A song of Ice and Fire | Sansa centric, Sansa Stark/Jamie Lannister, Sansa Stark/Tyrion Lannister | 3973 words | PG13 | Spoilers for all asoiaf books, AU after A Dance with Dragons | AO3
She learned long ago not to place her trust in men, or in a song's promise of rescue for a fair maiden. She is a maiden no more, and Sansa Stark knows that the only one who can save her is herself.
Sansa owns a mask of porcelain, she owns a mask of ivory, she owns a mask of steel. She dons them all these days, just to stay alive. She learned to play the game with words, not with steel, but that does not make her less dangerous. She learned from the mockingbird, and even if Petyr is dead now, he follows her wherever she goes. His smooth voice fills her head and her mind, blending with the lessons from her youth. Courtesy is a lady's armour. Never let your mask fall.
She smiles and curtsies and behaves like she knows they expect. The new queen is no friend to the Starks, but Sansa had stood before the mother of Dragons, head bowed in false submission and listened to her words of pardon for a crime she didn't commit. She is no longer the girl she once was, and she knows that even if the queen says that Sansa doesn't share the offences of her father and her brother, she is still not safe. Do not place your trust lightly. Always be on guard for the next attack Petyr's voice say in her head as she bends her knees and swears loyalty to a Queen she barely know.
Tyrion is back as well. She watches her husband and waits for what he intends to do. Sometimes the best plan is to listen, watch and make sure your plans belong to others. She is done being a pawn, some piece to be traded away, but Tyrion carries favour with the new Queen and Sansa is playing a long game, a game she intends to win. She no longer thinks in small steps and immediate needs, and she might still need Tyrion's good will. He was kind to her before, he might be so again.
She has been a pawn and she is never letting herself be one again. If they kick her she will not stay down, but rise even stronger with a cold fury suitable of her northern blood.
He doesn't seek her out until a few days later, although she knows he has seen her. He makes her a sarcastic bow, and looks up at her with a glint in his eyes.
"Will you not welcome your husband home?"
She smiles back at him confidence is a shield against suspicion "Of course my lord." she says and holds her hand out to him. He takes it and places a kiss to her knuckles.
"Would you care to accompany me to my chambers?" he says politely.
"Yes my Lord." her heart beats madly in her chest, but she doesn't let it show. She wonders if he's changed like she have, if this time he will press her for the duties of the marriage bed. She thinks she knows the hearts of men, but she is not sure she knows this one. She can feel his eyes on her as they walk, her stride shortened to match his. Once she would have speed up just to spite him, but that is not her any more.
His sitting room is spacious, as the Hand of the Queen he is entitled to it even in a castle that bear the markings of war. But it surprises her all the same, she is so used to her own small cell and she still has a picture of him in their old rooms. He offers her a seat near the fire, pours them wine and sits down opposite her. He is still looking at her, but she does not want to be the one that break the silence. don't talk unless you know what to say.
"You are different from the wife I left behind." He gives her a half smile, the skin pulled tight over his scar.
Sansa doesn't know if she wants to laugh or cry at that, but she thinks she knows him better now so she does neither, and looks him straight in the eyes when she answers. "My lord is too kind" a lady's manner is her armour
He laughs at that, but it sounds hollow even to her ears. "I do not think that I am." He takes a swing of his wine and looks at her searchingly.
"I think you know that the Queen does not care much for you or your family." he says quietly.
She nods, but says "I am a Lannister my Lord." while her insides is screaming that she is a wolf, and that the North remembers.
"Ah, yes," Tyrion nods, "but she does not care much for Lannisters either."
She knows this of course. The Dragon Queen had Cersei killed, and her children is kept where she can keep an eye on them. Only the Kingslayer is at large and she does not know what will become of him.
"I spoke up for you." he continues, "because you are my wife. And she wasn't that hard to persuade. She knows not to blame a girl that does what her family tells her in times of war."
Sansa believes him, because every girl from a noble family knows what that is like. She has heard that the Queen married young to one of the savage horse people she brought with her across the Narrow Sea. But she can also see the fire in her eyes and she knows she will get no pity from the Queen, only disdain for not breaking free. But she will take that, it is preferable to the Queen knowing the she has already broken free; she is not the same girl anymore.
"Thank you, my lord." She says, head bowed.
He smiles the same sardonic smile he used to have, like he sees right through her, but she doesn't drop her mask.
"Do not thank me yet, for I would like you to act as my wife again."
She looks at him, but wills her face not to give her panic away.
"It is a way to ensure your safety." he looks at her intently. "There is a second bedroom connected to this room that can be yours. I will not press my advances, and we can continue as we did before."
Relief floods through her at the knowledge that he does not mean them to be husband and wife in any real sense. Unbidden thoughts of Littlefinger's hands on her and his breath ghosting over her face comes, but she dismisses them with the ease of habit. This is better than she hoped for, and she knows this is an offer she can't afford to decline.
"Thank you, my Lord." she says again. He drinks more wine, and he doesn't look at her any more. Instead his eyes are dark as they look past her. She doesn't know what he thinks, but she imagines she can see the same sorrow for things lost that often is in her own eyes.
"I'd better go and arrange for my possessions to be moved, my Lord." she rises and he makes a dismissive gesture with his hand. She's almost to the door before she turns around, a question on her lips she hadn't intended to ask, but that she needs to know the answer to.
"Why are you doing this?"
He shrugs. "Would you believe me if I said it was for respect of our wedding vows?"
She just waits, hoping the real answer is right behind. He sighs and drags a hand over his face. "I think it's a misplaced attempt at capturing some of the innocence left in this world. And maybe it is a first step to redeem what my family did to yours."
She still doesn't know if she got an honest answer, but she can see that no more is forthcoming and she leaves with a small courtesy, closing the door softly behind her.
She learned long ago not to place her trust in men, or in a song's promise of rescue for a fair maiden. She is a maiden no more, and Sansa Stark knows that the only one who can save her is herself.
She moves into the adjoining room and settles her few possessions in the chest by the foot of the bed. The bed is large, but she knows now that her husband will not join her there, and she's grateful for that one safe island in a sea of uncertainty.
Life settles into a rhythm. They play chess in the evenings, and sometimes they talk. Sansa keeps her mask, but she knows it sometimes slips. And she is half afraid and half relieved by his gaze that seems to see right through her, but doesn't call her on it. Tyrion has changed since last she knew him. He drinks more, and his mood is darker. He tells her one night that he likes their games because they are so different from the other games he plays at court. She doesn't ask him why, but she thinks that part of it is that he still thinks of her as the innocent girl of thirteen. And that he feels safe with her. She feels Littlefinger's voice in her head telling her that this is something she can use, but she lets the voice die down.
She doesn't want to use this, she wants him to have a safe haven. And that thought startle her more than anything. She can see that life has not been good to him, and even if he is in control again, she knows that this is not where he intended to end up. She suddenly wonders what his dreams where when he was a child, and if he ever got to live through some of them.
She can't get Petyr out, he's in her head, filling it with his voice and his lessons. Even beyond death, a death she gave him, she feels like he is somehow winning.
She never sleeps through the night any more.
"You play a good game, Lady Sansa." he says one evening, regarding her and she knows he's not talking about the board in front of them.
"Thank you, my lord." she gives him a small smile. "I learned from the best."
"That did not help him much in the end, did it?" Tyrion gives her a small smirk and suddenly she knows that he knows. She can see it in his eyes, but before she can retreat back into herself, she decides she doesn't care. It is a crime of a past filled with crimes. Still, she keeps her mask on and moves a pawn to take one of his pieces.
"He forgot two of his own rules my Lord." she says carefully.
"Oh?" Tyrion says and she knows she has awaken his curiosity now. She moves another piece.
"Do not place your trust lightly, and never let anyone know what you truly desire." Sansa recites and looks up at him. (she tries not to remember her mothers name whispered above her in the darkness, or the way his red blood had looked on her white hands).
Tyrion's eyes shines in the candlelight and she holds his gaze for a long time. "What did he do to you to make you use it against him?" he asks softly, but Sansa has shared more than enough tonight: she is not yet ready to voice this. So she moves her eyes to the board in front of them and in one swift move she has his king captured. In three more she has won.
"I talked to the Queen and she has given my brother free entry into the city." Tyrion confides in her one night. She doesn't quite know how to respond to that. She bears no love for his brother, but she does not want to offend him.
"So he has been found, my lord?" she decides on in the end, her ivory mask in place.
"Yes. I do not believe she means to let him stay." He takes a sip of wine. "But at least she won't kill him at first sight." He smiles his crocked smile and she retires soon after.
The Kingslayer arrives not long after that. He rides alone into the city, the golden arm hidden beneath his cloak. Sansa is shocked at how old he seems. She somehow never thought about Jaime Lannister ageing. She knew about the loss of his arm of course, but it seems like all the fight has left him as well. She was ready to despise him, to hate him like she hated the Kingslayer of old. But she do not know if she can hate this man; with loss in his eyes and a strained set to his shoulders that does not resemble the knight she once knew.
Later that evening Sansa quietly opens the door to their sitting room and slips in. Jaime and Tyrion is sitting in front of the fire, their faces serious and their conversation low. They do not hear her and she doesn't know if she should interrupt.
"I did not kill Joffrey you know." Tyrion says.
"No." Jaime says. "I do not think I ever truly believed you did."
Tyrion looks at him surprised, although Sansa thinks that it is only natural not to believe a thing like that about your own brother. But then she does not know these brothers like she once knew her own. She decides to make her presence known, it is rude for a lady to eavesdrop. Learn secrets in any way you can, trickery is only wrong when done to you. She closes the door loudly partly to alert Tyrion and Jaime to her presence, but also to shut out Petyr (even if he never stays away for long).
They both look up at her, and she stands up a bit straighter and takes a step forward.
"I am sorry to disturb you, my lords." Courtesy is a lady's armor. "I will retire and leave you to your conversation."
Both brothers look at her. Tyrion with something she has come to know as respect and understanding, but she can't read Jaime's eyes. His face is troubled, and as he rises and makes her a bow she pulls over herself the Sansa Stark of old. He is not a Lannister she can trust, and she does not want to show her true self yet. She looks down, makes a curtsey and leaves them.
It is only after that she thinks that maybe she should have told them who really killed Joffrey, but she keeps her secrets these days. Secrets are a currency, keep yours close at hand. Even when she want Petyr gone, she still does what he taught her unbidden.
She hears their low voices long into the night.
When she doesn't sleep she sits in her windowsill looking out over the castle. She tries not to think of the past, but she still does. She lets her mind wander to Winterfell and a childhood that she remember differently now. She remembers old Nan telling them stories as kids, and Sansa understands some of them better now. The old woman was telling more than just stories to amuse, they were cautionary tales, tales of the men and woman who lost everything, and the few who managed to claw themselves back.
She wonders where Nan is now, and if she herself had lived through any of her own stories. Then she realizes that Nan is probably dead as well, buried underneath Winterfell's ruins.
Sansa's greatest sin is that she is a survivor.
"What do you want?" Tyrion asks her one night.
"What do you mean, my lord?" her mask already in place while her thoughts swirl. It is too loaded a question, to many answers to voice and none of them something she's ready to give away.
"Do not play the game with me Sansa," he says warily. "not tonight. You know me better than that, I should think. What do you want?"
She looks down at her hands, the trust that's been building between them the past months wants her to open up. never reveal your deepest desires, or they might get taken away from you Petyr whisper seductively in her ear and she shuts her eyes. She doesn't want to be like him, she wants to be her own. She is in it for the long game, and she knows that she might have learned from the best, but Tyrion is right, that didn't help him in the end. She has to do this her own way, use him when needed, but not all the time. She needs to be Sansa Stark, not Alayne Stone. She takes a deep breath and looks at Tyrion.
"Winterfell." She says, the word hanging between them, making the air hard to breathe. "I want to go home."
He looks at her, and she can see a softening around his eyes (it is not something she would have noticed when they first were married, and she wonders now if he would have been an ally back then if she had let him. She knows now not to be influenced by something like physical appearance, there are other things far more treacherous in the human mind).
"Thank you." he says into the silence, and they do not talk about it again.
Not long after that the Queen has Sansa summoned to her presence. After her return Sansa has only seen her when accompanying Tyrion, and as they are standing alone on the Queen's private terrace, she misses his wry smiles as a wall of protection between her and the woman in front of her. She realizes now just how much their continued marriage has truly guarded her.
"I mean to give you Winterfell and make you guardian of the North." the Queen says.
Sansa is still as a stone, she does not know what to say to this, it must be a game the Queen plays with her. She can not mean what she says. Danerys smiles at her, but there is no warmth behind it.
"Take a moment to compose yourself, Lady Sansa." She turns and leans towards the railing. And Sansa takes a few deep breaths, willing herself not to feel the seeds of hope blossoming inside her.
"Why, your Grace?" she finally asks, and moves to stand next to Danerys.
"I am having problems with the lords of the North, they do not respect me. I could burn them all, make an example out of the ones that defy me, but this land has known enough of war. Tyrion tells me that they will bend their knee to a Stark, that if I make you the warden they will be mine through you."
"There is an old saying in the North," Sansa says. "There must always be a Stark at Winterfell." She takes a break and looks out over the water, one of the Queens dragon's are flying low over it. "And my lord husband is right, they would respect a Stark. But I am not a Stark any more, I am a Lannister now and they would not respect my husband." She says it without regret, she knows it to be true, even if she has come to respect Tyrion herself.
"Tyrion tells me that it has never been a true marriage. I mean to set it aside." Danerys says, and with those simple words she opens up Sansa's future. She knows she can do it now, that if she plays this right she can win her long game.
"And what do you want from me, your Grace?" Sansa asks, she knows the Queen is not someone who gives something for free.
"Your loyalty. A promise that neither you, your family or your bannermen will raise a hand against the Royal family. I will choose the wife of your eldest son, and he will rule as Warden of the North after you." Danery turns and looks at her. "I want peace." she says, "and I mean for you to help me keep it. In return you yourself will be left in peace and your children will grow up to be lords and ladies of the North."
"Thank you, your Grace." Sansa murmurs, but even as she plays the meek court lady, she can feel the cold wind of the north up her spine and the weight of generations past behind her.
The Queen's voice grows harder. "But do not misunderstand me Lady Sansa, if you do anything to displease me, or if this does not bring peace, fire will rain down on the North and none of it will be left to rule over."
"I understand." Sansa says and she does, she knows that the woman in front of her is as unforgiving as fire, and Sansa knows that she will keep true. Because the Queen is her way home, and she will not let it get away.
The cold and windy Eyre solidified her need for survival in a way King's Landing's threats and constant fears could not. In the lion's hands she learned of the game, in the mockingbird's she learned why she wanted to play it at all. She is tired, so tired, of being afraid. And survival is now a constant in her soul, a warm iron has branded her with it and making her long even more for a life free of masters and death.
And now she only has to reach out and grasp her home, just survive a little longer. And she can start to remember who she was before. Who she might become again.
She is standing on the high wall where once Joffrey had taken her to see her fathers head, looking at the King's Road and thinking of home. She was leaving soon, and she had taken to stand here, to look at the road she would take. Everything for her departure was prepared, and now it was just a waiting game. Tyrion is sending some of his men with her, they have all agreed to stay and help her rebuild Winterfell. He is also providing her with barrels of precious grain, tools and well preserved food. She knows it will be a long, cold winter before Winterfell again is safe and sound. But she will use the winter to build both herself and her home stronger.
Jame Lannister comes up next to her and leans on the wall. She tenses slightly, she has not been alone with him since his return, and she does not understand him, he switches with ease between wry japes and solemn silences, and trough it all she can feel him watching her.
"I am to be banished." he tells her without preamble. "It seems like the new Queen does not like me much."
"I can't imagine why, my Lord." she says drily, without really meaning too. But she is tired of this place and her mask is slipping.
He laughs, sudden and in a burst, and stops just as sudden like he is surprised by the sound.
"I asked the Queen if I could go North with you, she accepted my request as long as you didn't object." he looks at her, all laughter gone from his face. And she regards him quietly; she is surprised by his request.
"Why would you want to come with me?" she asks finally.
"I made a promise to your lady mother, and a Lannister pays his debts."
He looks at her in a way she is not comfortable with, like a drowning man would look at the shore. And she knows that a knight's promises are like the morning mist: beautiful to look at, but gone once the sun rises. But she can't deny him his own way to freedom even if she doesn't understand it.
They leave the next day.