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Trust and Lies

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

England-1852

She hated black. Some people said that wearing black was a way to grieve, to go through her pain by showing it. But it only reminded her of all her sorrow and brought her bunch of fake sympathetic smiles she wished she could wipe off.

She tiredly leant her head against the window and began watching the landscape.

The train was slowly making its way through the English countryside. Fields were ready for the harvest but there was very few peasant left to work. More and more people were leaving the countryside to go and work in the cities where they were exploited under reprehensible work conditions.

Those who stayed to work in fields had to manage with an increasing food demand from the cities and a reduced labour. In the North, there were rumours announcing winter 1852 as one of the harshest winter England has ever known and everybody knew that winter brings cold, diseases, famine and death.

"Sansa… Sansa!"

"Sorry, yes? " Sansa brought back her attention to her mother who was looking at her indulgently.

"Sansa, I know you are easily lost in thoughts but, please, I need you to make an effort"

"I will." she promised

Even though Sansa wasn't sure she could keep her promise, she wanted to please her mother and not bring her more worries. Catelyn Stark was a middle-aged woman, still attractive after five pregnancies. Sansa shared with her what was called the Tully look: A pale skin highlighted by long auburn hair and deep blue eyes. Yet while Sansa's eyes showed her gentleness and her intellectual curiosity, her mother's eyes were much colder and also tired. Since the death of her husband she had loved, she had lost her joie de vivre and she only stood strong for her children. She basically lived for her children.

Before Sansa's father, Ned Stark, died one month ago, the Stark family used to live in the North in their estate Winterfell. Ned was an influential and respectable businessman, respected by the men he dealt with but also loved by those he ruled over. Indeed, one of their ancestors had been granted in 1462 the lands where Winterfell would be build on and the title of Lord for act of great bravery during the Battle of Towton putting to an end the Wars of the Roses.

Ned had a moral responsibility over his people and he estimated it was his duty to check in person how things were going on his lands.

"See, Sansa" Ned used to say to his daughter when she asked him why he was doing this "I am the one who rule over their daily life. They are expecting a lot of me; they placed their trust in me. Before judging them, I have to know them and I can't if I stay hidden in my castle."

And when Sansa insisted for him to stay at home, he used to look straight into her eyes and repeat his enigmatic motto: " The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword, young girl"

Ned Stark was a man of honour and it is his honour that cost him his life. If the Lord of Winterfell had had a virtuous life and hundreds of friends, he also had enemies, people envying his wealth and power. Whispers went south to the court of Queen Victoria reporting that Lord Stark was planning to assassinate the Queen and wanted to proclaim the independence of the North. To these rumours, it has been decided that he would be banished from the court to the North where he was anyway. They were making Ned a favour but he refuted the sentence and asked to go south to clear his name through a proper trial.

Before leaving, he went to Sansa, a white rose in his hand.

"This is for you, my princess. It is the first of the season the others haven't bloomed yet. It is like you: beautiful, pure but with thorns. Use your wits as a weapon; they are going to be your only shield in this cruel world. Be proud of your name, whatever people could say. You are the first Stark daughter. You are with your brother Robb the future of House Stark. Could you take care of the flower until I return?"

"But…when will you return?" she asked

"I… I'll try to come back soon. If you miss me, look at the rose to know that I'm always with you in spirit."

That night, the sleep came easily to Sansa; confident her father would make it back quickly.

But he never returned. On the way to his trial, he was assassinated along with the men who were meant to ensure his safety. He fought bravely but was ultimately killed a knife in his back. The assassins have never been found but the name Lannister was brought up several times.

Sansa still had the white rose with her. She had it dried and kept it to remember what she had lost and what she still had. She decided she would use all her intelligence to get back what was taken away from her.

After that tragedy, the Starks were expelled from Winterfell. Through the years, their intendant, Roose Bolton, did several dangerous investments with their money. With the loss of Ned's salary and the pressure from Roose Bolton who sent more and more creditors after them, they had to sell Winterfell for nothing to Roose and leave south where no one would have heard about the disgraced Stark family and the traitorous Lord Eddard.

Catelyn Stark was now a widow left with 5 children and one bastard her husband had the first year of their marriage and a small pension. Unlike two month prior these dramatic events when the Starks have been welcomed in the salons of the aristocracy of London, no one wanted to have something to do today with the name Stark. They were destitute and on the street. Their financial situation was so desperate that Sansa had a written permission from Robb to work. Catelyn knew nothing of course and thought that Sansa wanted to engage herself to some sort of association of ladies helping the poor. The real purpose was much more selfish, Sansa didn't want her family to finish being helped by those associations.

Sansa sighed at the thought that only three months ago she had been to fine balls where she had been admired and courted. A man her age, Mr Lennox, had even proposed her. But Sansa wanted better than a money match. She still hoped she would find a knight in shining armour who would bring her love and consideration. It was a hopeless dream; the daughter of a conspirator didn't make a good match. It was pure luck if wife and husband would get to love each other: after the marriage for her parents and before the marriage for Robb who married a nurse he met during his military service.

"Please" continued Catelyn "I want you both to make an effort. I don't want you to embarrass me in front of my friend who has so nicely proposed to take care of us. He's very kind, you'll see. I know him since childhood and at that time he was…"

"You know him since childhood?" interrupted Arya who was sitting across Sansa in a very unladylike manner "Why haven't we heard of him before if he is so precious, so nice so blablabla to you?"

"Arya! Don't be sassy with me! It is because he is very busy with his work and he never found time to come up in the North. Moreover you should be grateful he agreed to help us…"

"I don't care what he is going for us! I didn't ask to come in this damned town; I want to be with Jon right now at Winterfell and go and play into the woods!" Arya yelled.

"Manners Arya!"

Sansa let her mother and her sister argue.

It was true that the Starks were now scattered to the winds. Bran and Rickon have been sent to their uncle Edmure, Jon Snow have been exiled in Iceland after he was involved in a mutiny and Robb stayed in London working hard to get Winterfell back. Only remained with Catelyn Arya and Sansa who were going to live at the mercy of a friend.

The train finally arrived at the industrial city of Milton. Her northern friend Jeyne had told her that it couldn't be compare to London. She was right. It was smaller, dirtier and darker.

Sansa hated black and she was about to live in the blackest city of England where every colour who tried to exist was soiled by pollution and swallowed into darkness, leaving behind only dirt and ashes. It would taint the clothes, the walls but also the people turning them into animals. They were all trying to survive, nameless faces in a crowd of broken souls. But Sansa would be the surviving type she decided.

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ag48CVrJlhA

 

Chapter Text

The first thing that strikes anyone coming for the first time in Milton, with the dirt was the smell. Garbage and rubbish were scattered on the roads, being sometimes the only food source for the poor when the food was too scarce or too expensive. The chamber pots were thrown from the windows and more than one unlucky passerby received their contents on the head. The smell was overwhelming purchasing even in the houses and the apartments. Arya was already complaining about it as they were walking in the narrow streets with their luggage when they heard a voice behind them.

"You're lost m'ladies?"

A boy between Sansa and Arya's age were looking at them expectantly. He was tall and muscular as if he had worked all his life. He was dressed poorly, head bare but he didn't seem to care. His dark eyes that match his black hair showed hunger but also pride.

"Oh…hum…well, I think we are… alright. Thank you." replied Catelyn embarrassed and holding her bags closer.

"God, Mom! Admit it, we don't know our way in this bloody city! Yes we need help thank you. Here" Arya took from Sansa's hand the list of their potential future apartments her mother's dear friend had provided them and gave it to the boy.

"Bring us to these addresses and we'll see how we'll recompense you" Arya slowly licked her lips and Sansa had to prevent her eyes to roll.

The boy seemed quite surprised by Arya's honesty and impetuosity but also amused.

"It'd be a pleasure m'ladies. It's not often that we see well-bred ladies such as you in this miserable town. My name is Gendry" he flashed a smile to Arya.

Arya returned his smile "And I'm Arya. Shall we go?"

Gendry took one of Arya's bags and both opened the small procession to the sanctuary that would be their new home.

 

The house Catelyn chose extended on three floors. The first one had a small kitchen with food storage, an extra room for a servant and an office meant for a man but that Sansa decided to use as a library. On the second floor, the only space was a living room where they could receive their guest and take their tea. The stairs finally gave to the top floor where the rooms were. Sansa's room was modest, painted in pastel tones: a bed in the middle of the room, a small nightstand and a wardrobe to complete the furniture. A single window with view on the street gave enough light to the room.

After they settled, Sansa asked her mother if she could leave. Officially, it was to get to meet the ladies associations for the poor but in fact she wanted to begin to search for a job.

 

She bought to a newspaper to an orphan who was selling them on the street and went through the section dedicated to classified ads.

"We are looking for a girl with good manners who know how to read and to write to work as a secretary. The salary is 3£ the day. If interested, please make yourself known at the Whitaker's Mill."

This was the perfect job for her. She quickly found out where the mill was and made her way through the workers, charging and delivering cotton in the middle of the courtyard.

 

When she said she was here for the job, a plump man seemingly called Dontos as she heard the people calling him brought her into a small room with a desk and several books on it.

"You need to wait here, I'll go and get Boss. He wants to be the one to decide who could work as employee for him. He is a bit picky you see…"

 

And with that he left Sansa. She was curious to know who this boss was. On the wall, the clock indicated 1:27pm.

It was the first time Sansa would work and she was a bit anxious about the conversation she would have with "Boss". Will he laugh at her attempt to help her family? Will he say she is ridiculous, send her home? Or will he on the contrary welcome her warmly and give her the job?

Sansa suspected it would be more a formal job interview where her capacities would be studied and her personality as well.

 

The clock was now saying 2:04pm and Sansa was fed up waiting. If this man didn't want to come to see her, she would come to him.

No one paid attention to her as she opened the big door of the mill and began walking in the aisles. At the end of the main alley, Sansa saw a door where from she could see small balls of cotton escaping. She slowly made her way to the door and stood in front of it, hesitating. She shouldn't be here; it was so unlike her to disobey.

She took a deep breath and pushed the door.

 

For a moment Sansa found herself in the North. Snow was falling from the ceiling offering a surreal picture.

Hundreds of spinning machines manipulated by women and men of all ages were producing a blizzard of small cotton flakes in a regular and deafening noise. It was beautiful.

Sansa coughed and continued her tour. She received annoyed looks by some workers and ones full of sadness by others. They were clearly not working because they liked the job.

"Dontos!" yelled someone not far from Sansa.

She saw the man who brought her into the office earlier running into the alleys chased by an other man twice his size. The man quickly caught Dontos and pined him to a wall. Dontos was terrified but yet knew it would be useless to wrestle.

"What do I do of him, Boss?"

Sansa couldn't see "Boss" as he was standing on the other side of the pile of cottons bags she had leant into to keep her presence unknown but she could hear him. The man was trying to have an unaffected tone but Sansa could sense he was angry. Very angry.                                       

"What did I tell you about smoking in the mill? I see I was wrong to let you a second chance Dontos. Are you drunk? You know I hate bad investments."

"Yes sir…huh…I mean No sir…I mean, I'm sor-sorry! It is an old habit; I swear this will not happen again! Please… I have four kids to feed. Don't-"Dontos tried pathetically to say.

"I would be very eager to forgive you but -you see- I am a man of rules and YOU have crossed the lines, the ones I have established. I need my employees to respect me and how could they respect me if I can't even make myself obeyed on the most elementary order. That is why I have to punish you, do you understand?" It was as if he was talking to child.

"Y-Yes sir"

Sansa felt the blood boiling inside her. This man was playing with Dontos, placing him under total submission. Couldn't he have any pity for this poor fool?! What kind of man did that cold and distant voice belong to? Surely a dangerous one.

 

"Lothor" Boss continued sharply as he addressed to the giant that still held Dontos against the wall. Lothor took Dontos to the ground and began beating him. Dontos was yelling and whining in pain.

 "Stop that now" Sansa jumped between the brute and the man on the floor and made a shield of her body for Dontos. She had been witness of this comedy for too long, she would not let such violent act be continued.

Surprise was painted on Lothor's face as he turned to his employer waiting to know what to do next.

Sansa was now facing "Boss". She saw his mask slip for a second, letting her see genuine surprise and shock before he held back a neutral expression. His grey-green eyes were hard and she felt almost naked as he stared at her shamelessly. She could tell he was her mother's age, perhaps younger. He was thin and had an elegant posture. Few wrinkles around his eyes showed that he had had a busy life. He also had thick black hair a young man could have but the snows of time seem to have silvered his temples. She could tell he was a neat man as he had a perfectly trimmed moustache and beard and wore fine clothes.

But now it was unnerving Sansa that he was looking at her quite amused with a little smirk.

"Who are you, girl, to ask me to stop? Moreover, haven't your mother told you that staring was very impolite?" Sansa blushed deeply and she didn't know if it was from anger or embarrassment.

Dontos had somehow managed to get back on his feet as he mumbled: "She is here for the job of secretary. I-I told her to wait but…" Boss was looking straight into her eyes as Dontos spoke. She maintained his gaze. I can win this game.

"But she did not listen. You will agree with me that it isn't the best way to get a job to argue with your future employer." He was playing her too. Such an evil man.

"I do not want to work here anymore" Sansa stated angrily "I will not work for someone who treats those who make his wealth as if they were animals!"

The spinning machines had stopped and the noise with it. Now everyone was looking at her in a death silence.

He was smiling wickedly.

"You will want to be my personal puppet when you will find yourself on the streets without anything to eat. But perhaps are you already whoring yourself, such a nice girl in this city is either the mistress of some local politicians either a very successful whore. Come to one of my brothels if you are really looking for a job, you will be one of the jewels of my collection."

Sansa tried to slap him across the face but the man caught her wrist before her hand touched his cheek. Lothor burst into laughter as Sansa turned as red as her hair. She wanted to strangle this wicked man with her bare hand, to wipe his mocking grin off his face.

"Monster! You are nothing of a gentleman-"

"Oh I am, my lady" he interrupted" I thought I had proven it but I see my kindness leaves you unaffected. Lothor will even help you find your way out." Sansa felt she was pushed toward the exit.

 "Leave me! I know the way" She sent him the coldest and the harshest glare before leaving in a hurry, anger still threatening to explode.

"Goodbye sweetling" He watched her leave remembering every detail of her body until her red hair finally disappeared in a tempest of cotton.

 

Such a pretty girl he thought.

Chapter Text

The visit and the whole confrontation had last less than an hour but it felt years to Sansa since she had seen the blue sky or felt the sun against her skin. She had not realised it was suffocating inside the mill and the fresh air cooled her skin but also her anger.

She was left with an other emotion… embarrassment?

He insulted her, said she was a whore, ridiculed her in front of hundreds of workers and yet she was the one to feel shame. She couldn't explain it really; perhaps it was because she never disobeyed before.

She began walking as she let her mind wander.

Arya was usually the one being impulsive and making harsh decisions. Sansa didn't act unless she was asked to, always being the perfect little girl.

She shouldn't have been there, she should have stayed and wait patiently like she always does. And even if she was too proud to admit it, she had had no right to ask the man to stop and he knew it.

 

His penetrating and enigmatic grey-green eyes, truthful when his mouth wasn't, seemed to have pierced her mind and found there her deepest secrets and her most hidden weaknesses. When he have let his gaze linger over her body, it looked to Sansa that he knew already all about her or at least that is what he wanted her to believe.

Apart from the anger, she had felt attraction where she should have felt repulsion. When he grasped her wrist, she almost felt comforted by the warmth of his soft hands.

Wait, what are you thinking of? He is older than you and you hate him. He is wicked and dangerous. I hope I will never see him again.

Finally, when the thought of where her feet had brought her crossed her mind, she saw she had arrived in a park. It wasn't very big but it was quite pleasant to see something natural in this town. From there, she had a view of the whole city and its suburbs. The sun was still high in the sky but no doubt she would have to come back home soon.

 

Home

She had always thought of Winterfell as her home and it hurt her more to think about it. She knew when coming here she would have to adapt but it was so hard.

Sansa felt she was about to cry when she heard a discreet:

 

"You're alright, Miss?"

She raised her head, as she had not noticed she was looking at the ground, and was now facing a young woman with concern written on her face. She was small and frail but had this look only strong people had. She had a pretty plain face with blond hair and simple clothes. She was what we could say common, a face easy to forget.

The girl coughed before continuing:

"I didn't want to disturb you but I saw you today at the mill…"

"Ah yes… the mill" Sansa had hoped she felt better after the walk but shame and anger was still creping in her.

"I must say, Miss, you have impressed us all. It was the first time we see someone challenging Littlefinger and making through it alive."

She laughed as she saw Sansa's face turn white.

"I'm joking, he wouldn't kill you without reason and this was not a reason."

"Is he always…?" Sansa asked reluctantly

"Always so harsh? Dontos deserved what he got; he is only a drunken fool. But from what I can tell, you really pissed him off. He was pretty angry."

"I couldn't let a man be beaten in front of me! You are working so hard to make him a rich man, he could treat you better."

The girl smiled bitterly before replying" You must be the only one in town to think that way. He is not a bad employer; he treats us better than the others, these businessmen in their private club.

My name is Bessy, Bessy Higgins." She extended a hand.

"Sansa Stark" With that they shook hands.

Bessy continued, "Well Sansa, you seemed quite lost when I saw you. You're new in town?"

"I arrived today."

"Oh you must have had quite a busy day. I'm meeting with my father at the other end of the city. It's so boring doing the travel alone, would you like to join me? I could offer you a tour" she winked.

"Well I-"

"Please, I want to know more about you!" she looked at Sansa so excited she couldn’t say no to her.

Bessy took her arm and they began making their way through the city.

Bessy was from a poor family. Her mother died when she was young so she, as the eldest, found herself early having to take care of her father and her younger sister. It had been very hard for them to survive until Bessy got a job at Littlefinger's factory and her father, Nicholas, found one in the other factory of Milton. Every day after work, Bessy waited for her father in front of the factory he was working before going home together.

The two girls finally stopped in the middle of a road continued by a large stair. "Could you wait here the time I go and get my father?"

"Of course" answered Sansa with a hesitant voice. She didn't want to tell Bessy she was anxious about staying alone in this place she didn't knew.

 

Sansa began walking, waiting for Bessy, and went to the stair at the end of the road. The city was built on several hills creating a sort of natural division of the quartiers, the rich ones being on the summit and the slums down the hills.

Sansa was halfway the stair when a loud bell rang. A mass of frantic workers with dirty faces surged on Sansa.

At the sight of the young lady, some began tormenting her. She couldn't do anything; they were too many.

"Please, leave me, please" Their hands went to her hat, then to her hair, her dress.

A man took her purse with a massive grin and all she could do was beg. She never felt so powerless in her life.

"Leave the lady alone, you beasts!" Sansa expected to see Bessy but a blond man was now facing her. The workers fled, seemingly afraid of the boy.

"Give this back!" He grabbed fiercely her purse from the worker's hand. There was clearly annoyance in his eyes. They weren't a mossy green like Littlefingers' but a flashy green, almost glowing. Everything in his manners and his appearance showed that he was from the upper class.

He smiled awkwardly at Sansa before giving her purse back.

"I am sorry they annoyed you, my lady. They are only animals, I will have them punish tomorrow" He now was smiling in a way that frightened Sansa.

" Don't…please. They were just having fun, I am sure they meant no harm. But I am your obliged."

"It was a pleasure, my lady. Now, if you excuse me, I have a meeting to attend. Be careful next time, will you?" He smiled again before leaving but it sounded more like a threat in his voice.

"Sansa! There you are!" Bessy was back with an older man. "She is the one I told you about, dad. Sansa, this is my father."

"It is a pleasure, Miss." He smiled sincerely. "So you got into trouble, huh? Littlefinger and now Joffrey Baratheon?"

"Joffrey Baratheon? It is the young man who helped me with the workers?"

"Yep. This little brat owns the other factory of the town; he got it when his father died last year. Don't mess around him, he is spoiled and dangerous and that doesn't go well together." Genuine concern was written on Nicholas Higgins's face and it was comforting

"I will try my best but I can not promise you I will not make some new dangerous acquaintances, I am quite good at it" Sansa smiled as Bessy and Nicholas laughed.

She talked a half an hour more and then left her new friends taking a carriage to go home. She had missed teatime and she was sure her mother would make a remark about it.

 

Sansa finally arrived and opened the door of her new house. She heard nothing at first and was about to make herself known when she distinguished a muffled noise coming from the office. She got closer from the door left ajar, making as less noise as possible.

Two people was speaking in hushed tones, exchanging secrets they were the only one to know about. Sansa recognised her mother's laugh and it felt ages since she had heard this crystal clear melody.

"Only you Cat. Only you." A male voice whispered.

Sansa stretched her head to see whom her mother was speaking with. Only his hands, holding her mother's, was in Sansa vision, the rest being occulted by the door, but they seemed familiar.

Slowly, Sansa saw her mother lean her face toward the man. Are they going to…kiss?!

No, it wasn't possible. Her mother loved Ned Stark. Catelyn was faithful, she could not consider…

In her panic, Sansa hit the small pedestal table next to her. She heard her mother gasp. She had to do something.

"I am home, Mom!" Sansa was now standing next to the main door, her face as innocent as possible when her mother left the office flushed and embarrassed.

"Oh Sansa, you are back! You missed the tea. Come, there is someone I want to introduce you to."

Sansa dutifully followed inside the office. The man was now looking at the window, offering his back to Sansa.

"Petyr, let me introduce you to Sansa, my eldest daughter. Sansa, this is Petyr Baelish, my childhood friend I have talked to you about."

Sansa couldn't hide her shock when the man turned to meet her. Boss, Littlefinger, Petyr Baelish was now in her home when she hoped she never would have to see him again. Worse, he was the one who helped them and offered them a new life. He was the one courting her mother and almost feeding them. She was entirely dependent of this man and she hated it.

And he knew her secret. He could tell her mother what she did today and Sansa was sure Catelyn would never allow her to go out again.

She decided to make the first move. "It is a pleasure, Mr Baelish."

He smiled almost genuinely and he was handsome when he did. Don't think that! Sansa's mind screamed at her.

Catelyn continued:" My daughter is sorry she missed tea but she went today to see the association ladies for the poor and she lost notion of time. She is really dedicated to those who suffer, you see."

His mocking smirk was back when he replied.

"I can easily believe it. The pleasure is mine, Sansa. I was saying to your mother that I was holding a ball on Friday. I would be delighted if you could come."

"I can not deny it sounds appealing but I am not sure we can come. We are still in mourning period…"

"It is too late Sansa, I have already agreed." Her mother smiled playfully. "You are young, you have to enjoy what life is giving you. You may even find a suitor."

Sansa sighed at this thought and it didn't escape Baelish. He was still staring at her.

"Mooom!" Arya yelled somewhere in the house.

Catelyn apologized and went to check on Arya.

 

The office was now silent. They were staring at each other not knowing what to say.

Sansa was the one to break the silence.

"Why?"

"Why what, sweetling? Why did I beat Dontos or why did I keep your little secret?

Dontos was smoking in a highly inflammable place. I already saw a mill burning and I saw the burned corpses. You will excuse me but I don't want to meet the same fate."

"But there was no need to be violent!"

"They only understand violence. I wish we were in the wonderland you seem to be living in but this better world, one where love could overcome strength and duty, does not exist."

"I-" Sansa didn't know what to say next. He seemed disheartened at this thought as if he suffered this statement all his life. "I am sorry Mr Baelish."

"Don't be, you are the first to stand up to me. I must admit it was quite entertaining. And please call me Petyr."

Now she was funny? He insulted her and now he was making fun of her.

"Should I call you Father also?" she said bitterly

"Cat didn't really educate you, did she? Staring and now eavesdropping, sweetling?" Petyr laughed. "And to answer your question: No, not yet."

He left the office still laughing and Sansa remained, stunned. She went in her room, finishing unpacking her things.

 

Later that evening, Sansa was sitting in the office reading one of the new books she brought from Winterfell La Comédie Humaine from this French author Honoré de Balzac when she heard someone knock on the door on the house. She opened to a small man holding a bow larger than him asking her if she was Sansa Stark. Before she could ask, he gave her the box and walked away.

 

Curious to see what was in it, she ran back in her room and put the box on the bed. She tried to guess what it was. A painting? It is too big to be a book…

She couldn't contain herself and opened the box.

 

In it there was a beautiful gown, the same colour of her eyes, opened in the back with a silver lining. It was exactly Sansa's size as if it had been made on her. A note fell from the dress when Sansa unfolded it.

 

An elegant handwriting said: Let start all over, sweetling.

Chapter Text

It took three days, until Friday truly, for Sansa to decide whether she will wear the dress or not. On one side, it was too beautiful for her mother not to notice the high-quality fabric and not to ask her where it came from.

But on the other side, Sansa could picture how the colour will highlight her eyes, how it will make her waist seem smaller and her hair look like fire and she could easily believe all eyes would be on her. She hadn't felt so anxious about a ball since her introduction in society.

She could still recall her first ball: the expensive jewels shining in the candlelight, fine embroideries and soft tissues twirling to the rhythm of music. She had felt admired and wanted, like a princess in a fairytale.

What did Baelish thought when he offered her the dress? Obviously, he wanted her to forgive him but knowing the man, there was something more. He is turning you into one of his whores. A nice little thing for men to lust after. Perhaps he wants to marry you off quickly to some stranger so he can have "Cat" for himself said a vicious and irritating voice in her head.

No. He surely wants her to make a good impression in this society she does not know.

After pinning securely her hair in an elegant bun, she put her direwolf engraved necklace, a gift from her father, and went to check her reflection in the mirror before leaving.

She was perfect. Tonight I will not be a princess. Tonight, I will be the Queen.

 

*

"Did I tell you about the price of raw cotton I found at Le Havre?"

The old man was rambling and it was giving Petyr a serious headache. He was already having a difficult day; he didn't want to add the doddering old fool on the list. Why wasn't he dead yet?

Petyr pinched the bridge of his nose before answering, bored: "I believe you did, Pycelle."

He was sitting, a glass of whisky in his left hand, in the very private club for the gentlemen of Milton where he meets each Friday "colleagues" from Milton and its surroundings. But more than a weekly reunion it was a board meeting. Every man present in the room worked in one way or an other for Tywin Lannister. He was the one controlling the business, not his silly grandson, and had made sure he met no competitors. Petyr was helping with money matters and with years have made himself indispensable.

"I think Egyptian cotton is much cheaper." stated Varys.

Petyr had to repress an eye roll. Since Varys and Tyrion went to Egypt to meet Daenerys, the last Queen of Egypt, Egyptian cotton was the best in the world.

"Come on Baelish" continued Tyrion. "Even you can spot a bargain when you see one."

"I prefer buying mine at Liverpool where, even if it is more expensive, I can be sure of its quality. You know I hate bad investments" Petyr raised his glass toward the small man and the bald one before drinking.

I shouldn't be drinking before the party, he thought but he could not help himself, he was too nervous. If everything went according to his plans, tonight would be the achievement of frustrating years of scheming and plotting. He should feel blissful to finally see it come to an end but he wasn't satisfied. There was something he couldn't explain holding him back.

His attention went back on the conversation when he heard his name.

"So Baelish, I heard you had had a problem with one of your employees recently?" Tywin asked, with what could be taken for amusement in his cold green eyes. The story had reached Tywin's ears and Petyr suspected that Varys had very much something to do with it.

"Is this person still alive?" commented Tyrion sipping his glass of red wine.

"Yes she is. It was quite entertaining to see someone challenge me. Hopefully, I am the best at this game."

Petyr's mind drifted to Sansa. He could still see her bursting into the mill, her red hair contrasting with the white flakes of cotton. She had everything of Cat and yet something more. Sansa didn't restrain her feelings and was ready to fight for her ideas. What was so pleasant with her, beyond her very attractive silhouette and pretty face, was the fact that she does not put the concepts of Family, Honour and Duty above the rest like her mother did.

Come on Petyr, you appreciate her because she is mini-Cat. There is nothing else.

"Happy to hear it"

One thing Petyr was sure about was that Tywin's face didn't show any joy. Actually, it never showed anything but annoyance and stringency.

"You see, in Rossendale, we know how to deal with the workers. Could you believe they were threatening me not to work if I did not buy them a machine to aspirate the cotton balls? I fired them and found Irish workers who agreed to work for half the usual wage. Since the famine, they are ready to work for nothing."

"You should buy the machine" intervened Petyr "and rehire some of the workers who have fired. They are more experienced than the Irish and buying them the machine will quieten their demands. I heard the workers were planning to go on strike."

"They can come and try and I will show them who Tywin Lannister really is." Terrifying.

Petyr decided it was time to leave "I am sorry gentlemen, I must leave. I will see you tonight at the ball." Petyr waited until Tywin slowly nodded before heading home.

When he arrived, the house personnel had made his house ready for guests and he could smell the food coming from the kitchen. He paid an extreme attention to his attire and plastered a smile on his face to greet the first guests.

Tonight is the night.

 

*

A carriage was waiting for them at the front door and Sansa recognized Lothor as the driver. He acknowledged her only with a small nod before opening the door of the coach.

Sansa was relieved her mother had not noticed her dress or at least had said nothing. Catelyn seemed tense as she rearranged for the hundredth time Arya's dress.

"I hate that dress." said Arya once again

"We have already talked about it. You are wearing this dress tonight. End of the discussion" stated Catelyn irritated.

Arya huffed in annoyance as they arrived at Baelish's house.

Baelish did not live in Milton but at the border, on one of the hills dominating the city. The house was very large and its structure seemed quite old. Two wings of a Gothic inspiration extended a main building in a pure French Renaissance style but it offered a harmonious whole. Large windows made the house look like it was always bathed in light but tonight it was hundreds of candles that illuminated the place.

The Stark women were immediately welcomed as Lothor opened the door with a glass of champagne. They were then led through several rooms before reaching a ballroom where hundred of people were talking and dancing. If everything here reminded of Petyr, from the rich drapes on the wall to the pieces of fine art dispersed in the house, their host was nowhere to be seen.

Sansa felt all the eyes on her and it made her smile widen. For them, she was not Sansa Stark, the poor daughter of a traitor but a mysterious woman from the North with an outstanding dress. She did not see pity in those eyes but admiration and the sensation was intoxicating if it was not the champagne.

After twenty minutes, Sansa had already danced two contredanses and had few men turning around her when her sister went to her looking concerned.

"Sansa" she began "I have something to ask you."

She seemed deeply serious and Sansa started worrying.

"What is it? You are frightening me."

"Gendry is here."

"Gendry? The boy we met the first day in the street?! How could you-"

"And not only Gendry. An other friend, Hot Pie, is here too. I am going back home with them. I need you to cover for me with mom."

"Arya, this is really bad. But- What will I tell her?"

Arya turned impatient "You can tell her what you want! That I was sick, that I was tired… I don't know, you will find. I must leave, see ya." And before Sansa could reply, she left.

Only months ago, Sansa would never had agreed to help her and would have gone straight to her mother. But since their moving here, the sisters were closer and tended to help each other.

 

Suddenly, a cold hand grabbed her and buried its claws in her shoulder. Sansa looked back to face a woman with flamboyant blond hair and icy green eyes. Green eyes she had seen before. The woman was beautiful but the disdain for the rest of the world Sansa could see in her eyes made her look frigid.
When a blond boy went by her side, Sansa understood whom the woman was. Joffrey. This is Joffrey's mother.

"Hello pretty dove. You are beautiful tonight. My name is Cersei Lannister." She spoke at Sansa with one of the fake smiles the young girl hated.

Lannister.

"Sansa Stark. It is a pleasure"

Her mask slipped a second when she heard Sansa's last name. She continued. "Joffrey told me he helped you out with the workers. You were lucky he was there."

"Yes I was. I am very grateful for his help."

"My son is very lucky too. He is the best match of the city, every proper young lady of this city wishes to marry him." Joffrey only sniffed in proud at the words of his mother. "You can understand he does not have time for empty-headed girls getting into trouble."

So Cersei was jealous. "I assure you, Mrs Lannister, not every proper lady of Milton is after your son if it is what worries you. I fear I have imposed you my empty conversation too long. Have a nice evening." And Sansa turned heels quickly, guessing they were pretty surprised.

 

*

Sansa had a sharp tongue and Petyr had to repress a laugh when he saw Cersei and Joffrey's faces.

He had watched her all the evening, seen her dance, and seen her tease other men. She was breathtaking in the dress he offered her. I made her that way An inexplicable feeling of pride rushed through him.

He began walking toward Cat who Sansa had joined.

Everything is working well. Cat is delighted.

Catelyn took his hand and lead him in the middle of the room for the cotillion. Sansa found a young man to dance it with her and the four of them began circling in the ballroom. After two or three figures, Petyr was now facing Sansa. She had a genuine smile on her face and it affected Petyr more than he believed to think he was the one bringing her joy. He knew also he should not have drank this glass at the club for now it was making him careless.

So he did something that he had not planned. When the music ended, he asked Sansa to dance the waltz with him. It was an intimate dance and there was every chance she refused but Sansa blushed deeply at his request and whispered a shy "yes".

When he took her hand, her small and bare hand, he felt a jolt running along his spine. He circled her waist and hold to it like a man about to drown.

She was an excellent dancer and her hair twirling in the hair was a mesmerizing vision. He felt her breath change under him as he leaned more against her chest. They locked eyes and everything around them disappeared. Only her blue eyes were left, as deep as the purest ocean and glowing of excitation and delight. Only for him. Cat's eyes he had to remind himself.

He leaned his face closer to hers, so close he could smell her soft hair. A delicious scent of lemon and jasmine emanated from it.

They did not say anything, just staring at each other fascinated.

When the orchestra stopped playing, he held a hand over her cheek and he felt her lean against his palm. He wanted to feel her warmth, to live this moment again a thousand times.

But quickly, they stepped away and he thought he heard her sigh at the loss of contact. Why is she not rejecting me?

 

All his life, Petyr had felt abandoned and rejected: by his father first who left him to Hoster Tully, by the people he considered his family next. When he lost the duel against the powerful and brave Brandon Stark and understood he would never get Cat, at least not that way, something broke inside him. Everything he believed in- fairytales, happiness, love- blew up in little pieces and he fell into a hopeless pit of darkness.

He slowly came back to reality, always looking for her red hair in the crowd.

Sansa was very like the young boy he was. She had dreams and cared for others but unlike the young Petyr she was not weak. She knew more about human nature than he did at her age, Petyr having to learn it through difficult and traumatising events. If he could teach her, she would be unstoppable.

But also in a twisted and wicked thought, Petyr wanted to destroy Sansa's dreams so she could hate him. Do not attach yourself; she will betray you was screaming his reason. Her mother did and it destroyed every piece of innocence in his soul. The daughter could do the same and it would be a bitter reminder of how foolish it is to trust people.

Moreover, Sansa does not know him; he was not a good man.

Anyway, after tonight he knew she would not hold him in her heart. He was curious to see her reaction. Will she yell after him, wish to kill him, as she wanted to do in the mill?

 

It was almost midnight when he asked the guests to step out on the balcony for a final surprise.

In the sky, flowers made of fire were flying to burst next to the moon and to the stars. A beautiful firework illuminated the darkness of the night. He went closer to Cat who was standing at the edge of the terrace, Sansa by her side. He leant against Catelyn and whispered in her ear, loud enough for Sansa to hear.

"Cat, will you marry me?"

He smirked seeing both the mother and the daughter change colours. Cat blushed deeply as Sansa turned blank and both were looking at him with bewilderment. Catelyn mumbled something and managed with all her forces to answer.

"I don't know…I never considered-"

She did not finish her sentence that Sansa irrupted her. "I am sorry. I do not feel very well." And she left; not without giving a last look at Petyr who still wore his usual mocking smirk.

 

*

Gods. How could she have been so foolish?

Tears threatened to fall as she fled from the balcony and from the man. She should hate him, she knew he had a wicked soul and yet she let herself enraptured by him. She felt something she never felt for anyone else before when they waltzed. Everything he did seemed genuine but now Sansa knew it was only a game for him.

He must have been quite amused to watch her fall so easily in his clutches. He must have considered her a foolish girl to think that with a new dress she could be someone else, to believe that she was like Cinderella and that he was Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming at the same time.

She heard in her ear Joffrey threatening her "I did not like the way you spoke to my mother and I earlier…" but she did not want to listen. She freed herself from his presence and began running, letting her subconscious guide her body. She passed the rooms, not bothering thinking where she was going and soon enough she was in the garden.

The night was cold and far away she heard a storm roaring. She did not mind and continued running.

 

She was now soaked to the bone and her feet had to struggle to hold her. Faint lights could be seen from the sleeping Milton underneath her.

But Sansa did not paid attention and continued running.

Quickly her feet could not hold her anymore. She lost her balance on the wet path and tumbled down the hill, ripping her dress in the process.

All she could register was the water running on her face, tears and rain, before falling into unconsciousness.

 

The music for the waltz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dH5eHSqUYE

Chapter Text

They were dancing in the now empty ballroom. The guests had left and the orchestra had disappeared too but the music remained and they did not stop waltzing.
She had leaned her forehead on his chest and he was humming sweetly in her ear. She did not wish to see his face, she was still angry with him after all.

He stopped at a window and opened it before stepping on the balcony. She followed him to see that she was now at Winterfell. Snow was falling from the sky, covering her home of its usual white blanket. He took her in his arms as she shivered from the cold and almost immediately she felt comforted by his warmth. He chuckled against her and she finally met his gaze.

" What should I do of you?"

He was now looking at her with disgust in his eyes and a devilish grin spread across his face.

She did not answer, seeking a reason to the sudden change in his behaviour.

"Such a pretty stupid thing you are. You are not even worth one of my whores."

"Why…? No…Please Petyr."

"Pathetic little girl. Did you really think I would care about you? It is only Cat."  

And with that he pushed her over the edge of the balcony.
She did not fight; she had known it in the depths of her heart and cursed herself for it. She fell for hours through the white snow, through the darkness of the night. She closed her eyes, unsuccessfully holding her tears back. She tried to scream but the sounds were stuck in her throat.

After what felt years, she opened her eyes again and saw she had landed up in a tropical forest, one similar to those she had read about in the newspaper her father often bought.

Small birds were singing in the trees and a small one with green reflecting on its black feathers landed on her shoulder.

She was walking in the lush rainforest when she heard a sound she thought was gone forever, only surviving deep in her memory: her father's laugh. All the memories she had of a time where they were happier, her father laughing and playing with his children came back in a rush. She tried to reach it but every step she made seemed to keep her further away of the sound.

She was damp from sweat in the tropical weather and it became gradually hard to breathe. Her knees hurt the ground as she felt like an invisible hand strangling her.

 

She heard the danger before seeing it. A small whistle before seeing the brown patterns making slowly their way toward her, dancing with the fluid movement of the body. She urged her body to move but she stood on the ground, petrified. Her eyes were locked on the creature's eyes, hypnotized by the striking yellow surrounding its sharp and dark pupil where a dangerous glint was settled. She felt the cold grey scales sliding softly on her skin before the snake constricted its body around her small neck. She tried to break free from the suffocating embrace but every time she went to her neck to pull the snake off, it only tightened the noose around her fragile trachea.

In her fight, she saw Petyr giving his back to her. She called for his help but he just walked away without giving her a glance, wearing his usual smirk.

She felt she was losing, her vision blurred and she thought about how death would release her of her torments. She gave a last look to the blue sky above her, surrendering to the loss of oxygen.

No one will save me; knights in shining armour don't exist. All my life someone has decided for me. Now I choose my death.

When she forgot that hope had even existed, when she abandoned her fears and her past, her name and her dreams, she felt a small drop of fresh water running down her left cheek. Then another and soon a wonderful tropical rain was falling on her, washing her body and her soul as answering her silent prayers. The snake had disappeared and the nightmare with it.

She was peaceful again under the hot water smelling like mint.

*

He was worried. And for once since long, it was not about himself, which was enough to bring him more worries.

He thought he could not care for others anymore as had pushed his feelings away only to see them as pawns subtly manipulated in his game. No affection was his rule; only Cat deserved his since it came from when he was still an innocent little boy and yet he still saw Catelyn as a pawn to make his happiness. He loved her for years, yes, but thinking about it now, in a selfish and foolish way; to finally gets what he did not receive when he was younger. Why should he feel sympathy for the world when no one answered the desperate calls of a poor boy dying in a river?

But despite every reason his mind was giving him, he could not help to feel genuine concern for the wounded angel that lay in front of him. 

She coughed and pain was written on her face. He paternally put a hand on her forehead. It was burning.

Paternally. Will she call him Father once he will marry Cat? Will he be the one to take her arm and bring her in front of the priest on her wedding day?

When he found her down the hill that night, wet and bleeding, only illuminated by the lightning and thunder in the sky, something resonated inside him. She was so pale and fragile in his arms, cold as death but yet he had been entranced by the vision of beauty she offered as she shared an aura of passion with those characters depicted in the tragedies, an Ophelia desperate to please.

"Go and fetch a doctor. Now!" He yelled after a servant busy cleaning muddy footprints on the porch.

As he brought her inside his house, now empty from guests, she began shivering and mumbling to herself. She suddenly wrapped her arms around Petyr's neck and unconsciously began to cry.

"No… please" Sansa's face was wet from tears. She held onto Petyr as scared she would die if she left him go.

"Shh…It's alright sweetling, I am here." He reassured her as he laid her in front of the fire that was the only source of light in the room. Now that he could see her clearly, her ruined and wet dress showed much more skin than decency allowed.

He should have looked away and let his maids take care of her. But he stood contemplating the innocently tempting loveliness of Sansa and not wishing at any cost to see this vision disturbed. The fabric had fallen to let appear the long alabaster legs of the girl and her small breast dropping and rising with a regular rhythm, nipples hardened from the cold, made it even harder to resist.

"Petyr…" His heart skipped a beat when he heard his name.

All control he had kept so far melted at this call, his reason casted aside at the sight of Sansa's slightly opened lips. He stepped closer and began caressing on of her cheek, slowly. She smelt like nature now, the scent of moss and fresh grass after dew. In her copper hair had mixed dead leaves and branches, in such a way that Petyr could have mistaken her with a forest divinity. Heart racing, he leaned over the young woman, nearly touching her lips

 

Toc toc toc

His housekeeper Ros entered without waiting for an invitation to announce that the doctor had arrived.

Petyr only had the time to move away but not to regain composure. Ros noticed that something unusual had occurred as his face, contrasting with the composed mask of indifference he usually wears, betrayed his internal struggle but she remained silent and only moved to let the doctor enter the room.

Dr Qyburn was a man of science despised in Milton because of his unorthodox methods but they had the merit to be effective in comparison with those used by the ignoramuses who composed the medical guild of the city.
Furthermore, Qyburn was a man of action with a keen mind, which made him valuable in the eyes of Petyr.

Having immediately identified the illness that had taken Sansa, Qyburn began giving orders to the maids Ros had brought at his aid.
"We have to undress her and give her a bath if we want the fever to fall. I am afraid that it is necessary to act fast before it aggravates." Already Sansa was beginning to be delirious, the forehead clammy with sweat

Baelish let some of his servants take care of Sansa's clothing and hurried others to prepare a bath. Once Sansa was only dressed in a long white gown to protect her modesty, she was plunged in the hot water, stirring fervently to escape an imaginary monster and bringing her hands at her neck, gasping for air.

Petyr was still here, powerless and feeling useless.
"Take the washcloth next to you" instructed Qyburn. The maids were constantly emptying and filling the bath to keep the water at the adequate temperature. Petyr began sweating, but he did not know if it was from the temperature difference in the bathroom with the outside or from his growing anxiety.
Petyr did as he was asked and went closer to bathtub. Sansa was holding her neck desperately.
He plunged the towel in a basin of fresh water Qyburn had requested and came closer than before. It was as if a demon had taken her and even if Petyr was neither a superstitious nor a religious man, the vision startled him. He applied the wet tissue on her forehead and began comforting her, pushing some strands of her hair far from her hair.  He was doing this for now five good minutes when she grabbed fiercely his wrist, halting his movement. She bore eyes glowing with lucidity into his.

"You will betray me"

She brought his hand to her cheek and relaxed in his palm as she fell once again in unconsciousness.
And Petyr Baelish stood frozen, hurt more he thought by the fact she might be right. He had already come too close to the daughter of his childhood's love.

*

Milton, 4th September 1852

Dear friend,

More than ever I need your protection. He is a dangerous man, as we both know, and this knowledge only brings me more fear for my life. But you will be pleased, I am sure, to know that I finally found what we were looking for during the last ten years. I just found Littlefinger's weakness.

Her name is Sansa Stark.

Chapter Text

Am I dead?

Is it how death feels like?

Because if it was indeed death, she was pretty sure she was not in Paradise as horrid sensations were running through her pained body. There was nothing but darkness surrounding her. She should have been afraid, knowing she was surely condemned to an eternal torment, and yet she found comfort in it as it meant that she would not have to suffer from human nature anymore.

Her mind continued to wander in the peace of her dark retreat and she thought she never wanted to leave this place when she heard voices, breaking for the first time the silence, coming closer to her.

...There is no other way… I have to… care of her… help you...no… financial matters…

They seemed familiar; it was a woman and a man speaking. She could here the tremble in the woman's voice as she was facing a man with a lot of self-control but who couldn't hide completely his emotions in his voice. Was it pain she felt coming from the man? Despite her efforts, she felt her consciousness failing to register what was said and her mind only falling deeper in the darkness.

 

When she came back to her senses, or at least when she felt she could process information again, she finally understood the darkness came from the fact that her eyes were closed. Opening them asked as much effort as keeping them open as her vision was blurred by a certain dizziness and by the painful light falling on her face.

She tried to speak but her sore throat would not cooperate and soon she abandoned. Her body felt limp and would not obey her either which, as a result, only frustrated her more.

The world around her became clearer with the time passing and she now could clearly see she was in an unknown place. Where am I?

“Shh… Do not worry, Sansa darling. I am here.”

Sansa felt a warm hand caressing her cheek and she reopened her eyes she did not remember had closed to see her mother sitting on an armchair next to the edge of the bed.

"Mum" she managed to say with a cracked voice.

"Oh Sansa, my sweet Sansa. I was so worried...What happened?" Her mother seemed tired, dark circles running under puffy red eyes.

"I am so sorry... I did not want...I ruined everything" She burst into tears, the tension of her body leaving her with every drop falling. It took time for Sansa to remember why she was there but when she did, she could still feel the twist of pain in her heart that had led her to flee the party. And the dreadful nightmare she just had only brought more mixed emotions she did not understand.

"Don't cry it's alright. You are safe now. I am relieved you woke before I leave."

"You are leaving?" Asked Sansa, anxious her mother had a grief against her.

Never had she act as passionate as the previous night and in her mother's arms she felt remorseful.

Catelyn held Sansa's chin and her daughter could see her expression hardening.

"Last night, when you had this accident... We spent the whole night looking for you. Petyr was very worried and feared the worst. Perhaps to protect me, he asked that I go home and get some rest. Your other daughter needs you, he said. 

But when I arrived at home, I found..." Catelyn stopped, lost in thoughts.

"I found a note from Arya, saying: "I am going home". She fled with this orphan, Gendry and an other with the exotic name of Hot Pie-" So that was what Arya meant when she came to ask Sansa's help at the ball. "She is heading to-" said Sansa as realisation struck her.

"To Winterfell indeed, right to the Boltons. We have to stop her before she gets there or these monsters will use her as example to secure their hold on the North. Roose and his bastard are dangerous; I always told your father they couldn't be trust.

Now, from what Mr.Luwin tells me, Ramsay has been terrorizing the country with his violent tendencies and many peasants and lords would rally our side if a Stark were to come to claim the North back. It is an opportunity we can't miss."

Sansa contemplated the possibility of seeing Winterfell again. She was not sure what she wanted anymore. Winterfell was her home, the heritage from her father and Milton was a dark and harsh city but Sansa had learned to see beauty in the littlest things: the view of the city from the hills, the smile of her new friends, the feeling of being free and useful was enough to make her want to stay.

And there was something else…or actually someone.

"And Petyr?" asked Sansa hesitantly.

Catelyn seemed embarrassed by the mention of her friend and suitor. "He… He wanted to go himself but this is family matters-"

"You haven't told Robb, right?" understood Sansa.

"Well…yes I haven't told him about Petyr but…" Catelyn sighed loudly and seemed to searching for the right words to say. Under the silent pressure of Sansa, she finally surrendered.

"I will not accept his proposal, or at least not until we get everything solved."

Sansa stayed silent. She did not know why but a part of her was relieved. She wouldn't have to count this awful man as a member of her family for which she was thankful to her mother. But a part from this relief came also from an other emotion Sansa had not admitted yet. How could she have been jealous of her own mother about this man?

Catelyn stood up, putting the discussion to an end. "We will talk about this when I return. I am staying at Robb's in London if you want to send me letters." She tenderly kissed Sansa on the forehead.

"You will be strong without me. I know you will. Now get some rest, the doctor has asked you do no stressful activities." And with a last small smile to Sansa, she left.

When Ros came two hours later with the dinner, Sansa was meditating, sitting cross-legged on the bed. Sansa felt febrile, her mind kept coming back to Petyr. Where was he? What happened last night? Did he hate her? Did she hate him?

Ros must have sensed her discomfort as she said, laying the tray of food on the bed: "There is nothing to worry, my lady. The master will be back soon."

Sansa looked at her with an indecipherable expression on her face. "What's your name?"

"Ros, my lady."

"Ros…" Sansa seemed lost in thought. Ros was already retreating to the door when she felt Sansa's cold hand catching her wrist.

"Do you like him?" There was no need to precise who she was talking about. Ros was startled by the question and didn't know what to answer as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. After a painful silence, she only found one safe answer to give to this strange young lady, with the hope she'll believe her.

"Lord Baelish isn't violent or hard with us. He pays well, I have no cause to do otherwise than like him."

Sansa's grip tightened. "Please do not lie to me, I don't want to cause you any harm. I just want to know if my impressions are correct…" Sansa pleaded. Ros stood still, waiting for her to continue.

Sansa took a deep breath before saying out loud what she had been thinking for two hours. " Truthfully, Littlefinger is one of the worst person I've ever met. When he speaks to you, you can never be sure whether he is in jest or earnest, whether he is pleased or the contrary as his eyes never smile when his mouth does. He is old and lowborn and it would be degrading if he ever married my mother. I hate him"

Sansa thought she heard a noise behind the door but quickly chased this impression as she continued

"That's what I repeated myself all the afternoon, and yet I can't convince myself it is true. What are money and titles when they are just illusions? A nice show to offer to the court, to be respectable in society's eyes, and I don't care about what the society thinks. I do not care if he is a brothel owner or a lowborn Lord. Petyr Baelish has been kind and caring with my family, with me. What I am asking you today Ros, is a way to understand the Petyr Baelish who is hiding behind Littlefinger. Can you do this for me?"

 Sansa was now holding Ros hands with a pleading expression on her face. The servant chuckled lightly at this request.

"I understand now why you have piqued his interest. It has been ten years I have been working for him and never have I come as close as you did in two weeks." The housekeeper pushed one of Sansa's hair strands behind the ear. "The only advice I can give you is to be careful. You are still young, find someone who will care and cherish you for you are heading to a dangerous path."

And without waiting for the young woman's answer, she left.

After her departure, Sansa hardly ate and found it even harder to fall asleep again.

*

 

Could he have described his current state, he would surely have said he felt as if his heart had been ripped out of his chest, tearing the already scarred flesh before having it mercilessly crushed into ashes blown away by the wind. But the usually so perceptive Petyr Baelish didn't have a clear thought anymore, overwhelmed by feelings he had swear he would never feel again. Fool! Moron! He chastised himself.

He should be used to rejection by now. He had slowly built a wall of cold indifference around him, bricks after bricks with humiliation as cement to the tower he was now dominating from. He had heard these words in plenty of mouths and hadn't cared before. He hated himself for losing so easily control and worst, for losing it to the same person. It was as if she had the key to the tower where the vulnerable part of him, the real him had lived secluded for years and where she could plunged a knife in his heart again and again without being forced out.

Petyr replayed the scene in his head and concluded today must have been the second most horrible day of his life.

He had been confidant at the beginning of the day. Sansa's fever had been curbed during the night and Qyburn had left, ensuring him her life wasn't in danger and recommending only calm, patience and a few potions.

As Petyr was taking his morning coffee while reading the newspaper, Catelyn arrived desperate but always ladylike with eyes telling she had been crying.

They were now sitting in Petyr's study after Catelyn had explained what happened. "There is no other way, Petyr. I can't stay here while what remains of my family is in danger. I wouldn't survive if I lost someone I love again."

"Let me help you, Cat. If you are to be my wife, I want you to be happy."

"Is it really what you want, Petyr?!" Catelyn was now yelling at him. "You never cared if I was happy or not as long as I kept my pretty face! If you really cared about my happiness, you wouldn't have gone into this foolish duel, or you would have saved Ned when you were there" Catelyn burst into tears and Petyr felt remorseful as he kneeled in front of her, trying to console her.

"Don't touch me!" Catelyn had jumped away from the chair she had been siting on and had grabbed the mockingbird engraved letter opener, pointing it on Petyr.

"So I assume you don't want to marry me" Littlefinger was now facing Catelyn. "Well, I can still help you with financial matters as you are my dearest friend" A hint of irony floated in his voice.

"You are so clever, huh" asked Cat with infuriated eyes without waiting an answer from him. And suddenly, she let the knife drop on the floor as her resolution failed. "Sansa" she whispered under her breath. "She will be alone, in this horrible city"

Catelyn began realising what it meant. "I can't leave her and yet I have to…"

After regaining composure, she lifted her eyes to him, still standing at distance. "If you ever had any affection for me, please I implore you, take care of her. She is so fragile"

It wasn't true, he thought. She is some much more than fragile. She is brave and clever and passionate. He hadn't promised he would protect her but he knew in his heart he would always do.

And now, his heart was bleeding as he had foolishly thought she could see more in him than the vicious whoremonger or the cunning businessman.

He had come to see her after an awful day with the workers and the union but he had been able to bear only the first sentences of what she had said as all the horrors of his day had been nothing compared to the harshness of her words.

His chest hurt horribly as his heart was set on fire and his old scar reminded him of his faults.

He felt the world around him was falling into pieces in his mind but perhaps by habit, he was displaying a composed facade, seating in front of the fire burning in the fireplace while drinking a glass of whiskey, here to burn his throat and his sorrows away.

Chapter Text

The next two days, Sansa felt like a prisoner in the big mansion. She was lonely, and yet never alone. Each time she opened the door of her room to wander off, a maid would catch her and rush her to go back to bed.

They were always polite to her but whenever she tried to engage conversation, they would give an evasive answer about how much work they had and how tired she must be before leaving.

Besides those dull conversations, she had nothing to do but think. She had left her needlework in her bedroom in Milton and the books Ros had brought, specifying they were from her personal collection, were desperately annoying and poorly written. She could have prayed. She could have taken this time to address God her fears and hopes.

But she doubted God would ever answer, as he had forsaken this dark and wretched land. Worse, he seemed to have abandoned her since her father's death. She couldn't believe anymore, her faith being shattered to pieces by material concerns and the harshness of life.

She was grateful that the house staff seemed all preoccupied by her health, but she wondered if they thought secluding her in the room was truly the best way for her to heal or if their exaggerated protection was only the result of their master's orders. Petyr.

Sansa had not talked to him since that fateful night. It was as if he was hiding from her. She had seek to see him when he came back the first night from Milton but she just had the time to see him head swiftly into his study before Ros caught her as she flew down the stairs in his direction, saying he didn't want to be disturbed. Did he hate her for her foolish reactions at the ball, for ruining his moment with his dear, lovely and delicious Cat? Sansa snorted sarcastically at this thought.

The second day, Sansa was pacing restlessly in the bedroom. The game Petyr was playing only infuriated her. He had no right on her. Who did he thought he was? Not her father or her friend, not even a chaperone. He wasn't a proper man (a true gentleman wouldn't have treated her a whore the first time they met), and certainly not a good man.

Was keeping her in her chambers and denying her any distraction a sort of punishment, like he could do with a child?

When she was younger, her mother used to tell her stories before going to bed. Her tales were full of brave knights fighting dragons for their princess or powerful fairies making little girls' dreams come true and Sansa recalled spending days pretending to be a princess.

A muddy Arya would always make a fool of her when she was playing the dutiful wife of the handsome Duke she would marry as the daughter of Lord Eddard Stark and it often ended in Arya pulling her sister's hair while Sansa pinched her in the ribs. Other days, she would follow her tomboy of a sister into the secret passages of Winterfell to escape Sister Mordane's fury whenever they broke a vase or another stupid trinket.

Sansa was sure Arya would have find a way to get out of this insufferable room and Baelish wouldn't be able to stop her from running away as she suspected he wasn't accustomed to children.

If her presence meant a burden to him, he would have totally lost control with Arya if was here instead of her and she wondered if Petyr Baelish had ever lost his self-control. But I wouldn't have run to Winterfell and she wouldn't have acted as foolish as I did. At least, I would be riding back home, the fresh air on my skin and not stuck here with this terrible man.

The more Sansa tried to get the thought of Baelish out of her head, the more it felt as if he was slipping into her brain, leaving secret scars on her skin. He was nothing to her but still he held enough power to imprison her both physically and in an endless circle of thoughts, her mind always wandering back to him.

 

11 o'clock rang at the clock downstairs. The distant ticking was the only sound heard in the silence of the night and brought Sansa out of her reverie. Pushing her barely eaten dinner away, she stood up and walked near the door. Pausing in front of it as if she understood the importance of the moment but held no hope she could achieve what she had planned, expecting a servant to jump out of the closet or to hold her leg from under the bed, Sansa took a deep breath.

The gleam of her candle pierced the darkness of the corridor. She wasn't sure where to go but she knew better than to walk near to the servants' chambers. Tiptoeing down the stairs, not wanting to be heard, she crossed the great hall she could remember full with people chatting, drinking and eating.

She wandered off in silent rooms only lighted by a lonely moonbeam irradiating from the windows and by the frail flame she was holding in one hand. The memory of her dream caused her to shiver as she passed the now empty ballroom. It had seemed so real she could still feel it. She could still hear Petyr's husky voice as he hummed that sweet lullaby in her ear holding her in a comforting embrace. Either in her dream or at the ball, she had felt safe in his arms.

She shook this fleeting impression off and continued her exploration.

At day, she was sure the place looked astonishing. In the semi-darkness, she could still notice it had been decorated with taste. The high-quality furniture, the smoothness of the oriental carpets covering the ground and the fine fabric of the chairs and armchairs showed the wealth of the lord of the house. Everything seemed expensive but not ostentatious with the right amount of golden statues and silver mirrors.

But at night, she could have easily believed a ghost haunted the mansion. The further she moved into the house, the more the rooms seemed as if they hadn't been used for years. Dust covered the beds, sign that even the maids don't come often in these lower apartments and giving the place an air of antiquity. Strange birds were patterned on the walls and even stranger paintings were hung up. With a severe face, the portrayed men and women sat looking straight into Sansa's eyes.

Sansa wondered what those people meant to Petyr. He might have known them but she felt he would remain very secret about his past.

She ended in front of what she assumed was Petyr's study the last time she saw him literally plunged into it. Did she even want to see him? And if he wasn't here, what was behind the door?

Curiosity winning the best of her, she opened the door to face a grand spiral staircase of a very medieval style made of stone. Her heart beating furiously in her chest, she climbed up the stairs as silently as possible. On the final floor, the door had been left ajar for Sansa to look discreetly. 

 

A fire was dying in the chimney and an abandoned glass and bottle of whiskey rested on the table in front of it but there was no sign of human presence.

She finally stepped fully into the room, letting herself be entranced by the beauty of it. Once again, we could feel Petyr 's imprint everywhere in the decoration.

The most striking element when entering the room was the dome-shaped ceiling painted in dark blue and whites to represent the sky above their head. The windows with deep green curtains offered a panoramic vision of the countryside but oriented at the opposite of Milton, the only view was one of a quiet land, a full moon and bright stars.

At the end of the room, next to great windows, a dark oak desk stood covered in letters and account books making it hard for Sansa not to go through all the secrets Baelish was hiding.

Instead, she walked to the enormous bookshelves behind it letting her eyes wander over the titles. Economics, Politics or History books were grouped with novels and illustrated storybooks… Taking one with a beautiful golden cover that caught her eye, she came closer to the fire and sat on one of the two golden divans next to the fireplace. Opening it, Sansa was glad no one could see her turn several shades redder.

She was ashamed looking through The Exotic Art of Kama-Sutra but to her surprise, she was also curious. She had always had this idea that when a man bedded a woman, it only meant pain for the woman, a holy pain to create children as Sister Mordane used to say, but the pleasure written on the woman's face said the contrary. Even ridden like a horse, her face was one of pure ecstasy and Sansa felt heat rising from below her belly, unexpectedly excited by the butterflies spreading through her body.

A note fell from the book as she turned the pages.

I am going to scream when you'll make love to me. I am going to scream so loud that they'll be able to hear me across the Channel.

Come quick, I'm waiting for you.

-L

 

It shouldn't be surprising her that he bedded women, that he had experience but she felt a slight sense of possessiveness at the thought of him giving himself to others. Her cheeks burning at this intimate detail of his life, Sansa carefully put the note back and pushed the book away.

The room was silent again, or perhaps had it always been silent but Sansa only noticed it now. It was never really silent though as the wind seemed to breathe along her neck and the cracking of the logs sounded like a city being slowly eaten by flames, the rooftops crashing down in a tempest of blood and fire.

Sansa felt feverish and came closer to the windows.

She could hear the howling of the dogs, or wolves, to the moon now. The trees were crying for the poor souls wandering in the land, their leaves crashing against each other to offer a final symphony.

Behind one of the curtained windows that Sansa hadn't bothered to notice, a small whistle could be heard. It is the snake of my dream coming back for me, she thought. Closing the distance, she knew she had to win this time and was determined to. She couldn't be afraid of a snake when the night had brought worse terrors. Opening the curtains, she felt only a ghost could frighten her now.

 

And a ghost it was, lying on a sofa in front of the window.

The silver in his temples glowed in the spectral light the moon casted over the room and offered a sharp contrast with his dark hair and pale skin. He looked like a supernatural creature.

Seeing Petyr after days thinking about him was a shock for Sansa.

His hair mussed, she urged herself not to run her hands through it. He seemed younger in his sleep, unaware of the world surrounding him. It was as if, losing in the sleep this faculty of responding and understanding, he could finally show his emotions and lose the mask he used to be Littlefinger. He was vulnerable.

Kneeling in front of the couch, her face a few inches from his, she inhaled his minty breath as she heard him whisper, oh so lightly but as if he was making a confidence only meant for her:

"Cat"

A little part of her was disappointed hearing her mother's name.

She could feel sweat forming on his forehead as she began caressing his hair and face in reassurance. How silly she felt for not having understood that the one in pain was not she but Petyr. She could still picture his smile, she had mistaken for mockery at the time but now looked full of childish hope her mother would accept his proposal. Catelyn denied him her love and he had to keep a living reminder of her in his home, had to feed and take care of her daughter. He ever loved one woman in his life and this woman was her m…

"Sansa…" he breathed.

She suddenly felt a firm grip on her wrist and found herself staring up at two grey-green minerals gleaming in the dark. Their eye contact was brief, his gaze intense. He looked bewildered to find her here but deeper in his eyes, she saw a darker emotion winning him. Anger.

He stood up abruptly and went closer to the fire, turning his back to her. She didn't move and only stared at the ground embarrassed, not knowing what to say.

After several minutes of silence, it became clear to Sansa that he expected her to leave or he would have said something. He had made it plain that he hated her, that he could not even bear look at her. Making her way to the door, she heard him sigh loudly

"What are you doing here, Sansa Stark?" His voice was cold as ice and despite herself she shivered.

No Sansa, no sweetling. Just Sansa Stark as if she was a stranger, as if nothing happened, as if he hadn't teased her, played her. As if she meant nothing to him.

She blinked, trying to hold her tears of resentment and turned to him warily. She still had a battle to win tonight.

"What is this place?"

"Do you like stories? I am sure you do." Sansa followed his gaze to the book on the divan and turned as red as her hair, feeling her shame and embarrassment multiply with his sarcasm. She hated that he could make her feel like mud on his shoe.

"I am sure Cat used to tell you stories at night, before going to sleep, of knights fighting dragons or other mythical creatures and finding their happy ending with a beautiful princess. She used to tell me these stories when we were young" He smiled sadly.

"But you see, with time I understood that I had been foolish and that in real life, there is no such thing as a happy ending.

This place was meant to be a happy ending. Two young lovers being wed in a chapel, ready to build a life together and find happiness with each other. The bride was walking to the altar; smiling to the people she loved in this beautiful day of summer. The birds were singing for this day of joy.

Taking her future husband's hands, she found them coated with blood. He fell into her arms, his throat cut. Around her, faces of agony replaced the smiles, their screams resounding in the holy place. She hid, crying and praying that the ones who had done this would not find her but they did. They beat her and raped her before leaving her in front of the altar with her dead fiancée. It wasn't supposed to happen, she repeated herself. It must be a nightmare.

But soon, the chapel began to burn and all remnants of hope died with her. When only ashes were left, the birds had left except the mockingbird mimicking their screams for all to hear.

After this, I was allowed by the Lannisters to buy what remained of the house and there we are, standing on the old chapel.

This place is a reminder that happiness does not exist. Temple and tower went down, nor left a site: Chaos of ruins! And chaos is a ladder. Love, Gods, the realm… they are all illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is."

"I don't believe you"

"Why so?" he chuckled faintly, if she could call that a chuckle, more a growl.

"I don't believe you have build this place to be the memorial of a tragedy or the reminder of your disillusions. We can't see this room from the main route to your house so it isn't made for visitors. I believe you wanted to impress someone, someone you care deeply for. You are a liar, Lord Baelish, feeding us with false smiles and courtesy. But you are also bitter and a coward, hiding behind your finely designed lies for not having to admit that you desire to be loved and to be happy."

"You know, it's funny how often a person's sharp tongue can end up cutting their own throat." He hissed.

"I am not afraid of you. The truth is I believe I am right, your threats only confirms it."

At these words, he grabbed fiercely by the shoulders and pinned her to the wall, his breath heavy.

"What do you want from me?! Do you find pleasure in tormenting an old degrading lowborn lord? Or were you here because you wanted me to show the pleasures of the brothel? I can play the vicious whoremonger if that's what you want."

He had come so close she could breathe his air. She looked down at his lips then in his eyes where she could see his internal turmoil. He could hurt her. He wasn't tall but she could feel in his arms his body was far more toned than she could have expected.

"Would you like me to take you, here and now Sansa? To taste you in places you'd never expect and find you ready for me?"

"Please Lord Baelish… I-"

"As my lady wishes. And call me Petyr."

Placing a hand behind the back of her head, his lips found hers in an ardent kiss. There was nothing sweet in it. It was raw, aggressive, and passionate. It was wrong. He tasted of mint but also of the strong flavour of whiskey. Sansa felt wetness pool between her legs as he came even closer to her body, eliciting a moan from her.

No no no what I am doing? It is wrong.

"You seem to like my old cock, don't you?" he teased, whispering in her ear.

He brought his hand to his cheek where she just had left a red mark, slapping him hard across the face. Sansa was as startled as he was but her only defence was to close her eyes in fear he would hurt her for what she did.

After several minutes of a painful silence where only their breathings could be heard, she opened her eyes again to see that he was now looking at her with pure indifference, almost with pity.

"You are leaving tomorrow." He stated with an icy and distant voice before leaving.

She found herself alone again, crying on the floor and confused about what she felt and what she was supposed to feel.

Chapter Text

An obsessive rhythm entered her mind and kept thumping into her ears as powerful waves crushed fiercely, but momently the hungry bonfire she fed in the silence of her soul. Her head hurt the wall in the precipitation of the moment as her lips met his, angrily and wantonly wanting to be one again-to be his.

He expertly kissed and licked down her jaw, over her pulse spot, to her breasts and continued his way down, kneeling in front of her. Her mouth agape let escape sounds she could have never imagined be hers and the power she felt from his motions only increased her desire.

He was hers and he was the only one who could ignite the frustrating yet sensual fire now consuming her. Around her, the world disappeared and her concern to stay quiet as well to only leave her with the feeling of his tongue ravishing her sensitive pearl and insides, her pleasure building up.

As her moans grew louder with the addition of two fingers between her folds, he suddenly stood up, leaving her unfinished, and decided he had waited enough to take his own pleasure. Grabbing her bare bottom under her crimson dress, he all but threw her against the wall and pressed his demanding member against her wet folds. He entered her forcefully from behind and, his arms pressing hers on the wall, she could feel his hot breath on her neck.

"Please…please don't stop…" she cried when he found new spots inside her.

The noises escaping them were obscene but they only found more pleasure at the slick sound of her fluids. He moved faster inside her and took full hand of her breasts, squeezing the soft flesh into his palm. The desire of possession was overwhelming.

"Oh fuck…" he grunted as he felt her walls clench around his. She surrendered to his frenzy rhythm and to the violent need possessing her, coming hard under his weight. His pace became erratic and quickly after she felt his body tense and his spill inside her.

They fell on the floor, panting heavily in each other's embrace. She treaded her hands in his soft hair -their hair- before studying the expression painted on her brother's face. Exhaustion and satisfaction from their passionate coupling were mingled with an unresolved struggle as if he wanted to say something but was still debating the words to use.

After a long silence during which she recovered her breath, she stood up and began walking in the room. She stopped in front of the mirror and admired herself, glowing in the freshly fucked look. She didn't bother to wash up, the smell of sex lingering on her and his spill drying on her tights, but headed instead towards the wine cabinet.

Her twin followed with his eyes her actions. Everything she did was done gracefully and her imperial wearing of head could have suited a goddess or a mythological queen. He couldn't resist but be mesmerized by her. She was the missing part of a same body and this fact blurred all the wrinkles around her eyes and her lips becoming thinner with age and worry.

"Something is bothering you" he finally broke the silence.

She halted the movement of pouring a drink and set the wine flask aside.

"Why do you think so?" He knew her all too well and though his insight meant he was attentive to her, she couldn't help but feel anger toward him for leaving her exposed in such a state of weakness.

A genuine laugh could be heard behind her and the Lioness only glared back at him. "May I know what you consider so hilarious?" She finished her drink and took another.

The red liquid fell from the corner of her mouth, slowly making its way down the sharp jaw. Her lips made crimson, like an open wound, matched the flamboyant fury animating her face and gave her the appearance of a sanguinary beast that was already looking for a new victim just after having torn into pieces its last prey.

Her brother raised his hand in surrender. "It's not an accusation. You are part of me Cersei. I can feel it, that's all."

Cersei just stared at him, unmoving.

"And…you wouldn't have called me for improvised… gymnastics if there weren't something on your mind. I know you." He closed the distance between them and took her in his warm embrace.

The woman sighed and abandoned herself in his arms. "Yes, you know me… It's Father again. About Joffrey... He wants him to get married." It wasn't the first time father and daughter argued about it and knowing Cersei's red-blooded temper and Tywin's inflexibility, the topic was a recurring source of discord between them. Jaime wasn't surprised they quarrelled again but wondered why it affected Cersei so much this time. He patted her head in a comforting gesture.

Cersei caressed his firm chest before detaching herself from him and went to the window, eyeing suspiciously the workers in the yard of the mill.

"Do you remember the day Joffrey was born?"

"How could I forget?" He recalled everything: the anxiety of the moment, the irrespirable atmosphere of the hot summer and her screams of pain that would haunt him after at night.

"Robert was gone hunting and you weren't allowed to enter the room though I had begged the mid-wife to let you in. She was trying to reassure me with empty words: Breathe, it will be alright. The baby is nearly here. All I would do was scream out the pain and push. My head felt like it would explode if I pushed again and at this moment, I never felt so alone and lonely in my life. I just kept saying to myself that I could die. That I would die. Darkness were already taking me but just before surrendering, I heard my little Joffrey for the first time and I decided I would live for him. He was there when I needed someone…

Cersei paused. Her attention went back to the window and her face in the morning light looked younger as her features lost an instant the tension animating them. She smiled lightly as she seemed to recall some happy moments but quickly her face changed into something sharper and darker.

"Baelish has become a nuisance. He is fully aware of our past dealings with the Starks but still brought those stupid women to live with us, eating and drinking at our tables. He thinks he is clever but I will destroy him if he even tries to step into my plans. Even the smartest man makes mistakes because that's what you are, men." she spat.

"I'll be there waiting for his failure and then…" She didn't bother to finish; the words weren't enough to describe the hell she would make him live.

Jaime knew that when hatred entered her heart, there was no room left for pity or compassion. Her speech hurt him as a doubt crept in his heart that she saw him only as a tool and not as equals. Jaime shook this impression quickly.

"I don't like the man either, but he served us well so far and Father relies on him. I tend to see him as a necessary evil." He tried to temperate

"Yes a devil made flesh and bones. I will lose my Joffrey because of him! Father wants to give him away to this bitch" Cersei was now yelling, all to her destructive fury "And it's an order he said! I did everything for this family, EVERYTHING! I WILL NEVER LET THEM TAKE HIM!"

Her brother didn't move nor said a thing. He stood there, watching her drink glasses after glasses.

Suddenly, she closed the gap between them and slurred in his ear "Everyone who isn't us, is an enemy. Are you with me? ". Jaime caught a breath. Was she asking him to stand up to Tywin? They kept eye contact without another word exchanged before Cersei exited the room, leaving Jaime to think about her words.

 

*

It all felt like a dream — or more of a sort of nightmare born out of her imagination. The faint sound of someone breathing brought Sansa out of her blank sleep. An invisible force sealed her eyes and an oppressive tiredness was preventing her to even lift a finger. It took her time to apprehend that she was the one breathing and where and why she was here but as she finally opened one eye and faced the painful light coming from the window in front of her, a wave of guilt and sadness overcame her. She couldn't feel more miserable and hated what she had done, how she had reacted. A stupid girl who couldn't keep her distances from a very dangerous man. God, she wanted to slap herself hard for the foolishness she had proved to be capable of.

 A hand stretched forward and she met with a clink the responsible one of the massive headache tormenting her already fragile nerves. And it was also the ultimate proof she hadn't been dreaming the last days spent in this haunted house.

 Sansa tentatively moved her body sore from lying on the floor to stand up and placed a hand on the wall behind her, not trusting her weak legs to prevent her from falling. She almost lost balance several times before reaching the soft sofa she had left the oriental book on, this "kamasutra" responsible of the events that led her to this pitiful state. 

She really shouldn't have drunk the remains of the bottle of whiskey he had discarded before taking his leave.

In need for air, she opened the large windows and admired the sun rising, projecting his timid rays on the house and complementing Sansa's hair. She could get used to this view, she thought, before almost immediately getting herself together. How could she have such disturbing thoughts?

 

She let the wind caress her face, blow in her hair and take all her forms in his refreshing arms; unaware of the fact she wasn't the only one watching the golden orb slowly taking his shape for his quotidian journey.

From his room down the gothic tower, the mockingbird was preparing the songs he would play today. Already shaved and clad in one of his pristine shirts, he was leaning on the rail of the balcony and observing the flamboyant girl standing above him.

He closed her eyes and sighed, passing his hands in his hair and messing it just the way she did hours before. She had been right all along. "You desire to be loved and to be happy" It hurt to feel how alone he had been all these years. Unsatisfied would be a better word, he thought.

He had servants of course, always occupied accomplishing their task in the house, constantly at his service and prepare to fulfil every of his desires. Littlefinger was perhaps their master, the one who gives them clothes and feeds their children, but once their work was done, they held no love for him. Not that he cared. He didn't need their love but he needed their respect so that they wouldn't think about revolution.

However, the mere presence of Sansa, the knowledge that for a few days he would come home for someone else, brought him what he never had thought he would feel again when he left Riverrun all these years ago. For three days, the wide rooms, the dark corridors and the decorated walls had felt like home. He couldn't explain truly why she awoke in him a sense of domestic comfort. He had deliberately avoided her, walking away whenever she tried to speak to him and he told himself it was to spare her his presence.

But she held on him and Petyr knew that whatever he was telling himself, it was only lies. And creating lies was an art in which Littlefinger excelled.

What had he done? What rational and plausible explanation could he give to the hurt and anger that seized his heart tonight and led him to lose the self-control he had slowly build these last years?

Most people would say he had no heart as he always found pitiful those submitted to their passions, passions that he generally provided for they made him a rich man. Love, honour, duty were things he despised because they only led men to their demise.

He loved her mother without doubting a moment of his feelings until now. Sansa looked so much like her at the same age but had something more he couldn't explain. He had seen a glimpse of it at the mill and had watched it bloom at the ball. And the more he thought about her, the more he was lost in the comprehension of what Sansa Stark was. He had been odious to say the least the previous night, though some would argue that never could he be called a gentleman, but she hadn't been further than slapping him where some women would have fought for the lost virtue of their lips. Though he sold flesh and pleasure, he knew when the limits of decency were crossed.

He tried to push his mind elsewhere but beneath his usual indifferent façade, doubt constricted his chest and made his hearth beat faster. Those thoughts weren't supposed to exist in his logical brain, as he saw no reason why he would care for the daughter of the man who stole his precious Cat from him, the daughter of a woman who only valued his love when she needed shelter and money. And Sansa, despite her grace and undeniable beauty, had this insufferable curiosity he knew led many men and women at his side to a certain death.

As his thoughts went on, he had stopped staring at the sky and had resume the paperwork he had abandoned the previous night. It offered him little distraction since he could hear the house moving with the comings and goings of the servants, helping Sansa pack the small possessions that had been brought to her and prepare the carriage.

While they were all saying their goodbyes to the young girl, Petyrs' feet led to her room. To the room she occupied, he corrected himself. What did he expect, he truly didn't know. Perhaps had he thought he would find her sitting on the bed, expertly sewing and somehow waiting for him…? The distinct smell of sweet lemon he had found on her during the ball welcomed him, a lingering presence after she was no longer there. He enjoyed the thought of having this last trace of her all for himself before the servants would change the sheets.

The room looked like there had been a hurricane passing, pillows thrown on the floor and wardrobe wide open. At the far end of the room, a familiar fabric had been rolled into a ball and furiously thrown. He carefully picked the cloth and laid it on the bed. The soft material was ripped under the waist and added an odour of fresh rain and dirt to the lemon. Mud and blood still coated some parts of the blue dress than had been once glowing under the lights of the chandeliers. A small piece of paper was attached with a needle to one of the sleeves. He recognised the note he had send her with the gown when he first did his gift.

Underneath his neat handwriting, another one, elegant and cursive had hastily traced these few words:

I don't need you. Leave me alone.

His characteristic smirk grew at this newly found challenge.

The thought of a new pawn, and of this importance, under his careful eye in the game thrilled him more than he would admit. Yes, he will enjoy offering empty lies and half-truths to study her reactions and to watch her learn from what she understood. The strings around her will be carefully set and manipulated to bring her alabaster face to animate only for him. He knew exactly what to he had to do now to get what he wanted.

At this moment, he heard the horses outside whinny and the recognisable sound of the carriage leaving. Coming closer to the window, he saw the few servants remaining on the doorstep waving goodbye and the vibrant red of her hair move away.

Never did it cross his mind she could look back at him as he watched the distance between them grow.

 

*

Sansa closed her eyes and exhaled heavily, hoping that the tension constricting her chest would leave. She sipped the cup of tea she had been given and shifted awkwardly in her chair. She knew there were no reason to be worried as she had seen her mother do it since she was just a child and yet, she couldn't quite see herself in this role. It felt even more inappropriate as two questioning stares were fixed on her, waiting for her orders.

The trip back to Milton had been in this same heavy atmosphere. Sansa, still replaying the previous night events had failed to notice she wasn't the only one in the carriage. Sitting in front of her was a plump woman with a motherly smile: grey hair that must have been a pretty blond were now tied in an old fashioned way and hidden under a lace bonnet. Her eyes were twinkling in friendly amusement but would find a much harder tone whenever they landed on the younger woman next to her. The woman, a little older than Sansa, was wearing clothes that didn't fit for the winter coming and seemed of a much better quality than those she had seen on the other servants. Shiny black hair offered a nice frame to the regular structure of her face and her eyes seemed of an infinite black.

An uncomfortable silence stretched for several minutes, as neither of them seemed ready to speak. The inside of the carriage offered an odd sight, Sansa trying to keep her eyes fixed on the landscape while the two others were finding a sudden interest for their feet.

The older woman began coughing and opened her mouth several times but the words seemed unable to reach the edge of her mouth making her look like a fish freshly caught wondering why there isn't water anymore.

"What did you think of Harrenhal?" she finally asked out of the blue;

Seeing Sansa's confused expression, the younger woman was quick to explain.

"Lord Baelish's mansion" she said, an exotic accent rolling under her tongue.

"Oh" was the only reaction they received from Sansa. After a few moments she went for an honest answer

"The house is beautiful and Lord Baelish's taste is undeniably regal. I just…"

"Don't like the man. Shae, at your service my lady" cut the exotic woman in front of her before extending a friendly hand towards her.

If Shae cared for the elder woman's opinion, Sansa didn't know, but the foreign girl stood very confident without acknowledging the glare of death she was the object. Red began settling on the elderly's woman face as much out of anger and as of shame from her apprentice's behaviour.

"No, that's…" Sansa sighed, uncomfortable about speaking this with total strangers but she felt she could trust them somehow. There must be a reason why the two women were here in the first place "I don't know what to think about him. There is so much mystery around him." She bit her bottom to restrain her speech. They couldn't know about the fight at the mill or their unfortunate meeting in his tower. For them, she was a proper lady and Sansa would have to find a way of explaining how she knew about Littlefinger or Boss, the side of him he only reserved for the workers or his business partners neither of which Sansa was.

 When Sansa's eyes met the old woman's eyes again, she saw her face soften and a flash of… understanding? pass in her green orbs.

"Do not worry, my lady, at least we all agree on this. It must be hard for you to find yourself alone in this faceless city and I am sorry things had to go this way." She took Sansa's hand in her own, comforting and warm despite the chilly wind. "We haven't been properly presented, I believe. My name is Dixon, my lady and it's for me an honour today to be at your service." She seemed to ponder her words during a handful of seconds.

"We all know we can never replace your family but Shae and I will to take care of you and of your house."

Her hand lightly squeezed Sansa's before returning on the old woman's lap. Sansa couldn't tear her eyes off those frail hands, soft and yet aged by years of hard work and bitter cold. The redhead wasn't expecting to find such support from women who were almost strangers to her and a little voice at the back of her head was reminding her to stay cautious because it could very well be a plan of the insufferable man in his tower. And without a doubt, there was a hidden agenda behind their presence in the carriage.

"Thank you. It means a lot to me" And despite common sense, her words held truth. She knew how harsh life could be in Milton and felt gratitude toward her parents for offering her a happy childhood under the solemn trees of Winterfell.

Before Sansa could interrogate her further, they arrived at the small haven she considered now like her home in Milton and with the agitation from the unpacking of the scarce belongings Sansa had taken with her and the small cries emanating from Dixon whenever she found something that had to be washed or polished (and it happened so often she could have as well decided it was the whole house that needed some cleaning) the questions didn't made their appearance before late evenings teas.

They would always begin the same way: they would wait for Shae to take her leave for a few hours in the city, for Sansa had understood by the time that Dixon had not accepted Shae voluntarily and took for insolence the franchise the younger woman on certain occasions showed. Then they would spent the rest of the evening speaking together, gossips never falling far from Dixon's ears and sometimes, when in the early nights cold wind would seep into their bones and heart, Sansa allowed a drop of whiskey to be slip into their drinks.

Once, their conversation drifted to the mysterious lord of Harrenhal. Sansa hadn't said a word about what happened the night in the tower but she couldn't push the thoughts she had of him away. At night, when the house was sound asleep, she would pass her hands again and again over where he had touched her –the first man to touch her. Her lips seemed to taste of mint during these nights and her body found a new fervour at the idea of him lying under the moonlighted canopy in front of the window.

With that in mind, Sansa had wanted to know more about him.

"Don't you find strange that I haven't heard of him until very recently though Mother and him had been friends for years?"

"Sweet child, the poor lord wouldn't have lasted a day if he had came to see your mother at Winterfell. He knew there was nothing for him there. Don't be too hard on him. Lord Baelish has many secrets that haunt him as well as they haunt the house. Never has there been an easy path for him and joy occupied his heart only a very few times. I fear pain changed the little boy I knew, yes I know him and your mother since they were only children" she explained at Sansa's surprised look. "That's why I was more than happy to hear your family had finally arrived in Milton and to take the position when Lord Baelish asked me"

"How was he- as a child I mean? " Sansa shyly asked with her face flushed about asking personal details.

"He was so small. The first time I saw him, he must have been nine or ten but he didn't seem older than six years old. Always the first to joke and lead the little lords and ladies into adventures in the country. But sometimes I would find him crying and every time he would just ask me to keep this a secret before putting his happy face again.

And on other occasions, it happens that one brews more than friendship from the proximity it offers, both physical and intellectual. Your grandfather sent the little lord Baelish away before his feelings would interfere with your mother's duty. Sadly, the boy died a few days before leaving to give way to the much bitter adult we know. If only…"

"If only, what?"

The woman chuckled lightly before taking a sip of tea "That's a story for another day, my lady" And despite Sansa's complaints, Dixon never said a word again about the end of this tragic part of Petyr's life.

The nights that followed were full of deep green-grey eyes staring at her, sometimes in hope but most of the time in disbelief, in a way that pierced her heart as she couldn't do anything about it.

This conversation hadn't occurred yet when Sansa found herself being pierced by two inquisitive pairs of eyes and struggling with the difficult task of telling them what to do and when to do it. After an hour of getting to know more about both maids quality, it had been decided that Dixon would be doing the cooking and the laundry while Shae would have to do the beds and to dust. On Saturdays, they would both go and buy what would be needed for the week at the local market.

After having dealt with those issues, Sansa was left wandering in Milton's streets, a basket at her arm and an address in hand.