Yara Greyjoy wore a rumpled black suit, her tie was tugged loose and askew, and did little to hide the coffee stain on her white shirt. Her chin length mouse brown hair was greasy from all the times she'd run her fingers through it. Campaign manager chic.
She held her index finger up to forestall Sansa, snatched her phone up from the disorganised chaos that was her desk and punched in a quick series of numbers.
"Hey, it's me. Come in to my office for a second. I've got someone you should meet."
"I—" Sansa began.
"Ah." Yara gestured with an admonishing finger. "Wait until she gets here."
The 'she' in question turned out to be Margaery Tyrell, the impeccably turned out communications director and campaign spokeswoman, who regarded Sansa with catlike eyes.
The way she smiled more with one side of her mouth than the other seemed practiced and deliberately designed to be endearing. Sansa was endeared despite herself.
"You really know what to get for the girl who has everything, Yara."
Yara rolled her eyes. "Margaery, this is Sansa Stark, she's a reporter from—" she looked to Sansa. "Tell her where you work."
"The Eyrie View."
Margaery's half-smile froze on her face and her eyes narrowed with professional interest. "Why would a national newspaper be interested in a local political race?"
"All politics are local," Sansa replied. That had been the slogan on her Uncle Brandon's campaign pamphlets when he'd run for the wardenship of the North against Roose Bolton; Sansa's dad had been the one to suggest it.
"We should put that on a poster," Yara joked with a snap of her fingers.
"It's not just any local race. This is King's Landing. It's the capital city, more people live here than live in Dorne." More people lived in King's Landing than lived in Sansa's home region of the North, too, and growing up in Winterfell Sansa had long been fascinated by the capital. "People all across Westeros are watching to see who becomes mayor here."
"Conventional wisdom says that Cersei Lannister will be the next mayor of King's Landing," observed Margaery.
Conventional wisdom and nine-tenths of the polling, thought Sansa.
Margaery did a good job of keeping her voice even, just the slightest hint of disdain creeping in on the name Cersei. Yara, on the other hand, blew a raspberry.
"The View has a reporter inside the Lannister campaign too, but people love an underdog, and you're the scrappy insurgency somehow managing to give Cersei a run for her money."
Margaery and Yara exchanged a look.
"If it would help," Sansa added, "I can tell you how many subscribers the paper has in King's Landing alone."
Yara leaned back in her chair. "Yeah. Okay. Fine. Margaery, find our new reporter somewhere to set up."
Margaery laughed lightly, but only for a moment. "Wait. You're serious?"
"You were the one complaining the other week that you couldn't even get The Flea Bottom Caller to print our press releases," said Yara. "Tell me how having a national paper covering us doesn't help?"
"I'm sure she can cover us just fine from outside the building."
"If I don't have access my editors will move me on to a different story," Sansa said apologetically, "probably covering the Lannisters."
The phone on Yara's desk rang. "You're in charge of press relations," she told Margaery, gesturing to Sansa. "Relate."
Margaery was ushering Sansa from the campaign manager's office when Yara called after her, gesticulating with her phone's receiver, "Don't let her find out about too many of our cock-ups!"
A desk was found for Sansa in the bullpen outside Margaery's office; it was a rickety thing that looked like it belonged in a high school basement, and the accompanying chair didn't match. It reminded Sansa of her first job in journalism: spending her Saturday afternoons checking for typos in the one room office of The Winterfell Bugle.
Margaery cleared space on the desk for Sansa to set her laptop bag down by pushing aside a stack of posters showing a young-ish woman with hair so blonde it was almost white and a brilliant politician's smile.
"Welcome to the Daenerys Targaryen for mayor campaign," she said.
Sansa stopped by the hotel bar for a late dinner, in so much as a ginger ale and a slice of lemon cheesecake counted as dinner of any kind.
"Fancy meeting you here," said Margaery with faux-surprise, as though it hadn't occurred to her that Sansa might take a room in the same Blackwater Rush hotel where the Targaryen campaign had taken over an entire floor for its staffers.
Margaery's hair, which had been twisted up at the office, was now down and fell about her shoulders in loose, artfully disheveled waves, and when she climbed up onto the bar stool she left her high heels on the floor.
"Sansa Stark. I thought I recognised that name." Margaery got the attention of the barman and ordered a dirty martini, then continued, "You wrote that profile of Renly after he was forced to drop out of the race."
One of the biggest human interest stories of primary season had been Renly Baratheon running against his older brother, and the unceremonious outing that had forced him from the race. The Stannis Baratheon campaign had always denied being behind the leak, and the candidate himself had never commented on his brother's sexuality, but in Sansa's professional circles it was well known that Melisandre had been shopping that story around until she finally got a reporter to bite.
"Petyr Baelish wrote that profile."
"Nope," said Margaery cheerfully. "I've read Baelish's work, and that was too…humane to be him. He might have got top billing on the byline, but you wrote it."
"Renly told lies," said Sansa, "and people deserved to know that before they went out and voted for him. But a lot of the reporting wasn't really about him, it was just an excuse to drag out ugly stereotypes about gay people."
Margaery shared a conspiratorial grin with Sansa, biting an olive off a cocktail stick. "That's why you'll never catch me running for public office."
"Oh," said Sansa. "Um, I, that is—"
"Off the record, of course."
"Yes, of course."
"I'm more interested in you," said Margaery, looking sideways at Sansa and tracing the rim of her glass with her finger. "If you covered the primaries, then why aren't you on the road writing about the presidential race?"
"Well," said Sansa, "for one thing, it's boring." It was the truth too, albeit a partial one.
Margaery let out an unladylike snort of disbelief. "Okay, Stannis Baratheon versus Jon Arryn isn't an election that's going to set the world alight, but it's still the race for the Red Keep."
"I still think your race is more interesting - " Sansa shrugged and took a sip of her ginger ale " - and maybe in the long run just as important. The mayor of King's Landing will be well placed to run for president next election cycle, and everyone knows the Lannisters want the Red Keep. Daenerys would be young for it, but she'd be legally old enough to run if she wanted to." Sansa looked directly into Margaery's eyes and asked, "Does she want to?"
Margaery tipped forward in her seat, and for a second Sansa thought that Margaery was about to squeeze her knee; instead Margaery reached down into her own purse and produced her hotel keycard.
"You'll have to ask her that." Margaery tapped her keycard on the bar, and then stepped down straight into her heels. "You wrote a good profile of Renly, Sansa. I hope you write a better one of Dany."
Sansa had changed into her wolfie pajamas and was brushing her teeth when her cell phone rang. She spat, wiped her fingers free of toothpaste on her pj bottoms, and swiped to answer.
"Hang on," said Brienne, her voice muffled. "New phone. I'm trying to figure out how to get Sandor on the call too."
There was silence, followed by the masculine grunt that was as close as Sandor Clegane got to a collegial greeting.
When Sansa had first started at The Eyrie View she'd been a wide-eyed journalism graduate and the only person in the building who hadn't heard the rumours about Petyr and the paper's young, female reporters.
The whole newsroom had assumed that the new girl would either find a way to deal with it, or she wouldn't, and would go back to whatever provincial town she'd come from and spend her career reporting on middle school graduations and teenagers who'd drunk antifreeze.
The whole newsroom that was, aside from Brienne, who had somehow managed to always be there, polite and faux-oblivious, whenever Petyr schemed to get Sansa alone, and Sandor, who grumpily denied that it'd had anything to do with Sansa, claiming that he'd always enjoyed looming menacingly over Baelish.
"How's it going with the Lannisters?" Sansa asked Brienne.
"It's very…slick. There's a lot of money floating around." Brienne had been doing this a long time and didn't need Sansa to tell her to follow the money. "It feels more like a national campaign than a mayoral one, even for King's Landing. I asked Cersei yesterday if she was running for mayor as a stepping stone to the Red Keep, and I swear Taena Merryweather had to all but tackle her to stop her from answering."
"And how's the campaign trail?" she asked Sandor.
Sandor's low laugh rumbled in Sansa's ear. "Littlefinger accidentally booked all of our hotel rooms with only one bed."
The senior politics reporter had expected Sansa to be the one covering the presidential race with him.
"Sandor, I owe you so many drinks next time you're in town."
"I'll hold you to that, Little Bird."
"Did you get your foot in the door with the Targaryen campaign?" Brienne asked.
"Yeah. So far I've only met the campaign manager and communications director, but they were interesting." Something of an understatement when it came to Yara Greyjoy and Margaery Tyrell. "They're interested in me writing a profile of the candidate, so hopefully I'll get to sit down with her soon. But listen to this: guess who's handling communications and press for Daenerys Targaryen?" Sansa didn't wait for any guesses. "Margaery Tyrell."
"Tyrell?" said Brienne. "As in—?"
Sandor grunted. "The Queen of Thorns."
Olenna Tyrell had never been warden of the south, but no one could run for public office in the Reach without either her private approval or public endorsement.
"And you think she's trying to help Daenerys?"
Sansa plugged her phone charger in, and plucked her sleep mask from her overnight bag. "I don't know. Maybe she just wants to undermine the Lannisters."
'Daenerys Targaryen is shorter than you expect her to be, and seems older than her years…'
Sansa's profile of Daenerys was supposed to run in this week's Sunday magazine supplement, assuming she finished it in time. Her cursor blinked accusingly at the end of her opening sentence, and Sansa tabbed away to The View's website.
Brienne's exposé of the Lannister campaign finance scandal was splashed across half of the landing page.
"Have you seen this?" Margaery punctuated her question by smacking a printed copy of The Eyrie View, folded open at Brienne's story, down onto Sansa's desk.
"The reporter's a friend of mine," Sansa said, by way of confirmation. "She's good."
"Have you seen this?" Yara bellowed, coming down the corridor waving her tablet on which Sansa could just about make out the paper's website. "We need to put out a statement about it. And get Ellaria to do some fresh polling."
"We shouldn't get ahead of ourselves," Margaery cautioned. "No one's alleging that Cersei's done anything illegal."
Brienne had been very careful to note that the overwhelming majority of the donations to Cersei's mayoral campaign coming from entities in which her father had a controlling stake wasn't necessarily, technically illegal, and she was too good a writer to out and out suggest that having failed to reach the Red Keep himself perennial presidential candidate Tywin Lannister was trying to buy high public office for his daughter. But like everyone else reading the story this morning, Sansa could read between the lines.
Yara glanced sideways at Sansa and said to Margaery, "We should talk about this in your office."
"Tell your friend I want to buy her a drink," said Margaery, as she pulled the door shut behind her and Yara, "and maybe a puppy!"
Sansa picked up the paper Margaery had left on her desk and flicked past Brienne's story to page sixteen where a single column and a small photograph was the entirety of the paper's coverage of the North's march for independence.
Bran had sent a text saying he thought that the march would have been better reported by Sansa herself, and Arya had sent her one that was mostly frowny-face emojis.
The brief story had been written by a stringer, who, judging by the photos of the march Sansa's siblings had gleefully spammed her with yesterday, had low-balled his estimate of the numbers in attendance.
Sansa composed a message to Bran explaining that it wouldn't be right for her to cover the Northern independence movement, what with Robb being one of its principle architects. She responded to Arya with a shrug emoji.
Sansa stood outside, leaning against the hood of a car and scrolling through the notes she'd taken during her sit-down with Daenerys Targaryen on her phone. She was seeking inspiration for her still half-written profile.
The car was a campaign vehicle and was parked outside a centre for underprivileged children in Flea Bottom where, due to a scheduling cock-up, Daenerys and Cersei had arrived to campaign at the same time; and where it had quickly become obvious that Daenerys was much more of a natural with children, despite Cersei being a mother of three.
It was only Cersei's two younger children who ever appeared with her at campaign events, and according to Brienne, as well as every reporter who'd ever been on the Lannister beat, it wasn't just normal teenage moodiness that had led to the Lannisters keeping Joffrey as far out of the limelight as possible.
Not that Brienne would ever write a story about Joffrey's issues; a candidate's children were off-limits, or at least they were meant to be…you wouldn't know it from the treatment poor Shireen Baratheon was getting from some quarters.
"Hey," said Brienne, appearing at Sansa's side with two takeaway coffees. "I thought I saw you out here."
Although Brienne and Sansa were both based in King's Landing now their respective campaigns kept them on parallel tracks and this was the first time they'd seen each other in weeks. Sansa accepted a coffee and gave Brienne a one-armed hug; the other woman's fingers were black with ink because she always took her notes with pen and pad.
"I had some work to catch up on," she said, tucking it her phone away in her pocket. "Plus I've heard Daenerys' speech about child poverty before; it's good, but I don't know how it'll play to an audience of mostly under-fives."
Brienne nodded with understanding. "I hear Cersei's bit about 'business friendly King's Landing' three times a day."
"Is that why you're out here with me?"
"I'm still in the doghouse after the campaign finance story," said Brienne, sounding relaxed about it. A politician with ambitions to run nationally couldn't afford to alienate the editorial page of The Eyrie View by permanently blackballing their reporter; Brienne would spend a couple of days in the doghouse and then be back on the inside.
"It was a great story." Sansa toasted Brienne with her flat white and grinned. "I'm guessing that you spoke to Tyrion?"
Sansa had followed the Lannister patriarch's previous, unsuccessful runs for office, and had learned that as much as Tyrion played the good family soldier on the record, if you needed an anonymous quote to spice up a bland story about the Casterly Rock tycoon then you spoke to his younger son.
Judging from Brienne's story it seemed like Tyrion was prepared to be just as cutting about his sister.
Brienne ducked her head and said, "He was much more willing to speak with me after I mentioned your name, so thank you for that."
Sansa had hoped to get a lie-in on Sunday morning, or at least not to be woken before six by someone knocking on her hotel room door. She pushed her sleep mask up onto her forehead and groggily opened the door to reveal Margaery Tyrell, looking fresh as a daisy.
Margaery's eyes raked over Sansa, the corner of her mouth curling into a teasing smile. "Nice jammies," she said.
"Nice…" Sansa trailed off, craving coffee, until she saw the rolled up magazine in Margaery's hand. "Is that—?"
Margaery nodded, striking a pose holding up the Sunday View magazine.
The picture of Daenerys gracing the cover was good; flattering her youth and good looks without allowing either to diminish her. The photographer was talented, and Sansa thought that The View should use her more often. The tagline read: The Prodigal Daughter Returns.
Sansa reached out for the magazine, and Margaery stepped out of reach.
"I want to buy you breakfast."
Sansa gestured vaguely at her state of undress. "What, now?"
"I'll wait." Margaery grinned, then reached out and snapped Sansa's sleep mask down over her eyes. "Take your time."
After her shower Sansa took longer picking out her outfit and blow-drying her hair than she normally would for an impromptu breakfast meeting. A part of her wanted to make Margaery wait as punishment for waking her up on a day she'd hoped to sleep-in, and another part wanted to remind the other woman that she could look better than she did wearing wolfie pajamas with sleep goop in her eyes.
When Sansa finally arrived in the lobby Margaery looked engrossed in the magazine supplement and didn't seem at all put out by the wait.
"Come on," said Margaery, taking Sansa's arm with an easy smile. "I know a good breakfast place."
Margaery made careless small talk until they were seated half-facing each other around the corner of a table in a restaurant that was mostly empty because it was still stupidly early on a Sunday morning. The waiter brought them coffee and pastries, and Margaery laid the magazine open in front of them and said, "Yara thinks you spent too much time on how young Dany is."
Sansa had written three lines about Daenerys' age, maybe.
"Do you think so too?" asked Sansa.
"I think," said Margaery, "that right now someone on Cersei's team is trying to convince her to let them use any kind of synonym for old as a reason people should vote for her, and I think that's beautiful."
Sansa laughed and a little bit of croissant went down the wrong way.
"And," Margaery continued, smirking as Sansa tried to cover her splutter with a sip of coffee, "I think Dany's youth contrasts nicely with the headline event; Jon Arryn is basically a hundred years old, and Stannis is probably even older in lobster years."
Margaery shrugged. "An old joke of my brother's. He thinks Stannis has the personality of a lobster."
Sansa leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table and her chin on her hands. "Good analysis. Have you ever considered a career in professional politics?"
Margaery laughed lowly. She crossed her legs, and her ankle brushed Sansa's calf.
"What did you think of Dany, really? Don't get me wrong - " Margaery tapped the article with one trimmed but immaculately manicured fingernail " - this is excellent writing, but the one thing it doesn't tell me is whether you actually liked her or not."
"I think…" said Sansa, "that she's very good at not answering questions about if she plans to run for the Red Keep." Daenerys had turned every question into an answer about her plans to help the underserved of King's Landing. "And I think that she's got to stop telling people that she was born in this city when it's a matter of public record that she was born on Dragonstone. Even If I hadn't caught that, the fact checkers would have."
Margaery shrugged one shoulder. "I'm sure she just misspoke."
"Maybe. But I've read other interviews she's given, she's misspoken before."
Margaery nodded. "Noted. Thank you."
"I do, by the way." Sansa dropped her gaze from Margaery to her coffee. "Like Daenerys, that is. I think she has a good heart, and I believe she really cares about people. I think that she actually intends to do everything she promises about going after slumlords, free clinics, rebuilding the run down parts of the city by taxing the one percent of families that still behave like Westeros is a feudal state."
Some of those were within the powers of an effective mayor, Sansa had noted, and some of them betrayed Daenerys' higher ambitions.
"You didn't think she was sincere before," said Margaery, placing her hand over her heart with mock affront. "Haven't you been listening to our speeches?"
"Oh, come on." Sansa nudged Margaery's knee with her own. "You know as well as I do that Daenerys plays better the smaller the audience. Put her on stage in front of a big crowd and all her good intentions sound like so much preaching and faux-populism."
"It's not faux-populism if she believes it," Margaery pointed out.
"Everything sounds like faux-populism when it's delivered in an Essosi finishing school accent," Sansa countered.
Margaery arched an eyebrow. "You don't exactly sound like it's all that grim up north."
It was a dig at Sansa's received pronunciation, something she'd copied from the TV news as a young teenager and practiced using a tape recorder; between that and all the travelling she did for work her accent no longer bore much resemblance to Robb's.
"Dany is speaking from experience," said Margaery. The grin on her face making it look like she was having rather more fun than a spokeswoman defending her candidate to a stubborn reporter really ought. "She had a hard start in life."
"I know." Sansa had written about Daenerys' father's suicide by self-immolation before her birth, her mother's difficulties coping, the way she'd been passed around various Essosi relatives until a distant cousin of her mother's had stumped up the fees for a very exclusive Pentoshi boarding school. It made for good copy, and made the reader root for her return to Westeros to end in victory. "But still…"
"But still," Margaery said agreeably, "the accent's a problem."
Margaery's phone chirped, and she flipped it over from where she'd laid it face down on the table. "I have to go into the office," she said apologetically. "Thank you for being my breakfast date."
Yara Greyjoy was taking a victory lap around the bullpen while Margaery looked on indulgently, leaning in her office doorway.
"What's going on?" Sansa asked.
Yara and Margaery exchanged a look, and Yara said, "Ellaria did some new polling."
Yara's laptop was sitting open on a nearby desk and Margaery tipped her head to Sansa, giving her the okay to take a look.
"You're running neck and neck with Cersei?"
"I told you this would happen," Margaery said to Yara. "Cersei's poll numbers were always soft. It was all name recognition. Right?" She looked to Sansa for agreement.
Sansa leaned her hip against a desk. "A mile wide and an inch deep," she confirmed.
People had felt sorry for her Cersei throughout her husband's numerous public affairs and after his scandalous death in office; but the people who'd liked her when she was standing by her man liked her a lot less now that she was trying to step into the dead man's shoes. And now that the shock of his death was wearing off people were starting to remember that Robert's tenure as mayor had been as remarkable for its endemic citywide corruption as for its tabloid friendly scandals.
"It's not just that Cersei's numbers are down - " Yara grinned broadly at Sansa " - ours are up since you started covering us."
That was name recognition, too. Campaign manager blindness: the opposition's poll numbers were soft; your candidate's numbers were rock solid.
"I could kiss you for writing that profile!" Yara told Sansa, and Margaery cleared her throat. "I should kiss someone! I need to tell Dany about these numbers!"
"Off the record?" said Margaery after Yara had left, and waited for Sansa's little nod. "If we win this thing, it'll be as much because Cersei loses it as anything we do."
Sansa knocked on Margaery's open office door. "I want to write about you."
"I bet you say that to all the girls," said Margaery without looking up.
"Actually…" said Sansa with a little grin. "You know how women are three-quarters of the staff on this campaign. Do you have any idea how rare that is? I want to do mini-profiles of some of the female staffers. You and Yara, obviously, but Ellaria and Missandei too if they'd be up for it."
Margaery cocked her head, looking interested. "Okay. Talk to Yara, if she okays it I'm in.
Yara was perched on the corner of her desk, Daenerys standing between her thighs straightening her tie.
Shae caught Sansa's eye with a smirk. "This is going to be Renly Baratheon all over again."
"Oh, no. I don't think it's like that," said Sansa.
Whatever scathing retort Shae had been about to make was interrupted by Dany brushing imaginary lint from Yara's shoulders, whispering something into her ear, and then announcing, "She's ready for her close up."
Shae lifted her camera in a mocking salute, and Daenerys backed out of the shot.
Shae had photographed Sansa's other subjects before lunch, but they'd had to wait for a gap to open up in Yara's schedule. While they waited Shae had shown Sansa what she thought were the most promising shots from earlier in the day: Ellaria standing with her hands on her hips in the middle of an empty phone bank; Margaery standing behind a podium looking out of shot looking poised to answer questions; Missandei, Dany's aide-slash-social media genius, looking coyly over the top of a laptop.
As Sansa walked her out to her car Shae bumped her shoulder affectionately. "Thanks for throwing this job my way."
"I wasn't doing it as a favour; those shots you took of Daenerys for me were amazing."
"I know," said Shae, who also knew that she was the last choice photographer for any story Petyr Baelish was doing. "But if I get any interesting shots during tonight's presidential debate you can have first refusal."
"You're going to the debate?"
Jon Arryn and Stannis Baratheon were going to debate at the Old Dragonpit Theatre in King's Landing tonight, and the most interesting thing about it as far as Sansa was concerned was that it meant that Sandor, and Petyr, were in town.
"I'm going to be watching it in my hotel room, writing these profiles, and eating M&Ms."
The television pundit was trying to read something psychologically revealing into Stannis' choice of a slate grey tie, and Sansa was sitting on her bed with her laptop open looking for good spots to insert quotes into her profiles. She'd gotten some good ones from Yara's brother, Ellaria's partner, and Margaery's grandmother; although she didn't think Olenna Tyrell would be taking her calls again, having seen straight through Sansa's overly casual inquiry as to whether she had a preference in the King's Landing mayoral race.
Someone knocked at her door, and Sansa set the laptop aside.
Margaery must have knocked by kicking Sansa's door with her heel, because she was standing there with a drink in each hand.
"I got them to pour a ginger ale into a martini glass," said Margaery, offering the drink to Sansa. "I thought we could watch the debate together."
"That sounds fun." Sansa stepped aside. "Make yourself at home."
Margaery did, stepping out of her heels and taking a seat up against the headboard of Sansa's bed, stretching her legs out in front of her.
Sansa considered taking the desk chair, but then scooted up the bed to sit next to Margaery, their legs touching. She offered Margaery the bowl of candy she'd been snacking from. "M&M?"
"Oh, God." Margaery took a peanut M&M and used it to gesture at the tv. "They've actually got Barristan Selmy moderating this thing. It's like they're trying to bore us all to death with this election."
"The next debate is in Riverrun," said Sansa. "I hear they've tapped Brynden Tully to moderate."
"Good choice," said Margaery, "though I wouldn't be surprised if, by the end of the debate, more people wanted to vote for him than either of the candidates."
They turned the volume down while the cameras panned around the Dragonpit Theatre, trading bits of gossip about staffers and reporters they knew who were working on or covering the Arryn and Baratheon campaigns.
Margaery turned the volume up when the candidates were asked a question about LGBTQ rights, and then back down when neither of them said anything either wildly offensive or especially progressive. Sansa thought that Stannis did the decent thing in refusing to be drawn into talking about Renly.
After Margaery set the remote down she let her hand rest on Sansa's knee and left it there.
"You would tell me, wouldn't you," she asked, "if I were being presumptuous?"
"I will," said Sansa. "I mean, I would. But you're not. Being presumptuous." She laid her hand on top of Margaery's and squeezed.
When Margaery finally kissed her Stannis was answering a question about the support he was receiving from religious fundamentalists; Sansa half felt that she should listen to his answer, she knew Sandor was writing an article on that very subject, but Margaery Tyrell was lying half on top of her, her breasts crushed against Sansa's, her tongue swiped across Sansa's bottom lip and oh.
Margaery's mouth tasted sourly of olive juice from her drink, but that was more than made up for by the way her knee was pressed between Sansa's thighs, and the way that her hand spread beneath Sansa's shirt was ticklish against her ribs.
Margaery pulled back, the corner of her mouth curving into a teasing grin. "Still not being presumptuous?"
"Not even close," said Sansa, dragging her back down.
Margaery woke up as Sansa was putting her bra back on.
She propped herself up on her elbow and said, "You do remember that we're in your room, right?"
Her tone was careless, but when Sansa turned to look at her she caught a flash of something that might have been insecurity in Margaery's eyes. Butterflies rustled in Sansa's belly, and she reached out and tucked a stray curl of hair behind Margaery's ear.
"A colleague from the paper is in town for the debate, and I promised I'd meet him for a late drink."
Margaery arched an eyebrow. "It's not the serial sexual harasser, is it?"
"As much as I might like to believe that you blew off a presidential campaign because Dany's just that good a candidate, or I'm just that irresistible, news like Littlefinger travels."
"No, it's— it's Sandor Clegane. He's fine. He's a friend."
"Oh, good," said Margaery, relaxing back against the pillows. "I don't have to be so terribly uncouth as to invite myself along."
"You should stay here and get some sleep." Sansa had gone down on Margaery not an hour earlier, but it still took courage to peck a quick kiss to Margaery's lips. It felt, to use Margaery's word, presumptuous. "I'll see you when I get back."
Sandor had his laptop open on the bar and was working on his piece about the debate. The pub was mobbed but Sansa, Brienne, and Sandor had plenty of elbowroom; it was almost like Sandor gave off an invisible force field that kept the other drinkers from getting close enough to jostle him or risk spilling their drinks on his keyboard.
Sansa was leaning over the bar ordering their drinks. She handed Sandor something called a dirty pint that was a mixture of dark ale and sour Dornish red wine, gave Brienne her half pint of shandy, and kept the ginger ale for herself.
Sandor snorted with derision. "And you two call yourself reporters."
Sansa and Brienne rolled their eyes in unison. Sandor had made his name in their profession at a time when journalism was something best done drunk; Sansa and Brienne belonged to generations where editorial budgets had been slashed, and you handed in your copy clean enough that it could be polished up by an intern and a spell check algorithm or you didn't hand it in at all.
"Have you followed up on any of those sources in the Reach I put you on to?" Brienne asked.
"Yes." Sansa shrugged. "Not that I can get anyone to go on the record."
"You're still chasing them, though?"
"Of course," said Sansa. "But—"
It had been a long time since Sansa had felt Brienne and Sandor looking at each other over her head like this, not since she was a cub reporter. "But—?"
"Is anyone really going to feel better with Cersei Lannister one step closer to the Red Keep?"
Sandor didn't look up from his screen, but did stop typing for a moment. "It's not your job to help them, Little Bird."
Sansa and Margaery were watching the Riverrun presidential debate in Margaery's hotel room.
Well, the television was on, but the volume was turned almost all the way down, and Margaery was mouthing a column down Sansa's throat.
Sansa made out the tail end of one of Brynden Tully's questions and pushed Margaery back by her shoulders. "Hang on a second, I want to listen to this."
Margaery rolled off her, and Sansa swallowed the whine that inadvertently rose in her throat. She turned up the volume and listened to the tail end of Jon Arryn's answer about how important it was that the North remain part of the Seven Kingdoms; Stannis gave a similar answer, with a disappointing addition about how the North couldn't be permitted a referendum on the question of independence.
Sansa didn't have to guess how that answer would have gone over back home.
She turned the volume back down and twisted onto her side to face Margaery. "Hey," she asked, "how come Dany and Cersei aren't having a debate?"
Margaery shrugged as best she could while lying down. "Neither campaign pushed for it. You were right when you said that Dany's not at her best when people feel like she's lecturing at them; and Cersei doesn't have a constituency outside of people who have Lannister amounts of money, so the less she says about her actual policy positions the better."
Sansa poked the side of Margaery's boob with her index finger.
"Ow," said Margaery, rubbing her breast. "What was that in aid of?"
"The Tyrells have Lannister amounts of money, I think."
"Well, yeah," said Margaery, locking eyes with Sansa with a serious expression on her face, while still feeling herself up. "But I'm on the side of the angels."
Sansa's face flushed red, and she had to break eye contact and stare at the ceiling. "You are definitely no angel, Margaery Tyrell."
Sansa looked sideways to see if Margaery was still touching herself. Margaery saw her peek, burst out laughing, and dragged Sansa into a giggling kiss.
Margaery had taken Sansa out, sort of, if the bar of their hotel counted, for celebratory Friday night drinks.
Sansa's series of mini-profiles on the women of the Daenerys Targaryen campaign - which the paper had published under the depressingly sexist and distressingly alliterative title of 'Dany's Dragons' - had been coming out all week.
The election was in seven days and things were hectic. Margaery had been stuck in meetings at the office till late, and Sansa had been trailing Daenerys as she knocked on doors. By the time they got back to the hotel there was in no one left in the bar but a bored looking barman who alternated between wiping down tables and glaring at Sansa and Margaery - maybe because he wished they'd leave, and maybe because he could see that Margaery had slipped off one of her heels and was running her foot up the back of Sansa's calf.
Margaery could read and play footsie at the same time. "This really is brilliant writing, Sansa."
Sansa blushed, although she actually did think that her profile of Yara was the best of the bunch.
Yara had spoken pretty openly about how her uncles were low-level crooks in the Iron Islands mob, and Sansa had gotten some good quotes from her brother, Theon, about how Yara had kept him away from that life with little more than a whip and a chair.
"I have to admit," said Margaery, who was reading the profile on her phone and tapped to make the accompanying photo fullscreen, "that girl Shae takes a good photograph."
Yara was pictured sitting on the corner of her desk, tie loose, rakish grin on her face.
Margaery cocked her head thoughtfully. "You know, if I squint, I can kind of see what Dany sees in her."
"Wait," said Sansa. "Dany and Yara, they're—?"
"Oh, Sansa." Margaery's tone was delighted and her grin condescending. "I thought journalists were supposed to be observant."
Sansa glanced nervously at the barman, who was on the other side of the room, half-heartedly washing out glasses. "You aren't pulling my leg?"
"I just assumed you—" Margaery huffed. "This is all off the record, okay?"
"I'm not a gossip writer, Margaery. But, come on, they have to know that this is what brought Renly down."
"It's not the same." Sansa raised a skeptical eyebrow, and Margaery insisted, "It's not. No one lied, no one got fake engaged. And given how catastrophic Dany's taste in men is, Yara's actually a marked improvement. The only reason we got away with the Dothraki fiancé is because of how tragically it all ended."
Sansa was sitting on the end of Margaery's bed taking her shoes off when Margaery cleared her throat. "I have a proposition for you."
"Oh, Margaery, I think I'm too tired for anything other than—"
Margaery laughed. "No. I mean, yes, obviously, but no. I have a professional proposition for you."
Sansa was confused. "What do you mean?"
Margaery sat next to Sansa and took her hand. "I meant what I said earlier, about your writing being brilliant. I want you to come and do some speechwriting for Dany, for us, when we win."
"I thought Ellaria said that the polls were still too close to call," Sansa said, and then: "I already have a job."
"You've already told me that you like the substance of what Dany says, you just don't think she always says it in the best ways. There's only so much the accent coach I got her and Yara sending her out to knock on doors and meet voters one-on-one can do. Come and work with us, write some speeches, and help Dany say what she needs to say better. And—" Margaery dropped Sansa's hand and her gaze shifted to a spot over Sansa's shoulder.
"And?" Sansa prompted.
Margaery shrugged. "I like you," she said with practiced carelessness. "Someday I might like to have a conversation with you that doesn't start with the question 'is this off the record?'"
"I…" Sansa began.
"You're right, of course," said Margaery. "We haven't actually won yet. Just promise me you'll consider it, okay?"
Sansa's shoes were in her hand and her underwear was in her purse when she caught Yara sneaking out of Dany's hotel room.
Yara didn't have her shoes on either, her shirt wasn't tucked in, and her collar was turned up as she pulled a knotted tie over her head.
How did I never notice this? Sansa wondered incredulously.
Yara saw Sansa and nodded without saying anything; Sansa nodded back and continued on with her own walk of shame. She made it half a dozen steps before she stopped, turned, and said, "You and Daenerys should really have a plan."
"We do have a plan," said Yara, "it's to win an election."
"For what you're going to say when people find out about your relationship."
"Nobody's going to find out."
Sansa suppressed a snort of disbelief; why was this the one subject on which everyone had decided to be stupid?
"No one is going to find out," Yara insisted, "because it's a campaign affair."
Sansa had covered enough campaigns to be familiar with the concept. People were together eighteen hours a day for weeks or months at a time, they were tense and stressed out, and paired off to blow off steam. It happened on every campaign.
"It looks different because Daenerys is the one running for election."
"Yeah, it looks about as bad as you being a reporter and Margaery being the communications director." Yara scrubbed her hand through her hair, looking hangdog and apologetic. "Look, Dany and I will be over by this time next week. Just like you and Margaery, right?"
Sansa was just getting out of the shower when her cell phone buzzed. The number was blocked.
"Sansa Stark," she answered, wrapping herself in a towel.
"Ms. Stark." It was an older male voice, one Sansa didn't recognize. "My name is Alester Florent. You left me some messages a few weeks ago. You had some questions about Olenna Tyrell that I believe I can help you with."
Sansa thought about Margaery's I like you and Yara's insinuations about how her relationship with Margaery looked. "Mr. Florent, is it okay if I record this conversation?"
In the pause while she waited for his answer Sansa almost hoped he'd say no. "Yes," he said, "I don't mind going on the record."
Margaery knew about the story because Sansa, for professional reasons and as awkward as it had been, had given her the chance to comment before publication. Tight-lipped and furious Margaery had insisted that Sansa come with her to give Yara a heads up before the article appeared in the paper.
It was going to run in the morning edition under the headline: OVER-REACH!
Yara rubbed her forehead. "Three days before the election..."
"It's not that bad," said Sansa. "The story about how Tywin Lannister is bankrolling Cersei's run is out there too. It's—"
"A plague on both our houses," Margaery said bitterly.
"Okay," said Yara. "Okay. I can't stop you covering this, but until election day you report from the outside, no access." Sansa nodded. Yara was being entirely reasonable; Margaery, on the other hand, was still glaring daggers at Sansa. "If we win this thing we can revisit the subject, or The Eyrie View can send someone else."
"Is that all?" Margaery demanded.
Yara shrugged. "What do you want from me? I can't make her do the walk of shame through King's Landing." She turned to Sansa. "Margaery will show you out."
Margaery spun on her heel. "Come on then."
"Oh, and Margaery?" added Yara. "All things considered, it's probably best if you keep your head down; if we need to put out any public statements have Missandei do it."
Sansa was pretty sure that the steam coming out of Margaery's ears had as much to do with Yara benching her as it did with Sansa herself.
"A source came to me," she said, as Margaery supervised her zipping up her laptop bag and pulling on her coat.
"You were just doing your job, is that it?"
"Yes," said Sansa, because the truth, that she hadn't been doing her job, that she'd stopped chasing the story, and if it hadn't fallen double sourced into her lap she wouldn't have written it, sounded even worse.
"You didn't have to write it."
"Your grandmother didn't have to interfere in a mayoral election in a city she's never in her life lived in! You didn't have to agree to be her cat's paw! You might have at least declared that you were working for the campaign for free!"
Margaery gripped Sansa's elbow as she escorted her towards the door. "You didn't have to write it," she hissed. "Not after we—"
Sansa thought about Yara's insinuations, and felt queasy. "Wait. No. Is that why you…so that I'd soften up my coverage of the campaign?"
Margaery released Sansa's arm and the corner of her mouth curled into a sneer. "Wouldn't you like to know."
Victory must have softened Margaery towards Sansa; she could tell because her name hadn't been taken off the list of people invited to the Daenerys Targaryen victory party.
Something must have been pointed out about the respective heights of Dany and the podium, because off to one side of the stage Dany, Yara, and Margaery stood in a huddle, Dany leaning on Yara's shoulder for balance as she stepped into Margaery's higher heels.
Sansa wished she felt able to go over to them and tell them that they weren't as concealed from the crowd as they obviously thought they were; she wished she felt able to go over to them full stop.
The way Dany was leaning into Yara it sure didn't seem like whatever had been going on between them was over. Sansa heard a click and noticed Shae standing next to her, camera in hand. "I told you so."
Sansa grinned sheepishly. "Shae, do me a favour? If you hear that anyone's got a photo of those two, or is shopping around a story, call me."
"So you can write it first or so you can warn them?" When Sansa didn't answer Shae rolled her eyes and grabbed Sansa's hand. "Stop pining, and come with me to the bar."
At the bar Shae flirted outrageously with Tyrion Lannister, who was courting his father's fury by attending the victory party for his sister's opponent.
Sansa turned away, and nearly bumped into Margaery Tyrell; Margaery had a martini glass in hand and her eyes glittered like it wasn't her first.
"Hey," she said.
"Congratulations," said Sansa, "to Yara and the new lady mayor too."
"I hear you're going back to the Vale." If Margaery didn't sound sad about it, at least she didn't sound overjoyed either. "The Eyrie View got in touch about sending a new reporter to cover the mayor's office. I think you know him. Sandor Clegane."
Sansa burst into a fit of the giggles. "Sorry. I'm sorry. I'm just picturing you trying to charm Sandor. Oh, God."
"Hey," said Margaery, taking mock offence. "I can be charming."
"Don't I know it," Sansa scoffed under her breath.
Margaery must have heard her. "Hey," she said softly, taking a step closer. "I flirted with you for softball coverage. Everything else was real."
"Yeah," said Sansa. "I think I knew that."
"I guess it never would have worked out, with us having the jobs that we do."
"I guess not."
"It was fun," said Margaery, "wasn't it?"
Sansa's cheeks coloured red and a small grin crept onto her face. "Yeah, it was."
"Do you mind if we change trains at Moat Cailin?" Sansa called across The Eyrie View's newsroom to Brienne, clicking through the infuriating ticket purchasing website.
"Anything that gets us to Winterfell in less than a day and a half and doesn't cost an arm and a leg," Brienne called back.
Brienne was going to cover the North's growing independence movement, and Sansa was travelling with her to take a long overdue holiday at home, and make a few introductions to Robb's friends, point Brienne in the right direction.
"Stark," Mya the mailroom intern dropped an envelope on Sansa's desk, "this came for you."
"Thanks." Sansa opened it with her thumbnail, and out fell one of the old Daenerys Targaryen for mayor of King's Landing flyers with a note written on the back:
We start running for the Red Keep in two years
Come and do some speechwriting
Sansa's thoughtful smile must have been visible from Brienne's desk. "A tip?" she called over.
Sansa slipped the flyer into her purse. "I don't know. I think so. Yes."