There has always been something unnerving about the way he eats fruit.
He always pares it delicately with his knife, as though his enjoyment comes from the cutting and not the fruit itself. In the past, she would watch him meticulously cut into an overripe pomegranate or a hard pear and not give it any thought. But now that she spends hours each evening in his company, it is difficult not to see the pattern.
Alayne spends her nights with him because he has decided that, without the resources of a Septa and with Maester Colemon otherwise occupied, it was up to him to oversee her lessons. Though she is a woman grown, all-but-officially the Lady of the Eyrie, Petyr is adamant that she not let her studies slip. “We never stop learning, sweetling,” he tells her, as he scratches at ledgers and she eyes her script, frowning at an ink stain. “Some think that reaching adulthood means an end to it, but that’s their folly. Every skill is a weapon in the game of thrones, so why limit yourself?”
And so they pass their evenings at the Gates of the Moon, locked away in his study and bent over their work. Alayne is a good pupil, just as Sansa had been, but she finds herself occasionally concentrating more on the man beside her, on the man who calls himself her father. And the more she watches him, the more she realizes just how precise he is.
She sees nothing of that in herself, and somehow it disappoints her; her mistakes are all too visible. And she knows that Petyr sees this.
He is particularly convinced that her handwriting needs work. ‘You have the flow of a lady of breeding, no doubt,” he says, and Alayne allows herself a smile. “But there is no harm in practice. You can see the effort here, and that will never do.”
And so she spends countless hours doing lines, writing her name over and over on rolls of parchment, until her pale hands are stained with ink and the quill is dry. He occasionally offers her pomegranate seeds, which she always declines—the ink stains are bad enough.
Petyr always frowns at her spotted hands, but he admires her handiwork nonetheless. He eventually sets her to answering some of his correspondence; a great honor and a great opportunity to practice. And the first time she signs a letter, her quill never pausing as it starts the “A,” she understands the other reason behind that lesson.
Petyr and Littlefinger are so different that she is often surprised she is the only one who sees.
Petyr is warm and reassuring, her protector who smiles along with his eyes. Littlefinger is a careful construction, designed to fill whatever role best archive’s Petyr’s aims, hollow on the inside. He has spent so long in these skins that both men are truly a part of him, and he can slip between one and the other at ease, so carefully that most people don’t even blink.
“It’s best not to let them see what you really want,” Petyr tells her one morning as they ignore their porridge. “Keep them guessing what’s in your heart.” As always, he fails to say who "they" are. He also, Sansa realizes, does not make any mention of his own duality. In bed that night, she finds herself wondering if he even still sees the split. It makes his efforts to move between them seem less impressive to her.
Nonetheless, she takes his words to heart. She attempts to be Alayne fully, creating a life for this fabrication of a girl. At first, she tries to make her as different as possible, reasoning that it will be easier that way. That line of thinking was in error, as she soon realizes—it is difficult to keep up such an act, and the falsity always shows. Petyr survives by making subtle shifts when he moves between personas and she soon finds herself modeling her behavior on his, adapting mannerisms that are just slightly different from Sansa’s. The slight alteration makes being Alayne so easy that, more and more, the Stark girl feels like the construct.
It’s just like changing gowns, she tells herself. You can pull one off and put one on, but wearing two at once is a burden.
One uneventful morning, Petyr sets her to the task of cutting up their fruit. It’s a delicacy now as winter approaches, and perhaps it’s the stress of that that caused her mind to blank, just for a second. She forgets how Alayne would hold the knife and fumbles with clumsy hands, till she slices a clean line down one palm. The blood mixes with the juice to create a stain that seems unnaturally bright in the cold winter sun, covering the fading ink that still dots her fingers.
Petyr cleans and dresses the wound himself, his hands gentle and his eyes tender. He doesn’t say anything reproachful, but the sight of her stained hands in his clean ones sends a blush to her cheeks.
Petyr tells her that only fools rely solely on their ears to hear.
“What isn’t being said is often of more import anyways. The flick of an eye, the twitch of the hand—there is so much weight in movements.”
She tells herself that that’s why he has her serve wine every time he has guests to dinner, as it allows her the perfect means to practice observation. The cautious glances around the table, the shift of a foot, a nervous cough—all of them are tells, and with time she gets better at understanding why.
She tells herself this is why, but she can feel his eyes hot on her back as she moves about the room. The weight causes the hairs on the back of her neck to stand and her stomach to flutter, though strangely not from fear. Lately, as she watched the lords and ladies reveal more than they anticipated, she wonders if they notice anything amiss in the way Petyr looks at her and the way she responds, but if they do they are better at deception then either of them. She can't truly explain her reaction to his gaze, but she thinks that the fact their guests are so oblivious has something to do with it.
At the end of the evening, after the guests go to bed, Petyr would always offer her wine and listen as she told him what she learned that night.
One of those nights, as she was refilling his goblet, he grabbed her wrist with his slender hand and kissed her, much rougher than usual. When they pulled apart, she saw with amazement that the splash of the wine had not stained either of them and, ridiculously, she had never felt more pure.
Washing her hands in her water basin one morning, she marveled that the ink had left her nails. It seemed the more time passed, the less visible her stains were.
Which is not to say they disappeared completely. In fact, she had never felt so marked—a bite mark at the juncture of her neck, bruises on her hips and inner tights, scratches from his beard along the curve of her breast—but all were easily hidden. She could stand and serve wine with smooth hands and an unmarked face, and the guests would never know what lurked just beneath her hemline. Alayne, the dutiful daughter, would not have such marks or even know of such things, and suggesting otherwise would simply be unheard of.
She wasn’t Alayne when she gained those marks, of course. She wasn’t Sansa either, when she delivered her own, digging her nails into his shoulders. She wasn’t sure who she was in those moments, other than some wanton woman who trembled under his touch and exulted in the corruption.
And in the mornings she would wash all the evidence away, and slip into the now-familiar gown of the bastard girl.
That morning, she kissed him innocently on the cheek as they sat down to break their fast and he looked at her with eyes noticeably less heated than they were just hours before. She watched him cut into one of the last pomegranates of the season, following the knife intently, mimicking the flick of his wrist under the table and filing away that smooth movement in some part of her mind. It’s a fascinating movement, really, and she wonders why she found it so upsetting before.
When he offers her a seed on the point of his knife, she hesitates for only a second.