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Two Stars Gazing

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Stannis turned up the collar of his overcoat, tucked his chin against his chest and stuffed his hands into his pockets as he walked purposefully down the darkened street towards the restaurant at which he had organised to meet Melisandre for their dinner date. A veritable tempest had blown in from the north and to compound the misery, a steady rain began to beat against his body as he strode swiftly to his destination. To his consternation he detected a light rumbling of thunder and a fuzzy static in the air as the conditions began to deteriorate. He would have preferred to pick Melisandre up from her apartment in a more gentlemanly and civilised manner as he usually did, but this particular night she had a late meeting to attend at her workplace uptown that would not allow her time to drop home before their date. Parking bays along the High Street were almost impossible to find at this time of the night so he had been forced to leave the car some blocks away in a secured parking facility. He sighed loudly and leaned further into the cold squally wind that whipped insistently at the bottom hem of his thick woollen coat.

 

All of a sudden the sky lit up with a white fluorescence, a loud boom sounded in the air and Stannis felt the stinging pelt of small hailstones on the crown of his head.
“Shit!” he cursed as he made a run for the railway overpass some 30 yards ahead of him.
As he reached the welcome shelter of the concrete and steel structure he ran his fingers through his sodden hair and rubbed vigorously at his coat to try and dry himself off. Luckily, the thick woollen textile had prevented the rain from soaking through to his business suit so he still felt relatively dry and warm. As he huddled in the semi darkness waiting for a break in the weather he became increasingly aware that he was not alone.

 

He glanced towards the shadows cast by the pillars of the overpass and could detect bundles of tattered cloth. Old blankets, mattresses, pillows, towels and sheets in varying degrees of decrepitude were bundled and piled and strewn haphazardly upon the asphalt. Some of the bundles moved. Some of them spoke in hushed tones. Most of them simply huddled inertly against the stinging cold of the winter. Stannis grimaced. King’s Landing had undergone an unprecedented period of expansion and development. Inevitably, as migrants came in search of new opportunities and inner city areas gentrified at the expense of the lower classes, whole generations were lost in a perpetual cycle of poverty and unemployment. A veritable army of homeless people now inhabited the public spaces of the city at night. Such had become the shameful reality of this once glorious city.

 

While Stannis was not unsympathetic to their plight, being assailed by these denizens of the darkness begging for coin on a daily basis as he travelled around the city for countless business meetings, had made him somewhat immune to their pleas. It was also difficult to distinguish between the legitimate cases and the professional beggars who chose to make a career and quite a lucrative salary from blending in with the less fortunate. Rather than accede to the never ending demands of the homeless and the scammers he preferred to channel his energy and his resources into charitable ventures such as the foundation that his family company had established, to ensure that funds were directed appropriately to those who would most benefit. Looking around he acknowledged with a heavy heart that amongst the poor souls sharing his shelter this night, there were many who charity would not reach and who would regrettably fall through the cracks. It was a tough reality but sometimes life just wasn’t bloody fair.

 

Several of the men and women who sat shivering on their mattresses had begun to call out to him and stretch out their hands in supplication. Some had shoddy, barely legible hand written cardboard signs placed in front of them detailing some of their hardships and begging for a donation with a small cup or plate to hold said offerings. Against his own best judgement Stannis sighed and dug deep into the pockets of his trousers for spare coins but tried to avoid looking at the beggars for any great length of time, feeling an unwelcome mixture of shame, guilt and despair. He desperately wished that the weather would hurry up and improve so he could get the hell out of there.

 

Suddenly he became aware of a form lying right in the corner of a junction between two pillars, almost completely obscured in the shadows. It lay curled up in the foetal position on a dirty mattress that was so careworn and thin that it must have provided little if no comfort to its occupant from the cold, unforgivingly hard ground beneath. The figure emitted a light wheezing sound and intermittently coughed and groaned. The voice was distinctly feminine and had a youthful quality to it. Despite his disinclination to interact with any of these bedraggled and unfortunate individuals, he found himself inextricably drawn to the figure; his feet seemed to carry him there of their own volition.

 

As Stannis neared and his eyes adjusted somewhat to the darkness he could detect that the slender body, swathed tightly in a thin, torn and grimy blanket, was trembling violently. As another lightning strike lit up the sky, the head peeking out from under the blanket was briefly illuminated. Fiery red hair, dishevelled and knotted into a veritable nest. Another groan emanated from the girl as Stannis knelt by her side and spoke as gently as he could.
“Excuse me, Miss. Are you alright?”
There was no reply but the breathing hitched as though she had been completely unaware of his approach. She struggled feebly to right herself into a seated position, shuffling backwards in panic.
“No, no, don’t be afraid,” Stannis pleaded, instantly regretting that he had been foolhardy and unthinking enough to come so near to her in the first place. Of course she was confronted by his sudden presence. Why would she not be? Moreover he was quite aware that his rather stern features could be intimidating at the best of times, but under these circumstances he could only guess at what was going on in her head.

 

Before he could move away a terrible wet hacking cough tore from her chest as she clutched the blankets tightly under her chin. Just then several simultaneous bolts of lightning streaked through the sky and fully illuminated the darkness as though someone had flicked on a light switch. What came into view drew a gasp from Stannis as he saw her face clearly for the first time. She could not have been much more than 18 years old and despite her illness and dishevelment she was startlingly beautiful. Her skin was pure snow white except across the defined cheekbones which were flushed bright red with what looked like a fever rash that also extended down her slender throat. Her plump pink perfectly shaped lips were chapped and ever so slightly parted as she panted with a mixture of apprehension and physical exertion, struggling to draw breath. Dark smudges of colour marred the delicate skin underneath her eyes. But what incredible eyes they were. Shimmering cerulean pools in which a man could drown and do so quite happily. They were wracked with pain and widened in fear as they regarded him anxiously. A light film of perspiration coated her brow.

 

Stannis reached out ever so cautiously with one hand as though he were attempting to pet a wild animal.
“Sssh. I’m not going to hurt you.”
She flinched slightly but otherwise remained immobile and unblinking as he touched the back of his hand lightly to her forehead. Her skin seared with an intensity he would not have believed possible. She shuddered at the contact.
“Gods, you’re burning up. How long have you been out here like this?” he whispered aghast.
She made no response, only continued to stare at him uncertainly, her chest heaving with anxiety and the pain of her laboured breathing.

 

“What’s your name?” he asked her gently.
She shook her head from side to side slowly and pressed her lips together in a fine line.
“It’s alright. You can trust me. Please tell me your name,” he urged.
“Sansa,” she wheezed out eventually with some effort.
“Sansa,” he repeated to her, a pretty name that suited her and one he had never heard before. Perhaps it was from the North. Her pale skin and the colour of her hair would suggest so.
“My name is Stannis.”
“Stannis,” she replied, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Please Stannis,” she mumbled so softly that he had to lean in closer to hear her. “Please help me.”
She breathed slowly and with some difficulty before her eyes closed and her slight form slumped lifelessly against the cold harsh concrete of the pillar.

Chapter Text

“No, don’t you dare,” he cried out. “Not on my watch. You are not going to die on me, do you hear me?”
He tapped gently at her face and shook her by the shoulders to try and rouse her before reaching for her pulse point at the neck as he desperately searched for any signs of life. His heart thumped painfully in his chest as panic started to take hold but finally he found her pulse, weak and thready, barely detectable. He placed his hand on her sternum and could feel an ever so slight rise and fall of her chest.
“Oh thank the Gods,” he exhaled noisily.
He quickly whipped his cell phone from the pocket of his coat and dialled emergency.
“Paramedics please……I’m at the rail overpass on the corner of High and Regent….A young girl late teens maybe? I don’t know what’s wrong exactly. She was coughing – a real wet sounding cough. She was having trouble breathing and she is burning with fever. She’s unconscious right now but she’s still breathing; her pulse seems very weak. Please hurry. Alright. Of course I’ll stay. Yes I will. Goodbye.”

 

He dialled Melisandre’s number realising that he would need to let her know that he would have to cancel dinner. Her phone rang out so he left a brief text before turning off his phone and replacing it into his coat pocket. He had not divulged the true reason for his cancellation of their date simply stating something had come up and had switched his phone off, not wishing to contend with her if she called back immediately demanding a proper explanation. He knew how possessive and volatile the woman could become at the slightest provocation. If she found out he was with a young beautiful woman, no matter what the circumstances, her reaction was likely to be unpredictable at best. He had to stay with Sansa until the paramedics arrived and if she survived he would not allow her to wake up alone and frightened in a cold and clinical hospital ward. He knew that ultimately Sansa was not his responsibility but when she had spoken his name and pleaded for his assistance he knew he could not just desert her.

 

He looked down at Sansa’s face which was now relaxed in deep slumber. She looked so delicate and vulnerable he was struck with a sudden impulse to smooth his hand down the side of her flushed cheek to provide comfort. Instead he shook the thought and remembered what the emergency services phone operator had advised him. He carefully removed the largely useless blanket from around her body. She moaned softly as her burning skin was exposed to the cold gale sweeping under the overpass. She was dressed in a thin white linen long sleeved blouse, much too flimsy for the conditions, and a pair of faded black skinny jeans. The soles of her black and white sneakers were completely worn through as were the knees of her jeans. All in all, her clothes were grimy, frayed and had definitely seen better days. The first three buttons of her blouse were not fastened, revealing a bright pink rash at her chest which shone with perspiration. He removed his thick black woollen overcoat and wrapped her in it. Despite how hot she felt he had been advised that it was imperative to keep her sheltered from the cold until the ambulance arrived. As he manipulated her body he was struck with how fragile she looked and felt, like a broken little bird, her long lithe limbs limp and unresponsive to his touch. He hugged her to his body gently as much to keep her warm as to provide himself a shield from the blasts of wind that assailed him, eliciting the occasional shudder and chattering of teeth.

 

It seemed like an eternity before he heard the sirens and spied the blinking red and blue lights of the ambulance as it neared their location. The other inhabitants of the overpass had begun to gather around in a curious group chattering amongst themselves. The two paramedics, a man and a woman, hopped down from the vehicle and opened up the doors at the rear to extract the gurney.
“Over here,” Stannis called out as he reluctantly relinquished his hold on Sansa and stood to allow them access.
They approached and knelt by the young woman examining her briefly and conversing before removing Stannis’s overcoat from her and returning it to him. They moved with urgency, placing her on the gurney, connecting her to a drip, covering her mouth with an oxygen mask and wheeling the gurney into the ambulance before turning to address Stannis.

 

“We need to get her to hospital right away. She appears to have a serious lung infection, her body temperature is dangerously high and her heart rate is very slow,” the male paramedic explained as he headed quickly to the passenger side of the ambulance.
“Where are you taking her?”
“King’s Landing General,” the woman replied as she jumped into the driver’s seat.
“No. I want you to take her to Old Gate Private.”
“But…”
“No buts. I will pay all expenses, including your call out.”
The woman fired up the engine and nodded her head as Stannis handed her his medical insurance card. She scanned it with a PDA and returned it to him.
“Old Gate Private it is.”

 

Stannis stood for some time watching the ambulance as it sped away from the scene carrying its precious cargo. He sighed loudly and prepared to walk through the sheeting rain to his car. Reaching it some five minutes later he flung himself into the driver’s seat and rested his forehead on the steering wheel.
“Fuck. What a night,” he cursed as he started the engine and turned on the heating to try and restore some feeling to his frozen limbs.
Driving in the direction of the hospital he started to run through the events of the night. Why had he felt so compelled to reach out to this girl? She was a complete stranger and meant nothing to him. No, she should mean nothing to him but for some unaccountable reason, he realised that she did. She had brought out his protective instinct in a way that perhaps no one other than his own daughter ever had. He could not look into those bright blue pain filled eyes and just walk away.
At the same time he realised he did not know the first thing about her. She could be a drug addict, a street prostitute, a rebellious teenage runaway or a survivor of abuse who shoplifted and committed other petty crime to get by day to day. And yet, when he looked at that face all he saw was innocence and vulnerability and found it difficult to believe that anything sinister could possibly lurk beneath those gentle features.

 

“Don’t get attached Stannis, for fuck’s sake,” he mumbled to himself in frustration.
His thoughts turned to Proudwing, the injured goshawk he had tried to nurture back to health as a young child only to be convinced by his brothers and great uncle to abandon some time later to an unknown fate. To this day he still tortured himself with speculation about what had become of the poor creature. He resolved that while he would not allow himself to get emotionally attached to this young girl he would not abandon her in her hour of need either. He would ensure that she received the treatment she needed and then they would go their separate ways. But what then? What would become of her? The thought of her returning to the deprivation and violence of the streets made his stomach churn uncomfortably.

 

But he was getting way ahead of himself. Her condition had been dire; there was no guarantee that she was even going to survive. The thought of the light leaving those beautiful sparkling eyes forever saddened him beyond measure. He stroked his fingers through his hair and tried desperately to dispel the thought.
“You have to live, damn it,” he muttered to himself as he entered the carpark of the emergency department of the hospital.
“Because if you don’t I’m probably going to see your face in my dreams every night for the rest of my life.”

Chapter Text

Sansa struggled against the total darkness and paralysing numbness that enshrouded her but try as she may she could not coax a single movement from her leaden limbs. She briefly wondered if she was dead. However, after some time she could discern muffled, indistinct voices that gradually began to increase in clarity and volume as her mind slowly lifted from the fog of her sedation; still she was unable to move as much as a finger or toe or even to open her eyes.

 

“Is she going to be alright, doctor?”
Something sounded so familiar about the strong male baritone voice; she found it strangely soothing but she could not recall where she had heard it before.
A clear, confident, slightly accented female voice replied to the man.
“She’s responding very well to treatment and we expect her to make a full recovery but we’ll need to keep her in for the next couple of days. She has bacterial double pneumonia which we’re treating with a course of intravenous antibiotics. Her temperature is almost back to normal which is a good development and she’s also breathing a little easier due to a reduction in the fluid in the lungs. She’s otherwise very dehydrated so we are gradually restoring her fluid balance and electrolytes and she appears to be malnourished. This and exposure are likely to have weakened her immune system which is why the infection has taken such a strong hold on her. But all in all, she is a very lucky young woman.”
“I see. Well thank you for what you have done for her so far. I’m relieved that she’s begun to turn the corner.”

 

“May I ask, are you a family member or friend? Have her family been informed?”
“No, I’m neither. I’m afraid I don’t know this young lady or anything about her, apart from her first name. I found her living under a rail overpass.”
While Sansa could not see the doctor’s face she detected pity and concern in her tone when she responded.
“Oh, I see. Well, that is a problem.”
“How so?”
“She can’t go back on to the streets after her discharge from here. She won’t be in any condition to survive out there, especially as the weather is set to deteriorate further over the next few days – there’s another cold front coming through. If she were underage we would have an obligation to put her in a state run respite facility but we found her ID in her wallet in her jeans pocket. She’s nineteen and an adult so she would need to consent. Failing that she needs to be discharged into someone’s care.”

 

Sansa’s heart raced as she registered how silent the male voice had become. Eventually she heard a deep sigh from him as he responded; a loud exhalation of resignation that struck her like a dagger to the chest.
“If she doesn’t have anyone else I’ll sign off on the discharge papers. I’ll make sure she’s taken care of.”
Sansa’s heart raced in a combination of fear and dejection. Who was this man who had offered to take charge of her welfare and why would he offer to do so? He clearly had no real desire to do so but for some reason felt obliged or perhaps, more worryingly, there was some other hidden motivation.
“That is very generous of you but of course she may not consent to it.”
“What will happen to her if she doesn’t?”
“We’ll have to tackle that hurdle if or when we come to it. I suggest you try hard to convince her.”
The man exhaled noisily but did not respond.

 

Suddenly Sansa felt some sensation beginning to return to her extremities and she was able to flutter her eyes open weakly, moaning with the effort. Her head ached and the strong fluorescent lights above her assaulted her eyes, forcing her to squeeze them shut.
“She’s awake. Please Mr Baratheon could you wait outside for a moment while I speak to her?”
“Yes, of course.”
Sansa opened her eyes, blinking away tears but the man had been in the doorway of the room at some distance and had left before she had a chance to catch a glimpse of him. She had no idea who Mr Baratheon might be and why he should have taken an interest in her, although for some reason his name rang a faint bell.

 

A tall olive complexioned woman of perhaps forty materialised at her side and grasped her hand.
“Sansa? My name is Doctor Sanchez. How are you feeling?” she asked as she looked down kindly, her large brown eyes filled with concern.
“Mmmm,” she mumbled, “head hurts. Thirsty,” she rasped out in a rough voice edged with fatigue.
The doctor lifted her head and shoulders and adjusted her pillow to put her up in more of a sitting position. She groaned as her muscles protested.
“Here drink some of this, but slowly,” the woman said as she passed a paper cup with straw to her to sip from. “I’ll order some paracetamol for you for the pain. A nurse will attend you shortly. Do you know where you are?”
“In hospital,” she grated.
“Yes. You’re in Old Gate Private Hospital.”

 

“What!?” Sansa exclaimed in surprise. “But I don’t have any insurance. I haven’t any money,” she flustered as she began to cough. She felt light headed and leaned back against the pillow limply and with a groan.
“Ssh, now. Try not to exert yourself. You’re still weak and you still have some fluid on the lungs so you might feel short of breath. You don’t have to worry about the expenses of your treatment and stay. They’ve been taken care of.”
Sansa’s eyes widened as she looked around the room and realised she had been placed in a large and well-appointed private ward with a stunning view out to Blackwater Bay. It must be costing a small fortune.
“Who, how?” she asked in a rough whisper.
“The man who called the paramedics. The one who found you last night. His name is Mr Baratheon. He’s waiting outside. He was here for hours last night and returned again this morning while you’ve been sleeping.”
“Why would he do all of this?” she asked in confusion.
“He’s obviously a very kind hearted man,” Doctor Sanchez replied with a genuine smile. “Sansa, do you have any family or friends we can call? You’re going to need some care after you leave here.”
Sansa’s brow furrowed.
“No,” she replied in a small voice. “I don’t have anyone.”
The woman looked at her sympathetically.
“I see. Well, I think you better have a talk to Mr Baratheon about it. Can I let him in?”

 

Sansa felt a mixture of trepidation and curiosity. On the one hand she was deeply grateful to this stranger who had taken it upon himself to reach out his hand to her in her extremis. In truth she would expect any decent human being to assist someone who was in mortal jeopardy but he had gone above and beyond for her. He could have called for the ambulance, left her to the vagaries of the public health system and been on his merry way. But he had chosen to see to her comfort and quality of care at great personal expense and moreover he had stayed. He had cared enough to stay and he had even offered to extend his assistance further. The question was, why? She was streetwise enough to know that not everybody’s motivations were entirely transparent or altruistic and there was no such thing as a free lunch. What did he want from her in return? She decided that as fearful as she was of the answers to these questions, she needed to know so she made her decision.
“Sure. Please let him in,” she replied.
As Dr Sanchez moved to the door and called out to the man, his tall broad shouldered form appeared in the doorway.

 

Their eyes met and time seemed to stop.

Chapter Text

Sansa took a moment to examine her saviour. The features of his face were strong and somewhat stern although far from unappealing. He reminded her of centuries-old sculpted busts and portraits of Westerosi rulers, full of dignity and gravitas. There was, she decided, a hint of stubbornness too, in the defined line of the jaw. She imagined that if he softened his expression, particularly around the scowling mouth, he would be even more handsome. His black hair was thick but had begun to recede ever so slightly. If she had to guess she would think he would be in his mid to late thirties, although he bore his years very well. He wore a business suit so perhaps he was intending to go straight to work after his visit with her. His suit was perfectly tailored and obviously expensive, conforming closely to his strong masculine form. His shoulders were broad, his torso although hidden somewhat by his clothing, appeared lean and taut, tapering down to his narrow hips. As her gaze started to lower further she blushed as she realised where her eyes were heading and looked away in acute embarrassment. For his part he stood stock still staring at her intently with his deep blue penetrating eyes never leaving her face. She clutched reflexively at her light bed coverings as if they would offer her some sort of shield against his persistent glare which was now starting to discomfit her.

 

She was relieved when he awkwardly cleared his throat and finally made his way towards her, depositing an overnight bag at her side. He sat in a nearby chair and regarded her with a serious expression, his brow furrowed.
“Sansa. I’m glad you are starting to feel better. Do you remember me from last night?” he asked in his deep sonorous tone.
Sansa frowned in concentration. She could not recall every feature of his face but she could not forget those eyes as they had been briefly illuminated by lightning strikes that fateful night. She had been aware of his presence; her fever and the semi darkness of the rail overpass had muddled her perceptions but yes, she did now clearly remember the voice too. And a name.
“Stannis?” she asked tremulously.
As she spoke his name she detected a shift in his expression and a softening around the eyes, as though he had enjoyed hearing it from her.
“Yes, that’s right. My name is Stannis Baratheon.”

 

“Why? Why did you help me?” she asked.
He frowned at her perplexedly.
“I couldn’t just leave you there. You would have died. What sort of person would that make me?”
Sansa coughed weakly and cleared her throat, taking another sip of water from the cup.
“That’s not what I meant. Why did you pay for all of this? You didn’t have to do that. You could have just called the ambulance and left it at that.”
He seemed momentarily lost for words and fidgeted nervously with one of his jacket sleeves. Finally he returned his gaze to her.
“I have a daughter. I would like to think that if she were in trouble one day that someone would help her the way that I have helped you.”
For some unknown reason his answer both relieved and disappointed her at the same time but she wasn’t quite sure why.

 

“Oh, I see,” she replied in a small voice. “Well, of course I am very grateful. I don’t know how I can ever repay you. You see, I haven’t got any money and -”
Stannis interrupted her before she could finish.
“No, I don’t expect monetary repayment.”
He must have detected something in her expression because he continued in a rush.
“I don’t expect anything from you in return. The best repayment you can give me is to recover fully. I expect value for my money,” he japed, his lips quirking up in a slight smirk.
She gave him a small smile in return realising he was trying very hard to put her at ease.

 

“Why are you still here?” she asked, immediately regretting the unintentionally rude way she had asked the question as she saw his expression falter.
A note of suspicion had inadvertently crept into her voice and she could not stop it before it escaped her lips. The lines around his mouth deepened and he averted his gaze from her.
“I can leave if you want me to, of course. Perhaps that would be for the best. You need your rest after all,” he replied coolly.
The muscles of his body tensed as though he was about to stand from the chair. Sansa reached out and grasped his hand in hers curling her fingers tightly around it and giving it a gentle squeeze.
“No, please don’t go,” she pleaded. “I don’t want you to.”
He stiffened at her touch and stared fixedly at her hand. She blushed hotly and quickly removed it, fiddling nervously with her hair.

 

He cleared his throat and regarded her with an unreadable expression.
“There is something we need to discuss before I make my way to work.”
“What is it?” Sansa enquired, knowing full well what Stannis was referring to.
“Do you have anyone who can come and discharge you from the hospital? Any family or friends? The hospital made it clear that they can’t just let you walk out of here under your own steam.”
“No, I have no one,” she replied in little more than a whisper.
“I see. Well, that leaves us with very little choice.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m afraid that we will have to put up with each other for a while longer. I will sign your discharge papers. You will be staying with me when you leave here.”

 

Sansa’s mouth gaped as she considered the extent of his largesse. Due to what she had overheard she had anticipated that Stannis would sign her release papers and perhaps organise some sort of external rehabilitation assistance, but this was totally unexpected and, if she were to be honest, a little bit scary.
“I can’t do that,” Sansa replied with a stutter and then quickly added, “I mean, thanks and everything but you’ve already done too much. And besides I don’t know if … I mean I don’t even know you… I –”
Stannis stared at her with a slight frown.
“Are you afraid of me Sansa?”
“No,” she replied a little uncertainly. She could tell by his dubious expression that he didn’t quite believe her.
“I am not saying that it is wrong for you to be cautious but if I haven’t proven by now that I only have your best interests at heart then look at it logically. My name will be on the hospital paperwork. They will know who you left with. If something were to happen to you it would be a very exclusive list of suspects.”
“No one would even know or care if I was gone,” she replied in a small voice.
Stannis’s breath hitched at her response. He sat still for some time rubbing the back of his neck and then rose from the chair and straightened his jacket.

 

“I cannot fault you for being careful and I cannot force you to come with me; I have absolutely no desire to. The hospital can send you to a state respite centre instead or I can organise a private facility but I rather thought you would prefer not to be left alone. It is of course your choice. There is no rush to decide. You will be in hospital today and tomorrow. You have until then to make up your mind,” he responded gruffly as he moved away from the bed.
He pointed to the overnight bag on the floor.
“I’ve organised some sleepwear and umm, undergarments so you can get rid of that hospital gown. I hope the sizing is right – I went by the clothing you were wearing when you were admitted. I placed my trust in the sales assistants at the department store down the street so I hope they will suffice. There are toiletries in there. There are some magazines too, in case you get bored with cable TV,” he explained pointing up at the wall mounted television.

 

Sansa stared at him, her mouth slightly agape; she felt the sting of tears at the corners of her eyes.
“You did all of this for me?”
“Think nothing of it,” he replied nonchalantly. “I will return to see you tonight, unless of course, you would prefer that I did not come.”
“No, I mean yes,” she stammered as a slight blush suffused her cheeks. “Please. I would like you to come.”
“Alright, I will see you later then,” he replied as he turned from her and started to walk towards the door.
“Stannis,” she called out.
He turned around gazing at her speculatively.
“The answer is ‘yes’. I will leave the hospital with you. That is, if the offer is still available.”
He did not answer but nodded his head slightly in acknowledgement before exiting the room and closing the door quietly behind him.

Chapter Text

“Have you completely lost the fucking plot?” Davos demanded, as his eyebrows quirked up to the heavens.
Stannis sat across from his friend in a corner of his office as they sat in comfortable leather armchairs sipping at their coffees during an afternoon break.
“I thought you at least would understand. I can’t tell Robert or Renly; they’d be all over it like a fat kid on a cupcake. But I thought I could count on some support from you at least,” Stannis responded with a note of disappointment in his voice.
Davos exhaled in frustration.
“Look, I know you’re doing what you think is right but this isn’t some stray kitten you’re talking about. You don’t just go out into the street and pick up random broken human beings and bring them home with you and try and patch them up.”
Stannis sighed.
“I couldn’t just leave her there, Davos. She was on the verge of death, frightened and alone. She looked right into my eyes and asked for my help. I held her not knowing whether she was going to die in my arms. I know you. If you’d seen her, if you’d been there, you would have done the same thing.”
Davos huffed in exasperation.
“But you didn’t just leave her there. You got her the medical assistance she needed, in fact the best that money could buy, which is a whole hell of a lot more than most other people would have done in your position. Surely the hospital can sort something out, send her to a state run respite centre until she fully recovers.”

 

Stannis scratched at the stubble on his jaw. In his rush to organise Sansa’s overnight bag in the morning and return to the hospital, he had uncharacteristically forgone a shave and felt quite grubby.
“Yes they can do that but you know what those places are like. Those facilities are so stretched for resources I’m worried she’ll come out sicker than when she went in. Even the treating doctor wasn’t keen on that option.”
“Well, okay, you have a point,” Davos admitted begrudgingly. “In that case, if money is no object to you why don’t you just pay for a stay in a private facility? Why do you have to bring her into your home?”
Stannis raked his fingers through the hair at his temples.
“I could have gone down that route. I should have, probably. I don’t know why Davos. That’s the honest truth. For some reason I just couldn’t stomach the thought of leaving her all on her own. Had she declined my offer to come with me I would have arranged it but it really wasn’t my preferred option.”
“This isn’t like you Stannis. I’m not saying you’re a heartless bastard by any means but you’re not usually so impulsive and ready to give someone the benefit of the doubt. You don’t know anything about her but you’re prepared to let her into your home. How do you know she’s not going to turn around and bite the hand that feeds her?”

 

“Well for one thing, she originally resisted my offer – I had to convince her that she was safe to come home with me.”
“Hmm,” Davos replied as he smoothed his fingers through his short beard in contemplation. “Which might be a good sign or just the sign of someone who knows how to play the game."
Stannis sighed loudly at his friend’s persistently suspicious attitude but swallowed his irritation before responding.
“I know you’re right. I don’t know the first thing about her. It’s a risk. A big one. But maybe I’m sick of always being the careful one in the family, Davos. My brothers never think twice about doing foolish and reckless things but I am the one who always does everything by the book, who carefully weighs up the pros and cons, that always plays it safe. It’s time I stood up and followed my gut instinct for a change. I think Sansa’s worth the risk and I’m prepared to take it,” he stated decisively.
Davos sighed loudly.
“Look, I’ve got your back. You know that. I’ll always support you in the decisions that you make and this is no different. And don’t think that I am unsympathetic to the poor girl’s predicament. Of course I’m not. But you are like a son to me Stannis; you will always come first with me. And I have to say that this whole thing worries me on a lot of levels. Just be careful, that’s all I’m saying.”
“I will. I won’t let my guard down, don’t worry.”
“That’s exactly what I am worried about.”
“I really don’t think that she is a serial killer, Davos, or that she’ll sneak off into the night with the family silver,” Stannis huffed.

 

“That’s not what you need to guard yourself against. Don’t let the romance of the situation get on top of you.”
“Romance?” he chuckled in derision. “A sick nineteen year old girl with a dour and boring thirty five year old man?”
“A very beautiful and sensitive young woman - according to your description - who is bound to be very grateful to her knight in shining armour; all alone in an empty house together. Nope. Nothing romantic at all in that scenario,” he smirked smugly.
“Shut up Seaworth,” Stannis grunted. “I am no knight, my armour is far from shining and I have no romantic interest in this girl. End of.”
“Right, of course,” Davos responded but Stannis couldn’t miss the sardonic tone in the older man’s voice.

 

“Apart from anything else, have you stopped to think about the practicalities of the situation?” Davos asked, changing tack.
“What practicalities?”
“Well she’s straight off the streets. No clothes for a start.”
“Shit! I’ve only organised sleepwear and basic toiletries for her; I haven’t had the time to arrange anything else. As it was I had to throw myself at the mercy of the shop assistant this morning. I wouldn’t have a fucking clue.” Stannis admitted, feeling slightly panicked. Davos looked almost amused before clapping him on the knee.
“Relax big fella. Text me her sizes when you get home tonight and I’ll get Marya on to it tomorrow. She loves an excuse to shop so she’ll be ecstatic. I’m sure she’ll have ideas of other items that might be required. Like you, I wouldn’t have the foggiest.”
Stannis exhaled in relief.
“I can’t thank you enough, Davos. Few things scare me more than having to go shopping, but going shopping for a young woman? Well, just give your beautiful wife a big hug for me will you?”
Stannis withdrew a credit card from his pocket.
“And take this and give it to Marya. The PIN is 0510. Tell her there’s no limit on it and she is not to concern herself about the expenditure.”
“Oh boy. You are going to regret those words, my friend. You have no idea,” Davos chuckled.
“And tell her to pick up something nice for herself for her trouble.”
“Fuck, you are playing with fire.”

 

“The one big concern I do have is Mel.” Stannis admitted with a frown.
Davos grunted under his breath. He had never been a fan of the woman and did little to hide his feelings about her.
“She’s going to have an absolute cow. You know that,” he commented seriously. “She’s always been the jealous type but this is going to send her right over the edge, especially if Sansa is as beautiful as you say she is. Mark my words.”
“She really is that beautiful, perhaps more so,” he responded. He involuntarily began to reconstruct her features in his mind before snapping himself out of it. Davos regarded him with a quizzical quirk of one eyebrow but thankfully remained silent.
“I have to be completely upfront with Mel,” he continued. “We had a couple of outings planned for this week. I can’t hide Sansa from her and continue to blow her off and I don’t want to. Once Sansa is well enough I’ll have the two of them meet.”
“Are you sure that’s such a good idea?” Davos frowned.
“Has to be done. Otherwise Mel’s going to cook up all sorts of images and scenarios in her head. Better that she can see the two of us together and realise that nothing untoward is going on. But if it comes down to it, if she can’t deal with it, if she doesn’t trust me then perhaps it is time we call it a day. To be honest, things have been rocky for a while now. Sometimes it feels like we’re just going through the motions.”
Davos remained diplomatically silent once again but Stannis could tell it was the best news the man had heard in some time.

 

“And your brothers? You’re not going to tell them?”
Stannis huffed. “If you were me, would you tell them? They’d have a fucking field day. I’ll tell them if I have to but only if there’s no alternative.”
“And Selyse?”
“Why on earth would Selyse….oh shit. I completely forgot. I’ve got Shireen this weekend and I can’t beg off. Selyse has some sort of charity event to attend in High Garden.
“You know that normally we’d happily take Shireen, Stannis, but this weekend we’ve got other guests staying and I simply won’t have the room,” Davos explained.
“No, that’s okay. Thanks for the thought. I’ll just have to bite the bullet and tell Selyse because Shireen is bound to tell her mother everything anyway. I’d rather it came from me. That will be a fun phone call. Selyse is just as bad as Mel and she’s 100 percent guaranteed to put the worst reflection on this situation as possible.”
“You’ve really put yourself up shit creek without a paddle, my friend.”
“Thanks. That’s so very helpful Seaworth.”

Chapter Text

Leafing through one of the magazines in the overnight bag, Sansa heaved a huge sigh and checked the clock hanging on the wall of her room for what felt like the millionth time. It was now 8.30pm. Visitors’ hours were due to finish at 9pm and Stannis still had not arrived. She felt a pang of hurt and loneliness as she began to conclude that he would not be stopping by as he had originally indicated he would. She couldn’t really blame him. He had been so solicitous and caring towards her, had taken great expense on her behalf, but she had done nothing but question his motives and treat him with distrust. When he had left she had detected a change of demeanour in him, a coldness towards her that she realised was entirely of her own making. She had clearly hurt him with her attitude and she would do anything to reverse it for she suspected that a big warm heart was beating behind the sometimes frosty exterior that he donned like armour.

 

Just then the door to her room opened and Stannis appeared. He clearly had not had time to change into casual clothing but had removed his jacket and tie. The top of his business shirt was unbuttoned and the sleeves were rolled up exposing his strongly muscled forearms. Sansa felt her heart rate quicken and could not control the huge beaming smile that bloomed on her face.
“You came!” she exclaimed happily, but then her smile faltered as she registered the tight expression on his face and his general demeanour. When she had last seen him he had appeared immaculately groomed and composed and had imagined that to be his usual presentation. But tonight his hair was rather unruly as though he had been roughly running his hands through it and she detected the shadow of stubble on his face. He appeared tired and anxious and frowned slightly when their eyes met.
“I said that I would, didn’t I?” he snapped, his voice tense and cold.
Sansa flushed and lowered her eyes as tears threatened.

 

She heard a deep sigh as he approached and plonked himself down tiredly on a chair by the bed. When her eyes met his again he appeared contrite and a little ashamed. He bowed his head and rubbed at the inner corner of his eyes with the thumb and index finger of one hand before addressing her.
“I apologise Sansa. That was very unkind of me. It’s been a very hard day. I’ve been caught up with a couple of long and difficult phone calls tonight, and I had a few errands to run. It was a late night last night and a very long day today. I’m just a bit worn out. But that’s no excuse for treating you that way. I am sorry.”
“You’re tired and upset because of me, aren’t you? This is causing you problems?” she asked in a small voice.
“None of this is your fault. And I was the one who made the offer to you and with it comes some little complications and some things to sort out, it’s true. But I don’t want you to worry about it. Your job is to concentrate on getting better,” he replied gently.

 

To her dismay and complete mortification, Sansa was unable to control the flood of emotions that overwhelmed her at his selflessness and the thought of the ungrateful way she felt she had treated him in return. She began to sob, covering her face with her hands.
“Sansa? Why are you crying, sweetheart? Don’t cry,” he muttered as he patted her shoulder awkwardly.
As she continued to weep she felt a dip in the mattress as he sat down right next to her and pulled her to him with one arm. She pressed her cheek to his chest and embraced him while his other hand moved around to smooth the hair at the back of her head.
“Come on now. It’s alright. Please stop crying. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
After a while as her tears started to subside, she began to register the strength of the muscles of his chest and arms against her and the warmth that emanated from his body. She felt so comforted and safe in that moment, something she hadn’t felt for a very long time. She held on tight and hoped that he would never let her go but eventually when he sensed that she had regained her composure he disentangled from their embrace and sat back to regard her with concern.
Wiping at her face she sniffled and gave him a small smile in reassurance.
“That’s much better,” he said. “I can’t believe I was such an incredible arsehole and wasted the beautiful smile you gifted me with when I first arrived. I must be a crazy man. I’m sorry.”
Sansa blushed and averted her gaze.
“Umm. I’m sorry too,” she said softly.
“For what, Sansa? You don’t have anything to apologise for.”

 

“Yes I do. You’ve been so kind to me, so generous but I wasn’t all that nice to you today. I know that you wouldn’t do anything to harm me but I guess I just got scared for a moment.”
“That’s completely understandable. And you are right to be cautious. You don’t know me but just remember, I don’t know you either. Now, how are you feeling? You look….better,” he finished somewhat awkwardly as though he had changed his words midstream.
Sansa did in fact feel stronger and the incessant pressure on her chest had lifted somewhat but she still became a bit breathless as she talked.
“I’m getting there,” she answered with a small smile. “Won’t you tell me what upset you today? I really want to know.”

 

Stannis sighed loudly
“I had to call my friend Mel and tell her about you. I had to cancel our date last night and I owed her an explanation. To say that she was less than impressed when she found out you would be staying with me would be an understatement.”
Sansa felt a twinge of disappointment and then castigated herself. Of course Stannis had a girlfriend. He was good looking, intelligent, generous and kind. It would be unrealistic to think he was single. Why should it upset her in the slightest anyway? It shouldn’t but it did and she wasn’t sure why, as she hardly knew anything about this man. She tried not to let her confused feelings show, knowing that she was probably failing miserably.
“Date? Mel is your girlfriend?” she mumbled.
Stannis seemed to search her eyes for something but she wasn’t sure what he was looking for.
“Not exactly. She’s… It’s complicated. We have an arrangement. I’m not really explaining this very well,” he finished lamely as he stroked his hand awkwardly through his hair.
“You don’t love each other?” Sansa asked quietly.
Stannis’s eyes snapped up to her face and narrowed.
“That’s a very personal question, Sansa,” he replied coldly.
“I’m sorry. It’s none of my business. I know that. I just think…well… everyone deserves to love and be loved. Don’t you agree?”
Stannis huffed in derision, his tone bitter and cynical.
“You might need to change your optical prescription and stop wearing those rose coloured glasses.”
Sansa flushed and lowered her gaze suddenly feeling very childish and naive.

 

“In any case,” Stannis continued a little more gently, “I have asked her to come around to the house at some stage to meet you so that she can satisfy herself that things are above board.”
“Wow. She really doesn’t trust you, does she?” Sansa asked.
“She is very prone to jealousy. It clouds her judgement at times, it’s true,” he responded.
Sansa sat up straight and steadied her voice.
“Well, she has absolutely nothing to be jealous of, does she?” she asked as she shot Stannis a pointed glance. He stared fixedly at her, the lines around his mouth deepening.
“Of course not,” he replied eventually, but she could not help but notice that his tone lacked its usual strength of conviction.

 

“The other call I made was to my ex-wife,” he said, quickly changing the subject.
Sansa’s eyes widened.
“Okay, you have been busy. Why did you have to tell her about me?”
“I had completely forgotten that I have my daughter Shireen staying with me this weekend. Selyse has a charity event to attend so I can’t make any other arrangement at such short notice.”
“You think I will still be at your house by then?” Sansa hadn’t anticipated a stay of more than a couple of days.
“I spoke to Dr Sanchez outside. You need to finish a week long course of antibiotics and then after that you will need to come back in for a check-up. You need to rest up and stay out of the cold for the entire duration.
“Oh, I see. How old is your daughter, Stannis?”
“She’s six.”
“I can understand if Selyse is not happy with the situation. I mean I am off the streets. Perhaps she feels that her child will be in danger or that I will be an unhealthy influence.”
“Yes, it was partly that but she’s not unlike Mel in some ways. Even though we’ve been divorced for almost four years she hates seeing me with other women.”
“Even Mel?”
Stannis seemed uncomfortable and struggled to reply.
“No, she doesn’t appear to have that difficulty with Mel,” Stannis replied eventually.
Because you don’t love Mel and Selyse knows that, Sansa thought to herself but did not articulate. She wasn’t sure why she was secretly pleased with that realisation.

 

“Well, I look forward to meeting Shireen. It will be nice to have some company,” Sansa stated.
Stannis looked at her speculatively.
“What do you mean? You’re not going to be left on your own the whole time. In fact, I will arrange to work from home for the first two days of your stay on Thursday and Friday.”
Sansa couldn’t hide her dismay.
“You don’t trust me alone in your house.”
Stannis sighed loudly.
“We both still have a little work to do on our trust issues I think, but no, that’s not the reason. Dr Sanchez advised me that you need bed rest for a couple of days. I’m not leaving you alone to fend for yourself.”
“Oh,” Sansa said in small voice as she felt a stab of guilt for her original reaction. “That’s very kind of you. I hope your boss won’t give you a hard time.”
Stannis chuckled. “I am the boss, Sansa. Well, technically my older brother Robert is. He is the company director but I am 2IC and my younger brother Renly is the CFO. Our business is the largest corporation in Westeros: RSR Baratheon Holdings.

 

Sansa realised that is why his surname had sounded vaguely familiar earlier in the day. She screwed up her face in concentration as she tried to recall the details of the company.
“Mining and metals, gas and petroleum?”
“Primarily. Although we do have subsidiary companies dealing in import and export, property development and investment, and a range of other areas.”
“That must be very demanding.”
“It is; I liken it a bit to spinning plates. It’s very satisfying except that I have to put up with my smartarse brothers. So I thank you for rescuing me from them for a time.”
Sansa giggled.
“You don’t get on with your brothers?”
“They both get an immense amount of satisfaction out of making my life as miserable as possible.”
Sansa stifled a laugh.
“Have you told them about me?”
“Not on your nelly. And I don’t intend to if I can possibly avoid it. They would be complete children about it, I assure you. I would never hear the end of it.”

 

Sansa grinned broadly and was amazed when Stannis returned it with a smile of his own; a real smile that lit up his incredible deep blue eyes and revealed his perfect white teeth for the first time. As the heaviness lifted from his features he appeared so much younger, almost boyish.
“You’re really handsome when you smile, Stannis. You should do it more often,” she blurted, not quite believing that she had articulated her thoughts so carelessly. She blushed and looked away chewing on her bottom lip hoping that she had not overstepped the mark or insulted him.
Stannis cleared his throat awkwardly, the smile slowly dissolving from his face.
“Yes, well… Umm. I can’t go around with a smile permanently plastered on my face. People would think I had suffered some sort of brain injury. It’s not me,” he responded stiffly.
“That’s a shame,” Sansa replied in a small voice.

 

Stannis stared at her fixedly before pushing himself from the chair.
“Visitor hours are just about up now, Sansa. I should make a move before they physically come and throw me out. But I’ll be back tomorrow. I’ll try and be more punctual next time. I will have a couple of friends with me.”
“Who Stannis?” Sansa enquired with a smile.
“Davos Seaworth, who is a friend I’ve known for years that works for me, and his wife Marya. I’ve asked Marya to source some clothing and other items for you. She’ll be bringing them with her so you can sort through them and have items available before you leave the hospital and in case any of them are unsuitable and need to be returned.”

 

Sansa stared at Stannis wide-eyed and felt the start of tears once again. Her voice trembled despite her best efforts to control it.
“That is very nice of Marya. And you are so kind. I don’t know what to say. I can’t believe you’re doing all of this for me. You really shouldn’t be spending your money on me like this. It doesn’t seem right.”
“Money doesn’t really interest me Sansa. If I can do something worthwhile with it from time to time, then all the better.”
On a sudden impulse Sansa grabbed at Stannis’s hand and pulled him down towards her, planting a soft kiss on his cheek.
“Thank you,” she whispered as she released his hand slowly.
Stannis straightened up and stared intently at her, confusion and surprise etched into his features. He had obviously been caught off guard by her affectionate gesture and seemed entirely unsure how to react. Gradually he schooled his features and replied, his tone betraying nothing.
“You’re welcome. Try to get some rest now.”
“Good night Stannis.”
“Good night Sansa,” he replied quietly, as he turned from her and left the room.

Chapter Text

The black coffee nestled in his hand was strong and steaming and just exactly what Stannis needed to chase away the persistent fog from his brain after a night of very restless sleep. He had spent the entire time tossing and turning as his latest interaction with Sansa replayed incessantly in his mind, so he felt even more exhausted than he had at the hospital. At least he had taken the time to shave this morning and had donned his most expensive business suit so he felt like less of a hobo than he had the previous night. When he had first entered Sansa’s room in a decidedly flustered state, he had been struck by how incredibly beautiful this young woman was. He already knew that of course. But now she wore a pretty light blue pyjama pant set that highlighted the azure brilliance of her eyes and her hair was cleaned and brushed into lustrous red waves that tumbled freely over her shoulders. Her face had lost some of the pallor and the darkness under the eyes; she appeared fresher, dewy with a slight rose blush at the high cheekbones.

 

And then she had smiled at him. A proper spontaneous smile that lit up her eyes and transformed an already beautiful face into something rather sublime. He could not remember a woman ever smiling quite like that at him before or having such an immediate effect, as he felt an electric jolt that raced straight down to his groin. In that moment he had been transfixed but his natural self defence mechanisms kicked in and that combined with his crushing fatigue and stress had caused him to be a little cruel to her. When he noticed her smile fade he felt a profound sense of loss and a huge stab of remorse.

 

This was only compounded when he realised that she had begun to cry, not on account of her regrettable situation, but because of how it and her perceived ingratitude and suspicion towards him might have affected him. Her sensitivity touched him deeply. While he knew it was inadvisable, he could not resist the need to physically comfort her. When he had held her close she had been so soft and so warm in his arms, her hair against his chin smooth as silk and with a subtle floral fragrance. As he felt her body tremble in his, he had longed to take her face in his hands and kiss away her tears, taste her perfect soft lips. When she had kissed him on the cheek before his departure and he had felt the velvety press of her lips on his skin there was a stirring at his groin and he had fought off an urge to capture her lips with his and crush her against him. Panicking internally he did the only thing he could think of doing in the situation which, predictably for him, was to recoil entirely into his hard shell once again.

 

Her effect on him stunned him. He was not an impulsive man nor one that followed the dictates of his cock like Robert. He needed something more than a physical attraction to feel truly drawn to a woman, perhaps as purely sexual dalliances like the one he found himself embroiled in currently with Mel, had not ended well for him in the past. Although, he had to acknowledge, on the rare occasions he had given his whole self to a woman, that had not ended well either. This young woman, while undeniably gorgeous, also happened to be intelligent, sensitive and kind – it was a lethal combination. If that wasn’t enough, she had called him handsome. While he did everything he could to make the most of the features that the Gods had seen fit to bestow upon him, he would never have considered himself handsome – presentable at best. And if he hadn’t known better he could have sworn that there was a hint of jealousy when Sansa had asked him about Mel.

 

He shook his head angrily and cursed himself for his egotism and foolishness. She was a stunning nineteen year old woman. What could she possibly see in him, a man much older than her with average looks that just was not in her league? It was all wishful thinking and he was projecting his own wishes and desires on her. She didn’t want him. She was just grateful, that was all. Unfortunately her gratitude just happened to be manifesting in ways that were unrelentingly pushing all his buttons. He began to feel very guilty for his wanton thoughts. Get a grip Baratheon. You have a responsibility to this young woman to protect her, not try to jump her bones the minute she as much as smiles at you. Stannis sighed loudly and took another sip of his coffee, hissing as he burnt his bottom lip slightly on the rim of his “World’s Okayest Boss” mug, a gift from his support staff. At least the burn had the effect of lifting him from his stupor.

 

It was a little after 10am and Stannis realised he would have to bite the bullet and broach the subject of his time away from the office with Robert. It sat uncomfortably with him to lie to his own brother – being forthright by nature, deception never came easily to him but in this instance he understood the necessity of it. Not only would both Robert and Renly tease him mercilessly about having a much younger gorgeous woman in his house, but more importantly, their innate curiosity would compel them to visit to check out the situation for themselves, in the guise of brotherly concern and nothing else (of course). Stannis was aware of how insecure and fragile Sansa must be as it stood and did not want her to have to contend with Robert’s inappropriateness and Renly’s relentless sarcasm on top of it.

 

Checking Robert’s meeting schedule for the day Stannis noticed that it was clear for the next couple of hours so made his way down the corridor to his office, nodding at and acknowledging other staff members along the way. Stannis opened the door in time to catch Robert’s PA, a young buxom blonde intern just out of college whirling from the desk and hastily readjusting her short black skirt and buttoning up her tight white blouse.
Stannis could feel the tips of his ears turning red. Why was the heating turned up so damn high in Robert’s room?
“Stan! Still haven’t learned how to knock after all these years I see,” Robert rumbled, not appearing to be embarrassed or put out in the slightest.
In fact, judging by the wide grin on his face he was clearly enjoying his younger brother’s obvious discomfort.
“Fetch me all of those reports and projections I asked for and bring them to me before noon please Miss Reynolds,” he ordered the woman.
“Certainly Mr Baratheon,” she stammered in reply.
The girl shot Stannis an embarrassed and uncertain smile and flustered her way out of the office while Robert did absolutely nothing to hide the fact that his eyes were firmly fixed on her ample rounded buttocks pushing against the fabric of her tight skirt as she hastily departed.
Stannis desperately willed his overheated face to return to some sort of normalcy. He cleared his throat awkwardly before speaking.

 

“I need a moment of your time.”
“Of course kid. Always for you. Take a weight off,” he smiled broadly as he indicated a nearby leather recliner. Stannis shook off Robert’s patronising endearment and took his seat but did not recline; he did not make himself comfortable, not intending to prolong the visit more than was absolutely necessary.
“Would you care for a scotch…oh wait, I forget you don’t partake at work,” Robert tsk’d.
“I rarely drink at all, as you might recall,” Stannis reminded his brother.
He bit the inside of his cheek to prevent himself from also reminding Robert that it was only ten in the morning. They’d had some rather heated arguments about his brother’s excessive alcohol consumption in the past and it would not do to start another now.
“Yes, quite,” Robert answered dismissively. “Well, to what do I owe this rare visit? It’s not often that you deign to darken my doorstep, outside of scheduled meetings of course,” he rumbled while pouring himself a healthy measure of expensive single malt scotch.
“Robert, I have to ask for a favour.”
Robert’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“You asking me for a favour? Wait while I fetch my diary. I must mark this down as a red letter day,” Robert chuckled loudly.
Stannis rolled his eyeballs and sighed in frustration. It was far from unexpected but Robert clearly wasn’t going to make this easy for him.

 

“I intend to take the next two days off for personal reasons and I need you and Renly to cover me.”
Robert shot from his chair with a look of total shock closely chased by a concerned frown.
“What’s the matter? Have you got cancer? You do look very tired. Or did someone die?”
“That’s not funny in the slightest, Robert,” Stannis castigated him.
“I was only partly joking. What’s up really? You’ve rarely taken a day off outside of public holidays in the fifteen years you’ve worked here.”
“So I’m long overdue then. I just have some personal financial and legal matters to see to and I can’t do it outside of business hours. I have several important appointments lined up. It’s nothing life changing but it does need to be handled.”
“Oh, that’s incredibly boring, Stan,” Robert huffed. “I was rather hoping that you were flying off to Dorne with a couple of exotic dancers or something of that nature.”
“That’s much more your speed than mind,” he rejoined. “I’ve rescheduled most of my meetings except the one with Davison from Essos Central Refineries at 2pm tomorrow. Renly should be able to handle that one. I’ll check my emails regularly via VPN but if anything critical comes up and the two of you can’t deal with it, just call.”
“I know this is going to come as a substantial shock to you, Stan, but I think we can manage without you for a couple of days.”

 

Stannis made an unimpressed noise in the back of his throat and rose from his chair.
“You might want to sort yourself out before you step outside your office, Robert,” Stannis remarked, gesturing towards the man’s face and neck.
Robert swiped at his skin and smirked as his fingers came away with smears of bright red lipstick on them.
“You’re no fun, little brother. Have I ever told you that?” he rumbled.
“Frequently. Goodbye Robert,” Stannis grunted out as he left the office closing the door behind him.

 

No more than five minutes had elapsed since he had sat himself down at his desk when his door opened abruptly and in strode Renly, a mischievous glint in his eye. Stannis rolled his eyeballs internally.
“I presume you have heard.”
“You presume correctly Stanny.”
Gods he hated it when Renly called him that and of course his brother was more than a little aware of it. He clenched his jaw as he ground his teeth in annoyance.
“So what gives?” Renly asked with a suspicious tone.
“Nothing gives. As I told Robert, and as he has no doubt relayed to you, I have some personal business matters to take care of.”
“What sort of ‘personal business’ are we talking about here exactly? Has it something to do with your beautiful redhead?”

 

Stannis’s breath hitched and he could not disguise his surprise. Renly had been referring to Melisandre clearly, but Stannis’s thoughts had immediately turned to Sansa and he had reacted before he could stop himself. Renly nodded his head knowingly, completely misconstruing Stannis’s reaction.
“I knew it. So, off for a bit of R & R with the lovely Miss Asshai. Robert might have bought your sorry explanation but I’m not so easily fooled,” he stated smugly.
Stannis decided it was just easier to play along.
“Alright, you’re correct. But for the love of all that is holy could you just this once keep it to yourself?”
“Hmm. Let me see now. I don’t know about that. It might cost you,” Renly replied with narrowed eyes.
Stannis sighed loudly.
“Alright, what do you want?”

 

Renly grinned maliciously sensing a victory.
“I want to borrow Proudwing. It’s our one year anniversary soon and I intend to sweep Loras off his feet. What’s better than a 120 foot luxury yacht for setting the mood?”
Stannis frowned.
“You know I don’t like anybody else sailing my yacht, Renly.”
Renly sighed. “Oh that’s too bad. I’ll just be on my way then. If you need me I’ll be in my office right after I talk to Robert about a small matter.”
“Alright, alright you little shithead. But I’m not going to forget this. Mark my words.”
Renly grinned broadly.
“See. I knew that we could come to an amicable agreement. I’ll stop by when you get back from your…..holiday and pick up the keys.
“Just get the fuck out of my office,” Stannis growled.
Renly winked at him and smirked before sauntering cockily from the room.
Stannis exhaled noisily and leaned back in his chair wondering for the millionth time how Renly and Robert could possibly be related to him and how the Gods could be so cruel.

Chapter Text

It was 6.30pm and Sansa had just completed the evening meal that one of the orderlies had brought to her when she heard a light tapping at the door.
“Come in,” Sansa called out.
Stannis entered, closely followed by a shorter, middle aged man with receding brown hair that greyed at his temples and his beard. His eyebrows arched in a way that could have made his face appear quite predatory. However, the effect was softened by the inherent kindness that emanated from his expressive brown eyes, although when he looked at her he did not smile. He appeared somewhat guarded and as though he was quietly appraising her. Sansa supposed that he was. Next to him stood a short plumpish woman of indeterminate age with dark brown shoulder length hair. She held an impressive number of large shopping bags in her hands and smiled excitedly when their eyes met.

 

“Sansa, these are my friends Davos and Marya Seaworth. Davos and Marya, this is Sansa Stark, the young lady I’ve told you about.”
Sansa held her hand out to Davos first who gave her a tight smile and shook her hand firmly.
“It’s lovely to meet you Mr Seaworth,” Sansa stated politely, giving him a small tentative smile in return.
“Likewise, but please call me Davos, Sansa,” he responded coolly.
“And you must call me Marya, dear. How are you feeling?” The woman’s tone was appreciably warmer than her husband’s.
“I’m slowly getting better, thank you Marya,” Sansa replied, as she shook the woman’s hand.
“Good, I have some clothing, shoes, cosmetics and hair care products for you, if you’re up to going through them.”

 

Sansa eyed the bulging shopping bags and her eyes widened.
“That’s all for me?” she asked in a hushed voice. “I don’t know how to thank you Marya. It must have taken you all day to shop for all of this.”
“Think nothing of it dear. It was fun. I just hope that you will like the items that I’ve chosen for you.”
“I’m sure that I will, Marya. Thank you so much,” Sansa smiled broadly.
She turned her head to regard Stannis.
“I don’t know what to say Stannis. This is so incredibly generous of you,” she said in a small voice.
“It is my pleasure Sansa,” he responded awkwardly.
Sansa struggled to keep tears at bay. She glanced at Davos and thought she detected a softening of his expression as he witnessed the exchange between them.
“Why don’t we leave the ladies to it, Davos? Let’s go to the cafeteria for a coffee and return in half an hour or so,” Stannis suggested.
“Sounds like a plan,” Davos responded as they walked from the room.

 

Once the men had left, Marya sat on a chair by the bed and lifted the bags onto the bed in front of Sansa.
“Go on dear, dive in,” she urged.
The older woman’s eyes lit up in excitement as she watched Sansa extract items from the bags, each greeted with a deep intake of breath. A brand new pair of black skinny jeans and a yellow floral print peasant top; a cobalt blue strapped silk maxi dress; a black pencil skirt that reached to just above the knees paired with a soft deep red long sleeved silk blouse; a pair of tailored black slacks and a white button up cashmere sweater; a mid-thigh length midnight blue lace shift dress with fitted three quarter sleeves; several plain t-shirts of excellent quality in different colours and a tan faux fur lined cropped leather jacket.

 

In another of the bags were an emerald green satin chemise with matching robe along with a week’s worth of satin, lace and cotton bras and matching panties in various colours and some socks. Another very large bag contained several shoe boxes. One held a pair of high heeled silver metallic sandals. There was also a pair of mid-calf length tan wedge heeled boots, a pair of black ballet flats, some black high heeled pumps and a pair of black and white Converse shoes. Lastly in two smaller bags were a silver clutch, a cream leather hand bag, facial cleanser, toner, some foundation, blush, several lip glosses and lipsticks, mascara, an eyeshadow compact set and loose mineral powder, along with some feminine hygiene products. For her hair Marya had sourced a beautiful brush, detangling comb and hair straightener along with expensive shampoo, conditioner and styling products.

 

Sansa sat back and scanned her haul, a huge incredulous smile blossoming on her face.
“I can’t believe it. This is all mine?” Sansa asked, not quite able to process the idea.
“Yes. It’s all yours. What do you think? Did I do okay?”
“Okay? I’m not just saying this but I love everything. I wouldn’t swap a single thing. Thank you so much,” Sansa gushed as she gave the woman a grateful hug.
As she contemplated Stannis’s generosity her eyes brimmed with tears and she could no longer hold them back. Marya’s face fell as she regarded Sansa with concern filled eyes.
“What’s the matter dear? Why are you crying?”
Sansa wiped at her tears and sniffled.
“I’m sorry Marya. I seem to be doing that a lot lately. It’s just - I don’t deserve any of this. When he said he was buying me things I didn’t expect all this. It’s too much. I haven’t done anything for Stannis to treat me this way. No one has ever done for me what he’s done. He doesn’t even know me.”
Marya reached across and took Sansa’s hand in his.
“Stannis is a wonderful man Sansa. Some find him a little cold and uptight at times but that’s only because they don’t really see what’s hidden inside; he’s got a big heart. He’s very loyal to his family and his true friends. There is nothing he wouldn’t do for someone he cares about. He obviously cares very much what happens to you.”

 

Sansa stared at Marya with wide eyes.
“He cares about me?” she asked quietly. “I thought he might feel like it was more of an obligation, like he’s stuck with me. Although why he should I don’t….”
Marya shook her head decisively.
“It’s not just an obligation. He cares. I’ve known him for a long time, Sansa. I can see it in his eyes when he looks at you.”
“But he doesn’t even know me.”
“That’s true. You both have a lot to learn about each other. I’m glad he’s been there for you when you needed someone but please, just promise me one thing.”
“What? Anything,” Sansa responded immediately.
“You seem like a very nice young woman but, please. Please promise me you won’t hurt him.”
“I would never intentionally hurt him Marya, you have my word.”

 

Marya regarded her intently. She seemed to find in her eyes and voice what she had been searching for because her serious expression relaxed into a relieved smile.
“That’s good. He’s been through enough heartbreak in his life. I wouldn’t like to see him taken advantage of.”
Sansa’s breathing hitched at the seriousness in the woman’s tone but she understood Marya’s concerns were warranted under the circumstances. She wondered what heartbreak she was referring to but assumed that it had largely to do with Selyse and Shireen.
“I would never do that. Please believe me. I- I care about Stannis too,” she stammered with a slight blush.
“I do believe you dear. And I’m sorry if Davos came across as a little stern earlier. He is very protective of Stannis, but he’ll come around.”
“No, I understand he’s worried. He’s right to be. Stannis is lucky to have friends like you and Davos,” Sansa commented sincerely.
Marya gave her hand a gentle squeeze and smiled kindly.
“I’m sure we will be good friends too, Sansa.”
“I’d like that very much Marya.”

 

Just then the door opened and Stannis and Davos re-entered the room. Scanning the items spread out on the bed and floor, Davos’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped as he addressed his wife.
“Good Gods woman. Did you purchase the fashion mall’s entire inventory? Look at all this stuff. Oh wait, you forgot something.”
Marya’s face screwed up in perplexity.
“What did I forget?”
“The kitchen sink,” he commented dryly.
Marya rolled her eyeballs skywards and addressed Sansa.
“My husband is a very funny man. It is a pity that it’s usually when he doesn’t intend to be.”
“Careful wife,” Davos retorted in a mock threatening tone. “Or I shall unleash the unholy fury of Dad jokes upon you when we get home.”

 

Sansa giggled at this exchange as she and Marya began to pack the goods back into their respective boxes and bags.
Stannis regarded the two women with a warm look.
“Is everything to your liking Sansa?” he asked.
Sansa raised her eyes from her task and smiled broadly.
“Everything is perfect. Marya here should be a professional personal shopper. I don’t think I could have chosen any better for myself,” she stated sincerely. “I really don’t know what to say, except, thank you.”
“If I’d known that a limitless credit card would have put such a smile on your face I’d have done it sooner,” he remarked with a satisfied smirk.
Sansa’s smile faltered.
“I’m not happy because of a whole lot of things. I’m smiling because someone cared enough to want to do this for me,” she muttered.
Stannis frowned and averted his gaze awkwardly. Davos and Marya exchanged a quick glance. Afterwards as Davos met Sansa’s eyes it was clear to her that she had passed some unspoken test. The man gave her an almost imperceptible nod of the head.

 

“We should leave the two of you to it. We have to get back to the kids – the next door neighbour is babysitting but she can’t stay late tonight,” Marya explained.
“Of course. Thank you both for coming,” Stannis replied.
“It’s been wonderful to meet you both,” Sansa smiled. “And thanks ever so much again Marya. I know it wouldn’t have been a quick exercise to put all of this together and you obviously put a lot of thought into it. I’m very grateful.”
“It was my pleasure. You take care now Sansa. Perhaps we can meet up for a coffee sometime when you’re feeling a little better.”
“I’d really like that. Good night Davos.”
“Good night Sansa,” he replied, his tone and smile much warmer than they had been when she had first met him.

 

Once Sansa had re-bagged all of her new belongings Stannis lifted them off the bed and placed them down on the floor and scooted the chair closer to her, taking a seat. His eyes conveyed his concern.
“I’m sorry if I upset you with what I said just now. It wasn’t intentional. I did not mean to insinuate that –”
“It’s okay Stannis,” she interrupted. “I know you didn’t mean anything by it. I’m just so grateful for everything you’ve done for me. I would never use you or take advantage of you in any way. I hope you know that.”
Stannis stared at her fixedly and replied eventually but with strong conviction.
“I do. I believe you.”
“Good,” she smiled. “Will you let me thank you properly for all of this?”

 

Sansa leaned in and planted a small kiss on his cheek. As she began to move away, Stannis’s hand reached behind to lay at the back of her head as he pulled her gently towards him. She stared at him, her lips slightly parted as she slowly closed the gap between them. They were so near that she could feel his warm breath against her face but just before their lips could meet, Stannis dropped his hand from her head and inhaled deeply before moving away from her entirely. He stood abruptly from the chair and rubbed his fingers through his hair fitfully.
“That shouldn’t have happened. I’m sorry.”
“No, don’t apologise Stannis, I -”
“I have to go Sansa. I’ll be back in the morning when they discharge you.”
“Please don’t go Stannis. I’ve looked forward to seeing you all day.”
“I have to, I’m sorry. I can’t stay,” he stammered as he turned from her and exited the room.
With a deep shaking sigh Sansa curled up in bed and crushed a pillow to her body as she closed her eyes and hoped against hope for sleep to take her quickly.

Chapter Text

Sansa checked her room to ensure that all of her belongings were gathered together as she waited anxiously for Stannis to arrive. Doctor Sanchez had given her a final exam first thing in the morning and was satisfied enough with her progress to authorise her discharge. She had dressed in the black tailored pants, white cashmere sweater and the ballet flats. Her hair was slicked back in a ponytail and she wore only minimal makeup: a light dusting of mineral powder and a swipe of rose pink lip gloss. As she moved around the room she felt a little woozy. The doctor had advised that she could experience these symptoms and that she still needed to be careful of over-exerting herself. Her sleep had been rather disturbed due to her confused emotions so she didn’t feel entirely rested either. She grabbed at the back of the chair and bowed her head slightly to steady herself. Just then the door opened.

 

“Sansa, what’s wrong?” Stannis exclaimed as he rushed to her side and grasped her by the elbow to support her. He was more casually attired, wearing black trousers, a black button up and black blazer that accentuated his muscled torso and his long, strong legs. Stannis looked amazing in a suit but this more relaxed look was…. very sexy. She fought to compose herself as she felt herself reacting to his touch, her face flushing. She hoped that if he noticed he would put it down to her illness.
“I’m okay. I just get a bit dizzy sometimes. Apparently my blood pressure and my iron are a bit low and I still have a little trouble catching my breath. Doctor Sanchez says this is to be expected,” she reassured him.
He frowned at her, obviously not completely convinced. Doctor Sanchez appeared behind Stannis looking unperturbed.
“Sansa still has to take it easy for a while as we discussed, Mr Baratheon. Bed rest for the next day or two and then some light exercise is recommended – short walks but only if weather permits. Pneumonia is a serious illness and it was exacerbated by Sansa’s general condition. You will need to ensure that she eats plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, keeps up her fluids and try to include some lean red meat in the diet if you can. Sansa you need to take the antibiotics three times a day with food until the course is finished. I also prescribed a liquid iron supplement twice a day to bring your haemoglobin levels up more quickly.”

 

“I’ll make sure it happens, Doctor. I have picked up the prescriptions already from the dispensary downstairs,” Stannis replied.
“Very good. Well, all the best Sansa. We’ll see you back here in a week for your check-up.
“Thank you Doctor Sanchez. Everyone here has been really amazing,” Sansa smiled.
“You’re welcome. We only wish all of our patients were as easy to deal with as you’ve been. I’ll organise a wheelchair to take you out to the carpark. Good bye Sansa, Mr Baratheon.”
“Thank you Doctor. I appreciate the high level of care that Sansa has received from yourself and the other staff,” Stannis responded, before the woman nodded in grateful acknowledgement and left the room.

 

“Before the wheelchair gets here we need to talk, Sansa.”
Stannis took her gently by the arm and sat her down next to him on the edge of the bed. She could feel her heart beating more rapidly with her anxiety. She had no idea what he was going to say about the way they had parted the previous night and the close proximity of his body was putting her on edge. He stared at her intently before taking a deep breath and speaking in a low, gentle voice.
“I need to apologise to you properly for my unseemly behaviour last night.”
Sansa shook her head vigorously.
“No, you don’t have to. It was just as much my fault.”

 

It was on the tip of her tongue to add that she had very much wanted him to kiss her but her courage left her at the last moment so she bit at her bottom lip nervously instead.
“I am the person with all the power in this situation though, Sansa. It behoves me to remember that and purport myself in a way that makes you feel safe and secure in my company. What I did was patently wrong and selfish. You have my word that nothing like that will happen again while you are in my care. Do you forgive me?” he asked earnestly.
Sansa sighed internally, wishing that he had not made such a promise to her and that she could articulate that to him. But he clearly felt great shame for his actions and what she really wanted more than anything at this precise moment was to assuage his guilt.
“There is nothing to forgive Stannis. I think we both just got caught up in the moment,” Sansa responded, blushing again faintly. “And I do feel safe with you.”
Stannis searched her eyes for a moment and then rose from the bed as a patient care attendant entered with a wheelchair. He stooped to pick up her bags and followed close behind the attendant as he wheeled her out of the room and towards the hospital elevator.

 

Arriving at the car, a black Jaguar XF, Stannis helped Sansa from the chair, thanked the attendant, and opened the door to settle her into the passenger seat as a light drizzle started to fall. He opened the boot to store the bags and quickly pulled on the driver side door as the rain began to beat down more heavily outside.
“Nice ride,” Sansa smirked at him as he slid into the driver’s seat beside her, smoothing his dampened hair with his fingers and turning on the aircon to heat the chilled interior.
“I hardly ever drive the thing,” Stannis remarked nonchalantly. “It was my 30th Name Day present from my brother, Robert. It sits parked in the carport most of the time but I thought I would treat you. My daily commute is a more modest hybrid car. Better fuel economy; better for the environment.”
“That’s very responsible of you Stannis,” Sansa commented with a slight smile.
“That’s me, Mr Responsible,” he responded sardonically.
“There’s nothing wrong with being responsible.”
“My brothers would disagree with you there. They think I’m a real stick in the mud.”

 

Sansa grinned at him.
“Well you could stand to let your hair down a little maybe. What do you do for fun anyway?” she asked.
“I like to go to the gym to let off steam and to keep fit. A lot of my work takes place behind a desk so it’s great to work off the excess energy. There’s an excellent gym just around the corner from the office. I go there several times on weeknights after work and on Sunday afternoons. I’ll have to find another way to exercise this week though,” Stannis added.
Sansa felt a warm flush assault her cheeks as her errant mind leapt to an interpretation of Stannis’s last comment that she knew was definitely not what he would have intended. She risked a glance at him and concluded that he had thought exactly the same thing at the same time. The tips of his ears had turned red and there were two spots of colour high on his cheeks. He also spoke rather quickly afterwards as if to distract himself from his embarrassment. She was thankful for his discomfiture as it meant he had not noticed hers, his eyes remaining resolutely glued to the road, his grip a little tighter on the steering wheel.

 

“I also like to sail. I own a large yacht which is moored at Blackwater Bay.”
“Really!? Wow. That must be wonderful. I’ve never been sailing but it’s something I’ve always wanted to try.”
“Perhaps I can take you out when your health improves and when the weather heats up a bit,” Stannis offered.
“I doubt both of those things will happen in the week before my check-up and then I’ll be out of your hair. But thanks for the thought,” Sansa replied regretfully.
Stannis didn’t respond but she noticed him regarding her briefly with an unreadable expression before returning his eyes to the road.

 

“So before you found yourself on the streets, what were your interests?” Stannis asked eventually.
“I love to read. Before things….went wrong I had enrolled to study literature at Vale University,” Sansa said sadly.
Stannis shot her a brief glance of sympathy mixed with curiosity.
“What do you like reading?”
“Anything and everything but historical fiction is my favourite. Do you read much?”
“Not as much as I would like to,” Stannis admitted. “I do a lot of work from home and I do travel for work also. The little spare time I have is spent at the gym or running errands, or of course, with Shireen if I happen to have her with me. I like to read autobiographies and books about military history when I find the time. What else? What other interests do you have?”
“I love to sew, cook, draw, sing, dance and play piano. Gods my mother really did make me into a proper little lady wife, didn’t she?” Sansa giggled.

 

Stannis huffed in amusement.
“I have some excellent news for you. I own a Mason and Hamlin grand. I bought it for my ex-wife when we were married but when she moved to Maidenpool she couldn’t be bothered transporting it so I’ve kept it.”
“Do you play yourself, Stannis?”
“That would be a ‘no’. I don’t think it would be possible for me to be any less musically gifted than I am. But I do dance. The Tango and Foxtrot are my favourites.”
“Really?” Sansa asked with a squeak then clapped her hand to her mouth. “Sorry, it’s just…”
“Rather anomalous given my character? Don’t worry it’s not the first time I’ve heard that. In my position I am required to attend a lot of social functions and dancing is sometimes unavoidable. I decided taking basic dance lessons was a lesser evil than permanently crippling the toes of my poor dance partners and dying of eternal embarrassment. Rather surprisingly I found out that I quite enjoy dancing and took additional more advanced lessons. Who would have predicted? So will you play me a song on the piano sometime?” Stannis asked.
“Only if you agree to a dance with me,” she replied with a soft smile.

 

Stannis glanced at her and in that brief moment she spied a sudden flash of longing. While it was fleeting she could not possibly have been mistaken. He opened his mouth as if to speak but closed it again with a frown.
Sansa fidgeted with a lock of her hair and kept her eyes focussed ahead of her. In her peripheral vision she noticed how rigid Stannis’s posture had become and his hands were very firmly clenched around the steering wheel, his knuckles whitening.

Chapter Text

Just as Sansa determined to change subjects and dispel the awkwardness, Stannis flicked on the indicator and turned the car into a long gravel driveway lined on both sides by yew trees. By this time they had travelled some distance from the outer suburbs of King’s Landing to a hilly semi-rural area predominated by hobby farms and small paddocks of sheep, goats and dairy cattle with the occasional standalone home dotted amongst them. The winding driveway led up a steady incline to a large two storey modern architect design home, replete with cedar siding and stone accents. There was a covered carport while the second level boasted a screened porch and open decks with wooden outdoor furniture. It was built against the backdrop of a densely forested hill with a small stone strewn creek snaking along its base.
“Oh Stannis,” Sansa gasped. “It’s beautiful.”
“Her Ladyship approves, I take it?” he replied with a hint of pride in his voice.
“How could I not?”
As Sansa continued to gape at the impressive structure and the pretty view behind it, Stannis made his way around to open the car door for her.
“This way,” he said as he lay a hand on her shoulder and ushered her in the direction of a door that led into the main living area of the home.

 

When she entered the building her eyes roamed the light and airy open plan space with its highly polished floorboards and pristine white walls decorated with colourful abstract art. The furniture in the lounge room was all modern sleek lines and neutral colours with a huge tan coloured modular couch stretching along two of the walls, a glass and timber coffee table and modern design metallic floor standing lamps at the corners. A 75 inch OLED flat screen TV dominated the main feature wall. Built in underneath it was a slim line wood heater fireplace which had already been lit; a pleasant warmth radiated from it, efficiently heating the entire area. Adjacent to the lounge room was a modern formal dining area. It housed a large twelve seat square blackwood table with black leather chairs; an impressive three light, chrome and chrome plated glass pendant fixture hung down over the table from the high ceiling. This space led on to the large kitchen with its huge island bench, modern appliances and gleaming stainless steel and white surfaces. A winding timber staircase led up from between the dining and kitchen areas up to the second level.
“This is amazing. Did you design and decorate this yourself?”
“I had input into the structural design; my brother Renly fancies himself as a bit of an interior decorator. He had more input into that side of it.”
“You make a good team,” Sansa stated sincerely.
“We do, when we’re not trying to kill each other, that is,” he grimaced.
Sansa giggled, wondering if she would ever get to meet Stannis’s brothers. She was starting to get very curious about them.

 

I’ll get you upstairs and then I’ll fetch your bags from the car, then it’s into bed with you.”

 

“Do I have to,” she grumbled. “I’ve done nothing but lie in bed for the last two days.”
“You heard the doctor Sansa. You must rest.”
“But I feel okay. Couldn’t I just…”
“For heaven’s sake woman. You’re worse than Shireen when she doesn’t want to go to bed. You are going and that’s the end of it. My house, my rules.”
“Gee you’re bossy,” Sansa pouted.
“You have no idea,” Stannis responded.
Just then Sansa felt a wave of dizziness hit her and swayed a little unsteadily on her feet. Stannis caught her by the arm to right her, watching her with concern.
“Damn. I didn’t think about these stairs. Here, I think I should help you.”
Sansa gasped as Stannis scooped her up effortlessly in his strong arms. As she snuggled slightly into his broad chest and wrapped her arms around his neck with a small contented sigh, he briefly gazed into her eyes before striding up the stairs to the landing and veering to the left towards what was clearly the master bedroom with en-suite.

 

This room, like the others, oozed sophistication with its black upholstered king size leather bed and headboard. The bedlinen was predominantly white with a printed design of black tree branches covering the lower half. A black quilted bed runner was strewn across it and the top of the bed was decorated with an assortment of black, white and silver pillows and throw cushions. Two cone shaped metallic silver pendant lamps hung from black ceiling cords at either side of the bed. One wall was covered by a large black and white photographic print of King’s Landing’s night time skyline, while the wall opposite featured a floor to ceiling window with a view out to the forested hill and creek at the rear of the property. The room also boasted what looked like a very large walk in robe which Sansa was immediately envious of.
Stannis deposited her carefully on the edge of the soft but supportive king size mattress and stepped away from her. She felt a sudden and unexpected sense of loss as the warmth of his body left her and stifled the urge to reach out her arms to him and drag him onto the bed with her.

 

“I don’t feel right about this Stannis. I’m kicking you out of your own bedroom,” she stated instead.
“I want you to have this room as the other bedrooms don’t have an en-suite. There is another large bathroom but it’s right at the end of the building and it can tend to be a bit draughty. I will not run the risk of you catching a chill. I will take one of the spare bedrooms down the hall. Next to this room is the study and library. It is also happens to be where the piano is housed. I’ll be in there if you need anything.”
“Oh,” she mumbled, a little disappointed that he was leaving her to her own devices.
“I’m sorry Sansa, but I haven’t had a chance to check my work emails yet today and I am expecting some important correspondence from a colleague in Pentos amongst other things. I also want to check in with Robert. I’ll fetch your bags from downstairs so you can get changed. Please try and get some rest.”
“Sorry, I was being selfish. Thank you for being so considerate about the room. I am a bit tired to tell you the truth,” she admitted.
“We’ll have some lunch together a bit later, yes?”
“I would like that. Thank you.”
As Stannis left the room Sansa sighed as she suddenly wondered what it would feel like to have Stannis’s strong muscular arms wrapped around her as she slept in his bed.

Chapter Text

Sansa woke to a soft knocking on the door. She looked at the clock radio. It was 1pm and she had been fast asleep for three hours. She must have been more tired than she thought. There was another knock and a voice from the other side of the door.
“Sansa, are you awake?”
“One moment please Stannis,” she yawned, as she stretched and stood from the bed, reaching for the robe that matched with the emerald satin chemise that Marya had bought for her. Wrapping it around herself and fastening the tie around her waist, she walked to the door while she smoothed at her hair which she had released from the pony tail and brushed out before retiring. She tugged down slightly on the robe but it really wasn’t all that short – it stopped just above the knees. She wasn’t sure why she felt so exposed even though, in reality, she was modestly covered.

 

Taking a deep breath she opened the door to reveal Stannis holding a tray with a plate of very appetising looking sandwiches, a small bowl of fruit salad and a glass of orange juice.
His eyes widened and his breathing hitched as his eyes ran quickly up and down her frame.
“Umm. That colour suits you. Your hair. It looks… Are you hungry?” he finished lamely.
Sansa blushed and lowered her gaze, fiddling nervously with the top of her robe.
“Yes. I could eat. Thank you.”
“Would you like to eat in here or in the study?
Sansa’s head whipped up in excitement.
“Oh, I would love to check out the room. Could we please?”
Stannis chuckled at her unfettered enthusiasm.
“Sure, come on.”

 

The interior of the large room was dimly lit, the semi darkness accentuated by the deeply coloured Cherrywood book shelves that lined three of the four walls from floor to ceiling. They groaned with a huge array of leather bound, hardcover and paperback volumes that Sansa was just itching to explore. In one corner of the room sat a large two sided walnut desk with a green leather inlay top where Stannis housed his computer and work papers. A dark brown studded leather classic wing executive swivel chair completed the ensemble. A green glass shade brass bankers lamp sitting on one corner of the desk illuminated the area in a soft absinthe glow.

 

Against the middle of the remaining deep green wall sat a large mahogany coloured Chesterfield couch and two armchairs; in front of the couch was a mahogany coffee table upon which Stannis had placed his own tray of food. The wall itself was adorned with a large gold framed antique map; Sansa could tell by the wear marks along fold lines in the paper that the map was an original and not a reproduction. Adjacent to the couch in the corner of the room stood a brass and stained glass side arm pendulum floor lamp. It was turned on, illuminating the vivid cobalt blue, emerald and crimson dragonfly design of its Tiffany style shade. In the opposite corner sat a stereo system and music storage cabinet. The majority of the floor was covered by an enormous and ornate Dornish hand tufted silk rug, predominantly deep burgundy, green and cream in colour. Taking pride of place in the centre of the room was the fully restored 1929 Mahogany satin grand piano and piano bench.

 

“Oh my Gods,” Sansa gasped out as she twirled around in the room. “This is….”
“Anachronistic given the rest of the house?” Stannis finished for her with a wry smile.
“I was not permitted a room like this in the house that Selyse and I bought together. Being closer to the city on a small allotment, there wasn’t really the space for it at the time, especially once Shireen was born. I was determined to own something like this when we separated, sold up and I moved further out on a bigger block and built my own house. I know it doesn’t fit in with the décor of the rest of the house, but that’s because Renly didn’t get his little mod paws on it. It’s a little stuffy maybe, but it’s more me.”
“It’s not stuffy at all. I was going to say, it’s really wonderful,” Sansa gushed. “And I don’t know you that well but I can fully see it being a reflection of you.”
Sansa almost gasped when she realised how Stannis might interpret her remark but relaxed and even had to suppress a giggle when she noticed that he had not reacted awkwardly but instead had puffed up with pride. He was so cute when he did that. It was a close call though. What on earth had happened to her filter? Her mouth just seemed to be disconnected from her brain where this man was concerned.
“Come, sit down,” he offered eventually.

 

Stannis led her to the Chesterfield couch and set the tray down next to his, motioning to her to take a seat. He settled in next to her, maintaining a discreet distance between them.
“Are you warm enough? Do you need a blanket?”
“No, stop fussing mother,” she responded with a smile. “It’s toasty warm in here.”
“The heat is ducted in under the floorboards from the fireplace downstairs,” Stannis explained. “Now eat before you waste away.”
Sansa made an exasperated noise in the back of her throat but picked up one of the sandwiches. It was a salad, swiss cheese and roast beef sandwich with mustard and horseradish cream on light rye and it was delicious.
“Aw. Yum.” Sansa enthused with her mouth full and then giggling as she realised how unladylike she’d been.
Stannis smiled warmly at her and took a healthy bite out of his own sandwich chewing on it appreciatively.

 

They ate on in amiable silence until the sandwiches were finished. Sansa started on her fruit salad which was cold and refreshing while sipping on her orange juice. Stannis drank water. He reached into his pocket and extracted the box of antibiotics that he has purchased from the hospital pharmacy.
“Don’t forget these. We’ll start you on the iron supplements later this afternoon. They are supposed to be taken on an empty stomach.”
“Yes, doctor,” Sansa smirked as she squeezed a tablet out of its packaging and downed it with some of the orange juice.
“That was lovely Stannis. Thank you.”
“My pleasure. I have pan fried crispy skin salmon with roasted asparagus and cherry tomatoes for dinner. I’m not much of a sweet tooth so I don’t do dessert but I can run down to the local village bakery and pick up some lemon and pistachio cannoli – my closest neighbour Vincent swears by them.”
Sansa absolutely adored lemon cannoli but didn’t want to put Stannis to any more trouble.
“No thank you Stannis. The fish sounds wonderful. That will be more than enough for me.”
Stannis grinned broadly at her.
“Remind me later to play a high stakes poker game with you.”
“What?” she asked with a perplexed smile.
“You couldn’t bluff your way out of a wet paper bag. Lemon cannoli it is.”
“You don’t have to do that Stannis. You’ve done so much for me already.”
“It’s no trouble,” he reassured her.

 

“Now I think it’s time for you to go back to bed.”
“Oh please Stannis. I feel wide awake. Can’t I stay here with you?”
“I don’t know Sansa,” he began.
“I promise I’ll just lie here on the couch and you won’t hear a peep out of me.”
Stannis exhaled loudly as he stood and moved to the door.
“By the Gods you are a stubborn creature. You have worn me down. I’ll fetch a pillow and a blanket from the bedroom.”
Sansa laughed and clapped her hands at Stannis’s exasperation, which she knew was mostly feigned. He quirked an eyebrow at her before leaving the room. Returning after a couple of minutes he handed her the items before picking up his car keys from the table in the corner of the room.
“Just lie there and relax while I make a short trip to the bakery. Won’t be long.”
“Okay,” she replied with a small smile. “And Stannis,” she added.
Stannis turned to regard her.
“Thank you. For all of this.”
He nodded at her but did not reply as he left the room.

 

Sansa had been lying there for only a short time when she thought she heard a rattle of keys from downstairs. She surmised that perhaps Stannis had forgotten something until she heard a voice floating up from the ground floor.
“Stannis!?” a woman’s voice called out stridently. “Are you here?”
Sansa sat up straight in fright and clutched the blanket tightly against her chest. She could discern the clanking of high heels as they slowly made their way up the staircase. She heard a gasp emanating from outside the master bedroom and then a shadowy form materialised in the doorway in front of her.

 

As the figure neared and the light from the lamps hit her features, Sansa was stunned at the apparition that stared back at her. The woman was very tall – she supposed that even without the high heels she was virtually the same height as Stannis. Her burnished copper hair, thick and luxurious, hung down to her small waist. She wore a deep red, very short, figure hugging sweetheart off the shoulder bodycon dress that revealed ample cleavage and curvaceous hips. Her strongly muscled legs seemed to go on forever, accentuated by perilously high black Louboutins. But what made the woman truly imposing were her large eyes – the irises were a curious shade of light brown flecked with red and gold as though they burned with a bright flame. They bore into her relentlessly as the cruel slash of her crimson mouth opened and the woman spoke in a strangely accented, sonorous but steely voice.

“Just how long have you been fucking my man?”

Chapter Text

As Stannis drove the short distance back from the bakery in the Prius he reflected on his interactions with Sansa in the car ride from the hospital and back at his house. In that one car trip he had learned much about his new house guest but the more he learned, the more mysterious she became. She was highly intelligent, not that he had ever had reason to think differently, but the fact that she was enrolled in university at one point and that she enjoyed reading so much confirmed it, as did the tenor of their conversations. She had obviously been brought up in a caring household – she must have been very close to her mother and shared much time with her to become adept at all of the pasttimes she had outlined to him.

 

He supposed that she came from a financially comfortable background – it wasn’t cheap to attend university, particularly one with such a prestigious reputation. She had also been given the opportunity to pursue a lot of interests. And yet, here she was, her life a shambles and without a friend or possession in the world. What could possibly have happened to bring her so low? She had mentioned back at the hospital that no one would miss her if she were to disappear. Did she have a disagreement with her family? Did she in fact have any other family living apart from her mother? She hadn’t mentioned a father or any siblings so he could not know for certain. He knew that he would need to explore her past at some point but he recognised the necessity for caution or she may panic and, Gods forbid, insist upon leaving while her health had not yet been fully restored. It would take patience but he would need to make her feel comfortable enough with him to open up voluntarily.

 

What astounded Stannis the most about Sansa was her constant wish to share his company. That had been very evident at the hospital when he had been late on his first visit and again when he had departed abruptly the next night after his regrettable lapse in judgement with the near kiss. She seemed to crave his presence, but then he reasoned, it wasn’t as though she was spoiled for choice where companions were concerned – he just happened to be the only available option. That is why he had almost crashed the car when she had expressed her wish for him to dance with her. Surely she had jested and yet the tone of her voice and the look in her eyes told a different story. His unruly mind had taken that opening to assail him with visions of Sansa’s warm hand in his, her yielding breasts pressed firmly against his chest as he pulled her close at the small of her back and rested his cheek on the crown of her head, inhaling the floral scent of her soft silky hair. He imagined shifting her long lustrous locks over one shoulder and exploring the sensitive skin at her pulse point with his lips as he slowly moved her around the floor, listening for her soft gasps and moans as her body melted further into his in the most intimate of touches. He felt that old familiar twitch at his crotch and roundly castigated himself internally for the return of his weak and inappropriate thoughts, banishing them from his mind as the pathetic daydreams of a deluded fool.

 

His resolve had been sorely tested when she had needed assistance to reach the upstairs bedroom. He had briefly contemplated making up a makeshift bed on the large modular couch in the lounge room for her instead of settling her into the master bedroom but he had wanted her to be as comfortable as possible. Seven buggering hells. There was nothing for it – he would have to touch her, hold her. After his daydream in the car, he had felt decidedly sweaty and flustered at the prospect of actually really touching her but had taken a deep breath and scooped her up into his arms. He had to suppress a moan at the soft press of her body against him and the closeness of her face to his as she interlaced her warm fingers behind his neck. It would have been so easy to close that small gap between them and capture her lips with his and when he searched her eyes, for a brief moment he fancied that she would not have resisted.

 

But he could not allow himself to indulge his desires. This girl was at his mercy; he would treat her with the respect that she deserved and that he owed to her. She was clearly dependent upon him and dependency, he knew, bred compliance. He simply would not take advantage of the situation; he would not. All the same, it took every ounce of his restraint not to fall onto the bed with her and press her down into the soft mattress when he had set her down on the bed. When she had expressed her desire for him to stay with her he had panicked and invented an excuse to remove himself from the situation – he did not have any work emails to attend to and he had absolutely no intention of contacting Robert for the next two days. So, like the coward he was he had dissembled and removed himself to the study to cool down and regain some composure. He immediately regretted it when he noticed her disappointment and he had to admit to himself that she wasn’t the only one who felt that way. In the study where he usually felt so comfortable and at home, he suddenly felt rather bereft and lonely instead.

 

He had almost succeeded in conquering his errant thoughts by the time he had prepared lunch until he opened the bedroom door and beheld her in her new sleep attire. He swore at that moment that Sansa and Marya had deliberately conspired to make his life as difficult as possible. The emerald green satin highlighted the cerulean of her eyes and the fire of the long deep auburn hair that flowed over her shoulders in a shimmering cascade. Her graceful limbs and womanly curves were accentuated by the silky sheen of the fabric she wore; it caressed the gentle swell of her breasts, the tiny waist and the flare of her hips. While her legs were discreetly covered from the knees down, he could not help but admire the toned and muscled calves with their soft silky skin and her slim delicately boned ankles. And, if anything, her concealment, rather than dulling his desire, fanned it. Stannis found himself imagining the suppleness of her long toned thighs underneath the diaphanous satin of her chemise. Even her feet were gorgeous, slim and small for her height with high arches and exquisitely formed toes.

 

In short, she was perfection. He longed to smooth his hands over every inch of her body. Feeling an unwelcome twitch at his crotch he had stuttered like an imbecile as all ability to form a single coherent thought was lost. Luckily she had expressed the desire to eat in the study which at least provided some form of temporary distraction. Once they relaxed with each other and began to eat their meal they did so at times in companionable silence and Stannis was amazed at how comfortable he was around her. He did not feel the need to cram the silences with empty and meaningless chatter. It was enough to just sit by her and enjoy her graceful presence. When they did speak it was with a light heartedness born from her delightfully refreshing frankness with a hint of sass. And needless to say, her innocent blushes, which had not escaped his notice, were beyond endearing.

 

This was when he knew it was much more than just a physical attraction. Hers was a presence he now knew that he was very loathe to part with. Despite his best efforts not to get attached to her he now understood how difficult it would be when the day inevitably came for him to let her go. His heart sank as he contemplated her walking out of his door never to return, her fate at best uncertain at worst doomed to fear, loneliness and privation. How could he let her leave and yet, how could he possibly ask her to stay? What would they then be to each other? Despite his insecurities it was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore that she seemed to be responding to him positively but that did not mean that she would wish to stay. Perhaps he had completely misread the situation and she wouldn’t give a second thought to leaving him behind once her health needs had been met. And if he asked her and she accepted, would the decision merely be motivated by the luxury and comfort she now found herself surrounded by? The more he contemplated the situation he found himself in, the more confused, insecure and doubtful he became.

 

He exhaled loudly and swept a hand through the hair at his temple as he turned into the driveway of his house, praying for some clarity.
“What the fuck?” he growled when he spied a familiar red convertible Corvette parked next to his Jaguar in the carport.

Chapter Text

Stannis deposited the cannoli on the island bench in the kitchen and made his way quickly up the stairs. As he approached he could hear two women’s voices floating down, one of which was harsh and angry, the other polite, measured and calm. He slowed to a stop about half way up, straining to hear the conversation through the partly opened door of the study. He knew that it would be more prudent to interrupt their confrontation and that he shouldn’t eavesdrop, but he simply could not compel himself to move from the spot.

 

“There is no use denying it. I know you’ve been sleeping in his bed.”

 

“Yes, I have, but alone to recuperate from my illness. Stannis was working in the study the whole time and after lunch he popped out on an errand and left me here.”

 

“You must think I’m a complete fool. Look at you. Do you really expect me to believe that he didn’t throw you into his bed and fuck you senseless the minute you got into this house?”

 

“I’m being civil to you. Please don’t swear at me. And you’re wrong, Stannis wouldn’t do that. He’s been nothing but a gentleman to me.”

 

Stannis winced as he recalled the sexual fantasies he had been battling with recently but reminded himself that there was a big difference between thinking them and acting upon them. He was glad that Sansa had taken the high road with Mel and had not allowed herself to be ruffled by the older woman’s harangues.

 

“He is just a man, like any other. I would be careful if I were you. Once he’s had what he wants from you he’ll toss you out like so much rubbish. You can open your legs to him all you like but you’re barely more than a child. I’ll give it to you. You’ve got that whole virgin innocence thing going on in spades but what happens when that gets tired and believe me, it will. What do you know about really pleasuring a man like him? You don’t have what it takes to keep him interested in the long run, little girl.”

 

Stannis seethed at Mel’s callous disregard for him and her outrageous attack on Sansa. He could not understand how the younger woman was remaining so calm in the face of this fierce barrage. But in a strange way, Mel had done him a favour by inadvertently making him realise that, in fact, Sansa was everything that he could ever want in a woman, despite her tender years. If Mel succeeded in scaring Sansa away he was not sure he could be held accountable for his actions.

 

“Not one part of me believes that is true. I don’t know him well but I know he’s nothing like that and as I’ve told you time and time again, he is just trying to help me. Nothing more is going on.”

 

“LIAR! He NEVER lets me into his study, NEVER. It’s his private domain and yet here YOU are spread out on his couch like the little SLUT you obviously are. I’m betting that the couch has had some action too. Am I right?”

 

“No! Look, I don’t care what you think or say about me but Stannis is a wonderful man. He deserves a bit more trust and respect than what you’re giving him right now. Don’t you care about him at all?”

 

Stannis’s heart skipped a beat when he heard Sansa’s assessment and defence of him and recognised the anguish that had crept into her voice on his behalf. She was clearly way more affronted by Mel’s attack on him than the filthy slurs that had been slung in her own direction, earning her an even deeper respect from him.

 

“How the fuck do you dare to question our relationship? You don’t know the first thing about us, about him.”

 

“It’s true that I’ve only known him a few days. But what I can say without any hesitation is that he’s a sweet and generous person that is capable of great kindness. You, on the other hand, are not being kind to him right now. That’s all I need to know.”

Stannis felt a lump form in his throat at Sansa’s words but scowled when he heard the deep mirthless laughter that subsequently escaped Melisandre. He’d heard that laugh before on occasion and knew that things were taking a decidedly nasty turn.

 

“My Gods, does Stannis know I wonder?”

 

“What?”

 

“That you’re in love with him?”

 

His breath hitched as he waited for Sansa’s response but the room was completely silent. He had no idea what to read into her lack of reply.

 

“You pathetic little whore. It’s true. You do love him or at least you think you do, now that your cunt has been filled by his cock.”

 

“You’re disgusting.”

 

While Sansa had exhibited admirable control up until this point she could no longer disguise her utter disdain for the older woman. Stannis knew he would have snapped much earlier so he could not fault her there. He couldn’t wait down here much longer. This confrontation was clearly coming to a head, but perversely, his curiosity got the better of him and he remained rooted to the spot.

“Or perhaps it is his money you love given that you’ve probably had to earn your keep by lying on your back and spreading your legs before he brought you here. Why not do it for him too?”

 

“Please just stop. This isn’t getting us anywhere. We both need to just settle down. Perhaps it would be best if you left.”

 

Sansa started to sound a little desperate. He needed to intervene now, but before he could move, the older woman responded with incredible fury. He had witnessed her epic meltdowns before but nothing came close to what was happening now. He remembered Davos’s warning and realised that his friend had 100 percent predicted this outcome.

 

“You are joking, aren’t you? If anyone is leaving it’s you. He’s mine you bitch! Mine! I am not going to let you get your filthy claws into him. Do you hear me!?”

 

“Stay back!”

 

Melisandre’s voice had escalated appreciably in volume and pitch while Sansa’s had taken on a frightened note. Just then he heard violent coughing and gasping as though someone were being strangled. Stannis rushed up the remaining stairs in a panic and bolted into the room. Melisandre loomed over Sansa with savagery in her eyes, but thankfully her hands were curled tightly in fists at her side and not wrapped around the younger woman’s slender throat as he had momentarily imagined.
“Get away from her, Mel. Now,” Stannis growled.
Melisandre jumped and turned to regard him with a shocked look on her face. In a split second, she adjusted her expression to one of cold indifference and straightened, throwing her shoulders back and chin out in defiance. Sansa held a hand against her chest as she continued to struggle for breath.
“Are you alright?” he asked, his voice trembling with restrained anger.
“Y – Yes,” she gasped.

 

“We were just getting acquainted Stannis. You didn’t tell me how beautiful she is,” Melisandre smoothed.
“It’s no use, I heard every word you just said.”
The woman blanched slightly in realisation of what Stannis had overheard but would not be easily cowed.
“Come now, my dear. Words said in the heat of the moment. I-”
“Enough! Not one word more. Come with me downstairs now,” he grated as he took hold of Melisandre’s elbow and began to lead her roughly out of the room. The woman shook him off but continued on her way out. Before he left he took one last glance at Sansa to assure himself that she was starting to recover. His heart skipped a beat when he noticed how pale, lost and childlike she looked as she stared back at him in fear and uncertainty.

Chapter Text

It seemed as though Stannis had been gone for an eternity. She had no idea what the outcome of the conversation between the two lovers would be. She could not hear the slightest noise from downstairs so she concluded that they had moved outside so they could not be heard. He had been so livid with Melisandre when he entered the room but Sansa had no doubt that the woman could be quite persuasive if she put her mind to it. Would Stannis begin to listen to Mel’s slurs against her character: that she was nothing but a whore that was taking advantage of his generous nature and attempting to seduce him for personal gain? She had not answered Melisandre when she had been challenged over her feelings for Stannis and she knew that he had been listening. What would he make of her silence? Would he take it as affirmation or denial?

 

Was it true? Did she love him? She was obviously attracted to him and every time they touched she could not deny that her body reacted in very pleasant ways. She also knew that she was starting to develop some very strong feelings for him, but was it love? She just didn’t know. It had all happened so fast. And what did he feel for her? An almost paternal concern for her welfare, that was a given. But it wasn’t entirely chaste; he was attracted to her if their near kiss and his sometimes heated glances at her were anything to go by. Was it only a physical attraction on his part or something more? To her dismay, despite the fact that Stannis had never given her a reason to distrust him and despite knowing that Mel was clearly unstable and a little desperate, some of what she said had instilled a little seed of doubt in her mind. She sighed in confusion as she fiddled nervously with a lock of her hair and waited for Stannis to return. She had no idea what she was going to say to him when he did.

 

Finally she heard his solid footfalls on the stairs and he appeared in the doorway, a deep scowl etched into his face. He approached and knelt down in front of her, searching her eyes intently.
“Are you alright? Did she hurt you?” he asked gently.
“No, I’m okay. She just startled me when she got up so close to me. She was so angry and then I started to cough and I couldn’t stop,” Sansa explained.
He took hold of her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“I’m so sorry. I had no idea that she would be dropping by today. I expressly told her to wait until you had recovered a bit more and to ring me beforehand, but she deliberately ignored me. You should never have been forced to deal with her on your own,” he grated out angrily. “And I am very sorry for the way she spoke to you. She had absolutely no right to say those things about you.”

 

“She was hurt and angry, Stannis. She thought that we were …. Well, you heard what she thought. She felt threatened.”
Sansa blushed and could not meet his eyes.
“I can understand why, how it looked. I probably would have thought the same had I been in her shoes. She doesn’t want to lose you,” she added.
Stannis shook his head in wonder.
“You are much too sympathetic. I don’t know how you can be so understanding of her given the way she treated you.”
“I don’t care about the things she said about me but she shouldn’t have spoken about you like that. You’re her boyfriend and she owes you some respect.”
“I’m not her boyfriend, in fact I’m no longer anything to her nor is she anything to me.”
Sansa stared at him wide-eyed.
“You didn’t break up with her over this did you?” she asked in a small voice.
“Are you kidding me? Damn right I did,” Stannis exclaimed. “She’s destroyed any last vestige of feeling I might have had for her with her contemptible behaviour towards you and towards me. I’ve cut her a lot of slack in the past but I simply couldn’t let it ride this time.”
“Oh Stannis.”
A tear slowly trickled down Sansa’s cheek as she averted her gaze once more.

 

“Why are you crying Sansa? What’s wrong?” he asked in concern.
“This is all my fault. If I wasn’t here none of this would have happened. I’m destroying your life,” she sniffled.
“You’re doing no such thing. This is not your fault. It’s hers and it’s mine. We haven’t been happy together for some time. I should have broken it off a while ago but I held on to the misguided hope that we could fix things somehow. Now I realise that there was actually nothing to fix in the first place. Thanks to you I finally realise exactly what that woman is, has always been. You were right: we don’t love each other; we never have. She wants to possess me but she doesn’t love me. I took comfort in a woman’s company but I do not love her.”
“Are you sure?” Sansa asked in a small voice.
“I’m sure. Now please, I hate seeing you like this. Let’s just try and put this episode behind us. What do you say?”

 

Sansa wiped at her tears and smiled at him.
“Okay. I’m really glad you’re back. I missed you.”
“What do you mean you missed me? I was only gone twenty minutes at the most,” he chuckled.
Instead of answering with words she flung her arms around him and pulled him close. Stannis stiffened in her embrace, his arms remaining by his sides. Eventually he slipped his arms around her waist and hugged her tentatively with a slight sigh.
“What’s going on with you, Sansa?” he asked gently as he stroked his fingers through her hair with one hand.
“I don’t want to be alone anymore,” she whispered out shakily. “Please don’t leave me alone.”
Perhaps realising the full extent of her fear and loneliness for the first time, he pulled her a little closer and whispered into her ear.
“While you are here you have nothing to fear. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.”
Her tears trickled warm and wet down the side of Stannis’s throat.

 

Gradually she began to still and when he sensed that she was more composed he gently disentangled from the embrace. As he studied her his face was awash with worry. She felt drained and slightly faint and it must have shown in her appearance. Her encounter with Melisandre and the resulting emotional upset had taken a lot out of her; as much as she wanted to rally so that she could spend more time with Stannis, she was still so physically fragile.
“I really think you need to go to bed now. I’ll go downstairs and fetch your iron supplement and then I want you to sleep until dinner time.”
“I don’t want to go. I want to stay here with you,” she pleaded.
She could see he was touched and tempted to let her stay, but equally he would not be moved.
“Please Sansa. Do it for me. If you don’t rest you might get very ill. I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself.”

 

“Okay,” she replied in reluctant resignation as she pulled herself from the couch and made her way slowly to the master bedroom while Stannis went downstairs to fetch her supplement. Minutes later he reappeared and handed her a glass of orange juice.
“I’ve mixed it into the juice. Apparently the supplement is absorbed more efficiently by the body in the presence of Vitamin C.”
Sansa smiled as she accepted the glass from him.
“Who knew I would receive an A grade education coming to stay here,” she smirked.
“Less cheek, young Lady,” he admonished as she drank the mixture and handed him back the empty glass before reclining in the bed.
He leaned over and tucked the goose down doona around her and lay his hand on the crown of her head.
“Sleep now, sweetheart, he said softly.
As she closed her eyes and slowly started to drift off she was aware that he sat resolutely by her side, waiting until sleep finally claimed her.

Chapter Text

Sansa awoke to a gentle pressure of fingers on her arm and a light shaking.
“Sansa, time for dinner. I knocked several times but you were completely out of it.”
She smiled up at Stannis as she yawned and stretched contentedly.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
“Mmm. Much better. Rested. This is a very comfortable bed.”
“I was tempted to let you sleep but you really need to eat something. You have to keep up your strength. Are you hungry?”
“Yep. Starving.”
“I’m just bringing the food up now. Come through to the study when you’re ready.”
Sansa nodded as Stannis exited the room and jogged down the stairs. She made her way to the en-suite and threw some cold water in her face to refresh herself. As she surveyed her reflection in the mirror she noticed that her colour was healthier and she did not look as fatigued as she had earlier in the day. She towelled her face dry, brushed quickly through her hair and tied on her robe, making her way to the next room.

 

As she entered, the fragrance of the food Stannis had prepared reached her.
“Oh Gods. That smells so good!” she enthused as she approached Stannis who was already standing by the couch. Two trays of delectable looking food were sitting on the coffee table along with a large glass pitcher of what looked like homemade lemonade.
“Dinner is served, Madame,” he announced with a flourish.
“Where did you learn to cook like this, Stannis?” she asked as she settled in next to him on the couch.
“Necessity. I’ve always had to cook for myself, even when I was married. Selyse wasn’t – isn’t much of a cook. She didn’t have the time or the inclination.”
“She was busy with Shireen?” Sansa asked.
After a slight hesitation he responded.
“Not really. We had a part time nanny and I helped out as much as I could when I wasn’t at work.”

 

Sansa wanted to ask but bit her tongue. Stannis must have deduced her unspoken query.
“She was too busy with her tennis matches, charity luncheons and nights out at the Country Club to pay much attention to either of us, if I am to be honest.”
Sansa noted the pang of hurt and sadness in his voice and felt a surge of pity for poor little Shireen but also for Stannis. How could anyone treat such a lovely man with such obvious disdain? What the hell was wrong with the women in his life? Why couldn’t they see what she saw? She longed to reach out to him and cradle his face in one hand but restrained herself.
“I’m sorry Stannis,” she mumbled lamely but he only waved at her dismissively as though it were nothing.
“Don’t be sorry. It’s all in the past. I’m not going to let negative memories of the past get in the way of the here and now. Let’s tuck in, before this gets cold.”
Sansa felt as though his bravado was more for her sake than his though.

 

She smiled at him as she cut a piece of the salmon and brought it to her mouth. Even though he tried to hide it she could tell that he was anxiously awaiting her verdict as he surreptitiously gauged her reaction from his peripheral vision. There was no need for false flattery from her though, as the cooking of the fish was perfection.
“Oh my Gods. I could die right now and be perfectly happy. This is wonderful. So soft and juicy it just flakes apart and the skin is so crispy and perfectly seasoned. A lot of people stuff up and overcook fish but this is incredible.”
She had to stifle a giggle at Stannis’s cute smug expression and the way he had puffed up at the praise.
“Try some of the vegetables; the sauce is hollandaise,” he explained.
“Wow. Sooo Good,” she exclaimed as she tried the sweet roasted tomatoes and asparagus that accompanied the fish with a healthy dollop of the creamy, tangy sauce.
He poured her a glass of the drink which did indeed turn out to be lemonade – a perfect balance of sweet and sour.

 

“Do you cook much yourself?” he asked.
“Mmm hmm,” she nodded as she chewed and swallowed her mouthful before replying properly.
“Mom is a great cook and she taught me and my sister Arya. Actually Dad was pretty good too but he was always working so he only did so occasionally.”
Stannis eyed her speculatively.
“You speak about him in the past tense.”
Sansa inhaled and exhaled slowly and deeply.
“He passed away from a heart attack a while ago. It was very sudden,” she mumbled.
“Oh, I am sorry to hear that,” he replied in a deeply sympathetic tone.

 

They ate on in a rather awkward silence for some time before Stannis spoke once again.
“I just wanted to let you know that Davos and Marya were very taken with you yesterday. You have a couple of fans there.”
“Well I liked them too. I could tell that they really care about you.”
“Did Marya say something to you?” Stannis asked with a frown.
“No, nothing bad. She was just worried about you, that’s all.”
Sansa blushed as she recalled the entirety of their conversation and that Marya had said Stannis cared for her. He could feel her eyes boring into her, assessing the truthfulness of her answer. Clearly he was not entirely satisfied.
“Are you sure that’s all it was? If she’s upset you somehow, I’ll have a talk with her.”
“No, I swear, she didn’t upset me. She just acted like anyone would knowing that their friend was taking a complete stranger into their home but she was perfectly nice to me. I promise. I could tell Davos was wary too but I think he was okay in the end.”
“He was more than okay,” Stannis remarked enigmatically.
Sansa was immediately curious as to what Davos might have said about her but did not ask.

 

“So I have now learned that you have a mother and a sister called Arya. How old is she?” Stannis enquired.
“She’s four years younger than me. She’s fifteen.”
“What’s she like?”
Sansa laughed.
“Nothing like me. She’s feisty, she’s stubborn as a mule, she likes to get herself dirty and she’s fully into taekwondo; she swears like a trooper. Gods, she and Dad used to get into some monumental fights – they were so alike in so many ways. She doesn’t look anything like me either. She’s got the Stark features while I have the Tully like my mother: pale, red hair and blue eyes. The Starks are all dark haired and brown eyed.”

 

“Do you have any other siblings?
I have two others living. Unfortunately two have passed away.
Stannis groaned.
“Oh, I am sorry.”
“Thank you. Bran, my youngest brother, died as a passenger in a car accident nearly three years ago. He was paralysed from the neck down and later died of complications. My oldest brother Robb was in the military, deployed north of the Wall and was killed in action about three months after my father passed away. I still have a younger brother Rickon who is a year older than Arya and a half-brother Jon who is five years older than me. He is also in the military, stationed at Hardhome but he’s not on active deployment at the moment, thank the Gods.”

 

Stannis nodded and then averted his gaze and took a deep breath. Sansa knew what was coming and immediately felt a strong impulse to run from the room.
“Sansa, when I hear you speak about your family it is so obvious how much you love them.”
“Of course I do. They’re my family.”
He hesitated for a long moment before asking the question he had obviously been leading up to and that he had most likely been wanting to ask since the moment they first met.
“Then what happened? Why are you here in King’s Landing? You have a family and yet here you are, alone and destitute on the streets.”

 

Sansa stared at him and felt tears prickling at her eyes. She shook her head and shifted her gaze.
“You can tell me. Your remaining family has already lost so much. They must be worried sick about you. Why don’t you go back to them?”
“No, please Stannis. Leave it alone. I can’t -”
“Please trust me and don’t shut me out. Why can’t you go back home? There must be a reason. Perhaps if you tell me I can help you.”
Sansa placed her food tray on the coffee table and stood shakily from the couch.
“Too much has happened. I can’t go back. It’s too late for me,” she replied tremulously.
“I refuse to accept that,” Stannis remarked firmly.
He clearly was not going to let this go.
“They’re your family, Sansa. I can’t believe that they’re not frantic with worry right now.”
As Sansa lost her composure and began to sob, Stannis shot to his feet in concern but did not approach her, seemingly rooted to the spot with indecision.

 

“My family couldn’t give a fuck whether I live or die, Stannis. My family hates me!” she cried out.
As she turned from him she registered the shocked expression on his face, as much from the uncharacteristic obscenity she had uttered as well as from the import of what she had just told him. His hand reached out and grabbed her elbow but she shook him off, her emotions in overload.
“No, leave me alone,” she stammered as she ran from the study and into the master bedroom slamming the door after her.
She flung herself onto the bed and crushed the pillow to her face as she drowned in a flood of despair and misery.

Chapter Text

Stannis stood stunned for some moments as he tried to digest what Sansa had just revealed. He could not imagine what this sweet young woman could possibly have done to alienate her family to the extent that they would knowingly abandon her in such a way. Neither could he imagine any mother, who after having lost her husband and two sons within such a short period of time, would willingly relinquish her older daughter and consign her to a dangerous and unknown fate. It seemed especially unlikely given that he was sure their relationship had been strong as Sansa had been growing up. His remorse could not have been greater for her breakdown; he suspected he had been pushing her too far but she had finally begun to open up and his overwhelming need to know more about her past had taken over. He sat for some time mulling over the situation and debating whether to approach Sansa again that night or leave her to her thoughts for the time being, until he realised that she had not taken her medication.

 

He leaned across and poured some more of the lemonade into her glass, removed one of the pills from the pack and strode to her door. To his dismay, even though some time had passed, he could hear her persistent sobbing through the door. It pained him that he had been the cause of it. He knocked gently.
“Sansa. Can I come in?”
There was no answer but there was a slight pause in her crying and some sniffling sounds from behind the door.
“Please. You have to take your medication. You can’t afford to miss a dose.”
Still no answer but then eventually the door opened a crack. Her eyes were puffy and reddened and her face was wet with tears.
“Thank you,” she said in a small trembling voice as she opened the door further and accepted the pill and glass from him.

 

She placed them down on the dresser next to her at the foot of the bed and turned to face him.
“I’m sorry I asked so many questions. It was not my intention to upset you. I would never deliberately hurt you,” he said gently.
“It wasn’t your fault. You have every right to know more about the person you’ve let into your house. It’s just hard. If I let myself think about it too much it overwhelms me sometimes,” she replied.
“And you have every right to your privacy. You don’t have to tell me any more than you already have. Please understand that I only wish the best for you. If there is any way that I can help you I will do it. Just remember that.”
“Yes, thank you Stannis,” she said as she wiped at her tear streaked face with one hand.
She turned away from him and swallowed the pill with a couple of mouthfuls of the lemonade.

 

“Can I tempt you back into the study with the cannoli?”
Sansa smiled and stepped closer to him, placing her hand lightly on his arm.
“I don’t deserve you, you know that? I know you were only trying to help so I’m sorry I freaked out like that. You must be sick of neurotic women today. I really don’t want to be alone right now, so if you can put up with me, I’d love to join you.”
“Good, come on then. But no more tears. New house rule.”
“Okay Bossy Chops,” she huffed as she moved out of the room and into the study, Stannis close at her heels.
He was relieved beyond measure by the return of her humour and that she had consented to being in his company once more. He had thought he had blown it completely and that she would wish to barricade herself in the bedroom for the rest of her stay. Happily, she was quite resilient and obviously not the sort of person who bore grudges.

 

“Wait here while I get rid of these empty plates and bring up dessert. Would you like a coffee?” he offered.
“Um. If it’s not too much to ask, do you have tea?” she asked timidly.
“Of course. Darjeeling, English Breakfast, Earl Grey?”
“Ooh, could I please have Earl Grey? I like the citrus notes in it. It goes lovely with lemon flavoured desserts.”
“Coming up. Won’t be long.”

 

He returned some time later with their dessert and beverages placing them in front of Sansa on the coffee table. As he settled in next to her he noticed that she shuffled ever so slightly closer to him. Her knee brushed against his as she reached for her cup of tea but she appeared not to notice. He watched as she brought the cup to her lips. Just then she turned her head and caught his eyes. He averted his gaze awkwardly and reached for his coffee, taking a quick sip.
“So what sort of music do you like?” she asked him, inclining her head in the direction of the stereo system.
“Classical mainly. But I don’t mind Classic Rock.”
“Me too. I like most music. Mom was a very accomplished pianist. She performed with the local orchestra for some time before she gave it up to raise us kids. She loved all sorts of music and she taught me a lot of different songs for the piano. Would you like me to play and sing something for you now?”
“I would love nothing more Sansa but I think it would be best to wait. You need more rest, especially after everything that’s happened today.”
Sansa slumped her shoulders and sighed in resignation.
“Okay. You’re right. Not sure my singing voice would be quite up to it yet, anyway. I still have trouble with my breathing sometimes.”
“I can put something on for us to listen to instead, if you’d like.”
“That would be lovely,” Sansa smiled as she took a bite from her cannoli. “Mmm. Vincent was right. These are great,” she enthused.

 

Stannis searched the CD cabinet for the recording he was after. As he switched on the player and the tuner and inserted the disc, the music began to play. Sansa gasped in delight.
“Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. I love this one. It’s so incredibly passionate and romantic.”
“Good, I’m glad you like it,” he smiled as he retained his seat.
“Have you ever been to see an orchestra?” she asked.
“Yes. I saw the Essos Philharmonic when it toured last year. I enjoyed it very much. I do however favour chamber music, especially string quartets. My favourite piece is Schubert’s No.13.
“Is that the Rosamunde Quartet? If so I really like that one.”
Stannis stared at her impressed by the extent of her knowledge.
“Yes, that’s it,” he confirmed.

 

As they sat Stannis leaned back into the corner of the couch and closed his eyes. He had been running around all day and had not had a lot of sleep the previous few nights and it was starting to catch up with him. The warmth of the room and the soothing sounds of the music were slowly making him drowsy. All of a sudden he felt a shift of weight on the couch and the press of a body against his side, Sansa’s head falling against his shoulder with a deep sigh. He knew he should remove himself from the situation but instead he found his arm weaving around her shoulders and pulling her a little closer. She was so warm and soft he didn’t have the willpower in that moment to push her away. He relaxed further into the couch pulling her down against his chest as he drifted into a gentle sleep.

Chapter Text

Sansa awoke to a soft light filtering through the curtains of an adjacent window. As she became more aware of her surroundings she felt completely disorientated. She wasn’t on the couch encircled by a muscled arm, her cheek pressed against Stannis’s strong chest, as she had been expecting and rather hoping that she would be. Rather, she was back in the master bedroom, still clothed in the chemise and robe, with the plump warm doona wrapped securely around her. And she was alone. She had absolutely no recollection of moving from the study. Stannis must have carried her here and tucked her in at some stage during the night. She smiled fondly as she contemplated how caring he had been and that if she had, for any reason required any further demonstration, she now knew from these actions that she could trust him completely. Even so, she could not help but feel a pang of disappointment that he had not joined her in the bed.

 

A quick glance at the clock radio on the bedside table next to her told her it was almost 9am. Sansa was usually a light sleeper and early riser - out of necessity ever since she had been on the streets - so she was quite astonished at how soundly and how long she had slept. She rubbed at her eyes and pushed herself from the bed, making her way to the en-suite. Still half asleep, she undressed and ran the shower. She stepped under the hot pelting water, relishing the massaging balm of the strong spray against her skin. Picking up the bottle of shampoo Marya had purchased for her, she lathered a generous amount through her hair, followed by the conditioner.

 

After some time of cleansing her body, luxuriating and humming to herself she turned off the water and squeezed the excess moisture from her hair, stepping from the shower recess. As she reached for a towel and proceeded to dry herself off she heard the door to the bedroom creak open and froze. Stannis suddenly appeared, food tray in hand. His eyes travelled to the empty bed and then shot up to meet her shocked stare before he quickly averted his face.
“Shit!” he exclaimed, as Sansa gasped and swiftly wrapped the towel around her body. She felt her face flush hotly.
He put down the tray on the dresser and turned away from her.
“I’m so sorry. I knocked a couple of times but there was no response. I thought you were asleep,” he stammered.
“It’s okay, Stannis. I mustn’t have heard you over the noise of the water and the extractor fan and I should have closed the en-suite door. It was my fault. I wasn’t thinking.
“Umm. I’ve made some wholemeal pancakes with some maple syrup and strawberries. And a cup of Earl Grey and there’s some juice. And the antibiotics – they’re there too. Umm. Okay. I’ll just go now.”
Despite the awkwardness and embarrassment of the situation Sansa felt a laugh bubbling up and could not hold it back. Stannis looked so discomfited, his cheeks and tops of his ears glowed red, and he was completely incapable of meeting her eyes, in fact he couldn’t look in her direction at all. She thought his bashfulness was the most adorable thing she’d ever seen.
“You’re so cute, you know that,” she giggled.

 

Stannis met her eyes and stared at her intently; his expression looked anything but amused. She felt her stomach drop to the floor as her smile slowly faltered.
“I will see you later in the day, Sansa. I have to pop out on an errand but I will be back in time to prepare lunch. I want you to rest in bed and make sure you take your medication.”
“Please don’t go. I’m sorry if I upset you. I-”
“You have nothing to apologise for. It is I who should apologise for barging in on you. It won’t happen again. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
His tone was all cold politeness and formality.
“Stannis, what’s wrong?” she asked, taking a step towards him. He retreated and held his arms up almost as though he was warding her off.
“Nothing’s wrong. I just have a few things to do, that’s all. Have a good morning. I’ll see you when I get back,” he replied in a rush, as he turned and exited the room.
“Stannis, please don’t go,” she cried out after him but he was already half way down the stairs.
She heard the slam of the door downstairs. Moving to the bedroom window Sansa watched as his car appeared from under the carport and made its way down the driveway and out of her sight.

Chapter Text

Sansa sighed in confusion and dismay. What in the seven hells just happened? She couldn’t fathom Stannis’s reaction. She knew of course that he had been highly embarrassed but she had been too. She hadn’t intended to upset him with her remark; surely he had to know that. Why had be become so angry? She thought after the quiet intimacy of the previous night that they had some sort of understanding, the beginnings of a connection forming, but it was almost as though they had reverted to the way it had been between them during their first meeting at the hospital. Gone was the warm and kind Stannis; his sternness and cold formality had returned with a vengeance and their relationship had become awkward again. He had once again pushed her away and removed himself from her. Yes, she needed his material help, but what she desired more than anything at the moment was his companionship. Without that all the luxuries in the world didn’t mean a thing.

 

She dried herself off and pulled on her robe before sitting dejectedly on the edge of the bed and tucking into the pancakes. They tasted very good but she knew they would have tasted even better if she had only been able to eat them with Stannis sitting beside her. After finishing the meal she took the tray and walked downstairs to put the plate, cup and glass in the dishwasher. She had no doubt that he would admonish her for even lifting a finger once he returned home but she felt much stronger and decided she would risk his censure. Besides, she felt guilty that Stannis had to run around after her like a small baby. She was also determined not to lie around in bed all day in her sleepwear although she knew that was exactly what he had in mind for her. She changed into the yellow peasant blouse and teamed it with the skinny jeans and the tan boots. Blow drying her hair, she tied it into a messy bun and swiped her lips with some lip gloss before making her way downstairs to the lounge room.

 

She was sorely tempted to relax in the study with one of his many books, but remembered what Melisandre had said about it being Stannis’s private domain. She had felt privileged then that he had allowed her to share it with him and would not violate his trust while he was absent. She grabbed the remote from the coffee table and flicked on the TV settling into the couch to watch ‘Edward Scissorhands’ on a cable channel. She’d watched it countless times but was always sucked in by the sweet sad tragedy of its story. This time was no different but she reacted more strongly due to the heightened emotions of earlier in the morning. Before she knew it the end credits were rolling and she had tears coursing down her face. Just then, the door from the carport opened and Stannis entered, shopping bags in hand. When their eyes met, he scowled at her briefly and then his expression slowly shifted to one of concern.

 

“Sansa, what are you doing out of bed and why are you crying?”
“Oh, umm, sorry,” Sansa replied, wiping at her eyes. “I was just watching a film and it was so beautiful but bittersweet at the end. I guess I was a bit emotional and it got to me a little. It was ‘Edward Scissorhands’. Have you ever seen it?”
Stannis eyed her dubiously.
“No, not a Depp or Tim Burton fan. You didn’t answer my other question. What are you doing down here?”
Sansa sighed loudly.
“I couldn’t face the thought of lying around in bed for the fourth day running.”
Stannis frowned at her.
“You heard what Doctor Sanchez said. Do you want to get well, or not?”
Sansa turned off the TV with the remote and rising from the couch she walked towards him.
“It’s okay. I feel much better today. It’s not like I ran a marathon or anything. I’ve been sitting here the whole time like a bump on a log. Lighten up.”
“I will not lighten up,” Stannis grumped, but she noticed that the real edge of irritation had left his voice.
“This is what you do when I’m not around to keep an eye on you? Buck the rules as soon as you see an opportunity?”
“Well, I wouldn’t have had an opportunity if you hadn’t freaked and run out on me,” she bit out rather more harshly than she had intended.

 

Stannis glared at her and then she detected a softening around the eyes.
“I wasn’t angry at you Sansa. And I’m sorry I left in the manner I did. I just….panicked I guess. Forgive me?”
Sansa ran her hand down his arm.
“Of course. I know you’re a busy man but do you think you’ll have a few spare minutes for me today? I miss you.”
Stannis gave her an odd look and did not reply straight away.
“Will you sit down Sansa? I have something for you,” he said eventually, handing her the shopping bags.
“Oh Stannis, what did you do? You really shouldn’t be spending your money on me again like this,” she declared as she took a seat on the couch.
“Go on, take a look,” he replied as he settled in beside her. She noted that he still left a discreet gap between them.

 

Sansa reached inside the first bag and extracted an A2 artist sketch pad, a box of pastels and another with charcoals. There was also a tin of 72 coloured pencils. All were expensive brands and of very high quality.
“This is too much, Stannis,” she gasped out but she couldn’t help a trace of a smile at his generosity and thoughtfulness.
“Nonsense. If it keeps you out of my hair, all the better,” he teased.
“I can’t believe how considerate you are: that you remembered me mentioning that I like to draw.”
“There’s not much point in having a conversation with someone if you’re not prepared to listen,” he pointed out.
“That’s true, but this is just…I’m blown away. I really am. Thank you so much.

 

Stannis gestured to one of the other two remaining bags. She could see by the logo on the front that it was from a music shop.
“Please, go on,” he prompted.
She extracted the books from inside the bag and gasped. In her hand was a selection of perhaps half a dozen sheet music books for the piano. As she studied them she noted that none of them were titles that she had already played at home.
“Wow! This is incredible. These are all new to me. I love them. I can’t wait to try them out,” she gushed in excitement.
“You did promise to play something for me,” he reminded her.
“And I will keep my promise,” she smiled.
It was on the tip of her tongue to mention that he would owe her a dance in return but she thought better of it.
He pointed at the last bag from a bookshop. In it were three recent release historical fiction titles that she had not yet read.

 

Overwhelmed by his kindness she wiped at a tear on her face and shuffled closer to him.
“I don’t care if this makes you run out on me again,” she said, “but a kiss on the cheek is just not going to cut it this time,” she added, as she wove her hands around his neck and brought his lips to hers in a soft gentle kiss.

Chapter Text

Stannis sat stunned as Sansa’s soft warm lips pressed against his. As he began to relax into the kiss he fought every urge to press her back into the couch and ravish her mouth with his tongue while exploring every inch of her body with his fingers. Instead he moved his hands to her arms and gently pushed her away, breaking the contact. He exhaled noisily and replied as calmly as he could.
“You’re welcome Sansa.”
He stood from the couch and regarded her with a slightly stunned expression. She sat with her lips slightly parted, her eyes sparkling; her breathing was shallow and rapid. Stannis cleared his throat, his voice strained.
“I’m going to make us some lunch now. Would you prefer to eat down here or up in the study?”

 

Sansa fiddled with stray strands of her hair that had loosened from her bun and stared at him before answering.
“Umm. Are you sure you don’t mind me being in the study with you?”
Stannis couldn’t fathom what she meant.
“Why on earth would I mind?” he enquired.
“Well, it’s just that when Mel was here she said you don’t normally like people being in your study. That it is your private place. Mel said you didn’t let her in there.”
Stannis made an irritated noise in the back of his throat.
“You are not Mel. And besides that woman never had any respect for my personal space.”
“I don’t understand,” she replied her brow furrowing.
Oh, now this was awkward. He had spoken himself well and truly into a corner.
“Ahh. Let’s just put it this way. She had some rather unconventional and inappropriate notions about the proper use of my desk.”

 

Sansa’s eyes widened and her mouth formed into a small O as she realised what Stannis was referring to. To his surprise she saw a glint of mischief in her eyes and a small smirk appear on her face.
“You’re not into desk sex then, I take it?” she asked.
Stannis could feel an unwelcome heat suffuse his face.
“Well, umm. No. Yes. No. Damn it. I mean there’s a time and a place.”
He could tell that she was desperately trying not to laugh at him.
“Don’t worry Stannis I will respect your personal space,” she assured him teasingly.
“Yes, well. That would be much appreciated. Thank you,” he replied awkwardly as he made his way into the kitchen.
He could have sworn he heard a very quietly muttered “for now” as he left the room but of course, he must have imagined that.

 

When he looked back over to the couch Sansa had disappeared, presumably up to the study. He breathed a huge sigh of relief. Seven buggering hells – this girl was killing him. First there had been the regrettable piece of timing earlier in the morning. He had knocked a couple of times, quite loudly he had thought, but upon hearing no response, had opened the bedroom door. The bed was empty so he had scanned the room, his eyes coming to rest on her naked form in the doorway of the en-suite. He had very nearly dropped the tray he had been carrying as he made out the soft white rounded globes of her breasts tipped with rosy nipples, the gentle curve of her hips and the supple thighs. The towel that she had clasped in front of her had hidden her mound from him. He wasn’t sure whether he was immensely relieved or rather disappointed by that fact. He had torn his eyes from her, his face blazing with heat, while she hastily covered herself with the towel.

 

The meagre concealment hadn’t helped in the slightest, merely drawing attention to her generous cleavage as well as her long silky smooth calves and thighs, luring his imagination to the treasure hidden at their apex. As soon as he looked back up at her, his mind was assaulted with images of himself walking up to her, peeling the towel from her body and pulling her flush against his growing erection as his hands greedily explored the bare skin of her back and bottom. He vividly pictured sucking and nibbling at the soft snow white skin of her neck as she pressed her beautiful plump breasts against his chest. He had felt an insistent twitch at his crotch and had begun to panic, feeling an overwhelming urge to run from the room. When she had laughed at him and called him cute it had completely wrong-footed him. The walls of his defences came up as he desperately tried to regain control of himself. He had immediately regretted his cold and dismissive treatment of her when he saw her reaction to it but she obviously had no idea what effect she was having on him. Or perhaps she did? He could not be sure. All he knew was that he needed to create some distance between them, immediately, before things got entirely out of hand.

 

As he had driven around the neighbourhood and beyond, rational thought had slowly returned and he had felt immensely ashamed of himself. Not only had he very nearly lost his self-control which was completely uncharacteristic of him, but he had also treated Sansa with a coldness and harshness that she did not deserve. As he reflected on her behaviour he realised that she had only been attempting to defuse a very awkward situation for them both and that he had completely overreacted. Worse, after she had recently broken down and confided in him that she feared being left alone, he had stormed from the house like a child throwing its toys from the pram and done just that, after he had assured her he would be there for her. What the fuck was he thinking? Was he going completely insane? He concluded that he probably was.

 

Eventually he had parked the car at a shopping mall, being hit by the impulse to atone for his behaviour by treating her to a gift. He was not motivated by a desire to buy his way back into her good graces, not that she would respond to such a ploy in any case; he knew that she was not motivated by material gain. He simply wanted to see her smile again; he would give anything to see her smile. And so he made his way around the stores and gathered together some tokens that he hoped would please her.

 

When he had returned there she sat in a beautiful sun yellow blouse, her shiny, fiery hair caught up loosely, with soft curling tendrils trailing down her svelte neck. Her bright azure eyes glistened with tears as they met his and he had wanted nothing more than to run to her, pull her from the couch and embrace her, kissing away her tears. He crushed the impulse and hid his feelings under a veneer of fatherly concern for her health. When she had admonished him for running out on her his shame had returned ten-fold and he was almost brought undone when she had confessed that she had missed him because, he realised, he had missed her too.

 

Then, after inspecting her gifts she had kissed him. It was a chaste kiss, nothing more than a gentle press but he had felt himself reacting to deepen it and she had done nothing to dissuade him, in fact quite the opposite. He had registered a hitching in her breath and a slight parting of her lips as though inviting him to explore her mouth with his tongue; he had come within a hair’s breadth of accepting the invitation but he could not allow himself to do it. With a deep shuddering reluctance he had withdrawn from her, desperately hoping that she did not notice how much he had hardened in his trousers. As if that wasn’t bad enough she just had to go one step further and mention desk sex. She had entirely misinterpreted his reaction as embarrassment or prudishness when in fact he had flushed as he vividly visualised her sitting naked on his desk, leaning back on her elbows with her legs thrown over his shoulders, her beautiful rounded breasts bouncing with every thrust of his cock into her wet and open sex as she screamed out his name.

 

He exhaled noisily with the memory of this highly erotic vision and palmed his erection through his trousers to try and get some relief. He wasn’t entirely successful. After some long deep breaths, he cracked some eggs into a bowl with some cream and whisked furiously as he cursed internally at himself, at the Gods, at the whole damn world. Hacking aggressively at some peppers, onions and mushrooms, he hurled them into a hot pan and sautéed them off before adding the eggs and cooking until set. He topped with grated cheese and placed the pan under the broiler until it was golden brown, muttering to himself all the while. He cut two slices from the frittata and accompanied it on the plate with a handful of dressed garden salad.

 

Placing the plates on a tray with a jug of iced tea and some glasses, he made his way up the stairs to the study praying to the old Gods and the new that Sansa was not sitting stark naked on his desk when he arrived.

Chapter Text

Lunch had proceeded awkwardly, much to Sansa’s disappointment. She had hoped that they could return to the amicable comfortable silences and occasional light banter they had enjoyed in their previous interactions but Stannis seemed to be wound tighter than a coil. He did very little to initiate conversation and every time she spoke, he responded with minimal effort and in a very strained voice. She got the distinct impression that he was frustrated with her for some reason, but she wasn’t quite sure what she had done to cause it. Surely it wasn’t over a little kiss – a kiss to show her gratitude?

 

However, as much as she wished to spend more time with him, she could not face any more of this tension between them and had told him she was fatigued, reluctantly retiring back to the bedroom, leaving him to tackle a groaning inbox of work emails. She knew that he was dubious as to her excuse for leaving his company but he did not seek to dissuade her. As she departed she sensed that he was feeling the same as her: a curious mixture of disappointment and relief, and it saddened her. She knew that the dynamic between them had shifted but given the way he avoided any intimacy, however small, she had not the slightest inkling how to fix it.

 

Sansa sighed deeply in dejection as she opened up the artist sketch pad and stared out of the window at the forest at the rear of Stannis’s property. She opened the box of pastels and choosing a dark olive green stick, began to capture the vegetation in front of her on the sketch pad. She always found that drawing helped to ease her nerves and distract her from her worries and this occasion was no different. She chose progressively lighter verdant colours before moving to browns and blues, filling out the scene in front of her. Before she knew it, hours had passed. The light outside had started to fade and she realised that dusk was quickly approaching. When she surveyed the finished drawing she found it to be acceptable and decided to gift it to Stannis as a kind of apology, but to be truthful, she wasn’t sure what she was even apologising for. However, she was determined to have a pleasant evening with him even if it killed her, and hoped that this small token would smooth the way.

 

She moved to the en-suite and applied some light makeup, fashioning her hair into a loose side braid. She changed into the dark blue lace shift dress Marya had purchased for her and teamed it with the black ballet flats. Picking up the sketch on her way out of the bedroom she took a deep breath and walked to the study door, knocking on it lightly.
“Come in.”
Stannis looked up from his computer as she entered and stood from the chair, walking towards her with an expression of contrition on his face. It was quite warm in the room and he had removed his blazer. The tight t-shirt underneath revealed his muscled biceps and forearms and hugged his sculpted torso. She fought to steady her breathing as he came to a stop only a pace away, affected by the tall strong masculine presence so close to her.
“I hope I’m not bothering you,” she said with an uncertain smile.
“Of course you’re not bothering me. Quite the opposite. I missed your company actually.”
“Did you get through all your work?”
Stannis sighed loudly.
“No, I couldn’t seem to concentrate. You look… you look lovely in that dress and with your hair like that,” he commented awkwardly.
“Thank you. Here, I have something for you.”
She held out the drawing to him, trying to stop her hand from trembling.

 

He smiled at her and took it from her hand, his fingers lightly brushing hers as he did.
She shivered involuntarily at the brief contact. He gazed at her briefly before studying the drawing with a small appreciative nod of his head and a quiet hum.
“That’s the forest at the back of the house. You’ve captured it and the water in the creek so well – the nuance of colours, the light and reflections, the shade. There’s even the little pebbles in the creek. This is very impressive.”
“Then you like it?”
“Of course I like it. You are very talented. Have you ever thought of pursuing art professionally?”
“No, not really. It’s such a competitive market and I guess I just never thought I have what it takes to make it,” Sansa admitted.
“Well, I would need to see more of course, but this looks very promising to me, if it is any sort of indication of what you are capable of. Renly’s partner Loras has a lot of contacts in the art world; that’s how I sourced the artwork that is scattered around the house. If this is something that you would like to explore further, I am sure that he can put you in touch with the right people.”
“That’s very kind of you, Stannis, but I’ll be leaving here soon and I won’t really be in the position to pursue much of anything,” she remarked sadly.

 

Stannis stepped closer, his eyes filled with an intensity and vulnerability that she had not seen in him before. He reached out with one hand and stroked it gently up and down her arm. Her breathing hitched as she stared at him uncertainly. He looked as though he was in the throes of an internal struggle before he eventually spoke, his voice soft and low.
“I realised something while I’ve been sitting here alone without you. Well. No. That’s not true. I’ve known it for a while now, if I’m honest with myself; but today brought it home to me and I can’t deny it to myself anymore,” he murmured.
“What Stannis?” Sansa replied in a small voice.
“That… I can’t just let you walk out of here once you’ve had your check-up at the hospital,” he stated in a rush.
“Stannis -” she whispered but he wouldn’t allow her to finish.
His hand on her arm stilled as he stared at her intently.
“I want you to stay. Here with me. I don’t want you to go back on to the streets. I can’t go through the rest of my life wondering what happened to you.”
“Stannis,” she said more firmly, “I can’t stay. You’ve already done too much. And I need to stand on my own two feet. I can’t continue to accept your charity.”

 

“Charity?” he asked a little roughly. “Is that what you think this is?”
“Well isn’t it?” she retorted. “How long have we known each other? A matter of days. You don’t really know the first thing about me, about my past, what makes me, me. And I don’t really know you. And now you’re asking me to stay with you? That’s no small thing.”
“I know it seems precipitous and there would be some things we need to work out but –”
“I don’t understand Stannis. If this isn’t charity to you then what am I to you exactly?” she asked with a hint of frustration.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a pretty straightforward question. I need to know where I stand and what you expect from me. I mean, half the time it feels like you can barely stand to be in the same room with me. You really seemed angry with me earlier even though you told me you weren’t. And then other times, I feel like… you’re…I don’t know what’s going on. I thought at least we had started to become friends but something feels so wrong now. I’m really confused,” she blurted out, her cheeks flushing as she wrung her hands and lowered her gaze to her feet.

 

Stannis exhaled loudly and took both of her hands in his.
“Please look at me Sansa,” he prompted.
She lifted her head to meet his eyes. She saw there regret and concern and another emotion that she could not identify.
“I was not and never have been angry with you. Please believe that. I’m sorry if that is how it came across. Sometimes I’m not very good at expressing my emotions. If it’s any consolation I’m confused too. I have to be honest and tell you that I don’t know exactly what you are to me, not yet. This has all happened so fast. Just know that I don’t expect anything from you. What I am absolutely certain of is that you are special to me; I care about what happens to you and I’m not ready to let you walk out of here.”

 

Sansa squeezed his hands gently.
“I can’t stay, Stannis,” she said with no small amount of regret.
“Please don’t make your mind up today. Tell me you’ll at least think about it. There’s still time,” he pleaded with a hint of desperation in his tone.
“Please. Perhaps in a few more days things will become a little clearer for both of us. It would be a mistake to make a hasty decision now when there’s still so much confusion. Let’s just take it one day at a time,” he added.
Sansa sighed and relented, no longer able to bear looking at his pained expression.
“Okay, I’ll think about it.”
“Good,” he said with a relieved smile. “That’s all I can ask for.”

Chapter Text

Just then the doorbell downstairs rang.
“That will be dinner. I took the liberty of ordering in from one of the local restaurants tonight. I hope you don’t mind,” he explained.
“Of course I don’t mind,” Sansa replied. “Sounds great.”
“Come on, we’ll eat downstairs tonight in the lounge. With the fire burning it’s warmer and cosier than the formal dining room.”
At some stage Stannis had already arranged two place settings on the coffee table. He gestured for her to take a seat on the modular lounge while he paid the delivery driver for the food.
“Did you buy the whole menu?” she giggled when she saw the number of bags he held.
“Practically,” he shrugged with a smirk.
He sat next to her and began extracting containers from the bags.
“We have tofu and chickpea curry, a beef and vegetable stir fry in soy and sesame, some wilted Asian greens, some vegetable dumplings with chilli dipping sauce, marinated vegetable and chicken skewers and steamed rice. Ah. Here’s the dessert which I’ll pop in the fridge. Lychees with mango and coconut ice cream. Tuck in. I’ll be right back,” he said, gesturing at the chopsticks he had left on the table.

 

Stannis returned after a couple of minutes with a bottle of sparkling water. In the meantime Sansa had helped herself to a little bit of everything on her plate but had waited for him to sit and finish pouring the water before sampling the food.
“Mmm. It’s so good,” she smiled as she ate a mouthful of the stir fry.
“Good. I’m glad it meets with Madame’s approval,” Stannis remarked with a smile as he proceeded to load his own plate.
“I have to admit that I would miss this if I left,” Sansa commented as she swiped at a spot of sauce in the corner of her mouth with one forefinger.
“What? The food?”
“No silly. Sitting here like this with you, having a nice evening together,” she replied as she smacked him lightly on the arm.
“Oh,” he replied sheepishly. “Yes, of course. I concur.”
“Don’t you get lonely living here all on your own Stannis? I mean, you don’t even have neighbours particularly close to you.”
“That’s true. Vincent is my closest neighbour but I rarely see him these days. I guess it does get a bit lonely at times, but at least my brothers and the Seaworths visit occasionally and I have Shireen with me for a weekend once or twice a month.”
“It must be hard being separated from your daughter the rest of the time.”
Stannis sighed loudly.
“Yes, it certainly is.”

 

Sansa detected the sadness in his voice and changed tack.
“I am so looking forward to meeting her tomorrow. Do you have anything planned for the day?”
“We’re due for a bit of an Indian summer for the next few days, luckily enough. It should be sunny and mild with a light breeze tomorrow. I thought we might go to the dockside amusement park, if you would like to go and if you’re up to it.”
Sansa’s eyes sparkled and she shot him a big smile as she replied excitedly.
“Oh yes, please. I have never been. It would be so much fun. Those sorts of places are always better when you see them through the eyes of a child, don’t you think?”
Stannis regarded her with a warm look.
“Exactly my thoughts. I’ve only taken Shireen once before and she was really too young to appreciate it fully. I would really like to take her again but you have to promise me that if we do go you won’t over-exert yourself.”
Sansa huffed in frustration.
“I really am feeling much better you know. But if it puts your mind at ease I promise I won’t go on any vomit inducing rides.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” Stannis grimaced.

 

“Did you have anything planned for dinner afterwards?” Sansa enquired.
“Not particularly. Do you have any preferences?”
“I thought it might be nice to sit down to a traditional family dinner here at the house, just the three of us. How about a roast chicken and roast vegetables with a rosemary gravy? Mom and I used to prepare it together every Sunday night. Maybe you and Shireen can be my sous chefs.”
Stannis stared at her and smiled broadly.
“You would want to do that?” he asked, his voice sounded a little gruff with emotion.
“Of course. Your little girl doesn’t get to spend much time with you as it is and I’ll be intruding on your private time together. I really want her to feel comfortable and involved, if you will allow it.”
Stannis took hold of one of her hands and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“Allow it? I am sure Shireen would enjoy that, as would I. Thank you. It is a very thoughtful offer. But don’t ever think of yourself as an intrusion in any way. And again, I won’t have you tiring yourself. Promise me?
“Deal,” she replied as she shook his hand vigorously and grinned at him.

 

“Are you ready for dessert?” Stannis enquired.
“That would be wonderful, thank you. But can I ask a favour?”
“Of course,” he replied shooting her a quizzical glance.
“I really miss the study. Do you think we might…if you don’t mind, that is,” Sansa asked hopefully.
“Sure. Go on up. I’ll meet you there,” he replied.
Sansa made her way up the staircase and entered the study, turning on the standing floor lamp in the corner of the room. She settled down on the Chesterfield couch with a contented sigh and waited for some minutes before Stannis reappeared with a tray holding two bowls of the dessert and a pot of tea with two mugs.
“I made us both Darjeeling,” he explained as he set down the tray in front of her.

 

He started to lower himself down to sit some distance from her but she reached for his hand and drew him closer, much to his evident surprise, as his widened eyes locked on hers and he reluctantly sat right next to her. Their thighs and shoulders brushed against each other as they moved to pick up their desserts but neither spoke for some time as they ate in silent contemplation. There was a palpable tension in the air again and Sansa swore that she could feel waves of anxiety flowing from Stannis whose posture next to her could not be any more rigid. She knew what she had to do; what she wanted to do. She was determined to lay it on the line and address the issue once and for all; they could not go on this way, especially after his earlier declaration. She was determined to explore what, if anything, was going on between them and would not let his chivalry stand in the way any longer.
“Thank you. That was very refreshing. And the tea hit the spot. Gee. I’m stuffed,” she added, rubbing her tummy.
“You’re welcome. And I know what you mean. It will be nice to stretch our legs a little tomorrow after all this food we’ve been consuming lately,” he responded rather stiffly.
Sansa sighed and placed her now empty mug on the table turning to face him. It was now or never.
“Stannis, can I ask you something?”
“Go ahead,” he responded, but his tone carried an edge of wariness.
“Are you attracted to me?” she asked in a small, uncertain voice; she worried that he would flee like a frightened doe once again and held her breath waiting for his response.

 

Stannis’s breathing hitched and he averted his eyes, shuffling around uncomfortably in his seat. Eventually he met her eyes, his gaze intense as he replied.
“You have to know that I am.”
“I’m attracted to you too. Very much, in fact. I mean, just so you know, in case it wasn’t completely obvious,” she blurted out in a rush as she noticed the now shocked expression on his face.
He opened his mouth a little but closed it again without uttering a word. She would not let his reticence discourage her.
“Do you want to kiss me? I mean, a real kiss,” she asked quietly.
He inhaled and exhaled loudly and rubbed the back of his neck with one hand.
“I can’t. I told you that I am here for you, to protect you and make sure that you return to health, not to hit on you at the first opportunity that presents itself.”
“And I appreciate that. But what if it is what I want? What if it’s what we both want?” she asked earnestly as she placed her hand on his knee.
He stared fixedly at her hand, his breath caught in his throat.
“Sansa, please. I’m trying to do the right thing here,” he pleaded rather desperately.
She shifted closer to him and reached to stroke the fingers of her other hand through the hair at his temple.
“I think you have a different definition of ‘right’ than I do. If we both want it then what’s wrong about it. It’s just a kiss, Stannis. I trust you. Do you trust me?”
“Yes,” he replied in little more than a whisper.

 

Sansa tilted her head and brought her lips to his in a gentle kiss. Stannis wove one arm around her waist pulling her body closer. His other hand travelled to the back of her head, pressing her lips more firmly against his as he deepened the kiss. Sansa whimpered as she felt a rush of pleasure through her body at the feeling of his lips moving on hers, the warm press of the strong muscles of his chest and arm against her body. As she parted her lips, Stannis swiped at her bottom lip and pressed the tip of his tongue into her mouth tentatively. Sansa met his tongue with hers and opened up to him; they tasted and explored each other greedily as his hand at her waist began to massage her and he stroked through her long tresses with the other. When they eventually broke apart, breathing heavily, Sansa smiled.
“Wow,” she whispered.
Stannis leant forward and rested his forehead against hers as he slowly regained his composure. Sansa longed to close the ever so small distance between their lips for another kiss but something in his manner told her that he would not be receptive.

 

After some moments, he withdrew from her and fiddled with a lock of her hair before standing from the couch.
“That can’t happen again,” he mumbled as he swiped at his brow with one hand.
“Why, Stannis? I felt something. Something wonderful. Didn’t you feel it too?” Sansa asked in a trembling voice.
“It can’t happen again because the next time I can’t guarantee that I’ll be stopping at a kiss,” he rasped out roughly before striding swiftly from the room and escaping down the staircase.
Sansa stared after him as she felt tears brimming in her eyes. She longed to follow Stannis and confront the issue head on but she knew it would achieve nothing as the moment was lost and he had now closed himself off from her, physically and emotionally once again. She touched her fingers to her lips and understood that the next time, if it should ever come, she would not want him to stop at a kiss either.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Stannis awoke early having endured a very restless night’s sleep. He had spent much of the evening downstairs in the lounge and while he had been changing TV channels mindlessly with the remote, he had noticed Sansa dragging herself dejectedly from the study to the main bedroom. Their eyes met briefly: she did not smile and the hurt in her eyes cut through him like a blade. He desperately wanted to go back upstairs and speak with her but he had no idea what he should say. How could he tell her that when they had kissed he had felt an overwhelming urge to fling her down on the couch and kiss every inch of her body, taste her essence from between her legs and push himself into her until she moaned out his name? Worse, how could he tell her that he had felt a surge of affection for her that was so strong and deep that he could have sworn it was love?

 

But how could that possibly be? They had only known each other for a few days. He had never been the type to believe in love at first sight so his intellect fought strongly against the notion. And while Sansa was clearly attracted to him and had physical urges, he could not believe that there was anything deeper to it than that. She was grateful to him, lonely and in a highly emotional state. She was dependent on him and found herself in a romantic situation and acted on it – that was all. To think anything else was completely absurd. He could not afford for matters to escalate because it would only end badly as situations like this, where there was an imbalance of power, always did. Once the physical dalliance ended she would see the error of her ways, recognise the situation for what it was, and would end up following her original instincts and walk out the door. No, he would not risk it. They both needed to keep their physical distance while they sorted out some very complicated and confused feelings. He prayed that they would both be in a better place in the morning when Shireen arrived. The last thing he needed was his daughter picking up on any weirdness between them.

 

At some stage he had managed to doze off and had awoken to a beautifully mild sunny morning. After a quick shower he moved downstairs to brew some very strong black coffee and prepare a light breakfast of Bircher Muesli with fruit compote. Once it was ready he took a deep breath and made his way upstairs to fetch Sansa. He knocked on the bedroom door but there was no reply.
“Sansa, breakfast is ready….Sansa?”
After some time he knocked again. Still no response. Reluctantly, after what had transpired during their last encounter under similar circumstances, he opened the door cautiously but Sansa was not there, nor in the en-suite. He felt a twist in the gut and his heart started to pound furiously in his chest as he realised she was not there or anywhere downstairs.
“Shit, where is she?” he muttered as he went around to the other bedrooms and study but she was nowhere to be found. He started to panic, beginning to believe that his worst fears had come to fruition and she had left sometime in the night.
“Sansa?!” he yelled out in desperation.
“Stannis, I’m out here on the deck,” she yelled back in reply.

 

Of course! He hadn’t thought to check outside. Stannis moved to the door leading out to the deck and yanked it open, puffing out a huge exhalation of relief. Sansa stood leaning with her back against the wooden balustrade facing him. She was wearing her jeans, a t-shirt and the cropped tan leather jacket and boots. Her hair was slicked back in a ponytail, strands of her fiery hair catching in the light morning breeze. He thought in that moment that she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen and longed to close the gap between them and take her into his arms. The serious expression on her face stopped him.
“What’s wrong, Stannis?” she asked with a concerned frown.
“You scared me. I thought after what happened last night you had left during the night. Don’t ever do that to me again.”
Her features softened as she understood the reason for his behaviour.
“Oh I am so sorry. I just felt like some fresh air so I thought I’d check out the deck. I didn’t mean to worry you.”

 

Stannis felt the tension leave his body and walked towards the balustrade standing next to her. He leant on it with both hands and stared out at the vista in front of him.
“I had some time to think last night while I lay in bed,” Sansa stated.
“And…?” Stannis prompted.
She sighed quietly before continuing, her tone regretful and resigned.
“I’m sorry for what happened last night Stannis. I haven’t been fair to you. You’ve been so respectful of me but I haven’t always returned the favour. I shouldn’t have pushed things and said the things I did last night. I shouldn’t have initiated that kiss. It was wrong of me not to respect your boundaries and put you on the spot like that. Please tell me that I haven’t ruined everything.”
He turned to stare at her but didn’t trust himself to speak.
“Please, don’t hate me now. I don’t want to lose you. We’re friends still, aren’t we,” she asked tremulously.

 

He sighed internally a little at her use of the word “friends” but understood how insecure and lost she felt and that he was the cause of it; to be honest he felt a little the same. He took hold of her hand that was resting on the balustrade next to his.
“Don’t be crazy. Of course I don’t hate you. And yes, we’re still friends. I’m sorry too. I should have handled things better last night,” he acknowledged.
“This is all unknown territory for both of us,” she said with a small smile. “Let’s just have a fun day today with Shireen and enjoy each other’s company without any pressure or expectations while we still can.”
Stannis stared at her trying to determine what she had meant by her last statement. She must have registered his fears as she reached out with her hand and smoothed it over his forearm.
“I haven’t made any decisions yet Stannis. Let’s take it one day at a time like you said, okay?”
“Alright,” he sighed. “Come on downstairs now. Breakfast is ready.”

 

Stannis had set up their meal on the island bench in the kitchen. As Sansa settled onto one of the barstools, he brought up the subject that he had been avoiding but that he needed to broach before they left the house for the day so she would be prepared.
“After we finish here we need to head straight to the airport and pick up Shireen. Selyse will be staying at the airport as her connecting flight to High Garden leaves less than an hour after they arrive. I have to warn you that she is a very…difficult woman. She was rather vocal about the two of us when we spoke on the phone the other day. She immediately leapt to the wrong conclusion, as I knew she would. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m concerned that she might say some offensive things to you. I’m worried about you.”
Sansa smiled wanly.
“I’m not made of glass Stannis. I can stand up for myself. I was holding my own with Mel until my stupid lungs decided to pack it in. I doubt that Selyse can come up with any worse insults than the ones that have already been hurled at me.”

 

“I know that you are strong. And I never told you how much I appreciated some of the things you said to Mel about me,” he admitted.
“I meant every word, Stannis,” she replied earnestly. “But anyway, surely Selyse will be mindful of Shireen being there.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that. She’s done a number on me in front of her plenty of times,” Stannis grunted.
“Oh, that’s just terrible,” Sansa muttered, shaking her head sadly. “You have my word that I will do everything I can to make sure nothing like that happens between myself and Selyse in front of your daughter. She doesn’t deserve to get caught in the middle.”
Stannis regarded her warmly. It was when she showed such sensitivity and maturity that he felt a wave of fondness and deep respect for her.
“I know that you will. If anything untoward happens I know where the fault will lie.”
“Let’s just try and stay positive. Selyse might surprise us all.”
“Yes, and pigs might fly,” he grumbled.
Stannis appreciated Sansa giving his ex-wife the benefit of the doubt but sadly he thought it was bound to be misplaced.

 

When they arrived at the airport a little over an hour later they walked through the terminal towards the coffee lounge that Stannis had arranged to meet his wife and daughter in. As they approached, Shireen spotted them first and yelled out to him before speeding with great velocity towards him. He knelt down and hugged her to him as she flew into his arms. He blinked back the start of tears as he stroked her hair and stood up bringing Shireen to face Sansa. He noticed that the young woman’s eyes were brimming with tears too as she had stood quietly observing their interaction.

 

“Shireen, sweetheart. This is a friend of mine. Her name is Sansa.”
Shireen smiled shyly.
“Hello,” she said in a small timid voice.
Sansa smiled back.
“Hi Shireen. It’s so nice to meet you. Did you have fun on the plane?”
“Yes,” she replied. “I was right next to the window. Everything looked really tiny from up there. You’ve got pretty hair. Are you going to marry my Daddy?” she blurted out in the direct and completely non sequitur way that only young children are capable of.
Sansa’s cheeks reddened and she was obviously too taken aback to respond. Before Stannis had an opportunity to reply he noticed that Selyse had made her way over to them and now stood only a pace away.
“I’d very much like to hear the answer to that question myself,” the woman stated coldly.

Chapter Text

To say that Sansa was surprised by Selyse was a complete understatement. She was not at all the sort of woman that she would have pictured Stannis with. While Stannis was strong, dynamic and driven, Selyse struck her as decidedly diminished, languid and unenergetic. With her thin lank hair, tired facial features and emaciated frame she seemed to be the very antithesis of him. In fact she found it hard to believe that a man who would be attracted to an imposing and confident woman like Melisandre would give Selyse a second glance. She admonished herself for being judgemental and bitchy and concluded that Stannis obviously was the type of man who looked beyond the surface and the woman in front of her must have had some redeeming qualities for him to marry her in the first place. What they were though was not entirely obvious to her at this point.

 

Deciding that she would catch more flies with honey she resolved not to let Selyse’s bitter attitude get the better of her. She was also determined to keep her word to Stannis and not let this meeting degenerate in front of his sweet daughter. Shireen really was a beautiful little doll with her thick black shoulder length hair that she had obviously inherited from her father, a light dusting of freckles across the cheeks of her heart shaped face and large expressive brown eyes. She wore the cutest little sky blue and white striped dress teamed with navy coloured Mary Janes. Sansa took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and flashed Selyse her brightest smile. To her relief, the woman flinched and her stern expression faltered with uncertainty while Stannis could not hide his delighted approval.
“Hello Selyse. It’s wonderful to meet you. Stannis has told me all about you. I hope that you had a pleasant trip.”
She held out her hand and had to suppress a giggle when she noticed how perfunctorily Selyse grasped her hand and shook it and that she dropped it quickly as though she had been electrocuted. Silly woman.
“The flight was acceptable, thank you,” she replied stiffly.

 

“And to answer your question, Shireen,” Sansa added looking down at the little girl, “your Daddy and I are just friends. We aren’t getting married. I got a little sick and I’m just staying with him for a little while until I get better.”
She shot a quick look at Stannis and couldn’t help but notice a brief look of sadness that flitted across his features. Selyse appeared to rally as she emitted a dubious grunt.
“You look good to me for someone who professes to be so unwell,” she sneered.
“Oh,” Sansa replied sweetly, “thank you very much for the compliment. I do feel much better than I did, thanks to Stannis. He’s been taking wonderful care of me,” she sing-songed.
Selyse flushed and her features sharpened with anger and a hint of frustration.
Out of the corner of her eye Sansa couldn’t help but notice Stannis’s slight smirk.
“I am quite sure he has,” Selyse replied sarcastically.

 

Sansa smiled broadly and addressed Shireen again.
“We’re going to have such fun today Shireen. I’m really looking forward to it.”
“I’m sure you will have fun,” Selyse commented in an unkind tone. “You’re practically the same age as my daughter after all. You should have a lot in common.”
Sansa almost laughed out loud at the woman’s desperate dig while Stannis snorted audibly in derision.
“We’re going to take you to the amusement park down at the docks, Shireen,” he explained, disregarding Selyse completely.
The little girl clapped her hands and jumped up and down with a squeak.
“Can I go on the big Ferris wheel Daddy? And the carousel and eat candy floss?”
“You remember the park, Shireen?” Stannis asked.
“Yes, sort of, some things,” she said her nose wrinkling up in concentration. Sansa thought she was completely adorable.
“Now don’t go filling her stomach with a whole lot of that rubbish food they sell there,” Selyse commented sourly.

 

“Don’t worry Selyse,” Sansa responded. “We won’t spoil her appetite. We have a special dinner planned.”
She leant down and smiled at Shireen.
“How does roast chicken with all the trimmings sound?”
“Yummy,” Shireen smiled.
“And you and your Daddy are going to help me make it. Would you like that?”
“Yes please,” she replied enthusiastically.
“Oh how very touching; a proper little family,” Selyse mumbled with a sardonic roll of the eyes.
Stannis did not rise to the bait.
“It was very nice of Sansa to suggest it Shireen, but we’ll have to see how it goes. I don’t want Sansa wearing herself out.”
“Gods forfend,” Selyse mumbled so softly under her breath that Sansa nearly missed it.

 

Stannis consulted his watch and breathed a sigh of relief.
“You’d better make your way to the gate lounge, Selyse. Your flight is going to board soon.”
Sansa stepped closer to Selyse, smiling sweetly.
“It was lovely to meet you. I hope you enjoy your charity event. And don’t worry, we’ll make sure Shireen has a lot of fun while she’s with us.”
Suddenly Selyse leaned close to Sansa’s ear and hissed angrily.
“I know what you’re doing and what you are, you little slut. I would be very careful if I were you.”
Sansa’s breath caught in her throat in surprise and she shot a quick glance at Stannis and Shireen. Luckily the little girl was entirely oblivious to the incident but Stannis, while not having heard the exchange, clearly had some notion of what his ex-wife may have said. His expression was stormy but he quickly schooled his features for the sake of his daughter. Sansa did the same and flashed Selyse her brightest smile in return, much to the woman’s obvious chagrin. When their eyes met, Sansa knew that she had made an enemy for life.

 

Selyse turned her cold gaze to Stannis.
“Just make sure she gets to bed at a reasonable time tonight. I don’t want to contend with a cranky sleep deprived child when you two are through playing happy families with her,” she grumped.
Before Stannis could reply and to Sansa’s eternal relief, Selyse bent down to kiss Shireen goodbye and headed off in the direction of the gate lounge.
Stannis gazed at Sansa and mouthed a silent ‘I’m proud of you’, before leaning down and addressing Shireen.
“Ready to go sweetheart?”
“Yes Daddy,” she said as she stood between them and took hold of their hands.
Stannis picked up Shireen’s bag before they proceeded out of the terminal being pulled along by the excited and happy little girl.

The car trip to the amusement park had been filled with the carefree chatter, giggles and laughter of Sansa and Shireen as they swapped stories about their school days, their holiday trips, their favourite foods, books, cartoon characters, and the list went on. Stannis was happy to just sit back behind the wheel and soak in the happy atmosphere. It was almost as though the two of them had known each other for years, such was the instant rapport and connection between them. Stannis had to wonder if Sansa just had a natural knack for clicking with people, unless they happened to be his jealous ex-lover or ex-wife, of course. And he was pleasantly surprised by Shireen’s response to her. His daughter was quite often shy and quietly spoken but you certainly wouldn’t know it by observing her outgoing behaviour with Sansa.

 

Stannis could not have been more impressed with the way that Sansa had handled Selyse in front of Shireen. It spoke to her maturity and poise that despite her best efforts, the older woman had been unable to ruffle Sansa’s feathers, although he knew that at the end of the conversation his ex-wife had said something to upset Sansa. She had tried hard not to let it show but he could not ignore the way her breath had hitched and her eyes had widened in shock and fear that Shireen may have overheard what had been said. But once again, Sansa had held firm and controlled the conversation and the situation. He resolved to ask her about it once he could find an opportunity to speak to her alone. For now, he was determined to banish the thought of Selyse well and truly from his mind and enjoy these two wonderful creatures that he was fortunate enough to be able to spend quality time with.

 

Turning into a driveway off the main road, Stannis rolled up to the entrance gate of the park and paid the admission fee to the gate attendant, parking the car in the first vacant spot he could find. Because this was the first warm and sunny day in weeks and it was a Saturday, there were a lot of other visitors so finding a park wasn’t easy and he was forced to circle around for some time before he was successful.
“Right ladies,” he announced, “here we are. And not a single ‘are we there yet’ on the whole way here. I am impressed.”
“That’s because we were too busy flapping our gums, Stannis. Maybe we can throw a few in on the way home. What do you think, Shireen?”
The little girl giggled.
“Daddy gets all cross when I do that. It’s funny.”
“Do you, Daddy?” Sansa asked cheekily.
Stannis shot a rather alarmed glance in her direction. Gods, he prayed, don’t ever call me Daddy again. Sansa caught the look and stifled a giggle as she released the catch on her seatbelt buckle before opening the car door and stepping out. Stannis heaved a sigh of relief as he rose from his seat and helped Shireen from the back of the car. He was sure that he was slightly flushed by her remark and desperately hoped that it would go unnoticed.

 

As the rides came into view, including the large multi-coloured Ferris wheel, Shireen emitted a high pitched squeak and started to run ahead.
“Don’t go too far, pumpkin,” Stannis yelled out as the distance between them started to lengthen.
“Come on, we better keep up with her,” he said as he grasped Sansa’s hand and then remembering himself he added, “but you let me know if you are getting tired, won’t you?”
Sansa gave his hand a gentle squeeze.
“Don’t worry about me Stannis, I’ll be fine,” she replied as she strode forward a little more quickly, keeping the girl squarely in her sights.
Noticing that Shireen had come to a standstill at the back of a queue lined up in front of the ticket booth for the Ferris wheel, Stannis pulled them both to a stop a little distance away.
“Is something wrong Stannis?” Sansa enquired worriedly.
“No, nothing’s wrong. I just – I just wanted to say thank you.”
“What for?”
“For being here with us. For being you,” he said earnestly as he leaned in and kissed her softly on the cheek. Sansa’s breathing slowed as she turned to gaze at him with her lips slightly parted. She did not reply, just gave him a small smile. As they looked back up in Shireen’s direction they both noticed that Shireen was grinning broadly at them, having obviously witnessed the whole exchange. He noticed a soft blush at Sansa’s cheeks as he pushed her forward gently with a hand to the small of her back.

 

“Are you going to come up with us?” Stannis asked.
“No, I think I’ll sit over there on the bench and watch you guys, if that’s okay.”
“Aww. Sansa. Won’t you come too?” Shireen pouted.
“Now don’t pressure Sansa, honey,” Stannis admonished. “She’s still getting over being sick and she can’t overdo things right now.”
“An adult and a child please,” he requested from the ticket seller as he handed over a banknote and waited for the change.
“You have fun with your Daddy and wave to me when you get to the top.,” Sansa smiled.
“Okay,” Shireen replied as she took her father’s hand and led him towards the queue waiting to board the ride.
When Stannis looked back he noticed that Sansa had taken a seat on a bench underneath a nearby plane tree and was scanning the growing crowds of people that surged around her.

 

“What do you think of Sansa, honey?” Stannis asked his daughter as they waited in line.
“She’s really nice. And she’s pretty. And she likes you. I can tell.”
“Oh, is that so?” Stannis smiled. “Well I like her too. She was very excited to meet you Shireen, and I can tell she really likes you too.
“Mommy doesn’t like Sansa. She said mean things but I didn’t listen.”
Stannis frowned but resisted the urge to ask for more details.
He squeezed his daughter’s hand, proud of her for making up her own mind about Sansa.
The wheel slowed and began to accept passengers and without too much further delay Stannis sat next to his daughter whose grin beamed from ear to ear, her anticipation growing. Soon enough after filling all the gondolas with new patrons, the wheel started to pick up speed. As they neared the top Stannis’s gaze swept over the park. He noticed that Shireen had lifted her arm as if to wave but had then let it fall limply by her side. He swallowed thickly as his eyes fell on the now empty bench under the plane tree.
“Where’s Sansa, Daddy?”

Chapter Text

Stannis fought a wave of nausea and a rising anxiety as the Ferris wheel continued to rotate for what felt like an eternity. He scanned the crowds on the ground desperately searching for any sign of Sansa, trying to spot her distinctive and beautiful auburn hair amongst the sea of browns, blacks and blondes but she was nowhere to be seen. He crushed the impulse to yell at the operator to stop the ride and let him off, not wishing to frighten Shireen. Why would Sansa just disappear like that? Surely she must know that Shireen would want to make eye contact and wave to her from the top of the Ferris wheel. Was this the way that she had decided to part ways? But the more he thought about it he doubted that she would be insensitive enough to just leave him there high and dry to try and explain her sudden disappearance to his daughter. From what he knew of her she would never put him in such a difficult position or risk upsetting Shireen. Perhaps there was a perfectly logical explanation and he was simply over reacting? He swallowed thickly and willed his breathing to slow as he waited for the wheel to decelerate.

 

Once it finally stopped, he took hold of Shireen’s hand and disembarked from the gondola as calmly as he could.
“She’s still not here, Daddy,” Shireen commented as they returned to the bench under the plane tree. “Where did she go?”
Stannis sighed and rubbed his fingers roughly through his hair.
“I don’t know, honey. But we’ll wait here a little while longer and then we’ll walk around and see if we can find her,” he replied, knowing full well that if Sansa had decided to take off, they’d have a snowball’s chance in hell of locating her.
“Come on, let’s sit,” he said as he sat her down next to him on the bench.

 

They had been sitting there for only a few minutes before Sansa approached, head slightly lowered. She seemed a little timid and her eyes and the tip of her nose looked reddened as though she had been crying. Stannis shot from the bench and walked over swiftly to her, fighting the urge to fling his arms around her and crush her to him. Had he been alone with her he would have done so, but he was conscious of Shireen standing only a few yards away. So great was his relief that Sansa had returned and yet, her demeanour disturbed him.
“What happened? Where did you go?” he whispered urgently as he sensed Shireen running up behind him.
Sansa squared her shoulders and smiled at them both but he could tell that it was forced and that it took a great effort of will for her to do so.
“Sorry I left guys. I wasn’t feeling one hundred percent so I needed to find a restroom. I got a little lost in the process. I never did have a great sense of direction.”

 

 

Stannis eyed her with concern.
“What do you mean not one hundred percent? Do you feel like your illness is returning?”
“No, nothing like that,” she reassured him. “A bit of a tummy ache. Maybe the antibiotics are playing up on my stomach a bit. I feel okay now though.”
“Perhaps it’s been a bit too much for you and we should go home.”
Although Shireen slumped in disappointment Stannis was proud that she was being considerate of Sansa’s condition and didn’t make a fuss. Sansa must have detected the girl’s reaction and rallied.
“No, I’m perfectly fine now Stannis. Let’s just make the most of the day out and have some fun,” she replied, but once again he could tell the smile she offered was not natural.
Stannis couldn’t shake the feeling that something else was amiss but didn’t wish to make an issue out of it in front of his daughter, so he let it go…. for now.
Shireen jumped up and down and clapped excitedly as she grabbed their hands and dragged them further into the park.

 

Spying a baby animal petting farm, Shireen squealed and made a run for the entry leaving Stannis and Sansa to supervise from a distance. The young girl approached a lamb and began stroking her fingers through its curly white fleece while chatting animatedly to it. Stannis took the opportunity to question Sansa further about her disappearance.
“So what really happened back there, Sansa?” Stannis enquired.
Sansa continued to keep her eyes trained on Shireen, not turning towards him, her face unreadable but for a small smile as she fondly observed the little girl interacting with the lamb and other children in the enclosure.
“I told you Stannis. I wasn’t feeling well. Why are you questioning me again?”
Stannis couldn’t ignore the slightly irritated tone in her voice, the first time he had heard anything of the like from her.
“You’ve been crying. Why?”
Sansa exhaled loudly before responding, her eyes finally meeting his.
“I was feeling a little emotional because I was happy and I enjoyed seeing you and your daughter together. It reminded me of when I was young and I would go to a similar park in Winterfell with my parents. Then I realised how much I miss my family, especially my Dad. I started to feel a little under the weather too and it got on top of me. I didn’t want to cry in front of Shireen so I took some time to compose myself. That’s it.”
She took one of his hands in hers and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“Don’t worry about me, please. I don’t want to spoil things, especially for Shireen. Let’s just enjoy ourselves.”
Stannis squeezed her hand back and nodded but did not reply..

 

“Oh look,” Sansa gasped abruptly, as she pointed out a large black and white, long haired lop eared rabbit in a corner of the petting farm pen.
“I used to have a rabbit just like that when I was younger. In fact we had six rabbits at one stage,” she added as she made her way to the entry gate and approached the animal carefully.
Crouching down she swept it up into her arms. Apart from a small squeak and some half-hearted pedalling of its back legs, it settled into her embrace soon enough and appeared quite content, its little nose twitching incessantly. She repositioned it to lie in one arm while her other hand gently stroked its ears and down its back. Stannis neared and began to run one hand over the animal, his fingers lightly brushing against Sansa’s as he did so. She gazed up at him and smiled as they continued to stroke the rabbit’s soft fur and touching each other in the process.

 

After some time, Sansa looked down at the rabbit and emitted a sad sigh.
“What’s the matter, sweetheart?” he asked as he detected that her mood had once again shifted.
“I was just thinking about what happened to our rabbits,” she replied, her voice trembling slightly.
Stannis had a feeling he would not like the answer but enquired anyway.
“What happened to them?”
“I killed them,” she whispered.
He stiffened in shock but her voice had been so low that he was unsure whether he had heard her correctly.
“What?” he asked in trepidation.
“They died and it was my fault,” she stammered.
“I’m sure that’s not true. You –”
“No,” she interrupted, her voice harsh, “it is completely true. It happened when I had just turned thirteen. I left the door to their hutch open by accident and they got out into the yard one night. I got up the next morning to feed them and change the hay on the floor of their enclosure but they were all lying there, torn apart by wolves and bleeding all over the lawn. My Mom and Dad were so disappointed with me because looking after them was really one of my only chores around the house and I had let them down so badly. And my younger brothers and sister didn’t talk to me for a week.”

 

She took a long shuddering breath, her eyes glistening with unshed tears.
Stannis rubbed his hand reassuringly up and down her arm and gazed at her in sympathy.
“It wasn’t your fault. It was an accident. You didn’t intend –”
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions, Stannis,” she bit out roughly.
“The sorry truth is I was too preoccupied gossiping on my cell phone that night and not paying enough attention to what I was doing. Making the wrong decisions, not taking responsibility. Just about sums up my life really,” she added bitterly.
Stannis wondered what she meant by that but did not push any further, simply giving her shoulder a gentle comforting squeeze.

 

“I don’t know everything about you and what you were like back then obviously, but I still think you are being way too hard on yourself; you were only a kid,” Stannis remarked.
Sansa scoffed derisively.
“Perhaps if I had been a little harder on myself back then, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” she grated out.
“And perhaps I am being a bit selfish here, but if you had, then I never would have met you and that would have been a definite loss, at least for me,” he replied softly.
“Oh Stannis,” she breathed out as a stray tear traced down her cheek.
He wiped it away with the pad of his thumb and stroked her hair gently.

 

Just then Shireen spied the rabbit in Sansa’s arms and let out a small squeal before running over.
Sansa composed herself and knelt down so the little girl could reach to stroke the rabbit’s soft fur.
“So cute,” she gasped out. “Daddy can I have a rabbit?”
“You’ll have to ask your Mommy, sweetie.”
“Aww Daddy, you know she doesn’t like animals and she won’t let me have a pet,” Shireen pouted.
He felt Sansa stiffen at this little nugget of information about his ex-wife. Being an animal lover himself, a dislike of animals was one trait of Selyse’s that he had always struggled to come to terms with so he understood her reaction completely.
“I’m very sorry love, but I can’t get one for you. It wouldn’t be fair on the rabbit. I’m never home during the day so the poor thing would be all alone most of the time, sometimes days at a time when I’m travelling for work. It wouldn’t be right.”
Shireen sighed but nodded sagely.
“Yes Daddy. I know,” she replied stoically.
“Good girl. Come on. Let’s see if we can find a stall that sells candy floss.”
Disappointment all but forgotten, Shireen’s face split into a toothy smile as she took hold of his and Sansa’s hands and walked on through the milling crowd.

Chapter Text

By the time they returned to the car Sansa was completely exhausted, both physically and emotionally. They had all ridden on the carousel and the ghost train rides and Stannis had played the strongman hammer game and had won Shireen a stuffed dog that was almost bigger than she was. Stannis had taken over carrying it as the toy obscured Shireen’s vision so much that she kept barging into people and tripping over her own feet. Once they had left the park they had detoured briefly via the docks so that Stannis could show off ‘Proudwing’, his luxury yacht. Sansa thought it entirely impressive with its imposing size and sleek modern lines and daydreamed for the entire trip back in the car about lounging on the deck of the boat anchored in a romantic secluded cove with Stannis by her side. In her vision he was clad only in tight black swim trunks that highlighted his imposingly large member; his strong masculine chest and arms were exposed, while she herself wore an indecently small bikini. Sansa imagined them both diving into the warm blue waters of the Summer Sea, kissing and entwining their limbs as their wet bodies pressed together intimately. At one point in the trip she had been forced to squeeze her thighs together for some relief from the ache that had set in between her legs and had very nearly moaned out loud as she imagined his cock pressing right there against the silky fabric of the bikini bottoms she wore in her daydream. Thankfully Stannis concentrated on the traffic on the road and seemed to be in deep thought himself so had not noticed her discomfort as she squirmed in her seat, while Shireen had fallen asleep in the back seat.

 

Later, after visiting a grocery store on the way back home and preparing the roast dinner with her two enthusiastic sous chefs back at the house, Sansa was well and truly ready for bed but at the same time she did not want to miss out on a minute of this day and evening that genuinely made her feel like part of a family again. All day her emotions had shuffled between elation and despondency as she remembered what she once had and what she had lost. Experiencing the joy of companionship and acceptance again was a bittersweet torture for her because she knew that it was not going to last. She had learned the hard way that nothing good ever lasted and it was only a matter of time before she would experience the sharp pain of loss again. She realised then how much she would miss Stannis when that time inevitably came.

 

As she began to stack the dirty dishes in the dishwasher Stannis came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. Being so accustomed to him exercising physical restraint around her she gasped in surprise at first but then realised that all through the day he had shown himself to be increasingly more comfortable with her physically. She relaxed and melted against his chest with a sigh as his chin rested on her shoulder.
“I know I said it before but I really want to thank you for today,” he mumbled against her ear, his warm breath wisping across her earlobe. She shivered and nuzzled more firmly into his body, longing for the touch of his lips against the sensitive skin of her neck.
“You made Shireen’s day really special; you made my day really special.”
She turned in his arms, his hands moving to rub circles at the small of her back as she gazed up at him.
“I don’t think you know what you both gave me today, Stannis. I was truly happy for the first time in a really long time,” she smiled.
“And yet, you didn’t seem happy all of the time,” he prompted.
Sansa sighed before responding with a small nod.
“It brought up a whole lot of mixed memories and emotions for me. When I think about my family it brings up so many memories of the good times we had together but at the same time, I’m reminded of what I no longer have. I’m sorry if I ruined anything today; I know my moods were all over the place. I-”
“No,” he interrupted. “You were perfect. You are always perfect,” he replied softly, running one hand through her long tresses.

 

Sansa brought her arms up and around Stannis’s neck and drew herself up on her toes to lift her face closer to his. With just the slightest of hesitations, his arms wound tightly around her waist and pulled her body flush against his. She could feel the firm press of his chest against her breasts and his hardening bulge at her thigh as he held her tight. Her lips parted with a soft gasp at the full body contact as she tilted her face up to meet his. Stannis’s lips had barely grazed hers as she looked over his shoulder and spied Shireen standing a little distance away watching their interaction with a perplexed look on her face. Sansa withdrew quickly much to Stannis’s surprise and evident disappointment but he must have realised the reason for her actions as he whirled around quickly to face his daughter.
“Hey sweetheart. I thought you were watching TV.”
“I’m thirsty Daddy. Can I please have a glass of water?”
“Of course pumpkin,” Stannis replied as he poured her a glass from the purifier tap and handed it to her.
“I think it’s just about time for bed, young lady. It’s been a long, long day for you,” Stannis commented.
“Aww. Can’t I stay up a bit longer?”
“I don’t know Shireen, it’s getting late,” Stannis replied.
“Just a little bit longer. Can you read me a story? Please,” she pleaded with her big doe eyes.
“Okay, okay. Let’s get you changed for bed and I’ll read you one story in the study, and then you’re going to sleep.”
“Yay!” the little girl cried as she ran full pelt up the stairs, Stannis following not far behind.

 

Stacking the rest of the plates in the dishwasher and ascending the stairs some minutes later Sansa was struck by a sudden inspiration. She detoured via the bedroom and grabbed the artist sketch pad and the charcoals that Stannis had gifted her the day before. As she entered the study her heart melted when her eyes settled on Stannis sitting on the couch with Shireen on his lap reading her a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. The look of complete adoration in Stannis’s eyes as he glanced at his daughter nearly started her tears afresh. Sansa blinked them away and began to sketch the scene in front of her. By the end of the story Shireen’s head had begun to nod and she simply could not keep her eyes open. Eventually she relaxed completely into Stannis’s arms and fell into a deep sleep. Stannis smiled at Sansa and carried Shireen to her bedroom which was next to his down the hallway, reappearing some time later. As he re-entered the study, Sansa stood from the armchair and extended the sketch to him.
“Here. I thought you might like this as a memento of today,” she offered.
Stannis smiled broadly as his eyes scanned the drawing.
“This is….this is incredible,” he gushed. “I really mean it. It’s wonderful. Is this really how you see us?” he asked.
“The two of you are really beautiful,” she replied sincerely. “This is exactly the way I see you.”

 

Clearly touched, Stannis leaned down and placed the sketch carefully on the coffee table before straightening to face her and leading her to the couch. As they settled down together, Stannis took one of her small hands in his.
“I can’t thank you enough for the way you stood up to Selyse today. She wasn’t quite as obnoxious as I had anticipated but I am sure that is only because of the way you disarmed her right from the beginning. If you had handled it differently the outcome could have been quite hurtful for Shireen. I really appreciate you keeping your cool. It can’t have been easy.”
“No, but believe me, compared to Mel, your ex is a rank amateur,” Sansa grimaced with the memory of their confrontation.
“True. I do need to ask you though: what did Selyse whisper in your ear towards the end? It seemed to upset you.”
Sansa sighed.
“It’s really not important Stannis. Let’s just forget about her.”
“Did she threaten you?”
Sansa could not ignore the harsh and angry tone to his voice. She carefully measured her words in an attempt to mollify him.
“Not exactly. She called me a not very nice name and I guess, what she said could have been construed as a threat, if I was inclined to take it that way.”
Stannis’s posture stiffened and his jaw clenched in irritation. She continued on hurriedly.
“I admit I was a bit shocked at the time but she just caught me off-guard and I was more worried that Shireen might have overheard. I really haven’t wasted a minute since worrying about it. Believe me.”
Stannis did not look at all convinced, muttering something under his breath that she didn’t quite catch.

 

Sensing his growing irritation at Selyse, Sansa was desperate to change the subject and knowing how much Stannis loved his big boy toy of a yacht, she decided to distract him with a change of subject in that direction.
“So, tell me Stannis, how did you decide on the name ‘Proudwing’ for your yacht? It is unusual.”
Stannis frowned slightly before replying, as though the story were about to cause him physical pain in the retelling.
“When I was a young boy I found an injured goshawk. I called her Proudwing. I took her home and cared for her and she gradually recovered to the point that she could manage small flights. She was completely reliant on me though and would always come back to me eventually. Unfortunately her progress plateaued and she could never reach the tops of the trees. My older brother Robert was a bit of a turd back then. Come to think of it, not much has changed. Anyway, he would find any excuse to tease me and put me down and convinced me that the bird was a waste of time. He called it Weakwing and said that it would always be crippled and that the other boys at school were starting to think I was some sort of sissy.”
“Kids can be so cruel,” Sansa commented, knowing this only too well from her own experience.
Stannis hummed in agreement before continuing.

 

“Adults too, it would seem. My great uncle who raised us after my parents passed away didn’t help either. He agreed with Robert. He was getting sick of seeing me waste my energies, as he put it, when I could have been following more manly pursuits. I was a bit of a sickly, scrawny kid back then and didn’t have much self-esteem or the courage of my convictions. I was easily swayed by the opinions of others, too eager to seek approval. So I left the bird to its own devices in the forest near our home. I never saw her again and I will never know what happened to her but I can’t imagine that she would have been able to survive out there on her own. It really killed me that I was weak, let other people influence me and that a poor innocent creature most likely suffered directly because of it.”

 

Sansa sat quietly for some time and then nodded her head slowly before turning her body towards him and gazing intently into his eyes.
“Is that what this is for you, Stannis?” she asked gently.
“What do you mean?”
“Am I a do-over for you? A mulligan? Is this why you don’t want me to leave? Because you associate the prospect of me leaving with your abandonment of Proudwing? Does this bring back all the upset from your relationship with your brother and others around you and the fear of not knowing what happened to something you had been caring for and that you feel you let down? Is this a chance to redeem yourself somehow?”
Stannis rubbed his hand at the back of his neck.
“No, that’s not what this is. There is one simple reason and one reason only why I don’t want you to leave.”
“What?” she asked in a whisper.

 

“I’m in love with you, Sansa.”

Chapter Text

Stannis swallowed thickly as he watched Sansa closely after his surprise declaration. To be honest, he wasn’t sure who was more surprised out of the two of them. He had not intended to confess his feelings so soon and in such a blunt fashion but as he had reflected on all that had transpired between them since they had met, his passion overtook him and he could not prevent the words from pouring forth from his mouth. Up until this point he had always been so confused about his emotions, so insecure and doubtful. He was not a man to usually surrender to his feelings so precipitously. But after today he realised with complete clarity and utter conviction that he loved this woman, more than he had ever loved any other woman in his life and he felt compelled to tell her. He knew now that it might have been a huge mistake to voice it if Sansa did not reciprocate his feelings and as he studied her features, a wave of nausea hit him at the realisation that this could very well be the one thing to scare her away for good.

 

Her reaction was not at all what he had been expecting. To be fair, he wasn’t sure exactly what he had been expecting but what he certainly had not anticipated was the expression her face now wore, which could only be described as….sheer terror. Her eyes were impossibly large in her face and her hand had shot from his to clasp over her mouth. The other landed on her stomach as though she was about to be violently ill. She was breathing hard as though hyperventilating as she quickly stood from the couch. Stannis’s heart clamoured wildly in his chest and he thought that if she didn’t say something soon he might just have a coronary. He stood to face her, grasping her elbow gently with one hand.
“Please Sansa, you’re scaring me a bit here. Talk to me,” he pleaded.
Her eyes had started to brim with tears and her whole frame shook with the tumult of her emotions.

 

“You said I was special to you and that you don’t want me to leave and I know you are attracted to me, but you can’t… You can’t seriously, actually…. love….me,” she gasped out eventually.
“What do you mean I can’t love you? Do you mean it’s too soon? Do you doubt my sincerity or do you think I don’t know how I feel?” Stannis asked, his brow furrowed in perplexity.
Her bottom lip had begun to tremble and tears were sliding down her face. He reached out with the fingers of one hand to brush them from the apple of her cheeks but she flinched and took a couple of steps backwards, breathing hard.
“Tell me what’s going on in your head Sansa. I don’t understand,” he urged, beginning to panic.
“You… You don’t know me. You don’t know what I am,” she stammered.
Stannis took a slow cautious step closer as though approaching a wild animal, his arms outstretched, his palms upturned.
“I know exactly what you are. I know exactly who you are. You’ve shown me in the way you treat me, the way you treat others, the people I care for and even those that you don’t. That is exactly why I love you, Sansa. Don’t you see?”

 

Sansa took a big shaky breath and wiped furiously at the tears on her face before replying. Her voice still trembled but her demeanour appeared more resolute than ever as her defensive walls slowly but surely began to build up around her.
“No, Stannis. You’re the one who’s not seeing things clearly. You’re seeing what you want to see, or maybe what you need to see. I’m not sure which. You said earlier that I’m perfect. You’re putting me up on a pedestal, for god’s sake. No one is perfect. Least of all me. You really couldn’t be more wrong about me. I’m not at all what you think I am. Please, don’t waste your love on me. I’m not worth it.”
“That’s bullshit,” he blurted out. Frustrated by her evident self-loathing he leaned forward and grabbed at her upper arms to hold her gaze. She looked as though she was poised to flee and began to writhe in his hands but his grip remained firm.
“You are the one that’s wrong,” he rasped out. “I have never met someone like you before. Of course I was initially drawn to your beauty, I won’t deny that. But you are every bit as beautiful to me on the inside as the outside.”
Sansa squirmed in his hands and averted her gaze. He took hold of her chin with one hand in a gentle but firm grip, forcing her to meet his eyes.
“No, don’t look away from me. You will hear this. You are warm, gentle, kind, sincere, smart, funny, and a million other things that I don’t even have words for. Everyone you meet falls in love with you because they see the very same things I do. Marya, Davos, Shireen, even the staff at the hospital. Do you really believe that the person I have just described is unworthy of my love?”
“Stannis I-“
“No, listen to me. Don’t you remember what you told me a few days ago in the hospital? ‘Everyone deserves to love and be loved’; that is what you told me. What? Does that not apply to you as well?”

 

Her eyes softened for an instant but she shrugged his hands off her arms and turned her back to him before facing him once again, regarding him with a slight frown, her eyes cold and determined. That look in her eyes scared him more than any of her previous words had done.
“And if you recall, you told me to take off my rose coloured glasses. Well consider them well and truly gone.”
Stannis huffed out an exasperated breath but Sansa was not to be deterred.
“If you knew about my past I can guarantee there is no way you would feel the way you do now. You would be no different to anyone else that has found out what I really am and you would run a mile,” she stated firmly.
Stannis bit back a flare of irritation and resentment. He had never been anything other than understanding and accepting of her so he felt a sense of injustice at her remark. But at the same time he understood that her reaction was coming from a place of darkness, of insecurity and hurt so he took a deep breath and regulated his voice to be as calm and soothing as he could manage under the circumstances.

 

“That’s a bit unfair on me, don’t you think? I know next to nothing about your history except the little breadcrumbs you throw my way occasionally. You told me about the rabbits – something that happened years ago. It still affects you so much that you even to this day challenge your own self-worth. Did I judge you? Did I look disgusted or that I thought any less of you? Why do you assume that I will react negatively about other things in your past? Won’t you tell me the rest and give me the opportunity to make up my own mind about that too? I guess what I’m asking for is that you give me the benefit of the doubt. Don’t you think I’ve earned that from you?”
Her eyes lost their flinty edge but still her internal struggle was writ large on her face. The look of conflict there tore at his soul. He could tell that she desperately wanted to believe and to trust in him but her fear of rejection prevented her from taking that last crucial step, of taking that one last pace towards him.
“I can’t. This isn’t about some fucking rabbits. It’s much worse than that. You’ll hate me. If you look at me with hatred in your eyes it would kill me,” she sobbed out.

 

Stannis sighed deeply and closed the distance between them, grabbing her at the waist. Her hands flew to his and she whimpered as she squirmed and attempted to escape from his grasp but after some time her arms fell limply to her sides and she slumped in defeat as though all the air had left her.
He knew that what came next would define both of their lives forever. He prayed to the old gods and the new that she would not push him away. He didn’t know what he would do if she turned away from him now.
“Nothing you could say could possibly make me hate you, sweetheart. You have to trust me.”
“I want to trust you, Stannis, I really do. But –”
“Then do. It really is as simple as that.”
Stannis moved his hands to gently cup the sides of her face.
“I’ve told you how I feel about you but I really don’t know what you’re thinking right now. Is there any chance for me? For us?”
“I- I-,” Sansa stammered, now looking quite desperate.
“Is this just a physical attraction and some sort of gratitude on your behalf or is there something more. I need to know. Do you have any feelings of love for me at all?”

 

A single tear traced down her face as she gasped back a sob.
“I don’t….I can’t,” she whispered.
Stannis felt a stab of hurt at his chest but taking a deep breath he persisted. As much as a rejection from her would destroy him, the time for clarity and complete disclosure was now.
“You don’t or you can’t,” he grated out, his voice rough with emotion. “They are two different things.”
Stannis held his breath in uncertainty as he waited for her response, fearing that she would break his heart in two.
“I can’t,” she answered after some hesitation.
“I want to but I can’t. I thought I could just ignore everything that’s happened in the past and it would all be okay someday but I was living in a fool’s paradise. Nothing’s ever going to be okay for me again.”

 

Sensing that she had not completely slammed the door in the face of their future together Stannis steeled himself for his final entreaty. There was still a chance, however slim, and by the gods, he would take it.
“I’m begging you now Sansa. Please, please don’t give up,” he pleaded. “You are so strong and I don’t know what happened to you in the past but obviously you have been through some very difficult times, including living and nearly dying in the streets. You’re still alive; more alive than a lot of other people I know. You’re still the most amazing woman I’ve ever met. You deserve to be happy. If you believe that I can make you happy then give yourself permission to follow your heart and love me back. Let me help you.”
“Stannis –”
He brought her face closer to his, searching her eyes desperately.
“Do you love me Sansa, yes or no?”
Sansa shut her eyes tight as a fresh flood of tears coursed down her face, Stannis’s thumbs grazed gently across her cheeks, wiping at the wetness there.
“Yes,” she said so softly that Stannis could barely hear her as her eyes fluttered open.
He took in a long shuddering breath and gazed intently at her.
“Yes. I do love you. Please Stannis,” she whispered eventually. “I need you. Please kiss me.”
Stannis huffed out the breath he had been holding.
“I thought you’d never ask,” he smiled, his heart so full that he thought it would burst from his chest.

Chapter Text

Stannis tilted her head with his hands and closed the small gap between their bodies, capturing her lips with his in a deep and passionate kiss. Sansa whimpered and parted her lips to him, his tongue entwining with hers, as they savoured each other’s taste. His arms tightened around her waist pulling her flush against his body, his bulge pressing against her intimately. She gasped and slid her hands down along the muscles of his back and down to his buttocks, pulling him closer, eliciting a groan from Stannis as his member ground even harder against her. She felt a growing moistness in her underwear as a jolt of pleasure assailed her core.

 

Smiling through the remains of her tears, Sansa pushed at Stannis gently and walked him backwards until he sat down into the closest armchair. She moved to straddle him settling directly over his groin with a soft moan. Stannis closed his eyes tightly and hissed something under his breath but Sansa could not catch it. She wove her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply, grinding down into his crotch, gasping at the sensation that coursed through her body at the heated contact. He thrust back up into her with a deep moan and moved his mouth gradually along the line of her jaw and down to the pulse point at her neck where he nipped and licked until she felt another jolt travel right down to her core. She felt as though she was melting from the heat between her legs and the persistent ache that had settled there, her panties increasingly wet from her growing arousal as she tore her t-shirt off exposing her black satin bra. She reached around and unhooked it freeing her soft rounded breasts with their dusky pink buds to a loud appreciative moan from Stannis as he stared at her hungrily.

 

Sansa grabbed at the bottom hem of his t-shirt and pulled it over his head revealing his strongly muscled chest and abs. She took a moment to admire his physique before exploring his firm pectorals with both hands. Plunging her hands into the hair at his temples, she pulled him close for a searing kiss, pressing her breasts and hardening nipples firmly against his hot solid chest. Breathing heavily, Stannis eventually broke free of the kiss before trailing his lips down her throat and sternum and over the swell of her left breast until he reached her nipple. She gasped as he swirled his tongue around the areola before taking the bud gently in his mouth and sucking. Flicking with his tongue against the now fully hardened nub of flesh, he grazed it gently with his teeth as Sansa gasped, arching her back and pressing herself more firmly into his mouth. One hand dropped to her bum to steady her against him and the other travelled to her right breast, twisting and plucking at her other nipple. His hips continued to thrust upwards against the damp fabric covering her warm wet centre, while simultaneously causing a delightful pressure against her clit.

 

She moaned and sighed softly as the combination of overwhelming sensations caused her pleasure to coil tightly in the pit of her stomach. They both began to move more erratically and with increasing desperation as they approached their climaxes. All of a sudden her body stiffened and with a sharp gasp followed by a series of small groans she fell over the edge. Hearing her sweet noises, Stannis groaned against her breast as though in pain, his muscles tensing as he found his own release.
“Oh gods,” he rasped out.
She slumped against his chest as waves of cramping sweet painful pleasure engulfed her body emanating from her core. She could feel a more pronounced warm dampness in the clothing between her legs that she knew was the culmination of both his and her arousal. As she gradually came down from her high she pushed herself upright and met Stannis’s hooded eyes. She blinked away tears as she noticed how tenderly he regarded her. He smiled broadly at her and stroked the side of her face gently with his fingers.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more beautiful in my whole life,” he mumbled.
“Oh Stannis,” she whispered as she flung her arms around him and pulled him close. “I love you so much,” she sniffled into his neck.
“I love you too sweetheart, more than you’ll ever know.”
“I don’t want to lose you,” she whispered into his ear.
“You’re not going to,” he reassured her. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Thank you,” she added in a small voice.
“What for?” he responded, with a confused frown.
“For not giving up on me, on us.”
“Never. I will never give up on you or us while there’s breath left in my body. That is a promise,” he declared adamantly.

 

He pushed her back gently and looked at her seriously for a moment.
“Please tell me now that you will stay, that you have put any notion of leaving me aside.”
Sansa drew her fingers through the hair at his temples and sighed heavily.
“Stannis, I want to stay here with you more than anything but before I commit to that and before we take things any further, I know that I have to tell you about my past. It wouldn’t be fair to you otherwise. You need to go into this thing fully informed. Otherwise my past will always be the elephant in the room and I don’t want that for us and I don’t think you want that either.”
Stannis exhaled in obvious relief.
“Darling, I’m so happy that you trust me enough to make that decision but I don’t want to rush you. Take all the time you need and when you’re ready then I’ll be all ears. I’ll wait for you. Just promise me that you won’t panic and run out on me when my back’s turned. I couldn’t take it.”
“I wouldn’t do that to you Stannis.”
“Promise me,” he said as he stuck out his pinky finger.
Sansa giggled and entwined her finger with his.
“I promise.”

 

“Jesus. What you do to me, woman. I haven’t come in my pants since I was twelve years old. I think we both need to clean up. ”
“Yes, you’re right. Come on,” she giggled as she took hold of his hand and led him up the staircase to the bedrooms.
“Just bring me those clothes when you’re done and anything else that needs cleaning and I’ll pop them in the washing machine.”
“Sure, thanks.”
Kissing him lightly on the cheek before he disappeared to the bathroom at the end of the corridor, she walked to the master bedroom en-suite and ran a quick shower, changing into her chemise and robe before returning downstairs, dirty clothes and undergarments in hand. Stannis had also changed into sleepwear: light cotton pants and a t-shirt. She handed her items to him with a small shy smile. He walked through the kitchen to the laundry at the rear and returned to the lounge room some minutes later, a worried look on his face as he regarded her supine form draped over the couch.

 

“Sansa, I think you should go to bed, love. You look completely exhausted.”
She had to admit to herself that she wasn’t quite sure how she was still coherent, and her eyelids felt like they were made of lead.
“You’re right. Today has been a bit of a rollercoaster. I’m done in.”
Stannis helped her to her feet and wrapped his arms around her planting a kiss on the crown of her head.
“You’ve made me a very happy man today, my dear. You have no idea.”
“I’m happy too. I’m always happy when I’m with you.”
Stannis stroked his palm down her hair, smoothing it and sighed deeply, his chin resting on her head, her cheek nestled snugly into his chest.
“Tomorrow,” Sansa said quietly, her decision made.
“What about tomorrow?” he replied.
“I’ll tell you about my past tomorrow. It’s a rather long story and I’m too tired to do it tonight so it will have to be tomorrow.”
Stannis held her out at arm’s length staring at her intently.
“Are you sure you’re ready?”
“I think so. I mean, yes. I have to do this. Before I lose my nerve. I want things to be resolved as soon as possible so that we can go on with our lives either apart or together, as fate will have it.”
“Please stop saying that Sansa. It will be okay. It will all work out. I know it.”
Sansa sighed.
“I really hope you’re right. I don’t want this to end before it’s even begun.”

 

Just then the cordless phone in the corner of the room rang out.
Stannis groaned in annoyance.
“Excuse me Sansa,” he said as he strode towards the phone. “Who the hell is calling at this time of night? Hello? Oh, hi, how are you? No, that’s okay. Tomorrow? Hang on a sec, I’ll just put her on.”
Stannis held the phone out to her.
“It’s Marya. She would like to speak with you.”
“Oh,” Sansa exclaimed in surprise. “Hi Marya. It’s nice to speak to you again. How are you? I’m much better thanks for asking. I have a highly skilled nurse, slash doctor, slash nutritionist who has been taking excellent care of me,” she added winking at Stannis.
“Tomorrow? Oh sure. That sounds great but I’ll just check with Stannis, hold on. Stannis, what are we doing tomorrow morning? After her guests leave Marya would like to pick me up and take me for a coffee in the village. She’s busy all next week and she’s not sure when she’s going to next have an opportunity to catch up with me. I know we have Shireen still –”
“No, don’t worry about that. I have to take her back to the airport to her mother in the morning. I was thinking you might like to avoid meeting with Selyse again so soon, to be honest, so this might work out perfectly.”
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“Of course. You two go out and solve the problems of the world over your coffee. Have some fun.”
“Thanks Stannis. You’re the best,” she grinned.
“It only took you this long to work that out,” he rejoined with a smirk.
Sansa slapped him lightly on the arm and giggled.
“Are you there, Marya? Yes, I’d love to come out with you, as long as it’s not too much trouble. 10.30am? Great. I’ll see you then. I will. Bye.”

 

“Marya said ‘good night’. I’m really looking forward to seeing her again. She’s a sweetheart,” Sansa commented as she handed the phone back to Stannis.
“Yes, she is. Davos is a lucky man. But then again, so am I.”
Sansa frowned.
“Let’s see if you still feel that way tomorrow after our little talk.”
“I don’t have any doubts that I will, love. Try not to worry. Now, what is your favourite food?”
The swift change of tack in the conversation left her a little confused. She knew he was trying his hardest to assuage her fears and distract her from her nervousness and loved him for it.
“What?”
“What is your favourite food?” he repeated.
“I love Italian, a lot,” she replied. “Why?”
“That’s fortuitous. There is a very high end Italian restaurant called Romano’s in the High Street back at KL. It is one of my favourites. I would be very happy if you would consent to accompany me there for dinner tomorrow night.”
Sansa smiled broadly.
“As in a date? Our first date?”
“Yes. Our first date,” he smirked, his eyes glinting.
“I’d love to. Thank you.”

 

Stannis grabbed her left wrist and brought the underside to his lips, leaving a soft kiss there.
“Good. That’s settled. Then when we return we will come up here and you will tell me what you need to tell me. Agreed?”
“Yes,” she nodded. “And then?”
Stannis took a step towards her and ran his hands up and down her arms.
“And then we see what the rest of the night brings; perhaps we can continue where we left off,” he answered as he leaned in and pressed his mouth softly against hers.
“Okay,” she whispered against his lips.
He took her by the hand and led her up the stairs and to the door of the main bedroom.
“Good night Sansa, love. Rest well.”
“Good night Stannis,” she answered, giving his hand a gentle squeeze before opening the door and closing it behind her. She leant against the other side of the door with a deep sigh.
She couldn’t be sure but she got the distinct impression that Stannis stood just on the other side of the door staring at it for some time before eventually departing.

Chapter Text

The next morning had been quite an emotional one as Sansa farewelled Shireen. It was amazing how attached she had become to the little girl in such a short space of time, and it appeared that the feeling was entirely mutual. Shireen had clung to her like a monkey and dissolved into tears as they hugged and had asked if they could cook dinner together again the next time she visited. Sansa feared that Stannis would not want her to stay with him once he heard her story and that she would not even be there the next time Shireen visited so she had not replied straight away. Sensing the reason for her hesitation, Stannis shot her a pained look before swiftly diverting the conversation to a safer topic.

 

There had been a tense moment when Stannis had offered Sansa a couple of one hundred dollar bills from his wallet before leaving.
“What’s this for?” she enquired with a frown.
“Take it, the coffees and whatever else you and Marya might have is on me, and if I know that lady, she’ll probably want to squeeze in a spot of shopping so you might need it.”
“I can’t accept money from you Stannis,” she said shaking her head and pushing his hand away from her.
Stannis grabbed at her hand and shoved the money into it.
“Please don’t be difficult about this. You can’t walk around out there with no money on you.”
But -”
“No arguments, take it.”
“Alright,” she huffed in annoyance. “I’ll take it but if I spend any of it I will find a way to pay you back.”
She stuffed the money in the back pocket of her jeans resolving to spend it on a cup of coffee and not one single penny more.
“So stubborn,” Stannis harrumphed fondly.
Sansa briefly wondered if he had read her mind. He kissed her chastely on the cheek before taking his daughter by the hand and leading her outside to the car. Sansa had waved at them from the driveway until the car disappeared from view. There was still a little bit of time before Marya was due to arrive so she spent the time clearing the breakfast dishes and giving the kitchen a general spruce up.

 

As she finished up, she heard the crunch of gravel as a car approached the house and the ring of the doorbell soon after. She pulled the door open expecting to find Marya on the other side but it was a short man in his sixties with greying receding hair and huge expressive brown eyes. As unexpected as his appearance was, his gentle demeanour put her at ease immediately.
“Oh, hi, can I help you?” Sansa asked with a smile.
The man smiled back but his gaze was quizzical.
“Hello. I’m sorry to intrude but I was hoping that Stannis might be here?” he responded. “Oh sorry, my name is Vincent. I live on the other side of the hill over there,” he gestured to his left.
That explained his reaction to her. Of course it was only natural that he would be curious about her presence in the house.
“Ah. Stannis has mentioned you. I believe you are a fellow lemon cannoli fan,” Sansa responded with a giggle.
Vincent smiled widely and nodded enthusiastically.
“My name is Sansa. I am a…. house guest,” she forced out after a slight hesitation, not being quite sure how she should define her relationship to Stannis at this point. She winced internally but Vincent showed no reaction.
“Stannis is helping me out while I find my feet,” she continued.

 

Sansa could not help but notice a slight smile that appeared on Vincent’s face as he regarded her.
“Well, could you please let Stannis know that I popped by. It’s been a while since we have had a chance to catch up and I thought I would stop by.”
“Oh of course. I am sure he would have loved to see you.”
“Well, I’m not too sure,” Vincent laughed. “We normally play a few hands of poker and don’t tell him this, but he’s absolutely bloody hopeless at bluffing and I always end up obliterating him.”
Sansa giggled in response.
“Well I suppose that if the worst that can be said of him is that he is a poor liar then that’s a good thing, right?”
“Absolutely,” Vincent responded. “He is one of the good guys, Sansa. No doubt. Well, very happy to have met you. I’ll let you get on with your day,” Vincent stated as he moved away from the door.
“Nice to have met you too, Vincent. And… well, Stannis could do with the company. You know, if you have time, I am sure he would love to see you.”
Vincent stopped and appraised her, then nodded appreciatively.
“I’ll keep that in mind, young lady. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
“You too, Vincent. Bye,” Sansa responded as Vincent made his way towards his car.

 

Sometime later the doorbell rang again. Sansa opened the door to a smiling Marya who hugged her and kissed her on the cheek before holding her at arm’s length and studying her appearance.
“Look at you, dear. You’re gorgeous. You must be feeling so much better. You’re practically glowing,” the older woman beamed.
Sansa blushed lightly and lowered her gaze, her self-deprecating nature asserting itself.
“I do feel so much better, thank you,” she replied with a smile. “I’m so happy to see you again. How are Davos and the kids?”
Marya rolled her eyeballs to the heavens.
“You mean, how are Davos and my other three children?” she asked with a smirk. “They’re all good but it’s not easy being the only woman in a house full of males. They tend to stick together and team up on me. They’re completely relentless.”
Having lived with four brothers and her father when she was younger, she could relate. Sansa giggled and reached for her handbag which she had left on a hook just inside the entrance door.

 

“So where are we headed to?” Sansa asked a few minutes later as Marya drove down the gravel driveway.
“There’s a really great shopping strip in a village about half way between here and the CBD. Lots of cafés, small clothing boutiques, gift and homeware shops. I prefer it to the big malls, if I’m honest. They sell products that are harder to find and the service is much more personal.”
The trip to the village was only a short one, the brief but totally comfortable silences between them punctuated by Marya pointing out landmarks along the way. Pulling into a parking spot along a busy and colourful shopping strip, Marya fed the parking meter and led them towards a nearby café that she revealed was her favourite, its broad glass window revealing a tempting array of cakes and tarts. Several white sets of tables and chairs with white and red striped umbrellas were dotted outside; they walked to the only vacant one and settled in awaiting service. Soon enough a server approached.
“What can I get you ladies?” the woman asked with a polite smile.
“Just a regular size skinny cappuccino, please,” Sansa replied.
“What, no treat to go with it?” Marya queried. “They make really nice little cakes here.”
Sansa shook her head firmly.
“No thank you. The coffee will be plenty. I feel like I’ve put on ten pounds since I’ve been with Stannis. He’s always trying to feed me.”
Marya scoffed.
“Oh, look at you. Not an ounce of excess fat. If anything you need fattening up. I’ll have a latte please and an apple and blueberry muffin. Thank you,” she instructed the server.
“Sure thing. Won’t be long,” the woman replied before moving back inside the café.

 

Marya turned her attention back to Sansa with a small smile.
“So, apart from Stannis force feeding you, how are things going between the two of you?”
Sansa remembered her encounter with Stannis from the night before and blushed hotly, worrying her bottom lip with her teeth and lowering her gaze.
“Oh, umm,” she stuttered, cursing herself for her inability to remain cool, calm and collected under the older woman’s close scrutiny.
“Sansa, has something happened between the two of you?” Marya asked in a gentle, soft voice.
Sansa lifted her eyes to Marya’s and opened her mouth to reply but the words would not come.
“It’s okay, sweetie. Anything you tell me stays strictly between the two of us.”
“But Davos… I don’t want to create any issue between the two of you. He’ll want to know….”
Marya interrupted with a wave of her hand.
“Davos will want to know that everything is okay. He doesn’t need to know the finer details,” the older woman reassured her.
“I really do need to talk to someone. I don’t have anyone outside of the situation that I can bounce my thoughts and feelings off. Do you mind?” Sansa asked timidly.
“No, of course not. I understand. I’m here and I’m listening to whatever you wish to tell me.”

 

“Okay,” Sansa replied, taking a deep breath. “Stannis and I…That is to say, um. Last night we kissed and we…umm… He told me he loves me and I told him I love him too,” she blurted out, blushing furiously.
Marya gasped loudly, her hand flying to her mouth.
“Oh, my!” she exclaimed. “That’s –”
Sansa grimaced and fiddled with a strand of her hair nervously.
“I get it. We hardly know each other. It’s all happened so fast. You probably think -”
“I think that is the most wonderful, most romantic thing I have ever heard,” Marya smiled, wiping a single tear from the corner of her eye.
“I wasn’t expecting to hear it but I am so happy for both of you,” she added, touching Sansa’s hand lightly with hers.
“Then, you don’t think –”
“Stannis is not a man to plunge headlong into a relationship. I trust his judgement. For him to have responded to you so strongly and so soon tells me everything I need to know. I knew you were special the first time I met you and there was a definite spark there between the two of you even at that early stage; Davos noticed it too. I truly think it’s wonderful.”

 

Sansa blushed wildly and smiled but her lips soon tightened into a nervous line.
“But, I sense that there is something else going on,” Marya prompted with a worried frown. “You seem a little tense, dear. Do you have doubts perhaps? It would only be natural, under the circumstances.”
She sighed and straightened as the server returned with their order.
“Thank you,” they chorused.
Sansa lifted the coffee to her mouth and took a small sip to steady her nerves, preparing to disclose the full extent of her feelings and along with them, her insecurities.
“I don’t doubt in the slightest that I love Stannis. I’ve never felt about any man the way I feel about him. He’s the most amazing person I’ve ever met. But I don’t need to tell you how great he is,” Sansa smiled.
“No, indeed not. He’s very special to Davos and I – more like a son than a friend. But if you don’t have any doubts then….”
The smile slowly faded from Sansa’s face.
“It’s not my feelings that I doubt and I know that Stannis loves me…right now. He’s shown me in so many ways how he feels about me, but he’s taken a lot of things on faith. He doesn’t really know me,” she muttered.
“Well, that is true to some extent, Sansa,” Marya agreed. “But as I said earlier, Stannis doesn’t do things precipitously. He has obviously seen and heard enough to know his own heart. You have plenty of time to get to learn new things about each other. That’s all part of the fun.”

 

Sansa felt tears brimming and blinked quickly trying to banish them before they could escape her eyes.
“Marya, I’m not what everybody thinks I am. There are some things in my past, things I’m not proud of. I know that if we are going to make things work I have to tell him, and I will, but I’m so scared that he will hate me when he hears what I’ve done,” she confided.
Her voice trembled and tears finally traced down her cheeks as Marya grabbed her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“Oh Sansa, love. We’ve all done things that we regret and that we’d rather forget. But, while those things are part of us they don’t have to define us. What we were in the past is not necessarily what we are in the present. And the negative things from our past always loom so much larger and seem so much more sinister to us than they do to anyone else. All I see in front of me is a kind, beautiful, sensitive young woman and I’m sure that nothing in your past would change my opinion of you. I know in my heart that Stannis would feel the same way.”
Sansa sniffled and wiped at her tears.
“That’s exactly what he said too and I want so desperately to believe it but I’m scared. I can’t lose him, Marya. Not now.”
Marya sighed and smoothed her hand through Sansa’s hair.
“I know you’re scared but I have faith that it will work out. You can trust Stannis, honey. He won’t judge you. Whatever it is that you have to tell him, just give him a chance to digest the information and you’ll see, things will be fine.”

 

Sansa nodded and smiled tremulously.
“We’re going on a date tonight.”
Marya grinned broadly.
“Really? That’s wonderful, Sansa. Do you know where you are going?”
“It’s an Italian place by the name of Romano’s.”
“Oh my,” she gasped, clasping her hands in front of her in obvious delight. “That is the most romantic venue in the whole of King’s Landing, not to mention one of the most upmarket. I have to give it to Stannis, he doesn’t do things by halves. You will have a fabulous night.”
Sansa frowned in concern.
“Just how expensive is this place, Marya?”
“Oh, um. It’s not cheap but let Stannis do this for you. This is your first date and you should have wonderful memories to take away from it.”
“I don’t like him spending all his money on me,” she muttered.
“I understand and I respect that about you but when things turn around for you I’m sure you will find a way to contribute to your lives together.”
Sansa sighed loudly before responding.
“That is, if we still have a life together. I intend to tell Stannis about my past when we get back from the restaurant. The gods only know how that will turn out.”
“Try not to focus on that right now, love. Let yourself have this night and take it as it comes.”

 

Do you know what you are wearing?” Marya smiled, obviously trying to distract her with a change in the direction of the conversation.
“That lovely blue silk maxi dress you bought me paired with the silver sandals and clutch.”
“Oh, yes. That would be perfect,” she gushed. “Oh, will you let me do your hair and makeup? I used to work in a beauty salon years ago before I had the kids,” she added.
“I would love that, thank you, Marya. But only if you have the time to spare.”
“Davos is out with the boys all afternoon so I have all the time in the world. Come on, if you’re finished here, let’s hit the shops first and then we’ll go back to Stannis’s and I’ll work my magic,” she said, her eyes sparkling with retail mischief.

 

Later that afternoon, after some enthusiastic window shopping, the two women pulled up in the driveway of Stannis’s home. Sansa was a little surprised to note that he had not yet returned from his trip from the airport. Just as they were letting themselves in, Marya’s phone vibrated with a message.
“It’s Stannis, Sansa. He says he had an errand to run and that he’ll be a little while longer. But that’s perfect. It will give me plenty of time to get your hair and makeup sorted.”
Sansa grinned and led Marya up to the master bedroom.
“I haven’t done anything like this in a while: not since my aunt helped me with my high school prom,” she remarked a little sadly.
She noticed Marya scrutinising her, probably wondering why her mother had not come to her assistance on such an important occasion in a young girl’s life, but the woman made no remark.
“The dress has straps. I really want to do an elaborate up-do with some side strands softly curled to show off your neck and shoulders. Maybe plum eyeshadow to bring out the blue in your eyes and a nice deep coloured lip. What do you think?”
“I think it sounds great but I’ll leave myself in your hands entirely, Marya. I’m sure you know what you’re doing.”
“Well, it’s really easy for me because you’re gorgeous to start with. Why don’t you change into your robe and I’ll get the makeup organised.”

 

After a good hour of careful ministrations, Marya declared her work finished.
“There, I think you’re ready now. Take a look,” she prompted.
Sansa turned to regard her reflection in the mirror and gasped. She had never worn her hair this way before and her makeup, with the dramatic smoky eye, curled black lashes and defined eyebrows, subtly highlighted cheekbones and plump deeply coloured lips was flawless. She usually wore her hair casually loose or in a ponytail or messy bun and rarely wore makeup so the transformation in its entirety was quite surprising to her.
“Oh, Marya. You did such a great job. I love it. I hope Stannis does too.”
“Are you for real right now? Stannis’s jaw is going to drop to the floor when he sees you. He must be almost here by now. Why don’t you change into your outfit and I’ll wait downstairs for you.”
“Okay. I won’t be long,” she smiled as she pulled the dress from the wardrobe.
Once Marya had exited she quickly divested herself of the robe and donned the maxi-dress, running her hands over the lovely soft silk fabric that flowed in a blue river down her body. She strapped on her sandals and made her way to the mirror to examine the fit and length, relieved to find that both were perfect. The strapped design showed off the milky whiteness of her shoulders, décolletage and slender neck. A split in the skirt stopped at mid-thigh height revealing her long toned legs as she moved.

 

As she turned and twisted in front of the mirror trying to assess the whole effect Sansa heard the downstairs door close and the sound of a man and woman speaking. Obviously, Stannis had returned from his errand and had engaged Marya in conversation. Sansa picked up several makeup items and slipped them into the silver clutch that matched the sandals and headed down the stairs, her heart thumping loudly in her chest. She was far from being a vain woman; she thought she looked okay but was suddenly assailed by nerves, wondering just what Stannis would think when he saw her. When she descended the stairs Stannis’s back was turned to her so he did not see her at first. It wasn’t until Marya gasped and clasped her hands together that Stannis whirled around and froze, his eyes wide and his mouth slightly agape. Sansa gave him a small shy smile as she reached the bottom of the stairs and made her way towards him.
“Isn’t she beautiful, Stannis?” Marya gushed. “Stannis?” she giggled as she elbowed him in the ribs.
“Oh, um. Ah,” he stammered. “You look absolutely stunning, breathtaking,” he managed eventually.
“Thank you,” Sansa replied timidly, a slight blush warming her cheeks.
“Well, I will leave you two alone now. Have a wonderful night.”
“Thank you so much for everything Marya,” Sansa replied as she hugged the older woman to her.
“You’re welcome dear. Look after her Stannis, love, won’t you?”
Tearing his eyes from Sansa, Stannis kissed Marya on the cheek and walked her to the door.
“You can count on that. Thanks for today.”
“My pleasure. We had a lot of fun,” she remarked before she gave a small wave to them both and exited through to the carport.
Stannis turned to regard Sansa once again, his eyes travelling hungrily over her form before he strode quickly towards her closing the gap and taking her into his arms.

Chapter Text

Stannis longed to capture Sansa’s lips with his but did not want to mess up her makeup so he planted a line of kisses down her throat and across her clavicle while Sansa giggled and squirmed in his arms.
“All I want to do right now is fling you into my bed and ravish you for the rest of the night. You are so incredibly beautiful it hurts,” he rasped into her ear.
“But Stannis,” she pouted playfully, “you promised me dinner. Are you going to back down on your word?”
“I never go back on my word, but perhaps on this occasion I should make an exception,” he replied as he sucked and nibbled at the sensitive skin at her pulse point.
“You have to stop or we’ll never get out of here,” she gasped out as she reacted to the warmth and wetness of his lips and tongue as they swept over her neck.
Stannis took a deep breath and withdrew from her, smiling wickedly.
“Alright, my love. Dinner first. After all I do have to keep your energy up for what I have planned later.”
Sansa bit at her bottom lip, frowned and lowered her gaze. Stannis knew immediately that her mind was on the talk between them that she feared upon their return from the restaurant. He took hold of her chin gently with his hand and raised her head to meet her eyes.
“Hey, none of that now. We are going to have a memorable night together, yes? And you are not going to worry about later. Promise me.”
Sansa nodded with a small smile.
“I promise,” she replied, and yet he was not totally convinced that he had managed to turn her thoughts in a more positive direction.

 

“Good, now I am going up to change. Won’t be long.”
Stannis kissed her chastely on the cheek and jogged up the stairs to the master bedroom. Flinging open the door to the walk in robe he plucked out his three piece charcoal suit and selected a deep cobalt blue silk tie from his extensive collection to coordinate with Sansa’s outfit. He changed into the new attire, retrieving a small jewellery box from his discarded jeans and stuffing it into the inner pocket of his suit jacket. Walking to the en-suite he ran his fingers through his hair, spritzed with some cologne and straightened his tie before making his way back down to the kitchen to retrieve a shopping bag that he had deposited on the counter. He made his way to the lounge where Sansa was seated flicking through a magazine. When she looked up, she gasped loudly and rose to greet him.
“Oh my God, Stannis. You look so handsome,” she said with a broad smile. “That suit is amazing and your tie matches my dress.”
“I’m glad you like it. Here. I have something for you,” he replied, stretching out his arm to offer her the bag.

 

Sansa frowned at him slightly before accepting the bag, somewhat reluctantly.
“Stannis, are you kidding me? You haven’t bought me another gift, have you? You really have to stop doing this,” she grumbled but he grinned when he noticed her eyes drifting to the opening of the bag, unable to mask her curiosity about its contents.
She looked at him admonishingly before reaching in and extracting the soft silk wrap, her mouth falling open as she unfolded it. It was a soft coral colour with a hand painted floral and leaf design in lilac, a darker coral, muted blue, green and grey, each end of the central panel completed with a vibrant cobalt blue panel that matched in with her dress. He had chosen it for the blue of the only formal dress that he knew was hanging in the wardrobe but also he thought that the coral colours would complement her auburn hair. As she wrapped it around her shoulders he knew that he had made the right choice.
“Oh Stannis. It’s just beautiful. I really wish you hadn’t spent the money on me again but I do love it. It’s perfect.”
“Well, if you have a problem with that gift then I think I am really in trouble with this next one.”
“What?” she squeaked, as he reached into his suit pocket and extracted the jewellery box. She stared at his hand but made no move to accept it.

 

“Please take it,” he prompted.
With a slightly trembling hand she took the box and opened it, her eyes growing large and her mouth forming a small O before she shook her head and raised her eyes to his.
“I can’t take this Stannis. This is too much. I mean it this time. I can’t,” she stammered.
“The jewellery store has a no return policy, Sansa. Please, won’t you try them on?”
This wasn’t exactly true. The store had a policy of offering credit notes in lieu of a refund but Stannis wasn’t about to divulge that fact.
Sansa sighed heavily and plucked one of the earrings from the box, holding it up to the light. It consisted of two thin strands of white gold encrusted with small diamonds. At the end of the strands were set brilliant oval cut sapphires. She hooked the earring into one earlobe and then fit the other one before facing him.
“So beautiful, just like your eyes,” he commented before grasping her hand in his, softly kissing her fingers.
“Stannis, these must have cost a mint; you really have to stop –”
“I want this night to be very special for you Sansa. Please humour me and accept the gifts. It would make me very happy.”
“Low blow Baratheon,” she huffed before kissing him on the cheek and embracing him.
“Thank you, they are lovely. I feel like a princess.”
“No, you are a queen. My queen who deserves nothing but the best,” he enthused. “Now let’s get going before we’re late for our reservation.”

 

Some half an hour later they arrived at the restaurant, Stannis walking to Sansa’s side of the car and opening the door for her. She unfurled herself from the car and took hold of his arm as he led her into the impressive venue. Once inside, Sansa’s eyes widened at the impressive marble Corinthian columns and hovering globe light fittings. The seating consisted of black and mahogany coloured leather chairs of various sizes and styles as well as booths along the timber panelled walls. The amazing acoustics of the main room mellowed the chatter from a large group of diners to little more than a gentle hum, making the venue perfect for intimate encounters. They were greeted by the maître d'hôtel, a small energetic man with a moustache and goatee who smiled broadly in welcome.
“Ah, good evening, Mr Baratheon. It is very wonderful to see you again, Sir.”
“Thank you Silvio. You are aware of our arrangements for this evening?”
He noticed Sansa’s ears pricking up, curious as to what he may have organised.
“Of course. Please Sir, Ma’am. Follow me.”
Silvio steered them down a corridor past the main seating area. As they proceeded Stannis noticed many curious glances in their direction. He leant in and whispered in Sansa’s ear.
“All the men are wondering how I got so lucky as to accompany the most beautiful woman in King’s Landing here tonight.”
“No way,” she replied with a giggle. “All the women are eyeing you like you’re the main course. They’re positively drooling.”
Typical of how humble she was that she would divert the attention away from herself to him. Stannis harrumphed and pulled her closer as they proceeded up a staircase to the second level where Sansa assumed the private dining areas would be situated. Silvio led them down a corridor and to a room about half way along.

 

Before she even entered Sansa was assailed by the fragrance of flowers and detected the flickering of candles through the doorway of the room as they entered. She gasped at the opulence before her. Large floor to ceiling windows overlooked the sparkling lights and water of Blackwater Bay, swathed in heavy burgundy and gold jacquard drapes pinned back by ornate tassel tiebacks. It was clear that the room was designed to accommodate a large group of diners but all furniture had been removed and replaced with a single round table with crisp white linen and gold cutlery, finest quality flatware and exquisite crystal glassware. A silver ice bucket held an expensive vintage champagne. Candles and colourful floral arrangements had been placed strategically on the table and around the room to create a romantic ambience; lyrical classical music floated gently through the air.
“Oh, Stannis, what have you done? This is gorgeous.”
“I take it you approve?” he smirked knowingly.
“How could I not?” she smiled.
Silvio pulled a chair out for Sansa who seated herself while Stannis took his seat across from her.
“Champagne, Sir, Ma’am?” Silvio offered as he handed them the menus.
Both accepted; Sylvio poured the drinks then took their food orders.

 

After eating their impressive main of lobster ravioli with sage brown butter sauce which was a house specialty and Stannis’s recommendation, Sansa suggested a dessert of dark chocolate mousse with strawberries accompanied by a glass of Dornish botrytis dessert wine.
“Thank you so much for tonight, Stannis. This is the first time that I’ve ever been taken out to dinner and it has been so special.”
Stannis stared at her wide eyed.
“What? No one has ever taken you out to dinner before? That is a travesty.”
Sansa blushed and lowered her gaze.
“I’ve never really had much in the way of romance in my life before, if I’m honest,” she explained softly.
“Then the men you have been with have been complete idiots,” he responded soundly. “You deserve nothing but the best and if you will let me, then I will give it to you every day of your life.”
Sansa leant over the table towards Stannis and smiled. She plucked a strawberry from the bowl in front of her and dipped it in some mousse, moving it slowly towards Stannis’s mouth but at the last minute she dabbed it against the tip of his nose leaving a smudge of chocolate there. She choked back a giggle. Stannis jerked backwards and stared at her in surprise at first but then smiled wickedly.
“Lick it off.”
“Hmm, I don’t know,” she answered in mock coyness, her body now shaking with suppressed laughter.
“Lick it off now,” he demanded, his voice now deeply authoritative.
Gulping back another giggle, Sansa leaned towards him and kissed the tip of his nose, removing the mousse in the process. Stannis’s hand whipped out, his fingers spanning across the back of her head, pressing her face to his in a deep kiss, his tongue sharing the chocolate still remaining in her mouth before releasing her with a deep sigh.
“Dance with me.”

 

Stannis stood from his chair and moved to assist Sansa to her feet, taking her small hand in his.
“This seems unfair,” Sansa commented.
“How so?”
“Well, I promised to play the piano for you and in return you would owe me a dance. I have reneged on my end of the deal,” she explained.
“I have not forgotten and believe me, I will hold you to it. But right now, all I care about is having you in my arms.”
Stannis pulled her gently into his embrace, encircling her waist with one muscled arm, pressing her whole body to his. She melted into his strong chest; he could feel her warmth seep through the thin silk of her dress. He was relieved to note that while it had been a while since he had last danced, he still did so with an effortless grace as he manoeuvred them around the room, their bodies pivoting in perfect unison. It seemed as though they were extensions of each other with no independent agency, moving together in complete harmony.

 

Eventually he brought them to a stop and cupped the side of her face with one hand, staring at her intently.
“You are so very precious to me, Sansa Stark. You have no idea what you have brought to my life. Finding you under the bridge that night was the best thing that ever happened to me. I will never ever forget the first time I looked into your eyes and when I held you in my arms. You were so beautiful, so perfect. The thought of losing you, of never looking into those eyes and never holding you again tore me apart, more than I wanted to admit to myself at the time. I couldn’t let you leave my life then and I’m sure as hell not going to let you do it now,” he added fervently.
“I love you so much, sweetheart,” he whispered before enfolding her in his arms.
“I love you too, Stannis,” she mumbled out through the tears that had started to trail down her cheeks as she hugged him tight.
He knew that as perfect as he had tried to make the night and as swept away as they both had been by the romance of the situation, the reality of her past and her promise to reveal all the details upon their return to the house, were never far from her mind and weighed on her heavily. As much as they both wanted this night to go on forever, Sansa obviously knew that nothing could be gained from delaying the inevitable so she withdrew from Stannis with a shaky breath.
“This has been lovely but do you think…umm. Could we go home now,” she asked, biting worriedly at her bottom lip.
Stannis sighed and stroked his fingers through her hair.
“Of course, love. Let’s go.”
They took one last look at the room and the view out of the window to the glittering lights and the dark waters of Blackwater Bay before Sansa accepted Stannis’s hand, walking resolutely out the door and towards an uncertain future.

Chapter Text

Before I start I have to get you to promise me something.
Anything? Okay. Well. You have to promise me that whatever I have to tell you that you just let me finish because if you don’t let me finish I don’t think I’ll have the courage to go on. I mean, I know that you will have questions and I respect that. I expect it. But please…. If you could just wait until….
Thank you.
Oh God, this is so hard.
Yes, I know. I love you too. I just…I just need a moment.

 

Okay. Well…. Here goes.
The day it all started was pretty much the same as any other, nothing out of the ordinary. I woke to the sun creeping in through a gap in the curtains as I did every morning. In the bed next to me, Arya was lying on her back snoring like there was no tomorrow. Nothing new there. Lady, our pet husky, greeted me with sloppy lick to the face and trotted out of the room, exactly as she always did. After nudging Arya awake to a litany of curses that would make your hair curl, I trudged to the bathroom and began to ready myself for the day ahead.
“Mom, Sansa’s hogging the bathroom again!” Arya cried out after some time.
“Sansa, give your sister a chance in the bathroom. You’ll make everyone late for school,” Mom replied, tired resignation evident in her voice.
She was constantly in the position of having to referee my sister and I and had obviously given up.
Arya, that little cow. Really, I didn’t think I’d spent that long in there. It’s not like she cared one iota about her appearance anyway; lucky if her hair has seen a brush this side of the millennium. Anyway, I digress.
“Yes Mom,” I replied hurriedly.

 

I was eager to please on this occasion. I had been a little difficult lately. Growing up and being a middle child, I had always been all too keen to please, always seeking attention and approval. I was never a firebrand like Arya, more introverted, more circumspect, so often I felt a bit invisible. I’m not blowing my own trumpet here but I was, am, intelligent and had talents in certain directions and my parents began to expect a lot of me. Being the oldest child now in the family, I wanted to deliver, I wanted to make them proud of me like they were proud of my two older brothers, but the weight of their expectations often became too much to bear. It seemed to be okay, even expected for Arya to be a little shit, Rickon and Bran were boys and well, ‘boys will be boys’ as my parents always said. Besides they were too young to have any sort of expectations placed on them. Jon and Robb had both left for the military at that stage so it seemed like all my Mom and Dad’s hopes now centred on me. I was now getting the attention I had been craving but it wasn’t the right kind or the kind I was looking for, at any rate. I was sixteen and I felt like the future of our family rested on my shoulders. Don’t look at me like that. It’s how I felt, I’m not saying it makes much sense.

 

Things hadn’t been going so well. Something was festering down deep inside me. Resentment. I felt like I could never do anything right. Every time I relaxed and tried to be myself and express myself or just bloody live a little, something went terribly wrong. The rabbits, right? Disaster. Then there was the time I babysat for a neighbour. I was sitting with little one year old Jed on the couch in the lounge room reading him a story when one of my friends rang. My phone was in the kitchen on the charger. I left the little guy for no more than a few seconds when I heard a thump and a bloodcurdling scream. The poor thing had fallen and hit his head and copped a nasty lump. He had to be taken to the hospital because they were worried he might suffer concussion. I have never been so scared and so ashamed in my life and needless to say my rather questionable babysitting skills were no longer required. My Mom, who had suggested to Jed’s mother that I would be perfect for the job, was incredibly embarrassed and I could tell that she was so disappointed in me. I felt hurt by that but I also felt a sense of injustice. It’s not like I injured the kid on purpose. It was bad luck, right? Right. Still, I felt like once again, I’d let everyone down.

 

And that wasn’t the only occurrence. There was the time I nearly burned down the house because after three hours of ironing my mind wandered off and I forgot to turn the damn iron off when I left the laundry. It caught the corner of my mother’s favourite nylon slip which started to scorch and smoke. Luckily the fire alarm went off or I dread to think what would have happened. On another occasion I volunteered to make dinner, left out the chicken to thaw for too long and gave everyone food poisoning. I also caused the ceiling to cave in the lounge room and ruined the couch and the carpet because I left the tap running in the bathtub upstairs. Oh and I flattened the roof of one of our family cars because I was absent-mindedly pressing buttons on the remote for the garage door. You get the drift. I was a walking talking disaster area. Everything I did was an accident but hey, sooner or later you have to stop and look at yourself and ask why does this stuff keep happening to me? There has to be a reason. And slowly but surely the realisation hits you that you are a certified fuckup.

 

As the pressure on me started to mount and I felt more and more as though I could never do anything right and I would always be a failure in the eyes of my family, I began to act out. I hung out with the bad kids at school, I tried smoking but hated it truthfully, I drank a bit of alcohol but didn’t really enjoy that either, my grades started to slip. It wasn’t me, and I knew I wasn’t really one of the bad kids. I would never do what they did: the drugs, shoplifting, vandalising, sleeping around or anything like that. When I was with them I always felt like such a pretender. I really didn’t know where I fit in anymore. I started to lapse into a bit of a depression. My Mom and Dad knew something was up but when they asked me I told them everything was fine. My parents got called into parent teacher meetings basically to be told that if I didn’t improve my performance I would flunk the whole year and would need to repeat. But I just couldn’t find it within myself to care anymore because I was convinced that nothing I did would ever be good enough.

 

And that’s when I met Harry.

 

I remember so clearly the first time we met on that day that had started like all the others before them. Arya, Bran, Rickon and I had made our way to the school bus and had endured a clamorous, boisterous journey as usual with the other kids who delighted in tormenting the long suffering driver. No wonder he had very little hair left on his head, the poor man. Oh, I nearly forgot, Vincent dropped by earlier to see you. He says “hi”. He seems like a really nice man. Anyway, back to the story.

 

As we disembarked and we went our separate ways to our respective buildings my oldest and dearest friend Gilly raced towards me, her brunette ponytail bobbing and swishing as she neared.
“Hey Sansa, how was your weekend?” she asked.
“Yeah, okay,” I answered unenthusiastically but Gilly didn’t appear to notice. She was a sweetheart and I loved her to bits but she wasn’t the most perceptive of people at times, to be honest.
As we walked on she nudged me with her elbow and whispered excitedly.
“That guy over there, he’s checking you out.”
“What guy?” I asked with a scoff. Gilly was always on the lookout for potential hook-ups for herself and for me so I wasn’t really paying much attention or taking her seriously.
“Over there, under the oak tree with the other two guys. The tall blonde one. His name is Harrold Hardyng but everyone calls him Harry. He’s a senior and the best striker in the school’s baseball team. He’s been awarded a sports scholarship to study at Winterfell University next year. And he’s hot. And he’s looking right at you.”
I glanced over as surreptitiously as I could and sure enough, Harrold, Harry, was staring right back at me. I felt a shiver down my spine and I felt sure that my blushing face could have been spotted from space.

 

It is hard for me to describe the effect that Harry’s attention had on me. Male attention was not something I was at all accustomed to. I had always been awkward and gangly, too skinny and my red hair was a bit of a curse. But in the last year my figure had filled out; my curves were more defined and my breasts were fuller. Even my hair had improved, thickening and curling a little with the flame red settling to a more flattering auburn. My face had more definition and my features were a little more angular. I guess I looked okay. Well, better at least. Don’t look at me like that. Okay, okay. Obviously he saw something he liked judging by the way he looked me up and down, a shit eating grin on his face. And I must be honest, I saw something I liked too. Harry was quite impressive. Oh, I’m sorry, don’t take it the wrong way and believe me when I say no one compares to you even remotely. Please, I know you don’t want to sit there listening to me bang on about other guys but I need to tell you where my head was at so you can understand. There will be things that I will tell you that will be difficult for you to listen to but believe me, it will be even harder for me to voice them.

 

Anyway, Harry was tall, like I indicated earlier, with broad shoulders and slim hips, strong legs, muscled biceps and forearms: an athlete’s body. He had this beautiful curly blonde hair and striking light blue eyes. When he smiled, which he did at that moment when I walked by with Gilly, I knew I was a gonner. My knees went weak and I lowered my gaze as we walked past, my heart thumping hard and fast in my chest. I thought I was going to have an anxiety attack when he eventually approached me.
“Hey, Sansa isn’t it?” he asked.
I had no idea how he knew my name, how I had even come to his attention.
“Um. Yes.” I answered awkwardly. I blushed even harder, if that was even physically possible.
“I’m Harry. I was wondering…the Winterfell Vs Gulltown baseball match is on tomorrow afternoon. I would really like it if you would come and watch, maybe we could catch up afterwards?”

 

I was rather stunned by this unexpected turn of events. This had never happened to me before. My father was incredibly protective of me and flat out prohibited me from dating so I had absolutely zero experience with the opposite sex other than a few fumbled kisses and gropes after school with a couple of boys from my class. My mother was a little more flexible but ultimately deferred to my father in all things so, yeah, no dates for this little black duck. So, there I stood totally confused and paralysed with indecision until I felt a determined little nudge from Gilly’s elbow against my arm which startled me into action.
“Sure, yes. I would like that,” I answered, not sure where the words had come from. I tried for a smile but I knew that it would have looked forced and timid. I cursed myself in that moment for coming across like such a little child but I needn’t have worried. Harry looked as though all his Christmases had come at once, gifting me a truly awe inspiring smile before retreating back to his friends.
“I’ll see you then gorgeous. I am looking forward to it,” he said as he winked at me over his shoulder.
Little did I know that the decision I made that day would eventually go on to destroy my life and my family forever.

Chapter Text

I went to the baseball game as planned, chaperoned by a very over-excited Gilly. While waiting to take the field, Harry spotted me in the bleachers and winked at me. I blushed and squirmed in my seat, drinking in his tall athletic form in his tight uniform as he stretched and warmed up his muscles in preparation. I watched on as he took a few experimental swings with his bat before heading to the diamond, all the bases loaded, the game hanging in the balance. I, along with our school’s supporters groaned as Harry struck out on the first two pitches, a searing fastball followed by a very well-disguised curveball. He wiped at his brow and huffed out a breath before preparing for the final pitch, a sinker that was despatched way into the bleachers with a resounding thwack, the ball arcing gracefully up against the clear blue sky before being caught by an excited spectator in the stands. I jumped to my feet and clapped wildly as Harry and the other strikers ran slowly around the diamond to thunderous applause. After celebrating the victory with the rest of his teammates and showering and changing into jeans and a t-shirt, Harry made his way towards me, smiling broadly, his blonde locks shining in the summer sun. I felt my heart thumping in my chest and blushed hotly as he leaned in and kissed me on the cheek.
“Hey Sansa, thanks for coming. Hey Gilly.”
“Hi Harry. Congrats on the win. That was amazing,” Gilly gushed. “I guess this is my cue. I’ll catch you later Sansa.”
“Yeah, thanks for keeping me company Gilly,” I answered as my friend made her way out of the bleachers.
I felt my heart racing and didn’t know where to look, my nerves going into complete overdrive.

 

“So what did you think?” Harry asked.
“I think that Gilly was right. You were amazing,” I responded shyly.
Harry puffed up with pride and flashed me another of his megawatt smiles before taking hold of my hand and pulling me to my feet.
“Come on beautiful. Let’s go get an early dinner. I’m starving.”
He led me to the school carpark and opened the passenger door of a small black convertible helping me to settle into the seat. I noticed that Harry’s team mates were gathered in a group chatting some distance off.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer to celebrate your win with your friends?” I asked.
“Are you kidding? When I have the chance to go out with a stunner like you? I can’t resist the opportunity to make them insanely jealous.”
I blushed to my hairline and desperately searched for a way to divert his attention away from my beetroot red face as he walked around to the driver’s side door.
“This is a really nice car,” I remarked as Harry shimmied in behind the wheel.
“Yeah, present from my folks when they heard that I scored a university scholarship for next year.”
“What are you studying?” I asked.
“English literature.”
“Oh that’s great.” I was so excited by that because I had always dreamed of studying the same course at University once my time came.
To my disappointment Harry merely shrugged in disinterest.
“Whatever. It’s not really my thing but it’s one of the easier courses to get into and I should pass the subjects okay. I’m there for the opportunities it will give me for my baseball career not to drool over Shakespeare or whatever.”
His response didn’t sit well with me but I shrugged it off. After all, could I really fault him for being focussed on his life goal and for not being as enthusiastic about literature as me? It would have been nice if we had shared a love for reading and writing as it would have given us a strong connection from the outset, but clearly that was not to be.

 

We pulled in at a burger joint near the school and I watched while Harry scoffed three cheeseburgers before launching into his super-sized fries and onion rings.
“Hey babe, aren’t you hungry?” he commented as he noticed that I had hardly touched my chicken and salad wrap. I was very conscious of changes in my body at that time and began to worry more about my weight and besides, I found the greasiness of the food, even my supposedly healthier option, unappetising.
“You’re not one of those anorexic chicks I hope. I like my women with some meat on them. More to grab on to,” he commented as he smirked at me suggestively. I blushed hotly again before replying.
“Um, no. I ate lunch late so I’m not very hungry,” I lied as I stole one of his fries in an effort to allay his concerns.
He grinned and licked the salt and grease from his fingers.
“Aren’t you going to eat that,” he asked, gesturing at my half devoured wrap.
“Please, finish it if you want to. I hate wasting food.”
“Okay. Happy to oblige,” he smiled before demolishing the rest of my food in record time.
The guy had a healthy appetite. That was for sure.

 

As he slurped on his chocolate malt milkshake and I sipped on my diet coke I began to notice how little we were communicating with one another. And the silences were awkward. I’ve never felt like that with you, Stannis, but with him it was different. I desperately searched for subjects of conversation but I really didn’t know where to begin with him. The more I agonised over it the worse it got. For his part, Harry seemed completely oblivious and more concerned with filling his stomach, stopping occasionally to rake his eyes up and down my body. Sometimes when he licked his lips I swore he was imagining his tongue on me and I felt myself becoming increasingly uncomfortable in his presence. But, I figured that it was my inexperience that was at fault. I’d never been on a date or even spent any considerable time alone with a boy that wasn’t my own brother so that was likely the problem. I had my dad to thank for that and realising this fact made me cringe at what my dad would think if he knew that I had lied to him and to my mother about my whereabouts that evening. They both thought that I was at Gilly’s and would have chucked an absolute fit if they knew the truth. I looked at my watch and nearly lost it myself when I realised how late it was getting.

 

“I’m sorry Harry but it’s getting late and I have to go.”
He shot me a look of disbelief as he checked his own watch.
“It’s not even seven o’clock yet.”
“I know. I’m sorry but my mom and dad were expecting me home at six and –”
Harry laughed but there was no joy in it whatsoever.
“What? You have a six o’clock curfew? How old are you again?”
I blushed to the roots of my hair and looked away, thoroughly humiliated by his condescending attitude but at the same time I did feel a resentment that my parents, especially my dad, were so restrictive about my movements. My two older brothers at the same age had no such limitations placed on them. Typical double standard, I thought. It was so unfair.
“Okay, maybe I can stay a little longer,” I replied.
“Let’s get out of here, babe,” Harry suggested, wiping his mouth with a paper napkin and rising from the table.
“Where to?” I really had no idea where this night was heading and I was starting to feel quite nervous.
“A drive to The Point. What do you think?”
I fidgeted with my hair and flushed, feeling an overwhelming urge to flee. The Point was a lookout in the hills popular for making out. I didn’t feel like I was at all ready for that with this guy. I hardly knew him, after all. Besides which I had never been with a guy in that way and he was a bit older and, I imagined, a lot more experienced than me. I was feeling completely out of my depth and sincerely starting to regret that I had ever deceived my parents and accepted Harry’s invitation in the first place.

 

For some stupid reason, instead of hightailing it out of there I nodded and accepted his outstretched hand as he led me out of the diner to the car. If only I had listened to my gut instinct and made my way home. This was the start of the whole damned thing. If only I knew then what I know now. But what’s the use of thinking like that? It doesn’t change a thing. Anyway, the ride over to the Point was largely silent. We really didn’t have anything much to say to one another. When his hand landed on my thigh and massaged gently I felt a warmth and tingling through my body. There was no denying that I was responding to him physically but my brain was yet to completely catch up. I was still freaking out a bit inside. Harry parked the car in the lot; there were only another two cars there that night and he made sure to park as far away from them as he could. I held my breath as he turned to me and unbuckled both of our seatbelts. As he retracted mine, the back of his hand swept across my breasts. An accident? I hardly think so. I gasped and froze at the sensation that rushed through my body.
Harry stared at me, brought his hand to the back of my neck and pulled me closer, pressing his lips to mine firmly. I gasped again and he took the opportunity this time to sneak his tongue into my mouth. At first I found it strange. I’d never really kissed a boy like this before and I had no idea what I was doing but as he probed my mouth and wrestled with my tongue I did my best to mirror his actions and after a while, once I stopped overthinking it, I found myself enjoying it.

 

His hands started to roam up and down my body until finally he moved them to my breasts, kneading and massaging them through my bra and t-shirt. I groaned and started to lose myself to the sensation; he began to pinch and tweak my nipples, making me cry out. I felt an electric surge through my body and a heat in the pit of my stomach. I’d never felt anything like this before and I loved it. All my fears, my apprehensions flew out the window; I never wanted this to stop. Harry grabbed at my t-shirt and practically ripped it over my head, flinging it to the back of the car. I was wearing a thin satin bra, my nipples were already pressing hard against the fabric. I may as well have been wearing nothing at all. I started to cover myself with my hands but Harry gently removed them and reached behind my back and fumbled impatiently with the clasp of my bra. When he finally managed to release my breasts, he cupped them and squeezed them in his large hands, rubbing over my nipples with his thumbs. I couldn’t help the little moans that escaped me and I felt a wetness developing in between my legs.
“Oh fuck,” he swore. “You have the best tits I have ever seen, hands down.”
He leant in and sucked a nipple into his mouth. I cried out and nearly jumped out of my skin, the feeling was so intense. One hand continued to smooth over my other breast while his free hand moved to the button of my jeans. I knew I should have grabbed his hand and stopped him there and then but I was so lost in the sensations that I just did not care. He pulled at the zip and impatiently wriggled his hand under the elastic of my panties. His fingers slid down and slicked over my folds already wet from his treatment of my breasts. I moaned and cried out as he continued to finger me. I was no stranger to climaxing. I had done so at my own hand on quite a few occasions but this was so much…more. I moved my body wantonly against his fingers feeling how my swollen lips slicked against them from my arousal..

 

Suddenly I felt one finger delve into my folds as he entered me. I gasped in shock, my body becoming rigid.
“Relax. I’m not hurting you,” Harry commented soothingly in my ear.
I took a deep shuddering breath and tried to calm myself. As my body relaxed I realised that there was no pain, just a slight pressure and then slowly, an exquisite pleasure as he slicked against my walls. He added another finger stretching me a little more while his thumb rubbed against my clit.
“Oh gods,” I cried out as I arched my back bringing my breasts within easy reach of Harry’s waiting mouth. He caught a nipple between his teeth and gently nibbled while he continued to massage me inside and circle my clit with a thumb moistened by my own juices. The sweet agonising tension in my core tightened and tightened and then suddenly released sending a wave of throbbing pleasure coursing through my body. As I moaned and sighed through my orgasm, Harry smirked at me smugly before moving his hand to his jeans zipper.
“My turn,” he grinned as he released his rock hard cock. It was large. No real surprise there as he was a big, solidly built guy but it was still intimidating, especially since this was the first time I had seen a penis that didn’t belong to one of my brothers and it was in a completely different context.

 

I froze. While I had just let Harry finger me to completion I just wasn’t ready for the next step, even though I felt guilty that he had given me such pleasure and I had yet to return the favour. I thought maybe I could stretch myself to give him a hand job but really it was going to take all of my courage just to touch him there, let alone get him off. To my surprise, his hand landed at the back of my head and forced my face right into his crotch. I panicked and shot upright in alarm, backing away from him. Harry frowned and regarded me with cold eyes. I was starting to get a really bad feeling about the whole thing.
“What’s the matter darling?” he asked.
“Um, nothing. I just….I don’t know if I’m ready for this Harry. I hardly know you and…”
“Oh come on Sansa. You just had my fingers in your cunt, for god’s sake,” he replied testily.
I didn’t stop to think at the time how wrong that reaction was, but hindsight’s twenty twenty, as they say.
“I know, it’s just… I’m sorry Harry. I don’t think I can do this,” I muttered miserably. “I can use my hands on you, if you like,” I suggested. I could feel myself blushing furiously.
Harry sighed loudly.
“Alright go to it, then.”
His tone was slightly irritated but resigned and ever so slightly sulky, as though he wanted to make the best of a bad situation.
I gritted my teeth and encircled his thick shaft with my hand. I really didn’t have any clue what I was doing: I had no idea how much pressure to exert. I was scared that I was going to hurt him. He took hold of my hand impatiently to guide me. After a while he released his grip and I stroked along his length as he groaned. I could feel him hardening and pulsing until eventually his whole body stiffened, his cock thrumming in my fingers releasing his load all over my hand.

 

“Fuck, that felt good,” he moaned, his head lolling against the car seat headrest.
He took a moment to recover then reclined my seat and pushed me down, his hands moving to tug down my jeans and panties in one fluid movement.
“Harry, I don’t think –” I began.
“It’s okay, relax. I’ll take care of you. I know it’s your first time, I’m not going to hurt you. This will feel good, I promise,” he whispered into my ear as he started to play with my wet folds with the forefinger of one hand and massage over my breasts with his other large hand. I could feel his already hardening cock pushing against my naked thigh as he moved his fingers over me. But this time, instead of losing myself in his touch, I started to panic.
“Harry, I can’t. I’m not ready,” I stammered as I grabbed at his hands to stop his movements but he continued to touch me. He was so much bigger and stronger than me. I realised in that moment that if he intended to ignore me and take this further there would be absolutely nothing I could do to prevent it. Even if I screamed it was unlikely that anyone would hear because Harry had put the top up on the convertible at this stage and the other cars in the parking lot were too far away.
“Please don’t,” I pleaded, my eyes starting to brim with tears as I grabbed at his wrists.

 

He stopped what he was doing and sat up staring at me, his brow furrowed, his lips drawn in a thin line. I cringed waiting for him to yell at me or push me out of the car, or worse still, to take me by force, but none of those things happened. To my relief he smoothed his hand through my hair, wiped at a few tears that had slipped down my cheeks and sighed loudly before nodding his head.
“Okay, okay. I’m sorry babe. We don’t have to do this tonight. I didn’t mean to push you so far when you’re not ready. It’s just that you drive me crazy. You’re so fucking sexy, you know? Forgive me?”
Being the naïve fool that I am I believed that he was genuinely sorry and had to admit that he had given me pleasure and had done nothing to actually harm me. He had stopped when I asked him to. The fault lay with my inexperience, not with him. Well, that’s how I reasoned it to myself.
“Of course Harry. I’m sorry too. What you did felt so good and I want to but…”
Harry took hold of my hand and kissed across my knuckles.
“I understand. There’s plenty of time. I just got carried away. Come on, I’ll take you home before your parents have a cow.”
I looked at my watch and groaned. Almost 8.30pm – it would be well after 9pm by the time we drove back to my place. My parents were going to do a whole lot more than give birth to a cow.

Chapter Text

Everyone was gathered in the lounge room when I opened the door and entered the house at a quarter after nine. My mother and my brothers and sister were sitting on the couch and armchairs watching my father who was pacing fitfully back and forth with his cell phone glued to his ear. When he heard me enter he whirled around to face me, his face registering relief closely followed by extreme anger. I swallowed thickly and braced myself for what I knew was coming.
“Um. My daughter has just shown up now. I apologise for wasting your time, officer. Yes, good night to you too,” he muttered through gritted teeth as he terminated the call with a grunt.
“Arya, Rickon, Bran, upstairs to your rooms now,” he grated out tersely, his steely gaze never leaving mine.
“Awww, but Dad,” Arya whined.
“Now, all of you,” he ordered, his voice noticeably louder but still controlled, at this stage at least.
I looked across at my mother who glanced up at her husband, bit her lip worriedly and then stared at me with a frown. I obviously wasn’t going to receive much support from that quarter. I gathered what little courage I had, which wasn’t much, and squared my shoulders as I watched my siblings trudge reluctantly up the stairs. Arya lingered on the landing just a second too long.
“Arya!” my father yelled. “I’m not going to tell you again.”
With a mighty huff my sister whirled on her heels and retreated to the safety of her bedroom, muttering god knows what under her breath.

 

My dad returned his attention squarely to me.
“Now, young lady. Explain yourself.”
“Sorry Dad. I was at Gilly’s working on an assignment and I lost track of time and – ”
The words caught in my throat when I noticed the furious look in his eyes. I’d done some stupid things in the past, things that made him beyond frustrated with me, but he had never looked at me quite like this before. I was truly scared of him for the first time in my life.
“Don’t you dare, missy. Don’t you dare lie to my face!” he yelled.
I cringed and took a step back from him, fully convinced he might strike me, although he had never laid as much as a finger on any of us kids before. I glanced briefly at my mother who had risen from the couch, wringing her hands in anxiety.
“Ned, please, that’s – ”
“Stay out of this Catelyn,” he growled. My mother resumed her place on the couch, biting at her bottom lip. Her half-hearted intervention at least had the effect of making my Dad take pause so when he spoke again, his voice was a little more controlled. Not that that particularly put me at ease.
“You have NOT been at Gilly’s. I have spoken to her mother who says that she has not seen hide nor hair of you all night. Now, tell me where you have been, or perhaps more importantly, WHO you have been with. And don’t lie to me again. You are not a good liar, Sansa.”
“I was out with a friend,” I stammered, my face flushing, my eyes lowered to the ground.
“A friend? Who?” he demanded angrily.
“No one you know,” I answered timidly.
“Give. Me. Their. Name,” he grated out, obviously on the verge of losing his patience again. I braced myself for impact.
“His name is Harry. Harrold Hardyng.”

 

“What?!!” Dad exploded. “You were with a boy? You know you are expressly forbidden to go out with boys and yet you deliberately defied me and lied about it.”
“I know, I’m sorry Dad,” I cried out. “I didn’t mean to worry you. I -”
“You stupid girl. I have been at work all day Sansa. It’s been a hard day and I have my mayoral campaign to think about on top of it. All I wanted was to come home and relax, but no, you had to go and pull this…. stunt. When you didn’t come home and it got later and later I rang Gilly’s mother to check if you had left there yet. She told me you had never even been there. Do you have any idea how worried I’ve been; how worried the whole family has been? We thought something had happened to you on the way home from school. I called the police and had to pull major strings to get them to acknowledge early on that you might be an actual missing person rather than a disobedient, disrespectful teenager. Looks like they were right and I was wrong. You have made me feel like a complete fool. Gods forbid that this gets out to the press.”
I really felt guilty now. I was all too aware that Dad’s mayoral platform was based on religious, political and social conservativism and that his supporter base looked to him as a paragon of virtue. Strong family values, discipline, definitely no sex before marriage, you get the idea. The thought that I could scuttle his campaign, what he had worked so hard towards for years, by my stupid, selfish act really hit me hard. The tears were streaming down my face as I struggled to reply.
“I’m sorry. I really am. I didn’t realise. I didn’t think. I didn’t mean to,” I stammered out but my father just shook his head angrily and regarded me with cold eyes.
“You never do, do you Sansa?” he asked unkindly.

 

As upset as I was at that moment, that comment made me see red, even though a part of me knew it was true. Over the last few years I had lurched from one disaster to another and my go-to response to any criticism was that it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t mean to, I didn’t think. Even to my own ears the excuses just didn’t cut it anymore but hearing my Dad call me out on it really made me lose it.

 

“That’s not fair! I said I’m sorry!” I yelled. “You guys never cut me any slack. Everyone else gets away with shit and I can’t ever step a foot out of line. Why can’t I see boys? All the other girls in my class do. And none of them have to be home by bloody six o’clock. All you care about is your stupid reputation around town and winning the election. I mean, Gods forbid that you have a daughter that might be out whoring around with boys.”
I have no idea where that outburst came from and of course, as soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted it but it was too late to take it back. My dad just stood there glaring at me, his chest heaving as he tried to keep his temper under control. I wish he would have just screamed back at me. The tension of the silence as he digested what I said was killing me. He took a deep steadying breath. His words as he finally began to talk cut me to the quick. His tone was deceptively measured and calm and that was way scarier than if he had just yelled at me.
“All the other girls in your class are not my daughter. Their parents can make whatever decision they wish about their own children - that is their right, and I will make mine, as is my right. While you live under my roof you will obey me and your mother. You will not curse, you will not speak out of turn or disrespect either of us again. You will follow the rules that we put in place without question or argument, including not dating boys and meeting your curfew. I don’t know what is going on with you Sansa but lately your attitude has left a lot to be desired. It will not be tolerated any longer. Until the end of the year there will be no extra-curricular activities and no meetings with your friends after school. You will come home immediately after school. I expect you back no later than 4pm. Every weekend you will spend catching up on your school work. You will not flunk this whole year. You will not,” he grated out.

 

I was beyond upset at this stage. No piano lessons, no tennis competitions, no interactions with any friends socially after school or on the weekends and the school camp was coming up. I guess that was off the agenda now too. I knew I’d done the wrong thing but there were still 12 weeks left until the end of the school year – this punishment did not seem commensurate with my ‘crime’.
“But dad -”
“I don’t want to hear it Sansa. My decision is final. We have been far too lenient with you up until now but that is going to stop. It is high time that you learned your actions have consequences. You are grounded until the end of the year and if I find out that you are seeing this Harrold Hardyng, or any other boy behind our backs you will lose all of your privileges at home. No TV, no mobile phone and that’s just for starters.”
Rubbing at the tears streaking down my face I looked to my mother for support but she averted her gaze, staring uncomfortably at her own feet. Great.
“This is so unfair. I hate you,” I screamed as I tore past my father trying to head for the stairs. His hand whipped out and held tight to my elbow, a maelstrom of emotions swirling in his eyes. Fear, anger, frustration, desperation, hurt all fought for dominance and right at that moment, hurt won out. That was what broke me. I couldn’t stand that pained look in his eyes because I knew that I was the sole cause of it.
“Don’t,” I cried out as I wrenched free from his grip and hurtled up the staircase.
“Sansa, get back here! Sansa!” he yelled, but I was too caught up in the tumult of my own emotions to listen as I ran sobbing to my room. I flung the door open and noticed Arya asleep in her bed so did my best to make as little noise as possible. I certainly wasn't in the mood to answer any questions at that point.

 

I flung myself down on the bed, grabbed the pillow to muffle my sobs and cried quietly into it until the cotton cover was soaked with my tears. Arya lay snoring in the bed next to me but I could hear raised voices from downstairs as my parents continued to discuss the situation. After I calmed a little my cell phone vibrated in my pocket. A new text from Harry. Knowing that I shouldn’t, I still could not resist the temptation of opening the message.

Hi beautiful. All good at yours? Did your folks skin you alive?

I quickly texted back.

Grounded til end of the year. And they said I can’t see you again.

How do you feel about that?

I’m really pissed about it.

So, what are you going to do?

Not much I can do.

Okay. Shame. I really like you and I enjoyed your company tonight. I’m sorry you got into trouble with your olds.

My thumb hovered over the screen of the phone as I agonised over my response. Was I really ready to say goodbye to Harry? As I thought about our ‘date’ I had to admit to myself that it had been far from perfect and I had major reservations but then we didn’t know each other yet. We still had so much to learn about each other. How could I expect it to be perfect? What I did know is that he had made me feel good, valued, wanted and that was more important to me just then than the doubts that niggled at me. I wasn’t sure I was ready to give up on him just yet. I decided I would keep my options open and not fully close the door to a potential relationship with him so I typed what I hoped was a vague but not negative response.

So, see you Monday at school?

Sure. Good night beautiful.

Good night Harry.

 

Just then, a soft knock sounded on the door and it opened up a crack.
“Sansa, love. Can I come in?” my mother asked in a whisper.
I wasn’t entirely happy with my mother. She had slipped into her default position of standing squarely behind dad. I really wished that just for once she had defended me a little more. But that wasn’t her. It never had been so what could I really expect.
“Yep. Come in.”
My mother opened the door timidly and stepped inside. Her eyes were a little red rimmed so obviously she had been crying. I felt a stab of guilt when I realised what might have transpired downstairs between my parents after I had left. Perhaps she had tried her best for me after all.
“Are you alright dear? Try not to be too angry with your father. He loves you very much you know. He’s just scared that you’re going to get hurt. He really was beside himself with worry when you didn’t come home.”
I sighed loudly deciding that nothing was to be gained by arguing my point any further. Did I even have a valid point? I wasn’t sure anymore. All I knew right then was that I didn’t want to upset my mother more than I already had. As angry as I was with both her and dad, I did still love them and it hurt me to think that I had caused them so much anguish and perhaps created a strain on their relationship.
“I know Mom. I really am sorry if I worried both of you. I’ll try to do better,” I said, as I stood from the bed and gave her a hug. She held me tight and whispered what a good girl I was. The guilt hit me again over my deception where Harry was concerned but I pushed it to the back of my mind as I felt her hand smoothing my hair.

 

“Will you please think about giving your dad a hug like this in the morning, love? He’s very stressed right now and what happened tonight really knocked the wind out of his sails. You know how he is. Always pretends that everything is okay, so strong, independent and manly. But inside he’s a big marshmallow. It would mean so much to him if you made the first move.”
“Okay, I will,” I replied in a small voice.
And in the morning, I was true to my word. I entered the kitchen just as he was returning the milk container to the fridge. We locked eyes and in that single look I could see hope and doubt warring there but not a hint of anger. With a sob I launched myself at him and wrapped my arms around his neck. As we held each other tight I swore I felt tears on my face that were not my own.

Chapter Text

The weekend proceeded without incident although my father and I were still a little tense around each other. It upset me because if I’m honest I’ve always been a bit of a daddy’s girl so I wasn’t used to his silent treatment. But I guess I had to understand that even though we had hugged and I had apologised again, I had disappointed him in a big way and said some pretty hurtful things. Our relationship wasn’t going to go back to normal right away. I knew in time he would get over it, at least I hoped so. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose my father’s love and trust forever. The rest of the family had definitely picked up on the discord between us and were treading on eggshells. I hated it, but it was what it was.

 

Monday came around and as I sat through morning classes all I could think about was whether Harry would approach me at lunch recess. We hadn’t contacted each other since the texts on Friday night so I had no idea where his head was at. Things hadn’t gone smoothly during our night together and I hadn’t exactly made it clear whether I wanted to continue where we left off so I didn’t know if he would even be interested in pursuing things any further. I made my way to the canteen and after collecting my meal, took my usual seat at a table with Gilly and a couple of my classmates. We ate and talked for a while before they headed off outside leaving me to my own devices, Gilly making me promise to share at some stage all the gory details of my date. I searched the room and spied Harry in a far corner leaning casually against a wall conversing with a tall svelte girl with long chestnut coloured hair who I recognised instantly as Myranda Royce. She was perhaps the most popular girl in school, a senior and Harry’s contemporary. Her father was a very influential businessman and the family was extremely wealthy which meant that everyone wanted a piece of Myranda. It must have been very difficult for her to tell the difference between those that were being genuine and the sycophants who merely wanted to get close to her for personal gain, but she was always such a cold and manipulative bitch to everyone that I had trouble finding any sympathy for her.

 

My heart sank when I noticed her touching Harry’s arm and the rather lascivious smirk that he gave her in return. His eyes looked around the room and suddenly he spotted me, his smile fading. He retracted his arm and stood upright. He spoke to Myranda who looked around the room, her eyes finally settling on me. Her stare was flinty and cold, her lips pursing with obvious disapproval. She faced Harry and whispered something and she did not look pleased. Harry briefly glanced in my direction before lowering his gaze much to the Myranda’s obvious disgust. After she departed in a huff, Harry walked towards my table, his teeth flashing with one of his trademark grins. At this point I really didn’t know what to think about what I had just seen and thought long and hard about bolting out in the opposite direction.

 

“Hello gorgeous,” he smirked.
“Hi Harry,” I responded uncertainly.
“Is something wrong?”
“No, should there be?” I answered.
“No, you just look a little frazzled. Is everything okay at home?”
“Yeah, as good as it can be, I guess,” I responded, not untruthfully. Everyone was strung tighter than a bow but Harry didn’t really need to know about our family issues. Besides he looked a little disinterested after he’d asked the question anyway.
“So, you and Myranda?” I asked, trying to sound as neutral as possible.
“Oh, her? Her mother is a friend of my mother’s. She seems to have some idea that I’m interested in her but I’ve only ever been polite, for my mother’s sake,” he explained.
I studied his eyes and he seemed completely sincere so I let it go.
“I had a really good time the other night,” Harry stated. “I would really like to see you again, you know, if you want to.”
The look he gave me then made me melt a little inside – it was as though if I said ‘no’ his whole world would stop turning and to be honest, I wanted to see him again too, even though a small niggling part of me still felt uncomfortable about what had happened in the car, the whole thing really.
“I want to see you again too,” I found myself answering in a half whisper.
Stupid, stupid! If only I’d listened to my instincts.

 

“When is your free study period?” Harry asked.
“Thursday afternoon,” I answered, “Why?”
“Great, me too,” he grinned. “My parents are out of town visiting my sister at boarding school and attending parent teacher meetings. Why don’t you come home with me to mine?”
At that moment all my doubts and fears came to the fore. What would happen if we got together again? Could I really defy my parents again like that, after everything that had gone down on Friday? Was it worth it? So many questions.
“Um. I don’t know Harry. My Mom and Dad are pretty angry with me right now. I promised I’d get my act together. I told my Dad I wouldn’t see you again and I really should be studying. My grades haven’t been the best lately.”
Harry leaned in close to my ear, his warm breath wisping against the sensitive skin of my neck, sending a tingle through my body.
“Is that what you really want, Sansa? Because I know what I felt on Friday night and it felt good, it felt right. I really want to see you again, but I won’t make you do something you don’t want to do,” he whispered.

 

I was so torn now between what I knew was right (which was to honour my parents’ wishes) and seeing where things went with Harry. It wasn’t often that I outright lied to my parents and it really hadn’t worked out so great the last time. Besides, my school work was critical right now. I couldn’t really afford to let my grades slip any further or I would be forced to repeat the year.
“I don’t know, I don’t think -”
Harry heaved out a huge sigh and stood from the table.
“It’s okay Sansa. I don’t want you to lie to your folks. I can see how much it goes against the grain. And you know what? I respect you for it. I won’t say I’m not disappointed but I get it. See you around sometime.”
As he turned away I began to panic. I couldn’t just let him walk away from me.
“Wait, Harry,” I called out.
He turned back to face me and looked at me hopefully.
“I…I’ll meet you at the front gates of the school on Thursday.”
“Great. I’ll make sure you don’t regret it. He smiled broadly and winked at me before walking out of the building.

 

I hardly laid eyes on Harry in the intervening days and when I did, he barely acknowledged my existence. That wasn’t exactly unexpected at the time; he clearly didn’t wish to draw attention to us and that was for the best, given that my brothers and sister went to the same school and I had no doubt that if they became aware of our ‘friendship’ it would most definitely get back to my folks. I did notice that Harry seemed to be continually surrounded by other girls who flirted with him outrageously. He was friendly with them but I didn’t detect anything untoward in his behaviour and I decided I was just being insecure, which was nothing new with me. Myranda continued to shoot me the odd hairy eyeball but never once approached me, for which I was eternally grateful. That girl gave me the absolute willies.

 

As Thursday approached both of my parents noticed my strange mood but I told them that I had a lot of work assignments coming up for school and I was a little stressed about it. The first of many lies. Truth is I was so nervous and at the same time excited by the prospect of being with Harry that I had no thought for my school work or anything else for that matter.
On Wednesday morning, however, I was in for a rather unwelcome surprise.
“Sansa, sweetheart?” my mom called out from downstairs just as I was finishing up in the bathroom.
“What’s up Mom?” I asked as I jogged down the stairs and into the kitchen where my father was reading the newspaper and sipping at his usual black coffee.
“I need you to do me a favour tomorrow afternoon,” she said. “I’m going to be tied up at work and Bran needs to get to his orthodontist appointment by 3.00pm. Can you please meet him at the school gates at 2.00pm and take him by bus? I’ll be able to pick you both up after the appointment. I would be very grateful, love,” she added.
My heart sank. That was essentially going to screw up my plans with Harry but what could I do? My father had stopped reading the paper when he noticed my hesitation and was eyeing me closely as I wrestled internally with myself.
“But Mom, I really have to study. I planned to spend my free period in the school library,” I said, hoping that using my parent’s own ammunition against them with regard to my school grades would be a convincing argument.
“Both your mother and I have been very impressed with your focus lately Sansa but we really need you to do this for us. I have critical meetings scheduled all afternoon otherwise I would get Bran to his appointment myself. If we cancel he’ll be waiting weeks for a re-schedule,” Dad explained.
I sighed loudly in resignation as I realised that there was no way of plausibly getting out of it.
“Sure, I’ll be there.”
“Thanks sweetie,” my mother said as she kissed me on the cheek.
My father gave me his trademark ‘good girl’ nod and small smile before turning his attention back to his newspaper.

 

That day at lunch recess I approached Harry who was standing in line waiting to be served at the canteen. I had no idea what I was going to say to him. Surely he would now think that I was just too much work and would tell me to buzz off. I couldn’t really blame him.
“Hi Harry,” I greeted.
“Hey Sansa,” he smiled but when he saw the look on my face, it faded. “What’s up? You look like you lost your last friend.”
“Um. Well. I’m really sorry Harry but I can’t come back to yours on Thursday,” I blurted out.
Harry frowned and sighed.
“Okay, do you mind if I ask why? Did you change your mind? Because if you did then –”
“No, I didn’t change my mind, Harry,” I interrupted hurriedly. “I promised my parents I would get my younger brother to an appointment in the city so I can’t make it. I have to meet him at the school gates at 2.00pm and get him there by bus.”
“That’s okay. If you’re happy to come for a couple of hours I can drop you back to school in time, no problems,” he shrugged nonchalantly.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I am. I know it’s only a couple of hours but I’ll take what I can get. You know, if you’re still happy to come.”
I smiled, flooded with relief.
“Sure, that would be great. Thanks Harry.”
“You’re welcome beautiful. Can’t wait,” he smirked as he stepped up to the counter to be served.
And just like that the stage was set for the ultimate destruction of my family.

Chapter Text

I have to admit that I think I got about two hours sleep that night. I was so wound up that I tossed and turned as I contemplated my upcoming meeting with Harry. We kids went to a school that didn’t have uniforms so I spent a considerable amount of time deciding what I would wear that would look nice for Harry but not make my parents suspicious, settling on my new pair of black skinny jeans and a bright blue silk camisole top that highlighted my eyes. I got up half an hour before my alarm was due to go off to give myself some extra time in the bathroom. I fussed with my appearance until I heard Arya’s fist slamming on the outside of the bathroom door in frustration.
“What the hell are you doing in there, Sansa?” she yelled out.
“Okay, okay, keep your shirt on.”
Eventually, I made my way down to the kitchen and greeted my parents warmly with a spring in my step.
“You look nice today, love,” my mother commented as she took in my appearance.
My father looked up at me and right away I could see that he had taken note of the makeup I had applied and the extra attention I had given to my hair. My usual look was very natural so I should have anticipated his reaction.
“I just felt like making an extra effort today,” I shrugged, trying to remain calm and collected under my dad’s hard scrutiny. “Besides I like to look nice when I’m going into the city even if I’m just sitting in an orthodontist’s waiting room.”
To my relief that response seemed to satisfy my father who returned his attention to his newspaper.
“Thanks again Sansa for helping us out,” my mother commented as the rest of my siblings made their way down from their bedrooms.

 

I couldn’t tell you what any of my morning classes involved. I was completely preoccupied and my nerves kept me constantly on edge. After what seemed like an eternity the lunch recess bell rang and I made my way to the school gates. Parked on the road outside was Harry’s black convertible, top down. He honked his horn and waved me over with a big smile. I looked around nervously to make sure that my brothers and sister were nowhere around and ran to the car, my heart racing with excitement.
“You look gorgeous,” he said to me, as he leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.
I blushed deeply and thanked him, not able to look him in the eye.
“So, how far away is your house,” I asked him.
“Ten minutes’ drive or so, not that far,” he replied.
Keeping one hand on the wheel, his other hand landed on my upper thigh where his fingers massaged me through my jeans. I struggled to calm my breathing feeling a tingling and heat between my legs as he continued to smooth his hand over me, nearing my crotch. I can’t even remember the route to Harry’s house even though I kept my eyes on the side of the road as we drove on. I was way too distracted to take in any of the details. Eventually we arrived at an impressive large two storey brownstone with an immaculately maintained front yard in an expensive Eastern suburb of Winterfell.
“Be it ever so humble,” Harry commented as he jumped out of the car and made his way to my side to open the door for me. He took hold of my hand and led me to the front door, unlocked it and led me inside.

 

The interior was spacious and bright with large full length windows in the huge living area. The room was furnished in a modern style with a large white leather sectional along one wall, the opposite wall boasting a huge flat screen TV.
“Take a seat. Can I get you a drink?” Harry asked.
“Sure. Thanks.”
“What would you like? I’ve got beer or there’s some white wine in the fridge.”
I bit at my bottom lip and fidgeted with a strand of my hair. I wasn’t at all certain about adding alcohol into the mix at this point but at the same time I didn’t want to appear childish in front of Harry.
“Um. Wine would be nice,” I said with a small smile.
Harry beamed at me and disappeared off to the kitchen to fetch our drinks. I let out a breath I hadn’t even known I had been holding, thankful for any small opportunity to shore up my rapidly fraying nerves. He reappeared a couple of minutes later and sat down right next to me, offering me a large and very full glass of wine while he had opted for a beer.
“To us,” he toasted.
“To us,” I repeated, clinking my wineglass against his beer bottle.
I took a small sip while Harry downed a sizeable gulp of his drink. I was conscious of our thighs touching as we sat there together and I also realised that he hadn’t taken his eyes off me for a second.

 

We sat for some time making small talk. Honestly, I can’t even remember what we spoke about. I was so incredibly distracted by his physical proximity to me and I could feel myself becoming flustered. Due to my nervousness I drank my wine much more quickly than I probably should have; I hadn’t had a chance to eat anything for lunch so almost immediately I started to feel the buzz from the alcohol. Suddenly Harry’s hand reached across and took my now almost empty glass from my hand and placed it on the coffee table in front of us.
“Do you have any idea how sexy you are?” he asked as he searched my eyes. He had a look on his face that I could only describe as hungry before he leaned in and kissed me on the lips, his arm weaving around my waist and drawing me closer to him. His other hand landed at the back of my head pressing my face to his as he deepened the kiss. I was hyperaware of my breasts pressing against the strong muscles of his chest as his mouth moved over my lips, his tongue eventually entering my mouth to wrestle with mine.

 

His hands moved to my shoulders and pushed the straps of my blouse aside to bare my shoulders, his lips trailing down to a particularly sensitive spot on my neck under my earlobe. I moaned and squeezed my thighs together to try and alleviate the ache that had started to set in between my legs. Harry groaned against my neck and moved his hands to my breasts, massaging them and rubbing his thumbs over my nipples through my blouse as his lips travelled down to my collarbone and further to the swell of my breasts. I felt a jolt of pleasure through my body and a tingling heat at my core as Harry leant his weight against me, lying me back along one length of the sectional couch. He stretched himself on top of me, taking the majority of his weight on his elbows but I could feel his hardened cock pressing against my tummy as his hands snuck under my top to further explore my satin and lace covered breasts.

 

Harry paused long enough to pull my top from me and unclasp and remove my bra. He stared at my breasts before leaning down and sucking a nipple into his mouth forcefully. I cried out and arched my back, pressing my breast more firmly against his lips. One hand tangled in my hair while his spare hand shot to my other nipple and pulled and tugged and twisted at it to the point of pain. I dug my fingernails into his shoulders and writhed and squirmed, my legs falling open instinctively as my body reacted to the stimulus of Harry’s mouth and fingers. An incredible heat and tension was building up between my thighs and I felt restless. All my fear was gone. All I knew was that I wanted more.
“Harry, please,” I pleaded.
In response his hands left my breast and hair and travelled down to my jeans. He unbuttoned and unzipped them while I lifted my hips enough to allow him to pull them down and over my feet. He threw them to the floor and leaned back over me to kiss me deeply, one of his hands cupping my sex over my satin panties. I gasped and arched my back, pushing into his hand, urging him to touch me. His fingers wriggled in under the elastic of my underwear as he let out a throaty groan; I was incredibly wet and I felt like my skin was melting from the contact.
“Gods, you are so soft, so smooth, so wet,” he rasped as his fingers slicked over my folds and my sensitive bud. I felt his forefinger delve into me as he rubbed against my inner walls, his thumb pressing against my clit. I moved wantonly against his hand chasing my climax until suddenly Harry withdrew. I moaned in displeasure then froze when I realised he was pulling my panties down, laying me completely bare to him. As his hands moved to the button and zip of his own jeans I knew that things were nearing the point of no return and my fears returned with a rush.

 

Taking off his jeans and pulling down his boxer trunks revealing his erect member to me, I could do nothing but stare, my chest heaving with my rapid breathing as panic began to set in. Harry noticed my discomfort and shushed me, smoothing his hand over my hair.
“It’s okay. I’ll look after you. This will feel good. Do you trust me?” he asked as he peppered my face with small kisses.
“Yes,” I answered a little uncertainly.
In my fear I had clenched my thighs tightly together.
“Relax,” he whispered, as his hand travelled from my knee and up one thigh gently pressing down to part my legs. I complied but I could feel how much my whole body was shaking as I struggled to relax under his touch.

 

Harry took hold of his hard cock and swiped it repeatedly along my swollen and wet folds and engorged clit while peppering my face and neck with small kisses in an effort to distract me. I moaned as I felt myself edging closer and closer to my climax when I suddenly felt the blunt nudge of his head right against my entrance. I tensed and then realisation dawned, hitting me like a hammer blow.
“Harry, I’m not on the pill,” I blurted out.
“Shit,” he mumbled under his breath. “Look, don’t worry. I won’t come inside you and it’s really unlikely anything will happen your first time. It’ll be fine.”
“I don’t know. I think… don’t you have a condom?”
“No, I’m out. I didn’t plan on this today. Please trust me. I’ll look after you and make sure you’re safe.”
I nodded uncertainly which was Harry’s cue to kiss me deeply while positioning himself between my legs. I felt the head of his cock breaching me and gasped, my whole body tensing with uncomfortable pressure as he gradually worked his way into me. Suddenly his hips snapped forwards and I yelled out as a hot searing pain tore through me. Instead of going slowly he groaned out loud, something about me being tight and feeling good, I don’t remember: I was too distracted by the pain. He started to pound into me and the pain became almost unbearable. I felt like my insides were being torn apart. I begged him to stop and my hands shot to his chest as I tried to push him off me but he was heavy and too strong. He kept telling me I was okay and the pain would pass as he continued to thrust into me. There was absolutely no pleasure just intense stinging and hot friction. Tears were streaming down my face but he kept on and on and I thought it would never stop.
Oh gods.
Sorry.
Give me a sec.
Yes. I’m okay.

 

After what seemed like hours Harry groaned out loud and every muscle in his body stiffened. I felt his cock pulsing inside me and a hot wet surge and realised that he had come inside me and not pulled out like he said he would. He pulled out and rolled off me which hurt like hell. I started to cry as I looked down between my legs to see a mixture of semen and blood dribbling down between my thighs.
“Shit,” he said eventually once he got control of himself. “Are you okay? I’m sorry babe. I got a bit carried away.”
My insides felt like they had been roughed up with sandpaper and I was so terrified that he might have got me pregnant that I just lay there staring up at the ceiling in shock. Harry smoothed his hand up and down my arm and kept saying everything would be okay and not to worry and that it always hurt the first time. I think that’s what he said but it was like I was surrounded by a fog and I wasn’t really listening.

 

Once my tears dried I turned my face to look at him. And Stannis, you know, of all the things I expected to see in his eyes, complete indifference wasn’t what I expected. But that’s pretty much what I saw. As though everything that happened was perfectly normal. I wasn’t thinking straight and I started to question my own reaction. Maybe what had happened was normal and I’d overreacted. I know that I should have trusted my instinctual response but at the time I didn’t have any way of comparing my experience to anyone else’s. I asked Harry in a really shaky voice if I could clean up. He left the room while I retrieved my underwear and clothes from the floor. Shortly afterwards he came back carrying a clean towel and showed me to the upstairs bathroom suggesting that I shower. I closed the door, turned on the water and slumped down onto the floor of the cubicle sobbing and rubbing the soap over my body not even conscious of what I was doing. The water was very hot and I was scrubbing so hard at my folds and inner thighs to try and wash him off me that I didn’t notice how pink and raw my skin was becoming.

 

After a while I came to my senses a little and dragged myself up from the floor, dried myself off and dressed. When I returned downstairs Harry smiled at me as though nothing had happened and offered me a hot cup of tea which was really kind of surreal. I felt like I’d been invited around by my great Aunt for afternoon tea in the garden. Everything was perfectly civil and just so. I guess I drank it because eventually I looked down and the mug was empty, I guess he spoke to me while I drank it, I guess I responded but what I said, I couldn’t tell you; I really don’t remember.

 

In a moment of clarity I looked down at my watch and panicked when I realised it was almost 2pm and it was a ten minute drive back to school. I pulled out my cell phone and tried to ring Bran to let him know I would be a few minutes late but his cell was out of service, switched off, battery drained. I didn’t know at the time. But I couldn’t get hold of him, in any case.
“Harry, I have to go. My brother will be waiting for me outside the school gates,” I explained in a rush as I grabbed my bag and stood from the couch with a grimace as I felt a savage twinge in my core.
“Okay babe. Let’s go,” he replied, seemingly oblivious to my pain, grabbing his keys from the coffee table.
Once in the car, Harry turned the key in the ignition but instead of the gentle purr of the engine starting, there was a laboured whirring noise.
“What the hell?” he exclaimed, before trying again. Same result. This went on for some time but the damn thing wouldn’t start. It was a new luxury car. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Now I was starting to feel quite sick to the stomach. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. What the hell did I do to the gods to deserve a day like this? Harry jumped out of the car and popped the hood while I gnawed at a fingernail nervously.
“Look, don’t worry Sansa. I think it’s just the battery,” he explained eventually. “I’ve got jumper leads and my dad’s car is in the garage. I’ll get it going in no time.”
By the time he manoeuvred the cars into position, connected the leads and managed to start the car, it was getting on to 2.30pm. I was nauseated thinking about how much trouble I was going to be in if I didn’t get Bran to his appointment on time. As it was I’d have to bribe him to keep his mouth shut or my parents were going to skin me alive.

 

The drive back to school was completely nerve wracking. It seemed like we hit every red light between Harry’s house and there; it took forever. It was almost a quarter to three when we rolled up to the gates only to find no Bran. Oh my gods. I thought I was going to throw up.
“Harry, he’s not here. Where the hell is he?” I cried out. “Shit. What am I going to do?”
He just shrugged and helped me out of the car.
“Do you think he caught the bus on his own?” he asked as he walked me to the gates.
“I guess he might have.”
“Listen babe I have to go now. Will you be alright?” he asked.
Great - he was deserting me now on top of everything else. I looked into his eyes and he couldn’t have been more disinterested in my predicament. Right then I realised that maybe I didn’t want him there anyway. This whole thing was a lot more trouble than it was worth and I am sure he felt exactly the same way.
“Fine. Go. I’ll work it out,” I snapped.
Harry frowned at me and leaned in to kiss me on the cheek but I flinched away from him.
“Okay. Well. See you around, yeah?” he grunted as he backed away from me and walked back to the car. To my ears it sounded like a final goodbye. I didn’t know if I was sad or relieved at that point; I was too distracted by Bran’s disappearance to care. I vaguely registered a squealing of tyres as Harry peeled off down the street.

 

Just then my phone rang. It was my Mom. I was so scared my hand was trembling and I really didn’t want to answer it but I knew I had no choice.
“Hey Mom.”
When she answered I knew that I was in a world of trouble; I don’t think I’d ever heard her so angry.
“Sansa, you are very lucky that it is me ringing you right now and not your father. I don’t know what you are playing at but we will be talking about this when I get home. Mrs Holdsworthy just rang me to let me know that she was driving by and saw Bran standing outside the school gates at 2.30 and she offered to drive him to his appointment. Where the hell are you? How could you do something so irresponsible after everything that happened on Friday? I am so disappointed in you. Your father is going to have a fit when he hears about this.”
I had started to cry then and desperately begged her not to tell Dad but she snapped something about having to go back to work and that she would speak to me about it later. She also ordered me to go to our neighbour, Mrs Holdsworthy, and apologise for the inconvenience once I returned home from school.

 

The bus ride home was a bit of a blur. I sat staring out at the passing scenery but I didn’t take anything in. I had no idea what I was going to tell my parents about my whereabouts that day. How was I going to tell them the truth? I just wanted to forget that I ever met Harry but there was a painful reminder of him between my legs every time I moved. I felt hot tears streaming down my face as I pressed the stop button, disembarked from the bus and trudged towards Mrs Holdsworthy’s house. I rang the doorbell but no one answered so I bid a hasty retreat and made my way home. Once inside I threw myself on the bed and curled up with a pillow. The next thing I knew I heard a rattle of keys downstairs and the sound of Arya and Rickon laughing as they headed inside.
I hadn’t closed the bedroom door so Arya strolled in and then screamed loudly as she noticed me lying in the bed.
“Fuck Sansa. You scared the living shit out of me. I thought you were with Bran in the city.”
“Nope. Clearly.”
“Okay, what’s going on? You look like crap. Have you been crying?”
“Just leave it Arya,” I growled as I pulled myself from the bed and headed down the stairs to the kitchen for a glass of milk. I could hear my sister mumbling something about PMS. If only she knew!

 

I sat at the kitchen counter drinking my milk and feeling very sorry for myself when eventually I heard the front door opening again. My mother took one look at me and shook her head, dumping her bag and jacket on a nearby armchair before making her way towards me. I kept my eyes down, breathing rapidly as she came to a standstill in front of me. I knew she wasn’t going to yell at me: she never raised her voice. But she didn’t have to; there was a quiet anger all too obvious in her tone. Just then I needed my mother – I needed so desperately to tell her about my experience with Harry and feel her warm, comforting arms around me and her soothing words telling me that everything would be okay, but it wasn’t to be. I felt so alone.
“So, do you want to tell me what happened?”
“Mom. I’m sorry,” I blurted out. “I lost track of time and -”
“You lost track of time? Sansa, how could you? We trusted you and this is how you repay that trust? Your poor brother was standing there for half an hour waiting for you. Mrs Holdsworthy told me he was getting quite distraught. You know how he panics when things don’t go to plan.”
“I tried to ring him to let him know I was going to be a few minutes’ late,” I pointed out.
“Bran tried to call you too actually but his battery was flat. And it wasn’t just a few minutes, was it?”
“It wasn’t my fault, the car –”
“Not your fault?” she asked in exasperation. “What car? Where were you Sansa?”

 

I bit at my bottom lip and blushed hotly.
“Oh gods, don’t tell me you were with that boy again?”
“Mom, I -”
Just then my mother’s cell phone rang much to my relief.
“Don’t think this is over, not by a long shot,” she hissed at me while she answered the call.
“Hi Dot, thanks ever so much for taking Bran to his……”
Suddenly my mother gasped and her hand shot to her mouth.
“What?! NO! she cried out. “Is he…is he? Which hospital? Oh Gods. Are YOU okay? I’m so, so sorry Dot.”
I felt the blood drain from my face when I noticed the tears brimming in my mother’s eyes as she terminated the call. And then I heard the words spoken in her broken voice that will stay with me until the day I die.
“Dot…Mrs Holdsworthy….there’s been a terrible car accident. She’s okay, minor injuries. But Bran is in hospital…in emergency. They’re not sure if he’s going to make it.”

Chapter Text

My parents and I never did have that talk and they didn’t punish me further because they realised all to well that the devastating guilt I felt for Bran’s accident was punishment enough. The driver of the other car ran a red light, according to witnesses, and slammed into the passenger side of Mrs Holdsworthy’s car so that man was ultimately responsible. But I completely blamed myself for Bran being there in the first place, and while they never expressed to me that they felt it was my fault too, the look in my parents’ eyes said it all. The utter disappointment and judgement I saw there broke my heart. I’d deliberately defied both of them and now I would pay the price; Bran would come to pay a much higher price.

 

The trip to the hospital was hell. Arya and Rickon both looked so pale and were more reserved than I had ever seen them. My mother was beside herself with worry. After unsuccessfully trying to reach my father who was in transit between meetings somewhere in the city, she sent him a text and then rang her sister, my Aunt Lysa, and asked her to come to the hospital which showed how desperate she was. They had had a falling out after Lysa’s marriage four years previously to a man who was a long-time friend of the family. I only vaguely remembered him from the wedding which was the only time I’d ever met him. Something about Uncle Petyr made me feel uneasy at the time: something about the way he looked and spoke to me when my aunt’s back was turned. I didn’t find out until later why my mother disapproved so much of the marriage and why my father seemed to detest my uncle. Anyway, while I really didn’t have much time for her, it was a good thing that Lysa was there as she was able to stay with Arya and Rickon, while my Dad (who had finally arrived a few hours later) and my Mom and I visited with Bran after the medical team had managed to operate, stabilise his condition and transfer him to ICU.

 

I will never be able to erase from my memory the vision of my brother’s bruised, battered, broken body as he lay in the ICU; his beautiful pale face, his arms and his chest were crisscrossed with countless cuts where the glass from the car windows and other debris had slashed him. My mother and father stood together in each other’s arms while I stood alone, afraid, so completely shattered. The doctors had warned that several of the lacerations, sutured but most not covered in dressings, were deep enough to cause permanent scarring. But that was not the worst of it. The surgeons had managed to stop a minor bleed on the brain but there was still swelling, so they were forced to induce a coma to help relieve the pressure. They weren’t sure what sort of shape he would be in, if and when he woke up: whether he would have permanent brain damage. But one thing was certain. Barring a miracle or a major breakthrough in medical science, my wonderful, sweet, innocent brother would never walk again. Debris entering the cabin during the accident had severed his spinal cord and he would be paralysed from the waist down, if he ever managed to wake up at all. When my parents heard that, they both broke down. I’d never seen my father so devastated before and I can’t describe to you how much that hurt me. I wanted to hug both of them and feel their arms around me too, but it was as if I wasn’t even there; they comforted each other, just leaving me standing there. I started to cry so hysterically that my mother eventually tore herself from my father long enough to walk me outside to the waiting room before sitting down and explaining everything to Arya, Rickon and Lysa. I noticed that my father didn't even look once in my direction; he kept his focus solely on Bran. I couldn't really blame him for that.

 

My mother walked back inside the ICU ward with my siblings leaving me with Lysa who rather awkwardly tried to console me, but I wasn’t having any of it. I’d never had a good feeling about her. We’d never been close before and her attempt at sympathy just didn’t sit right with me. I shrugged her hand off my arm and told her as politely as I could that I needed some fresh air. Wiping at my face I walked through the corridors of the hospital gradually making my way to the Emergency Department exit. I waited for the electronic doors to slide open, nearly nose-planting in my haste to escape the claustrophobic atmosphere of the hospital. Once outside, I leant against the wall and stared blankly out into the night.

 

“Sansa?”
I startled when I heard my name uttered in a familiar raspy brogue. While I did not recall much about the man, I did recognise the voice instantly. It was very distinct - not something you forgot easily. When I looked up, Petyr, my uncle Petyr and Lysa’s husband, stood there right in front of me. He wasn’t a very tall man, in fact he was barely an inch taller than me. He was dressed in a black business suit – obviously very expensive and perfectly fitted. He had a trim build and I remember looking at his hands. Really long slender fingers with manicured nails, very smooth and elegant. I noticed that he didn’t wear a wedding ring, only a silver and onyx ring on his right hand. He had dark hair that was greying a little at the temples and a small neatly trimmed moustache and the stubbly start of a beard. The other thing that stood out was his eyes. He had these amazing almost hypnotising greyish green eyes that seemed to bore straight into your soul. It was looking straight into those eyes that brought back quite vividly the memory of our one and only previous meeting at his wedding but this time, for whatever reason, I didn’t feel uncomfortable with him.

 

I nodded in answer to his question and then my tears started all over again. The last thing I wanted to do was to cry in front of this man but everything just hit me like a freight train and I couldn’t control myself. All of a sudden I felt his arm around my waist as he drew me against his body. I stiffened and began to pull away but he shushed me and pulled my head against his chest, smoothing his hand over my hair until I began to relax into him, my arms weaving around his slim waist, his chin resting on the crown of my head. He spoke soothing words to me until my tears stopped. I knew it should have felt awkward, that I should have pulled away immediately. I didn’t even know this man and my one and only meeting with him several years before had left me feeling very off kilter. But right at that moment leaving the comfort of his arms was the last thing on my mind. I needed him; I needed his warmth, his strength and I never wanted him to let go of me.

 

Eventually he placed his fingers gently under my chin and brought my face up, his thumb wiping across the apple of one cheek as he stared deep into my eyes. I was transfixed and felt an inexplicable warmth surge through my body.
“Sorry. Thank you Uncle Petyr,” I whispered out.
“Petyr. Just Petyr. And there is no need to apologise or to thank me. I am here for you Sansa. For your whole family. How is he? How is Bran?”
“He’s…he’s not good Uncle…I mean Petyr. He’s in a coma and he’s…. he’s never going to walk again and it’s all my fault,” I mumbled as I felt tears threatening again.
“No, no. How could this possibly be your fault?” he asked.

 

And so I told him. Looking back now I can’t believe that I shared every last detail of what happened that day with this man who was basically a stranger to me. The thing was, I felt like I could trust him and I desperately needed to tell someone. While my parents knew I had gone behind their back and had seen Harry because I just couldn't lie to them again under the circumstances, I didn’t tell them what happened in his house. I was too ashamed. Besides, my parents were upset enough right now because of me; I didn’t want to add to their distress. Somehow I knew that Petyr wouldn’t judge me and that he would support me. And I was right. It wasn’t easy to tell him but he was patient and encouraging and while I left out some of the more intimate details, he was left in no doubt as to what Harry had done to me. Petyr told me not to blame myself for Bran’s accident and that I did not deserve what had happened to me. He thought that I should tell at least my mother if not both of my parents about Harry but he understood why I felt that I couldn’t. He was so upset and concerned when I told him about the way that Harry had hurt me and put my wellbeing at risk, his sympathy leading to another outburst of tears from me. I saw a flash of fury in his eyes before he ran his hands up and down my arms to try and comfort me again.

 

“I’m so sorry that happened to you Sansa. Your first time should have been special. What he did was despicable, in fact a criminal act. It was NOT consensual. I heard what you told me and I know what you’re thinking, but I don’t care if you didn’t stop him right away. You CANNOT blame yourself. Once you told him to stop, no matter when you did, then that’s what he should have done. And he’s exposed you to the threat of disease and pregnancy. Fucking arsehole!”
His voice had elevated but once he realised that I had cringed at the volume and hatred in his voice he stopped, his breathing rapid, his eyes blazing with anger before he gradually calmed himself and addressed me with a concerned frown.
“Sorry love. I know you don’t want to think about this right now but we need to get you the morning after pill and you need to have an exam in case he has an STD.”
With everything that had happened I just hadn’t had time to think about the reality of my situation so now I began to panic as the realisation hit me with full force. I felt my heart palpitating as I broke into a cold sweat.
“I can’t do it Petyr. I can’t have a baby. I’m only sixteen - I just can’t. I’m not ready. And looking at that child would remind me every day of its father and what happened. But my dad is pro-life. If he ever found out, I don’t know what he would do,” I rambled breathlessly.
I looked at him fearfully but he hugged me to him again and told me that it would be okay: it was very unlikely I would fall pregnant if I took the morning after pill and that he’d arrange everything. He told me that if the worst happened we would face it together and that I could rely on him. He also promised me that not one word of what I had just told him would ever leave his lips. He still thought I should tell my mother but he didn’t push me.

 

I don’t know what possessed me at that moment; I was just so grateful to him and he was so lovely and now I felt myself strangely attracted to him. While he was handsome he wasn’t my type and gods, he was old enough to be my father but there was just something about him. So… I kissed him. It wasn’t much of a kiss as far as these things go, just a gentle quick press of my lips against his closed mouth before I pulled away. His eyes widened in surprise and then searched mine intently as I slowly neared to kiss him again but this time he stopped me, his forefinger pressing gently against my lips.
“No Sansa. You’re upset, you’re not thinking straight. This is not what you need. I am not what you need right now.”
“Yes, you are,” I replied.
I felt a tear trickling down my face which he caught with his thumb, swiping it over my cheekbone.
“No, believe me when I say that I am not. There’s a lot you don’t know about me, my dear.”
“I don’t care, I – You don’t want me,” I sniffled, feeling entirely rejected.

 

“Sansa, listen to me now. You’ve grown into such a beautiful, exquisite young woman. I would be lying if I said that I’m not tempted but I care about you. If I let this happen it would only be taking advantage of you. I will not do that, no matter how great the temptation. And you forget that I happen to be married to your Aunt,” he added, but to me this sounded like more of an afterthought.
I felt ashamed though. Much as I didn’t really care for Lysa I didn’t want to betray her like that; my mother told me once that Petyr was the love of her life. I didn’t want to mess with that. She didn’t deserve it. So I reluctantly pulled away from him and took a couple of deep breaths to try and steady myself.
“You’re right. I’m sorry Petyr. All I seem to do these days is stuff things up.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself. And I have to say that I’m immensely flattered. If circumstances were different and I were much younger…” he smirked as he chucked my chin, his cheeks dimpling and his eyes flashing with mischief. His lips were so close and all I wanted to do right then was press myself just a little closer and taste him. Damn him, he wasn’t making this easy for me.

 

He reached into the pocket of his suit jacket and extracted a business card. It was silver with a logo printed in the corner of a black bird perched on a branch. ‘Mockingbird Investments Pty Ltd’ was embossed into it in dark green; underneath it ‘Petyr Baelish’ with his cell phone number and business address.
“Anytime, day or night, if you need me, ring me. Will you do that for me, Sansa?”
“Yes, thank you Petyr,” I smiled as I took the card from him. I bit at my bottom lip when our fingers brushed against each other, feeling a warmth surge through my body. Something flashed in his eyes but as quickly as it appeared, it vanished.
“Come on then. Let’s find the hospital pharmacy and see about that pill before your family wonders what’s happened to you,” he said as his hand pushed against the small of my back, ushering me back inside the building. I shivered as I felt the gentle pressure and warmth of his fingers through the thin fabric of my top and I knew then that I did not want this to be the last time I ever felt his touch.

Chapter Text

Bran’s recovery was torturously slow. It took a week for the swelling in the brain to go down enough for the doctors to feel confident enough that they could safely reduce the level of pentobarbital in his system and bring him out of his coma. It was such a relief when it was clear that he hadn’t suffered any permanent brain injury but heartbreaking when he was told that he would never walk or run again. He didn’t cry, he didn’t fuss; he just nodded slowly and told us all that everything would be okay in a very small, sad voice. I wish he’d railed and screamed at how unfair life had been to him. But no, with calm acceptance he lay there more concerned about how we were all feeling, which made it somehow much, much worse. The first time the two of us were left alone together I burst into tears and told him over and over and over how sorry I was. But he just shook his head and pulled me in for a hug telling me it wasn’t my fault and not to be sad and that he still loved me. His sweetness and his compassion for my obvious feelings of guilt just made me cry even harder. I felt so much like I didn’t deserve it and I left his room a complete and utter mess.

 

My parents had seen the state I was in when I left Bran but they made no move to comfort me. Deciding that I just couldn’t stay there any longer and endure their cold shoulder treatment, I made my way home by bus later that afternoon. As I sat on the back seat of the bus huddled into the window and struggling not to break down again, I searched around in my wallet for Petyr’s business card. I looked at it for the longest time before punching his number into the phone. After that I sat staring at the phone some more before finally pressing the call button.
“Petyr Baelish,” he answered in his soft lilting voice that acted like an instant balm to my emotional pain.
“Petyr…” I muttered.
“Sansa, is that you? What’s the matter, love? Is it Bran? Is he alright?”
“He’s…awake and talking. He’s okay. Well as okay as he can be.”
I could hear him huff out a relieved breath.
“Well, that’s good…. Isn’t it?” His tone now sounded uncertain and a little worried.
“Yes…but he - …Petyr I need you,” I sobbed out.
“Oh, sweetheart. Where are you right now? At the hospital?”
“No….bus…. going home.” I was crying so hard by then that I could barely get the words out. An old lady sitting across the aisle from me kept staring at me, wondering what the hell was up. I did my best to ignore her.
“Okay, I’ll meet you there. I’m on my way,” Petyr responded, before terminating the call.

 

It was only a short walk from the bus stop but all up the trip took about half an hour. As I rounded the corner of our street and walked towards the house I saw a silver Audi parked outside the house. As I neared, I spied Petyr sitting on one of our porch chairs but judging by his posture, he was far from relaxed. When he spotted me he shot to his feet and swiftly closed the distance between us, pulling me to him in a crushing embrace. I nestled my face against his neck and totally lost it as he ran his hands soothingly up and down my back and whispered words of comfort to me until I calmed sufficiently to unlock the front door and let us both in. As soon as the door closed he pulled me to him again and kissed me chastely on the crown of the head.
“Thanks for coming Petyr. I’m sorry to bother you at work.”
“There is nowhere else I’d rather be and you are not a bother. I told you I would be here for you if you needed me and I meant it.”

 

I led him to the lounge room and settled us both down on the couch. He took hold of my hands and rubbed across the knuckles with his thumbs.
“Now tell me what has upset you so much.”
“It was Bran. I thought he would hate me for what I did. But he doesn’t. He told me it wasn’t my fault and that he loves me.”
“Sansa, it wasn’t your fault and of course your brother loves you.”
“But how can he, knowing that he’s going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life because of a stupid, selfish decision I made?” I cried.

 

Petyr took hold of my chin to hold my gaze, fixing me with his beautiful green eyes as hot salty tears tracked down my face.
“Bran understands that it was an unfortunate accident of fate. You have to stop doing this to yourself, love, or the guilt will eat you alive. You can’t afford weakness. You have to be strong; if not for yourself then for him. He is going to need you. Your whole family is going to need you.”
I know he was trying to stir the defiance and inner determination that he had sensed in me, but I just felt so defeated and emotionally exhausted at that point.
“I don’t know if I can do it Petyr. I don’t know anything anymore. I feel so useless, no worse, I actually feel like I’m a jinx. I bring nothing but misery to everyone around me. I think they’d all be better off without me.”
“That is not true Sansa and I don’t want to hear you say that again. Do you hear me?”
He actually sounded a little angry then. I felt tears stinging in the corners of my eyes again and let out a shaky breath. His gaze softened a bit then and he cupped one side of my face with his hand. While his fingers were warm I felt the cold pressure of his silver ring against my hot cheek and it calmed me instantly.

 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. It’s just hard for me to sit here and listen to you be so damned hard on yourself. I know that I haven’t had any contact with you in years and that I don’t really know you but I can tell that you are a kind, sensitive, intelligent young woman. And I think you have more inner strength than you give yourself credit for. Don’t let this break you. It would be a terrible waste.”
He wiped at a single tear that traced down my cheek. At that moment the urge to kiss him again was almost overwhelming but I remembered what happened the last time and restrained myself.
“Thank you Petyr. You don’t know how much that means to me.”
“You’re welcome, sweetheart.”

 

I noticed that he had begun to fidget with his tie and his brow was furrowed as though he was wrestling internally with himself.
“Sansa, there is a matter that we need to discuss. I’d rather not have broached it right now but I don’t know when we will next have an opportunity to meet and I didn’t want to discuss it over the phone.”
“Okay,” I said a little uncertainly.
“I’ve made an appointment for you to see my doctor for your tests to check that you’re alright after what happened with the Hardyng boy. It is not this Thursday but the next and in the afternoon to coincide with your free period at school. That will give sufficient time for any after effects to show up in the tests.”
I felt a wave of nausea at the memory of that day. I hadn’t really had much time to reflect on it and had spent minimal time at school since it happened, my days filled with constant hospital visits. Harry and I had crossed paths only once and on that occasion he was holding hands with Myranda Royce who looked me up and down like I was a piece of dirt on her shoe. Harry wouldn’t even meet my eyes.

 

I’d done some snooping around and heard some things around the traps about Harry and other girls in our school, some of them were even a couple of years younger than me. It made me sick to the stomach to think what they might have gone through, being so young, innocent and unprepared. Of course, you have to be careful to put too much stock in gossip but it did make me stop and think. The whole ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’ thing is so true and I couldn’t deny that there had been something decidedly off about his behaviour towards me. You know, I thought hearing those things and seeing him with Myranda would be more upsetting than it was, but it was actually a bit of a relief. At least I got out before things could get any worse. Aside from the fact that he had physically hurt me during sex and hadn’t seemed to think there was anything wrong with that, I would forever associate him with what happened to Bran so it would never have worked out in any case. Also, I had found myself thinking about someone else entirely during that week, someone who truly cared about me and just happened to be sitting right next to me at that moment.

 

“Thanks for doing that Petyr. I appreciate it. Please just send me the details in a text and I’ll be there.”
“Not a chance, love. You are not going on your own. I will pick you up from the school at 1.00pm. The appointment is at 1.30pm.”
I was a little stunned at how thoughtful he was being and conscious of disrupting his work.
“You don’t have to do that Petyr.”
“I want to. Please let me do this for you Sansa. Let me help you.”
“Okay,” I said with a small smile. “Thanks. I would have been a bit scared to go on my own, if I’m honest.”

 

“Well, it’s high time,” he smirked.
“What?” I asked. I had no idea what he was on about.
“It’s about time I saw a smile from you. But I knew it would be completely worth the wait,” he said chucking me under the chin.
I started to blush and averted my gaze but when I eventually met his eyes again what I saw there gave me pause. He was staring at me with such an intensity that my breath caught in my throat, his gaze settling squarely on my lips. But after a few heartbeats he took a deep breath and straightened up as he regained control of himself. I realised then how much I had wanted him to close the small distance between us and kiss me.
“Petyr –”
Before I could continue the front door opened and in strolled Arya and Rickon, closely followed by my parents. Caught by surprise we both jumped instinctively to our feet. I can still clearly remember the shock on my mother’s face and the murderous glare that my Dad shot Petyr.
“What the hell are you doing here, Baelish?” he growled as I silently prayed for the floor to open up and swallow me whole.

Chapter Text

“Pleasure to see you too, Eddard, as always,” Petyr smirked sarcastically, holding out his hand as my father stalked over to him. He looked at Petyr’s hand as though he had leprosy and rubbed his own hand roughly through his hair, categorically declining the handshake. I thought Petyr would be offended by my dad’s rudeness but he simply chuckled darkly and twined his fingers together in front of himself, cool as a cucumber. I could tell that just made my father even more furious.
“Kids, up to your rooms. And that means you too Sansa,” Dad barked out.
Arya and Rickon took off up the stairs, having immediately recognised the dangerous tone of voice, but I just stood there rooted to the spot.
“Sansa, don’t make me repeat myself,” he growled.
“No, I’m not going anywhere,” I replied, squaring my shoulders and bringing myself up to my full height.
I could smell trouble brewing and there was no way I was going to leave Petyr to fend for himself. Petyr shot me a quick sideways glance but his expression was unreadable. My dad meanwhile looked as though he wanted to strangle me. No doubt he felt like I was making him look like a complete idiot in his own home in front of a man for whom he had zero respect or liking. I was really digging a deep hole for myself.

 

“Sansa, perhaps you should –”
“No Petyr. I’m staying right where I am.”
My father took a step towards me and grabbed my arm as if to haul me up to my room but I shook him off and stood my ground.
“Ned, please calm down,” my mother pleaded, placing her hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t tell me to calm down woman,” he yelled as he wrenched himself from her grasp. My mother and I both flinched at that but Petyr was remarkably composed. The only reaction I could spot was a slight twitch of his upper lip which, in time, I came to understand was quite a dangerous reaction from him. I’d noticed the same twitch when I told him about what Harry had done to me.

 

“What the fuck are you doing in my house, Baelish? Why are you here alone with my daughter?” he barked.
“Don’t be angry with him Dad. It’s not his fault. I asked him to come here.”
My father looked at me like I had sprouted a second head.
“You did what? Why? How do you even know each other? Just how long has this been going on?”
“So many questions, so little time,” Petyr muttered sardonically under his breath.
“Shut up or so help me I swear I’m going to -”
“Dad, please. I was really upset after I spoke to Bran today. I needed someone to talk to and he was kind enough to meet me here.”
“Kind? Him? You’ve got to be kidding me. The real reason, Sansa, NOW!” he yelled.

 

Petyr narrowed his eyes and stepped between myself and my father. His eyes burnt with intensity and yet his voice, in counterpoint, was perfectly calm.
“If you want to scream at someone then scream at me. Can’t you see she’s hurting? She’s been through enough.”
I looked at my father’s face and cringed. I’d never seen him so livid in my life.
“Who the hell do you think you are, you sick fucker? Don’t think I can’t see what’s going on here. I know the way you operate. You need to leave this house and you need to leave my daughter alone, do you hear me?”
My mother and I stared at my dad in shock. While my father could have a short fuse at times he was very rarely if ever verbally abusive. Petyr simply shook his head and then fixed him with an intense glare.
“What exactly are you accusing me of, Stark?” he asked, his voice cold and oddly devoid of emotion.
“I’d have thought that was obvious. Keep your filthy paedo hands off my daughter.”
“No, Dad!” I sobbed out, my face blushing beetroot red at my father’s accusation.
As controlled as Petyr had proven himself to be up until that point, I spotted a flash of fury in his eyes as the two men faced off. Petyr’s response, when it came, wasn’t what I expected.

 

“Your opinion of me is of no consequence. However, I’d have thought that you would have a little more respect for your own daughter. In accusing me you also disrespect her. I don’t think she deserves that.”
I knew how outraged Petyr must have been just then. The fact that he still had my interests foremost in his mind, caused a strong surge of affection towards him.
“You sanctimonious little shit,” Dad snarled back in disgust. “Are you questioning my parenting skills now? That’s rich coming from you, who has never raised a child in his life. Thank the gods. Hell knows what sort of monster you’d bring into the world.”
“Ned, please…” my mother pleaded.
“Stay the hell out of this Catelyn!” my father snapped.
“That’s a nice way to speak to your wife, the mother of your children, I must say,” Petyr remarked through gritted teeth.
“Now you’re going to question me about my relationship with my wife? How bloody ironic. You know what. Get the fuck out. Now. Before I throw you out, you worthless sack of shit!” my father yelled, as he spat directly in Petyr’s face.

 

At this point, you could have heard a pin drop. My mother stared at her husband slack jawed while I clapped a hand over my mouth in utter disbelief. Petyr recoiled but calmly plucked a handkerchief from his suit jacket pocket and wiped away the spittle before methodically folding it and replacing it.
“Very well. I will go. But only as I don’t wish to see these two ladies upset any further. Please, just take a deep breath and speak to your daughter and your wife calmly when I’m gone.”
“I don’t need to take advice from you on how to be a proper husband and a parent, two things you have absolutely no knowledge of. This is my house, my family, not yours. Now get out!” my father grated out, every muscle in his body tensed.
“Going. But just a bit of friendly advice. Might be time to spend a little less time obsessing over your political ambitions and your work and more time paying attention to the people around you who, for some reason I cannot fathom, actually appear to love you.”

 

That was the last straw for my father. He pulled his arm back, curled his hand into a fist and struck Petyr right in the mouth. His head whipped to the side as he staggered, his lip splitting from the impact. My mother screamed out while I quickly pulled Petyr behind me to shield him from my father. He was so furious that I wouldn’t have put it past him to lay another blow if he got the chance. I’d seen enough of Petyr to understand that he fought with his intellect and words not his fists, and would have little ability to defend himself against a much larger man like my father, if push came to shove.
“No, Dad. Enough. Don’t hurt him. Petyr hasn’t done what you’ve accused him of. Leave him alone,” I cried out.
“Why are you protecting him? Can’t you see what he is? Are you that naïve?”

 

“If I am, then it’s your fault,” I yelled at him. That seemed to get his attention and divert his anger somewhat so I kept up the pressure while I saw the opening.
“He was there for me when I needed someone the night of Bran’s accident.”
“You spoke to him that night? Behind our backs?” my father asked incredulously.
“Not intentionally. I didn’t know it was a big deal. We met when I stepped outside for some fresh air. Earlier in the ICU, you and Mom were looking at me like I was the one who was driving the car that hit Bran. You wouldn’t speak to me. Do you have any idea how that made me feel? It made me wish that I was the one in that accident instead of him. I wanted to die,” I sobbed.

 

I hadn’t even fully realised until that second that that was in fact how I genuinely felt until I actually said the words.
I felt Petyr’s warm hand on my shoulder, squeezing lightly as a deep regretful sigh wisped past my ear.
I could see my mother starting to tear up while my father’s eyes widened and he went very pale.
“Sansa –.” he whispered. “Don’t say that.”
“It’s the truth. Petyr was the one that pulled me back from the brink. I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t been there that night. And today was really rough. Again, he was there for me as a friend. You should be thanking him, not beating the living shit out of him.”
My father huffed out a loud breath and wiped his face roughly as some of the fire left him. When he finally spoke again his voice was more controlled but there was too much hatred and he was too proud to actually apologise or let it go. I could tell what a huge effort it was not to continue the battle.
“Just leave Baelish. And don’t come back. I don’t want to see your face around here again.”

 

Petyr rubbed at his jaw and swiped a trail of blood from his chin but he was too late to prevent a little stain that had formed on the collar of his otherwise pristine white business shirt. He looked a little dazed and I was worried that he was about to fall over.
“I’ll see you out Petyr,” I said taking him by the arm and leading him towards the front door.
“Sansa, for god’s sake,” my father grunted.
“Please Dad. I just want to make sure he gets to his car okay and he’s alright to drive. You hit him really hard.”
My father made no response to that and made no further attempt to stop me. I couldn’t say he looked guilty because he clearly didn’t regret causing Petyr pain. I had a feeling that his anger had been gathering momentum for some years and to some extent he was looking for an excuse to unleash it.

 

Once outside I pulled Petyr behind a thick shrub where I knew we could not be watched from the windows and embraced him.
“I’m so sorry Petyr. Does it hurt very much?”
“Yeah,” he smirked, “but only when I laugh.”
“I don’t know what got into him. I’ve never seen him like that.”
“Well, don’t tell him I told you this, but I have. His older brother was quite the scrapper too in his day. I speak from experience.”
I wondered what he meant about my father and my late uncle Brandon. Had they hurt Petyr somehow? I pulled away from him and searched his face. I didn’t like the look in his eyes just then: a deeply haunted look that not even he could hide, as though a very painful memory had been dredged up.
“Are you okay?” I asked, as I cupped his now bruised and swelling jaw gently in my hand.
He winced at the contact but didn’t flinch away, just stared at me intently as I brought my other hand to his lip, tentatively wiping at a small spot of blood that had appeared there with my forefinger. His hand landed at the back of my head and drew me a little closer. I could feel his breath hot against my mouth as he smoothed at my hair and stared at my lips.

 

My breathing quickened and I felt a flush of heat through my body as his other hand landed on my hip, massaging me with his long fingers. Gods help me but I couldn’t resist him any longer. I leaned in and kissed him softly and slowly on the corner of his mouth. He moaned and entwined his fingers in my hair, pulling me flush against his body, his lips meeting mine in a crushing kiss. It must have hurt him but he didn’t show it as his mouth continued to move over mine. Suddenly he pulled away from me.
“Shit, I’m sorry,” he cursed as he wiped at his mouth. When I licked my lips I could taste iron and realised that the cut on his lip had re-opened and he had bled on me. I wasn’t sure if he regretted this or the fact that he had kissed me at all. Perhaps it was a little of both.
“I’m not,” I smiled as I stroked my fingers through the hair at his temples.
“Sansa,” he said with a note of warning in his tone. “I don’t want to be what your father accused me of.”
“You could never be that, Petyr. Not to me.”
“You shouldn’t be so trusting. At least not of me. Anyone who has known me for any length of time will tell you that.”
“I don’t care what they say. I do trust you. You’ve haven’t given me any reason not to.”
“Give it time,” he smirked mirthlessly.

 

“Sansa, you really need to get inside before your father comes out here looking for you. And to be honest I don’t really feel up for round two.”
“Okay, but promise me you’ll put a cold pack on your face when you get home and take some paracetamol and if you start to feel dizzy or unwell or really out of it, go to the ER. I’m worried about you. You could get a concussion.”
“It’s sweet of you to worry but entirely unnecessary. I’ll be fine. I want you to focus on yourself. Stop worrying about everyone else and give yourself some time to heal.”
“I’ll try. But at least text me when you get home so I can be sure you got there in one piece.”
“Yes Ma’am,” he said with a small mock salute.
I giggled and was about to turn from him when I felt his hand on my elbow, his thumb rubbing across my skin. He smiled at me softly; his eyes were warm and full of affection.
“I loved that sound from you and I WILL hear it again…soon,” he said before he squeezed my arm and pushed me gently in the direction of the front door.

Chapter Text

To my great relief there was no more confrontation that night because, according to Mom, my father had retired to the master bedroom with a king sized headache which I thought was rather ironic given that he was the one who had thrown a punch to Petyr’s head. My mother seemed to think that he regretted his actions but I’m sure that if he did, it was more to do with upsetting us than bringing pain to a man he obviously detested. While my mom didn’t condone Dad’s behaviour, it was clear to me that she didn’t trust Petyr either. She warned me to be careful around him but she wouldn’t elaborate other than to say that she had known him for a long time so she knew what she was talking about.

 

I was determined to find out why there was so much animosity there but tonight wasn’t the night to grill my mom. She looked really wrung out. The constant worry over Bran, the tension in the household and now this heated altercation had obviously taken their toll. She had dark circles under her eyes and the fine lines around her mouth looked deeper somehow. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw her smile. I hugged her tight and told her I loved her before escaping upstairs to my bedroom. Careful not to wake Arya, I grabbed my torch and settled in with one of my favourite books. About half an hour later my cell phone vibrated in my pocket. A message from Petyr with an attachment. It was a picture of him holding a bag of frozen peas to his face with a caption that read ‘give peas a chance’. I snickered quietly at the god awful pun and typed in my reply.

S: OMG. You are such a dork.

P: Why thank you. In my world, that almost constitutes a compliment.

S: Wanna hear something funny?

P: I told you it hurts when I laugh. But go on.

S: Dad’s got an enormous migraine.

P: Ow, ow it hurts!!!!!!

S: LOL. It’s not nice to laugh at other peoples’ misfortunes.

P: See. I told you I couldn’t be trusted.

S: Urgh. So does it really hurt?

P: Like an absolute bitch.

S: I’m sorry. It’s all my fault. If I was there I would X it all better for you.

P: Not your fault. You are a very naughty girl, Sansa Stark.

S: In my world, that almost constitutes a compliment.

P: Touché funny girl.

S: I really wish I was there tho.

P: Me too.

S: Well if I can’t be there I can do the next best thing.

P: Now you have me intrigued.

S: Good. Give me a sec.

 

I took a selfie of myself pursing my lips in a nice big smoochy kiss but when I reviewed it, it seemed a bit lame and, I thought ‘what the hell’. Throwing caution to the wind and making sure Arya was still asleep, I peeled off my t-shirt to reveal my black lace and satin bra and took the picture again with the pursed lips, leaning forward and pressing my forearms tight to my sides so my breasts were squeezed together and virtually tumbling out of the cups. I freed my hair from my ponytail and arranged it so it flowed down by the side of my breasts, making sure it didn't obscure the view. Much better. I typed in NSFW and FYEO and attached the picture. I hesitated for a second before hitting ‘send’, suddenly shy and uncertain. What was it about this man that made me want to indulge in risky behaviour? This just wasn’t me.

 

I waited and waited for his reply but after half an hour I gave up and got myself changed for bed. I tossed and turned worried that I had offended Petyr or overstepped the boundaries. I knew that what I had done was ill advised, no, it was just plain wrong. This man was married to my aunt and was more than twice my age. In fact, in the jurisdiction of Winterfell, a relationship between a girl and man of our respective ages was illegal. If, anything were to happen between us and it was discovered, Petyr would be a social pariah and could go to jail for a long time. I knew that my parents (well, my father at least) would not hesitate to pursue the matter legally if it came to that. The lives of myself and my family would be in tatters. Was I really prepared to risk that? Was he? It could only end in heartache and a part of me, the sensible logical part, knew that. Unfortunately my heart and my body did not agree. As I lay there alone in my bed agonising over whether his lack of response was in fact a blessing in disguise, I heard the phone vibrate against the timber of my bedside table. A message from Petyr. I was sorely tempted to delete it without reading it but curiosity got the better of me.

 

P: Thank you - that helped. Not my face but another body part entirely ;)

 

I gasped out loud and clapped my hand to my mouth, worried for a second that I had woken Arya up but I could still hear her gentle yet persistent snoring. Did Petyr really just write that!? What the hell? I lay back down in the bed and felt an ache between my legs as I visualised what Petyr had been doing as he looked at my picture. I desperately wanted to touch myself but I highly doubted that I would be able to do so quietly enough, so taking a few deep breaths, I typed in my reply. I knew I should have left his last message unanswered. That would have infinitely wiser than encouraging Petyr further but my fingers just wouldn’t obey.

 

S: You are a very bad man.

P: There you see, I told you so. Now perhaps you believe me.

S: Yep that did it.

P: My work here is done. Good night my lovely Sansa.

S: Good night Petyr XXX

Needless to say I got very little sleep that night and I imagined that it might have been the same for him.

Chapter Text

After the events of the day before, I really didn’t know what to expect from my father in the morning. When I walked into the kitchen he frowned slightly but then nodded to me and told me to take a seat so he could talk to me before Arya and Rickon came downstairs. My mother also was somewhere upstairs. I wasn’t sure where. Perhaps she had slept in as she had been so exhausted the previous night.
“Sansa. I want to apologise for what I said and did last night and for not being there for you when you needed me.”
“Dad, it’s okay. I -”
“No, let me finish, please. I should not have tried to solve my issues with physical violence. I’ve always taught you kids that violence is not the answer. I learned that the hard way in the past. These things have a habit of coming back to roost. It was wrong of me, hypocritical of me to strike that man. However, I hope that you will heed my advice and stay away from him in future. But, Sansa, understand one thing. I hope to all the gods that I’m wrong about him but if I’m not and he manages to hurt you or take advantage of you in any way, I won’t be responsible for my actions. I won’t hurt him physically but I will take him down. I will destroy him by any legal means at my disposal - you can be sure of that. You are my daughter and I will not allow any harm to come to you.”

 

I had no doubt that my father was sincere. One look into his eyes made me quite sure of it.
“He won’t Dad. If he had any intention of doing so he’s had plenty of opportunity. But he’s done nothing but support me and this family and he’s made me feel better about myself.”
My father sighed loudly in response.
“That’s my job, love, and I’ve failed. If I’d been there for you, there would have been no need for you to turn to Baelish. I hate to admit it but he was right about one thing. I do need to focus more on you guys. Social position, financial security, job satisfaction are all well and good but they don’t mean anything if I lose you all in the process. I know it doesn’t always seem like it, but you lot will always come first with me. Always. And remember that no matter what happens or what crazy thing you decide to do next, I will always love you, pumpkin,” he said with a small smile as he ruffled my hair affectionately.
He hadn’t used that particular endearment with me for quite a while so I found myself getting quite emotional. I wiped a tear from my eye, pulled him in for a hug and told him I loved him too. I felt like an enormous weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I could tell that he was relieved too.

 

For once Dad interrupted his ritual of reading the newspaper to make conversation with me about my school work and how things were going with me in general. Leaving out the obvious elephant in the room, which was Harry, I told him things were on the up, which wasn’t entirely a lie. I was starting to feel a lot more positive about things now that I’d cleared the air with my parents. I wanted to prove to them that I could be trusted so I made the very difficult decision in my mind to sever ties with Petyr. I understood then just how much I was going to miss him but I couldn’t see any alternative. It was inevitable that things would escalate between us physically and emotionally - well the latter on my part at least - if we continued to see each other and it would only lead to disaster. Besides, I just didn’t feel right about lying and sneaking around behind my parents’ backs now that things were back on an even keel again. There was also my Aunt to consider. I didn’t want to be some sort of homewrecker.

 

Acutely aware that I was the one who had pursued Petyr and that I had stirred him up with my provocative selfie, I determined that he deserved to be told face to face about my decision. I decided that the next time we met, most likely for my medical appointment in a little under two weeks’ time, I would seek his forgiveness for my inappropriate behaviour and explain to him that it would be for the best if we didn’t see each other alone anymore. Even though I’d only known him briefly he’d made such a deep impression on me that it was going to be so hard to let go, but it had to be done, for everyone’s sake.

 

Once Dad had left for work, I made my way upstairs and entered the bedroom I shared with Arya. I could hear her singing tunelessly and loudly in the shower through the closed door; to my utter horror my mother was sitting on my bed with my cell phone in her hand.
“What…what are you doing?” I stammered, but judging by how destroyed she looked I knew exactly what she had been doing.
“What is this?” she hissed. “You lied to us again, Sansa. How could you? And with that son of a bitch. He’s old enough to be your father, for god’s sake. I should have listened to your father. He was right the whole time. He knew.”
She wiped angrily at tears that had started to track down her cheeks.
“No mom, it’s not like that. Please just listen –”
“Why Sansa? So I can sit here and listen to you spin another of your damned lies? First this Harry boy and now your uncle? I don’t know what’s happened to you. You’re not the daughter I gave birth to.”
Her voice had risen in volume and I was very worried that we would be overheard.
“Sssh. Arya will hear you,” I whispered desperately.
“Then come with me,” she hissed, as she took a firm grip on my arm and hauled me towards her and Dad’s bedroom. I’d never seen her like this. It was as though her sanity was hanging on by a thread. With everything that had happened, I was starting to feel the same way.

 

Closing the door after us, she whipped me around to face her.
“Why? Why him?”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you Mom. Nothing has happened between us.”
“How on earth do you expect me to believe that? You’re sending lewd semi-naked pictures of yourself to him and his message back to you was utterly disgusting. Your whole conversation is extremely personal and inappropriate.”
“The selfie was my fault, not his. He’s been nothing but respectful and nice to me.”
“Oh yeah, right. Well he wasn’t so decent and noble when he decided to pleasure himself over your picture instead of deleting it straight away, was he? You’re a sixteen year old girl; he’s a mature man, so much older than you. He’s taking advantage of you and you’re letting him. How can you not see how wrong this all is?”
I’d never heard my mother so upset before. It was really starting to scare me but at the same time I was starting to get angry too. Petyr in no way deserved the vitriol that was pouring out of my mother’s mouth. Before I could retort she started on another tirade.

 

“And what is this disrespect of yours towards your father? You making a joke out of his migraines? You know how much he suffers when he gets them, and he got that particular one because of you. Because he’s worried to death about you. And it looks very much as though he was right to be. And what does he get for all his worrying? An ungrateful daughter who makes a fool out of him in front of his worst enemy, who laughs at him behind his back WITH his worst enemy.”
Looking at it from her perspective I felt a little guilty about that now even though the disrespect was unintentional, but I was determined to get to the bottom of why my parents felt the way they did about Petyr. There had to be more to the story than they were letting on.

 

“What has he done to make you two hate him so much?” I asked.
“Perhaps you should ask him. He’s a very creative story teller,” she snarled.
“I want you to tell me.”
My mother stood there for the longest time just staring at me. I could tell how conflicted she was. Eventually she gave in.
“Alright then. But you are not to tell your father that I have shared this with you. It would upset him greatly. Do you understand?”
I nodded and sat down on the bed. A moment later my mother sat down next to me with a huge sigh. At least now she seemed a little calmer. For how long I couldn’t be sure.

Chapter Text

My mother stared at her hands as she fidgeted and fussed at the tie of her dressing gown before finally speaking.
“Sansa, the truth is that when we were younger, Petyr used to be in love with me.”
I gasped and felt the blood drain from my face. Of all the things she could have told me that was NOT what I had been expecting. I felt like I’d been punched in the guts.
“What? No! You’re lying.”
“It’s true. Believe me I wish it wasn’t, but it is. Please just listen and then I’ll answer any questions you have.”
I really wasn’t sure I wanted to hear this story anymore but nodded for her to continue.
“Petyr, Aunt Lysa and I grew up in the same household for around ten years. Your grandparents took Petyr in as a young boy when both of his own parents were killed in an accident. When in my mid-teens Petyr took a shine to me but I never looked at him in that way. I considered him as my kid brother. Besides being shorter, smaller and younger than me he was never on my radar. I know that’s shallow of me because back then there was a real sweetness to him that I was blind to at the time, but I remember it now. Lysa saw what I was unable to. She fell head over heels for him but he only ever had eyes for me.

 

“Things started to get quite awkward between all three of us. Lysa pined for Petyr and realised only too well that he wasn’t interested. She became insanely jealous of me. Petyr, for his part, was too insecure to ask me out and to be honest, he was right to be that way because I would have declined. As we got a bit older, I was a little cruel to him and used to let him kiss me out in the gardens as a game because I found it amusing and well, truthfully, he was an amazing kisser and it felt good. Of course I was too immature to realise it then but I know now how confusing that would have been for him, making him think that he might have had a chance with me. After a while, when he would start to get a bit too touchy feely I would push him away and he would move on to Lysa who welcomed him with open arms. She would always let him go a little further with her than I allowed him to go with me. Well, that’s according to what Lysa told me, anyway. Who knows, perhaps he used her to release all his sexual frustrations – I don’t know.

 

I felt myself blushing at my mother’s observation about Petyr’s kissing skills because, even though I’d only had a small sample, I couldn’t have agreed more. Thankfully, she was too caught up in her reminiscences to notice my reddened cheeks.

 

“But his kisses meant nothing to me beyond the pleasure and intellectually Petyr knew that but it didn’t stop him from nurturing a hope that one day I would see him the same way he saw me. Then at the age of 22, I met Brandon, your father’s older brother. Petyr was only 18 at the time.”

 

I did a double take as reality set in. My mother was 47. That made Petyr 43. For some reason, I hadn’t stopped to think of the chronology until then. Despite the little bit of grey in his hair, he in no way looked that age. I had taken him for a man in his early thirties, still very much in his prime. I was a little stunned but tried not to show any reaction as my mother continued with her story.

 

“My parents were supportive when we started dating. They considered Brandon to be quite a prospect. He was from a wealthy titled family and owned his own very successful IT business; he was going up in the world. Tall, broad shouldered, strong as an ox and very handsome. He was everything that any woman would want in a husband. Well, at least, that’s what everybody kept telling me. But for me, something was missing. The spark that I had expected and longed for just wasn’t there. Despite my doubts I agreed to marry him. I’m not sure if Petyr sensed any of this or if desperation at the thought of losing me forever drove him to it but when Brandon and I went public with our engagement he started to pursue me in earnest. He told me he had always loved me and that if I would only give him a chance he would prove to me that he could look after me just as well if not better than Brandon could. He would give me the world, is what he promised.

 

“At first, I took it with good grace but he was so persistent, so exhausting with his constant impassioned phone calls and bunches of flowers and boxes of chocolates that would turn up unexpectedly at my place of work. No matter how much I tried to let him down gently, he just wouldn’t quit. Brandon was more than aware of it but found it all quite pathetic and of no threat to himself or his ego whatsoever, so he never confronted Petyr about it. That kind of confused and frustrated me. It’s not that I wanted Brandon to be a possessive monster but I wouldn’t have minded him having a little bit of a problem with Petyr’s constant attentions, just to show that he actually cared. I also felt as though had he intervened early on it might have nipped the whole thing in the bud before it got to the stage it did. But really, when it comes down to it, I should have been the one to put an end to it. I just didn’t have the heart to do it and to blame Brandon after the event isn’t fair. I know that now.

 

“Well, it all came to a head on the night of our engagement party. Petyr couldn’t deal with the reality of the situation and got totally drunk. He accosted me on the dance floor and forced me to dance with him. He was so out of it that he could barely stand. He dragged me into a side room and desperately pleaded with me to marry him but by this stage I couldn’t take it anymore. To this day I regret what I said to him. It was cruel and heartless and it broke him but I was at my wit’s end. I laughed at him, Sansa, and called him a little boy and a loser. I said this deliberately because I knew that this assessment of him would hit him hard. He’d been told all his young life that he would never amount to anything and those put-downs stayed with him. Petyr was constantly bullied when at school because he was smaller than the other boys and even when he left, things didn’t really look up for him. He was from a poor background, now a university student with a badly paid part time job – no money, no social position, nothing to offer. Except his love. He offered me his heart but I told him that it wasn’t enough, that I needed a real man, that he was making a fool out of himself and to leave me alone.”

 

I could feel tears threatening. I felt desperately sorry for Petyr but I had an ominous feeling there was tragedy to come, so I took a deep breath and steeled myself for more.

Chapter Text

“The way he looked at me Sansa – I will remember that look until the day I die. He was like a wounded animal. I immediately wanted to take it back but the damage had already been done. He began to cry and yell at me and throw things around the room. I thought he’d totally lost his senses. I ran from the room and called for some of the male guests to help Petyr to bed, hoping he would sleep it off. Little did I know that Lysa was waiting in his dark bedroom pretending to be me. We did have our hair, height and build in common so in his inebriated state and with the limited lighting available he would have struggled to tell us apart. She slept with him, Sansa, while he was semi-conscious. She was his first.

 

“You’re trying to say he was raped?” I cried in disgust.
My mother nodded her head sadly.
“Yes, I’m sorry to say, it’s true. And it was all my fault. I didn’t know it at the time. I only found out about it years later when my father was dying of cancer and he felt the need to unburden himself. Many a time I’ve wished he had kept that little secret to himself. Whether Petyr genuinely believed that I had slept with him or whether he was in denial about what really happened and was desperate to convince himself that it was me, I don’t know to this day. But from that point on he was determined to win me over. For weeks he would turn up out of the blue and tell me how much he loved me and how perfect we could be together; every time I would try and let him down gently so as not to have a repeat of his destructive behaviour. On the night of the wedding Petyr, drunk once again, confronted Brandon with the accusation that I had slept with him and that this was proof that I had feelings for him and that I belonged with him, yelling it out in front of all the guests.

 

“I was absolutely furious with Petyr and completely mortified, believing he had fabricated this story, not knowing at the time about what Lysa had done. I thought it was just his revenge on me for rejecting him and one last ditch attempt at sabotaging the wedding. Brandon didn’t believe a word of it but it still infuriated him because of the very public way in which he perceived that Petyr had slandered me and brought shame on him in the process. His pride had taken a direct hit and he just couldn’t look the other way as he had done every other time.

 

“Basically, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Brandon took Petyr outside and beat him to within an inch of his life. Somewhere along the line a knife was involved and Petyr was seriously hurt. I pleaded with Brandon to stop; if I hadn’t I am fully convinced Petyr would have died. Sometimes I think it would have been better for everyone, especially him, if I had just let Brandon have his way. Petyr still bears a massive scar all the way down his chest as a constant reminder of that night but his mental and emotional scars run so much deeper. He spent many weeks in hospital but I did not go to see him, as hard as that was for me, because despite everything, I did care about what happened to him. I knew that Brandon would throw a fit if I went to see him. I also thought that Petyr would find false hope in a visit from me and that was the last thing I wanted or that he needed. He had to understand that he and I were never going to happen, end of story so I decided to rip off the bandaid and stay away. Now, looking back, I’m not sure that I did the right thing – it seems so cruel to me now. No one should have to deal with something like that alone. When he was finally released, Lysa helped him to fully recuperate, sleeping with him a second time when he was under the influence of very strong pain killers and had no idea what was going on.”

 

“No, not again!” I cried out. “How could she do that to him? I thought she loved him. You don’t do that to someone you love.”

 

“Desperation makes people do some terrible things, Sansa. Well this time Petyr remembered parts of the night and threw her out, not that you could blame him. The real tragedy is that Lysa fell pregnant this time but aborted the baby under pressure from my father. The procedure caused complications that left her infertile. Petyr never knew that he was going to be a father and I don’t intend on ever telling him. I’ve never even told your father for fear that he’ll be tempted to let it slip when he’s angry. I don’t have any love for Petyr left in my heart but he’s been through enough.”

 

“Oh, that’s horrible. I don’t understand why or how Petyr could have married that woman after what she’s done to him, even if he doesn’t know or accept that the first rape happened or know about Aunt Lysa’s abortion, he’s aware of the second rape,” I pointed out.

 

“I don’t know Sansa. I have no idea how happy their marriage is. Lysa has never spoken of it with me which tempts me to think that it’s not ideal. I’m pretty sure she would be gloating otherwise. That’s just the way she is. I think Petyr is taking a sort of revenge out on her. What better way to punish her than to remind her in little ways every day that the only man she’s ever loved does not reciprocate that love and never will. I wouldn’t put it past him. Or perhaps it was some misguided attempt on his part to try and worm his way back into my life but he probably didn’t anticipate how fractured my relationship with Lysa was by that stage. Maybe he believed that marrying her would spur some sort of jealousy in me. But he didn’t realise that my marriage to your father was not like my marriage to Brandon. They were brothers but really, apart from physique, they were nothing alike. Your father is the love of my life. Brandon, gods rest his soul, was a decent enough man who treated me well but I was never really completely happy during our short marriage. When he passed a little more than a year later, I was very saddened but I know that if I ever lost your father like that it would destroy me completely.”

 

“The day of Petyr and Lysa’s wedding four years ago was like déjà vu. During the reception Petyr was inebriated again. I noticed him talking to you and that he was looking at you strangely and I didn’t like it one little bit. You see Sansa, you looked so much like me at the same age and I think he was a little fixated on you. It took him back to a more innocent and happy time when he still believed that love was possible. I took him aside and told him to leave you alone but he laughed at me and told me that I was imagining things and that I was pathetic to be so jealous of my own twelve year old daughter. I was so angry I tried to slap him. He caught my arm, ripped open his shirt and put my hand on his chest over his scar and whispered in my ear that he had never stopped loving me, that he would always love me. He said that he was now a very wealthy man and could easily have afforded treatment to minimise his scarring but that he bore his scar proudly as a testament to our love.

 

“He really sounded crazy. I was genuinely scared of him at that moment. Your father found us like that and unlike Brandon, his possessiveness knew no bounds, so he attacked Petyr without a second thought. I was sure Petyr was going to be ripped apart this time but I managed to get in between them and calm your father down. I told Petyr to leave me the hell alone, that I hated him and that I wished Brandon had killed him that day so many years ago. I’d never actually said that or anything so hurtful like it to him before. I saw a light go out in his eyes and I knew then that he had finally let go of his feelings for me. Finally, after so many years of hoping and wishing for something that would never happen. Such a terrible waste.”

 

“Once we got home from the reception your father grilled me about how I ended up with my hand on Petyr’s chest. I had to admit to myself that it looked bad so I had no choice but to tell the truth about his interaction with you. Your father was beyond furious. To pursue me was one thing but to give you even a sideways glance was a death sentence. I pleaded with him to just let it go and eventually he agreed but on the proviso that we never set foot in Lysa’s house again; that Petyr would never have that or any other opportunity to speak with you or me alone again. It upset me because Lysa and I had taken baby steps towards mending our relationship but now Petyr had managed to drive a wedge between us again. I know she’s done some horrible things but she’s still my sister. That’s why I rang her when Bran was in the hospital. Despite everything that has happened, I needed her. Neither your father nor I believed for a second that Petyr would have the nerve to show up with her at the hospital and we have no idea what motivated it. That’s the worrying part. Now do you understand why your father acts the way he does around him and why he was so upset when he found out that you had been alone with him at the hospital and in this house? Do you understand now why I can’t bear to look at him?”

 

“Yes, I get it. But Mom, he’s not entirely to blame for all of this. He was violated by one woman and rejected by another woman who he thought was the love of his life. And then he was horribly injured and thrown out of the house that he had learned to call his home. He was alone, he would have been scared out of his wits lying in that hospital bed; he had nothing and no one to turn to. He was in love with a woman who he believed didn’t care if he lived or died. What other conclusion would he draw from you not going to see him? How can you expect him to come out of all that unscathed, Mom? How?”

 

“I understand that fate was unkind to him – that I was unkind to him. But Sansa, you have to be careful with him, love. He’s deceptive and manipulative and very good at it. He’s not the helpless long suffering victim that he makes out he is. When I first rejected Petyr he went off the rails for a while; he drank heavily, dropped out of his studies. But somewhere along the line he was determined that if he couldn’t have love, if he was unworthy of it then he would go it alone and find satisfaction and fulfilment in other arenas; he didn’t care who he hurt in the pursuit of it. He’s been in the drug trade, prostitution, racketeering, extortion, kidnapping. You name it, he’s been involved in it.”

 

I felt the blood drain from my face as I contemplated the enormity of what my mother had revealed about Petyr’s criminal activities. This couldn’t possibly be the same man that held me gently in his arms and whispered lovingly in my ear only hours earlier. There had to be some kind of mistake.

 

“Petyr has done some terrible things through the years. He has destroyed so many innocent lives in his pursuit of success. His soul is a dark, sick and twisted thing, Sansa. He’s not the innocent little brother I knew all those years ago. I killed that boy as surely as if I had wielded that knife myself. If only I had shown him some compassion, a lot of heartache could have been spared. That is a heavy cross to bear and that is why I feel the way I do about him. Because he forces me to confront the ugly part of myself every time I see what he has become: the monster I had a role in creating and the beautiful loving boy I destroyed in the process.”

Chapter Text

I found it very hard to reconcile the kind and caring Petyr I knew with the disturbing portrait of the man that my mother had just painted. It just didn’t seem possible that someone with so much compassion for me could destroy lives with a click of his fingers and without as much as a second thought. And I refused to believe that Petyr harboured a sick fascination for me because of an obsession with my mother. If I looked so much like my mother when she was younger, then his disconcerting reaction to my presence at his wedding was completely understandable: it was surprise and shock. Thinking back on the encounter, I couldn’t remember him actually saying or doing anything that was even remotely inappropriate; it was just his unexpected adult attention and intensity that put me on edge. I was only a young child so I had no idea what to do with that.

 

Moving on to the here and now, I had been the one to initiate our physical contact. not him, and his reaction to my selfie – well, what was he supposed to think when I sent him that? How would any red-blooded man react? And he had always done his best to warn me off him. He had told me that he couldn’t be trusted. He couldn’t have made things any clearer. Petyr could have taken advantage of my grief and guilt over Bran at any time, but he hadn’t. Rather, he had been the one to consistently push me away. No, I couldn’t believe that he was capable of what my mother accused him of.

 

If anything her story made it impossible for me to go through with my plan to discontinue our friendship, at least not the next time I saw him. I really didn’t know how he felt about me but I suspected that he would not take any rejection from me well. My heart was already breaking for him; how could I possibly add to his misery. He had cared for me in my hour of need. I couldn’t just turn my back on him, especially as I was the one who had kissed him and not the other way around. And yet, there was this other alleged side to him that spoke of depravity and ruthlessness. Could I really look the other way and pretend that this Mr Hyde didn’t exist because it was an inconvenience that didn’t fit in with my preferred vision of him?

 

“Do you have any proof of the things you say he has done?” I asked.
My mother recoiled and I could tell that she was hurt that I hadn’t taken her word for it.
“Yes,” she said coldly. “Your father has a dossier in his study. He has secretly investigated Petyr for years. He has threatened to reveal the contents to the authorities should Petyr ever overstep the mark with you or with me again.”
“If he hates Petyr so much why hasn’t he just given the information over before now? Why shield a criminal. What’s stopping him?”
“Me.”
“Why?” I asked incredulously.
“As much as Petyr disgusts me it would kill my sister if anything happened to him. Besides he seems to have moved on from the criminal activities and has a respectable and successful investment business, well at least, it appears that way. Also, he is quite the philanthropist these days. Don’t misunderstand. It’s not that I think he shouldn’t be punished for the past, but as I’ve said, I have to accept that I’ve had a role in all of this. I’m also very worried that with his powerful connections he might beat any charges brought against him and then what would become of us? Your father has fought the urge to destroy Petyr for years because I have asked him to; because of his love for me. But if Petyr threatens you or me, not even I can stop your father from bringing him down. Do you wish to read the contents of his file, Sansa? I warn you though that it doesn’t make for very pleasant reading.”

 

Did I want to read it? Good question. If I didn’t I would always wonder what it contained and it would eat away at me. If I did read it and it was as bad as my mother said, then how could I ever look at Petyr the same way again? I decided that I needed to talk to him first – see how much he was willing to reveal about himself to me of his own accord. Of course, I would not reveal the existence of the dossier to him. If Petyr was the monster my mother said he was then that could be very dangerous for my father.
“No,” I responded. “I do believe what you’ve told me Mom. But he’s never done anything to suggest he is a danger to me or that he’s taking advantage of me in any way. I believe that there’s good inside him still because I’ve seen signs of it. I don’t think that young boy you knew died. I think he’s just lost. Maybe it’s not too late to find him again.”
“You’re romanticizing him Sansa. He’s proven himself to be a dangerous, lethal criminal with no redeeming qualities,” she stated firmly.
“I’m sorry Mom. I can’t believe that about him. I believe that people can change. He was a loving man before. He can be that again. I know it.”
“And who would you have him love, Sansa. You?” she asked, her eyes narrowing.
“No, I –, no of course not… he’s married,” I stammered, my face flushing hotly despite my best efforts to hide my feelings.

 

“Your father is right, Sansa. You are a very poor liar, especially when you lie to yourself. Neither of us can really do anything about it if you are determined to see him but I’m begging you to stay away from him. Don’t develop a crush on him; don’t get infatuated. Don’t let yourself be fooled by his lies and manipulation. And don’t get yourself embroiled in someone else’s marriage; it will only end in heartbreak.”
I braced myself to throw my mother off the scent but I felt as guilty as hell about lying to her.
“Really Mom. You have nothing to worry about. It’s not like that at all. Petyr’s been a friend to me and that’s all it is. I’m really not interested in him like that. Apart from anything else he’s old enough to be my father. The texts you saw were just a bit of fun that got out of hand. That was my fault, not his. I just felt sorry for him when he got hurt by Dad on account of me and I just wanted to cheer him up. It wasn’t a good idea and I know that now. I’ll be careful around him from now on after what you’ve told me but I feel for for him and I just don’t want him to be sad anymore. It sounds like he’s always been so sad and alone. No one deserves that.”
My mother gave me a good long look, sighed and then smiled, squeezing my hand.
You are always so sensitive to other people’s feelings, love. Just be cautious, promise me.”
“I promise.”
“Now, get yourself downstairs before you’re late for school. And not a word of this conversation to your father.”
“No, of course not,” I mumbled. “And Mom. Thanks for telling me. It couldn’t have been easy.”
My mother nodded her head again but gave no reply as I opened the door and made my way downstairs.

 

As I entered the school gates with Arya and Rickon a little later that morning, Gilly raced up to me with a very concerned look on her face.
“Sansa, come with me, I have some news. You might want to sit down for this.”
Oh gods, what now, I thought. Can’t I just have one day without drama?
We sat down on a bench adjacent to the basketball courts.
“What is it? I’m all ears.”
“It’s about Harry.”
“What about him? I told you the other day that we didn’t click and that I won’t be going out with him again.”
“I know but Sansa, he’s been hurt. Very badly.”
I was not happy with Harry, especially after witnessing his antics with Myranda but despite everything that had happened, I didn’t wish actual physical harm on him.
“What do you mean by ‘badly hurt’?”
“He was attacked by a gang of thugs when he was walking back from a nightclub two nights ago.”
“Oh gods! What did they do to him?” I stammered, feeling a wave of nausea hit me.
“He has a compound fracture of his right humerus and his left wrist was smashed, both with a baseball bat. They crushed his kneecaps as well. His face and his Achilles tendons were slashed with a box cutter. Even with cosmetic surgery, he’s going to be left with terrible scars and with the bone fractures and tendon injuries, he’s never going to be able to play competitive sport again.”

 

“No!” I cried out in horror. “That’s terrible. Baseball - that’s what he lived for. And mutilating his face? This isn’t fair. Who would do something like this?”
“Well apparently it wasn’t a random attack. Word has it that Harry remembers some details about one of the men but he couldn’t make out the features of his face which was hidden in the dark. The guy was just standing there with his hands clenched in front of him. He was really well dressed in a dark coloured suit and had a black and silver ring on the finger of one hand. The lamp light was hitting right on it. He says that when the other men were finished with him the guy watching said in a brogue accent ‘I am not going to kill you. I want you to suffer and remember every day of your miserable life that you can’t hurt what is mine.’ It makes you wonder what on earth Harry did to deserve that.”
I rose from the bench and doubled over as I evacuated the contents of my stomach noisily over the roots of a nearby tree.
“Are you okay?” Gilly asked as she rubbed my back in comfort.
“Yeah, I just…..it was a shock. I’ll be fine.”
“The theory is that it’s someone interested in Myranda Royce who doesn’t like how close she has become to Harry lately. Saw him as a threat.
“Yeah maybe,” I mumbled, still feeling horribly sick to my stomach.

 

Gilly could trot out as many theories and list as many possible suspects as she liked but for me this attack was personal, very personal. There could be only one man responsible for this sickening act.

 

Petyr.

Chapter Text

After my conversation with Gilly, I visited the school first aid room to pick up a form excusing me from classes for the rest of the day. The nurse was a kindly but very shrewd woman who was not easily fooled but I was still shaking and decidedly nauseous about what I had learned that morning so she had no reason to question that I was genuinely feeling unwell. I rang my Mom who instantly offered to come and pick me up from school. That would have completely ruined my plans but luckily I managed to convince her that I would be fine to catch the bus home. She was expecting an important client so it would have been difficult for her to escape work at the last minute anyway. I was going to catch the bus alright but not home. As I stood at the stop waiting for the bus to arrive, I extracted Petyr’s business card from my purse and keyed in the address details into my phone’s navigation app to check out the location of his place of work in the city.

 

As much as the thought of placing myself in the path of this violent, vengeful man terrified me, I felt I had no choice but to confront him there and then with my knowledge of his attack on Harry and some of the other things I’d learned from my mother. Of course I could have just ignored everything and carried on regardless but I felt as though it would always be lurking around in the shadows waiting to confront me. By meeting it head on now, at least I had a chance of addressing it on my own terms.

 

Half an hour later I stood outside the entrance doors of a modern twenty story glass and concrete building in the middle of the financial quarter of Winterfell. I made my way inside the impressive foyer to the security desk and produced the business card explaining that I was Petyr’s niece. After a quick confirmation phone call, the guard escorted me to the lifts and pressed the button for the top floor. As I stood in the lift waiting for it to arrive at its destination, I began to tremble from head to toe. The only thing that prevented me from stopping that lift and getting the hell out of there was the thought that if he decided to, Petyr would not be able to harm me in such a public place. That didn’t stop me from freezing when the lift doors opened revealing a sparsely but tastefully and expensively decorated reception area. A very attractive red haired woman in her twenties smiled at me welcomingly but I could see her smile falter a little when she took in my appearance. I felt like I was going to pass out or throw up, maybe a bit of both. I must have looked like death warmed up, if I’m to be honest.

 

“Sansa? Petyr is aware you are here. Come this way,” she said, as she walked around the reception desk and led me down a short corridor to the door of Petyr’s office.
Before opening the door she stopped and searched my eyes. Hers were a lovely shade of hazelnut, warm and expressive.
“I didn’t realise Petyr had a niece. He doesn’t really talk a lot about his family. Oh, sorry. Where are my manners? My name is Ros. I am his PA. I’ve worked with him since he first established the business six years ago. I started here as an intern when I was nineteen.”
There was something about this woman that had a calming effect on me; I felt instantly at ease with her, mustering a small smile.
“It’s nice to meet you Ros. Petyr is more of a friend than an uncle. We only reconnected recently and before that I had only met him the one time when he got married to my Aunt Lysa.”
Just then a flicker of sadness and disdain flashed in Ros’s eyes but it was so quick that I really wasn’t sure if I had imagined it.
“Well, I think it’s great that he found you. He could do with more friends around him and the way he’s going, he’ll work himself into an early grave.”
“Oh, I hope I won’t distract him from something important,” I remarked with a worried frown.
“Nah, his meeting schedule is free this afternoon and he could do with a distraction, although he would never admit it. He was surprised but delighted, though, when he heard you were here. Come on, let’s go in,” she smiled before opening the door and pushing me gently inside.
“Your visitor is here, Petyr,” she announced.
“Good luck,” she whispered against the shell of my ear before closing the door behind me.

 

Petyr had been standing with his back to me, facing the huge floor to ceiling window that overlooked the southern sector of the CBD, but he turned quickly when he heard Ros’s voice and strode towards me with a smirk quirking up one side of his mouth, his eyes sparkling.
“Sansa, what a wonderful surprise,” he began as he rapidly closed the gap between us.
His arms extended towards me but before he could embrace me, I gasped and before I could stop myself, I took a step backwards, hitting the door behind me. His smile faded as he came to a standstill just one pace in front of me. My heart was thumping wildly in my chest as I pressed hard against the door, feeling like a small helpless trapped animal.
“What is it? Is something wrong? You look very pale Sansa. Perhaps you should sit down.”
With that, he reached out and took hold of my forearm. A small whimper escaped me before I could prevent it as he retracted his hand, his brow furrowing with concern.
“You’re shaking. You look completely terrified. What’s going on, love?” he asked softly.
The sensual feeling of his warm hand on my skin nearly unraveled me but I sucked in a deep breath and continued.

 

“I….I…. need to talk to you, Petyr. It couldn’t wait,” I stammered.
“Okay,” he answered a little uncertainly. “But I want you to sit. Come on, over here.”
He pointed towards a couch in one corner of the room but made no further attempt to touch me. I settled down into the plush leather as did Petyr, although he maintained a small gap between us. I could feel his intense gaze on me but I couldn’t find the courage to look him in the eye so I stared blankly out of the window at the skyscrapers in the distance.

 

“Ros seems nice,” I commented. I was rapidly losing my nerve and trying to avoid the confrontation that I knew was inevitable.
“Yes, she is. And sharp as a tack and almost terrifyingly efficient. I really don’t know what I would do without her.”
I hummed and continued to stare out the window.
“But you didn’t come here to talk about my PA. Won’t you look at me and tell me why you are really here? Are you okay?”
I turned my head to meet his grey green eyes that betrayed nothing.
Petyr sighed and took hold of my hand. I tried to pull away but he held fast, frowning at me.
“You’re shaking. Was it him? Is Hardyng bothering you?”
“No,” I whispered as I felt the start of tears pricking at the corners of my eyes. I averted my gaze from him, my breathing ragged.
“Then… It’s me. You seem afraid of me Sansa. Are you?” he asked, his eyes steely as he searched my face for the truth.
“Should I be?” I stammered.
“No, of course not. I would never hurt you, love. You must know that.”
“I don’t know any more Petyr, I -”
Petyr exhaled noisily.
It’s your parents, isn’t it? They’ve been filling you in on a few home truths about me. Is that it?”
“No,” I lied, but I could hear how unconvincing I sounded to my own ears.
“I don’t believe you Sansa. How much did they tell you?”
“All of it,” I whispered eventually.

Chapter Text

Petyr sat back in the couch and rubbed his hands through his hair and the back of his neck.
“Okay.”
A loud exhale.
“ Is there anything you want to ask me? I wish I had had the opportunity to tell you myself eventually but now that you know, I want to be open and honest with you,” he stated emphatically.
I wasn’t completely naïve. I knew this was Petyr’s way of avoiding voluntarily giving up anything about his past that I may not have been aware of and that I would have to reveal the real extent of what I knew through my choice of questions. There were so many, a lot of them treading on dangerous ground, that I really didn’t know where to start. Eventually I found my voice, but as much as I tried to control it I could hear the tremble still.
“Why did you come to the hospital that night with my Aunt Lysa?”
I don’t think that was the question that he had been expecting as he looked like he was caught a little off guard.
“I knew my presence there would be unwelcome and Lysa told me as much. You know that I have little time for your father but I was worried about your mother. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose a child.”
I shot a quick look at him then and it was clear to me that he had absolutely no knowledge of Lysa’s abortion, just as my mother had explained. I felt instantly sorry for him, despite everything, and felt a hot tear slide down my cheek. He eyed me curiously but made no remark so I pressed on.

 

“Do you still love my mother?” I mumbled out.
“No,” he stated emphatically. “The feelings I had for your mother died a long time ago. She never loved me and eventually I learned to accept it. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about her welfare though, and that of her family. Yours.”
“Do I remind you of her? Is that… is that why….?”
Petyr reached out to cup the side of my face with his long fingers, stroking across the apple of my cheek with his thumb. This time I didn’t recoil.
“In some ways, yes. In others, no. I see so much more in you. So much potential, so much to give. If only you can overcome your fear of failure, your fear of disappointing others, of not measuring up. You are already amazing. If only you could learn to focus on being the best you can be for yourself, you could be truly magnificent. I want to help you. Let me help you.”

 

I stared at him unblinking. The passion in his voice and the gentle touch of his fingers sent an unwelcome and totally confusing flash of heat to my core. I needed to regain control of myself so I stood from the couch to create more distance between us. I turned from him and walked up to the window. Placing one hand flat against the cold glass and looking down to the street far below, I tried desperately to ground myself. Meanwhile Petyr had moved from the couch. I could feel his presence right behind me but I did not have the strength to turn and face him, my knees growing weak.

 

“That day at your wedding. Were you….attracted to me?”
“Yes, but I would never have acted upon it. In fact, I never pursued you in the intervening years because that was not my agenda” he answered, his voice completely devoid of emotion. “I am not a paedophile, Sansa. I was not attracted to the child that you were then but what I knew that you would become, the wonderful young woman standing here in front of me now.
I blushed with the praise but wouldn’t be diverted.
“And were you attracted because I reminded you of my mother when she was younger?”
“Yes, but only partly. But even in that one short interaction I understood that you had a sensitivity of spirit that your mother never had.”

 

Another tear traced down my cheek. I stiffened and gasped as Petyr’s hand landed lightly on my shoulder. I reluctantly turned but kept my eyes trained on my feet.
“Please look at me Sansa.”
I lifted my face slowly to meet his glittering eyes.
“You are not your mother to me. I don’t want her, I want you, only you,” he rasped as he ran his fingers through my hair.
“You want me?” I whispered.
“Very much.”
“What about Aunt Lysa?”
“I don’t love her, Sansa. I have never loved her.”
“Then why? Why did you marry her?”
It took everything within me not to yell out ‘but she raped you’.

 

“A good question that I’ve asked myself many times over the last four years. I’ve been told all of my life that I’m not good enough to deserve real love. I suppose if you hear those voices loud and long enough you begin to believe it. Still, I did not want to be alone anymore and I knew Lysa loved me so I made the best of a bad situation. Being married to someone who worships you is less damaging than being with someone who is completely indifferent to you, I suppose.”
“Oh Petyr,” I sniffled. “She really destroyed your happiness, didn’t she?”
“Who, Lysa?” he asked, confused.
“I meant my mother.”
A darkness flitted across his features but dissipated like mist.
“Ah, yes, I suppose she did. But in a strange way she did me a favour as well. I wouldn’t be where I am now with everything you see around you had it not been for her rejection. I vowed to not let it finish me and that I would do whatever it took to make it to the top. I discovered my inner strength, my determination, my drive to succeed. And here I am.”
“And here you are. King of the heap,” I answered, unable to hide my bitterness.

 

Petyr’s eyes narrowed as he dropped his hand from my hair.
“They have told you about the things I have done to get here, haven’t they?” he asked coldly.
I averted my gaze but he knew from my reaction that I was aware of his nefarious business dealings.
“So it’s true, then,” I mumbled, feeling the start of tears. “You did all those horrible things.”
“Sansa, those things are in the past. I am a legitimate businessman now and all of my dealings are completely above board.”
I remembered my father’s dossier and felt the blood drain from my face.
“Don’t worry, my dear. I can tell by the look on your face that you now know exactly what sort of man I am. I would have preferred to tell you myself in time, but there we have it. I have never tried to hide my true nature from you. I did warn you that I am not a good man.”
“No, I -”
“Relax. I know that your father has been investigating me for years and that he knows all the gory details of my business dealings. His easily traceable plants and bugging devices, his inexpert computer hacking, his fumbling investigators – he really didn’t cover his tracks very well.”

 

I felt bile rising up my throat, swallowing thickly.
“Are you going to hurt my father?” I asked in fear, a cold chill streaking up my spine.
“No. As much as it pains me to say so, it would kill your mother. I couldn’t do that to her. And I couldn’t do it to you. Besides, he would have used the information by now if he had intended to. And if he ever decides to…well, I have certain contingencies in place.”
“The only reason he hasn’t is because my mother has asked him not to,” I explained.
Petyr’s eyes softened and his breath hitched momentarily but he composed himself quickly.
“I see. Well that does rather surprise me, although it shouldn’t. Your mother has always been too sentimental for her own good. What about you Sansa? I sense that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Or, will you perhaps be the one to wield the knife when it’s all said and done?”

 

I sighed loudly and leant back against the cold glass of the window contemplating his question. I searched his eyes and realised that he was right; just like my mother, despite everything that he’d done, I couldn’t betray him. Behind those eyes I still saw a trace of the sweet boy that my mother had told me about. But at the same time, even though I knew it would hurt him, I couldn’t continue our involvement. While he insisted that his criminal activities were in the past now, I knew that he had arranged the attack on Harry so how could I possibly trust him? Could someone who had bloodied their hands to the extent that he allegedly had just walk away from the dark side of their nature so easily? It just didn’t seem possible. I took a deep breath and fidgeted with a strand of my hair, biting at my bottom lip nervously. He, meanwhile, hadn’t taken his eyes off me, scrutinising me closely.

 

“What is it, Sansa? I sense there is something else bothering you.”
“Petyr, something happened to Harry on Saturday night.”
“Oh?” he asked, one eyebrow quirking but other than that, his face betrayed nothing.
“He was attacked by a gang while he was walking back from a nightclub. His arm and wrist were broken and his knees crushed by a baseball bat.”
“Ironic,” Petyr commented dryly.
“And they messed up his face and his Achilles tendons pretty badly with a box cutter.”
“Mmm.” He hummed absently.
How could Petyr stand there and pretend that he knew nothing about Harry’s attack? His total nonchalance and the depth of his deception were terrifying. I should have been shaking in my boots, but surprisingly I felt my fear dissipating, leaving me outraged and hollow.
“You don’t seem surprised, Petyr.”
“Truthfully, I am not. His kind seem to forget that if you run with the wolves you will learn how to howl.”
I fought to keep my growing resentment from my voice.
“Don’t you feel even a little bit sorry for him? He’s lost everything now. He’s going to be scarred, he’s physically wrecked and he’ll lose his university scholarship; his sporting career is over before it began. It’s not like his grades are great so his options when he finishes school are limited. His whole life, everything he’s planned towards: it’s all gone.”

 

Petyr narrowed his eyes, a flash of frustration evident in his eyes.
“Why should I feel sorry for someone who basically raped you Sansa? Because I don’t think you’re really facing the fact that what he did constitutes rape. Why do you feel sorry for him, for God’s sake, and why are you so angry with me?” he grated out.
“Because he didn’t deserve what you did to him and it wasn’t your punishment to give,” I yelled out.
Petyr stepped back, his eyes widened.
“What makes you think that I had anything to do with this?” he asked.
“Cut the crap, Petyr. I know it was you. Harry was able to describe a man wearing a black and silver ring and talking in a brogue accent. Sound like anyone you know?”
For the first time I noticed him almost lose his composure. Almost. He startled and his right hand moved instinctively as if to hide the incriminating ring from view before he caught himself and twined his hands together in his lap, his face now completely neutral.
“I can’t be the only person in Winterfell matching that description,” he rallied.
“The attack wasn’t a random event. It was targeted and it was very personal.”
“How do you know this?” Petyr asked.
‘I am not going to kill you. I want you to suffer and remember every day of your miserable life that you can’t hurt what is mine’, I quoted back to him.

 

Petyr stared at me, opened his mouth as if to try and argue his way out of it but he knew the game was up.
“Sansa, love, I –”
“No, Petyr. How could you do this to me? I trusted you. I needed you. But you lied to me. And you mutilated and destroyed a young man and took away his future. I know what he did to me was wrong. I don’t need you to stand there and remind me of what he did. I’ll have to live with that memory for the rest of my life. But no matter how you justify it to yourself he didn’t deserve what you did to him and it wasn’t your place. It was so cruel. Gods, this is all my fault. I don’t know how I’m going to live with knowing that he’s suffering and lost everything because of me.”
I moved away from the window and tried to rush around Petyr to the door but his hands shot out and grabbed me by the arms, pulling me towards him. The look on his face was anguished as he shook me gently.
“No, don’t do that again. Do not blame yourself for this. You are not responsible for his suffering. He is and I am. I just couldn’t let him get away with what he did to you. You are not at fault, do you hear me?”
“Petyr let go of me,” I pleaded.
“I can’t, love,” he answered softly.
“What, because I’m yours now, apparently,” I yelled, as I struggled against his hold.
“Yes, you’re mine,” he hissed seductively in my ear.

 

“Stop it,” I cried out as I pushed my hands against his chest in panic. He brought his mouth to mine in a desperate and crushing kiss. I willed myself to relax in his arms and when he eventually stopped to catch his breath I brought my hand back and slapped him as hard as I could across the face. The thwack of flesh on flesh sounded shockingly loud in his quiet office. He stood staring at me, totally stunned, his eyes watering. I wasn’t sure if his tears were as a result of the pain from the slap or another kind of pain altogether. All I knew was I couldn’t stand there and watch him disintegrate any further in front of me. It hurt too much.
“Sansa, please, don’t do this. You have to understand I did it for you, to protect you. Don’t leave,” he pleaded.
He sounded so lost and forlorn that I nearly felt myself relenting. Tears streamed down my face as I reached out for the handle of the door.
“I can’t do this Petyr. Please, I’m begging you, stay away from me. I never want to see you again,” I sobbed, as I let myself out, slamming the door behind me.
“Sansa!” I heard him yell out from the other side of the door. I noticed Ros’s shocked reaction but didn’t stay around long enough for her to ask me what the matter was. I bolted for the elevator and dissolved into a flood of tears once the doors closed behind me.

Chapter Text

To my relief, Petyr made no attempt to try and meet with me after my visit to his office. When I arrived home from the city later that afternoon I pulled out my phone and noticed a text from him. I was sorely tempted to delete it without reading it, as I knew I should, but curiosity got the better of me.

 

P: I can’t tell you how sorry I am. I hope one day that you will find it in your heart to forgive me but if you can’t, I understand. Below are the details of your appointment with my doctor. Please promise me you will still go. It is very important for your health that you do. I will not be there unless you ask me to be, not that I expect that. I love you so very much, Sansa.

 

He loved me.

I must have read that text at least a dozen times, sobbing fitfully, before writing down the details of the appointment in my calendar and replying to the text with a trembling hand.

 

S: Thanks for the details. I’ll still keep the appointment but I don’t want you there.

 

I deleted the conversation trail from my phone and threw it on the bed by my side. It really hurt me to be so terse, impersonal and final with him when he’d reached out to me so lovingly but the last thing I wanted was to give him false hope and have him ambush me at the doctor’s office thinking he had a chance to make things right, because, in my mind, it was too late. I curled up in bed and tried to sleep but all I could think of were those magic words at the end of his text.

 

The next couple of days were quiet and I received no further communications from Petyr. I realised then how much I missed him and how desperately I wanted to hear the sound of his voice but I knew that staying away from him was the right decision, as much as it hurt. On Wednesday morning I made my way down to the kitchen as normal. My Mom and Dad were sitting together at the table, hunched over the newspaper. They startled and sat bolt upright when I entered.
“Sansa, love. Come and sit down. We need to talk to you,” my Dad said, his voice carefully modulated.
I felt my stomach flip as I approached; whatever this was, it obviously wasn’t going to be good, but I had no idea what was coming.
He took hold of my hand and sighed loudly.
“It’s the boy you were seeing, Sansa - Harry Hardyng.”
I could feel my heart pounding and the blood draining from my face.
“What about him?”
“I’m afraid he’s gone…. umm, passed away,” my father explained cautiously as he searched my face trying to gauge the strength of my reaction.
“What?” I gasped, my hand flying to my mouth in utter shock.
“It’s been referred to the coroner. They think it’s suicide, love,” my mother added sadly. “It’s all over the news.”

 

My father handed me a copy of Winterfell Tribune, showing me the front page headline:

‘Heir of Oil Magnet Waynwood Found Dead at 19 in Suspected Suicide’.

Harry’s dimpled and handsome face, haloed by a shock of golden curls, smiled out at me from the paper, a picture taken at a much happier time.
“Oh gods,” I sobbed out.
“Apparently he was attacked on the weekend and was depressed and in a lot of pain. When he was released from hospital he overdosed on his pain meds. I’m so sorry.”
I wiped at the tears on my face and stood from the table, making my way back to the staircase.
“Sansa. Are you alright?” my father asked.
I turned back to look at him, nodding.
“Yeah. I’m okay,” I mumbled.
“Maybe you should stay home today, love. I’ll ring the school and let them know, if you like,” my mother suggested.
“Yeah, I think I will. Thanks Mom,” I replied.

 

I trudged up the stairs and sat down on the edge of my bed burying my head in my hands. I didn’t even notice Arya emerging from the bathroom until I felt a dip in the mattress next to me and a sharp elbow nudging me in the ribs.
“Hey, what gives, sis?” she asked.
“It’s Harry. You know, the boy I got into trouble for seeing. He’s dead, Arya. He killed himself.”
Arya’s eyes widened and her mouth formed a small O.
“No way. Oh shit. That’s fucked up. Sorry,” she said with a shake of her head.
“Thanks. I just….I wish that I’d gone to see him in the hospital. I wish I’d helped him, you know.”
“Why didn’t you,” she asked.
“It’s complicated,” I replied. “But I should have gone. You know everyone looks at a guy as strong and confident and moneyed up as Harry and thinks, ‘hey, he’ll be just fine’. But he’d literally lost everything he cared about and perhaps if he had received more support, well…things might have been different.”
Before Arya could respond, my phone rang. I extracted it from my pocket and swallowed thickly when I noticed that it was Petyr’s number.
“Aren’t you going to answer that?” Arya asked.
“No, I’ll ring them back later,” I replied, rejecting the call.
A minute later a text notification sounded. I stood from the bed, moved to the other side of the room and opened the message with a sigh.

 

P: I don’t know if you have read or seen the news yet today. I just want to make sure you’re ok. Please text or ring me.

I contemplated simply deleting the message but I felt a return of my anger for what Petyr had done to Harry and stabbed at the phone viciously.

 

S: You want to know if I’m OK? How could I possibly be OK? Is Harry OK? You know what - go to hell Petyr. I hate you. Don’t ever ring or text me again. You’re dead to me.

I pushed send and stuffed the phone back into my jeans pocket with a shaky exhale. All the while Arya observed but in a rare demonstration of restraint, made no remark and asked no questions. I think she sensed how upset I was and decided to give me the space I needed.

 

A few hours later when the rest of the family had left the house for the day, my phone rang again. This time I didn’t recognise the number. I hesitated to answer it thinking that it might be Petyr ringing from a different number but I accepted the call nonetheless.
“Hello?”
“Hi, is this Sansa Stark?” a woman’s voice asked.
“Yes, speaking.”
“It’s Ros, Petyr’s PA.”
I frowned at the phone having not the slightest inkling why this woman would be calling me.
“Hi Ros. What can I do for you?”
“It’s Petyr. I didn’t know who else to ring. I checked his phone contacts and found your number. I don’t know what to do.”
I felt my heart plummet at the desperation evident in Ros’s tone.
“Is he okay? Has something happened to him?”
“I don’t know what’s going on. He’s so upset. He’s in his office now, drunk out of his mind. I could hear smashing noises but when I opened the door to investigate he yelled and threw a glass at me. Luckily he missed. It’s gone quiet now but I can hear him moaning and carrying on through the door.”

 

“Why didn’t you call his wife?” I muttered.
I heard a huge sigh at the other end of the line.
“Don’t ask me why I know this, but she is definitely not what he needs right now.”
“He’s not my responsibility, Ros.”
“I know Sansa, but please, he really needs you. He doesn’t have anybody else.”
“But you must know that we didn’t part on good terms the other day,” I pointed out.
“Yeah. I know something pretty big went down but he hasn’t told me what happened. Petyr was really upset but he hasn’t stopped talking about you. Please Sansa, won’t you come? I’ve never seen him like this. I’m really scared he’s going to hurt himself or… I don’t know. Please, he needs you.”

 

As much as he had damaged me with his lies and his violence towards Harry I was very well aware of the reason for his distress and I knew I couldn’t just turn my back on him. Petyr had proven himself to be highly self-destructive when drunk in the past so what Ros had told me about his condition scared me. I realised he wasn’t my responsibility but if I didn’t help him as he had helped me at my time of need and history repeated itself and he did something stupid while drunk again, I knew I would regret it for the rest of my life. So, reluctantly and against my better judgement, I capitulated.
“I’m at home right now. I’ll hop on a bus and make my way down.”
“Oh gods. Thank you. Thank you so much,” Ros exclaimed.
“I just hope he doesn’t make me regret it,” I commented.
“He won’t. There’s one thing that I neglected to tell you.”
“What?” I asked.
“He keeps calling out your name.”

Chapter Text

When I exited the elevator at the top floor of Mockingbird Investments about an hour later, Ros strode towards me and pulled me into a huge hug.
“Thank you so much. I’m very worried about him. He really lost it in there.”
“It’s okay,” I answered, returning the embrace. “Is he still…?”
“Drunk? Hell yeah. Come on. He should have run out of glasses by now though, so we should be safe,” she remarked with a wry smile.
We came to a standstill in front of the door.
“Let me,” I offered.
Ros looked at me gratefully as I took a deep breath and spoke loudly enough for Petyr to hear me through the door.
“Petyr, it’s me Sansa. Can I come in?”
I startled when I heard mumbling closely followed by the sound of smashing glass.
“Woops. Guess I was wrong about the glasses,” Ros grimaced.
“Wish me luck,” I commented, before grabbing the handle of the door and pushing it open slowly.

 

Petyr stood with his back to me, leaning heavily with one hand splayed against the window of his office, his other hand holding a half empty glass of what looked like whisky. He seemed to be utterly oblivious to my presence. Shards of glass and liquid splashes were scattered across the carpet and some of his papers and folders lay strewn where he had swept them off his table.
“Petyr?” I said in a very small trembling voice.
He turned slowly to face me, his tie discarded on the floor, his shirt partly unbuttoned and untucked from his pants, his hair completely dishevelled. Unfocussed eyes met mine and his brow furrowed in perplexity as though I was some sort of hallucination. He staggered forwards, the glass in his hand tilting, spilling some of the contents onto the carpet as he moved.
“Sansa?” he asked incredulously, his voice slurring slightly.
“Yes, it’s me,” I replied, stepping backwards as he stumbled towards me. In his inebriated state I wasn’t sure what to expect from him.
“Please, please don’t run from me Sansa. Not again,” he pleaded. “I’m sorry for what I did, so sorry. Please, don’t leave me.”

 

His voice broke as he dropped the glass on the carpet and reached out to me with one hand. He looked so lost and in so much pain that even though I hadn’t forgotten what he’d done, I couldn’t remain angry with him anymore. I imagined him as a much younger man drunk and heartbroken, having lost the love of his life and the hell that he had suffered and caused to others as a result. I stifled a sob as I closed the gap between us and took him into my arms. The thought that I may have pushed him back to that dark place once again after everything he’d done to drag himself free, devastated me. His head nestled between my breasts and I felt his hot tears through the fabric of my blouse. I ran my fingers through the hairs at his temples as I struggled with my own emotions. Gradually he stilled and pulled himself upright, wiping at the tears on my cheeks with his thumbs.

 

“My beautiful Sansa, I can’t believe you’re really here,” he rasped out, his voice rough with his heightened emotions and the alcohol.
“I’m here, Petyr. I’m sorry. I never would have sent that text if I’d known this would happen.”
“Then you don’t hate me?” he asked gently.
“No, no I don’t. I should, you know, but I don’t. I was angry and scared and upset about Harry and the fact that you lied to me so I lashed out. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m still upset, but I don’t hate you.”
He grabbed my face with both hands and planted a kiss on my forehead before hugging me tight.

 

“Come and sit down Petyr, before you fall down and hurt yourself,” I said, keeping one arm around his waist. His arm flung around my neck to keep himself steady. It was a good thing that he was of slight build for a man because he leaned quite heavily against me as we walked towards the couch. His weight shifted and we nearly fell to the floor as I lost my balance but I was able to manoeuver him on to the couch at the last minute, albeit, rather clumsily. He lay prone where he’d fallen, his eyes unfocussed, his eyelids beginning to droop. I sat down next to him and ran my fingers through his hair.
“Why do you do this to yourself, Petyr?” I asked with a sigh.
He struggled to stay conscious, his hand stretching up to the side of my face, softly stroking my cheek before the effort overcame him and it fell limply to his side.
“I can’t lose you. Please tell me I haven’t lost you,” he slurred.
“Sssh. Close your eyes now, Petyr and rest,” I answered as I started to move from the couch.

 

With surprising speed given his condition, his hand shot out and wrapped around my wrist bringing me back down beside him. As gently as I could I pried his fingers from me and smoothed my hand across his brow to try and calm him.
“Don’t go,” he mumbled.
“I have to Petyr. I’m sorry.”
“Will you be back? Will I see you again?”
I paused, unsure of my response. A very large part of me wanted to tell him ‘yes’ but with everything that had happened I knew that it was over. It had to be. For everyone’s sake. But with how he was, and to be honest, my own fragile emotional state, I just couldn’t tell him right now. I would wait until we were both in a better place and then I would gently but firmly break off all ties.
“I’ll talk to you soon, Petyr. Please take care of yourself, for me, okay?”
“Yes, alright,” he murmured. He muttered something else under his breath but I couldn’t catch it before his eyes closed and he dozed off. I leant over and kissed him gently on the forehead before standing once again.

 

I wiped at a tear with my jumper sleeve and took a deep breath before exiting the office and making my way around to Ros’s desk. As soon as she terminated the phone call she was on she met my gaze; it was obvious by the look in her eyes how concerned she was.
“How did it go? Is he okay?”
“Yeah. I think so,” I said, but I really didn’t know what his state of mind was going to be once he woke up or whether he would even remember what had transpired.
“Are you okay?” she then asked, spotting my red-rimmed eyes.
I tried to give her a reassuring smile but I’m sure it looked very forced.
“He’s asleep right now. Please Ros, will you make sure he sleeps it off here, gets a cab home or if you could drive him there? I don’t want him driving himself in his current state.”
“Sure, of course. I’ll see what he wants to do later, once he wakes up.”
“Thanks, I appreciate it,” I replied sincerely as I made my way towards the lifts.

 

“Sansa,” Ros called out. “Thanks for coming. I don’t know what I would have done without you. I’ve never seen him this out of control.”
“I’m sorry that you had to try and handle him in this state, Ros. He reacted this way because of something that happened between us. When he’s more himself I’ll sort it out. I promise.”
Ros looked a little surprised by this and I’m sure she had a million questions, but thankfully she didn’t go there; she simply nodded and smiled tentatively before standing and making her way over to me, giving me a huge hug of gratitude. I returned her smile and left the office with a heavy heart as I imagined my next and final meeting with the man that, despite myself, I had begun to fall in love with.

Chapter Text

The next week was quiet with no further texts or attempted calls from Petyr. Part of me was incredibly relieved but another part missed him terribly. Without his knowledge I did call his office during the week to speak with Ros to check up on his welfare. She advised that he had slept for a few hours after I left, taken a shower to freshen up and then she had driven him home afterwards. He had told my Aunt Lysa that his car had refused to start and that he had left it at the office carpark to deal with in the morning. Since the incident he had refused to speak of it other than to apologise to Ros for nearly killing her with a half full tumbler of whisky and offering her a free day off the next day. Apparently she had declined. He did not mention my name and when Ros did, he snapped at her to drop the subject and hardly spoke to her for the rest of the day, unless it was strictly work related. He’d been morose and taciturn ever since, leaving Ros decidedly on edge around him. Thankfully though, there had been no repetition of his drunken behaviour.

 

On the morning of my appointment with Doctor Frobischer for my STD tests, I texted Petyr asking him if he would mind meeting me at the school and driving me in as he had originally offered. I had half-expected him to refuse me but he responded saying that of course the offer was still open and that he was delighted to hear from me. It sounded very much as though he viewed it as a door opening to an opportunity to mend bridges and win me back. His obvious enthusiasm pained me because the only reason I had asked him was so that I could advise him that it was to be our last meeting. I didn’t know how I was going to tackle that conversation because the last thing I wanted was for him to lose the plot and go on another drunken bender. And honestly, I had developed some pretty deep feelings for him that were going to be very hard to set aside. If he put up too much resistance or demonstrated once again the extent of his hurt as he had done in his office, I wasn’t sure if I would have the strength to follow through. A small part of me - a quiet little voice - chimed in questioning why it was up to me, technically the child in this situation, to take primary responsibility for the whole situation.

 

At 1pm I made my way from the school library to the entry gates and spied Petyr’s Jaguar parked in the street across the road. I made my way over to him quickly, knowing that once in the car with its heavily tinted windows, we would not be spotted together. Opening up the passenger door and sliding into the seat, I turned to face Petyr while adjusting and fastening my seat belt.
He regarded me with a slight frown and a look in his eyes that spoke of his humiliation and shame.
“Hello, love,” he greeted me, his voice soft and uncertain. He obviously didn’t know what to expect from me after our disastrous last couple of encounters.
“Hi Petyr,” I replied with a small tentative smile in return. “Thanks for agreeing to drive me.”
He stroked through the hair at his temples and rubbed at the back of his neck before sighing heavily, his hand reaching out to cover mine which rested on my thigh. I startled at the contact but didn’t pull away as he gave my fingers a gentle squeeze.
“Before we go Sansa, I need to get something off my chest,” he said earnestly.
“Petyr -”
“No, please love. Let me get this out.”
He took a deep breath and exhaled noisily before speaking. It was obvious that this was a difficult subject for him to broach.

 

“I am thoroughly ashamed of my behaviour at the office last week. You should not have had to deal with that, nor should Ros for that matter. To my utter shame I can’t remember everything that happened and everything that was said. But judging by the state of my office afterwards and the looks that you and Ros have been shooting me, it can’t have been good. Know only that I care very much for you and it hurts me to think that I may have ruined our friendship permanently. I want to ask you to forgive me but I know that with everything that has happened I don’t deserve that. Whatever happens from today I want you to know that I will never stop caring about you and that I am still here for you, if you need me. Anytime.”

 

I felt a warm wet tear slick down my cheek at his words. Petyr relinquished my hand and stroked his thumb over the apple of my cheek.
“Don’t cry, sweetheart,” he whispered.
His words were so loving, so heartfelt that I heard a strong voice inside my head screaming at me to unbuckle my seatbelt, lean over and embrace him, kiss him, and tell him all was forgiven but another voice, a calmer and more convincing one at that time, reminded me of what he had done to Harry, his deception and his dark past. Now was the time to put all my cards on the table and end this once and for all. With a strength I didn’t know I was capable of, I took a deep breath and wiped away the remains of my tears.
“I care about you too Petyr,” I sniffled. “I do forgive you.”
He shot me a relieved and very genuine smile that reflected in his eyes, but he must have detected something in my face because it started to fade slowly.
“But?” he asked eventually.
My words wooshed from me in a rush.
“But, I can’t do this anymore. We can’t see each other again, alone like this. I don’t want to lie to my parents, I can’t hurt Aunt Lysa, I can’t risk getting involved with a man more than twice my age. It’s too dangerous, for both of us. Most of all, I don’t know that I can trust you after everything that you’ve done, not just in the past, but more recently, to Harry. I’m sorry Petyr. But after today, it will have to be goodbye.”

 

His mouth opened as though contemplating an argument in his defence but he must have thought better of it. Instead, he swallowed thickly and gave a small nod of acknowledgement, the corners of his eyes appearing a little damp. All of a sudden he looked older, weary somehow, as though the life had been sucked right out of him. I willed myself to stay strong.
“I understand. It’s not going to be easy to let you walk out of my life but I think deep down I knew this was coming. I will respect your decision. But, please just remember that if you change your mind, I will be here. I will wait for you. Forever, if I have to.”
My traitorous tears started up again and I felt like I was on the edge of losing my resolve but I stood firm.
“Please don’t do that Petyr. Don’t wait for me. We both need to move on.”
“And that is exactly what you must do Sansa and you will, but unfortunately I don’t think that it will be possible for me,” he responded sadly.
My heart broke for him then, remembering the loss he suffered when my mother married first my Uncle Brandon and then my father, all the years he wasted on pining over someone who would never return his affections. I averted my gaze and stared out the side window, not having the slightest idea how to respond. Thankfully, Petyr didn’t seem to expect a response, taking my silence as his cue to start the engine and steer the car out into the street.

 

Our whole trip proceeded in awkward silence until finally after twenty minutes that felt like an eternity, we pulled into the carpark of a large medical centre. Petyr began to unclip his seatbelt but I stopped him with my hand.
“No, Petyr. Thanks for the lift. I appreciate it. But I’ll be fine from here.”
He looked at me in disappointment.
“Are you sure?” he asked hopefully.
I knew that it was now or never and I think Petyr knew it too.
“I’m sure. Thanks for everything you’ve done for me. Take care of yourself, okay?”
I reached for the handle of the car door but before I could open it Petyr’s hand shot out and grasped my elbow gently.
“Please Sansa. Can I ask you for one last thing, before you go?”
I looked at him a little uncertainly but nodded my head.
“One kiss. A kiss goodbye.”

 

My lips parted in surprise and uncertainty as my eyes met his. The forlorn look I saw there nearly broke me.
“Petyr I -”
“Please? If I am really never to see you again it would mean the world to me, love.”
Even though I knew I should have denied him, I didn’t have it in my heart to say no and to be honest I wanted and needed that farewell kiss just as much as he did. I leaned in and pressed my lips softly against his. He twined his fingers in my hair at the nape of my neck and pulled me closer, swiping at my bottom lip with his tongue. I parted my lips to him, his tongue gliding over mine as he deepened the kiss. A pang of pleasure assaulted my tummy and I felt a flush of heat throughout my body settling between my legs. Eventually he reluctantly broke the kiss and took a deep shaky breath before pulling our faces together so our foreheads and noses rested against each other.

 

We sat like that for some time, Petyr’s eyes tightly closed, his breath ghosting warmly against my lips. Eventually I pulled away from him and ran my fingers through the greying hair at his temples longing for his touch but knowing that it could not be.
“Thank you. That was quite lovely. This is goodbye, then,” he whispered softly.
“Yes,” I mumbled in reply, feeling myself close to tears again.
“Goodbye, my love. I will miss you.”
I opened the car door and stood on trembling legs before leaning down and meeting his eyes for one last time.
“Bye Petyr. I’ll miss you too….I – I love you,” I sniffled before closing the car door and striding quickly towards the entry of the medical centre without looking back.

Chapter Text

A week later I lay on my back on my bed staring at the ceiling in shock, my whole world turned upside down. I had spent the last hour and a half in a flood of tears but for the time being they appeared to have dried up. I could still hear Doctor Frobischer’s words echoing loudly and insistently inside my head, no matter how desperately I tried to block them out.

 

“I have your test results Sansa and I’m afraid it is mixed news. You came up negative for any STD so you were very lucky on that score. You will need a follow up HIV test in two to three months to be sure. However, your HCG test has confirmed that you are in fact pregnant.”

 

I felt the blood drain from my face and my limbs were completely numb. I could hear Doctor Frobischer continuing to talk to me but I have absolutely no idea what he said. After some time he walked over to me and shook me gently by the arm but I was too shocked to respond.
“Sansa? Are you alright? Sansa, can you hear me?”
Eventually I snapped out of my trance and looked up at him in confusion.
“But I can’t be pregnant, doctor. I took the morning after pill,” I stammered.
“Unfortunately it is not 100% effective. A small percentage of women still conceive, even if the pill is taken within the optimal 24-72 hour window, as you did. I imagine that this is unexpected news and that you have a lot of questions. From what you told me at your last appointment you have plenty of time to explore your options as the pregnancy will be in the very early stages. I have some brochures here outlining them and also the contact details for a teen pregnancy counselling service that I can highly recommend. Should you decide to terminate the pregnancy, you do need to be aware that it is illegal in the state of Winterfell for minors to do so without parental consent.”

 

“No, oh gods! I can’t tell my parents. I can’t. Please. I can’t have this baby,” I sobbed hysterically.
Doctor Frobischer made a calming gesture with his hands and eyed me sympathetically while handing me a box of tissues. I grabbed one out and dabbed at my eyes as I fought for control over my emotions.
“It is possible to seek an abortion through what’s called “judicial bypass”. That’s where a court judge excuses you from having to advise or seek permission from your parents. Do you have another adult that can support you through this process? It can be somewhat overwhelming.”
“No, I don’t have anyone,” I replied with a sniffle.
“Forgive me for being intrusive, but what about your uncle? He was the one who made your appointment time with me, so I know you have some familial support from that quarter."
“I- I don’t know if that’s possible now,” I replied vaguely.
“I don’t know what the situation is between the two of you and it’s none of my business but if you can’t speak to your parents then you need to find someone else to support you. I have known your uncle for a long time. I can tell from the way he spoke about you to me that he cares about what happens to you, very much. For what it’s worth, if I was in a jam I would love to have him in my corner. But look, I’m not here to push any particular agenda. It’s just that I see this situation all too often and I hope that you will accept sincere help and advice where you can find it.”

 

“Thanks Doctor Frobischer. I’ll think about it,” I muttered. Other than a small supportive smile and a slightly speculative glance, the doctor offered nothing more. I gathered my belongings and made my way out of his office on trembling legs. I smoothed my hand over my tummy still in complete disbelief that from one single disastrous sexual encounter I had managed to conceive and that the father was now a dead man freshly buried. I can’t even remember the trip home on the bus or disembarking or walking from the stop to my home. Now I lay on my bed, phone in hand staring at Petyr’s details in my contacts list, completely confused about what to do next. Just then my phone vibrated in my hand notifying me of a text message. Coincidentally, it was from Petyr.

 

P: I know that we said our goodbyes but it’s been a week and I haven’t heard what happened about your tests with Dr Frobischer. I know that it’s none of my business really and I don’t need all the details if you don't wish it, but please just shoot me a quick text when you can and let me know you’re okay. I’m worried.

 

I sighed deeply as my tears started up again. I lay there for the longest time until suddenly I realised that I had called his number, even though I couldn’t quite remember my fingers moving to do so.

 

“Sansa. Thank you for calling me back. I’m sorry to bother you. I just need to hear that you’re alright…..Sansa? Are you there?”

 

“Yes Petyr, I’m here,” I eventually replied in a shaky voice.

 

“Talk to me. You’re scaring me a bit here.”

 

“Petyr – I - I don’t know what to do,” I sobbed out.

 

“Why, what’s happened. Are you sick? What is it?” he replied in a panic.

 

“I know what I told you, but can you? …. I need you. I’m home now. Please?” I whimpered.

 

“Of course. Hang tight,” he answered without hesitation before terminating the call.

 

I made my way downstairs and paced next to the front door nervously. At least I didn’t have to worry about Arya, Rickon and my parents coming home and busting Petyr and I together. My siblings had sports activities to attend and my parents wouldn’t be home from work until after 6pm. After what felt like an eternity, I heard running footsteps approaching the door from the other side followed by several rings of the doorbell and some frantic knocking. I froze with my hand on the doorknob willing myself to open the door.

 

“Sansa, are you there? Sansa?” he yelled out, pounding harder still.
I took a deep breath and opened the door, my eyes glued to the floor.
Petyr started to enter but came to a standstill when he saw the look of fear and despondency contorting my face.
“Sansa. Look at me love. Come on. Look at me.”
I slowly and reluctantly lifted my eyes to his. The devotion and concern I saw in them was the final straw as I crumpled into his arms and completely lost control of my emotions. My knees were trembling so violently that had Petyr not held onto me I would have collapsed onto the floor. He must have had a million questions in his head but he simply held me tight and ran his fingers through my hair, whispering soothing words in my ear as I soaked the front of his shirt with my tears. After some time he lifted me in his arms and carried me to the lounge room sitting on the couch and bringing me to sit with my legs across his lap, holding me close and rocking me gently.

 

“Tell me what’s happened. I want to help you. Let me help,” he said gently.
I wiped at the tears on my face and pulled myself upright but I couldn’t look at him directly. I fiddled at the bottom hem of my t-shirt in distress while Petyr rubbed his hand up and down my arm in encouragement, waiting patiently for me to find the courage to open up to him.
“I’m… I’m pregnant.”
There was a long pause before Petyr lay his hand on the side of my head and brought it down against his shoulder. I nestled my face into the crook of his neck and sniffled as hot tears continued to flow in a never ending stream from my eyes.
“Okay. Okay Sansa. I know you’re scared but I’m here now and I’ll do everything I can to make this easier for you. Just tell me what you want to do and I’ll help you to do it.”
“You still want to help me, after what I said to you in the car last week?” I hiccupped.
“Yes, yes. Of course I do. I told you that I would always be here for you. I meant every word. I love you Sansa. I would never desert you. Never,” he replied, wrapping his arm tightly around my waist.
“I love you too Petyr,” I replied, “I’ve missed you.”
“And I, you.”
We sat there holding each other, as I relished the warmth and strength of his body against mine and the gentle susurration of his whispered words of comfort in my ear.

Chapter Text

Petyr was true to his word. He encouraged and helped me to organise a counselling appointment with the service that Doctor Frobischer had recommended. The counsellor, a kind eyed woman in her mid thirties, helped me to put things into perspective with her sympathetic yet professional manner. She presented and discussed with me various options including carrying the baby to term and giving it up for adoption but inevitably our conversation only further cemented my decision to terminate the pregnancy. I’m making it sound like it was a foregone conclusion - I’d indicated that it was to the doctor and later to Petyr in my panicked state - but once I’d had more time to think about it, it was far from being that. I can’t explain how much I agonised over my choice and you know, I still have regrets every day and wonder what would have happened if my decision had been different. I’m especially sad when I see other young mothers not much older than me with toddlers who could very well be the same age as my son or daughter would be now had I continued the pregnancy. Sometimes I feel like I was simply a selfish coward who took the easy way out.

 

Anyway, after advising Petyr of my decision he set the wheels in motion to have the abortion ratified by a judge. The counsellor had warned me that it could take weeks but to my surprise, Petyr arrived two days later with the relevant court order in hand, having managed to fast track the process. He had explained to me that he was acquainted with the judge in question and that he was owed a favour for previous business related services rendered. I looked at him a little worriedly then, hoping that what he had done was above board and that the judge hadn’t been coerced in any way and that neither of them had taken any unnecessary risks on my behalf. I didn’t like jumping to any negative conclusions but with Petyr’s past still looming large in my mind and knowing he would do literally anything to help me, I couldn’t prevent the thought.

 

He must have seen it in my eyes. There was a tinge of hurt there but he simply took hold of my hand and kissed across my knuckles telling me that I had nothing to worry about and that the judge had readily agreed to push through all the usual red tape when he heard about the circumstances of the conception. They had both agreed that there was nothing to be gained by dragging me before him to recount the whole sorry tale. For some reason, Petyr’s explanation didn’t ring true to me, but at that point I was just so relieved that any impediment to the abortion had been removed that I didn’t question it any further.

 

Petyr helped make the arrangements at the Family Planning clinic in the city. After a test to confirm the date of conception it was decided that I would undergo an aspiration abortion rather than a medical abortion as the procedure was quick and would result in less pain and bleeding. More importantly, I wouldn’t have to try and manage a miscarriage at home afterwards. Overall it would be much easier to hide my real condition from my family this way.

 

The three weeks until my procedure was scheduled to take place seemed to drag. During that time I threw myself into my school work, determined to make up for lost time and welcoming the distraction. Most of my classes involved continuous assessment so thankfully, once I caught up with the written work, I only had two final exams to prepare for. My grades had lifted in the second part of the school year so as long as I did not flunk those two exams I should pass the whole year. I felt reasonably optimistic about my chances. My conscientiousness did not escape my parents who were clearly relieved with my turnaround and the fact that it appeared I was no longer in contact with Petyr.

 

Little did they know that while we did not physically meet again during those three weeks, we were in constant contact by phone and email. During that time he was a constant source of comfort and inspiration to me. To this day, I honestly don’t think I could have made it through without him. I had expressed my wish to meet up with him but to my surprise he resisted the idea, encouraging me to focus on myself and my school work without distraction, but constantly reassuring me that he was only a phone call away should I really need him. While I missed him terribly and longed to hear his comforting voice and feel his arms around me again, I knew that he was right and didn’t push the matter any further.

 

On the afternoon of my procedure I walked shakily through the school gates and across the road to Petyr’s jaguar. Settling into the passenger seat, I gave him a small smile, which he returned, before fastening my seat belt. His hand found mine and squeezed it gently.
“Are you alright, love?” he asked.
“Yeah. I’m just nervous. A bit scared,” I admitted.
In truth I was absolutely terrified although I tried not to show it. I could tell that Petyr wasn’t fooled for a second.
“It’s only natural Sansa but just remember this is a very safe procedure that will only take a matter of minutes and then you will be free to get on with the rest of your life,” he reassured me.
I sighed loudly and squeezed his hand back but made no reply.
“And if you’re starting to have regrets about the decision you’ve come to, just know that reaction is completely natural too,” he added.
“I know. The counsellor warned me this could happen,” I replied with a sigh. “But I still feel sad. I do want to be a mother someday but not now, not like this. I couldn’t look into this baby’s eyes without being reminded who its father was and what happened that day. As much as I believe it’s the right choice, part of me feels like I’m about to lose something precious. I don’t know what to do with those feelings right now. I’m a bit all over the place. Sorry.”

 

Petyr lifted my hand to his lips and placed a soft kiss on my palm.
“Don’t ever be sorry to share your feelings with me, my love. You are a kind hearted, sensitive, beautiful soul and I know that one day, when you’re ready, you will make an amazing mother to some very lucky child. I know that if circumstances were different and this were my child, I couldn’t be any happier or prouder that you were its mother.”
While he had intended to bolster me with his supportive words, the depth of the feeling behind them had the opposite result to what was intended. Of course, I also knew of Lysa’s secret abortion of Petyr’s baby so that didn’t help my fragile emotions. I felt the dam burst as I sobbed noisily into my hands.

 

Petyr groaned in dismay before putting on his indicator and pulling over to the side of the road. He reached over to unbuckle my belt before releasing his own.
“Can I hold you, Sansa?” he asked gently as he stroked his hand through my hair.
Completely overwhelmed with a whirlpool of emotions, I couldn’t answer with words but simply leaned my head against his chest as his arms wound around me. After some time I lifted my face and looked into his eyes, my vision blurred with tears.
“Sansa, if you need more time, you don’t have to do this today. You still have weeks before an abortion is no longer an option.”
I shook my head definitively.
“No, I need to do this Petyr. Today, before I lose my nerve. Besides I don’t want to put you out. You’ve already given up the afternoon to –”
His fingers moved to my chin, keeping my eyes locked with his.
“You are not putting me out, Sansa. Please get that thought out of your head. I want to be here - nothing is more important right now. My place is here by your side for as long as you want me.”

 

“I think I’ll always want you here by my side,” I replied shyly, feeling a hot blush assault my cheeks. I tried to avert my gaze but Petyr held on to my chin, gently but firmly as he blinked at me, his lips slightly parted in surprise.
“Do you really mean that?” he asked in a voice, smaller and more uncertain than any I’d heard from him before.
I don’t think I’d ever seen him so vulnerable.
I nodded and brought my hand up to cup one side of his face. His eyes glittered as his gaze fell on my lips. He began to lean closer but to my disappointment he stopped himself and simply grazed over my bottom lip with his thumb gently, emitting a huge sigh.
“Thank you. You don’t know what that means to me,” he murmured.
“Petyr, won’t you kiss me?” I pleaded.
“You have no idea how much I want to do that right now, but the timing is off, Sansa. When you remember being with me I want it to be associated with wonderful, happy memories, not with what is happening today. I don’t want your experience to be tainted by sadness. I don’t want you to regret anything about us. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I sniffled. “But afterwards?” I ventured shyly.
“We have all the time in the world to explore what we mean to each other, but first, let’s sort out this situation and see where we go from there,” he suggested.
“Okay,” I responded, disappointed but in agreement that jumping into something while I was so emotional wasn’t a good idea.
Petyr kissed me gently on the forehead before resuming our drive to the clinic.

 

As we pulled into the carpark some ten minutes later we were both rather surprised at the number of cars already parked there. After circling for some time, Petyr steered the car back out into the main street in frustration, searching for a metered park. We were eventually lucky enough to spot a car departing and took the spot. As we walked the short distance to the front gate we noticed a group of people forming over to one side of the carpark.
“I wonder what’s going on over there?” I commented.
Petyr frowned and shot a speculative glance in the direction of the group but didn’t respond. However, I registered that the grip on my elbow tightened slightly as he firmly and quickly led me towards the clinic’s entry.

Chapter Text

We had arrived for my appointment twenty minutes early and it was the longest twenty minutes of my life. As we sat in the waiting room, I bit at my fingernail nervously, a bad habit that I had abandoned years before but that had resurfaced under the pressure of the situation. Petyr reached over and grabbed my hand, holding it tightly much to the evident disapproval of a woman sitting directly across from him who studied both of us with a highly judgmental eye. Petyr merely glared at her, his irritation palpable until the woman’s gaze faltered. She finally buried her reddening face in a magazine shaking her head slightly. Petyr mumbled something unintelligible but no doubt unflattering about the woman under his breath and gave my hand a reassuring squeeze as my name was called out.
“Please come with me, I need you,” I pleaded in a rushed whisper.
“Of course, if you want me to,” he replied. “Come on, let’s go,” he said as he kissed me chastely on the cheek and took my hand, pulling me to my feet. I’m sure the pressure of my panicked grip on his fingers was painful as I made my way on trembling legs towards the waiting doctor, but if it was, he showed no sign.

 

The procedure itself was surprisingly non-eventful, although I still felt a lot of emotional conflict over the loss of the life that had begun to grow inside me. Physically, there wasn’t even any real pain, just a kind of pressure and a bit of mild cramping for a few minutes, nothing worse than normal period pain for me. It all seemed so very, very easy – much easier than I had any right to expect. Petyr held my hand through the whole thing, distracting me with his lovely sing song voice that I always found so calming. I can’t remember what he spoke about; it really didn’t matter. The fact that he was there and supporting me through such a difficult time was the important thing. If I had had to face this experience on my own I can’t imagine how I would have coped.

 

Before I knew it, the procedure was over and the doctor provided me with a sanitary pad and told me I could get dressed behind a curtained off area. I felt a little stunned by the speed and the finality of it all, moving robotically as I tried to re-assemble myself physically and psychologically into something approaching normality. Before I departed the doctor explained that there would be some very minimal bleeding for a few days to a week. There should be little if no pain or discomfort but if I had any issues I would need to return in the very unlikely event of an infection or complication. For some reason I thought that I deserved some measure of pain for what I had done, but perversely, it wasn’t forthcoming, leaving me feeling guilty and hollow. Petyr and I both thanked her and made our way back out to the waiting room. We couldn’t help but notice that it was empty where previously a few other patients had been waiting and there seemed to be the sound of raised voices floating in from outside. Petyr neared a window and glanced outside before turning to face me, his expression clouded with concern. He stalked over to the receptionist and addressed her with barely suppressed anger.

 

“What the hell is going on out there?” he barked out.
“I’m sorry, Sir. While you were in there, a situation has developed outside.”
“What sort of situation?” he grated through clenched teeth.
“A pro-life group showed up to stage a demonstration. It happens from time to time, unfortunately. A pro-choice group has now shown up and they’re coming to blows. The police have been called and they’re on their way.”
I looked to Petyr, my fear growing as I contemplated having to make our way through an angry mob to our car. He walked towards me and took my hand in an effort to calm me. In a gentler voice he addressed the receptionist again.
“Is it safe to go out there or is there some other way we can leave without having to run the gauntlet?”
“There is a back exit but you will still need to make your way down the side path and out of the front gate. Perhaps if you stay close to the perimeter you can get out before you are spotted.”
“Alright. Lead the way,” Petyr demanded as he followed, pulling me along behind him.

 

As we parted ways with the receptionist and exited the building, we proceeded quickly to the path that led along the side of the building and back towards the carpark. Nearing the corner of the building Petyr brought us to a stop and moved sideways towards the fence.
“The main group is over the other side of the carpark. Try to keep low so the parked cars hide us from them. Ready?”
I exhaled shakily and nodded as I crouched with Petyr and started to move.
The noise from the demonstration was escalating as tempers flared. I risked a small glance over the roof of a car spying placards with distressing slogans and graphic illustrations of aborted foetuses before quickly moving on. To my terror a strident voice cut through the general hubbub.
“Hey, who’s that trying to sneak out?” the female voice shrilled.
“Fuck,” Petyr cursed.
“I don’t think I can run,” I blurted out in panic as I felt a dull twinge in my abdomen.
“It’s okay. We’re nearly there. Let’s just go as fast as we can. Don’t worry. I’ve got you,” he said reassuringly.

 

About a dozen women and two men brandishing signs and dressed in pro-life t-shirts ran towards our position as did a number of pro-choice activists yelling at them to leave us alone. I heard the anti-abortionists yelling some profanities at us and began to weep as I moved as quickly as my legs would carry me. The gateway was only metres away when I spotted a camera man and news reporter approaching from the street, the camera trained directly on us.
I squealed and tried to hide my face as we turned out of the gate and into the street, making a dash for the parked car.
“Ms Stark? Is that you? Wait. Are you here to support the pro-life contingent? Why are you running, Ms Stark?” the reporter sang out.
Our whole family had been the subject of media interest since my Dad’s tilt at office so it was not surprising that I had been recognised. I felt an overwhelming surge of nausea as the implications hit me with full force.

 

Petyr wrenched the passenger side door open and bundled me inside before quickly making his way to the driver’s side and literally throwing himself into the seat. He peeled away down the street, checking the rear view mirror periodically before slowing down and driving more sedately once he was convinced no one was following.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“No,” I sobbed. “No, I’m not, Petyr. That camera. It was aimed straight at my face. And the reporter knows who I am. Oh my gods!! If this gets on to the news everyone is going to find out about me. What am I going to do?”
I grabbed at my chest, my heart thumping hard as I started to hyperventilate.
Petyr stopped the car and tried to sooth me but by this stage I was so panicked at the thought of the possible repercussions that I couldn’t get control. I could see the desperation in his face as he tried to get me to calm down but my heart was beating so hard and fast I thought it would burst out of my chest.
“Please Sansa, breathe. Calm down and breathe,” he pleaded, as he shushed me and stroked the side of my face with his hand.
“I’m here for you. I’ll help you. You don’t have to go through this alone. I love you. I love you so much,” he whispered into my ear.
Hearing those words cut through my distress and I felt my breathing slowly return to normal, my heart no longer thumping painfully.

 

I turned to face him, my eyes still wide with fright.
“My Mom and Dad are going to find out. What am I going to do? They’ll hate me. My Dad won’t understand about the abortion. He’ll be so disgusted in me.”
“I’ll stay with you until they get home and we’ll explain it to them together. Look, I am not going to sugar coat this. They’ll be disappointed and angry but you’re their daughter and they love you. Give them some time to process it and, in time, it will blow over. I promise.”
“But I lied to them, Petyr. And they’re going to be so mad at you too, for helping me to lie to them and for going behind their backs to the judge. I’m scared my Dad will hurt you again, only worse this time. I’m so, so sorry that I brought you into this. You need to stay away. You can’t be there when Dad gets home.”

 

“Don’t you dare,” Petyr replied, shaking me gently by the forearms. “Don’t you dare worry more about me than you do about yourself and do not blame yourself. And don’t send me away. I told you I would stand by you. I’m not about to throw you to the wolves when you need me the most.”
“But Petyr –“
“No, Sansa. Listen to me. We are in this thing together. I cannot just walk away. And I do not regret a thing. Not a single thing, do you hear me?”
I wiped at the tears on my face and nodded in acknowledgement before he pulled me in for a hug.
“That’s my brave strong girl,” he soothed as he stroked his fingers through my hair. “Come on. I want to get you home so you can lie down. All this stress is not good for you after your procedure.”

Chapter Text

Some fifteen minutes later I lay on the couch in the lounge room, the lower half of my body covered in a blanket and propped up by a large cushion.
“Are you comfortable, love?” he asked as he settled down next to me and handed me a hot water bottle for my belly and a cup of tea that he had prepared earlier.
“Yes, thank you. Petyr,” I replied, sighing with the dual comforts presented to me.
“Have you checked… I mean is there any bleeding? I’m concerned after the running you had to do from the clinic.”
“There’s just a little. I think no more than what the doctor told me to expect. And there’s some cramping but it’s not too bad. Could you please turn on the TV?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. You should be resting right now,” he replied with a frown.
“Please, I need to know what’s going on. If this has hit the news I need to be prepared for the worst.”
Petyr eyed me dubiously before reluctantly leaning over to grab the remote and turning on the TV. He flicked through the channels until he found the correct one. We sat in complete silence waiting for the next news broadcast, due in five minutes. Gods, did that five minutes take forever.

 

“In breaking news, a tense confrontation has taken place between pro-life and pro-choice activists at Central Family Planning Clinic in The Boulevard earlier this afternoon. Hostilities boiled over when Sansa Stark, confirmed by sources as a patient of the facility, and 16 year old daughter of conservative mayoral candidate Eddard Stark, was spotted leaving the clinic by demonstrators and chased from the property. She was accompanied by a male later identified as Petyr Baelish, a prominent businessman and relative by marriage to Ms Stark. Long an advocate of pro-life and a return to strong family values, Eddard Stark faces pressure from his own supporters and opposition candidates, with ever increasing calls for him to stand down from the election over the scandal. We contacted Mr Stark’s campaign headquarters but no comment was offered at this time.”

 

Trembling from head to toe, I snatched the remote from Petyr’s hand and turned the TV off, breathing rapidly.
“Gods, this is even worse than I thought it would be. My Dad knows now. And what if this ruins his chances at the election? I’ll never forgive myself. He’s worked so hard, he –”
“His political ambitions are not as important as you are,” Petyr interrupted firmly. “And in his heart of hearts, he knows that too. He might have a bit of trouble seeing the forest for the trees at first but he’ll get there. You have to have faith that it’ll all work out.”
“What about you, Petyr? Aunt Lysa will find out too, if she hasn’t already.”
“I don’t think she has yet, or I would have had a phone call or a thousand by now,” he smirked. “You let me worry about her,” he continued, his face now completely expressionless. If he was stressed about the prospect of confronting his wife, he wasn’t showing it.

 

Just then I heard the jingling of keys in the front door. I turned my face to stare at Petyr in alarm, pushing myself up from the couch to sit a little straighter and placing my now empty tea cup on the nearby table, my fingers shaking. He reached over for my hand and squeezed it in support before standing to face the door stoically. I was relieved, but only slightly, to realise that it wasn’t my father entering but my mother. However, my heart sank when I spotted how red-rimmed and puffy her eyes were. She looked so pale, as though all the blood had been sucked out of her. Her eyes met mine and then drifted to Petyr’s, her lips clenched together in a fine line.
“Get out, Petyr,” she hissed.
“But Mom,” I started.
“GET OUT!” she screamed.
“Catelyn, calm down,” Petyr urged, stretching an arm out towards her and walking cautiously towards her as if she were a wild animal.

 

“I will not calm down, you sick bastard!” she screeched as she slapped his hand away. “You are not wanted here. Leave now before I call the police.”
“Sansa has been through a lot of trauma today. I will not leave her in her current state and with you so upset. Please, I only want to help.”
“Help? Haven’t you done enough? How dare you? Sansa’s only sixteen. What you’ve done is illegal. It’s statutory rape. And then to compound it you encourage her to go behind our backs and procure an abortion for her. You are a vile and disgusting pervert. You are going to pay for this, I swear. I’ll see you die in jail for what you’ve done.”

 

“What? No!” I exploded as I noticed a slight flinch from Petyr at the word ‘pervert’. I was suddenly terrified that either my mother or my father would be compelled to release the secret dossier on Petyr’s past criminal activities to the police in revenge for a wrong that he had not even committed. I had no idea that my mother would leap to the conclusion that Petyr was the one who got me pregnant; perhaps I should have foreseen it. But it just never occurred to me. Evidently, Petyr himself wasn’t quite so surprised by my mother’s deduction. Instead of righteous outrage, as I had expected from him, his arms had moved to their default position in front of him, his fingers intertwined, his face an impassive mask in the face of her fury. I have no idea how he remained so calm when I felt like I was ready to combust. He was all at once impressive and just a little bit terrifying with his ice cold control.
“No Mom. Petyr didn’t do this. Petyr wasn’t the father!” I yelled out.

 

I pulled myself from the couch with a little wince as I felt a sharp pinch in my abdomen. I was so exhausted emotionally and physically that I struggled to hold myself upright. I detected a little surge of warm blood into the pad I wore between my legs and grimaced, doubling over slightly in discomfort. My mother must have sensed this because a look of concern flitted over her face obliterating her anger instantly. I took that moment to press the advantage.
“Mom, please listen, Petyr was only trying to help me. He didn’t, we didn’t –”
“How am I supposed to believe you anymore Sansa? You’ve done nothing but lie and run around behind our backs for weeks. Don’t try and protect him. Not this time.”
“It wasn’t him, it was Harry,” I blurted out, tears beginning to stream down my face.
My mother recoiled as though I’d slapped her, her face full of incredulity.
“What?” she gasped. “Harry Hardyng? The boy who killed himself? No, I don’t believe –”
“He hurt me Mom. I asked him to stop, he wouldn’t stop,” I cried as I began to weep in earnest.
Petyr pulled me to his side and embraced me with one arm while my mother just stood there staring. Suddenly she wailed and pushed Petyr aside, pulling me into a fierce hug as we both gave vent to our heightened emotions.

 

“Sansa, love. Why? Why didn’t you tell us?” she sobbed eventually.
I gasped and hiccupped through my tears before replying.
“I couldn’t. You were both so upset about Bran and you’ve both been so angry with me lately. I was scared that you would make me have the baby, or Dad would anyway. I couldn’t have this baby, Mom. I just couldn’t. Petyr was the only one I felt like I could turn to. He helped me. He has only ever wanted to help me. Please don’t be angry with him. He only did what I asked him to.”
My mother turned to face Petyr.
“Is this true?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied simply, again no emotion evident in his voice or expression.
“I’m still furious that you did not do more to convince Sansa to be honest with us and you helped her to go behind our backs to the judge who approved her abortion. I will never understand it nor can I forgive it. However, I do thank you for being there for her when we couldn’t be. It saddens me so much that she felt like she couldn’t come to us. I just hope you played no part in convincing her that it was true.”
“No Mom,” I interrupted. “Petyr kept on telling me that I should talk to you but I just couldn’t. I’m sorry.”
“Not as sorry as I am Sansa,” she replied sadly as she rubbed at the remaining tears on her face.

 

“What about Dad?” I asked nervously.
“He’s devastated and he’s ready to kill you, Petyr. He absolutely one hundred percent believes that the child was yours. On top of that, he is mourning the loss of a potential grandchild. We both are,” she added, her voice trembling.
“And like me, he’s very upset that you didn’t confide in us, Sansa. Now he’s being hounded by the media. There are a lot of detractors out there that are baying for his blood. They consider him the ultimate hyprocrite for telling everyone how they should conduct their family lives when he can’t even control his own. Even worse, they’re criticizing him for tacitly condoning abortion while he’s always spoken out against it publically and made it a significant part of his campaign platform. His team are going into damage control but it’s not looking good.”
“Where is he now?” Petyr enquired.
“At campaign headquarters putting out fires. But he’ll be here soon. You really need to go before he gets here, Petyr.”
“Yes,” I agreed heartily, “you need to leave.”
“I will not abandon you, Sansa. I’ve told you, we’re in this together.”
I squeezed his arm reassuringly and shook my head.
“No, I can’t let you stay. The state he’s in, he’ll hurt you or worse. If something happened to you I don’t know what I’d do. I’d never forgive myself. Please, for me, please go.”

 

Petyr sighed and took me into his arms. My mother stiffened but made no remark.
“Alright. I’ll go. But I don’t like it. I’m worried about what Eddard will do,” he remarked to my mother.
“Try not to worry. No matter how angry he is, he would never hurt Sansa. You should go upstairs Sansa, once Petyr leaves. It will give me a chance to speak to your father first. Hopefully he will listen to reason and understand why you did what you did. I’ll try and convince him not to kill you Petyr, but this is the last time I’m getting between you and him. The next time you are on your own.”
“Understood. Thank you Catelyn. Not for my sake but for Sansa’s. She’s been through enough. Please believe me when I say that my intentions were good, as hard as that might be to believe right now. I genuinely regret if my actions resulted in further hardship to your family. I know you’ve been through a lot of distress lately with Bran. I certainly did not want to make things any harder for you.”

 

My mother didn’t reply, simply turned and walked towards the door and held it open for Petyr, her eyes hard and narrowed.
“Goodbye Petyr. I hope you will understand that you are not welcome in this house, in case Ned didn’t make that clear enough to you the first time.”
His nod in acknowledgement was almost imperceptible before he turned to me and gave me a small smile.
“Stay strong Sansa. There are many people in your life that love you and support you, just remember that.”
The subtext in his words didn’t escape me. I struggled with a strong impulse to fling myself into his arms before he turned from me and reluctantly disappeared out the door. I blinked away tears before dragging myself tiredly up the stairs.

 

Despite the tension and foreboding I felt while I waited for my Dad to get home I was so exhausted that I dozed off. Sometime later I awoke to raised voices downstairs. The heated conversation continued back and forth for some time until suddenly a loud agonised moan sounded, closely followed by wracking sobs. My father. Tears stung in my eyes as I turned my back to the door, curled up into a little ball, and tried to block out my father’s pain. I stiffened as I heard his unmistakable solid footsteps making their way up the stairs and the slight creak of the hinges as he opened the bedroom door. I felt his presence by my side as he loomed over me, my body starting to tremble with a potent mixture of fear and grief. I felt his fingers touch my shoulder with a feather light touch.
“Sansa,” he whispered. “Please…”
His voice broke and I knew without looking that he was fighting back tears. I slowly turned to face him, my face wet with my own tears as I bit at my lip hard enough to break the skin.
“I’m sorry, Dad,” I whimpered.

 

He pulled me from the bed and crushed me to him with a loud sob.
“No, no, no. My poor baby girl. That boy, what he did to you. I failed you. What sort of father am I that you felt you couldn’t come to me? This is my fault. Mine.”
I lost control of my emotions and cried hysterically as I hugged him closer, completely incapable of speech. I hoped that he would understand from the embrace what I was unable to express through words.
He continued to gently rock me in his arms and smooth at my hair until we both calmed.
“You’ve been through hell today, Sansa,” he said eventually. “Try to get some sleep. We’ll talk in the morning.”
“Do you hate me now?” I mumbled.
“No, of course not. You’re my daughter. I could never hate you. I love you. Sleep now, Sansa.”
“I love you too Dad,” I replied as I closed my eyes and finally let the oblivion of sleep overtake me.

Chapter Text

The next morning my parents and I sat in the kitchen talking until Arya and Rickon made their way downstairs. Although I could tell that Mom and Dad were incredibly disappointed in me and angry that I had consistently lied to them, they were also devastated about what I had been through with Harry and the termination of my pregnancy and ready to throw their support behind me. Petyr was still a sore point, especially with my Dad who barely contained his rage whenever Petyr’s name was mentioned. At least I managed to convince him that nothing of a sexual nature had ever happened between us but he still clearly detested and distrusted the man and nothing I said was ever going to change that. He warned me that if he ever saw the two of us together again, he would not be responsible for his actions. I had no doubt that Petyr would be a dead man.

 

My brother and sister were oblivious to what had occurred the previous day so it fell to us to inform them of the situation before they found out via the media or the grapevine. They were shocked and upset but both threw their arms around me and hugged me tight, telling me everything would be alright. Their support meant the world to me and gave me a real sense of a light at the end of the tunnel for the first time since this whole saga began. Our discussion was cut short by a ring of the doorbell.
“Who the hell can that be at this time of the morning?” my father grumbled.
He walked to the door phone video intercom to check the identity of the visitor, hissing in anger and thumping his hand violently against the wall.
“Bloody reporters hanging about like vultures outside,” he growled as he stalked angrily towards the front door and flung it open despite my mother’s protestations to leave well enough alone.

 

“Mr Stark, do you have any words for your supporters regarding your stance on pro-life?” one man asked.
“What do you say about accusations that Petyr Baelish is responsible for your daughter’s pregnancy?” asked another.
“Is it true that your campaign manager has threatened to quit amidst the controversy?”
“I have no comment. Leave immediately or I will call the police and have you forcibly removed. You are trespassing on private property,” my dad grated out through clenched teeth.
“What are you trying to hide, Mr Stark?”
“Why won’t you put all the speculation to rest? Your supporters are demanding answers.”
“Doesn’t the public deserve to know the truth behind the man they are potentially electing as their mayor?”
My father slammed the door noisily in their faces, not trusting himself to keep his temper in check and knowing that a failure to do so would only create another public relations fiasco. Later that morning, my father drove us kids to school and Mom to work after nearly mowing down a couple of persistent reporters that still lingered around the front yard and driveway.

 

As I sat in the back seat of the family SUV, my phone vibrated in my pocket. Extracting it, I smiled when I saw a text from Petyr. Luckily, Arya and Rickon were too preoccupied with playing with their own phones to notice.

P: How are things at your house this morning? Thinking about you.

S: Okay. Mom, Dad and I had a good talk. They’re angry and disappointed but you were right. They’re standing behind me. Arya and Rickon have been amazing.

P: Good, I’m glad. How do you feel from the procedure?

S: A little bleeding. No pain now, though. Did you get into trouble with Aunt Lysa? I’m worried about you.

P: Don’t be. She had a lot of questions but she believes that I had nothing to do with your pregnancy. Unlike the reporters outside. Won’t leave me alone. Bastards.

S: You too, huh. If it would help I’ll make a statement to say you weren’t the father.

P: No, please don’t. That will just give this thing oxygen. They’ll twist it as though we have something to hide. Besides you don’t need to worry about me. I’m a tough cookie.

S: I know but it’s not fair. You did nothing wrong.

P: Neither did you.

S: When can I see you again?

P: Don’t know.

S: I miss you.

P: I have to go.

S: OK. Bye.

I stared at the screen in dejection wondering if this was Petyr’s way of trying to break things off. The last two messages seemed really cold and impersonal and he hadn’t given me any indication that he wanted to see me too. I pocketed my phone with a deep sigh as I stared blankly out of the side window. I really didn’t know what to make of Petyr’s texts other than that he had decided it was all too hard and that he was starting to pull away. Could I really blame him? Apart from the trouble it would have caused between he and my Aunt it must have been hurting his professional reputation to be accused of what amounted to statutory rape. Even if there was no proof and it was just gossip, mud has a habit of sticking. Perhaps he was right. Maybe if we never saw each other again, it would be for the best. If it meant that I could keep Petyr from any further harm then I would do it for him, although it would be painful.

 

Walking through the school gates a little while later I began to notice knots of students standing around and staring and pointing in my direction. Whispers floated through the air towards me like a thick malevolent fog:

Slut
Whore
Baby killer
Fucked her uncle or was it her grandpa?
Slapper should have kept her legs closed
Wonder if she’d do me?

I felt tears pricking at my eyes as I blushed hotly with humiliation, my eyes trained on the ground desperately trying to drown out the chorus of condemning voices that assaulted my ears. As I walked into the school building I passed the large community noticeboard and cried out in shock when I saw that it had been filled with enlarged copies of my picture from the newspapers with “whore”, “slut”, “cum bucket” and other nasty slurs scrawled over them in red texta. I tore at the pictures desperately as tears streamed down my eyes. Through the resulting blur I noticed Myranda Royce standing in one corner of the room with a group of her friends grinning maliciously in my direction. I had no doubt who was responsible for posting those pictures although I wasn’t sure what her motivation was, other than that she remained jealous of the attention that Harry had shown me before his death. If she only knew. I ran out into the corridor towards the restrooms and once there, locked myself in a cubicle shaking with anger and shame. I thought about ringing Petyr but decided against it on the basis of his texts from earlier. Besides, I couldn’t keep running to him every time someone looked at me the wrong way. It was time to grow a backbone and not give these cretins the satisfaction of seeing me squirm. I steeled myself and made my way to the first class of the morning.

 

The rest of the day was filled with more of the same treatment. Not one of my tormenters had the guts to approach me directly. They were content to sling their insults and laugh at my expense from a distance while I did everything I could to block out their taunts. During recess the only person who associated with me apart from my siblings was Gilly, bless her. I didn’t tell her about what Harry did to me but I did tell her that the rumours about Petyr were completely untrue. To my relief she hugged me and told me she believed me and was sorry for what I was going through. She was ready to stomp over to Myranda Royce and pull her hair out by the roots for her despicable stunt but I stopped her, telling her she wasn’t worth it, even though I had entertained the same thought myself more than once.

 

I was called into the principal’s office and encouraged to report any instances of bullying or harassment that I experienced – it had obviously come to the attention of some of the teachers that the other students were giving me a hard time. I was also offered the services of the school counsellor and the chaplain but I politely declined both. It was a long and exhausting day and I was very glad to see the end of it and looking forward to escaping this living hell over the weekend. I resolved to avoid social media like the plague – if my reputation was being torn apart online I had no interest in reading about it. I fervently prayed that come Monday the novelty of making my life a misery would have worn off and my tormenters would leave me in peace. What I didn’t know then was that before Monday could even dawn, a much greater tragedy would strike our family making my current troubles fade into insignificance.

Chapter Text

I’ll never forget where I was and what I was doing when that fateful phone call came through. It was Saturday evening at 6.24pm and I was sitting in the kitchen. Arya and I were shucking peas while Rickon played with his hand held gaming console. My Mom, who was stirring some soup in a pot over the stove at the time, put down the spoon and made her way to the phone on the wall by the end of the kitchen bench.
“Hello. Speaking. What…?” my mother stammered. I heard her whimper and rushed over to her when I saw her face turn as white as a sheet. She held the receiver some distance from her ear, her mouth agape and her other hand clasped tightly to her chest.
“Mom, what’s wrong? Mom!” I exclaimed, while Rickon and Arya both stopped what they were doing, looking at us both in alarm.
I plucked the phone from her hand and addressed the caller urgently.
“Hello. Who’s there? What’s happening? What? Oh Gods!” I cried out.
Arya stomped her foot in a mixture of fear and exasperation.
“What is it?” she yelled.
“Okay, thanks. We will,” I sniffled, terminating the call as tears streamed down my face.

 

Just then my Dad appeared in the doorway having been lured from his study by the commotion.
“What the blazes is going on in here?” he demanded, his brow furrowing when he noticed how wan Mom appeared and my tear streaked face.
“Dad, it was the hospital. Something’s happened to Bran. He’s been transferred back to the ICU,” I stammered.
“What!” he cried. “What do you mean? What’s wrong with him?”
“They wouldn’t tell me too much over the phone. Only that we need to get there as soon as we can. Dad, I’m scared.”
“Okay, okay. I’m sure he’s fine. Just a minor setback. Come on let’s go,” he urged sounding entirely unconvincing. He snatched his car keys from the hook on the back of the kitchen door and strode urgently towards the front door.
I had the presence of mind to turn off the stove before grabbing my mother’s elbow in a firm but gentle hold and tugging her along with me. She hadn’t uttered a word since taking the phone call, her eyes wide and glassy with shock. I was worried about her but didn’t have the time to try and bring her out of her stupor.

 

Not a word was spoken by any occupant of the car during the entire trip to the hospital. After parking our SUV we made our way up to the sixth floor and enquired with reception as to Bran’s location and status. We were asked to take a seat in the waiting area where the treating doctor would meet us as soon as he was available. We could do nothing but sit and fret while we waited in tense silence for the specialist to show up. I looked over at my Mom who still stared blankly into empty space, her fingers interlaced in her lap, frozen like a statue. My father leant across and covered her hands with one of his but she showed absolutely no reaction.

 

At long last the doctor appeared, his face grim. He addressed my father who had shot to his feet upon the man’s approach. My mother sat perfectly still, her back ramrod straight, her eyes darting from side to side in panic.
“What is it doctor? What’s wrong with my boy?”
“Mr Stark, Mrs Stark. A word please,” the doctor requested, glancing pointedly at Arya and Rickon.
I took hold of my mother’s arm and helped her from the seat, her whole body shaking as we separated ourselves from the younger kids. Once we were at a sufficient distance the doctor motioned to some nearby chairs.
“Please, take a seat. I’m sorry that I have to be the bearer of bad news. Bran has suffered a pulmonary embolism, meaning that a fragment of material has travelled from a blood clot in his leg blocking an artery in his lungs. The lack of oxygen in turn caused cardiac arrest. Our team worked on him for close to twenty minutes during which time his brain was severely starved of oxygen, causing catastrophic brain injury. I’m sorry to inform you that our equipment is unable to detect any brain wave function. We have him on life support but I’m afraid there is no prospect of recovery, the damage is too great.”

 

My father stared wildly at the doctor and rubbed his hand roughly through his hair while a low keening noise emitted from my mother as she rocked herself back and forth on her chair. I covered my face with my hands as the full import of what the doctor had just imparted struck me with the force of a hammer blow. Arya and Rickon, having witnessed everyone’s reactions from a distance were now both sobbing uncontrollably, having deduced the awful truth. Somehow my mother found the strength to stand from her chair, retrace her steps and throw her arms around them.
“How, how did this happen?” my father stammered, his voice thick with tears that he struggled to hold back, his hand landing on my shoulder in an attempt to provide comfort.
“Blood clots are a risk with patients like Bran with limited or no mobility for prolonged periods. Unfortunately despite our best efforts to prevent it, Bran developed such a clot and things spiraled from there. I am sincerely sorry about this outcome. Do you wish to see him now? We can discuss how you wish to proceed at a later time,” the doctor suggested.

 

“Yes, yes, we’ll see him now,” my father replied, wiping his brow roughly with his palm.
He walked over to my mother and knelt down in front of her, cupping the sides of her face with his hands.
“Catelyn, love. Let’s go and see our son. He’s waiting for us,” he urged gently.
My mother nodded dully and rose to her feet, swaying before my father steadied her with one hand to her elbow. Dad reached out his other arm to us kids and motioned us towards the door to the ICU. We filed through and followed the doctor to Bran’s bed.

 

He looked so tiny and frail, covered as he was by a multitude of tubes and wires connecting him to the machinery that was now the only thing keeping his vitals alive. When I looked into his pale lifeless face the thought that I would never again see his beautiful brown eyes open and his mouth curved in a cheeky smile hit me so hard. My mother collapsed at the side of the bed, her face pressed into his arm as she finally succumbed to her emotions. We kids were beside ourselves too, the only one not crying was my father who was desperately trying to stay strong for the rest of us. Even through the haze of my tears I could see the strain it caused him; his whole frame trembled with suppressed grief. I reached out and touched his arm but he flinched away from me and closed his eyes, taking a long deep shuddering breath.

 

We all took turns standing by Bran’s bedside, leaning in to kiss him before making our way outside to the waiting room. Mom and Dad stayed inside with Bran talking to the doctor. Through the glass window I saw Dad finally losing control of his emotions and hugging my mother to him as he sobbed into her shoulder. She had her back turned to me so I couldn’t see her face, but her shoulders shook so I knew she was crying too.

 

I extracted my phone from my pocket and searched my contacts for the number I needed. I could barely make out the details through the haze of my tears.
“Hello,” came the reply from the other end.
“Aunt Lysa, it’s me, Sansa,” I replied.
There was a protracted silence from the other end before she responded coldly.
“Petyr can’t come to the phone right now Sansa. I was sorry to hear of your troubles. How are you?”
“I didn’t ring for Petyr. And it’s not about me, it’s Bran,” I choked out.
“Oh gods, no,” she exclaimed. “What’s happened?”
I heard a muffled voice in the background, presumably Petyr. So much for not being able to come to the phone. Bitterly, I wondered if it was Lysa’s idea to lie to me or whether Petyr had put her up to it, not wishing to take my call.
“He suffered cardiac arrest. He’s brain dead. He’s not going to wake up,” I cried. “Please come, Mom needs you.”
I could hear a stifled sob from the other end of the line as Lysa struggled to maintain her composure. I could hear a distinct tremble in her voice but to her credit, she remained calm.
“Of course, dear. We’ll be right there. I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you Aunt Lysa,” I answered sincerely as I terminated the call, hoping that I had done the right thing by bringing my aunt, and more importantly, her husband into a potentially volatile situation.

Chapter Text

My parents were still sitting by Bran’s bedside stroking his face and his arms when Petyr and Lysa arrived in the waiting area some thirty minutes later. Lysa hugged us kids in turn, although I noticed she did so a bit stiffly with me, while Petyr stood awkwardly to the side, his eyes trained on the ground.
“Mom and Dad are with him now,” I informed Lysa. “Come on, I’ll take you in.”
Lysa began to follow me then realised that Petyr hadn’t moved from his position.
“Are you coming, Petyr?” she asked a little impatiently.
“I’m not so sure that’s a good idea, under the circumstances,” he muttered. I noticed that he hadn’t met my eyes once since he had arrived.
“It’ll be fine, Petyr,” I reassured him.
Petyr glanced at me ever so briefly, his expression unreadable, before following Lysa and myself hesitantly into the ICU.
My parents looked up in surprise when we approached, my mother launching herself at her sister with a sob. Dad sat by Bran’s side staring fixedly at Petyr, his brow furrowed, his eyes glaring. I began to think that this had been a really bad idea until Petyr approached him with his hand extended. To my utter surprise, my father eyed his hand warily, sighed deeply and accepted the gesture, albeit reluctantly. Petyr clapped his hand on Dad’s shoulder in what looked like a genuine show of support; my father flinched slightly but then nodded in acknowledgement.

 

“I am truly sorry, Eddard. I don’t really know Bran but from what I have seen and what Sansa has told me he is a great kid. He doesn’t deserve all this. Your family doesn’t deserve it. I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye but if there is anything you need, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Thank you, I appreciate that,” Dad muttered. He knew full well what a huge gesture that was from Petyr but equally I knew what an effort it took for my father to graciously accept it. I wasn’t naïve. I knew they’d never be bosom buddies but this was a significant step in the right direction. I also knew that my father would never have made the first move so my heart swelled with gratitude and a renewed surge of affection for Petyr. I smiled when he met my eyes once again trying to convey the depth of my feelings in that one look. I felt a stab to the chest when I realised that he didn’t smile back: in fact, his face was a completely blank mask.
“How are you Sansa?” he asked with a tilt of his head, his voice perfectly modulated to betray no emotion other than a cold politeness. The only tell was the way he clasped both hands in front of him, his fingers intertwining which I’d learned was his way of grounding himself.
“As well as can be expected, thanks Uncle Petyr,” I replied, with heavy emphasis on the word “uncle”. I noticed a slight flinch from him in response but otherwise he remained seemingly untouched. My feelings flip flopped until I realised that the predominant emotions I was feeling towards him at that moment were hurt, anger and resentment against his apparent abandonment of me when I needed him the most.

 

I excused myself a short time later and escaped through the waiting room and down the elevator to the hospital exit. Walking across the lawns I found myself a park bench and plopped down emotionally and physically done in. I’d only been sitting there a short time when I spied Petyr walking towards me. I stared at him uncertainly, not sure what to expect.
“I thought you weren’t talking to me,” I commented tartly as he eventually took his place beside me.
He sighed and took hold of my hand in his, stroking over the knuckles with his thumb absently.
“I’m sorry Sansa. What I said in the car the last time we saw each other still goes. I am here for you and my feelings haven’t changed. But I am under an intense amount of scrutiny from the media and my wife. I cannot afford for the rumours regarding my role in your pregnancy to gain any traction. Already I have had two business deals go belly up because of negative publicity and I’ve been interviewed by the police in regards to my relationship with an underage girl. I have to throw everyone off the scent, including your family. I don’t fancy orange jumpsuits, as a rule,” he smirked sardonically.

 

“Oh Petyr,” I gasped in shock. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You’ve been through so much recently and now this situation with Bran. I didn’t want to upset you further. I realise now that the way I have been acting has achieved just that and I’m sorry for it. But for both our sakes, we need to be careful.”
I wiped at tears in my eyes and nodded in acknowledgement.
“I know you’re right but it’s hard. I miss you.”
“And I you.”
“Thank you for what you did in there, with my father.”
“I’m going to be honest: I didn’t do it for him, although I do feel sympathy for what he is going through right now. It must be every parent’s worst nightmare to see their child perish before they do. Primarily, I did it for you. I know it causes you stress when there is so much animosity between your father and I, and I don’t want that.”
“Well, I know how hard that would have been for you. I appreciate it.”
Petyr smiled but made no further remark.

 

“But one thing I don’t understand is Aunt Lysa. I thought you said she believed you about the pregnancy,” I commented.
“She does. But although she hasn’t said anything directly I can tell that she wonders about how I ended up being with you at the abortion clinic. You must remember, as far as she knows we have only had very minimal contact. That you would turn to me, of all people, for help in such an intimate circumstance, has got her thinking. She’s been watching me closely and has been calling the office at odd times, I believe in order to check on my whereabouts.”
“Is that why your last text messages to me were so abrupt?”
“Yes, Lysa came up right behind me so I had to sign off before she had an opportunity to read them over my shoulder.”
“I thought you were trying to push me away,” I sniffled.
“Never, love,” he replied earnestly.

 

“I’m so sorry Petyr. This is all my fault. I never should have dragged you into all of this.”
“Hey, stop that. You didn’t drag me into anything. Everything I’ve done I’ve done willingly and I would do it again. In a heartbeat.”
I looked down at our joined hands, weaving my fingers with his.
“When can I see you again?” I asked in a small voice.
Petyr sighed heavily.
“I don’t know Sansa. We have to lay low for now – no unnecessary risks. And besides you have to concentrate on your family and your school work. No distractions. Once this whole thing with the abortion blows over (and it will blow over) and once things are a little more under control, then I don’t think there is a power on this earth that could keep me away from you.”

 

A tear slipped down my face; Petyr reached out with his spare hand and brushed it away with his thumb.
“I don’t know if I can do this on my own. I need you Petyr.”
“You are so much stronger than you think you are, my love. And while I cannot be with you physically there is always the phone. Ring me or text me anytime, but just be careful.”
Petyr leaned in to plant a gentle kiss on my lips but it was chaste and he moved away with a deep intake of breath before standing and regarding me with sad eyes.
“Promise me this isn’t goodbye, Petyr,” I pleaded, my voice trembling.
“While there is breath in my body I promise that I will do everything I can to find my way back to you.”
With that he released my hand and walked calmly back towards the hospital entrance leaving me to contemplate life without him for the immediate future.

Chapter Text

I’ll fast forward a couple of weeks now, Stannis, because it’s too painful to relate everything that happened and every emotion I felt during the time that Bran was lying unresponsive in his hospital bed. I’ll just say that I cried endlessly, it seemed, for a life lost before it had even been lived. And the whole time I couldn’t shake the belief that if it had not been for my selfish acts, none of this ever would have happened. From time to time I would look into my parents’ eyes and I thought I saw there recrimination – as though they also blamed me, at least to an extent. I knew they didn’t want to, that if I had asked them outright, they would have denied it vehemently, but I don’t think they could prevent the thought, as much as they tried to hide it from me. Arya and Rickon were much harder for me to read or perhaps I just didn’t want to, afraid what I’d see in their eyes if I had the courage to look deeply enough. The only thing I could take strength from was my last conversation with Bran who had begged me not to blame myself for his accident and his whispered, “I love you, San” as he hugged me to him for what turned out to be the very last time.

 

Dad made the very difficult decision to withdraw from the mayoral campaign. The fallout from the scandal surrounding my abortion was just too great; many of his own party supporters had turned against him in favour of a younger candidate who I learned had been undermining my father’s campaign for months. My ‘fall from grace’ provided the opening this vulture could exploit to pound the final nail into the coffin of my father’s political aspirations. Quite apart from the fact that Dad knew all too well that it was over, the situation with Bran completely knocked the wind out of his sails. It was clear how taxing it was for him to deal with his own grief and that of his wife and kids while also trying to hold down a regular job and fend off his political critics. Something had to give and there was never any debate that he would choose his family over politics. But we could all tell what the decision cost him – he looked like he’d aged ten years overnight and as though all his usual fight had left him.

 

The only shining light in my Dad’s life was that my half-brother Jon was on his way home from North of the Wall where he had been deployed on the front line. Unfortunately, Robb remained incommunicado. His elite force unit had been deployed on a delicate mission deep within enemy territory and no communication, however covert, could be attempted without seriously jeopardising lives. While assurances had been given that Robb would be informed of the family emergency at the earliest opportunity, we really had no idea when that was likely to be and no one was at all forthcoming with that information. With heavy hearts my parents agreed that once Jon arrived, it would be time to turn off the life support and let Bran go. It was a difficult decision for them but in the end they could see what effect the hopelessness of Bran’s condition was having on us kids and didn’t want to prolong the suffering for us, for themselves or most importantly, for him. So, it was with a terribly confusing mixture of dread and joy that we awaited the arrival of Jon, who none of us had seen for close to a year.

 

The airport made me feel sad because I always associated it with saying goodbye to my older brothers but the day we all made the trip to welcome home Jon was particularly poignant. Despite the fact that his regulation buzz cut had eliminated his trademark mop of unruly brown curls, I had no trouble spotting him in the crowd of other arrivals. He’d always been a tall, strapping young man but the hard fighting up North had added considerable bulk to his frame and he walked with an air of strength and command that drew the eye of not just his family, but also some of the young women gathered around the arrival gate. It was typical of him that he had absolutely no idea about the effect that he had on the women around him. I noticed a blonde and a brunette a few yards away giggling, whispering and nudging each other as Jon spotted us and broke into a run, accentuating the play of the impressive muscles in his thighs and calves. He hugged my Mom and my Dad and then my brother and sister in turn, blinking furiously to stave off imminent tears. I stood to one side fidgeting with my hair and rocking nervously from foot to foot. I knew that Mom had told him what had happened with me and I was so petrified he would hate me for everything it had cost our family. But to my relief, he simply drew me into his arms and held me tight, his breath stuttering in my ear as he fought for self-control; I allowed myself to cry into his broad hard chest.

 

“Sansa, Gods, I’m so, so sorry. Are you okay?” he said, his voice hoarse with emotion.
“I am now that you’re here. I missed you so much,” I answered sincerely.
The depth of my feelings for Jon at that moment surprised me. Our relationship had always been a little distant compared with how I was with my other siblings. I understood now that it made absolutely no difference to me that Jon was a half-brother, a product of my father’s previous marriage. He loved me and had my back no matter what, and really he always had. I had just been too immature to acknowledge that up until now. I relished the warmth and strength that emanated from him as he held me in his muscled arms. I’m not sure how long we remained like that until eventually my Dad approached and gently broke us apart, encouraging us to move along to the baggage claim and out to the carpark.

 

As we all piled into the family mini-van, what should have been a joyful reunion was tinged with sadness as we all contemplated Bran’s imminent passing. While Jon was keen to get to the hospital to see his kid brother, my parents had convinced him that it would be best if the whole family spent time together at home for the rest of the day and said our goodbyes to Bran the next morning before the time came to disconnect his life support later that same afternoon. The conversation at dinner that night was subdued. Jon did his best to try and lighten the mood and distract us with humourous anecdotes of some of his military pals’ escapades but no one’s heart was in it and eventually we all retired early to our beds as we faced a night of sleepless grief, hoping against hope that a miracle would happen and Bran would be returned to us once again.

And so, on a typically dreary rain swept Winterfell day almost a week later, we buried our youngest family member, and said goodbye once again to Jon whose compassionate leave had by that time expired. We all acutely felt the absence of Robb and I think that my parents will always regret that their oldest son never had the opportunity to say goodbye to their youngest. Mind you, it was unbearable enough to witness Jon’s reaction to seeing Bran’s broken frail body in the ICU ward for what was to be the first and last time. When Jon leaned over and planted a soft kiss on Bran’s forehead and whispered “I love you so much, little brother,” through his tears, I nearly lost it completely. When the time came for me to say goodbye I fought a strong impulse to run screaming from the room but willed my shaking legs to approach and….yep…um….it was…hard. So hard. I can’t go there, Stannis. It hurts too much. Even now. Especially now. I miss him so much.

 

I hardly remember anything about the service and the wake. I seemed to walk through it all on autopilot. I kept my face hidden behind the curtain of my hair, staring at the floor in front of me during the church service. I couldn’t look at any of my family members, or the intricately carved oak casket with gold handles bearing my brother. I desperately tried to block out the words of the priest who conducted the service, the sobs of my mother on one side of me and the deep shaking intakes of breath from my father on the other side. I felt two sets of concerned eyes on me: Jon’s further down the pew and that of Petyr who sat with Lysa in the pew behind us. While I ordinarily would have relished the fact that Petyr was so close at hand, I barely registered his presence, as was also the case when he had attended the hospital with his wife after we had all said our goodbyes to Bran. I was wallowing too deep in my grief to care about anything other than the gaping hole I felt in my heart at the loss of my innocent little brother.

 

On top of that, I hadn’t really had a proper opportunity to mourn the loss of the life that had been growing inside me so I felt completely overwhelmed. When the coffin was lowered into the ground I finally succumbed to my emotions and wept openly. I became aware of a strong set of arms encircling my waist and a chin resting on my shoulder.
“It’s okay, sis,” Jon whispered in my ear. “Bran knows how much you love him and he loves you too. Nothing can ever destroy a love so strong, not even his passing. You’ll always be a part of each other. Always.”

 

Afterwards at the wake, my parents put me in charge of making sure that the invited guests were all served drinks and food so that kept me pretty occupied, for which I was very grateful. Grabbing a tray of mini vol au vents I made my way over to Petyr who stood on his own in one corner of the room, glass of red wine in hand. Mom and Dad were deep in conversation with our neighbours, an elderly couple who had adored Bran and had often invited him over for milk and cookies in the afternoons after school. His passing had hit them hard, as they had lost their only child, a son, at much the same age from leukaemia. We had always suspected that Bran filled a void in their lives so surely it brought back some very painful memories and feelings for the poor lonely couple.

 

Assured that my parents were distracted I continued towards Petyr who regarded me with a guarded expression.
“Hi Petyr,” I greeted with a small uncertain smile. “Care for one?” I asked as I offered the tray to him.
“Ah, no. Thank you. You should eat though. When was the last time you ate? You’ve lost weight and you look so pale,” he observed with a frown.
“It’s just the black dress that makes it look that way, Petyr. Don’t worry about me. I’m okay.”
That was a big fat lie. Since Bran’s passing my appetite had completely deserted me. Most of my clothes now hung loose from my frame and I did feel a little light headed at times. How much of that was due to lack of nourishment and how much was due to a surfeit of emotion, I’m not sure.
“I don’t think I believe you Sansa,” he replied, his eyes narrowed but still full of concern. “You need to take better care of yourself. Promise me that you will. I can’t always be around to look after you, although you know that if I could be, I would.”
“I know,” I sighed loudly. “I promise I’ll try and pull myself together but I’m so tired. It’s just so hard to keep going, you know?”
“I can imagine, love. If I can do anything to make it easier, you know where I am.”
“Thanks Petyr. When can we….”

 

Just then I jumped as I became aware of a tall dark presence right beside me. I craned my neck to peer up at Jon’s face. While I didn’t sense any hostility in his eyes, his look was speculative and that worried me. Had he sensed something between us? I spotted a flash of danger in Petyr’s eyes but it was so fleeting that I thought perhaps I had imagined it.
“Hey, Sansa. Uncle Petyr,” Jon greeted as he shook Petyr’s hand. “I’ve not had much of an opportunity to speak with you since I’ve been back, Uncle. I just wanted to thank you for being here to support the family and I understand that you have helped Sansa during her…troubles. I can’t thank you enough for that. It’s really hard when you’re out on deployment and you can’t be there when your family needs you, so I’m really grateful. More than you know. I’m sure Robb would say the same, if he were able.”
Despite the kind words, the probing look in Jon’s eyes said something entirely different. Petyr’s eyes darkened and narrowed in response; he was more than aware of Jon’s intense scrutiny.
“It is no hardship, Jon, I assure you. Your family, our family has been through so much. Both your Aunt, and I are happy to do whatever we can to help you all through this. You have only to ask. Speaking of which, my lovely wife is probably wondering where I am right now. Will you both excuse me?”
“Of course,” I responded. “Thanks Uncle Petyr, from me too,” I smiled.
I longed to reach out and hug him to me but resisted the urge; I sensed a rigidness in Petyr’s posture that hinted at a similar impulse but after an ever so brief hesitation, he nodded slightly at us both and turned on his heels, walking smoothly towards Lysa who stood conversing with a group of other guests, some distant relatives, in a far corner of the room.

 

Jon stood staring at Petyr’s retreating form before returning his gaze to me. I knew straight away what was coming.
“So, do you want to explain to me what’s going on between the two of you?” he asked, his lips thinned to a straight line.
I felt a flush of heat at my cheeks and struggled to maintain eye contact under his penetrating glare.
“What do you mean?” I responded rather pathetically as I stalled for an answer.
“You just now. The puppy dog eyes, the blushing, the fidgeting. And at the church and the cemetery and here at the wake, he hasn’t taken his eyes off you. Tell me what that’s about, Sansa. And don’t lie to me. We might not always have been close – not as close as I would have liked - and I’ve been away for a while, but I can still tell when you lie to me.”
“You’re imagining things, Jon. He’s been there for me and I’m grateful but that’s all there is to it.”
“Okay,” he responded in a very unconvinced tone. “Are you sure that he’s on the same page as you, Sansa? I don’t like the way he’s looking at you. He’s not looking at you like an Uncle should look at his niece.”

 

Jon’s hard gaze bore into me relentlessly. I could feel myself losing my composure but just in the nick of time my Mom broke from her conversation and started to make her way over to us.
“Mom’s coming, Jon so drop it. You’re just going to have to take my word for it. Nothing’s going on. Uncle Petyr cares what happens to me but that’s all there is to it. Let it go,” I hissed through clenched teeth.
Jon huffed out a loud breath but schooled his features before my mom arrived by our side. Thankfully, Jon didn’t broach the subject again before his departure but I know that he remained unconvinced about the true nature of the relationship between myself and Petyr. The fact that I had tried to deceive my brother after he had showed me such loving support and that he was more than a little aware of it, hurt me and it is something that I regret to this very day.