annoyed him. Without a word of explanation to those gathered, Jaime began talking to Renly about something to do with the music score. The way he talked confirmed her suspicion that something was amiss. She made her way toward Renly and Jaime. The composer was scribbling something on his music sheets, and she took her chance to inquire gently:

"Jaime…" he did not look at her, indicating only by the slightest motion of his head that he had heard her. "Is anything the matter?"

"No, minx," he said in the same terse voice that she had noticed with concern when he was talking to Renly, "nothing’s the matter."

He did not look at her when he spoke, and the playfulness with which he usually addressed her was not to be found in his voice that morning. Something in his distant face made her remember the last time she had probed into his life. She watched him one more moment, upset at his sour mood and her inability to lighten it, before walking away. She did not realize that he watched her go.

Margery and Tyrion arrived some twenty minutes later, and their glowing countenances contrasted strongly with Jaime’s gloomy mood. Sansa looked Margery over, searching for the reason behind her high spirits. A glittering light on her friend’s hand caught her eye…

Jaime’s attention was taken away from what he considered Renly’s obstinate stupidity by Sansa’s squeal of delight. He had raised his eyes from the music sheets just in time to see her run to Margery and bring her friend into a fierce hug. He couldn’t help but smile: it seemed the minx was more attentive to detail than he would have thought. He was glad, watching Tyrion and Margery be surrounded by their friends, who were offering excited congratulations, women hugging, men shaking hands. Eventually, the women had separated into a group of excited chatter, most of which he found incomprehensible. His brother made his way toward him.

"I’m very glad for you, Tyrion," he said. “Looks like she’s quite happy to marry you, after all."

"It does look like it, doesn’t it?" Tyrion said with a smile that made Jaime wonder what happened since he had last seen his brother. Tyrion appeared happy — and the haunted look was gone from his face.

If Tyrion had thought that, after this day, father would no longer end every conversation with: "Have you proposed to Margery Tyrell yet?", he was greatly mistaken. On the contrary, it seemed that Tywin called more often, almost as if only with the purpose to ask the worn-out question in an oddly happy voice. Not only that: when Tyrion, smiling in spite of himself, would answer "yes," Tywin, who sounded almost teasing, always followed up with, "And what did she say?.." And Tyrion, his smile turning to a grin, would say in one breath: "'Yes,' she said 'yes.'" She said yes, she said yes, she said yes.

"It’s because she loves you," father would say before hanging up.

It’s because she loves me. She loves me. She loves me!

Chapter Text

At the end of your dark road,

I have lit a fire for you.

In the blackness it roared,

When I left it for you.

Come and hear its happy songs,

Let its whispers heal your wrongs.

 

At the end of your dark road,

I have saved you some peace.

Come, enjoy its safe abode,

Taste your lover’s sweet lips.

 

At the end of your dark road,

I hope that you have learned

What separates right from wrong;

But the difference between

What you were and should have been

Must no longer be your load.

 

At the end of your dark road,

I think I can set you free,

So that life now you can roam,

Without help or judgement from me.

Jaime was haunted by the events that had preceded his brother’s engagement announcement, and the strange whirlwind that followed the happy news seemed to him like a gust of wind, which, when invading a room, may be prone to breaking crystal vases and making snowflakes out of paper sheets, and which brought new chaos, however pleasant, into a world that was spinning out of his control.

Father had called him two times that day, and there was no other way to describe what Tywin was doing without saying that the Lannister patriarch was simply gushing about his youngest child and his fiancée. Indeed, father sounded so sincerely delighted, it made Jaime feel concerned for his mental well-being. Had the world gone completely mad one night when he was not looking? When had father developed an interest in discussing various arrangements that could be made at Casterly Rock for a wedding? When had he, Jaime, come to admire the Stark girl so much she could invade his mind without invitation? When had his relationship with Cersei disintegrated to the point where he did not long for her presence?

But, perhaps, it was not the world that was mad but he himself?

The few days that followed the announcement he felt he had been caught in the eye of a hurricane. He entered his apartment, his mind reeling. If any one more unexpected news broke out, he felt certain his illusory self-control would snap like an over-used violin string. His apartment made him restless, reminding him of Cersei’s last visit. He could not stay, he had to escape. Picking up his keys, he hastened out the door, to his car. Once behind the wheel, he sped away, as if by reaching the limit of his car’s powerful engine he could elude his thoughts.

Speed had a different effect on Jaime than anything else: making the world blur away, forcing his concentration to remain fully on the road, the rage of velocity cleared his mind of thoughts, freed him from the burdens he seemed to carry on his shoulders. He knew not where he was exactly, following the road mindlessly, loosing track of time as he lost sight of his thoughts. Streetlights, road signs, lanes whirled passed him, and in the control of the outer chaos he found an intermission from the one that raged inside his own mind.

He came to his senses, or, rather, was brought back to his senses, by the sound that announced to him he was running out of gas. The prosaic circumstance forced him to slow down and consider his surroundings. Whether by chance or habit, he found himself in front of the Baratheon mansion.

His mind’s — and, what was worse, his body’s — susceptibility to Sansa had haunted him not only because of the ramifications such feelings, if faced, could have on his life, but because he felt it insulted all three of them — her, Cersei, and himself — that he could not help thinking of one woman while being with another. It was disloyal and undignified. Now that he was in front of his sister’s home, the guilt provoked by this occurrence was amplified by the memory of how he had driven Cersei out of his apartment with cold words when she had come to make peace between them. He got out of the car and made his way to the mansion’s backdoor.

The house was dark and quiet. He made his way upstairs, to Cersei’s room. Midway through the hallway, his hearing made more acute by the darkness that surrounded him, he became aware of sounds: female moans and male grunts. He assumed that Robert, for once, was at home — even if not without a whore. Unwilling to reveal his presence, he quickened his steps toward Cersei’s room, not realizing in his haste that the sounds grew louder as he came nearer. If he had, the sight that greeted him when he had opened the door to her room would have come as somewhat less of a surprise, even if it would have probably retained its shocking power.

He came upon her, naked and disheveled, fucking — for there was hardly a more delicate way to call this — a man whose face he thought he knew but did not recognize. He was startled by the coarseness of him: the black hair covering the brute’s body and face like those of an animal; the half-drunk glassiness of his little swine eyes. What astounded him even more in the mere seconds he stood rooted to the ground, was his sister’s face, which he had always thought of as delicate and refined, but which now reflected the same animalistic, base lust, possessing neither feeling nor dignity, as the one that animated her vulgar partner. He had never before seen Cersei as coarse or lewd. The sight provoked unbound revulsion, a physically palpable disgust. He felt himself soiled by every additional moment he spent on the threshold of this room, which seemed a window into a distorted, feverish brothel of hell. He turned on his heels and charged down the corridor, eager to put as much distance between himself and the filth he had witnessed. It was ludicrous that, just as he was reaching the front door, he realized that he had seen the man once at the Lannisters & Co: Osmund he was called, but Jaime could not recollect his last name; he only remembered thinking at the time that it was as laughable as its owner was boorish. He was descending the mansion’s front steps, when he heard Cersei’s voice:

"Jaime!"

She was running after him, but he did not turn back or slow down, walking to his car with resolution. She caught up with him just as he had reached the vehicle. Wearing nothing but a loose kimono, she reminded him of a nameless prostitute he had once seen with Tyrion, a decade ago. Cersei placed her hand on his arm, and he was appalled by the touch. He shook her off.

"Jaime, I don’t know what Tyrion has told you — ” she began.

It was the oddness of hearing his brother’s name in this context that halted his progress.

"What?"

"I don’t know what Tyrion has told you," she repeated, breathing hard, "but I want you to know that I would never betray you like this… Osmund… He…" Jaime noticed her eyes move quickly from side to side like those of cornered rat, "… he forced himself on me!" she cried.

He knew she was lying; he almost laughed at her.

"Did he?" he bit out. "With you on top?"

The whole conversation was beneath him. It felt like wallowing in dirt. He moved past her and jerked the driver door open. She was screaming something else, but he got into the car, shutting the door behind him. He pushed the accelerator to the limit, heedless of her closeness to the vehicle. As the automobile tore off, screeching like a bird with its monstrous speed, she jumped aside.

Jaime did not remember how he found himself at a gas station — he could only assume that, as he was driving away, the car had once more demanded gasoline. Under the brutal, colorless glare of floodlights, he was returned to reality by the beeping of the fuel dispenser. He placed the hose back and closed the fuel door, and then he was on the road again. As he was driving, the numb emptiness of his mind was torn asunder, like stormy sky by lightning, by the words that had so surprised him:

“I don’t know what Tyrion has told you…”

What the hell did she mean? What could Tyrion have told him?

Then came the thunder.

He knew. His brother knew. Surely if he had known… If he had known, he would have told him? Wouldn’t he?

He made a reckless right turn, and a chorus of honking from the other drivers decried his rashness. He sped toward his brother’s apartment.

Tyrion was awakened by loud banging on the front door and Jaime’s angry voice:

"Tyrion, open this fucking door, or, I swear to the Stranger, I’ll knock it the fuck off the hinges!"

Tyrion shot out of bed with unusual speed, worried sick for his brother. The moment he unlocked the door, Jaime rushed in:

"Did you know?" he asked loudly.

"Know what?" Tyrion inquired, blinking sleepily, watching him with concern.

Jaime looked angry, enraged. Angry and enraged at him, Tyrion realized. Never before had he found himself on the receiving end of his brother’s fury. Jaime’s green eyes were wild, he was breathing heavily. He looked insane.

"That Cersei was whoring around, did you know?"

Tyrion was stupefied. He felt the room spin around him but was steadied by the feeling of his brother’s palms cupping his face, the long fingers enveloping his skull. He stared into the depths of turbulent green eyes, and for the first time in his life, Tyrion was scared of his brother.

"Did. You. Know?" Jaime repeated, and Tyrion fancied in this moment that his brother’s hands were capable of cracking his skull like a walnut.

"Yes," he croaked.

His words had the opposite effect from the one he had anticipated: instead of amplifying Jaime’s anger, they seemed to have delivered him a blow — the fury had gone out of the green eyes, and they were filled with pain. In this pain, Tyrion read the most terrible sentence for himself: betrayal. Jaime’s hands, suddenly limp, left his head, falling to his shoulders, and Tyrion, terrified of this new state of his brother’s mind far more than he had been of his anger, clutched his hands with his own.

"Jaime, listen to me — ” he began, but his brother interrupted.

"Who?" Jaime asked, shaking off Tyrion’s hands and stepping away from him.

"I don’t know — ” Tyrion lied, fearing his brother’s actions, but Jaime cut him off:
"Who?" he demanded again.

So the reckoning Tyrion had feared for so many years had come… It was more petrifying than he had ever imagined. Galled by his silence, Jaime advanced on him.

"Who, Tyrion?"

Tyrion started reciting a mixed-up list of names. He had a good memory, and the intense loathing he had felt for these men had branded their names and their faces onto his mind.

"Wyman?" Jaime suddenly interrupted his enumeration. "Wyman Rivers?"

Tyrion paused and nodded. A look of stupefaction came to Jaime’s face. They had been in high school together; Wyman had transferred during senior year, when Cersei and Jaime were eighteen — barely two years after they had become lovers. He looked at his brother, pain and incredulity mixing on his face.

"You’ve lied to me for twenty years?" he asked.

It was less than that, Tyrion thought, but he was not about to debate Jaime’s mathematics.

"I never lied," he said, knowing the weakness of his defense.

"No, you just didn’t think to tell me!" Jaime cried out.

"I thought then it was just a one-time occurrence, a lapse of judgement on her part!"

"And years later?"

"I didn’t know how you would survive it! I didn’t want to hurt you!"

"Didn’t?.. You… You… Didn’t want to hurt me?" Jaime asked, incredulous, and guffawed. Tyrion found the sound macabre. The laughter ended as soon as it had come, and Jaime narrowed his eyes on him again. "And how do you think you’ve managed?" he asked bitterly. Tyrion had no answer. There was a pause.

"How could you not tell me, Tyrion?" his brother asked in a tired, disappointed voice. A voice as full of pain as of reproach.

"Jaime, I was afraid that… After Aerys…" Tyrion saw another flash of betrayal in Jaime’s eyes. "I was worried you might… Where are you going?" he exclaimed, watching his brother start toward the door.

"As far away from here as I can," came the answer. "Somewhere where there’s enough alcohol to drown the whole Seven Kingdoms and myself besides."

"Jaime, no! You cannot drive in this state, you cannot!…"

But Jaime was out of the door and had shut it closed behind him. Tyrion ran after him, but his small steps were no match for Jaime’s strides, and all he caught was a glimpse of his brother’s sports car disappearing into the night at breakneck speed.

Sansa woke up with a start in the middle of the night. She had been practically asleep when her brain’s last coherent thought had overwhelmed her: the alarm clock! Where was her phone?! She stretched her hand toward the bedside table but could not locate it. She rummaged though her memories of that evening, trying to recall when she had last seen it. She sighed. Of course. She had forgotten her phone in the studio where she had practiced. She had placed it on the floor next to her bag when she had knelt to grab a towel and wipe her sweaty face… Dammit!

Tyene was out, as usual, sleeping over at Bronn’s. Tyene’s phone was as out of reach as was its owner.

Why don’t I keep an old clock with an alarm?!

She did not want to get out of bed: she was lulled to sleep by the comfort of her warm bath; she was so clean and tidy, she wanted to stay enveloped in her cover and pillows instead of dressing and going out into the dark night. She sighed again — a sound of resignation. She needed an alarm if she wanted to wake up and be on time the next day; so, she would have to go… She threw off the cover decidedly, as if the rash deprivation of warmth could strengthen her resolve. She dressed and was out of the door in a few minutes, cursing her own empty-headedness.

She also cursed Jaime. Ever since Margery and Tyrion had announced their engagement a few days ago — which had made Sansa so happy for them! — Jaime had been avoiding her. The teasing, the jokes, the laughter — it was all gone, evaporated like water in the sands of Red Waste. She missed him, the carefree, devilish Jaime she loved more than she cared to admit. In her bewilderment at the change in him, which she could not understand, she became rather scatterbrained. She had tried remembering if something in her words could have given him offense, then her mind — which had become a powerless presence, constantly outvoted by her heart and body — wailed that she should not care, that it was a good thing if he kept his distance since, clearly, she would not. She was being punished now for her preoccupation with the mercurial moods of Jaime Lannister by having to walk in the stifling, humid darkness of King’s Landing night.

It was only when she slipped into the LBC building that she had realized her trip was unjustified — tomorrow started the weekend. She cursed silently: she could have stayed in bed and picked up the phone in the morning! Well, since she was already at the LBCB, she might as well get her stupid phone. She made her way to the studio. As she had deducted, her phone was lying on the floor where she had forgotten it. She picked it up and was about to leave, when a strange sound startled her.

So odd, she thought, like an empty bottle rolling on the floor. She strained her eyes against the darkness and felt fear erupt in her chest when she realized there was a dark shape in the far corner of the studio. It seemed a living thing. She was terrified. Would that Jon, father, Robb, Lady, or even Arya were with her!.. She would not approach it in the gloom — she was far too scared; but if she turned on the lights, she might anger or wake whatever it was that hid in the darkness. Sansa had always been afraid of monsters, the beasts that lived in the nightmarish forests Nan would tell her about notwithstanding mother’s strict interdiction. During the day, it was easy enough to pretend they did not exist; but when the hour was late, loneliness her company, and blackness all around her — who could tell? The light switch was close to the door. Whatever it was, she would see it in the light, and, if she judged it necessary, she would run. She made her way to the door, her muscles mobilized, straining like those of a lioness before she sprints, and flipped the switch. She heard a weak groan of protest. As soon as her eyes adjusted to the bright light, a whole other fear animated her.

"Jaime!" she exclaimed in utter shock.

It was Jaime, although who would have recognized him? Seated on the floor, leaning heavily against the wall, his long legs outstretched in front of him, Jaime Lannister looked as if he was asleep. When he did not react to her, she rushed toward him and knelt by his side, afraid that he had hurt himself. It was then that she noticed the bottles that surrounded him and felt the smell of scotch in the air.

My gods, how much did he drink?!

She looked at the bottles, noting absentmindedly they were both large scotch-bottles. One empty and a barely started one still in his hand.

Oh, Mother! No wonder he is barely conscious.

Then she was filled with pain: what had to have happened to reduce Jaime to this state? She had never even seen him hungover, let alone drunk, and he did not strike her as the type of man who drunk heavily or frequently. She shook his shoulder.

"Jaime, can you hear me?" she asked.

He mumbled something incoherent; he made a wobbling, uncoordinated gesture with his arm as if to shake off her hold on him. The clumsy movement caused her heart to ache: she never dreamed Jaime Lannister could ever lose his leonine grace. What had happened to him?

"Jaime, are you all right?" she tried automatically, but, of course, he did not hear her, nor did he reply.

Well, it was clear that Jaime Lannister had drunk himself into unconsciousness and would not be answering any of her questions. Whatever had driven him to try the strength of his liver against the onslaught of a bottle of scotch, she would not find out in the next hours, if ever she did. So, the question was: what was she to do now? She tried moving him, but it was impossible — she would never be able to lift him, let alone drag him anywhere. He was easily twice her size, and he was dead weight. Well, she could not leave him here: he would be in so much pain from spending the night on the hardwood floor in this uncomfortable position — that is, if he could get up in the morning at all, and someone needed to be around to check on him. Besides, she would not leave him to be found in this condition by friends, or worse — colleagues. Jaime was proud, she knew, and she would not let him be humiliated. He was hurt, he needed care, and at her place, she had everything that would help him — that is, as far as his terrible intoxication was concerned, at least. The problem, however, remained the same: how to get Jaime there? She did not want to call any one of their friends, partly because she intuited that Jaime would not want any of them to see him in this state; partly, because then Jaime would be driven to his place, and she would have no excuse to take him to hers. Suddenly, a solution occurred to her. She took up her phone and dialed:

"I need a cab to the Lannister Ballet Company building. My friend is not feeling well, I will need help getting him to the car."

She did not want the bottles to remain as glaring evidence, so she picked the empty one up and tried to take the other one from him. He held it in a deadly grip.

"Jaime, give me the bottle," she said as she yanked, but it was useless: he could hear her no more than she could unclench his fingers. She had always known he was strong, but she had never realized just how strong: if she could not unclench his fingers with both hands and the whole weight of her body… She persisted, of course, trying to remove his fingers one at a time, surprised that the strength with which he held the bottle was not enough to break the thick glass… Having failed, she grew annoyed.

"Dammit, Jaime, unhand this bottle!" she exclaimed in loud exasperation.

"San… sa…" he mumbled, eyes still closed, no comprehension on his features, and she could not help her small smile of pleasure: he recognized her, even practically unconscious as he was.

"Jaime," she said slowly, as if explaining to a child, slipping easily into the same tone she had used with Robb in similar situations, "I need you to unhand this bottle right now. Come on. Let go of the bottle."

She tried pulling it away from him again, but he did not let go and moved his hand — the bottle with it — away from her with a low groan of indistinct annoyance. She gave up, smirking: if Jaime Lannister decided he would hold on to his scotch, not even Sansa Stark’s determination could change it. She threw away only the empty bottle.

She stayed seated next to him, watching his handsome features. A shadow of tragedy seemed to darken them this evening. She reached out, hesitantly, to caress his cheek, knowing he would never feel her hand.

What happened to you, Jaime?

The driver called from downstairs, jerking her back into the real world, and she went to open the door for him. She knew this cab service well, having used it for many months: Tyene, who had often needed a trustworthy cab to drive her drunk ass home, had recommended it when Sansa first came to King’s Landing and required a mode of transport.

"Is that your man there?" the driver asked her with a little pity.

If only, she thought without bitterness, but was angered by the pity in the man’s eyes: like Jaime Lannister’s woman would need pity.

"No," she said stubbornly, "he’s a friend."

The cab driver eyed her with skepticism.

"Is that what you young people call it these days?"

"No," she said again, "I call things by their right names. Now, will you help me get him into the car or not?"

The driver looked her over with a smirk.

"Looks to me like it’ll be you helping me get him into the car," he stated and went toward Jaime.

It took them both considerable effort to lift him up. At least Jaime was too drunk to struggle, but the opened bottle he would not let go made fast work of covering the three of them with scotch. He was so heavy, she thought in despair, as the three of them slowly made their way across the studio — and she was not even moving him on her own.

How can someone so damnably heavy move the way he does? she wondered.

They reached the hallway, they struggled to the elevator. Inside, they rested him on the wall.

"The fuck does he do for a living?" exclaimed the driver.

"He’s a ballet dancer," Sansa answered automatically.

The driver laughed.

"That’s a good one," he said in appreciation of what he thought her joke.

She did not bother to explain, crushed by Jaime’s weight. Of course, with the training in sword-fighting that he did in addition to ballet, it was hardly surprising he had a lot of muscle, not to mention that he was very tall. He’s a lot taller and a lot heavier than Robb is, Sansa thought. She could always boss and move Robb around anyway she wanted when he would return — or be returned — drunk from high school parties. She looked up at Jaime. His head was resting heavily on his chest, his eyes closed.

My poor Jaime, flashed in the liminal space between her mind and heart.

If she and the driver thought that dragging Jaime out of the building was difficult, getting him inside the car proved nearly impossible, and only Sansa’s nagging and care saved him from receiving a concussion while being pushed into the cab. Finally, he was in the backseat, and she had slipped next to him — to make sure he would not fall to the side, hit his head against the door, and other such things, not at all because she wanted to hold him, giving what little comfort she could offer him.

"Where to, lady?" asked the driver. He was sweaty and still breathing hard. She gave him her address.

It was the ride that sobered Jaime up a little bit — at least, as much as could be at all possible for a man in his condition — and she was able to take the scotch bottle from his hold, which had grown lax. As the streets of King’s Landing whizzed by, he began to mumble incoherently. She could not understand most of what he was saying, but she caught a few words. She recognized his siblings’ names — "Cers" and "Tyr-ion" he mumbled; there was something about a hairy beast; he said, "betray me" and "how could he?" several times; he said something about a red kimono, but she was not sure. She could not make sense of any of it until she caught one more word: "whore." At that, the pieces to the puzzle of Jaime’s drunken stupor began to fall into place. She had never hated anything so much as she did his sister in that moment; she had never dreamed such hatred existed, that it could fill one’s body without bursting it open like an over-pumped capillary. That golden snake was the reason Jaime was like this. It was Cersei Lannister who had hurt him to the degree that he tried drowning himself in scotch. How could she be unfaithful when she had Jaime, for whom Sansa would have given her whole world and more besides? How dare that hateful woman stray, when it hurt him like this? She loathed her. Jaime’s mumbling filled her with pain and sympathy in equal measure. She reached out to stroke his hair, like she did Rickon when he cried, and her touch seemed to soothe the Lannister man as much as it did the Stark child.

When the last struggle of getting Jaime to her apartment was over, and he was lying on her couch, she felt exhausted. Both she and the driver were breathing hard.

"Heavy that one," commented he.
She could only nod. She went to her room to get her wallet and paid the driver, giving him a very generous tip for his pains. He looked around the empty apartment, looked at Jaime on the couch, and back at her.

"You sure you’ll be all right, lady?"

"Me?" she asked, confused.

He motioned toward Jaime.

"Men drunk like this… There’s no telling what they might do."

She looked at him with indignation.

"Jaime would never hurt me!" she exclaimed. Then, realizing the man was only looking out for her, she said politely and even with a small smile: "Thank you, I will be quite all right."

The driver smirked again.

"Friends, hey?" he said and left, shaking his head. He closed the door behind him.

Left alone with Jaime, who had not made a sound since they had put him on the couch, she took a deep breath. Her battle, she knew from experience, was only just beginning. She went to Jaime and took away some of the sofa pillows to give him more space. She placed two under his head, knowing that the further up it would be, the better. She took off his shoes and covered him with a woolen plaid. Then, she went into the kitchen.

When Sansa had been packing for King’s Landing months ago, she had taken with her everything she needed — and much of what, objectively speaking, she did not. Among the things she had packed despite their uselessness was the box in which she kept everything she needed to treat Robb’s hangovers. When Robb was in high school and she in middle school, her eldest brother started partying hard, and, often enough, he would either return home completely wasted or be brought back unconscious by some of his slightly less intoxicated friends. Not wishing to wake the entire household each time this happened and, more importantly, desiring to hide the whole truth of his wild behavior from his parents, Robb made Sansa a deal: she would handle him on nights when sobriety was as far from him as good sense, without grumbling and scolding him like Jon did, and, in return, he would help her with math. Of course, Sansa did more than manage him when he came home, learning quickly the herbs that could alleviate the terrible headaches that followed his adventures. She would probably have done so without compensation, but Robb doing her math homework for her and preparing her for exams was an added bonus. When she went South, Sansa brought her box of remedies with her, because she had grown used to it as a kind of souvenir when Robb had gone hitchhiking across the Seven Kingdoms and then off to college. The box no longer held anything of use to Robb: since he had met Talisa, he barely touched alcohol and certainly never got wasted. Interestingly, Sansa’s remedies had proved highly useful to Tyene. This night, however, Sansa was particularly glad that she had brought the herbs with her. She took the box off the shelf and opened it. The familiar scent enveloped her as she took out the herbs she called "primae," because the potion made from them, though it did not taste particularly well, prevented the worst symptoms from setting in, reducing both the headache and the nausea better than any pills that could be gotten from over the counter. All his friends envied Robb his cheerful looks and the overall healthiness that emanated from him on the mornings after wild nights, never realizing that it had little to do with the Stark’s ability to hold his liquor and everything to do with his sister’s newly-acquired knowledge of Northern medicinal herbs. Sansa brewed her elixir slowly, stirring gently. In the circularity of her movements, her mind wondered… to Cersei Lannister. She envied her all the more powerfully because Jaime’s sister did not seem to care for her brother. It seemed so unfair to Sansa that the one who held Jaime’s heart did not cherish it; and the one who would could not get it. She sighed and turned off the stove. She poured the mixture into a cup and walked over to the sofa. The real battle started now and would consist in waking him up and making him drink, no matter how long it took. She sat next to him and shook his shoulder gently, noticing with concern the pained expression on his face.

"Jaime… Jaime…" she called.

The world was spinning and spinning all around him. Then, he realized it was not the world spinning — it was that he had been locked inside an enormous kaleidoscope. To the left, to the right, beneath, and above — there was no escape, not a single opening. How did they get him inside?

In the illusory box, nothing stayed stable: what he stood on, what he leaned against, what he looked at — all turned and twisted. On the colorful walls of this box kept flashing the face of Tyrion — heartless laughter disfiguring his features, as if by force of a distorting mirror. Cersei’s face — lewd, flushed with alcohol and lust — spanned around him in this distorted, colorful, reeling hell. Her limbs; limbs covered with coarse, dark hair; bodies and bodies flashed before him on the moving walls. He tried closing his eyes but could not; instead, his vision grew myopic, and for a while all he saw were swarming blotches of color that nauseated him as he struggled to squint his eyes to see anything, anything at all. When his vision finally returned to him, the kaleidoscope’s walls were filled with swine; but they were not quite swine: some had human legs, others hand human ears, human hands instead of hoofs, human bodies or human eyes. These swine petrified him, and he started running, but colorful walls kept blocking his way, and the blotches of red, green, and yellow were pulling at him like quick sands, dragging him deeper and deeper into the suffocating walls of the kaleidoscope.

"Jaime… Jaime…"

A voice, soft and gentle, called to him through the nightmare. Sansa’s voice. Suddenly, he entered a different dream: Sansa, a concerned frown on her face, her eyes as gentle as her voice, was seated next to him.
"Here, Jaime, drink this," she said extending to him a cup with some strange liquid, "it will help with the pain…"

She was saying something else, but he could not make it out. He had been wrong, it seemed. She was not a minx or a fox… How did a child of the forrest make her way into the LBCB? Especially past the turnstiles?.. Of course, if anyone had a magic potion against pain, it would be this redhead elf. She held the cup to his lips, and he drank without protest, but the magic did not work on someone like him, and darkness enveloped him again, hiding her sweet face from him.

When Jaime opened his eyes, Sansa thought they would break her heart. She had never seen such torment. She wished she could take at least half of his pain and bear it with her own. Aware that he would likely not stay conscious too long, she pushed the cup to his lips, and the obedience with which he drank, the trust in his tortured eyes, reminded her of a day when Ghost had hurt his paw, and Jon had cleaned and banded the wound: the wolf had looked at his owner without menace, trusting, pained eyes waiting for Jon to heal him. She reached out to stroke Jaime’s hair, wishing she had a potion for his heart as well as his head. Consciousness had left him almost immediately after he had finished drinking. She was left sitting next to him, guarding his drunken slumber, holding the empty cup, stroking his hair. She cupped the side of his face, tracing the cheekbone gently with her thumb.

I wish you loved me, not her, she thought. I would never hurt you. I would keep you happy. I would put your wants above mine. I would never throw your heart back in your face.

She was captivated, hypnotized by his face. Her thumb stilled on his cheek and her breath caught. She might never get another chance… and… what was the harm?..

She leaned to him; looked to his eyes, closed in slumber; and pressed her lips lightly against his.

If only I were a child of the forest. If only I could cast a spell on you.

A fraction of a moment, and she pulled away. She sat next to him, contemplating his sleeping face.

I love you.

And if healing you took making a potion out of my broken heart, I’d give the foolish thing to you. I don’t know what to do with it now anyway.

primae (feminine, plural, nominative case) Latin, adjective: "first"

Chapter Text

You walked and you grieved

For something you had not achieved.

I have watched and pitied you,

Knowing my power over you…

 

So, instead of more contrition,

I only ask for your volition

To accept my precious gift

And to know you’re not adrift;

 

Know that love is in your heart,

That I’ll not tear it apart,

And that for the pain I’ve sown

I now give you a red dawn.

Jaime was awakened by a strange herbal smell he had never encountered before: it was foreign, it had nothing of the warm, exotic smells that had always drifted to King’s Landing on board of Southern and Eastern ships. Unlike the overwhelming spices one usually came across here, the herbal smell was soothing. The second thing he became aware of was the dull headache that droned between his temples and that was amplified by the morning light penetrating behind his closed eyelids. It was the headache that reminded him of the night before — his sister fucking a repulsive stranger; and his brother, who had lied to him for two decades. The weight of the world would have been lighter than the burden he felt descend on his shoulders along with his awakening memories. Like the droning in his head, there was a dull ache in his heavy heart, exhausted by nightmares that had plagued him all night. The ghastly dreams had been occasionally interrupted by visions of Sansa’s concerned face, visions that were a balm the Mother had probably sprinkled on his eyes in her unbound clemency. Light footsteps, which sounded oddly like Sansa’s, brought a question to his clouded mind: where was he? He felt someone sit next to him, like the Sansa with a concerned face had done in his dreams. He wished he did not have to face whoever it was, or the world. If it were not for the nightmares, he would have wished he could return to the numbing slumber brought by scotch.

"Jaime…" called a voice, the same voice that had called to him through his incubi. Perhaps he was still dreaming; perhaps there was another nightmare in the making somewhere in the deep recesses of his drunken mind. He did not want to admit he had come back to this world, where his sister was disloyal and his brother untrue, or to watch Sansa’s face being erased by darkness again.

"Jaime…" came again, only this time he could hear a smile in her voice. "Come on, I know you aren’t sleeping."

He opened his eyes, half expecting his vision to be myopic and to see the walls of the kaleidoscope once more. Instead, he saw Sansa’s smile. Seated next to him, she held in her hands a cup, which was the source of the smell that had awakened him. There was no describing the healing quality of her luminous face: as if her smiling lips and her shining eyes possessed a purifying force, seeing her made his nightmares — and, it seemed to him, even his memories — recede.

"Well, I’m terribly glad you’re awake," she said cheerfully. "After the amount of scotch you’ve drunk last night, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I ended up having to drive you to a hospital. Here, drink this," she added, before he could say a word, and pushed the cup to his lips. He drank the warm liquid obediently. It was sweet, it burned his throat with an herbal cold, and its taste called to his mind the smell of one of his mother’s perfumes, the one she had brought from her travels in the North but never wore, because Tywin kept buying her the expensive smells that were all the rage then in King’s Landing, and she did not want to refuse his gifts. When he finished drinking, Sansa took the cup from his hands and placed it on the coffee table. He was surprised that she remained seated next to him and that her body language did not show any sign of revulsion.

"How are you feeling?" she asked, her voice gentle.

His head was heavy, but there was nothing of the monstrous headache or nausea that he had earned with his drinking.

"How come I do not feel even half as ill as I’m supposed to?" he inquired.

"Supposed to?" she chuckled, the sound and the sight soothing to his anguished mind.

"Yes, after drinking however much I ended up drinking."

"It’s because of the Northern herbal mixes I’ve been pouring down your throat," she said, smiling still. His immediate queries satisfied, he looked around and felt his blood grow cold as he fully realized her presence was not a dream. Why the hell was he at Sansa’s place? Had he come to her in the night, drunk to half-madness? He turned to her, horror on his face.

She laughed at his expression.

"What’s that look for?" she asked.

"How did I get here? I didn’t wake you last night, did I?" he answered her with a question, thinking that if he did, in fact, barge in on her in the wee hours of the morning, it would have been a whole lot better if he had smashed his car and himself into a wall instead.

She laughed again, but this time he was irritated, partly because of the guilt eating at him when he imagined the manner of his possible intrusion.

"Oh, don’t glower," she begged him through her mirth, "you didn’t wake me — I found you at the LBCB. I had forgotten my phone in the studio, and when I came to get it, there you were. You scared me: for a second, in the darkness, I thought you were a monster my Nan used to tell me about."

He began processing her words slowly. She had found him at the LBCB. He dimly remembered starting a bottle of scotch in a bar somewhere, then taking that bottle and one more, "for the road," and driving away. Now he knew he had gone to the LBCB, to the studio where Sansa practiced in the evenings. He sighed heavily: he was not surprised at making this decision when the amount of scotch in his veins seemed to have equaled the amount of blood itself. Neither was he particularly surprised that, having found him unconscious from drink, Sansa had decided to take care of him. Still, why would she go to the trouble? He looked to her face as if, in its beautiful lines, he could find the answer to the riddle of her kind heart.

"How are you feeling?" she asked.

Although she still smiled, her eyes were full of sympathy, making him wonder if, somehow, she knew about his trials of last night. Another thought came to him, filling him with dread. What have I told her?

"What have I been talking about last night?" he asked, ignoring her question, unable to hide the concern in his voice.

He saw her eyebrows rise a little, her eyes round slightly.

"Jaime — ” she began to say, and, for a moment, he had a feeling that she was going to lie, to tell him she had not heard him say anything. He did not want any more lies; especially, he did not want to hear lies from her. Then, as if she had changed her mind, she said: "Why don’t we talk later?"

"Sansa — ” his tone demanded information, and she looked as if she was ready to lower her eyes, but something suddenly changed in her expression, and, as she often did now, she held his gaze and dodged the remark with a jibe:

"My gods, Jaime, you must still be quite drunk," she said.

After the trouble he had caused her, however unwillingly, he did not think himself in a position to press her further, so he played along.

"What makes you say that?" he questioned.

This time, she did lower her gaze; she shook her head, a small smile on her face.

"You never really call me by my name when you’re sober," she said and got up quickly. He was left feeling as if the happy bubble that protected him from his harrowing world had been burst by her sudden movement.

"I will make us something to eat," she said.

Like hell is she cooking in addition to spending the night caring for my drunken ass!

"Absolutely not," he objected as he sat up, noticing that his headache grew with the movement. He was caught off guard when she turned to him, looking very much offended.

"I’m a great cook, I’ll have you know!" she exclaimed in indignation, and he smirked.

He had missed her amusing reactions to his words, he realized, in the few days he had kept his distance. He should thank her and leave: there was no honor in dragging a girl like Sansa into the disturbing eclipse of his world — she belonged on the side where the sun always shone; but he knew that, the moment he could no longer see her, his incubi would strangle him with their countless tentacles. His whole being seemed to revolt against parting from her and returning to a world that was uncouth and foul. After last night, he was in need of some redemption, some light, before, inevitably, he was submerged by the black waves. The temptation to pretend that the universe, instead of being filled with betrayal and pain, consisted of Sansa was too great. Could he not turn away from the darkness of the previous night, feign that he remembered not a moment of its wretchedness? Just for a few hours? A few hours with him could not corrupt or harm her, he thought — after all, they saw each other daily, dancing for hours on end. And for him, the few hours in the light of her smile would make a difference in facing his demons, when, inevitably, they came to pay him a call.

She interrupted his battle between selfishness and conscience with her caring voice:

"You need to eat, Jaime, or even the Northern herbs will not help you with your hangover," she warned.

"Fine," he said, giving reign to the recklessness that had guided him most of his life, "but you aren’t cooking. After all the trouble I’ve caused you, the least I can do is take you out to lunch," he announced.

"It’s barely noon," she observed.

"Fine, brunch, then," he conceded easily.

He saw her hesitate a little, as if she was pondering some delicate issue she did not know how to bring up. Then he saw her square her shoulders in decisiveness.

Sansa knew that she was treading on dangerous ground, but she had always believed in telling people the truth about their appearance. Jaime looked disheveled, a state in which she had never seen him and which she herself found endearing because of its unguarded nature, but she knew that the rest of the world may not share her opinion.

"You cannot go anywhere looking the way you do now," she declared categorically. "You need a shower. Not to mention that there’s still far too much alcohol left in your system, and water might sober you up a little more."

She went to the chest-of-drawers where she and Tyene kept towels to get him one, but Jaime’s laughter interrupted her, just as it had surprised her: she would not have expected him to laugh after what he had been through last night.

"If you think I’ll go in there," he said humorously, motioning with his head toward her bathroom in mock fear, "and come out smelling like a fairy and with bows in my hair, you, dear girl, are sadly mistaken."

She bit the inside of her cheek to keep herself from guffawing.

"Why, Jaime?" she answered with feigned surprise, but her tone was sly, "I think my girly shampoo will suite your hair just fine. You shouldn’t be so worried about doing it any damage."

He sighed.

"I’m still far too drunk to have an appropriate response for this unjustified affront," he said lazily, and Sansa let out a happy laugh.

"You should get drunk more often, then," she suggested. "You’re a great deal easier to handle when you’re hungover."

He rolled his eyes at her, which was considerably more difficult to do when his brain was struggling against alcohol.

"All right, minx," he said, and she secretly rued that he had stopped saying her name, "I will go back to my place, make myself presentable enough for your scrupulous taste, and maybe then you’ll do me the honor of having lunch with me."

He watched her fold her arms.

"And how do you think you will get to your place, Jaime?" she asked in a strangely patient voice.

"I suppose my car is still at the LBCB," he said, not understanding her question in the slightest. He looked for his keys and was surprised to discover them still in the pocket of his jeans. He dangled them in front of her. She smiled in a patronizing way, which suggested to him that, somehow, he had walked straight into her trap.

"And do you think you should be driving now?" she asked, her voice sweet and a little mocking. "After you’ve only just started forming complete sentences?"

His hungover was considerable enough in spite of her magic potions, so he preferred surrendering to continuing the battle. He threw his car keys at her, and she caught them.

"You can drive me to my place, then, miss goodie-two-shoes. Anything else? Or can we go now?"

She frowned at him, as if he were a lunatic in addition to being a drunkard, and placed the keys on the coffee table.

"No," she said, as though explaining something to an utter idiot. "We cannot go ‘now,’ because I’m not dressed."

He would have preferred it if, when his mind and will were weak from alcohol, she did not draw his attention to her pajamas. He made a shooing motion at her:

"Well, go then! Dress and whatever else it is you need to do!"

"Don’t boss me around!" the minx protested.

"I am only concerned for my hangover," he parried, glad to feel some of his wits returning, "one redhead elf I know told me I should not be starved for too long, else I will be at risk of feeling very ill."

She had no words for the way he had used her concern for him against her. Shaking her head, her lips pursed to hide a smile that was fighting through her indignation — a picture of good natured affront — she marched into her room and shut the door with a bang. Smiling in spite of himself, Jaime went back to sitting on the sofa. It was peculiar, he thought, how none of his misfortunes seemed too great for her mere presence to expunge. Barely a minute later, Sansa re-emerged: the only difference was that her hair was loose, as if she had just started brushing it when something brought her out of her room. If he was not as mesmerized by the long locks, he would have certainly made a sarcastic remark — or, at least, so he told himself. She strode into the kitchen, then toward him, threw an apple at him without a word, and went back into her room. He laughed at her stubborn expression, and thought he had caught a silent curse from behind her closed door. He bit into the apple lazily. His fate, thus far, had been an evil bitch, he reflected, and she owed him one for last night. He felt that a few carefree hours with Sansa would be an appropriate compensation.

Sansa’s mind was caught in a strange state of hurry and utter empty-headedness. In her meticulously ordered and clean room, she could not find things she knew she had placed "right there." Her brush it took her an inordinate amount of time to locate, once she had supplied Jaime with his apple. Had anyone observed her, as she rushed around her room, searching for things that were right in front of her, they would have rightly concluded that Sansa Stark was a nervous wreck.

She had not spent the most tranquil of nights. True enough, she would not have exchanged a night of caring for Jaime for a night of peaceful slumber, but the aftereffects of rare sleep deprivation were influencing her nonetheless, gifting her, for instance, with an inability to see what was right in front of her. She had been worried about him drinking so much scotch, had even considered driving him to a hospital. She had never seen how much it was that Robb drunk, but she knew it to be mostly beer. Scotch, however, was a much more aggressive chemical. She had once heard a story about a man who died from drinking too much whiskey, but, still, she did not know how much was too much. Consequently, she was afraid to leave Jaime alone for too long and had woken him up two more times — a difficult task — to give him additional doses of her herbal mixes as well as water. She had inadvertently fallen asleep sitting next to him before she allowed herself some hours of rest. Still, her slumber was fitful, and she had awoken many times and tiptoed to check whether he was all right — as far as she could tell, at least. In the morning, when he had awoken — alive and well, if clearly hungover — she had been relieved beyond anything she could have described.

Despite her state of “I’ve nothing to wear!," she finally remembered a favorite aquamarine and yellow summer dress she loved so much she was always happy to put it on. There was something so girlish in the flow of its skirts, something like laughter in the way the folds of the material danced in the wind. The search for the damnable thing was taking too long, though: she was concerned about getting some food into Jaime’s stomach before his headache grew worse. Pressed by her concern for him, she hurriedly searched for her dress and took much longer than she would have, had she been calm. As her hands wracked through her closet, she could not help but think back to a moment from last night, which, along with her stolen kiss, dominated her very being. There was a reason she had fallen asleep sitting next to him at night before she had retreated, unwillingly, to her bed, guided more by what Catelyn had taught her of propriety than her own inclination.

After she had given him the second additional portion of the herbal mix, he had remained awake — or rather, somewhat conscious — for a few seconds longer than he had before, watching her in a bizarre way, it had seemed to her. In the green eyes that studied her, there had been consternation and despair. She did not know what he was looking to find in her face and she did not know if he had. He lowered his eyes, and she thought he had fallen asleep, but he reached for her hand instead, holding it in his, studying her fingers.

"I wonder sometimes," he said with uncharacteristic seriousness, almost as if he was been talking to himself, "if the Stranger has sent you here… to mock me…"

Before she could even contemplate asking him what in the world he had meant, his eyes had drifted shut, and scotch had retaken possession of his mind. She remained seated next to him, unwilling to take her hand from his.

She had never heard Jaime talk about gods with any seriousness — they mostly appeared in his speech as parts of expletives. She doubted that he believed in them. It seemed that, like for most people in King’s Landing, for him, the gods were not divine beings who guided men and judged them, but that he used them as a metaphor for the combined forces of chance and fortune. Herself, Sansa had never quite come to believe in gods, either, but for different reasons: caught between two kinds of divinities — the strange, mysterious, incorporeal gods her father worshipped by the heart trees, and the specific, well-defined gods of her mother’s faith — she had never figured out if both (or any of them) existed. Neither had her siblings. The gods had receded even further away from her when she had moved to King’s Landing, making way for the reality, the buzz, the life of the city. It seemed almost a stretch of the imagination to envision divine beings dwelling in a place so removed from spirituality as the capital of the Seven Kingdoms. Sometimes, however, she wished for the quiet serenity of the godswood — whether a spirit dwelt in it or not.

But what had Jaime meant — why associate her with mockery? She admired him, loved him; of the first, if not of the second, he had to be aware — after all, who did not admire the greatest ballet dancer of their time, perhaps, of all time? Of course, when she had come to know him, it became difficult to reconcile the man himself with the legend, as if, bodied forth by the same human form, the Kingslayer and Jaime existed on two different planes. The teasing, mercurial Jaime Lannister was little by little making it impossible for her to remember him the way she had always perceived him before coming to King’s Landing. Could a man be legend and human simultaneously? It was when she watched him dance from a distance that glimpses of Jaime the Kingslayer would overcome the Jaime she knew; not so when they danced together, however. She had admired and worshipped him from a distance all her life for his incredible talent, his gods-given artistry; she had always imagined him to be as cold and unreachable as her mother’s deities. The real Jaime, who was, oddly, neither cold nor distant, she had come to love. It felt like coming into a temple with petrifaction in one’s heart, and, instead of finding a statue of a severe man with frowned eyebrows, to discover a younger, living man full of teasing and jokes. She wondered sometimes if it were not the very contrast created by the discovery of the man underneath the power of the legend that had made her fall in love with him. Yet there was something about loving him that reminded her of the time she had not known him, for having come so close to him that she could fall in love, the unrequited nature of her affection seemed to keep her at a distance. It was with their friendship that she sought to reduce the span that separated her from him.

What had he meant, though? How could she mock him?

Her unseeing eyes had finally landed on her summer dress. She changed hurriedly and considered her reflection in the mirror. Her hair was still loose from when she had been brushing it — soft, nebulous, undefined curls framed her face. Catelyn had always insisted that hair could only be worn down if it was carefully arranged in well-curled locks that announced the intentional nature of the coiffure and had always bemoaned Arya’s unkempt hair. Sansa did not have the time to do a chignon, so she gathered her locks into a large braid, the way her mother had always worn her hair. She looked into the mirror again.

"I love your hair," she remembered Margery say the night they were readying for the gala, and her friend had insisted that she wear her hair down. "I cannot understand why you never leave it loose. Although, men would probably fall at your feet on the streets if you did, and that might be inconvenient."

She looked into the mirror again; and undid her mother’s braid.

"Just as I was about to come check if you had not drowned in your wardrobe, minx!" Jaime’s voice greeted her from the sofa.

"How’s your headache?" she asked him, watching with wariness as he got up.

"Bearable — notwithstanding you taking your sweet time starving me," he answered and winked.

She would have objected against this accusation if she had not noticed the slight grimace of pain that had followed the wink. She felt guilty.

"I gave you an apple," was all she mumbled as she went toward the door.

Again, his laughter took her by surprise.

"Sansa," he called, and she faced his smiling face. “I’m merely teasing. I don’t know how to thank you — ” he began, but she cut him off:

"Don’t thank me yet: your headache may still come back with a vengeance," she warned as they exited the apartment.

"Minx, you do realize there’s a reason they call this a sports car?"

"I really don’t need this right now, Jaime!"

"You’re shaming this fine vehicle with this undignified speed — ”

“Stop distracting me! This is bad enough!"

"I don’t have a grandmother, minx, but, if I did, I’m sure she’d drive faster than you — ”

"Be quiet, or I swear to the old gods and the new that I’ll park this monster right here, and we’ll walk the rest of the way to your flat!"

"When you drive like a turtle, minx, you create more chances for a mishap than if you drive like a normal human being."

They stopped at a streetlight, and she took a breath of relief. She used the intermission to push back:

"That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard! And, besides, you don’t drive like a normal human being! You drive like a madman! So don’t talk to me about how normal people drive — you wouldn’t know anyway!"

"I adjust to the speed appropriate for my driving skills," he said and gave her a look of mock pity, "I’m afraid that so do you.”

"Nonsense! I’m a good driver, and just because I don’t — ”

Honking interrupted her.

"It’s green, minx. That means you can go. You are not colorblind, are you? Although, even then, I suppose you could tell the difference between the vertical position of the lights. That is, assuming you were paying attention…"

She gritted her teeth, wishing nothing more than to slap his pleased grin off his face. By all accounts, Jaime Lannister was back — at his most unbearable — and it seemed he had made it his mission to raise her blood pressure.

Ingrate.

The fresh air had done him good, that much was certain. The brief walk from her apartment to the LBCB had restored some agility to his movements, which had been strained under the effects of what remained of his intoxication. They had found his car still parked before the LBCB, and Sansa had felt her blood turn to frost when she had imagined the fragile string of lucky escapes from a serious accident Jaime must have made while driving the night before. He had given her the car keys once again and proceeded to make himself comfortable in the passenger seat. She had felt her heart take refuge deep inside her heels. Jaime had meant for her to drive that? That didn’t even look to her like a car, she had reflected as she had gotten into the driving seat.

"How?.." she had begun and then grown silent. She had not even been sure what she had meant to ask.

How do I drive that?

Does it fly, too?

How do you even turn the engine on in this thing?!

"Minx," had come his voice, which had suddenly acquired the merciless teasing intonations she had grown to recognize in the first few weeks of their acquaintance, "if you ask me how to drive, I swear, I’ll jump out of this car right now."

"How do I turn it on?" she had barked, annoyed and embarrassed in equal measure.

He had reached out and pressed a button near the wheel. The automobile purred to life.

"Are you sure you know how to drive? My life may not be at the highest point at the moment, but I would still rather keep it," he had said, unintentionally distracting her for a moment from thoughts about the stupid car and his annoying teasing and reminding her of the words she had heard him mumble through his nightmares; words that told of pain, betrayal, and utter misery.

"Minx, I need to ask you a serious question," he was presently saying, but she did not believe he was being serious for a moment. "Do they still mostly use horses for transportation in the North? Because the only way I can explain your driving is that you are trying to match the speed of the car to the speed of a horse. And not even a good, young horse — an old, miserable, sick, dying jade…"

She did not dignify him with a reply, absorbed in making sure the car did not suddenly spin out of her control.

"When was the last time you were behind the wheel, anyway?" he asked her then.

“Before I came to King’s Landing.”

"Ah," was all he said, and she hated him for making one vowel capable of transmitting to her his utter lack of confidence in her driving skills.

Sansa had not considered that, had Jaime really wanted to avoid her driving his car, he could have taken a cab. Indeed, he could have taken a cab and picked her up at her apartment later. That he made every effort to remain in her company had gone entirely unnoticed by her: she was more focused on his merciless determination to drive her mad as she was trying not to kill themselves, any pedestrians, or other drivers. Jaime, on the other hand, was enjoying himself immensely. He had always liked teasing Sansa, but it proved particularly amusing when she was driving. Her concentration on the road allowed him to study her expressions of annoyance. He thought he had counted half a dozen or so, with a few variations.

Sansa was walking around Jaime’s apartment. She had never been to his place before, and she found that Jaime’s home suited its owner. She loved the huge windows, the unobstructed view of the Blackwater Bay and the quay they offered. She realized that Oberyn and Ellaria lived close by, although she was convinced this was coincidental: who would not like living with a view of the sea and in the city center? She liked the spacious rooms, the subdued and elegant tones of the decor, the well-chosen furniture. He certainly had good taste, which she could have guessed from the fine minimalism of his clothes. For a second, she wondered if his sister had had a hand in the design and decoration of the apartment, but she pushed these thoughts away.

When — finally! — she had stoped the car in front of the building, the monstrous machine had been taken off her hands by a valet, whose expression could not contain his surprise at witnessing anyone but Jaime himself behind the wheel of his beloved sports car.

"Make yourself at home," Jaime had told her when they had come in, "and feel free to look around." He had thrown his keys onto the bar with a habitual gesture. "I’ll be quick," he had added, "unlike some others I know, I do not need half an hour just to choose an outfit."

She had rolled her eyes at him.

"Try not to drown in the shower," she had returned without malice, "stranger things have been known to happen to people who had drunk a whole bottle of scotch." He had laughed and disappeared behind a door.

Her curiosity at being inside Jaime’s home far exceeded her built-up annoyance at the teasing he had subjected her to on the way over. She was happy to have a few leisurely moments to study the lion’s lair while the hungover lion was in the shower. The living room was filled with books, which she thought a little strange, considering Jaime’s dyslexia — the main subject of Tyrion’s jibes directed at his elder brother. Most of the books had to do with ballet, with many priceless photographic albums of long-past performances. Unwilling to forego her opportunity to look around, however, she left the living room. She did not venture into more private spaces — his bedroom, the guest rooms — but she did spend a few moments in his study, unable to overcome her curiosity. It was filled with sketches, photographs, and notes to an even greater extent than the living room, and she recognized the formation of ideas that went into the creation of the ballet they were working on as well as the other ballets currently being performed by the LBC. She left his office unwillingly, pestered by the feeling of her mother’s disapproving eyes on her. Her walk down the corridor took her to the home studio, which astonished her. On the one hand, she should not have been surprised to discover that Jaime’s flat was well equipped for his profession; on the other, the enormous, light-filled room must have required re-designing the entire floor plan. She was quick to decide that the studio was her favorite room in the whole flat.

This must be so convenient!, she thought almost with envy as her daily walks from her apartment to the LBCB rose before her. Of course, Jaime Lannister would have his own private studio right at home. Well, perhaps, one day, when she was a ballet star herself, she would have such a one built in her own home.

Feeling she had satisfied her curiosity as far as propriety permitted, she returned to the living room, eager to study Jaime’s library more closely. As she perused the books, occasionally taking out a photographic album that recorded one legendary ballet or another, her attention was caught by a small photograph hanging on the wall, lost in a poorly lit corner. She approached, and studied the picture more closely. It captured a male dancer in a perfectly executed split jump. The small size of the photograph made it difficult to discern his identity right away. She knew it was not Jaime — she would have recognized him instantly, she was certain. She stepped closer still to the photograph and squinted her eyes. A small gasp escaped her when she recognized the man it depicted.

Jaime was about to start searching for her, when he noticed her in the corner of the living room, studying that photograph carefully. He should have taken it off and thrown it away long ago — so long ago, in fact, that he had forgotten it existed at all, observing from the corner like a large spider: watching, waiting, saving up its venom. He feared that, perhaps, the angry bite of that spider may have poisoned Sansa against him, something that, to his mind, should not have been a difficult task to accomplish. He watched her, anxiously awaiting her reaction.

Sensing his presence the way she was prone to do, Sansa turned to him a few moments after he had entered the room. She looked him over, a puzzled expression still on her face, but a small smile began to tug at her lips all the same at seeing him. When she spoke, her voice was particularly gentle, as if she, too, was gauging his reaction.

"Why do you have that photograph?" she asked.

No one noticed that photograph. Or, if they did, no one recognized the man depicted. That is, except for Tyrion. His brother, however, had only looked at him oddly, somewhat like she did now, but he had not asked. Sansa did. He hoped that, perhaps, she had not divined the identity of the dancer.

"It's one of the dozens of photographs in this room, hardly anything remarkable," he tried to dismiss it.

To his surprise, she smiled.

"I know you better than that, Jaime," she said, and he found strange the idea of her knowing him at all, "your dismissive tone will not make me doubt the truth of my finding." She pointed to the photograph. "So let me ask again: why do you have a photograph of Aerys Targaryen in your living room?"

She folded her arms, waiting for his answer, a stubborn expression on her face. It reminded him of the first time he had really seen her: she wore the same look of stubbornness at the end of his master class. He should have known she would have recognized who was depicted on that picture.

"I've had it for years before — ”

He never knew how to describe that night. In saying, "Aerys died," there was hypocrisy, but he refused to say, "I killed him," for so had fate laid out the cards that this was not true, either.

"Before that night?" she asked him, and he thought her merciful for taking from him the burden of completing his sentence.

He nodded.

"Why didn't you take it off? Later?" she asked.

He had not asked himself that — he had simply kept the photograph. Presented by Sansa with the question, however, he found himself saying:

"If I took it off, it would have been like admitting guilt," he said. "I might as well have written ‘murderer’ right on the empty space it would leave."

She nodded, as if in understanding.

"It's not all, though, is it?"

He had not realized before that moment that Sansa knew him well. True, she was among the very few people who knew certain details of his life that were hidden from the rest of the world; yet, he had never before thought that, beyond her knowing things about him, she knew him.

"When have you suddenly become an expert in my feelings?" he asked and feared that she would take offense, but she only smiled.

"Knowing your tell certainly helps," she answered with a small, mysterious smile he had discovered on her lips not for the first time that day, "whenever you don't want to admit or face something, you try to shield yourself with questions." She smiled again, and came to stand near him. "You don't need to do that with me," she added, looking up at him with her innocent blue eyes, "I am much simpler than most people here: if you don't want to answer me, you can just say so to my face, and I won't bother you."

He sighed. He smiled in peaceful defeat.

"Aerys was the reason I became interested in ballet. I saw his performance once, when I was eight, and I wanted to become him. Later…"

He ran his hand through his wet hair. He did not know if anyone had ever fully realized that, contrary to what the world believed, Aerys' death was not a cause for celebration for Jaime Lannister: indeed, it had been a tragedy; not only because he had been the cause of Aerys' death, but also because, in the death of the King of ballet, some of the Kinglsayer's dreams had turned to ashes. By fully apprehending, and in such a gruesome way, that the dancer he had admired was really an inhuman monster, Jaime had wondered if he himself were not a monster, too. Keeping the photograph had become, perhaps, a way of reminding himself that monstrosity was not far from him. The black and white picture stayed — a reminder of the danger of his rage.

Sansa nodded once again.

"You were afraid of becoming him, weren't you?" she asked.

He said nothing. She came closer and put a soft, small hand on his cheek, confounding him.

"You could never become a monster, Jaime," she said gently. Then, as if she had remembered herself, she took away her hand and took a step back. "Well, are you ready to go?" she said in a cheerful voice that rang a little forced. "Because, I'm telling you, if you don't eat soon, this city will be in great danger from an angry, hungover lion."

They left the apartment; but the picture remained, glaring from the corner: a memory of the past that had frozen on the wall like a venomous insect.

Chapter Text

We stood on top of the world,

And watched the earth below.

I wondered if there we belonged,

In that bustle, that noise, among that throng;

 

Or if, like ghosts, on these great heights,

Forever and a day we should have stayed.

I have dreamt of you for nights,

When slumber my desires betrayed.

 

We are together only in my dreams;

But, my dreams, they shatter at the seams,

When, in your eyes, I dream I see your lover’s face.

Reflected it is also in the fears

 

That plague my mind, but, it appears,

On my heart, they leave no trace.

My heart, it loves you in a foolish way,

And my love, it will not fade away.

Sansa had noticed fairly quickly that while she had Jaime’s attention, he seemed almost happy. Occasionally, however, when she was silent, an empty look would come into his eyes, as if he was no longer with her; as if his thoughts had taken him back to the same dark place where she had seen drunk slumber push him. She would say something then — anything, really — to make his eyes refocus and see her. Just as her heart was full of glee at her ability to make his eyes smile, it ached at seeing his pain, and she fought against his misery with the few means at her disposal. It seemed to her that she was battling his twin’s ghost. Unbeknownst to her, Sansa had entered the same war that Tyrion had been fighting for nearly thirty years: the war against Cersei; the war for Jaime’s heart.

They were sitting at a lovely open terrace of a restaurant she had never been to before, which amazed her: Margery, it had seemed to her, had dragged her to every corner of the enormous city. Jaime had offered Sansa to choose the place they would go, but she declined, shifting the pleasant responsibility onto his shoulders, wishing to learn something so simple about him as where he would go for lunch. Given the view of the sea she had admired at his place, she had not been particularly surprised to discover that the restaurant of his choice was located on the quay. It was a wonderful place: sea breeze, the gentle whisper of the surf, the animated merriment of the passersby and fellow diners (the quay was largely made up of restaurants and boutiques). When they would be served, the delicious food would fully establish the place as her new favorite restaurant in King’s Landing. Even before, she imagined that sipping evening drinks must be a delight here. In the first minutes, as she sat, taking in the joyous atmosphere, she noticed Jaime watching her with curiosity and restored her full attention to him.

"What makes you look so curious?" she asked without preamble.

"You do," he answered simply, the expression of curiosity turning to a lightly teasing smirk. "I find it curious that, coming from the North, you like things that are so quintessentially Southern."

"You forget that I came here on my own free will — no one forced me to leave Winterfell," she pointed out with a smile.

"No, but you came for work — could have hated the place all the same," he countered.

"True," she had to admit. She paused for a few moments, then decided to confide in him: "I wanted to come South, though… I do not like the North that much — the cold, the winter, the harshness of it all. If I had to come up with a metaphor, I’d say that the North is always mourning, while the South seems to be perpetually celebrating something — gods know what…"

"Probably the weather — in both cases," he suggested teasingly.

She laughed a little, then grew semi-serious.

"That may be part of it, but I’m not sure it exhausts the issue. Anyway," she decided to summarize her life choices, "I wanted to come to the South; I like its sense of festivity."

He looked at her skeptically, as if to point out that she was not quite the party type.

"Fine," she conceded, "I may not party like a Southerner, but that doesn’t mean I fail to appreciate the lively atmosphere."

"What about disappointments?" he asked then. "There must have been something that did disappoint you here.”

"What makes you say that? It’s not like I’m packing my bags and leaving…”

She thought she had seen his eyes widen a little — so slightly that she did not give credit to her observation; a fleeting moment, perhaps even less, and it was gone. Meanwhile, she continued. "So, I can say that everything in the South is to my satisfaction."

He smirked.

"Now, that I know to be a lie."

"Whatever makes you say that?!" she exclaimed, trying to remember when she had ever said anything to him that could justify his statement.

"I distinctly remember you saying, and I quote: 'all Southerners think that no matter what they do, they can make up for it later.' You characterized it then as our 'problem.'"

She had said something to that effect on the morning after the gala. This was months ago, though, how on earth did he remember?

"Do you have photographic memory or something?" she inquired in an almost miffed tone.

"That would have made my dyslexia so much easier," he complained. "But no, I don’t. I simply have a good memory for the statements of people I find curious."

"Don’t make me sound like a three-winged bug in a jar!" she protested loudly, indignant at his phrasing. He laughed, and she found so much peace in the happy sound, notwithstanding her annoyance at its source.

"All right, minx: 'of people who surprise me' — is that better?"

She produced something along the lines of a "humph…" and pretended to consider the menu. His next statement, which followed the brief pause, took her by surprise.

"Your words," he said without a trace of mockery. "I have a good memory for your words."

She lifted her eyes to him quickly, finding a peculiar seriousness and softness in his expression and the odd look in his eyes she had seen the night before when, playing with her fingers, he had wondered if the Stranger had sent her to mock him. Before she could say anything, before she could ask a question she had not formulated, the waiter appeared to inquire after their drink orders, breaking the strange spell of Jaime’s words. When they announced their choices and the intruder departed, Jaime went back to his questioning:

"Well? We’ve established you were disappointed in at least one aspect of Southern life — what other grievances does the Northern princess have?"

Oh no. Nonononononono! He was not about to baptize her with another nickname.

"Don’t. You. Dare." she warned darkly.

He feigned surprise, or at least, in her sudden rage, she thought he did.

"What has you turn into a fury in a matter of seconds? What did I say?"

"'Northern princess?' Are you kidding me? 'Minx' was not enough, now you have to come up with another nickname for me?!"

He laughed again.

"You know, minx, I had not thought of it before your suggestion, but now that you mention it, I quite like it…"

She groaned in dismay at her own stupidity, hiding her face in her hands. She did not really bring this onto herself, did she?

"… I will say, 'minx' is quite my undisputed favorite," he continue in his mocking yet relaxed tone, "but I’m sure that 'Northern princess' will come in handy every now and then…"

Just wait till Marge or — gods forbid! — Ellaria witness him call me 'Northern princess': I’ll never hear the end of their innuendos and jokes!

"I hate you," she said in misery.

"No, you don’t," he answered with a confidence that was ingested with a little too much bravado. "No one takes care of people they hate when they are drunk to unconsciousness." He paused for a second, sizing her up, and sighed. "Although, you would be capable of even that, wouldn’t you?" he asked in a manner that suggested he knew the answer.

Unable to withstand the questioning way in which he looked at her, she sighed and said in an exasperated tone:

"Oh, for gods’ sake! No, I don’t hate you. I mean — ” she noticed his eyes narrow slightly as he began to watch her closely when the last words had left her mouth, "Well… I’m not going to lie: there are moments when I hate you…"

He waved his hand dismissively:

"Everybody does, even Tyr — ” he began to say, but his brother’s name seemed to have stuck in his throat like a fishbone. His eyes grew empty, as if the merriment that had splashed in their green depths like golden fish in a pond had been burned out of his irises.

She noticed his pause, the change in his countenance.

"Jaime…" she began to say, "I am quite certain that Tyrion — ” but he interrupted her:

"Let’s not spoil a fine meal with this conversation," he urged her and added, in a lighter tone, "especially when we never finished discussing the downfalls the Northern princess finds in the South…"

"Don’t you ever again — ”

"… 'call you Northern Princess?' Why not? It’s not only appropriate, it happens to be true: if it were not for the invasion of the despicable Targaryens — ”

"I’m serious!.."

"Fine, minx, I’ll consider your objections, so long as you answer my question," he said in a tone that made his blackmail sound like magnanimity.

No, I really do hate you sometimes. Especially when you’re awake.

"Fine," she said and paused, honestly examining her Southern life for flaws.

"Well?.." he asked in a few minutes.

“I’m still thinking!..”

He took a sip of his drink, watching her, waiting. He noticed right away the moment she had thought of something, and her embarrassment at whatever discovery she had made did not escape him.
"Ah, there it is!" he announced, and she knew there was no hiding her recollection. "Out with it, minx!"

She worried her lower lip between her teeth for a moment.

"I don’t want to tell you this: you’ll never stop making fun of me."

"Now I certainly insist on hearing it!"

She took a sip of her drink, breaking contact with the demanding eyes for a moment.

"I swear, if you make fun of me for this — ”

"I promise to be chivalry itself," he said, placing his hand over his heart in a theatrical manner. She rolled her eyes at the performance. Even if he teased her without mercy, so long as she could chase away the empty, dead look from his eyes, she would not actually mind.

"I don’t believe that for a second, but fine. When I just moved here, I had hoped that, with the sea so near, I would be able to see dolphins every now and then," she confessed with the air of a swindled child.

Perhaps, in spite of future taunts, her confession was worth the expression of utter bafflement on his face. He blinked a few times. It was a couple of moments before he could speak.

"Seriously?" he asked, when he had regained the power of speech. "Dolphins? Did you expect them to sing songs, too?"

"Oh, shut up!" she exclaimed, and was dismayed when he guffawed even as her heart rejoiced that she could make him laugh at all on that day — even if it was at the price of him making fun of her childish, petty disappointments. When he had stopped laughing, he said:

"Of all things, minx… Of all the things you could have said, never in my life did I expect you to confess that the second greatest shortcoming of the South is the absence of singing dolphins!"

"I never said that I expected them to sing…" she mumbled.

Perhaps, if there was anything in Sansa that ought to have stopped astonishing him was her very capacity to surprise him with her words.

Dolphins… Dolphins!..

The great shortcoming of the South: not the vile men, not the soulless women — but the absence of dolphins! He watched her as she looked out onto the quay and the sea, her long red hair fluttering gently in the breeze, a smile as soft as the summer day on her lips. She was utterly, breathtakingly beautiful. He reflected that there was something in her that was beautiful the way nature is beautiful: contemplating her face was akin to witnessing a beautiful sunset or perhaps a glowing sunny day — a sense of peace and gratitude came with the sight. In beholding her beauty, however, accompanied as it was by a heart both kind and fierce, there was consolation to be sought and found, even for a man like him. He wondered, not for the first time in the past weeks, if the Stranger had sent her to King’s Landing to mock him, or if perhaps the Mother, in her foolishness, had meant for her to redeem him. He doubted there was redemption for a man like him; he certainly thought that the minx was too high a price to pay for it, even if it did exist in some hypothetical realm. What remained certain, however, was Sansa’s ability to inspire dreams. Dreams that flashed like lightening — quick, ephemeral — yet imprinting on his consciousness with the permanence of ink on dry parchment. Dreams that must never come true — if only because on their futility lay justice’s stern seal. There was no crime in being healed by her presence, however. He watched her profile with contentment. Red began to creep into her cheeks for reasons he was ignorant of, but which became clear when she spoke, without turning to him:

"You’re staring," she accused him.

"You’re staring as well," he countered, "you don’t hear the sea complaining."

He was provoking her quite deliberately; he loved little more than inciting her indignation. She faced him then, fluster warring with annoyance. For a second, she seemed on the verge of arguing his statement, but then something shifted in her countenance, and she only shook her head and smiled a little. He wondered if she was letting the remark slide because of her awareness of how he had spent the previous night. He wanted to ask her again what he had told her in his drunkenness, but he remembered her unwillingness to breach the subject earlier in the morning, so instead he decided to tease her further.

"What?" he questioned in mock astonishment. "No indignant response? Not even a brief lecture on how 'women are not part of nature?!' I’m shocked and disappointed, Sansa Stark! Where’s your feminism?!"

She was smiling a little more widely, looking at him as if he were a misbehaving child.

"You just enjoy exasperating me, don’t you?"

He leaned forward.
"Absolutely. More than anything else."

She shook her head in playful resignation.
"Watch out, Lannister," she warned with make-believe menace, "one of these days, you may regret this."
"I’ve no doubt. You look very threatening," he teased.

"Your father says that it’s very foolish to underestimate one’s opponents."

He feigned fear, though his surprise was genuine, but he did not lack for words.

"Now, if you’re taking lessons in perfidy from my father, I may be in more trouble than I’ve realized…"

She laughed.

All things considered, Sansa was surprised at Jaime’s good mood. She had expected him to sulk, be angry, saddened, or enraged — any combination of negative emotions would have seemed appropriate to her for a man in his situation to express. Not for a moment, however, did she think he would be so relaxed and playful, except for these times when his eyes wandered inside and his gaze grew empty. She questioned what could be the reason behind his cheerfulness and dared not credit it to anything of her own doing. The waiter came to take their order, which he was given. When he departed, she faced Jaime and was unsettled by an intensely teasing smirk she discovered on his features. She almost wondered if anything was amiss in her appearance or if her choice of food had given rise to the merciless teasing that, she knew, was about to unfold.

"What?" she asked hesitantly, feeling utterly defenseless before his cunning green eyes.

"I just realized that I’ve not asked you how you came to be so knowledgeable in treating hangovers… Confess, minx, you aren’t nearly as perfect a goodie-two-shoes as you make believe? Did someone party too hard in school, huh?"

Oh, that!.. That was not nearly as bad as what she had for a second feared: because for a moment — and only for a nightmarish moment — she had wondered if he were not about to tease her for falling in love with him as foolishly as she had. Before he had even spoken, however, the delusion had passed: he could not know she loved him; probably, he would not acknowledge it even if he did know; and, if worst came to worst, she hoped that he would be merciful enough not to tease her.

"Yes," she answered in a misguiding manner, thinking that, for once, perhaps, he would be unable to call her bluff, "someone did party too hard in high school."

Jaime was right, she reflected: it was very amusing to tease and fool people with words. She reveled in her momentary triumph. For a second, she had gotten the upper hand: Jaime’s eyes rounded, his lips parted slightly, as utter disbelief invaded his face.

She laughed uproariously then, and, immediately, his expression grew skeptical and a little, humorously, annoyed.

"Now, minx, you’re becoming a fairly convincing liar…" he commented. "Or perhaps," he added, "I’m still hungover."

"Could be both," she teased. "It’s true, though: someone did party too hard in high school, only it wasn’t me — it was my brother Robb."

"Truly? A Stark with a taste for amusement?"

She nodded.

"Very much so. Robb’s always been a party animal — that is, before he met Talisa, his current girlfriend."

Jaime winked at her.

"Can that even be true? Are you sure he’s not adopted?"

"I’m quite certain of that. If it were not for the photographs of my mother when she was young and had almost the same color hair as I do now, I would have been the candidate for being the 'adopted' child. I’m the least Stark-looking of all my siblings," she added.

"The red fox of the direwolf family?" he teased again.

"A little bit, yes. Certainly so where my geographical preferences are concerned…"

They exchanged smiles, common to people who share an understanding.

"Anyway, when he started drinking a lot at parties, Robb offered to help me with math if I helped him when he returned home drunk, though, to tell the whole truth, more often than not his friends returned him. We made it work."

"Somehow, I would have imagined that you’d be good at every subject regardless of your attitude to it — the perfect student through sheer stubbornness!.. I’m almost disappointed," he japed.

"No matter how much of a good student I was — and I’ve always been a very good student — math was simply not my friend. I don’t like it; I don’t understand it; I consider it an utterly useless subject," she declared boisterously, unaware of how many filthy jokes he had to swallow at her declaration of being "a very good student."

"Well, except for the construction of everything in this city," he said feigning agreement, "I’m sure that math is utterly useless."

"You know what I mean," she protested, "yes, it’s great for engineering, architecture… All of this…" she motioned to the buildings around her, "… and the people who get it. No need to torture the rest of us," she concluded with conviction.

He laughed.

"Oh, please! Like you ever enjoyed math?! With your dyslexia?" she exclaimed.

"I’m laughing precisely because I actually happen to agree. Tyrion…" again, there was hesitation in his voice, but he seemed to force himself to finish the sentence: “he always did most of my math homework."

"You’re guilty of exploiting child labor, Mr. Lannister, that’s a grave offense," she spoke in her best imitation of a City Watch officer.

He smiled, but she noticed that the smile was rueful. She wanted to say, once more, that she could never imagine Tyrion to have truly betrayed him — contrary to what she had heard Jaime mumble through his nightmares the night before; but she remembered his unwillingness to speak of his younger brother and looked for something else to engage his mind. Suddenly enlightened — and a little surprised that she had not thought of this before — she started talking about The Fountain of Tears, and, certainly, discussing the ballet helped divert them both. They spoke animatedly, nearly not noticing when the waiter brought their food, refilled their drinks, and entirely unaware of the swift passage of time. It was their life, their world, their passion — and there was never enough time nor enough words to discuss it at sufficient length. They spoke of the movements that were not yet honed to perfection and the pas still in the making. As when they were creating the ballet, Sansa found Jaime’s mind an enticing place. She loved speaking of ballet with him, because, when they spoke of dance, it seemed that they were one mind — one heart, even — at least as far as their dedication to their art was concerned.

On Sansa’s insistence, when Jaime had informed her that their lunch destination was close by, they had walked the short distance from his apartment to the restaurant. Consequently, after the brunch, they found themselves on the quay. Their conversation was animated, purling with the vivacity and liveliness of a city fountain, and so they had, quite naturally, glided into a walk near the waters’ edge. They were walking along the sun-lit quay with a certain laziness, understandable after a good meal, and Sansa chattered on excitedly about the ballet — just as she had done when they had been sitting at the restaurant — only she noticed that her interlocutor had grown silent. She watched him closely and could say with certainty that there was none of that emptiness in his eyes against which she kept battling. On the contrary, his eyes followed her closely, and a ghost of a smile glittered on his lips; and there was also that peculiar softness in his expression, which she had noticed several times already; but quiet he was all the same. She was unaccustomed to Jaime's silence and failed to interpret it. Coming to a halt somewhat abruptly, she placed her hand on his arm.

"What's wrong?" he asked, confirming with his question that he had been listening to her and that he did not understand the sudden interruption of her speech.

"That's what I wanted to ask you," she said gently. "You're quiet — and you're never quiet..."

He chuckled softly.

"I suppose not..." he paused, a wistful half-smile on his lips. "Don't hold it against me, Sansa."

"No... Of course not..." she mumbled.

What I wouldn't give to forever free you of that sadness, that pain. I wish that my loving you could be enough. I know it's not, but I wish it were.

When she had interrupted herself, pausing unexpectedly, he had been feeling a quiet peace in his soul. No, he could not have her. And yet, she could still put back together the pieces of his heart. As if she had spent last night in a dark realm, picking up the fragments one by one and then, when she had gathered them all, had pressed her hands together and re-created his soul — just as alive as it had been before it had shattered, if a little the worse for wear. There was a certain peace to be found in proximity to a force of good. Noticing her silence, he spoke.

"Come," he said, taking her hand from where she had placed it on his arm, keeping her slender fingers in his, "I'd like to show you my favorite place in the city, and one you've never been to before, I'll wager."

She smiled with that recently acquired, taunting expression:

"I hope it’s not one of those other places where 'I’ve never been' that Marge has already showed me,” she teased.

"I think not," he said, and there was pleasant secrecy in his words that fed her curiosity.

They walked along the quay. The city’s walls had once stood here, protecting the capital from attacks from the sea. Now, there was no need for it: modernity had dispatched with pirates and invaders. The politics of the Seven Kingdoms were different now from when the walls had been erected; they were not carried out by military force but by competition over markets, innovation, purchasing power — even if this competition was, in some ways, no less brutal, it left fewer dead behind and required fewer fortifications. Under the pressure of these new forces, the old walls had crumbled, replaced by the quay filled with shops and restaurants. Nevertheless, the quay still led, like the walls once had, to the Red Keep, or rather, to the ruins of that sinister castle. Sansa, of course, had visited the former seat of royal power, and marveled at its sublimity and the strange power the old, crumbling building still had over the capital, since it had been permitted to remain — a skeleton of the past, shaking, under the careful scrutiny of a preservation team — in the very heart of the modern city. An icon of a bygone era. A fossil-like jewel of old times.

"If you think I haven’t been to the Red Keep, Jaime, you’re very much mistaken," she said, a little bemused at his direction, even though, with her hand in his, she would be happy to walk to the end of the world if he pleased.

"Not where I’m taking you," her companion returned, a little too self-assuredly, she thought.

She reconsidered this assessment, however, when, instead of lingering in the long-time roofless throne-room, like Margery and she had done, Jaime started walking deeper into the remains of the ancient castle.

"How on earth do you even know where you’re going?" she wondered aloud, watching her step carefully to avoid hurting a toe on the crumbled stones and leaning on Jaime’s supporting hand.

"We moved to King’s Landing when I was ten," he explained, "and there were the ruins of a castle barely twenty minutes away from our house — do you really think my brother and I, and even our sister-dearest, have failed to explore it?"

She saw his point; and she also noticed his avoidance of saying his siblings’ names, as if by using these generic terms, he could escape thinking about Tyrion and Cersei. They made it to a stairway that spiraled upward, and she guessed they were at the threshold of one of the towers. Jaime paused before the first step and turned to look at her.
"How do you feel about a long walk up the stairs?" he taunted.

She squeezed his hand, which she had been holding, blissful, as they made their way among the ruins.

"I think it’s just what I need to free myself from the torments of my conscience after that delicious meal," she replied cheerfully, and up the stairs they went. She never let go of his hand, and he did not suggest she should.

Had any of her siblings — Arya, for instance — proposed an excursion into the ruins of a castle and invited her to go up the stairs of a semi-broken tower, she would have laughed at them, called them crazy, and prevented them from going by threatening to tell mother, even if she would never have actually betrayed them to Catelyn. Needless to say, she herself would never have considered going with them. With Jaime, for some reason, it was a different matter. She trusted him in a compulsive way. If he thought the ruins safe, then she believed that they were; if he thought the two of them would not fall to their deaths and be covered by blocks of aged stone as they ascended the stairway, then she believed that, too. They kept going, getting higher and higher, and she lost sense of the number of flights they must have passed. He always stopped to help her in the places least friendly to passage, and she smiled quietly at his consideration. There came a time, however, when she had to pause to catch her breath. Letting go of his hand unwillingly, she leaned against the wall. Jaime waited for her.

He’s not even breathing hard, she thought with admiration and a little envy.

As if in answer to her thought, he spoke in his ever-sardonic voice:

"For someone who can dance for over seven hours, you have very little endurance for something so simple as coming up the stairs…"

She swatted him lightly on the arm, and he laughed.

"How did Tyrion climb all these stairs, especially when he was a child?" she asked, suddenly surprised by the thought.

A fond smile was for a second in Jaime’s eyes, but more recent and less pleasant memories bleached it away. He sighed.

"I’d carry him," was all he said in answer.

All this way… And himself only a child… she thought and couldn’t help smiling. He was frowning slightly, and she regretted reminding him of his brother.

What does he think Tyrion has done that he blames him so? she wondered. Through his mumblings last night, she had realized Cersei’s guilt, but exactly what role Tyrion had played in Jaime’s anguish she did not comprehend still. She had caught her breath and took him by the hand, as if to chase the frown off his face with her touch. They went upward again.

Finally, just as she was out of breath again, they had reached the end of their ascent. Rains, rare snows, and time itself had left no roof to cover the old tower, and they stood atop its uppermost remaining platform. Wind played with their hair and the skirts of her dress, whispering its summer song to them. The sea glistened below; the city lay behind — buzzing, animated; but themselves, they stood on stones as immobile and seemingly unmovable as the past to which they belonged. She turned to look at Jaime, to take in the pleased smile on his face.

"You were right," she admitted, "I’ve never been here before."

He smiled more widely.

"You should believe me more readily, minx."

"Why is this your favorite place in King’s Landing?" she asked. "I can see that it’s beautiful, but there are many beautiful places here. Why this one?"

He turned from her to look out onto the sea, and she pondered what he meant to discern in the distance.

"My brother and sister never liked each other — ” he began but interrupted himself: "No, that’s not quite right. Cersei hated Tyrion from the moment he was born, from the moment our mother died. This place… It was the only place where we went together — for a brief time; the only place where we all wanted to be badly enough that they would get along, somewhat. At that time, we all loved the stupid songs they made you memorize in schools, you remember those?"

She nodded.

"Ah, so they still make children memorize them," he concluded, "I wondered if perhaps your generation had escaped that…"

She rolled her eyes and snorted at his decision to split them into two different generations. Ageist, she thought, but then he went on, and she had forgotten to contravene him.

"Anyway, we would sneak off here, even though, of course, we were strictly prohibited from doing so, even by Osha…"

"Who’s Osha?"

“She was our nanny."

She giggled at the thought of Jaime and Tyrion having a nanny. How cute!..

He rewarded her with an eye roll.

"When we sneaked off, we’d crawl all over this place, finding out where every passage that still remained went… I think we remembered even the position of each stone after a brief time… And then we found the stairway and this platform… It was unreal, like a modern child’s dream come true…" He chuckled. "For me, it was different than for Cersei or Tyrion. You see, I had started jumping off the cliffs at Casterly Rock when I had just turned ten —right before we moved to the city. Cersei was afraid to jump with me, so she told Osha. And Osha…" he chuckled more. "She did not believe her at first, but then she caught me herself. Well… She was not happy, and she made me promise never to jump off those cliffs again, and I did promise… So, when we found this tower, and I saw I could jump off it into the water, I was so pleased, because I could do it without breaking a promise."

"Aren’t there rocks beneath the tower?"

He chuckled.

"You’re betraying your love of illustrated love songs," he taunted her, and she blushed to her hairline in embarrassment. "No, there aren’t any rocks — not anymore… The pictures you, lady, know are based on contemporary illustrations from hundreds of years ago. Since then, with the floods and what not, the rocks that would have obstructed the jumping had gone. But that did not prevent Tyrion from being frightened whenever I tried to jump: he’d cry, begging me not to… So, I would not jump when all three of us went to the ruins … Instead, I’d go on my own, but Cersei… She loved excluding Tyrion, you know… So she’d tag along with me, but she was afraid to jump with me, and she hated being unable to do whatever I was doing, particularly when inaction could be interpreted as cowardice. She decided to put an end to my jumping — and she did."

"How?"

He snorted.

"Very simply. She told father."

There was a pause. Sansa could only imagine how Tywin Lannister had reacted to learning of this hobby of his eldest son. He probably blew a gasket…

"Was he very angry?" she asked cautiously.

Jaime chuckled darkly.

"Angry? He was furious. I swear, at the time, I thought he would kill me."

Again, there was silence. Sansa returned to contemplating the waves rolling, ever-patient, ever-present, toward the shore. The white crests seemed so small from the height where they were standing, almost indistinguishable from the waves. She looked back at Jaime and found him contemplating her, and the frown, the sadness were gone from his smiling face. She felt so happy with him. They were so rarely alone, except when it seemed as if they were when they danced, which, to her at least, was often; and she loved being alone with him like this, in a setting that demanded no distance.

I love him.

She watched the wind play with his golden hair teasingly, lovingly, and she speculated whether she was part of the breeze. Memories may haunt him, but in this moment, he was hers alone.

I love him.

Her heart did a somersault in her chest and seemed to have drawn adrenaline, like a dipper draws water in a well, before resuming its normal position. It beat wildly in her chest.

I’m not like her. I’d jump with you.

Her heart jumped one more time, more powerfully it seemed, then fluttered like the wings of a hummingbird. She gave him a debonair smile.

"I guess I’ll see you below," she said and stepped into the void.

The air whooshed past her as if it were the wind, and not she, that was moving.

I am not Cersei. I love him.

Chapter Text

I am utterly confused

By the power of your ruse

And the trick you’ve played on me

In your unforgiving glee.

 

Why your face holds me entranced

I cannot know at a glance,

But there’s something in its lines

That with my heart intertwines.

 

Why your eyes are so appealing

I have never truly known —

You will not begin revealing

All the secrets that they own.

 

I have wondered if your lips

Are tantamount to bliss,

Or whether in their red

Lies the reason I’ll be dead.

 

I have contemplated why

My mind can you stupefy

And what magic feeds your hold

Over my immortal soul.

 

I have yet to know the reason

For the way you make me feel

Or if to gods I should appeal

To be rescued from your prison.

I guess I’ll see you below.

He had not understood her words: they had seemed to have come from a place of absurdity, so little sense they made. He had seen her move toward the edge of the platform but, his mind still deciphering her last sentence, he had not suspected any danger in it, or he would have grasped her without any intention of letting her go until they were somewhere from where she could not jump. These same words had acquired a terrifying meaning, however, when he had seen her step into emptiness and disappear. He rushed toward the edge but only caught sight of her red hair, which, worn loose by her that day, had effected something akin to hypnosis on him so many times in the past hours; the red locks, which he had watched being caressed by the wind with some envy of that element, had taken the shape of a fiery teardrop as she fell. That tear of flame kept gliding further and further away from him as he watched, petrified into immobility, how Sansa flew through the nearly two-hundred feet of nothing that separated the place where he now stood alone from the sea below. He had never felt such utter, gut-wrenching dread. Indeed, he had never conceived that such all-engulfing fear existed. There seemed to be acid in the place where his heart had jumped and disappeared when he understood what she had done. Had the world been suddenly turned inside out and he had found himself in its burning center, he would not have been so utterly confused or felt such trepidation. His blood chilled, seemingly unable to move through his veins, he had grown cold in the blaze of Southern sun as he followed with his gaze the seemingly immaterial dot Sansa had become as she neared, faster and faster, the waters’ surface, and he was entirely, brutally incapable of stopping the terrifying progression. He kept watching, aghast, how her feet touched the waters’ surface, how the green-blue substance swallowed her slender form, and Sansa — that kind-hearted, beautiful, talented, magical creature, who was his comfort in a world that was neither kind nor beautiful and had so little talent or magic in it — metamorphosed into sea foam. In that moment, while he watched the white splash she had left in the wake of her dive, had the Stranger materialized before him and offered him that the minx may come up for air at the price of his own life and more besides, Jaime would have considered it a bargain. The Stranger, it seemed, was preoccupied with other matters that early afternoon and did not appear. However, as, in a mixture of panic and absolute concentration, the green eyes frantically searched the aquamarine waters, they beheld the red hair and the ivory-white skin re-emerge from the depths of the sea. Re-emerging, Sansa laughed, gave a triumphant, jubilant cry, and waved to him from below. The relief that followed the monstrous fear he had experienced was so great, he staggered. His heart had returned to fill the acid hole left by her abrupt and, he thought now, utterly inhumane departure, and it was beating wildly, pumping blood through his veins with such force and rapidity that he felt lightheaded. He lowered his hands to his knees and stood bended thus, focusing on catching his breath and not letting his heart jump out of his body by way of his mouth.

She’s alive.

Then, on the heels of that relief, came a terrible suspicion.

Is she hurt?

Immediately, he restored his gaze to where she floated indolently, apparently unhurt. But how to make sure that she was, indeed, uninjured and that the adrenaline that must have flooded her bloodstream — even if its amount must have been nothing in comparison to what he himself had been awarded by her actions — did not conceal a sprain or something akin to it? Something worse, perhaps? Moreover, what if, in case she was injured, she would have trouble staying afloat before he reached her? These and other such thoughts flashed through his mind with such celerity, his brain retained only the vaguest impression of them, which culminated in one absolute, dominating imperative: he had to get to her, and he had to do it now. He did not even consider taking the stairs, or the fact that if, in jumping, they were both injured, it would be so much the worse for them.

He dove after her, headfirst.

Thus, the stupefied public of the quay of Blackwater Bay was presented with the bizarre sight of two people jumping off the Red Keep tower within the space of less than five minutes.

Sansa had never liked heights and, evidently, had never tried jumping from them. But — as with so many things she had discovered in King’s Landing, many of them in some ways connected to Jaime Lannister — she had found an incomparable thrill in having the world zip past her and entering the water, feeling her body permeate with rapid force the welcoming depths of the warm sea. She came up for air and shouted happily, proclaiming to the world her elation and her love, as if she had performed a sacred rite of passage. Then, she looked up and discerned Jaime’s silhouette on the tower’s platform. She waved to him, taking satisfaction, as always, in doing something he enjoyed with him. She watched him plunge into the void, his straightened, agile body flying through the air like a well-carved arrow, its trajectory perfect, its speed terrific. She traced his jump — although, in his case, it looked more like a professional dive than a fall — and saw him enter the water with few splashes only a couple meters from her. Giddy at having forced her way into his secret hobby, she smiled as she waited for him to come up to the surface. Through the crystal-clear sea, she saw him turn once his inertia had slowed and swim toward her underwater instead of coming up directly for air. He emerged from the water right in front of her, his wet hair clinging to his face in a chaotic fashion. At seeing him like this, her heart jumped in that familiar way. As soon as he had broken through the surface of the water, his hands reached for her, as if to connect her to earth, like tying a balloon so as to prevent it from drifting off into the sky.

“Are you all right? Are you hurt?” came the questions.

His face a picture of seriousness, his eyes narrowed, his hands, entirely devoid of the sensuality that usually seemed to emanate from him, felt the bones of her arms as he tried to ascertain if any one of them was broken. He would have carried out a similar, medically distant, inspection of her legs, but that she pushed him away, laughing at his concern.

“Don’t be ridiculous! If nothing has happened to you — or to your ten-year-old self, for that matter — why would anything happen to me?”

Jaime watched her, happy and unharmed as she was before him, his brain slowly catching up to the fact that, indeed, the enormous fright she had given him had had no serious repercussions, although it would certainly account for most of his grey hair, when they came. His fear was translated into fury.

He grasped her by the shoulders, his green eyes blazing:

“Are you completely mad?!” he screamed. “What in the Stranger’s name were you thinking, jumping like that?! What if you had hurt yourself?! What — ”

But she cut him off by wiggling out of his hold once more, her long legs pushing lightly against the water as she drifted some two feet away from him, the happy expression never fully leaving her face, even though defiance came to her features:

“Oh, please,” she said, and he thought her careless tone the height of insolence, entirely unwarranted after she had used him so ill, “you begin to sound like your father.”

This remark made Jaime speechless, as his sense capitulated before the cognitive dissonance her words had produced in his mind. Taking advantage of his shock, she continued, swimming closer to him before she made her point.

You,” she said, stabbing his chest with her index finger, as had become her habit whenever she desired to stress the words she addressed to him, “are not my father, and, as we’ve already established, I don’t even listen to him, or I wouldn’t be here.” She paused for emphasis. “So, you, especially, don’t get to tell me what I can and cannot do, Jaime Lannister.”

Though he was livid, or perhaps because of it, he could find nothing immediately to answer her. Nevertheless, he felt a gnawing, impotent rage at being unable, as she herself had just pointed out, to prohibit her from doing something so idiotic ever again.

“Idiot,” he grumbled under his breath, the sounds gritted through his teeth.

“Hey!” she protested vehemently, “I might take offense!”

“It would be better if you could draw conclusions instead!” he barked, still palpitating with anger.

She came closer to him, her temper rising, and her own eyes began to flare:

“Why is it you think that I should not be allowed to do what you do?!” she exclaimed, “You yourself admitted to jumping from the tower!”

He did; but to him, it had always seemed that his death would have been nothing particularly troublesome, while Sansa’s…

“When I was a child and didn’t know any better!” he countered.

He refused to address the fact that she was now only eight years older than he had been when he had started jumping.

“Of course, you knew!” she countered, “You’ve been told so by Osha, and Tyrion hated it when you jumped! You said so yourself: there are no rocks at the bottom — what could possibly go wrong?”

Too late had she realized that she should not have posed the rhetorical question, because Jaime did not consider it rhetorical in the slightest.

“It was over twenty years ago, you little fool! What if something had changed since then?! What if there were rocks there now, huh?”

He would have said more, but she interrupted him.

“Tell me true, Jaime, when you were jumping all those years ago,” the time she had pronounced in a mocking tone that irritated him, fail as he had to discern in her mockery a desire to lessen the difference between their ages rather than exaggerate it, “did you begin by going into the water below the tower,” again there was mockery in her voice, “and carrying out a detailed inspection of the sea bottom — or did you just jump, headfirst?”

He had jumped feet-first, but that was not the point.

“That’s not what we are talking about right now!” he exclaimed, driven to the end of madness by what he considered her stubborn foolhardiness.

“Of course, it is!”

“We are talking about you doing something utterly daft that puts your life in danger! It’s just like that stupid transition all over again!” She could not believe he decided to bring up the movement she had pushed into the choreography weeks ago. He continued: “Only this time, it’s by far more dangerous! Why would you do something so exceedingly moronic?!”

His exasperation availed him nothing by way of reasoning with her: his words did not reach her in the slightest, it seemed, for she splashed him with water as a way of cutting short his monologue. She had the temerity to laugh gaily and start swimming away, as if to escape from his possible retaliation. Noticing, however, that his fury had not abated and that he had not accepted her invitation to a splashing contest, she halted her progress. He brushed his wet hair away from his face, and she recognized immediately this gesture of exasperation. Upset in spite of herself and feeling guilty for having provoked his anger — and, she guessed only now, his fear — on a day when, in all fairness, Jaime deserved more gentle treatment, she swam back to him. If their relationship permitted her such liberty, she would have wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing her body to his, to appease him, but, as this was entirely inappropriate, all things considered, she dove and came up behind him, throwing her arms around his neck in this, far more friendly and less intimate, way. He pretended to ignore her.

“Fine! I’m sorry I’ve upset you,” she offered in an almost sheepish way.

He hemmed, indicating that, while he had heard her, he was not prepared to accept her peace terms that easily.

“Hey!” she protested, “I’m trying to make peace here!”

“Why don’t you begin by promising you’ll never jump off that tower again?”

She was still clinging to his neck from behind, but he knew she had thrown back her head as she laughed.
“Oh, miss Osha,” the vixen’s voice mocked him, “I promise to be good! I’ll never jump — Oh, wait! I’m not ten years old, and you’re not my nanny! I don’t have to promise you anything!”

That’s it!, was all that had flashed through Jaime’s mind before he acted.

She had expected him to talk back to her, bickering further. However, she had not been prepared for a momentary pause that followed her jape — the first sign that something she had not anticipated was afoot. Like when he had scooped her up easily into his arms on the evening of the gala months ago, so now she had not even had the time to realize what and how he had moved to achieve his ends. All she had been aware of was that, somehow, she had lost her grip on his shoulders and neck and his hands had pushed her over his head and into the water in front of him. A little disoriented by this occurrence, she had been powerless to evade the swift hands that brought her close to him. In a space of some seconds after the quip had left her lips, she found herself staring into green eyes that, while, still, there was concern and anger in them, were softer now. As she had had cause to think on several other occasions, this time, too, she believed that Jaime Lannister looked very much like a lion — albeit, wet and disheveled, but still glorious. She rested her hands on his forearms, not daring to place them on his shoulders, like she so desperately wanted to.

“Promise you’ll never jump off that tower again,” he said in a tone that was soft and serious, entreating in its quiet strength. A prisoner of his quiet voice that seemed to reverberate through her very being, still she shook her head.

“I can do whatever you do…” she countered quietly, stubborn even in her newly found timidity.

“You can, I don’t doubt it,” he answered, “I’m just asking you not to. Promise me,” he entreated her again.

“No,” she mumbled.

She wanted too desperately to preserve her right to this new part of him that loved flying through the air from the height of two-hundred feet; that part of him Cersei had not already claimed. He sighed, exasperation warring with patience on his face.

“Sansa — ” he began.
“I’ll make you a bargain, Lannister,” she interposed, rediscovering her spirit.

“What kind of a bargain?” he asked warily.

She spoke quickly, as if to utter the words before they had frozen on her lips.

“I can promise you never to jump from that tower on my own, if you agree we’ll come back and jump together sometime.”

Having made the bold proposition, she searched his face, trying to ascertain if she had crossed a line. He was watching her, too, and she did not know that, for some time now, even in spite of his anger, he had been thinking that her eyes were even more beautiful than the water of the Narrow Sea: bluer, clearer, more dazzling. He sighed again, realizing she had cornered him.

“All right, minx, that’s a deal,” he agreed.

But I’ll make sure to catch you before ever you jump away like this.

Their peace deal brokered, he released her as unwillingly as she was reluctant to leave his arms, and they started toward the shore. She proposed to race and lost long before they reached land: he outswam her considerably in a matter of minutes, waiting for her to catch up with a celebratory grin. Acknowledging her defeat with a puff, she swam next to him the rest of the way without suggesting contests.

“Tell me, minx,” he said in a voice full of humor as they were nearing the beach that lay between the castle walls and the quay, a liminal space between the past and the present, “what do you think we should do now, wet to the bone as we are?”

She was silent. She had not exactly thought through these details when she had stepped into emptiness, and now, faced with the prospect of walking around the city with hair from which water would drip for at least a quarter of an hour and a wet dress that clung to her body immodestly, she was beginning to perceive the less well-worked out aspects of her actions.

Jaime’s voice, mocked her with its feigned seriousness:

“I’m very curious as to your plan.”

They had reached the shallow water and were walking knee-deep in it, toward the beach.

“I don’t know, Jaime, you’re the jumping expert!”

He only laughed at her.

“Well,” she improvised under this pressure, watching the sun-lit rocks and sand, “we can always dry a little here in the sun before considering what to do next.”

He looked around the beach and then at her, an infernal smirk on his lips.

“Why not? After your madness earlier today, I don’t suppose that a sunstroke will do me much harm…”

I hope he will not be grumbling about this the way he has been about the transition…

“Oh, for gods’ sake, Jaime!” she cried out. “It’s probably not even possible to get a sunstroke from sitting in the sun when you’re completely wet!”

“I suppose you’re the expert in sun matters, Northern Princess,” he returned.

Annoyed at his use of this new nickname, she pushed him, hoping he would lose his balance and fall in the shoal, but he did not, bringing her to him instead.

“You’re awfully fond of pushing me around,” he observed. She rolled her eyes and snorted but did not try to get out of his grasp. “Is that the sort of violence with which you bully your brothers?” he asked before releasing her.

“No,” she said, a little abashed. “And what does the way I treat my brothers have to do with you?”

They left the sea and walked along the beach toward the large rocks that could serve for seats. When he answered her, there was so much teasing in his voice, it was inordinate even by the standard of his generally taunting attitude toward her.

“Oh, you treat my hangovers the way you do Robb’s, you generally harass me the way I still suspect you do your brothers…” The latter was not true, but she did not have the time to point this out, because he continued: “I suppose I’m wondering if you think me one of them…”

A brother is, perhaps, the very last thing I’d ever want you to be, she reflected, feeling a little stung by this gibe of his.

“I don’t know, Jaime,” she answered, suddenly brazen in her retort, “it seems to me that, with you, it’s a bit of a trick question.”

His eyes rounded, astonishment the absolute ruler of his features. No one, except Tyrion, had ever dared tease him about his relationship with Cersei (and even Tyrion did so very rarely): no one really knew about the affair, and those who did suspect something kept quiet. Notwithstanding, here was the minx, making fun of this hidden aspect of his life, dragging it into the sunlight as if it were just another peculiarity of his biography — nothing to be concerned about, a fact of life, fair game for taunts. He watched her, too astounded to speak. Seeing his shocked expression, Sansa grew conscious of the low blow she had delivered him unwittingly and cursed her own stupidity as well as her insensitivity: such brutality came from having as one’s only object never to find oneself without a retort and not watching one’s tongue as a consequence. She came to him and took her hand in both her own. He looked at her in stupefaction, empty-eyed, but she was relieved not to see pain in his expression — not yet, at least.
“I’m sorry,” she said guiltily, “it just sort of slipped out… I… I was just teasing… I… You see, I forgot for a moment about what happened last night and — ”

He faced her fully, then, his eyes re-focusing on her, losing the emptiness.

“What do you know?” he asked. “What did I tell you last night?”

She sighed.

“I… You…Well…”

Realizing that she was not exactly eloquent, she pursed her lips as if to physically prevent any more stuttering from leaving her mouth. She did not know what to say to him or how to say it. She made her way to the rocks, trying to escape the conversation. He came to sit next to her.

“It’s only fair,” he said in a tired voice, “that you tell me what I was saying.”

“I don’t know, Jaime, you weren’t exactly coherent…” she tried.

That’s not even a lie, she thought, I only have my guesses to go by.

“And yet, you seem to know that whatever happened last night had strained my relationship with my sister,” he countered with evil sarcasm.

“It’s only a guess,” she protested weakly, in a quiet voice.

He saw her face redden, and her blush told him that her deductions had hit the mark.

“Clearly, a fairly good guess,” he said, his voice growing cold.

Not realizing that the coldness had been provoked by his recollections of the risqué position in which he had surprised his lover last night and not by her, Sansa grew fearful and desperate. She turned to him, her eyes searching his face.

“You didn’t tell me anything!.. You only mumbled your sibling’s names and about betrayal… I…”

She felt herself reddening further in a painful sort of way. Talking about the unfaithful sister-lover of the man she herself was in love with was hardly an easy or a pleasant task, and she feared how he would react to this conversation. She was again animated by the powerful loathing of Cersei Lannister that she had felt the night before.

I hate her, she thought, for not loving him completely, for not treating him right… I would have hated her less, had she but loved him… Like I do.

“You looked so hurt…” she continued quietly, shifting her gaze to her hands when he turned to look at her. “You kept saying their names… Something about a beast and a red kimono — I didn’t understand that… Then, you said ‘whore,’ so I concluded that…” she thought the capillaries under the skin of her face would burst, “I thought that your sister… that she wasn’t… faithful,” the last word she had pronounced in a whisper — a tortured sound that may have hidden her own sob and certainly did conceal a shaky release of breath.

To her surprise, Jaime laughed at the end of her bungled monologue, but this laugh was not the joyous one she usually heard from him when they were together; instead, it was an angry, hate-filled sound.

“I must say,” he stated, and his tone was cuttingly cold, “I’m rather gratified that, even unconscious, I was able to characterize my sister with so much precision.”

So it’s true, Sansa thought and found that this confirmation of her suspicions — nay, her insights — filled her with astonishment. True, she thought this was what had happened; and yet… And yet, she could not fully grasp how — or why — a woman whom Jaime loved could betray him thus. It was so utterly incomprehensible to her, who dreamed of simply spending a few hours in his company, that she could not entirely give credit to this truth, so entirely preposterous it seemed to her. The memory of Jaime’s tortured face from last night rose before her, and her heart wailed in anger and pain. Overcome by these emotions, she embraced him from the side, her arms encircling his shoulders, her hands joining on the deltoid muscle of one even as her head came to rest on the other. She felt him tense for a second.

“I’m so sorry, Jaime,” she said in a quiet voice that served well to conceal how it was breaking, and felt him relax a little into her touch. “I… I am so sorry…”

His hand turned her face to him, and she found the narrowed green eyes watching her with suspicion.

“Why?” he asked with genuine incomprehension. “You don’t particularly like Cersei… You cannot possibly think our relationship normal — if anything, I’m quite certain it revolts you… So why in the Seven Hells would you say you’re sorry? And, what’s more, how can you mean it — as you genuinely seem to do?”

She dared touch his cheek, feeling the angular cheekbone with her hand, like she had done the night before.

“I’m sorry because you’re hurt,” she said slowly.

I don’t care what’s ‘right’ — I care that you’re hurt, flashed in her mind.

He seemed quite surprised by her words. He smiled that rueful smile she recognized from earlier and took her hand from his cheek, watching her fingers the way, although he did not remember it, he had done last night.

“You…” he laughed softly. “You’re quite possibly the single kindest, most generous person I’ve ever met,” he said before placing a chaste kiss on the back of her hand.

Her heart seemed to have burst from the adrenaline, then, regenerating, did a somersault in her chest.

I’m not that good, she thought, I just love you.

Emboldened by his gesture of affection, she traced her free hand over his hair lightly, as if, truly, it was a lion’s mane.

“Do you think you can forgive her?” she asked, hoping that, perhaps, the twins could be reconciled, and the pain would leave Jaime’s face.

I can’t have him, she reflected, and I can’t make him happy, like she can. At least, if they patched things up, maybe he’d be less upset.

But Jaime, it seemed, was not disposed to even consider her suggestion. He got up, leaving her embrace, depriving her of that rare closeness between them.

“I’m far more likely to wring her neck,” he bit out.

She knew instinctively that he had put the distance between them because of his anger at her suggestion, but she did not give credit to his threat toward his sister.
“I didn’t mean to upset you,” she said in a pacifying tone, “but, perhaps, it was just a mistake, and one she regrets.”

He nearly scared her, and certainly unsettled her, with his malevolent laugh.

“Two decades for the same mistake, I doubt she regrets it very much,” he bit out in a quiet, dangerous voice.

“What?” she asked, completely misapprehending his meaning.

He paused. He was looking out onto the sea again, his back to her, as if, by turning away, he could bear facing the truth in Sansa’s presence with a blind kind of courage.

“Last night… After — ” he sighed and rubbed his face with his hands.

“After you’ve seen her?” Sansa asked.

She probably confessed to him that she’d made a mistake and said how she regretted it.

“Yes, her and that swine, Osmund Kettleback.”

The name meant nothing to her; the heinous manner of the revelation Jaime had received left her feeling nauseous.

Poor Jaime. She hated his sister with renewed venom. No wonder at all he drank so much — probably, to forget what he’d seen.

“But it’s not just that,” he continued, still with his back to her, “I also learned from Tyrion that she had other lovers since we were teenagers.”

Another wave of nausea. Another wave of hatred. Another wave of pain she felt for him. No sooner had she battled these waves than Jaime continued.

“And my brother…” he paused, anger and pain ringing in the silence. “My brother knew about it — from the very beginning — and he did not tell me. Cersei and I had problems for a long time, but I’ve always thought that Tyrion…”

She couldn’t leave him alone anymore, standing in solitude on this beach, nothing but the heartless sea in front of him. She came to stand by his side and took his hand. He half-turned to her and half-smiled but restored his gaze to the water.

“Jaime…” she began, “I hope you… I hope you can… eventually… I hope you can recover from this…”

He smirked sadly.

“It’s twenty years of my life, Sansa,” he said and looked at her. “It’s longer than you’ve been alive.”

She smirked, too, rueful in her turn.

“I don’t know how, but I wish I could help…”

“You already have,” he smiled, “imagine if I had a hangover in addition to everything else…”

Or if I was alone… I would have probably kept drinking…

Sansa smiled sadly.

“I wish I could help more than that… I know I can’t, but I wish I could.”

He smiled at her again.

“Like I said: the single kindest, most generous person I’ve ever met.”

“Don’t exaggerate,” she advised him.

“I don’t,” he answered. She had nothing to say to that.

In silence, they started walking along the beach toward the quay. Their clothes had at least stopped dripping water, allowing them to venture into public spaces. As they walked, Sansa was thinking about what Jaime had said concerning Tyrion. She had always thought the relationship between the Lannister brothers very touching: the warmth, the love, the care that was so clear in the way they behaved toward each other. She remembered how Tyrion always said Jaime’s name: a little, it reminded her of how very religious people pronounced the names of their gods — the way her grandfather used to talk about the godswood, for instance. Rickard Stark had died when she was very young, but the way he used to say, “godswood,” was one of the main things she remembered about him; he would often take her there with him, telling her about the sacred trees and the Old Gods, while his weak hand held her little one. She had no doubt that the Lannister brothers would die for each other, and it often seemed to her when she looked at them together that it was just them against the world — and had been so for a long time. So why would Tyrion lie to his brother, the person whom he loved best in all the world — better even, she suspected, in some ways, than Margery? No, she could not believe that Tyrion had willingly betrayed his brother. It was simply impossible — not because she could not imagine it; but because she knew it was not true.

She spied an empty bench on the quay, near the water, and started walking toward it. They sat there in the same silence that had marked their stroll from the beach.

Jaime had always trusted his brother; in fact, it had never occurred to him not to trust Tyrion, and if, with time, he had come to see that Cersei was not always genuine and did not always have his best interests at heart, he had always believed that Tyrion was the only person who would never betray him or do anything to harm him — after all, Jaime had always loved and protected his little brother. To discover Tyrion’s betrayal was, in many ways, far more difficult than to witness the last mask being peeled off Cersei's face. And now… What could he not blame on his brother’s treacherous silence! Aerys; a life-long devotion to a woman who clearly did not love him back — at least, not in the way he had loved her or had wanted her to love him. In these moments of bitterness, when rational thought was very far from Jaime’s mind, it seemed to him that, had he known about his twin’s multiple infidelities, he would have walked away from her long ago… And then, Sansa would have met a very different man, perhaps: one not accused of murder, no longer guilty of incest… A man a little more worthy in her eyes, if not sufficiently so… His children were perhaps the only strange gift of his fate that he would not bear to fade away if the wheels of time were turned back; but even as he could not wish them gone — no more than he could wish his heart to be something else — so he could not help imagining these same children being born to a different woman and calling him ‘father.’ Of course, he never imagined them being Sansa’s, perhaps because he subconsciously stopped his mind before it could paint before him images too enticing and torturous to contemplate. There was much he could reproach Tyrion with, much to add to his account against his younger brother. In spite of his brooding, he had noticed Sansa start walking to a bench and joined her there.

“Jaime,” she called and he turned to watch her. “I know that it’s not my place and that you may be angry with me for saying what I’m about to say — ”

“I don’t think it’s possible for me to be really angry with you,” he smiled.

“Just wait until I come up with another choreographic step or jump from that tower!..” she teased.

“Oh, then, I make no promises!”

They laughed softly.

“You realize,” he said, “that it’s more fear than anger, even?”

“When you yell at me for jumping?”

“Yes. I’m in great fear of how many bones your foolhardiness may cost you,” he said, as if his joking tone could distill the meaning of his words.

She nodded, blushing a little. It was not strange that she should blush, when her heart was like an over-worked engine, puffing and puffing in reckless rashness at his words. She took a deep breath and faced him — or rather, made herself face him. She caught the same gentle expression on his face that made her feel as if sun was a liquid and had been spilled in her chest.

“But I was going to say…” she said, and he indicated by his raised eyebrows his readiness to hear her, “about Tyrion — ”

He turned away from her quickly, acrimony invading his eyes.

“I know you’re angry and you don’t want to hear it, because you’re hurt!” she started, speaking quickly, more loudly than she had intended, certainly with more feeling than she thought was due to entreat him peaceably. “But that’s like medicine: it hurts because it’s useful, and I think it’s useful for you to hear what I’ll say.”

He made as if to rise from the bench, but she held onto his arm.
“Please, listen to me,” she begged, urgency in her voice. “I have two elder brothers, Jon and Robb, as you know. They love each other very much — we, my siblings and I, we all love each other very much… And my father, he has a younger brother, Ben…” She saw a muscle jump in Jaime’s jaw at the mention of her uncle’s name — the man who had been the prosecutor initially dealing with Aerys’ death — but she soldiered on, regardless: “What I’m trying to say is this: I’ve been around brothers all my life, brothers who love each other dearly. I cannot speak about your relationship with your sister, because I’ve hardly ever seen you together, but I have seen you and Tyrion. A lot. And, Jaime, I’ve never seen — not between Robb and Jon, or my father and uncle — a bond like the one you two share. I know, because it cannot be otherwise, that Tyrion, whatever mistakes he’s made, never meant to hurt you — ”

Carefully, Jaime broke free of her and moved to stand on the parapet of the quay. Undeterred, she took another deep breath and followed him.

“The least you can do is hear him out,” she said, “because, Jaime, I can promise you this: you will regret losing your brother, even if you think now that he deserves your anger.”

He turned to look at her, who contributed more even, perhaps, than his sister’s actions to his wrath against his brother. Blue eyes looked out at him from her worried face; looked out at him entreatingly, pleadingly — and for what? His own good, most likely, since, aside from his brother, he had discovered in Sansa one more person he could not suspect of ulterior motives, though, in her case, that did not make him an exception.

“Please,” she urged quietly, “promise you’ll give him a chance to explain.”

The same arrogance that had led once already to a quarrel between them when he had tried resisting her influence, which, like honey, was sipping into and drowning his soul, that same arrogance anew revolted against her. He turned to face her fully, intimidating her with his height in the way he had not done for a long time now, and his green eyes seemed to be showering her with biting sparks:

“What makes you think you can make me promise anything?” he asked, irrationally, since only an hour ago he had extracted a promise from her.

She was not fooled by his animosity and smiled:

“Last time you told me to mind my own fucking business, Jaime,” she said, “I slapped you across the face, and then you came to apologize.” She paused to let her reminder sink in. “The reason I decided to put my head in the lion’s jaws again, knowing you’d likely bite it off, is that I happen to care about your and Tyrion’s well-being. And to answer your question: there’s nothing I can do to make you promise me anything; but then again, this isn’t how promises work. You don’t force them out of people, they are given freely. I was asking you,” she laughed a little, “begging, really, to promise — not to me, just to promise — that you’d hear Tyrion out. I was only thinking of your own good, because you are too angry and hurt to do so.”

Her tirade ended and her courage spent, she shrugged her shoulders and shook her head in a defenseless kind of way, before starting to walk away. She did not really know where she was going. She had not had a chance to contemplate this, either, because he had caught up with her and reached for her hand to halt her progress. She turned to face him, noticing that, for some reason, his temper had passed, and he looked almost remorseful. She considered him expectantly, wondering what he would say. He surprised her by giving her a sly smile:

“Tell me,” he said in that beguiling voice of his, “would I get credit for apologizing right away instead of waiting for twelve hours like last time and making that promise?”

She raised an eyebrow:

“Sure, you would. You’d get to keep your credit card from Tyene.”

“No, that’s not nearly good enough, I think,” he complained with a dramatic flair, and then the sly grin was back on his face, and the green eyes sparkled: “How about a smile instead?”

She laughed.

“Fine, Lannister, a smile it is. But remember: you promised.”

What trick have you played on me, minx, that I drive such strange bargains?

Chapter Text

Dance with me, dance with me:

There is peace in this night;

Dance with me, dance with me:

In darkness, madness and terror fight.

 

Dance with me, but do not speak

Sweet words that havoc wreck

In my soul; in that dark place,

Enough demons frantically race.

 

Do not add to their number,

Or they will tear me asunder;

They are cruel, they are thirsty

For the blood of my desire

 

Their jaws know no amnesty,

Their teeth  despair inspire:

Sharp, venomous, full of doom

Into my soul they sink like gloom.

 

Dance with me, even as you grow cold

And a mask your face conceals;

I may not see through this façade of cool,

But, perhaps, my heart in my eyes reveals

 

To you the secrets of my soul,

Which I did not mean to share;

And, perhaps, it tells you all

That I know I’ll never dare.

 

Dance with me, whatever us might befall:

On the tide of this waltz, its soft waves,

Let’s pretend that we’ve forgotten all

That our past and future enslaves.

Sansa had once heard Ygritte say — her brother’s girlfriend had then been speaking to someone else — that one should never drink to feel better, only to feel even better. Although Sansa hardly ever drank, and certainly never dreamed of solving her problems with alcohol — after all, she was the daughter of Catelyn Tully Stark — she retained her fellow-redhead’s words and translated them onto things she craved when feeling blue: sweets, for instance. With rare exceptions, Sansa allowed herself lapses in diet only on festive occasions, never to cure woes; and she considered a day with Jaime nothing short of a festive occasion. Consequently, she surprised him by demanding they stop to get some ice cream, when she spotted an irresistible gelateria while they were walking along the quay. Armed thus with her favorite desert, they continued in their aimless wandering around the city, no less pleasant for its lack of purpose. Sansa had not suggested they should part ways, partly because she did not want Jaime to be alone; partly, because she would not cut short her time with him. To her surprise, he had not proposed that they turn back, either.

Ever since the inception of her friendship with the Tyrells and the Sands, Sansa had learned there was much pleasure to be had in walking around King’s Landing, occasionally sitting down to enjoy a cup of tea or some other refreshment. It was a lovely enough past-time with her girlfriends, but, with Jaime, she felt she could wander the city for days and never get tired. Their walk was particularly pleasant because, departing from the quay, they found themselves in the very center of the city, where from grand avenues of a few centuries ago, like capillaries from arteries, spread winding little streets that had seen the medieval times come and pass. They were walking down one of these avenues, discussing a ballet the Targaryen Theater had once put on, long before it had gone under, and with which Sansa had only been acquainted through photographs and old video recordings of poor quality. She found out that day, however, that Jaime had actually seen the ballet and subjected him to a merciless catechism, at which he laughed — even as he supplied her with answers to all her questions. Her curiosity a little satisfied, they had passed to a discussion of that composition and were in the midst of an argument concerning the similarity of one of the pas in that ballet to one in The Fountain of Tears, when a male voice called:

“Jaime!”

Her companion turned around to locate the source of that voice in the crowd of the avenue. Following his gaze, Sansa discovered a tall, strong man, who looked to be in his fifties, coming toward them. Seeing that the intruder had not provoked displeasure in Jaime, Sansa was predisposed to like him. Indeed, the man had a pleasant, open face, and she was ready to grant that he was handsome — even if, in her opinion, he had nothing on Jaime Lannister.

“Arthur!” Jaime exclaimed, his voice welcoming.

The man, whom Jaime had called Arthur, approached them. He was dressed casually, and, in his hands, he carried a handless green shopping bag with a yellow rose — the recognizable symbol of the Tyrell organic foods empire. The men shook hands.

“Good to see you, Arthur,” Jaime said in greeting.

“It’s been a while,” Arthur returned. “Why are you wet?”

Wet they were, indeed: both still looked nothing like respectable people ought to look when they go for a stroll in the city.

Because,” Jaime answered, and she knew he would take his revenge, “Miss Adventure here decided to jump off the Red Keep tower, and my mother did not raise me to leave a damsel in distress.”

She rolled her eyes at his pun.

“Oh, please!.. I was doing perfectly fine…”

It was then that Arthur noticed Sansa standing next to Jaime and realized that she was not a passerby and that, moreover, she and his friend were well-acquainted and had been getting into trouble together before this chance meeting. Arthur’s enlightenment was easily traceable on his features: his eyes began to round, and he looked from his friend to his companion with consternation, which would soon turn to utter astonishment.

“Arthur, this is Sansa Stark,” Jaime introduced them, and she smiled at his friend, “Sansa, this is Arthur Dayne — ”

Jaime was about to say something else, she thought, but Arthur did not give him the chance:

Stark? Sansa Stark? Did you mean to say ‘Karstark,’ maybe?”

Sansa decided this was a good moment to intervene:

“I assure you, Arthur, Jaime has pronounced my last name correctly. I’m Sansa Stark of Winterfell, daughter of Catelyn Tully and Eddard Stark.”

Her pronouncement certainly produced a powerful effect: Arthur’s shopping bag began to slip through his hands slowly as he stared at Jaime, helpless in his utter confusion; he caught it just in time before dropping it.

“Ned’s daughter? Ben’s niece?” he asked, then mumbled something along the lines of “from frying pan into fire” and “death wish,” and laughed darkly. “I hope you remember how to use that sword, Lannister, because you might have need of it soon!”

Sansa looked at Jaime in a questioning way, but he only rolled his eyes and tried changing topics.

“Arthur is one of the greatest sword fighters of our time; he used to train me — ”

“I sure trained you well,” the man interrupted again, and Sansa noticed pride in his eyes, “I hear you are poised to win the championship once again this year? Shouldn’t you give someone else a try, huh?” he winked, then turned serious once more: “But seriously, my man, what are you doing here with Ned’s daughter?”

“She has a name,” Jaime said, almost, it seemed, in warning.

“Oh…” Arthur made a long sound of surprise at Jaime’s last statement, “she does, doesn’t she?..” He continued, undaunted, however: “And a pretty one it is, too…” he chuckled. “I’ll say: never did I think the day would come when I’d see you standing next to a Stark without looking thirsty for blood — ”

“That’s enough,” Jaime interrupted, his voice assertive but not cutting or offensive, clearly in deference to his former teacher. Arthur looked back to Sansa:

“Please, little Lady Stark, tell me at least that you aren’t running away — gods know, there’s bad precedent for that in your family…”

Having no notion of what Jaime’s friend meant, Sansa laughed.

“I don’t know what you’re referring to, but, I assure you, I’m not running away from anything or anyone: I work at the Lannister Ballet Company…” seeing him open his mouth, she added, “…with the full knowledge of my parents.”

“Ah,” was all Arthur Dayne had to say on that account. Then, his expression grew humorous: “And have you had the chance to meet other Lannisters as well, Sansa?”

“Of course. I know Tyrion quite well.”

“Ah,” came again from Arthur, “anyone else?”

“What are you up to, Arthur?” Jaime asked in a tired manner that poorly concealed his irritation.

The sparkle in Arthur Dayne’s eyes grew positively malicious.

“Oh, I’m just wondering if Sansa has met your other relatives… Lord Tywin, perhaps?..”

Sansa decided to indulge him.

“I have met, I think, most of the Lannister family: I’ve had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Jaime’s father and sister as well as his niece and nephew.”

She thought that the way she had referred to Jaime’s lover and children without so much as blinking could have been commended by the sliest liar in the Seven Kingdoms. Something shifted in Arthur Dayne’s eyes, as if, his momentary shock now passed, he remembered himself:

“Very good, very good. Well, I must get back,” he added hastily, as if in a hurry to efface himself, “I only ran out to get some groceries… Good running into you, Jaime,” he said as they shook hands, “let’s make sure you and I get a drink some time soon!” Then, he turned to Sansa: “It’s lovely meeting you, Sansa Stark,” he said, taking her proffered hand, but instead of shaking it, he gallantly pressed a kiss to her knuckles before winking at Jaime and walking away. Arthur Dayne made his way home with the pleasant image of Jaime Lannister’s tense jaw muscles and the happy reflection that the era of Cersei Lannister had come to an end.

The pair that had inspired these pleasant reflections of Arthur’s was meanwhile continuing down the avenue.

“I didn’t know you won sword-fighting championships — or even that you participated in them,” Sansa observed.

“Didn’t think a ballet dancer would be tough enough for that?” Jaime taunted, but she detected a hint of annoyance in his voice.
“I never said that!” she protested, surprised by his train of thought. “I knew you were really good — I’ve seen you fight Bronn, and he’s a professional bodyguard… I was just saying I didn’t know you participated in championships — ”
“…Or that I won them,” he reminded her of her words.

She laughed.
“I’m sure the mighty Jaime Lannister would win every championship!.. My gods, Jaime! What vanity! ”

The thin line briefly formed by his lips informed her that he was not amused by her taunts. Then, came revenge.

Pride is one of the fundamental Lannister characteristics,” he declared, “in the same way that foolhardiness and self-righteousness are passed on in the Stark family line — ”

“I’d say the Starks are better off than the Lannisters!” defended she her house.

“And I’d say it’s a wonder there are still any of you left with those kinds of tendencies,” he countered.

“Must be doing something right!”
“Or maybe it’s the luck of living in the North — only in such an honorable environment could you be expected to survive…”

Sansa laughed, because his words reminded her of the way uncle Ben had always cursed the South before he had returned to the North. She grew conscious — having noticed it a sufficient number of times over the past weeks — that Jaime could never quite resist smiling when she laughed, and this time was no exception.

“In spite of my terrible callousness,” she said in a light tone, “I’m not actually surprised you win in these contests…”

I wish I could see you fight one of these days… she thought.

“Why’s that?” he queried.

She shrugged her shoulders and ventured to say:

“I bet Tyrion’s never missed a single championship of yours — ”

That much was true, but he would not be so easily distracted.
“In order to counterbalance your callousness, as you so aptly described it,” he said, “the least you can do is answer the question.”

“Fine… You are one of these people who always seem to win, you know? Your father has that, too,” she added.

He laughed with little mirth.

“Can you really say that, knowing what I’ve been up to recently?” he asked.

She blushed in some exasperation.

“I was merely making the observation that this is the way you appear to people.”

Father and I certainly share more than the appearance of victory… Jaime suddenly reflected, and the faces of his mother and Cersei rose before him. When it comes to love, we both can speak to little but defeat.

Sansa noticed a change in his countenance. It had been some time now since last his eyes had grown empty in this way she had come to hate. She slipped her hand into his and returned to the conversation that Arthur Dayne’s appearance had interrupted. With satisfaction, she soon noticed the blankness leave his face. She hoped that she would never see it again — but feared that she would, and for a long time.

They strolled awhile more in the city, their conversation dominated by animated discussions of ballet, but also taunts and laughter. In the evening, they settled in a small, but highly prized, Reach restaurant — Sansa’s choice, on Jaime’s insistence, since he had selected the place where they had lunched. She loved that restaurant — Little Delights, it was called — for the jovial but peaceful atmosphere, the half-light of its garden terrace where was cultivated an abundance of flowers and plants. Being a Reach restaurant, Little Delights certainly pleased with its food as well.

As they dined, the sun set, and the purple sky permeated the air, painting everything in the violet colors of itself, but its dye did not last, giving way to blackness, little by little. The waiters had lighted more candles, which glowed mysteriously in the semi-darkness of the city night. The Southern wind, softer than a child’s kiss, twirled on the terrace, gently bended the small trees, caressing the wind chimes into singing magical chants. The night seemed to be a thing of volume, its air so warm, it rested faintly on one’s shoulders, like a weightless fur-coat; and from somewhere in a short distance, came the heartbroken moans of melancholy violins. Sooner or later — neither one of them could have said — they became again aware of time, as, alas, one must. It was, perhaps, the emptiness of the terrace that had alerted them of the late hour; but the violins still played, as if their judgement of time was the more accurate one.

They were walking slowly down another avenue, not far from Little Delights, and thoughts of time’s finite nature, the day’s ending, and parting were not far from either of their minds. But still, they wandered — silent, as if, should they break the silence, obligations of mundaneness would encroach on them. They strolled onto Baelor Square, the largest piazza in the city. A sept had once stood there, but now, it was an open space in the historic center of King’s Landing, paved with large, immaculately worked stone slabs: a favorite gathering place of street artists, musicians, other entertainers, tourists, and city-dwellers — all looking for the cheer of night life in the capital. It was from thence that the sound of violins had reached them when they had been seated at the restaurant. A group of violinists, accompanied by a cellist, were playing at the far end of the piazza, and some dancing couples had taken advantage of their music-making. As soon as Sansa had noticed the dancers, she was overwhelmed by a desire to join them. In this peaceful darkness, where laughter, cheers, and music compounded into a symphony of city-streets and where men and women danced in a casual enjoyment of their life-filled limbs and each other’s embraces, she thought that she could pretend that Jaime was hers, if only for the few dances they would share — a dangerous but irresistible self-deception. She hesitated, all the same. Catelyn Stark had always been very clear, her gentle voice notwithstanding: women did not invite men to dance — they waited to be chosen. Arya, who had been present when Catelyn had been reminding her elder sister about such critical points of comportment on the eve of Sansa’s débutante ball, had laughed outright: she would never have been able to carry a hunting knife, let alone her gun, she had said, if women always waited to be chosen by men to do things. Both Sansa and Catelyn had rolled their eyes at Arya’s remark, but now, restrained from asking Jaime to dance by her mother’s teachings, Sansa began to wonder if her sister had not been right — at least, as far as invitations to dances were concerned. Jaime’s voice interrupted her musings:

“It seems we’re doing a tour of my favorite places in the city today,” he said, and she could hear the smile in his voice before she turned to see it. She faced him.

“How so?”

“The dancers and the music players over there,” he pointed, “the ones you’ve just been looking at… They are often here on warm nights like this. Never fail to enchant, do they?”

“I’ve never seen them here before,” she said.

But then again, I’m rarely out this late…

“Well,” Jaime announced, “since you’re clearly too ill-mannered to invite me to dance, I guess I’ll have to ask you,” he winked at her.

She laughed, loving him more than ever in that moment. He offered her his hand; she took it. She thought they would come closer to the other dancers and the musicians, but Jaime’s arm wrapped around her waist, bringing her to him, accelerating her heart beat; she placed her hand on his shoulder, and they began to waltz.

It’s just like Jaime Lannister to assume that the whole square is his ballroom… she thought, smiling in spite of herself. She could lie; but she loved this about him — his presumption, befitting someone on whose sigil a lion roared his dominance. The bystanders made way for them, but there was hardly need for it: her partner’s skill in maneuvering while dancing in a crowded space bespoke years of attending his father’s galas.

“What makes you grin in this provocative way?” he asked, making her blush.

“I was thinking back to our discussion of Lannister… sense of self-importance,” she responded.

“Were you now?”

The crowd had given up space for them; they had waltzed closer to the musicians, but remained far enough to move with great freedom. The observers and by-standers, who had found themselves between them and the other dancers, ceded their positions. The Lannister conquest of additional dancing space was complete. One couple now commanded half the piazza. She giggled.

“Yes, indeed, I was!..”

“And what brought on these reflections?” he inquired, smirking, his eyes agleam with humor.

“You know this expression, ‘the world is your oyster?’ ”

“Of course, I do — what of it?”

You think that every piazza is your private studio.”

He laughed loudly, throwing his head back in his great mirth, yet never missing a step.

“I may think that it’s true,” he said, “but, in your case, I believe it ought to be true.”

She thanked the uncertain illumination of streetlights for partially hiding her red cheeks from his observant eyes. Though they did ballet together five days a week, they had not danced like this — moving together without breaking from each other’s embrace — since Tywin’s gala. Sansa basked in the uninterrupted feeling of his shoulder under her palm, the touch of their joined hands, his arm wrapped around her, his hand on her waist. She loved being surrounded by his embrace, feeling small and protected yet drawing daring power from his strong body.

If I could ever make a wish that would come true, she thought, I’d wish to spend my life in his arms.

The waltz ended; they separated to applaud with the rest of the dancers and bystanders. There was a great deal of serenity, she reflected, in being among these nameless dancers, these nameless musicians, these nameless bystanders. Without names, could she fool herself into imagining that she had come here on her own and a dashing stranger, separating himself from the crowd, had invited her to dance? That nothing stood between them — neither past nor present? The musicians had rested for the few minutes they needed and started playing again. She looked to Jaime, who extended his hand to her once more; once more, she took it without hesitation, smiling her pleasure. They danced to the ebbing and flowing sounds of another waltz.

“Never would have thought you’d like dancing in the streets,” Jaime remarked, smiling in that kind way that made her heart glow like one of the candles on the terrace of Little Delights.

I like dancing in the streets with you.

“Well, I do. I find the notion enchanting. No one said that dance belongs to the professionals: it’s always been a folk entertainment.”

He chuckled.

“In some of its cruder forms,” he said, noticing her embarrassed look with satisfaction, “and, in this case, by ‘crude’ I mean ‘unsophisticated.’ ”

She rolled her eyes and swatted him lightly on the shoulder, where her hand had been lying.

“You’re the walking stereotype of what people imagine a Lannister to be like,” she chided with laughter in her words.

“I’m not sure if I should be offended or pleased by the statement: on the one hand, you’re from the North, and I doubt my family is held in high regard there; on the other, you’ve lived in the South long enough to know better.”

You’ve known me long enough to know better, he meant to convey, it seemed.

“Well?” he inquired, taunting, smirking down at her, his eyes gentle, however, “which Lannister stereotype do I fit? The Northern or the Southern?”

Too late had she realized she should have held her tongue, but then again, she had never learned to quiet the devils that rose to spring from her lips whenever they spoke. She tried to be vague.

“The stereotype’s the same; it’s the attitude to it that’s different.”

 But, of course, he would not let her get away so easily.

“Do tell.”

His infernal grin provoked her.

“Oh, please, like you don’t know!”

“Refresh my memory,” he said, unapologetic in the satisfaction he visibly took from metaphorically backing her into a corner.
“The stereotype…” she hesitated, unwilling to expose herself to the merciless teasing that could follow; then, she grew curious to know exactly how cruel he would be, and her curiosity was not idle: not being a fool, she realized that her feelings could hardly go unnoticed forever — sooner or later, someone, perhaps Jaime himself, would discover them; already, Ellaria and Margery seemed to know, indeed, they seemed to have known before her — and she wondered just how much he would hold her feelings over her head. He did not strike her as cruel, much in contrast to his sister; still, she wished to know. She took another plunge that day, even though she was not brave enough to face him as she spoke: “The stereotype is that the Lannisters are these handsome, arrogant, impudent, unapologetic lions who succeed at everything without seemingly trying. The difference in the way it’s perceived is that the Northerners think it makes you insufferable, and the Southerners seem to admire you for it.”

“Let me be clear: you just said I fit all of these characteristics?”

She looked beyond his shoulder, seeing nothing at all.

“I did,” she answered in the most careless tone she could assume.

“I see,” Jaime said. Had she but kept her eyes on his, she would have remarked the keen interest he could not hide when, again, he posed the same question: “And to which of the perceptions — Northern or Southern — do you subscribe?”

 Her sly plan to consider his possible reaction to her admiration suddenly no longer seemed that sly at all. She faced him, surprised that no teasing had followed her remark. Not yet, at least, she thought.

“Let’s just say I find merits in both views.”

He laughed.

“I hope you never break the law, minx,” he said, out of the blue, she thought.

“Why?”

“I do not envy the officers of the City Watch who would be questioning you.”

She shook her head in a way that was meant to convey she thought his latest joke silly.

“So,” he began in a tone of someone who goes down a laundry list, “handsome, successful, arrogant, impudent, unapologetic, not particularly hardworking,” he summarized; he sounded pleased enough with the first two, but in the measure that he progressed down the list, the satisfaction left his voice, as if the agglomeration of these features was not flattering. He sounded a little cold: “Makes one sound superficial, I must say…”

She groaned inwardly, noticing how he had tried to distance himself from the set of attributes. She had only meant to make a teasing remark, never expecting it to evolve into an entire discussion by the end of which he would be offended. Besides, she found it more difficult to trade barbs with him when she was in his arms: in these moments, she only wanted to close her eyes and lean her head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat, giving herself up to the pleasure of holding her body so close to his. She felt far gone on the waves of the tender waltz that made her mind drift a little into a state in which feeling — rather than thought — dominated. She sighed. Jaime had had a long twenty-four hours, and she had not been, frankly, always considerate of his feelings during the day they had spent together. She meant to be brave for her own purposes; she should also have meant to appease him. His sister had bruised him enough — she, Sansa, had no business poking at the injuries he had sustained. She smiled in an indulgent way, and, suddenly, her fear was gone.

“I said that you fit the Lannister stereotype perfectly — you do, at first glance. I was referring more to the way passersby could have thought of you as you designated the square for your own. I never said that I think there’s nothing more to Jaime Lannister than the family stereotype.”

She smiled at him, noticing that he looked surprised — and a little suspicious, as if he expected her words to be an introduction to yet another jibe; she hoped this was more out of habit to be despised than because he expected hurtful words from her, but, all the same, she felt sudden anger at the world that had dubbed him ‘Kingslayer,’ forgetting for a moment that her father and uncle had led this effort. It was this anger that prompted her to say more — certainly more than she had intended.

“When I first met you,” she smiled gently into his unusually serious face, “I thought you an arrogant monster… Now, don’t glare at me, you know very well you make a fine impression of it!” She laughed. “Even then, though, I had no illusions about your work ethics — you make it look easy, the perfection with which you dance, but I know (as any professional dancer does) that it’s simply not possible to achieve this only by virtue of talent, and that merciless practice is how you got to where you are. So, I said: ‘seemingly without trying.’ Over time, I also learned that you’re kind, that you love your brother and your children, that you treat your colleagues with consideration, and that compassion and generosity are a part of who you are. And I’ll not forget that you were the one who encouraged me, believed in me — who was nothing to you and whom you could have treated harshly without consequences — and how you made me believe in myself when my own family doubted my abilities…” she smiled fondly: “You’re kind of like Tommy and Cella, now that I think of it: if someone is only revealed your story… Well, people might not be kind… But then, when one meets them — or you — suddenly, the story doesn’t really matter that much…”

Perhaps, it was as well that the music had stopped then, for she might have said more; and, anyway, it seemed that her words had not produced the desired effect: halfway through her brief speech, she had noticed something flash in his eyes and thought she would see… something; instead, an unreadable mask had descended on his face; his eyes had not been empty: worse, almost, they had been the eyes of a bewildered stranger, who had seemed to see her as if for the first time, then his whole face had seemed to have become stone, not a single muscle permitted to move under the power of the emotionless mask. She had only had a glimpse of it before the music had stopped. Abruptly, he released her, as if she had burned him. He turned toward the musicians to clap — turned away from her — and she could no longer see his face. She watched his tense shoulders, wondering why her complimentary words had wrought so formidable a change. She did not glimpse the chaos revealed when the mask had shattered; the chaos produced by the earning, the anger, the desire, and the arrogance that were warring behind green eyes.

Jaime had never believed himself to be easily affected — particularly not by words. With a father and, later, a reputation like his, it would have been madness to care for words at all. He should not be affected by the words of a slip of a girl… No. He should not be affected by Sansa’s words. Perhaps, he should not have been — but he was. She was speaking, her voice pouring into his ears like sweet, purifying honey — poison for a man like him. Where, in which one of the Seven Hells, had she found the power to speak, as it seemed to him, past his ears, directly into his soul? Where along his drunken road to his company’s building — or, perhaps even, his road from Essos to see her for the first time — had he lost his ability to shrug off words, laughing only at the most scorching ones? What deviltry had placed before him this strange creature with huge blue eyes that were as beguiling as they were blameless; whose innocence, it seemed, made it a damnation to take advantage of that guilelessness even as it enticed and seduced? When had kindness become a disarming weapon? Since when had it stopped being a liability, a means of easily stealing victory from the gullible? Since when had she acquired the power to move him so with words that ought to have meant nothing, nothing at all? Had he not suffered enough that after throwing his heart like a tennis ball to a lustful whore, fate had decided to let it roll to the feet of an oblivious girl he dared not look at too long for fear his gaze might sully her? And why, in moments when he hated her for her angelic tyranny, he could not help but love her?
Love her.

He did not. He would not.

The music had stopped, as had the blood interrupted its flow through his frozen veins. It was an illusion, an optical illusion induced by her blue eyes. He only had to turn away from her, and the spell would be broken. He did turn away, something like madness breaking through the surface of green irises. But the spell she had cast retained its power even after her face was no longer in front of him, even after he briefly closed his eyes, cursing fate, an evil bitch with sadism for a sense of humor. As if his rage at the goddess of fortune had frightened the deity and she had sought to appease him, a certain quiet resignation descended softly on him, like a panther landing gently on his shoulders. He almost laughed — at himself, at the world, and at the power of the goddess he had offended twice in one day. Of course, he was destined to suffer from the love of extremes.

The musicians were set on taking a longer break, it appeared, from the way they drank wine, fumbled with their instruments, and talked to each other and the bystanders. Sansa took a hesitant step forward, coming shoulder to shoulder with Jaime, glancing at his face, afraid of what she would see. Not finding either emptiness or anger in his eyes, she smiled, a little sheepishly, still uncertain how the words that came from her heart — and, she thought, contained nothing to rouse anger or give offense — had affected him so strangely. She looked more closely at his expression: it had something of the derisive mirth she had seen in his face before.

“I meant every word I said,” she ventured, “you are a good person.”

The derision began to leave his face, but she thought it was replaced by melancholy. He smiled a smile broken by that wistfulness and said, in a quieter voice than usual:

“You’d think that, wouldn’t you?”

“It’s not about my thinking anything! You might have grown used to people wrongly considering you dishonorable and unkind, but I haven’t. And I — ”

He took her hand, his fingers closing around hers with more strength than she had expected, but without violence, causing her no pain.

“Minx,” he said, his voice tense, “you ought to stop — ” he paused, the derisive half-smiled zipped across his lips once more, and his tone grew humorous, although it did not lose its strain, “or your praise might go to my head.” He let go of her hand.

“All right, all right — I’ll say no more…” she acquiesced.

“I’m mostly concerned for your reputation,” he added, humor overtaking the strain, “imagine if any of the good Northerners ever heard you go on like this about the Kingslayer…”

She smiled a crooked smile, and came a little closer. He pulled back — just a little, just as much as his pride would ever permit him, even where self-preservation was concerned.

“I’d tell them to go to the Seventh Hell if they objected,” she said with quiet determination.

He laughed, trying to shake off the unwittingly seductive power of her quiet voice. The musicians had begun playing a foxtrot, and her face reflected her awareness of the music that had announced her favorite ballroom dance. Her expression was not lost on him.

“Come, minx, it seems these musicians still have wind in them for another tune…”

 She took his proffered hand, he wrapped his arm around her waist, and they began to dance again. He should have avoided holding her body close to his again; he should have… Ah, he should have done anything he could to put much needed distance between them… But he saw her eyes and the eagerness to dance that was in them. If the Crone had interrogated him, he would have said he only wished to please the minx — and the goddess may have rightfully sent him to the deepest of the Seven Hells for insulting her wisdom by so blatantly covering the whole truth with half-truths. The whole truth consisted in that — notwithstanding the turmoil in his soul, which certain brutal revelations had occasioned, and disregarding that in distance lay a semblance of refuge — he wanted, without justification, like one desires the cessation of pain, to hold her in his arms when his mind and soul had shatter.

The musicians had wind in them for several more tunes, and they danced to all of them, but he had grown silent, and she, unnerved by the effect of her last monologue, did not try engaging him in conversation. When the music had died and the instruments had been laid to rest in their cases, they walked back across Baelor Square. In silent agreement, they re-traced their steps slowly down the avenues, along the quay. It was in the emptiness of dark streets that she had fully grasped the lateness of the hour. As if she could hear the striking of a clock, she felt the pulsing of time pull her back from the day that had twirled her into a strange place where clocks did not exist at all… Now, mundaneness, like an evil force freed by the clock-face, pulled at her. It was late, very late — too late for her to be out alone with a man, especially one for whom she felt so strongly with so little encouragement. The hour had struck — she had to submit to it and go. She shared the latter conclusion with her companion in a small voice. He nodded.

She wondered at his taciturnity while they made their way to his apartment building. A sleepy valet brought them his car and bade them goodnight.

Jaime moved to sit behind the wheel, and then she broke the silence:

“Please say you won’t drive very fast,” she pleaded.

He smirked, but it was half-hearted.

“Or you’ll commandeer my car keys again?”

“What?!” she exclaimed in unbound indignation, “You gave them to me! I did not ask for them!”

And my heart? he could have retorted, you did not ask for it either, I suppose. You’d say I gave it freely… But you’ve appropriated it with an uncharacteristic remorselessness.

He was considerate of her fear, however, and did not drive very fast — for him, that is, since, still, he drove faster than anyone else she had ever had the misfortune of riding with. The car braked softly next to her apartment building. He made to get out, but she placed her hand on his arm to stop him.

“I’d rather you didn’t walk me to the door,” she said.

His eyebrows rose.

“Why’s that?” he asked in suspicious perplexity.

She smiled.
“Allow me one caprice I don’t have to explain,” she bargained.

He settled back into the seat.

“As you wish.”

She smiled.

“Will you be all right?” she inquired, a little timidly.

It was his turn to smile.

“Yes, minx, between your Northern herbs and amusing companionship, I’ll be just fine,” he said in a lighter tone.

But if I were frank, I’d say I’ve passed from the sixth to the seventh hell in twenty-four hours. At least, the way lay through paradise.

She gave him one last reassuring smile and left the car, closing the door softly behind her. She had not wanted him to walk her to the door — the memories of the last time he had done so were none too pleasant; she wanted new ones: a memory of turning back to see his sports car speed off into the night, for instance, like dreams rush out into morning sky when we wake. But when she turned to look behind her before crossing the threshold, the car and he were still there.

She was at her front door, when she had become aware of her faulty memory: she had left her keys and her phone in the glove compartment of his car when she had sat behind the wheel in the morning. Thinking that he had probably already left, she tried ringing the doorbell, but Tyene, unsurprisingly, was not at home. Sansa cursed silently, then rushed down the stairs, hoping that, perhaps, by some strange luck, she might catch him. To her surprise, when she exited the apartment building, she discovered the black sports car where she had left it. She approached it, noticing that Jaime looked lost in thought. She knocked lightly on the window, slightly startling him. Immediately, the window rolled down, the door was unlocked.

She opened it, giving him an embarrassed smile.

“I’ve forgotten my keys and phone,” she explained, as she sat down into the seat and reached into the glove compartment, extracting her belongings. “Why are you still here?” she asked by the way.

“Waiting for your to come back for your phone and keys, minx,” he said, but his tired voice did not convince her of the genuineness of his jape. She smiled, all the same.

“Good night, Jaime,” she said softly.

Something in his tired, defeated voice made her bold in her hopeless wish to chase away the clouds from the sky of his mind; she would later explain to herself that she had been sleep deprived; that, having spent a night with him asleep, she had grown too bold, too familiar; that she had been too overcome by the feelings that had jumped and jumped in her heart that whole day; that, really, she could not help it…

He was looking straight ahead, his profile to her; she leaned toward him and placed a quick kiss on his cheek. She dashed from the car and walked away without turning back, her heart fluttering.

However did I dare?

This time, when she had crossed the threshold of the building’s entrance door, she heard the purring of the engine and the screech of tires as the car tore off. She ascended the stairs the second time, entering her flat in a quotidian way that did not reflect her extraordinary day. As soon as she had crossed the threshold, however, mundaneness drowned her, and she was pierced with a terrifying thought:

I haven’t called mother all day!

In a rush, she looked at her phone. Twenty-five missed calls from mother alone, nineteen from father; twenty-three texts from Jon, eleven from Robb; more texts and calls fairly equally distributed between the rest of her family (even a few from Arya), her brothers’ girlfriends, and her King’s Landing friends.

Oh, no!..

It was almost three in the morning. She couldn’t exactly call her parents this late…

She settled for sending a group text to her mother, father, siblings, Ygritte, and Talisa. The rest of the world could wait. Jon, it seemed, however, would not: no sooner had the group text been sent than her phone exploded with ringing. Sighing, she picked up, feeling remorseful that Jon had stayed up waiting for her call when he was so busy at med-school and needed sleep.

“Sansa? Are you all right? Are you hurt? Has something happened?”

Jon was quiet by nature, and his voice rarely sounded much above the gruff, quiet tone she was used to; but now he was frantic, and his voice, less gruff than ordinarily, was filled with more sound than usual.

“Jon, Jon!” she called, frightened almost by his panic. “I’m all right! All right, do you hear me?”

She could hear his release of breath, and when next he spoke, he sounded almost normal.

“What’s with your phone?.. What happened?”

She could not imagine a more difficult question to answer.

“It’s… a friend of mine,” she began uncertainly, “he… something happened, and he needed support; I’ve spent the day with him, but I had forgotten my phone…”

There was a pause; she prayed Jon would not ask more questions. Her prayers went unanswered.

“He?” Jon pounced on the main point of interest like a hawk, his tone a little teasing but still very much concerned. “I don’t remember you ever having many he-friends…”

“I don’t have many, but I do have some…” she said evasively.

“Who’s this he? And how were you supporting him at three in the morning?”

Mother, Maiden, and Crone!

“Oh my gods, Jon! We just had dinner and danced in a square! Nothing happened!”

“Who’s this he?” Jon repeated, somewhat assuaged by her answer.

“You don’t know him,” she lied, praying that her brother, unused to hearing anything but the truth from her would buy into her deceit; and it was not a complete lie — Jon had only seen Jaime once; he didn’t really know him; not knowing him, Jon would never understand why she had spent the entire day — and half the night — with him. And, if she told the whole truth, nothing — nothing! — would prevent Jon from coming down to “check on her,” possibly with Robb in tow, with the intent of telling Jaime Lannister to stay away from their little sister.

“Does ‘he’ have a name?” her brother kept probing.

Jaime did not need angry Stark brothers coming down on him just now. She sighed.

“His name’s Jay,” she answered, using with a smile Tyrion’s nickname for his elder brother.

“Hmmm…” came from Jon, but he was satisfied, for now; she heard him sigh. “You know mother and father are in a frenzy? I don’t know if they were even able to sleep tonight — the whole family’s worried sick, you know that, San? I only got all of them to go to bed by promising I’d keep trying to get in touch with you and that I’d fly out immediately if anything was wrong or I didn’t hear from you by morning…”

She sighed guiltily.

“I’m sorry…”

She heard him smile.

“Well, get ready for tomorrow: you’ve lots of explaining to do to lots of worried people.”

The benefits of a big family…

“I know.”

“All right, then. Sleep well, sis.”

“Good night, Jon. Love you.”

Gods only know how will I ever fall asleep tonight.

Chapter Text

Betrayals wound us with their claws,

Their lacerations hardly heal.

In our pain, we wish for laws

That would tell us whom to clear

 

Of accusations clogging the heart,

And whom to banish from our lives.

We wish we knew right from the start,

Who did us wrong and who spread lies,

 

Who tried their best but failed, alas,

And brought us pain.

Perhaps, somewhere, an atlas

Has, mapped out for our gain,

 

The ways that separate the rotten,

The forgiven, the forgotten.

While Jaime was driving home, the quiet resignation he had felt while standing next to Sansa on Baelor Square after voicing to himself for the first time that he loved her — an inconvenient truth this to a man who was recovering from the betrayal by the only woman he had ever loved even as his heart was rolling to the feet of another — was transforming into something lighter, something that felt more like the sweeter languor of being in love, particularly when feelings are not returned. Over the past twenty years, Jaime had been caught in a strange situation, which combined the gnawing feelings that usually accompany unrequited love — jealousy, rejection, desperation — with the ephemeral and inflaming satisfaction incapable of assuaging longing, characteristic of secret affairs. Being in the liminal state of incomplete rejection was, indeed, something he was accustomed to. Between Sansa and Cersei there was the difference, however, that whereas he could only see his sister for the brief moments they spent having sex, he would see Sansa daily without feeling it in his right to touch her when they were not dancing. Another essential change in his situation concerned the difference between the two women, of which he was that day more fully aware than ever before: Cersei, always ready to exploit and manipulate, had been a heavy presence in his life; Sansa, by contrast, wanted nothing for herself, offering kindness, friendship, solace. Without necessarily formulating to himself these aspects that accompanied the transition of his heart from one woman to another, Jaime felt with certainty that while he may never claim Sansa as his, being in love with her could never bring such acute pain and bitterness as the ones Cersei's nature and betrayals had dealt him. The minx was a sweet creature, who would never intently harm a living soul, which made her a more trustworthy guardian of his heart than the self-serving and obdurate woman who had previously held it. Moreover, Jaime drew considerable comfort from the understanding that Sansa cared for him a little, and that he could count on her friendship as well as her rather constant presence in his life — if nothing more. He felt allayed: his love for his sister had been ripped apart — something he had wished for, fleetingly and unavailingly, in the darkest lows of their long love affair. Loving her had brought him more pain than happiness and had cost him dearly: she had shredded his heart, having first degraded his self-respect and spat on his dignity; she had held him on a short leash, never allowing him to come too close or for too long either to her or their children. The tenderness her face used to inspire, the longing he had felt for her body, the jealousy she used to arouse in him, the pain she had caused him by remaining forever possessive yet unreachable — it was all gone, withered. Like a patient recovering from a prolonged and grave ailment, Jaime felt a new freshness in the air he breathed into his lungs that night as he drove home, still feeling the light touch of Sansa’s lips on his cheek.

To say that Tyrion felt uncomfortable stuck in his brother’s living room with Cersei would have been a serious understatement.

He had been unable to locate Jaime after his elder brother had left his and Margery’s apartment in a fury the night before. Unsurprisingly, Jaime was not picking up his phone. By midday, Tyrion’s concern began to grow, and he went to his brother’s place, where he had at least hoped to find him — likely drunk and incoherent. When he did not, he alerted Varys, who began trying to recover Tywin’s eldest son through his invisible web of informants that spread across the entire city and beyond in all the coordinate directions. Sitting in Jaime’s living room, determined to stay in the place where his brother was most likely to return, Tyrion called him once again. The phone rang somewhere in the flat, and Tyrion discovered it in Jaime’s bedroom, lying on the nightstand in a way that suggested it had not been forgotten — but purposefully abandoned. With a sigh, Tyrion returned to the living room and continued waiting.

He was somewhat surprised when the entrance door opened, and his sister, not her twin, walked in. In a sense, this had been a relief — at least, now Tyrion knew for certain Jaime had not killed her or her lover after their late-night conversation.

"What are you doing here?" the younger brother inquired.

"I could ask you the same," she replied.

Tyrion was in no mood for veiled insinuations.

"I’m waiting for Jaime. I haven’t seen him since yesterday night, when he and I discussed in detail your multiple and various infidelities."

Cersei’s face was disfigured by rage.

"What lies have you told him, imp?"

"No lies," Tyrion answered. “I’ve told him all the truth I knew about your escapades. He did not seem too surprised, considering the… ahem... position in which he had found you before driving to my place. In other words, my presence here is to be expected; yours, on the other hand, is puzzling."

Cersei did not deign him with an answer, and she hardly needed to explain. Tyrion’s questions had been meant to goad her, to hide from her his own quarrel with Jaime — not to extract information. He knew she had come to prevent his brother from leaving her — something Jaime should have done, in Tyrion’s view, at least a decade ago. Cersei’s presence, as always, made her younger brother feel threatened that she would turn Jaime against him — and this evening, notwithstanding her own position vis-à-vis their brother, she still had many chances to do so, Tyrion reflected with bitterness.

She sat down in the living room, likely calculating in the same way Tyrion had that the easiest way to find a wounded lion was to wait for him to crawl back to his den. In the same way Tyrion had, she dialed Jaime’s number and found his phone in his bedroom. It was in moments like these — and there were few of them — when a certain commonality in his and his sister’s manner of thinking and acting manifested itself, when they seemed a little similar in the idiosyncratic way in which relatives resemble each other, that Tyrion felt a strange little ache pulsate deep in his heart.

How did she always hate me?..

Now, they were both waiting for Jaime’s return and, as the hour hand traced time further and further into the evening, their silence grew heavier. Tyrion contacted Varys several more times, but the spider master was unable to tell him any news, saying only that Jaime was certainly not at a police station, in a hospital, or in a morgue. This hardly served to assuage Tyrion’s concern: his elder brother — in a state that Tyrion had feared since the idea of Jaime’s separation from Cersei under circumstances such as these had first arisen in his mind — was out there somewhere; probably drunk; definitely miserable; and, since no one had seen him, likely alone.

It was night, and Tyrion considered calling Tywin. Margery, who had checked all the locations where Jaime could have gone, had not found him either. If his eldest son had disappeared, father had the right to know. Still, Tyrion waited, pushed by intuition to prolong the moment of expectation instead of admitting that Jaime was missing. If anything happened to his brother because of Cersei, Tyrion swore to himself that he would kill her. He would strangle her with every ounce of strength his small but oddly tough hands possessed.

Then, came the news that increased the tension in Jaime’s living room ten-fold. Varys called Tyrion.

“My friend, I don’t know if there’s any credibility to these rumors,” the spider began in a voice that was tense, serious, concerned; a voice that announced calamity, “but some of my little birds are reporting that they’ve seen Jaime jump off the Red Keep tower today afternoon.”

Tyrion's legs, which were never as stable as he would have liked, gave out under him and he sat — or, rather, fell — onto the soft carpet with the measured grace of a sack of potatoes.

“What?” he rasped, his voice not his own.

Varys knew he was not asking for repetition but for elaboration.

“Like I said, I don’t know if these rumors are true — they sound absurd, grotesque to me. Your brother isn’t the sort of man to kill himself, I’ve always thought… Besides, if he did kill himself, his body would have been recovered by now, and I would have known — but it hasn’t. So, I’m afraid there’s more waiting ahead, my friend. I considered withholding these rumors from you, but it’s my policy to convey what I know to those whom I’ve promised my help.”

Tyrion nodded, not realizing that Varys could not possibly see his gesture. One thought, brief and full or terror was looping in his mind.

No. Please gods, no.

Then, a childhood memory arose before him with the same incongruity as a butterfly flying above the stinking rot of a swamp: Jaime jumping off the Red Keep tower; jumping — not toward the ground, but into the sea. He clung at his phone, madly, his voice tense, urgent:

“Where did he jump?”

“How do you mean?”

“Your little birds, do they say he jumped to the ground or into the sea?”

“I’ll have to check…” Varys said, and Tyrion listened to the silence and shuffling on the other end of the line with the intensity that was splitting his head. He noticed Cersei lean in, his sister’s face, for once, looking agitated, her eyes huge, as if with their extended surface area, they could intake more information.

“Tyrion?” Varys called his attention.

“Yes! I’m still here!..”

“They say he jumped into the sea.”

Immediately, the tension rolled away somewhat from both Lannister siblings.

“Thank you, Varys,” Tyrion said, “please keep me informed.”

“I will.”

They hung up. Brother and sister exchanged glances, which were not devoid of concern; these glances seemed to say:

He used to jump all the time when we were children… But now, if he’s not thinking clearly, if he’s drunk or high… Could he still have drowned?

Their pride and mutual animosity was too great, however, for either of them to speak — either to voice their concerns or to quiet each other’s fears. They settled into mute waiting again. The merciless clock kept ticking; the silence kept swelling like a bruise; still they waited. Images of past that seemed happy and of a future that looked like a string of horrors kept flashing before their eyes. Child Jaime, laughing Jaime… And Jaime, lifeless, his body disfigured like that of any other drowned man.

Suddenly, the quiet was cut through by the muffled noise of footsteps, unmistakably originated by Jaime’s easy, swift gait, and the sound of whistling reached them. It was this last sound that tore through the silence with particularly acute ghastliness. Like hysterical laughter at a funeral, this gay noise was disturbing and unsettling at a time when they had expected pain, anger, and rage from him, if he was still alive; despair from their own hearts, if he had died.

Jaime rarely whistled. In fact, Tyrion had not heard the melodic bird sound escape past his brother’s lips since Aerys had died. The tune — the Rains of Castamere, their family’s anthem, inherited from the feudal lords of the distant past — sounded just as it had the last time Jaime had whistled it: playful, without a care, as if the song did not tell of death and decimation. The footsteps reached the door, the key clicked in the lock, the whistling never ceasing; they braced themselves for seeing him, not knowing what to prepare themselves for.

Jaime entered. Tyrion’s eyes immediately scanned his body for bruises, blood, signs of injury. Nothing: he was recently shaven, his clean hair shone in the soft light of the lamps, his entire appearance free of any signs that would speak to an overconsumption of alcohol; he had changed his clothes from the ones he had worn the night before. More stunning than Jaime’s appearance, which betrayed nothing out of the ordinary, was his face. There was no frown, his eyes were not bloodshot; more than that, an expression of peace, almost of serenity, illuminated his features.

Drunk? thought Cersei before she, too, recognized that Jaime looked completely sober.

Drugs? thought Tyrion, but he knew instinctively that there was no drug so powerful or available in sufficient quantities to render his brother thus after last night.

Jaime threw his keys onto the bar with the habitually careless gesture. Either he was too lost in his thoughts, or his appearance, so ordinary in what his siblings thought a moment of dire crisis, had made them too still, but he had not noticed them until he entered the living room. He raised his eyebrows in surprise at discovering his guests. Tyrion did not miss the way his brother’s eyes narrowed.

"By the Crone," Jaime said, and his voice, like the rest of him, was extraordinary in its very casualness, its unchanged sound of everyday Jaime, except for an evil note that rang amidst his words, "the whole family is here. Is father coming as well? What’s the occasion?"

Tyrion was acutely aware of the sarcasm that laced his brother’s words.

"You weren’t answering your phone," he informed Jaime hesitantly, afraid of what his own sentence was.

Jaime looked at their sister and a smirk — a smirk! Tyrion could not believe it — whizzed across his lips:

"And with good reason."

"Jaime," Cersei began, and he looked at her with feigned naïveté and mock interest. "What you saw yesterday — ” he cut her off, waving his hand dismissively:

"Oh, I know, I know: you were just doing yoga. Truly, sister-dearest, no need to explain."

Tyrion — caught between hesitant joy at Jaime’s unperturbed, derisive words and a nagging fear that, yet again, his brother would forgive her — anxiously watched the exchange.

Cersei came as close to her lover as she could. Jaime watched her with a rueful yet mocking smile. It was this smile that allowed Tyrion to slowly release his breath: he saw that his brother’s eyes had remained cold and unresponsive to Cersei’s presence, as if a barrier had emerged between Jaime’s irises and his sister’s once hypnotic gaze.

"Jaime," she purred, "why don’t you ask Tyrion to leave, so we can talk?" and Tyrion knew that she, too, had seen it — this indifference in her lover’s eyes.

"You’re right," Jaime said in a dangerous tone, and for a moment Tyrion’s heart felt like it had tried gulping down blood but came up empty. "One of you needs to leave," Jaime continued, his face and voice betraying no emotion, "but it isn’t Tyrion — it’s you."

With these words, he threw her over his shoulder, a movement in which there was not a hint of consideration or playfulness. He picked up her bag with his free hand and carried them both to the door. He threw her bag to the floor near the sill — an action she would have protested against, if, between his astonishing words and perturbing actions, she had found the power of speech. He opened the front door. With the same negligence — an inconsiderate roughness — that had characterized his movements before and that seemed akin to scorn, he flung her to her feet on the other side of threshold; she staggered in her heels. Picking up her bag, he went through its contents unceremoniously and extracted her keys to his apartment, which he sent flying over his shoulder without looking: they landed onto the bar next to his own pair; he threw the purse back to her. It hit her in the chest but, still, she barely caught it. Her disoriented cry of "Jaime!" was cut off by the door he shut in her face.

As calmly as if he had just discarded laundry, Jaime returned to the living room. He poured a glass of whiskey for Tyrion — who was watching him in dumb awe, half wondering if he was about to receive the same treatment as their sister — and some scotch for himself before sitting down on the sofa next to his younger brother. He rested his head on the pillows of the headrest and closed his eyes. It was the tired way in which he had done so that showed Tyrion his brother was not as unperturbed as he appeared. They sipped their drinks — and the silence — for a few moments. Tyrion still felt uncertain of the future, fearful even, of Jaime’s next actions. After all, he himself was not exactly in his good graces. Still, a small hope animated him: he had not been thrown out, like their sister; he had been offered a drink, if not a word of greeting. It was clear to him that whatever powerful bond had once tied Jaime to his twin had finally been broken, but theirs, the bond of brothers, seemed to have magically withstood the test of old lies, even if it was the worse for wear. Tyrion listened to his heart’s hesitant song of joy even as he still feared Jaime had not forgiven him. Then, he asked with a gentleness reserved for ill children:

"Where have you been, Jay?”

Jaime’s eyes remained closed, but the ghost of a small smile animated his lips. He said only two words, but, to Tyrion, they sounded more glorious than any hallelujah:

"With Sansa."

I wonder if Sparkle is to thank for my not having been thrown out with Cersei, Tyrion mused.

He had discerned Jaime’s taciturnity and was wary of breaking the silence, so he stayed quiet for some more minutes; then, his curiosity got the better of him:

“Did you run into each other?”

Tyrion’s voice, usually boisterous and filled with irony, was gentle, even hesitant, now that his brother thought him a traitor.

“You could say that,” answered Jaime.

Jaime rarely dodged his brother’s questions with such coldness — he was far more prone to rage or to tell Tyrion outright that he had no wish of satisfying his probing. Tyrion bit his tongue and stayed quiet, gnawing at his lower lip as if to force his mouth shut. The guilt he had felt over the years because of his silence and of the pain Jaime received from being so fully in their sister’s power mingled with the joy at seeing that bond broken; he was all the more despondent that this moment, which he had awaited for years and had imbued with so many happy dreams, had been accompanied by a serious setback in his relationship with Jaime — something he had never dreamt would occur. Jaime’s love had been the only thing Tyrion had ever come close to taking for granted, no matter how much he treasured it, in that he thought it the only love that would never be taken away from him. As if sensing penitence in his younger brother’s muteness, Jaime spoke in a voice that sounded irate with himself.

“She found me drunk at the LBCB and forced a taxi driver to help her drag me to her flat — you know, Tyene and she live nearby there.” Tyrion nodded, not fulling believing his ears. Could it really be this fortunate a coincidence? “Anyway,” Jaime continued, his voice harsh in his brother’s presence, “she poured some of her magical Northern herbs down my throat, sparing me a considerable hangover.”

This answer had been laconic enough, but it was better than silence, and it offered Tyrion a hope that his brother might not deprive him of friendship altogether. The younger Lannister let the pause hang in the air a little while; the brothers sipped their drinks. Then,

“What is it I hear about you jumping off the Red Keep Tower?” he asked.

Jaime snorted.

“That’s her doing,” was all he said by way of response.

This was too much for Tyrion to be able to contain his boundless curiosity.

Sansa jumped off the Red Keep Tower?!” he exclaimed.

That got a chuckle out of his brother.

“What do you suppose? That I pushed her? The fool jumped following some bizarre inclination of her own — ”

“Did that inclination by any chance arise out of stories about how you used to jump as a child?” Tyrion asked, unable to prevent some teasing intonations from creeping into his voice.

Jaime sounded annoyed.

“If Varys has been reporting to you on our every conversation, why do you ask me questions?”

Tyrion protested his innocence, sharing by the way that Varys had not been able to locate Jaime the entire day. This mollified his elder brother a little.

“How did you know, then? That I’d told her about my jumping?..” he asked.

Tyrion smiled a gentle smile devoid of mockery — a rarity for him, even with his elder brother.

“That girl would probably jump into fire to prove her worth to you — just remember your master-class… If she jumped off that tower, she did it to impress you.”

Jaime rolled his eyes, but Tyrion suspected that his statement had not displeased him. Perhaps, his brother had truly been appeased by that remark, because the next time Jaime spoke, he did so voluntarily, without being interrogated.

“We ran into Arthur,” he said with a small smile. “We were still wet from head to foot…” he chuckled, and Tyrion, hesitantly, joined him in his mirth.

“What did he say?” the younger brother asked.

“He asked, ‘why are you wet?’ ” Jaime answered humorously, and they laughed. It was characteristic of Arthur to begin by establishing the basic facts: short questions was how he had always trained Jaime, demanding that the pupil analyze his own mistakes. But the brothers’ laughter did not linger, nor was it full of undarkened joy and camaraderie to the same extent as before — it was but an ember that died out after a few moments, where bright fires had once burned. They grew silent again. Sansa’s words echoed in Jaime’s ears.

… I know, because it cannot be otherwise, that Tyrion, whatever mistakes he’s made, never meant to hurt you… The least you can do is hear him out… You will regret losing your brother, even if you think now that he deserves your anger…

Promise you’ll give him a chance to explain.

He had promised. He did not know, however, if forgiving Tyrion, forgiving him completely, was in his power. It seemed to him that something had broken deep in his soul the moment he had realized his brother had known — and kept silent… It was as though he had believed in a magic ring of trust that bounded them together, and the realization of Tyrion’s betrayal had broken that ring, turning its shining gold to dust. He felt immeasurably tired.

“Why did you not tell me, Tyrion?” he asked.

It seemed that this question had broken a dam that kept his younger brother’s feelings bottled up inside him in true Lannister fashion. The hours of agitation produced by the idea that he had lost his elder brother’s friendship, the trust of his golden knight and protector, and the even more terrible hours that followed when he suspected that Jaime had died, then the relief of seeing his brother alive and well (and not being shown the door), had been too much for Tyrion to bear. He began speaking, and it was as if a torrent ripped through him. He told Jaime of the shock and the impotent rage he had lived through when, as a young teenager, he had first discovered Cersei’s infidelity; how the fear that his sister would be able to convince Jaime that Tyrion had slandered her had kept him from telling the truth. Losing his elder brother was a risk too great for Tyrion to gamble with. He told Jaime how he had wanted to believe that this had been a mistake on Cersei’s part, a lapse of judgement she would come to regret and never repeat; how, when he had realized that it was a sign of her nature rather than a youthful blunder, he had waited for the right moment to speak up, but it never came. He confessed that he had feared Jaime’s reaction and that, if he served to break the bond between the young lovers, his elder brother might come to associate the messenger with the disaster and sever all ties with both siblings. He told how, with years, he began to not only fear Jaime’s reaction to the truth but also to fret over how to explain his own long silence. Then, after Aerys and everything that was happening with the company, Tyrion admitted, he could not bear to add another woe to Jaime’s many burdens. He related that, when Cersei had married Robert, he had hoped Jaime would leave her — and there would be no need for painful revelations.

“I didn’t want to hurt you…” he kept saying.

He acknowledged that, when Myrcella had been born, and then Tommen, he could not bring himself to destroy a family that had come into existence — imperfect as it was — and hoped that, perhaps, the birth of her children might change Cersei’s ways. He could not imagine breaking the fragile happiness Jaime had found in the smiling eyes of his newborn children. Tyrion admitted that, later, when the last hope for Cersei’s self-reformation had left him, but he was forced to acknowledge that, for twenty years, Jaime had not strayed from her, he had resigned himself to the notion that, tel quel, Cersei could be Jaime’s one true love, and who was he to shatter his brother’s illusions? Moreover, he confessed that his partiality to Jaime and his own potent dislike of their sister had sometimes made him wonder if, indeed, he was an objective judge.

Over the outpouring of this long-drawn-out confession, several aspects, reiterated, emerged with great clarity. A prisoner of his teenage fear, Tyrion had become unwillingly complicit in his sister’s deception of their brother, and he feared Jaime’s judgment. Breaking his brother’s heart was a blow he had not found it in himself to deal, and, again, fear proved a powerful obstacle to truth-telling, for he was in terror of being unable to prevent Jaime from taking a shortcut to self-destruction. Another theme emerged as well from this account: knowing that Jaime had stayed in love with the same woman for twenty years, notwithstanding all the others he had met (coincidentally, as well as through the efforts of their father and Tyrion himself), Tyrion had realized that, having no one with whom to replace their sister would make Jaime ever the more despondent upon learning the truth of her deceptions. It came down to this: Tyrion feared losing Jaime — whether he lost his trust or whether his elder brother was brought low by a broken-heart; so, he decided that, all in all, Jaime was better off being deceived than he would have been knowing the truth, hoping all the while that an external event would rupture the twins’ bond. All this, and more besides, sparing neither his own pride nor Jaime’s feelings, leaving no truth untold and pronouncing his own faults with a harsh judgement borne out of guilt and fear, Tyrion related to his brother. When he finished, he was dismayed to realize he had tears in his eyes.

“I’m greatly to blame, Jaime,” he finished his admissions, his throat constricted when he spoke, “and I… I deserve your anger and distrust… But… I… I love you,” his voice broke on the last words, “and if I have to lose my brother, believe me, it will be a thing much harsher than having been born a motherless dwarf.”

He looked to Jaime, something he had feared to do throughout his speech, which he had delivered while looking at the fabric of the couch. Jaime’s face displayed no anger or resentment, not even accusation. Instead, in his brother’s features, Tyrion found weariness and sympathy — the look of affection and compassion that Jaime so often wore; this only increased Tyrion’s enormous feeling of contrition.
“I’m so very sorry,” he mumbled.

There was a small pose. Then, his elder brother said:

“I know,” and there was silence again.

Tyrion knew that the time for the sentence had come; he waited, penitent, wishing with the passionate remorse of a child that he may be forgiven. But his brother remained silent, looking in front of himself with empty eyes, which gave Tyrion the same shudder they had brought Sansa. Tyrion waited. It seemed that waiting was his lot that grim day. He waited. Then, he could wait no more.

“Can you forgive me?” he questioned and discovered that his voice was unsteady and hoarse. It was Tyrion’s great mistake; his question unleashed the demons that his confession had brought out in his brother but which, before his ill-timed inquiry, had been tamed by his honesty and self-denunciation.

Jaime looked at him with a strange, unsettling half-smile.

“I promised Sansa I would hear you out,” he said, “and I did.” He paused, then spit out: “I didn’t promise her to forgive you.”

When the ax of the guillotine falls down onto the neck of its victim, there is a moment when the cord suspending the blade seems to snap. When he was listening to the words delivered by his brother in a quiet tone, Tyrion felt that, in his heart, strings had snapped just like the chord of the guillotine does as the blade submits to gravity.

Tyrion nodded his understanding of this blow. He got up unsteadily, his stunted legs, which had fallen asleep while he had sat in the same position, shakier than ever, especially in a moment when their owner’s feelings were too devastating to allow thoughts of balance. Swaying like a drunk man, he began making his way around the couch, toward the door, feeling as though he had been gutted, and his soul pulled out roughly along with his intestines. He was passing his brother when Jaime’s arm shot out, and his fingers closed firmly around Tyrion’s forearm, halting his progress.

Jaime was angered and pained by the truths Tyrion had revealed to him, but the peacefulness he had felt earlier in the night had alleviated his rage. The resentment he felt was strong, nevertheless, particularly because, with his silence, Tyrion had taken away Jaime’s choice in a matter so central to his — not Tyrion’s — life. The elder brother’s words did not reflect the truth, nonetheless: he could never imagine throwing Tyrion out the way he had done Cersei, prevented from doing so by love and a sense of justice, but most of all by the dedication to protecting his younger sibling. His words had the undignified lack of restraint, which, for the first time in his life, had been meant to hurt Tyrion, just as Tyrion had hurt him. Jaime might not have been able to withhold his forgiveness — but, temporarily, he was free to inflict pain. Even in the dark abyss of swirling demons that Jaime’s mind had become, however, the sight of his little brother, swaying unsteadily on his stunted legs, his face the image of remorse, defeat, and utter misery reached Jaime’s poisoned heart, which was spasming in a seizure of anger and ache. Amidst the oblivion of agony, the most painful and enraging feeling was love and compassion that would not be subdued. He grasped at his brother’s arm.

Tyrion looked up at his brother, half-wondering if Jaime meant to strike him. In this whirlwind of sorrow and the unimaginable, all could happen. The worst already had — why not the next worst thing? He had never felt so defeated, so deprived of life’s sustenance, of hope. Never, in a life that had showed him much misery and hatred, had he known such absolute despair and such complete desolation; never had he known himself to be so forlorn. This was the end; the end of the only true, good, happy attachment he had cherished all his life; the one that had been, for most of his existence, the sole source of his happiness. In the privacy of his mind, he had thought he had known bleakness — he knew now that he had not dreamt of what bleakness really was. He looked to his brother, incongruously wishing for his consolation in this unbound torment, like he had always wished for him whenever life presented him with her unsavory side. Jaime spoke, without releasing his brother’s forearm.

“I did not promise her I would forgive you,” he repeated, and Tyrion Lannister flinched — flinched at words for the first time in his life. Jaime tugged at him, bringing him closer to himself and spoke in a tone full of rancor: “I don’t have to forgive you! Why should I?” His jaw muscles flexed, and for some reason his mother’s gentle face flashed before him. “Answer me! Why should I forgive you? Hmmm?”

Tyrion could not speak; he could barely constrain himself from shaking or letting tears — a sign of weakness unworthy of his family name — to fall from his eyes like spring hail.

You protected me all my life. You loved me all my life. I betrayed you. You owe me nothing.

Jaime shook him a little, not too forcefully, the physical manifestation of his acrimony thoroughly controlled. The elder brother’s eyes searched his sibling’s face for some moments, as if Jaime was deciding whether he could withstand seeing his brother in pain as a contemptible antidote to his own misery. Then, he spoke, his voice quiet, as it sometimes was when passions reigned him. “I forgive you because you’re my brother; because I’ve cared for you all my life and I’ll never stop. I forgive you because… you’re all I have.” He released his forearm as abruptly as he had taken hold of him. As he did, he was demobilized, strength leaving him, it seemed, and he closed his eyes. He repeated in a voice so low, it could have been a whisper: “You’re all I have.”

To Tyrion, who had thought a moment before he had lost his brother forever, these words brought a joy and a relief so magnificent in its scope, he felt as light as if he were levitating. Unafraid of his brother’s volatile mood, he embraced him, strangling Jaime’s neck with his short arms — a lock he had no intention of easing regardless of what brutal efforts his brother would make to free himself. Tyrion released some shaky breaths; he had hurt Jaime, he knew, and he would have to restore his brother’s full trust, but he had not lost him, and this, in that moment, was all that mattered. For a few moments, Jaime remained still as a corpse, but then the strong arms of the elder brother wrapped themselves around the younger’s smaller body. Like Tyrion, in the moment when pain dominated, Jaime stood in need of his brother.

“I never meant to betray you,” Tyrion mumbled into his neck.

“I know,” the sound of his brother’s consoling voice was just as soothing as it had always been. Jaime had proved powerless to watch the pain he had inflicted.

“I just didn’t know what to do…”

Jaime unlocked Tyrion’s hands from around his neck and looked him in the eye. The demons had dissipated, there was a semblance of quiet again in his soul.

“I know, Tyrion, I know.”

They sat next to each other in silence for a few minutes, assimilating the immediate past, forgiving — themselves, each other.

“There’s nothing I would not forgive you,” Jaime said quietly. “Nothing. You will always be my brother.”

There was silence. Then,

“I promise, there will never be need to forgive me again,” the younger vowed. The elder smiled — the first genuine smile since he had crossed his own threshold.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Tyrion,” he said and ruffled his brother’s hair lazily. Tyrion smiled.

After momentous emotional cataclysms, the restoration of peace is accompanied by the return of the quotidian, which appears strange when it follows dire crises. Jaime reached for the glasses that had been abandoned by the brothers in the midst of their argument; he extended Tyrion’s to him.

“What shall we drink to?” he asked, and the question sounded bizarre in a place that had just witnessed penitence and despair, anger and forgiveness; pain.

“How about us? The Lannister brothers?” Tyrion asked hesitantly, hopefully.

Jaime smiled.

“To Lannister brothers,” he agreed.

They clinked their glasses.

It’s just us, now.

They talked for much longer that night. Their toast had naturally led to reminiscences of their childhoods, their youth — the past that they shared a formidable cure to the conflict they had overcome. There is little that tastes so sweet in life as remembering the past to help heal wounds in the present. Remembering what made them who they were, what had bound them together for the duration of their lifetimes — the pain and the happiness — soothed their strained nerves, their lacerated pride, their hurt feelings, and gave them hope. Their ballet company — that powerful entity they had built together, sweated for together, defended together — was the natural direction of their memory lane. Recollections of that company’s past brought thoughts of its future and, with it, considerations of more practical nature. They came to speak of The Fountain of Tears, discussing mundane details of the premiere’s organization that neither could have fathomed they would mention that night. Mundanity could be a cure for tragedy. Talk of their company — no matter how boring or insignificant were the matters they discussed — filled them with the joined spirit that had always animated them when they discussed it together, establishing a semblance of peace over the surface of their beings even as, in the subconscious depths, both were still shattered by how easily they could have separated that night and how close an escape they had made from becoming bruised strangers. Amidst their deliberations, they realized with some surprise that it was nearly morning. Belatedly, Tyrion texted Margery that Jaime was all right and that he himself would stay over. She must have intuited something behind these simple words, because she did not ask questions, only messaging her hearty approval by means of a smiling emoji and a thumbs up. It was not uncommon for Tyrion to sleep over at his brother’s place, particularly before Margery had entered his life, and he settled easily in the guest room that had so often served him. The brothers said nothing but the too quotidian “good night,” which, verbally at least, conveyed none of the reprieve their reconciliation had brought them, even though the two simple words, thrown over the shoulder with true Lannister bravado, carried the feeling of recovery. It was nearly dawn, when Tyrion came to stand at the threshold of Jaime’s room, watching his exhausted brother sleep like he had done when he was too little to cause pain or to understand what it meant to keep that dearest and most precious thing one had nearly lost.

Chapter Text

Darling, it’s very strange —

I seem to have swallowed some sunlight.

You may think me deranged,

And, perhaps, you are right.

 

I was walking down the street,

When I thought I had seen you;

I smiled at my feet

And to meet you I flew.

 

When to greet you I opened my mouth,

One of sun’s rays I’ve swallowed.

How else can I explain the joy uncouth

I felt when I saw that you smiled?

The better part of the weekend remaining to Sansa was spent in explaining to her numerous family members (beginning, via RavenTime, with her mother and father accompanied by Arya, Bran, and even a frowning Rickon) why she had gone missing the day before. To them all, she kept repeating the same story she had half-invented for Jon’s benefit on the eve: a friend of hers, Jay, had been going through a rough patch, and she had spent the day with him, trying to cheer him up. What rough patch? No, not drugs… Heartbreak, more like. What they were doing? Sure, she could tell… (She briefly narrated their day, taking care not to mention jumping off Red Keep Tower.) No, they were not involved, they were just friends. No, she was not in love with him (the biggest lie of all). No, they did not know him. Yes, he was of good family. Yes, she did know his family, they were great. His last name?.. It was her father’s question, and it had caught her completely off-guard; unable to squeeze an acceptable half-truth from her brain, which by then had been exhausted by two hours of cautious explanations, she lied straight away, saying they wouldn’t know his family name either. Mostly thanks to the eighteen years in which she had never lied, it all had gone fairly smoothly, even her call to Robb and Talisa, until she had called Ygritte — the last call to her family, the one she had dreaded more than others and which she made in the afternoon, having spent the morning in long-drawn conversations with everyone else. Ygritte reminded Sansa of Margery and Ellaria — deprived of the naiveté that was so strongly ingrained in the rest of her family (except for Arya, who, luckily, cared fairly little if Sansa went missing for a day so long as her elder sister had not disappeared for any nefarious reason). Ygritte barely let Sansa sell her story:

“And ‘Jay’ doesn’t happen to be Jaime Lannister’s nickname, ay?” asked she in a sly tone. Sansa turned cold from head to foot.

HOW?.. moaned her mind, How did she know?!

“Ummm… I… I mean…”

Dammit! After so many hours of flawless dodging and having pacified her whole family, she had been blindsided and tongue-twisted by this simple enough question!

“Ah… Emmm… I mean… No!..” The negation came out sounding more like a question. Ygritte squealed in delight on the other end of the line.

“Awww! Girl! Are you finally fucking him?” she inquired excitedly; before Sansa could open her mouth to protest, Yrgitte added, “Don’t worry: Jon isn’t here, so you can spill all your dirty lion secrets! I’ve been waiting and waiting for a man to come along and ravish you, but this is even better than anything I could have hoped for just a year ago! How’s he in the sack?.. My gods, with the flexibility of two ballet dancers, what you two couldn’t have been doing!..”

Before Ygritte could drown in her fantasies of her friend shagging Jaime Lannister, and Sansa could combust from the flaming blush that had invaded her entire upper body, the younger girl interrupted:

“Oh. My. Gods. Ygritte! I am not sleeping with Jaime Lannister! How many times do I have to repeat this?!”

Ygritte gave a groan of disappointment, but quickly recovered her optimism.

“But he is the mysterious Jay, isn’t he?”

Sansa’s blush deepened.

“Yes,” she answered in a quiet voice that was full of misery at having been so easily caught in a lie. “Ygritte, I swear, there’s nothing between us! Please, please, please promise you won’t tell anyone!”

“I promise, girl, I promise,” Ygritte reassured her. “You know I’ve got your back — we redheads gotta stick together… Remember how I never breathed a word to anyone about your tryouts for the Lannisters’ company? Well, I won’t say anything now, either. If I thought you were in trouble, I wouldn’t have promised to keep quiet and I would have ratted you out immediately… But I saw the way that man looks at you on that video, and I’m too good a friend to tell on you when you are in that kind of trouble…”

Sansa groaned.

“My gods, Ygritte, please get your head out of this fantastical gutter! Jaime Lannister is a friend: he’s in love with another woman, a bitch, really, who’s just broken his heart into a million little pieces — ”

“Owww… Sansa! What language!” teased Ygritte, “And pray tell: why is it he came to you when his heart got broken? You aren’t his mother — I think even Targaryens never looked at their mothers this way,” she added.

“It’s a long story, but he didn’t come to me,” Sansa argued, telling her heart to ignore her friend’s words of folly and to stop skipping beats in that stupid manner. “We… ran into each other… Kind of…”

“Uh-huh…” was all Ygritte said. “Ring me up when you ‘kind of run into each other’ in a Lannister-size bed — I’ll want details!”

Before Sansa could recover from the bomb her friend had detonated in her brain, Ygritte laughed and hung up.

Mother, Maiden, and Crone. How the fuck did Ygritte always — always! — get to the underbelly of things? And why — why?!.. — did she always have to make everything about sex?!

Sansa sighed. Her family had been dealt with — even Ygritte. The worst was far from over, however: it was time to call her King’s Landing friends. Since morning, she had been bombarded by texts from Margery, who demanded to know in details how Sansa had spent her day with Jaime, and threatening to tell Ellaria and Tyene if Sansa did not come clean to her right away. In the style of a true gangster, Margery had even set her a deadline: Sansa had to “spill the beans” by midnight or be subjected to a catechism by all three of her female friends.

The Crone only knows how Marge learned about all that already!

She would have to confess to Margery, it seemed. To the rest of her concerned King’s Landing friends, she lied that her phone’s battery had died, and she had not noticed. She called them first, leaving the final — and, by far, the worst — interrogation for last.

Tyrion had lost most of his penitent behavior by morning, Jaime thought, because his brother had dragged him to his and Margery’s place for breakfast with the stubborn determination of a mule. Jaime did not like intruding into his brother’s life with Margery, particularly at a time so familial as the morning hours just before they turn to noon, but Tyrion had been adamant and would hear none of Jaime’s excuses. The elder brother wondered if, partially, this determination of Tyrion’s had not been brought on by his younger brother’s unwillingness to leave him alone — something he thought he had sensed in Sansa the day before, as well. This annoyed him more than it touched him: he was not a child or a lunatic who had to be watched. Nevertheless, to breakfast he was dragged.

“So…” Margery was saying to him as she poured coffee, “you’ve caused quite a fright yesterday…”

Jaime attempted to ignore her. Margery would not be ignored. Following her engagement to his brother, she had slipped from the role of a friendly colleague she had previously been content to occupy into that of a nagging sister-in-law.

“I said, Jaime, you’ve caused quite a fright yesterday,” she repeated.

He looked at her with annoyance.

“I heard you the first time,” he grumbled.

“And?..”

“If I’m surrounded by hens with dependency issues, who cannot spend a day without me, it isn’t my problem,” he stated.

“First of all: yes, it is. Second, I’d like to see exactly in what ways you would have turned King’s Landing on its head, if Tyrion disappeared like that…” she countered, smiling in a sly way that he found annoying beyond any description. Tyrion’s marriage might be a good thing for Tyrion, but, Jaime reflected, it would prove a test to his own endurance of being patronized. She wasn’t his mother.

“That’s different: I’m the elder brother, it’s my day-job to worry about this rascal.”

Margery laughed.

“Cute — I’ll admit as much. So… how did you spend your mysterious day?”

Jaime looked up to heavens, wondering why he had not used the advantage of his long legs to simply run away from his brother’s considerate invitation and his utterly unbearable fiancée.

“Apparently,” Tyrion interposed with sadistic pleasure, “Jaime spent yesterday with Sansa…”

If looks could kill, Tyrion would have been a dead man long before he had finished that sentence. Margery was comical in her astonishment:

“What?! He did?.. Oh!” she paused, chewing on her surprise, then grinned: “How did that come about?”

Jaime took refuge in a phenomenal imitation of anger — all the more credible because he was exasperated; besides, after last evening, he felt entitled to some flashes of temper. He turned to Tyrion.

“Remember how I forgave you yesterday for lying to me about Cersei?” he asked him, “Well, that forgiveness has a twenty-four-hour reversal policy, and your fiancée here is seriously making me consider taking it back,” he barked.

Tyrion could only stare at him in a mixture of incomprehension of his dark humor and a fear of the possible reality behind the warning. Seeing her lover’s concern, Margery bit her cheek to prevent herself from giggling in pleasure.

Touchy, are we?

She caught Tyrion’s pleading eyes, which silently begged her not to aggravate his brother, and she nodded her ascent. She estimated she would have months — years, perhaps, if he remained so teasable after he and Sansa got together — in which to pester her brother-in-law. Margery liked that her engagement to Tyrion had placed her in a position of greater power in relation to Jaime Lannister, who had long bossed her around in his capacity as LBC choreographer. Besides, she would get the whole truth out of Sansa, who was a far gentler and easily interrogated creature than a grumbling lion. While the brothers settled into a discussion of administrative aspects that were boring enough to make her teeth ache, she texted her friend.

Text from Margery Tyrell to Sansa Stark:

So… I hear you and Jaime went out yesterday… For like… The WHOLE day… What’s up with that? ;)

Text from Margery Tyrell to Sansa Stark:

Oh, and if you refuse to tell me, I’ll tell Ellaria AND Tyene, and we’ll question you in full force!

Text from Margery Tyrell to Sansa Stark:

You have until midnight to spill the beans! ;P Love ya!

Varys was walking up the Lannister mansion’s stairs with the usual feeling of dim irritation: yes, grandiosity was useful, but did consideration for guests mean nothing at all to the powerful of this world — only mere showmanship? Even so, the stairs would have been impressive enough if they were half what they were… Perhaps, his dietician was right, and it was time to lose a few pounds…

His birds had been in utter confusion all night: Jaime Lannister had been seen here, Jaime Lannister had been seen there, and here, and there, and here, and there, until the Spider felt like ripping apart his web and his own head along with it. The first news — of Tyrion’s reckless sibling jumping off the Red Keep Tower — had caused the usually emotionless Spider-master to worry for his friend, whose affection for his elder brother knew no bounds. The next thing Varys had been told was that Jaime Lannister had been seen entering his own apartment, so the Spider had reckoned there was no need to inform Tyrion, who was waiting inside said apartment. It was following this report that the gates of an informational hell had broken down, and the web became agitated with the diverse reports concerning Jaime Lannister’s long day. The diversity of his whereabouts was not what had propelled Varys to ascend the long staircase of the Lannister mansion to be greeted by Tywin’s creepy lackey; it was the reports — doubtless due to their number and multitude of sources — of Jaime’s companion that had caused the Spider to seek out the Old Lion.

“What do you mean, ‘there wasn’t time?’ ”

Tyrion winced; his father blasted on the other end of the line.

“Why didn’t you make time to at least call me, if you absolutely couldn’t come — which I’ll take leave to doubt! Couldn’t you tell me sooner that Jaime’s spending days with Sansa Stark?”

“One day,” Tyrion attempted, “they’ve spent one day together.”

“Well, who cares if it’s just one day?! It’s a whole day, nonetheless! Why do I have to learn these details about my son’s life from Varys?! I demand you pay me a visit today!..” There was a pause. “Well,” father seemed to have regained his composure, “and how’s Margery doing? What does she think about a lovely wedding at Casterly Rock?..”

It took nearly forty minutes of diplomatically explaining that Margery was considering all her options for the wedding (and multiple reiterations of his promise to come by in the evening), before his father gave Tyrion leave to go.

It was mid-afternoon. Jaime had utterly refused to spend the rest of the day with Tyrion and Margery, exclaiming that he would not be watched like a suicidal madman, and left, saying he still needed to work out some movements for the next part of the ballet they were going to take on in the upcoming weeks. After the emotional rollercoaster of the previous day, Tyrion had been too spent to do more than collapse onto the couch; Margery came to lie next to him, putting her head on his chest with the grace and contentment of a cat.
“You know,” she said when Tyrion had hung up after his call with Tywin, “we could make the official engagement announcement at Casterly Rock… Do you think your father would be pleased?”

“He would be, I’m sure…” he replied, thinking her very generous to show his father such consideration, “Only he would still demand we get married there as well — which is something you shouldn’t take into consideration!..” he added quickly.

Margery laughed.
“I rather like his idea of two wedding ceremonies,” she said with a smile in her voice.
Tyrion twisted his neck to look her in the eye.
“Really?” he asked with skepticism.

“Of course! Imagine: two dresses, two different receptions…”

“What about the guests?” he questioned. “Who, except for close friends, cares to attend two ceremonies?”

“We can invite only the closest friends to both… It would actually be very rational, and spare us an excessive crowd… Instead of having five hundred guests in one place, we’d only have some two-hundred-fifty at each party, which is very manageable. To the ceremony in Highgarden, we would invite the crowd grandma will surely want, and to the Casterly one… Let’s give your dad a carte blanche? As far as the guests are concerned, at least: grandma will murder me if I let anyone but her and the bridesmaids she’ll tyrannize handle the decorations…”

Tyrion kissed the crown of her head.
“You’re very generous.”
“Oh, I intend to stay on your father’s good side!”

“What about the bridesmaids?” he asked, smiling. “Have you decided?”

“Well, Sansa and Ellaria, of course,” Margery said, “and some of my cousins… Loras, since he will not forgive me if I don’t ask him to be one of the bridesmaids… Then, Tyene — I’ve grown rather fond of her lately: to think she has been an unruly teenager only a few years ago…”

“She’s still a teenager, much like Sansa…”

“Well, don’t tell that to your brother!” Margery laughed uproariously, “Or poor Jaime will have a heart attack! Besides, eighteen isn’t quite teenager anymore, and they’ll both be nineteen soon — surely, that’s a young woman’s age already!” She paused for a few moments. “Was Jaime very mad with you yesterday?” she asked in a quiet tone.
“He wasn’t so much mad as… I don’t know… Unforgiving, probably… At first… I’ve never imagined he could…” Tyrion paused, realizing his mutterings were not particularly coherent, “You were right three years ago — I should have told him…”

She kissed him lightly on the lips.
“It doesn’t matter now,” she consoled him. “It’s over — for better or worse, it’s happened the way it’s happened. Moreover, we don’t know how it would have turned out if you’d told him before he and Sansa had grown close… I’m looking forward to learning what they’ve been up to yesterday! Particularly because I find it striking that you say he was sober… What did our Sparkle-girl do to keep him out of trouble for that whole day, I wonder…”

“Technically, he did get drunk — the night before — but you’re right. You know, when he came in, before he noticed Cersei and me, there was this strange look on his face… Like he was… Not happy, necessarily, but at peace, you know?”

“We need to get them together soon,” she said excitedly. “Awww!” she squealed, animated by a new idea, “we can do a double date!” Seeing Tyrion’s skeptical expression, she clarified: “Well, we won’t tell them that it’s double date or call it that — we’ll just get together, the four of us, and it will be one de facto! What? It makes perfect sense: we are newly engaged and want to start having these family dinners, and it’s only natural that you invite your brother while I invite my closest friend to keep me company while you boys talk some silly nonsense…”

“To keep you company?” Tyrion chuckled.

“Well, that’s what we’ll say…” she wiggled her eyebrows and kissed him. “I’m really glad all is well with you and Jaime,” she added seriously.
“Not completely, though,” Tyrion admitted sadly. “He’s still hurt and angry at me, even if he won’t show it anymore… I… doubt he trusts me like he did before.”

“Believe me, that will be fine… And soon, too! For a cynic and a Lannister, Jaime is ridiculously trusting. Besides, the faster we strap him with Sansa, the happier and more forgiving he will be! Speaking of Sansa…”

Text from Margery Tyrell to Sansa Stark:

You are running out of time… I want details, and I want them now!

Sansa groaned. There it was. The hour she had dreaded. Like a criminal convicted to death by poison who extends her hand for the cup of the deadly liquid, Sansa picked up her phone and dialed Margery Tyrell.

“Aha!” came her friend’s triumphant voice from the other end of the line, “I knew you wouldn’t want to spill your guts to Ellaria and Tyene as well! Well?”

“Marge, I really don’t feel at liberty to…” she began and paused. How to explain any part of yesterday without possibly betraying something Jaime did not wish her to share with his colleague, even if she was his brother’s fiancée… Besides, what Margery knew, Ellaria and Tyene (then Oberyn, then their whole circle) might know within a few hours. Jaime did not need friends and colleagues snickering behind his back when he was dealing with a serious blow to his ego, not to mention a broken heart.

“What is it you don’t feel at liberty to disclose?” Margery sing-sang, “That Jaime walked in on Cersei fucking Osmund Kettleback or that he was really angry at Tyrion for not having told him his sister-lover was a slut?”

Sansa nearly fell from her couch. What was happening today?! How did her closest female friends know things she had never told them?

“How?.. How?.. How can you possibly know?!” was all Sansa could manage through her shock.

“I live with Jaime’s brother — Tyrion Lannister, my fiancée. Not sure if you’ve met him? Dashing, charming, and witty? You know the one I’m talking about?” Margery teased. “Now, spill!” she ordered.

Sansa sighed. This was going to be much worse than she had anticipated.

“What do you want to know?..”

“Well, let’s start with you finding him drunk at the LBCB and go from there…”

Correction: this was not going to be “bad;” this was going to be pure torture.

In pursuing her career as a ballet dancer, Margery Tyrell had missed her calling as a first-class interrogator. Within an hour and a half, she had rung out a substantial amount of information from the meekly struggling Sansa, even though the latter had made Margery promise to keep what Ygritte had referred to as her “lion secrets” from Ellaria and Tyene.

Margery had been satisfied with the conversation — very satisfied. She told Tyrion with a sly grin:

“I think there’s a very simple reason your brother isn’t lying dead drunk in a ditch somewhere.”

She was lounging on their bed while Tyrion was adjusting his tie before the mirror of her dressing table, preparing to leave for his own catechism at the Lannister mansion.

“Oh yeah?” her fiancée called. “Do share.”

“He’s in love with Sansa,” she said laconically.

Tyrion rolled his eyes.

“We’ve known that for months, now!” he exclaimed. “Where’s the discovery here?”

“No,” she corrected, “what we've known for months was that he was falling hard for her, even though he was still deluding himself about Cersei; what we know now is that he loves Sansa — there is no more Cersei…” she paused to give her next words greater effect, “and Tyrion? I think he knows it.”

That certainly got Tyrion’s attention, and he forgot about his tie as he turned to look at her.

“What did you?.. How could you possibly know such a thing?!” he exclaimed, and she laughed.

“From what Sansa tells me, and the mean girl isn’t particularly generous when it comes to details, I conclude that Jaime does whatever he can to please her and, what’s more, to keep her with him as long as he can; that he lost it when she jumped from that tower… From what I saw of him today, I am convinced that he knows it’s Sansa he wants, though he’s awfully difficult about it, I’m afraid…”

Tyrion had been listening to his fiancée’s insights with great seriousness.
“What do you mean,” he asked, “by ‘awfully difficult about it?’ ”

“It means,” she answered, “that, under the influence of Lannister men’s only serious flaw, he’s fighting his feelings instead of pursuing the girl…” She looked at Tyrion with significance, as if to remind him of the obstacles they themselves had had to overcome before becoming engaged.

Tyrion looked crestfallen.

“Oh, no…”

Margery nodded with the expression of a sympathetic seer, who will not change her verdict just because it is not particularly inspiring.

“No…” Tyrion moaned again in exasperation, “Jaime can’t be like me…”

She laughed.
“I don’t know if you two get it from papa Tywin,” the heartless Margery stated, “but you certainly have that in common. I’ll add that Jaime’s hesitance to pursue Sansa is much more understandable, I think, than you dragging your feet with proposing to me…”

“What now?” Tyrion exclaimed, almost indignant.

“Well, you’ve never really loved anyone before me,” Margery stated with confidence. “You said so yourself — unless you care to contest that statement now?” she challenged him, but Tyrion knew better than to do something so singularly stupid even for the sake of a joke; satisfied with his silence, she continued: “Unlike you, Jaime has been in love with the same woman for twenty years, and this love ended in disaster, if we’re being honest.” Tyrion snorted: “disaster” was putting it mildly. “Now,” Margery continued, “he’s fallen in love again, but with a girl who is, admittedly, half his age. You, on the other hand, have fallen in love seriously only once, I loved you back, and we’re fairly close in age.”

“I have a few years on you,” he boasted, but she only laughed.

“A few years and twice one’s age aren’t the same things…”

Tyrion sighed.
“You’re right,” he admitted, “our match-making job isn’t nearly done… So, my general, what next?” he teased.

“It’s fairly simple, really,” she answered. “From first-hand experience in domesticating a Lannister, I can say all we need to do is bring them together often enough in a setting where it’s inappropriate for him to be too distant or professional with her, though I hope this, at least, won’t be a problem…”

During their conversation, Tyrion had been caught by Margery’s glowing eyes; mesmerized, he was coming closer to her while they spoke, and — now he had come to the bed where she had been lounging in deceptive languor — she caught him by the very tie he had spent so much time adjusting to suit his father’s scrupulous taste.

“Marge!” he protested, but he did not get to voice his grievances because she was kissing him, pulling him to her until he lost his balance and fell onto the bed.

“Are you happy now?” he asked in mock exasperation, but his eyes were smiling with undiluted happiness, “You’ve wrinkled my suit and ruined my tie! What will I wear to father’s?!”

“Oh dear,” she replied with fake concern, “you will need to change into another suit and another tie…” she tugged unceremoniously at the elegant knot presently around his neck, “but before you can do that, you’ll need to get out of these clothes…”

“You have the devious mind that would give my father a run for his money,” Tyrion laughed while she pulled at his jacket; she gave him a deep kiss.

“If this is your idea of talking dirty, hon, I might consider divorcing you!” she threatened.

“We aren’t married yet,” he reminded her, jokingly. She rewarded him with a playful but stinging slap and a laugh before kissing him again.

He was going to be very late to father’s…

As he followed his Tywin’s personal assistant up and up the mansion’s stairs, Tyrion wondered if the creepy Bolton offspring meant to play a cruel joke; he reminded himself that such an action on the young man’s behalf would bring onto his head such wrath from Tywin Lannister that he would never again find employment. They ascended one more flight of stairs, coming to the highest floor, and Tyrion seriously wondered what on earth had possessed his father to meet in this unused part of the house. His confusion grew when the Bolton boy pushed open a door and revealed another flight of stairs.

“Ramsay,” Tyrion warned, “I hope you aren’t so much of a fool as to play any sick games with me…”
“No, ser,” came the swift, polite reply, “Lord Tywin wished to see you as soon as you arrived, so I led you directly to him.”

The personal assistant continued to go up the smaller flight of stairs, and Tyrion followed, reflecting that if his father wished to see him as quickly as possible, this aim could have been achieved much faster if Tywin had come down to him. The lackey pushed open one more door, behind which Tyrion was surprised to discover a roof terrace with a blooming rose garden. His astonishment became boundless when he noticed his father, who was wearing a perfectly starched white apron, plucking out the weeds from one of the rose beds. Tyrion stared, blinked a couple of times, and still could not believe his eyes had not deceived him.

“F-f-f-father?” he questioned, fully expecting that the man would turn out to be someone else, even though he knew the shape of this strong back all too well.

Tywin Lannister, for it was really him, turned to his son, and immediately his face grew dark. Tyrion briefly wondered what had he done wrong this time, when his father came to stare down not him but Ramsay Bolton.

“What in the world have you dragged my son here for?!” he inquired, his voice calm, but his intonations full of ire. “Couldn’t you come to inform me of his arrival?”

“Ser, I only brought him because you said you wanted to see him right away…”

Tyrion watched his father’s jaw clench.
“And do you suppose it was a comfortable journey for him here?” his father growled.

Tyrion could see beads of perspiration forming on the young man’s temples. Even when he was not the object of his father’s fury, the younger son still felt on edge when witnessing it. He tried to assuage it:

“Father, it really was not that bad, I could do with some exercise…”

Tywin was still terrorizing his personal assistant with his cold eyes when he next spoke:

“You’re lucky my son is more tolerant of mistakes than I am,” he said in a tone the imperturbability of which was all the more horrifying for the rage it concealed. “Get out. Next time, I’ll terminate your employment.”

The young man made himself scarce with phenomenal rapidity. Several minutes after he left, there was still silence between father and son.

Tywin returned to the chair from which he performed his gardening.

“When you were little,” he spoke without diverting his attention from the offensive weeds, “I had all the stairs isolated at Casterly Rock… It was feared,” never I feared, “that you might fall and die. I still dislike the idea of you on long flights of stairs, I suppose…”

His son digested this information in silence. Knowing his father’s dislike for expressions of feelings, Tyrion did not venture to articulate how deeply his words had affected him. Instead, he asked:

“What’s this place? I don’t think I’ve ever been here…”

“It was your mother’s favorite project,” Tywin explained, “she pestered me for weeks before I agreed to create this nonsense on the mansion’s roof. Of course, it isn’t surprising that she got her way in the end — she always did. I haven’t been here… Well, I haven’t been here in a long time.”

“It’s beautiful,” was all Tyrion could say. And it was true: the mansion’s position on a slight elevation offered a beautiful view of the neighborhood’s mansions’ dainty roofs; the soft light of the evening sun bathed the garden in a light as warm as melting honey.
His father gave one of his rare smirks.
“Trust your mother to know that. Still, it was a massive expense, and if anything had been done wrong, the whole garden would have one day fallen onto my dining table,” Tywin grumbled; the son bit down a chuckle. He came to stand by his father, watching his hands perform the work so unusual to his person.
“You probably have a few dozen gardeners,” he questioned without asking.
“Yes, and they take care of most things here — had for over three decades,” father explained, “but I recently told them to leave this rose bed to my care as far as weeding and watering are concerned. It was Joa’s favorite.”

Tyrion had never heard this nickname of his mother’s.

“Joa?” he asked, expecting the strangely peaceful and kindly countenance of his father to freeze up. It did not.

“It was the way I always called her,” he said, and a small smile came to his thin lips, “it’s because it sounds similar to ‘joy’ — or at least I thought that it did, at the time.”

Tyrion smiled and began plucking at the weeds that had so far evaded his father. They worked in an amicable silence for some while. Tyrion, still taken aback by his father’s strange behavior, strove to dilute his own bewilderment with words:

“Margery thinks that it’s a great idea to have two weddings instead of just one,” he offered.
“I’m glad to hear it,” his father’s voice sounded more like it ordinarily did. “It would be a shame to have a wedding in Highgarden when Casterly Rock can be used.”

Tyrion could not suppress a guffaw.
“Don’t tell this to Olenna, or she will kill me with her thorns.”

The old lion snorted.
“When are you planning to have the wedding?” he inquired.

“Marge’s thinking a few months after the premiere,” Tyrion answered, “we will be performing for a while, so there won’t be time enough for all the planning.”

“Well, so long as you are thinking of a time within the decade…”

Tyrion had a strange sensation that his father could be joking. He decided not to ask.

“So,” Tywin changed topics, “what can you tell me about Jaime, who is, unfortunately, much further from his wedding day than you are?”

“I wonder,” Tyrion could not help himself, “who will walk Sansa down to the altar? Will it be Ned Stark, or will you have him kidnapped, so you can do the honors?”

“I do not find this joke particularly funny,” his father grumbled, and Tyrion thought that, if and when his brother and Sansa were planning a wedding, he should send Bronn to guard the bride’s father — just in case. To his own, he answered lightly:

“Ah, you never find my jokes funny.”

“Some of them are funnier than others,” Tywin answered, and, this time, Tyrion wondered if his father meant to convey he found at least some of his jokes amusing. He had never seen him laugh at them.

“Anyway,” Tyrion continued, “Margery thinks that Jaime has now realized he's in love with Sansa.”
His father was laconic:

“Good.”

“However, she also thinks he will be fighting his feelings for a while before he tries to pursue Sansa…” Tyrion paused to give his full attention to a particularly stubborn weed. “Margery thinks it’s a family trait in Lannister men — fighting their feelings,” he added, before he remembered he was speaking to his father: Tywin’s strange good-humor had disoriented him.

“Could be,” his father replied. There was another pause, then Tywin spoke again: “You must try getting them together more often,” he suggested, “wear Jaime down.”

Tyrion stared.
“What?”

“I said — ”

“No, I heard what you said!” Tyrion exclaimed, “It’s just that… Marge proposed the same thing…”

His father chuckled.
“Intelligent and sly, that fiancée of yours — reminds me a little of your mother… She’s right.”

“Yes, but how did you know?..”

Tywin looked him directly in the eye, the corners of his severe lips still concealing a smile.

“Because it’s the trick your mother played on me.”

Having escaped his brother and Marge with some difficulty, Jaime went to the LBCB. The building was usually empty on the weekends, and he found that day he preferred his studio there to the one in his apartment. He could not say for certain if it was the memories haunting him or if he was hunting memories; whether he wanted to escape recollections of his sister or revive those of Sansa. In any case, he did not return to his flat. On the drive to the LBCB, he listened to the melody Renly had sent him earlier in the morning, the draft for the last dance of Azor and Nissa. He could not but succumb to some melancholy upon the reflection that, soon enough, the premiere would come, and the ballet would recede into the past. True, of course, the minx was not going anywhere, and The Fountain of Tears would establish her as one of the LBC’s leading dancers, ensuring he would not lack for her presence in any future production, and yet… It was the first ballet on which he had worked with her, and the last one she would dance as an unknown dancer. He wondered if Sansa Stark would prove as incorruptible by fame as by everything else.

He thought back to the day before, her smiles and laughter, her sparkling blue eyes rose in front of him. He could not help but wish he had the chance to spend another day like this with her, feeling the warmth of the sun and the soft whisper of the wind with the felicity he had not felt in years, had not felt at all, perhaps, before she had appeared in his life. He could not help but wish he had more days to abandon himself to her smile. He thought that, perhaps, he could occasionally convince her to spend time with him — after all, she was on close terms with everyone in their little group. He could show her places none of the others, he was certain, knew in King’s Landing: just as they did not know about the dancers on Baelor’s Square; he could bring her to Casterly Rock, show her the cliffs from which he used to jump when he was but a boy… He chuckled: he would watch her carefully, lest she got it into her mind to jump again; he was not going to watch her fall through emptiness ever again. He shook his head, as if to dislodge the daydreams, but the visions were more powerful than he, and Jaime remembered how the minx had jumped yesterday. Involuntarily, he remembered a day when, tired of Cersei’s grumbling about him jumping, he had asked his sister to jump with him, and she had refused, walking away from him. He did not know if it had been fear or a desire to subdue him to her wishes that had made her refuse; but he did know that Sansa was braver than his sister ever was — when it came to jumping from great heights or conquering her fears for the sake of doing something together, something he did. He had never conceived that a woman superior to his sister could exist — and yet he was faced with that simple truth. In a comparison no woman could withstand in the past, he now discovered that his sister had lost. He thought the minx more beautiful — a quality his sister had always flaunted; he thought her brave in a way Cersei had never been: brave in generously giving away kindness and pieces of her heart to those in need of that magical alms. He thought he had never seen a being so filled with light. He remembered her dancing at the gala, in his master-class, performing Nissa’s dance… It suddenly occurred to him that she danced more beautifully than Cersei had: his sister had never been prepared for the dedication it would have taken her to achieve Sansa’s level, even if she had an equal talent, and, as a professional dancer, Jaime did not believe she did. He had never compared their dancing before, and he now understood why: from the moment he had first seen her dance in the dark studio, Sansa’s dancing had always stood apart from anything else — a sorcery of its own.

There were so many things he realized he had come to love about the minx — from her blushes to the way her eyes could flare with indignation, to the way she smiled or rolled her eyes… There was another contrast he had drawn — not for the first time, this — between the two women; he had always been surprised by Cersei’s unconcern when it came to their children, and he had been no less astonished by Sansa’s gentle care. He had noticed many times the hurt little look in Myrcella’s eyes when her mother refused to spend a weekend day with her, because she wished to make a social call, and the way Tommen would look at his feet when Cersei would not come to his performances at the kindergarten theater… In many ways, Cersei’s parenting reminded him of their father — or rather, what became of Tywin when he had buried Joanna Lannister. Cersei was careless about hurting others — her own children, himself. Perhaps, he was drawn to the minx in part because he did not think her capable of consciously hurting those around her. He parked his car at the LBCB and made his way to his studio, where he spent the rest of the day developing the choreography for one more dance scene.

The next day, Sansa arrived to Jaime’s studio even earlier than usually. She told herself it was because Tyene was at Bronn’s and she herself was bored in the lonely flat; she told herself it was because she did not want to provoke his teasing by being late — or, rather, not early enough; but her heart told her she simply wished to find herself close to Jaime again, as soon as she could, even if it was by staying in his empty studio for an empty hour — at least, she would be the first to see him come in, the first to greet him. She almost envied sunrises for seeing him before ever she herself did. On her way to the LBCB, she could not quite restrain herself from walking so quickly she was almost running. There was barely anyone in the building, and the studios were empty; she made her way to Jaime’s. She had come to love his studio more than she did any other, for the simple reason that it was his studio, and she loved him to the last shadow of his presence left behind in the places he visited. She lingered in the sun-filled room, practicing pas without knowing, without any music, moving half-heartedly, as if to distract herself. She worried about him: she had not heard from him since she had left him in his car the day before yesterday; she did not dare call him. She hoped he was not hurting or drinking alone. She somehow felt closer to him since that day, as if the bond they had built in the past months had solidified — or perhaps, it was because she felt she loved him even more than before, having seen him in pain. She had come to love the man, not the idol, and his misery, which she helped heal, seemed to bind her to him more strongly. Since she had stood vigil over him while he was sleeping on her couch, she felt that his ache and the words of grief he had mumbled belonged to her, because she had been the only one to witness them; and that his smiles, his laughter of the day that followed also belonged to her — and for the same reason. These possessions were fleeting, they lasted only as long as memories, but she treasured them just the same. She swayed to the sound of silence, hands on her hips, a small smile playing on her lips. Then, she thought she had felt his presence, and told herself she was being silly: she had never seen him at the LBCB so early — he would not be here for another hour at least; but the feeling persisted, so she turned, and there he was, leaning against the doorway, a friendly smirk on his ever-teasing lips, but his eyes held that kindness, that warmth she saw more and more frequently.

“Could have said hello,” she reproached him, smiling.

He pushed himself off the doorframe, making his way to her in that lazy manner that was deceptive in someone so quick and alert.

“You seemed far too pleased, I didn’t want to interrupt,” he explained. “What’s got you smiling like this, minx?”

You do.

“I don’t know,” she lied innocently, smiling more widely, “it’s a beautiful day, I’m in a happy mood…”
“Oh yeah?”

“Yup! Oh, and guess what? I’ve learned about this new place here in the city!..”

He played along, the teasing smirk growing into a grin.

“Where’s that?”

“Oh, it’s a tower — great to jump from!”

She laughed gaily as he rolled his eyes.

“What are you doing here so early?” he asked, “You’re always late — ”

“That’s not true! I’m never late!”

The happy mirth in his eyes told her just how much he enjoyed her uncontrolled reaction to his teasing. He looked well: she did not think he had done much drinking — if any; and he was not crestfallen, which made her so happy she could have confused the sunlight with the delight bursting from her heart. Embolden by his good mood and her own contentment, she ventured to say:

“Well, if you aren’t happy to see me,” she made as if to move past him, although she had no real intention of leaving, “I can always go.”

He was quick to catch her, his arm wrapping around her waist.

“I never said that,” he protested, still smiling when she stayed in his arms, looking very pleased with herself.
“Well, are you happy to see me, then?” she smiled.

He gave a short chuckle, releasing her.
“Can you doubt it?”

She laughed, shaking her head, wondering how it would have been to just stay with his arm wrapped around her waist.

“Well,” she gave up on estimating his happiness at seeing her — she only had so much boldness — and changed subjects, “what are you doing here?”

“It’s my studio, minx.”

She made a grimace of bewilderment.

“Really? What, this one? You sure?”

He chuckled again, and she just smiled at him, her heart joyous, full of love.

“I came to give another go to some new choreography ,” he explained.

“Seriously?”

He feigned exasperation, but his good mood subverted the pretense:

“Yes, minx, we have a premiere coming up in a few months, or don’t you remember?”

“I remember that just fine,” she pouted half-heartedly, “I was only saying that I was surprised you were already working…”
He walked away to drop off his bag.

“Why’s that, minx?” he threw over the shoulder.

“No reason,” she lied, sensing he did not wish to revive such recent ghosts.

His back was still to her, but she heard the smirk in his voice.

“I can always tell when you lie,” he said, “you get those intonations of a guilty child.”

She was so annoyed by this, she stomped her foot.
“I’m not a child!”

He was connecting his phone to the bluetooth speakers.

“No, you just act like one,” he teased.

“When have I ever?..”

“Stomping your foot — really?”

“You were being impossible!”

“Well, how about jumping off a tower two hundred feet high?”

“That was just one time!”

“The dangerous transition — being thrown backward?”

“Justified!”

He laughed.

“I’ve no doubt…” he had finished connecting his phone, “Here, listen to this, minx,” he said, discarding their bantering when the music began to play; she came to stand next to him.

“I don’t remember hearing this before,” she offered when the track had played in full. It was a beautiful, impassioned piece that reminded her a little of the music to which they were dancing the dance of Nissa and Azor.
“No, Renly only sent it to me yesterday morning,” he clarified.

“Which part is it for?” she asked excitedly.

“It’s the duet between Azor and Nissa after she kills Tanea.”

The last confrontation between the lovers before the king ordered her execution.

“But we haven’t yet done the scene between Nissa and Tanea, and that comes before!”

“That’s exactly what I told Renly,” Jaime sounded faintly irritated, “but the scoundrel told me that, since, in the next few days, we will still be polishing the other dance of Nissa and Azor, as well as other scenes, before moving to the Nissa and Tanea’s part, he went where — and I quote — ‘his imagination took him.’ I really don’t know why I don’t just fire him and find a composer with a more dependable muse…”

Sansa laughed at his complaints.
“You’d fire him if you didn’t know for sure he was the best composer in the country…”

He turned to her, devils jumping in his green eyes.

“Tell me, does it ever tire you — being right all the time? That is,” he corrected, “in moments when you aren’t trying to break your neck?”

She stuck out her tongue at him — her sister would have been proud.

He narrowed his eyes at her:

“What were you saying about not being a child, remind me?”

She dodged this fair point by asking a question of her own.

“Are you going to work on that choreography now?”

We are, since you are already here anyway.”

She pretended to be aggravated — else she would have given a triumphant cry that might have come out sounding like a squeal.

“Damn! I could have just slackened and let you do all the work? And instead here I am, working overtime!”

He only rolled his eyes at her. They listened to the track again, discussing the initial choreography he had thought of. Over the time they had been rehearsing the ballet, with the encouragement from Jaime and the rest of their group, she had grown the confidence to express her ideas, even to counter him. They were mapping out the movements, dancing out some parts in full, stopping to work out others — arguing, teasing. They now followed the same routine as when they rehearsed with the rest of the group, only it was just them, and something felt different. She felt at ease with him — more so than ever before; and yet, her breath caught in her throat even more often now than previously. Each time she found herself in his arms, it took her some effort to retain her concentration, not to lose herself in his eyes, or worse — give into her longing to card her fingers through the golden hair. She felt the touch of his arms, of his hands with such acuteness, he could as well have been caressing her soul. She had to call for a brief break, because she was out of breath not an hour into practice — her breathing returned to normal suspiciously quickly once his arms had left her, and she wanted to be breathless again. Far too preoccupied with herself, she had not noticed her dancing partner’s tense jaw muscles. In the liminal space of rehearsing, where they were not entirely lost in the abstraction of a balletic performance, where they were themselves without the protection of absorption, touch fed desire, which, not translated into uninterrupted dancing, sizzled in the air. She realized the futility of trying to catch her breath: he would steal it the moment his hands touched her waist again. They decided to go over the dance they had choreographed in full.

It began when the guards brought the murderess to the king, whom the wrath of her jealousy had cheated of a new love. Breaking from the restraints of the soldiers, Nissa tried — one last time — to remind the king of their love, now that the woman who had taken his heart from her no longer stood between them. The king, however, remained grievous and unconsoled by his lover. Nissa’s dance was not about rage or even fighting for love — it was about the wildness of hope born of despair; Azor’s part was in many ways antithetic to that of the female lead, since his incurable despondency killed her hope before pronouncing the sentence his indifference had already spelled for the woman who loved him. The passion that was present in the dance of lovers was offset in this scene by their joined despair, which they felt for such diametrically opposed reasons.

When Sansa and Jaime began dancing, truly dancing, that scene, they seemed to fall away into a world that was not quite their own, a world in which each was for the duration of music someone else. Imagination, melody, their movements took them into a plane where they had been lovers and happy together, once, but where fate had separated them. Nevertheless, the people they were and the feelings they felt as Jaime and Sansa affected their dance as Azor and Nissa. The choreography, the music, and their fervor imparted to the scene the passion and the desperation it required, which would fool any viewer who knew them not as people and saw only the illusion they created as dancers. However, that despair and that passion stemmed not from a love that had ended, as it was for their characters, but from one that was rising: a stormy sea magically entrapped in a wine bottle, waiting to become what it was meant to be. Their gazes locked, their movements as aligned as the beating of their hearts, which seemed to hum a chorus to the music, they danced, becoming free for a moment of the restrictions their minds imposed on their souls when silence reigned and their bodies did not touch.

While they danced, they had not noticed how their friends had silently trickled into the studio; when the music ended, they discovered, with some surprise, that everyone had already assembled. They were not asked which part of the ballet they had been rehearsing — so much was obvious from the choreography that was powerful enough to communicate feelings without words. Tyrion said he liked it, the others expressed their agreement, and they all turned to the scenes that had to be perfected before they could move on to the dance of Nissa and Tanea. Now that their friends had surrounded them, there was more to distract them from each other, and the playful banter of the group served to dilute the tension that could be felt between them. All the same, when Oberyn and Ellaria were coming out of the studio in the evening, he asked his wife:

“Are Jaime and Sansa sleeping together yet?”

“Not yet, as far as I know,” she answered.

“Well, I hope they do soon: they are making it hard to breathe in that studio with all this unresolved sexual tension.”
Ellaria laughed:

“That’s what I keep thinking…”

Chapter Text

They are innocent, those white lies…

They say they are as white as snow,

They say nothing but good wishes lie

Behind the sweet deceptions, that they show

 

The liars care for us.

We love them, those white lies,

For their glitter and the cheap price

They charge for dreams.

 

To whole wide worlds

White lies give birth,

Enveloping us in sweet words,

Revealing of fears a dearth.

“Sorry I’m so late,” she was saying as Margery took her jacket, “I spent too much time choosing flowers, so I took a cab and got stuck in traffic…”

“It’s quite all right,” Margery assured her, “we’re so happy you could make it! What lovely flowers — worth the wait, I’ll say.” They kissed. “Thank you, dear.”

Sansa followed her friend into the apartment, smiling. From the first time she had been invited to a dinner at Margery and Tyrion’s place, months ago, Sansa had loved coming to their flat. Her friends were wonderful hosts, and their company always made her feel cheerful and happy. She was not the only guest that evening, however. Tyrion and Loras were chatting in the kitchen, while the older man was arranging what she guessed was a second serving of appetizers that accompanied the aperitif; she noticed Jaime and Renly arguing merrily over drinks.

She caught her friend’s elbow.

“Marge,” she asked in some embarrassment, “it’s all family… What am I doing here?”

“What do you mean?” her friend feigned incomprehension.
“It’s you, Tyrion, Tyrion’s brother, your brother, and your brother’s boyfriend. I feel I’m intruding on a family dinner…” she spoke quietly.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Marge cried out, “You are family! I’ve always wanted a sister, but I got Loras instead…" She sighed as she described the humorous misfortune. "Don’t go imagining foolish things!” She hugged her. “I wanted my closest friend to come, and Tyrion was delighted by the idea! I dare say he wasn’t the only one delighted —”

“Marge!” Tyrion’s voice cut in, “where are the green olives?..”

“Coming, love!” she called out, then spoke again to Sansa. “It’s true that it’s family, hon, which makes you being here all the more appropriate!”

She kissed her friend’s cheek again and went into the kitchen; warmed by her words but still uncertain, Sansa trailed after her.

It was a wonderful evening. The Tyrell and Lannister siblings made fun of each other, as they were prone to do; Jaime turned his outstanding mocking abilities onto Renly, who fought back valiantly but in vain, and had to be rescued on several occasions by his boyfriend and his assailant’s brother. To Sansa’s surprise, Jaime did not make fun of her, which made her consider him with curiosity: whenever they were alone or stood even a little apart from others during rehearsals, his taunts were the welcome bane of her existence; but, strangely enough, in company, only his eyes occasionally revealed to her his teasing mind — not his words.
“So, Sansa,” Renly said when they had passed to dessert, “what’s this I hear about you and Theon Greyjoy?”

Sansa, who had never before heard anything about herself and Theon, wanted to dismiss the idiotic suggestion right away and, in her haste, chocked on her dessert. Her violent coughing only worsened the blush of annoyance and embarrassment that had appeared on her face. Loras, who was seated next to her, filled her glass with water and held it to her lips. After a few uncomfortable minutes, Sansa was able to breathe properly.

“Well?” Renly pressed.

“I’ve no idea what you mean,” Sansa replied, looking at him in confusion.

“A little bird told me you two were sweethearts,” Renly said, sounding like a mean schoolboy. Tyrion, who was looking at his brother, discerned well-concealed murderousness in Jaime's eyes.

Sansa guffawed at Renly's words. Her merriment had prevented her from seeing a flash of relief her laughter had produced in green eyes that were of such unrelenting interest to her.

“I’ve never heard anything more ridiculous,” she answered Renly, “your little bird is one misinformed fowl.”

 The company laughed.
“I’ve reason to believe otherwise,” Renly persisted. “Come, Sparkle, you can tell us!”
“There