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The Treachery of Beautiful Things

Chapter Text

So this was to be her new home. 

Sansa hesitated, wondering if she should take her luggage out of the trunk now or wait until she was directed to do so. In the end, she opted for the latter and retrieved her handbag and her folder of personal documents from the small hand-carry beside her. She locked her car, and then she faced those old brown stonewall buildings standing gravely before her like ancient sages in silent conference, the even older trees around them marbling their façades with dappled sunlight.  

She told herself to breathe. She told herself to still. She closed her eyes, and when she opened them again, her mask was on and she was ready. 

The University of Arryn Vale was one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the Seven Kingdoms — second, perhaps, only to the Citadel in Oldtown in her heritage and reputation. Indeed, many of the empire's best and brightest commonly boasted of the Vale as their alma mater. It had been a huge relief to Sansa to learn that this campus was, in relative terms, considered the runt of the litter. For one thing, it was an absolute pill to get to, with its stingy, twisty roads and no rail access. It had been uphill for most of the drive and Sansa had been thankful that, in The Fallout, she at least got to keep her car. One of the small blessings she supposed she was now expected to count and be grateful for.

Because, they kept telling her, you are nothing now. You are worse than nothing.  

She took it all in silently, feeling the weight of the place, its gravitas, its seriousness. She felt the collective history of the place and immediately felt small, insignificant. And then, as she ventured towards the campus map for directions, she caught a glimpse of what must be the outdoor sept; a giant gilded star hanging in the middle of a modest atrium like a dream catcher, as if suspended from the heavens by invisible threads. She didn't have to count to know that there were seven points on that star. 

She glanced at the discreet directional signs, then turned right to head towards reception. For a fraction of a moment, she sensed — rather than saw — a dark figure staring down at her from the top storey window. But when she turned fully to look, she realised she was mistaken. There was no one there.



“You must be Sansa.” It was a declaration, not a question. The older woman was already confident of the answer. “I am Septa and Doctor Olenna Tyrell. I am the Deputy Head of School here. Is your luggage in the car?”   

“Yes, I — “ 

“Good. Leave it there, we’ll get to your room later. Come with me.”

Jeyne Poole, the kindly, mousy receptionist, nodded in encouragement and flashed Sansa a small smile which Sansa gratefully returned before hurrying behind Dr Tyrell. The elder woman looked to be in her mid-seventies, although her speed and acuity belied her actual age. Together, crone and maiden took a whirlwind tour through the campus. Here is the main kitchen, although the staff mostly use the modest kitchenette within the staff room. Here are our lecture halls, and break-out rooms, and bathrooms, and common areas. Here is the indoor sept where everyone is welcome to evening prayers on their own. They have chapel daily, but Wednesdays are when they frock up and do the whole shebang from start to finish. Here is the outdoor sept, where the devout have their morning prayers while freezing to death from the icy north wind, but what good is devotion without some self-flagellation?

Sansa had a glimpse of her workspace, which turned out to be essentially a single wooden desk parked outside the biggest office in the staff building on the top floor. This surprised Sansa, who had initially assumed she would be working alongside Jeyne in the bright and busy reception area. Sansa was initially crestfallen, but she soon cheered herself up when she realised how much privacy her actual workspace would afford her. The less people saw of her, the more she could disappear. And the more she disappeared, the less everyone would remember... 

“Now, your lodgings,” Olenna Tyrell finally paused, before pushing past a small wooden gate. They were stepping into a different world now. The bushes were overgrown and took over much of the path so Sansa could barely make out the flagstones. Drooping Japanese maples pregnant with leaves hung heavy on each side like dozing sentry. Eventually, Dr Tyrell fished out a small key and opened the door to the bedsit at the end of their path. The air inside was cold and musty, and Sansa took great care not to make a face even as her skin crawled slightly. 

“I’m sorry we can’t offer you better,” she bristled defensively, and Sansa was quick to assure her of her gratitude. “Your accommodation needs were… unexpected, and we need to keep our other guest quarters available at all times for visiting lecturers. This flat is old, but it should do you nicely. You have your own toilet and bathroom, which is more than what most students get.”

“This is wonderful,” Sansa assured the older lady once again. “I cannot thank you enough.”

Seemingly satisfied for now, Dr Tyrell turned and took her leave. “I’ll give you an hour to settle in, and then you can come in and meet the rest of the staff. Most of them should be arriving in the next half hour except the Professor, which is unfortunate, seeing how you’ll be mostly working for him. He took the red eye from King’s Landing and arrived before dawn this morning, so I expect him to be coming in around lunch time, if not after.”

“I’ll see you in an hour,” Sansa promised. And then the door finally closed and she was alone.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket once again. She sighed heavily, and closed her eyes. When she reopened them, there was a shard of steel in her gaze.

She flicked on her phone, and scrolled through the messages. Twenty-three this morning. 



I’ll find you and cut off your tits, you cunt.

I’ll find you and rape you.

I’ll kill you, slowly. I’ll find out where you live. You’ll never be safe.

I want to slice up your stupid, pretty face, you good for nothing. You worthless piece of shit. 

I hate you. You’ve ruined our lives, you and your father.

My mother will die from her cancer now, because of you.

My grandmother is crying. Because of you.


Daughter of a traitor.

Whore. I hope you die from a thousand painful diseases.

I hate you. I hate all of you. Go to hell, Sansa Stark, you and your fucking traitorous father.      

Chapter Text

“I’d like to introduce you all to Miss Sansa Stark.” 

At her name, those who had not recognised her before — or were doing their level best to look nonchalant — now sat up a little straighter. She felt at least fifteen pairs of eyes train on her with curiosity, and cursed herself silently as she felt the colour rise up her neck to rival the red of her hair. After all these weeks, she thought she'd be used to the staring. That blossoming from recognition, to gawping, to judgement as knowledge trickled down from eyes, to mouth, to heart. 

All men were the same. All people were the same.  

She was disappointed in herself for allowing her emotions to still be affected so easily.

“Miss Stark is here to assist in the foreseeable future. As you know, Jeyne has been needing help for some time and so Miss Stark comes to us at a time of need...

Olenna glanced then at Sansa, sealing the full meaning of her equivoque with all the subtlety of a brick to the face. Sansa flushed angrily now, smarting at the fact that they all saw her as their charity case. She raised her chin a fraction in defiance, her blue eyes cooling to azure.

“Welcome,” said a voice towards the middle of the room, and bodies moved aside as if a small sea were parted to reveal a short man, a dwarf, Sansa realised with a start. “Don’t mind us,” the voice and the eyes both smiled up at her, which was how Sansa knew he was genuine. “We’re not used to new faces, and especially not a lovely young one such as yours.”

“Really, Tyrion? Flirting with the new girl already?…” scolded someone else half in jest, but Sansa suddenly stilled. Tyrion, the dwarf. Tyrion Lannister. Here with her, in gods-know-where. Of all the gin joints in the world… How could this even be possible!

As if reading her mind, Tyrion’s thick, expressive eyebrows furrowed slightly. 

“You don’t have to worry, Miss Stark.” His voice was soft and full of warmth. “None of us is interested in throwing stones. In this School, we understand that genetics is not destiny… and so we try not to punish the child for the wrongs of her father. Or the sins of the entire blooming family, in my case.”

He gave a wry smile again, and Sansa found herself relaxing a fraction. She forced herself to breathe, to nod, and even to smile wanly although her heart was still hammering against her ribcage. Would he tell his family about her whereabouts? Would Joffrey know? They all despised Tyrion, she knew. They derided him; he was as good as disowned by their father. How did she never learn that he, too, was hiding out here? Wasn't blood always thicker than water? 

Sansa’s head buzzed while the rest of the introductions went by in a haze. She was vaguely aware of Septa Dr Lemore, a handsome woman in her forties who specialises in the healing arts. She learnt that Olenna teaches liturgical theology, that Tyrion holds a fascination with other world religions, sects and cults. There were others — a retired Maester and Faith historian by the name of Gormon; a rather vain Musicology lecturer with long, flowing locks who insisted on only being called “Marillion”; a thin and twitchy Maester named Colemon who lectured regularly on ancient tongues, and an almost ridiculously gorgeous Spaniard lecturer on contemporary ethics named Dr Ellaria Sands.

It was Dr Sands who took it upon herself to cut to the quick. 

“How many people know you are here? Are we going to be swamped by the media now?”

“Ellaria, really now…” Olenna censured half-heartedly.

“Yes really, Olenna. We all know who she is, and how the media have hounded her…”

“They’ve been rather quiet in the last week…” Sansa volunteered weakly. 

Ellaria Sand snorted. 

“A week. That’s until something else happens with you and yours. Suppose the Lannister government finds more damning evidence of this Ponzi scheme of your father’s — “

“My father is innocent!”

“ — we’re going to have press at our door, and they’re going to run another stack of stories about the number of lives ruined. Except this time, our School will be complicit in hiding a national traitor and getting her life back in order when so many others are so much more deserving, so many whose lives have been irrevocably ruined because of the greed of this family. Tell me,” Ellaria’s eyes flashed, bold, hurt, and spiteful, “How many lives has your family ruined, Sansa? Do you know? Do you even care? Do you even have a clue what people really think of you?” 

The silence that followed was deafening. Sansa felt the full weight of their accusation, felt the colour drain from her face, her hands clasped tightly behind her back trembling despite her best efforts. And then, as if to answer the rhetorical, a series of text messages buzzed obnoxiously in her pocket. One. Two. Three.

“Why are you even here!” Ellaria finally spat out.

“Because my Faithful wife understands that compassion is not ours to take away, only to give,” drawled a low voice from the back, "And I happen to agree with her."

All heads turned then to the back of the room and Sansa watched as a man, no taller than herself, pushed himself off the edge of the table he had been casually leaning against to make his unhurried way to the front of the room. The staff parted for him wordlessly, and Sansa noted his elegant three-piece suit, his polished leather boots that made no sound when he walked. the side-swept salt and pepper hair that ended with a distinguished pair of greying temples, and which complemented an impeccable moustache and goatee. His eyes were dark grey, or were they green? She couldn’t tell from this distance, only that they were trained on no one else but her. He never blinked as he made his way to the front, to her side, and it was only when she thought as much that she realised how his eyes had held hers like a magnet, like a predator. She felt her treacherous neck heat up, and thanked the gods she chose to wear a high collar today.

“Sorry I’m late,” he murmurred only to her, before turning to address the room. 

“Professor Baelish,” chirped Olenna, as if Ellaria hadn’t just thrown a hissy fit about his latest recruitment choice, “We didn’t expect you to come down this morning!"

“And yet here I am,” Professor Baelish replied drily, as Sansa regarded the man beside her in wonderment. Her estranged-aunt’s husband. Her new benefactor. The Head of School, Professor Petyr Baelish.  

He was nothing like Sansa had imagined. 

“I know you are all concerned about the recent events involving our government and House Stark,” Professor Baelish began in a quiet voice, eyeing each and every one of his colleagues before him. He stopped to stare at Ellaria until she looked away unhappily. “I can assure you that we have thought things through, and there are measures in place for most… scenarios.

“Until matters between our government and Sansa’s father are resolved, Sansa will remain under the protection of both myself and her aunt — my wife, Lysa. We are the only family she has near her in these trying times, and we feel it is our duty as her kinfolk and as one of the Faithful that we shower her with our compassion and grace. 

“As to her appointment in this School, I want to give you every assurance that Sansa brings to this new position her unique abilities and a strong work ethic. She has earned this place on her own merit,” he affirmed coolly without a trace of irony, even as Sansa squirmed uncomfortably beside him.  

"I ask that you extend to her the full measure of courtesy and grace you extend to me. After all,” Professor Baelish smirked, his voice now silky, “if we cannot model grace and compassion in a School of Religious Studies, then we cannot dare to call ourselves learned teachers, now can we?”

Satisfied that his veiled threat had made its mark, Professor Baelish turned on his heel and left the room through the door behind Sansa. No one moved until the door clicked close behind him. 

Chapter Text

Professor Baelish did not come back to his office after that, and she did not know where he went nor did she dare ask. She was shown to her desk and for the rest of the day, spent much of it on the phone with a girl named Genna from tech support to get her staff profile and file access set up on her work station. Everything was slow and ponderous. There were always forms to fill, always signatures and approvals to seek. It struck Sansa that they had been ill prepared for her arrival, as it seemed nothing much had been arranged beforehand. She didn’t even have stationery.

The kindly receptionist from the morning, Jeyne Poole, had been most helpful at the beginning of the day, until the matter of Sansa's past work experience came up.

“You must be so excited, to be working as Professor Baelish’s executive assistant,” Jeyne had started, eyeing Sansa curiously. “We were all so, SO amazed when he suddenly announced he was going to have one —after all, even Dr Tyrell nagging him these years didn’t work neither. We thought he was going to do a recruitment round, but he said he already found the perfect one. You must be very good!”

Sansa had winced inwardly, both at the crass fishing expedition and at Jeyne’s forwardness. But to the girl, she had smiled and given a noncommittal shrug.

“No seriously!” pressed Jeyne, “You must have some awesome résumé to have changed his mind. Professor Baelish is such a private man. And he definitely doesn’t suffer any fools, and between you and me…" Jeyne had lowered her gaze and her voice conspiringly so Sansa had to bend down to hear, “… Professor Baelish is never one to hand out somethin' for nothin'. Just my observation.” She then tapped the side of her nose meaningfully and Sansa had to suppress the sudden urge to laugh, even as a small part of her turned to ice at Jeyne's meaning.

“So! Who else have you clerked for before? You must have some awesome stories!”

“Nothing worth retelling, I can assure you!” laughed Sansa, desperate to move this topic along as her mind raced. Should she try to make something up about her past? Or admit the truth: that she was just as perplexed as to the recent turn of events as everyone in that room earlier in the day had been? I have nothing special except my name, and even that is gone.

“What about you?” Sansa had deflected, knowing full well that the easiest conversation turner was to ask an individual to talk about herself. “How long have you worked here?”

“Long enough,” admitted Jeyne. “I’ve been manning the reception area for about five years now, and I guess you can kinda call me the office manager — although no one will ever admit to that. Sounds too senior for their liking, that’s what I think. I would have loved a job like yours, though. Executive Assistant sounds so much better than Receptionist, don’t you think?”

Again, Sansa winced inwardly even as she marvelled at Jeyne’s forwardness. Either the girl was really that obtuse as to not see how inappropriate she was being, or she hid her motives well — hiding in plain sight, so no one could take her barbs seriously. The ultimate passive aggression. Sansa couldn’t figure her out, but she sensed rather than knew that she’d be wise to keep her distance from Jeyne Poole.

“So you won’t tell me who you clerked for before?” Jeyne harrumphed, as Sansa smiled coyly and shook her head. “What a spoilsport. But it’s alright. You’re real famous anyway, and it’s a small world at the end of the day. I guess I’ll be able to find out one of these days.”

She had said it with a beam, but Sansa heard the threat in every one of her words.

As the sun sank low and the shadows grew long, so the staff thinned in number. Sansa knew better than to be one of the first few to leave, and so she waited until Olenna popped her head upstairs and shooed her home, teaching her how to arm the building on the way out.

“You’re one of the few staff members to be living on campus, so you will at least need to learn how to arm and disarm the building. Have Jeyne set you up with your code tomorrow morning.”

“Do you not live here?” Sansa asked in surprise.

“No, I most certainly do not,” Olenna replied, as if that were a most ludicrous thing to suggest. “Most of us live off-campus in our own homes. Only Professor Baelish and his wife live here on the grounds, as part of his stipend and Lysa’s long connections to the Vale. But if you’re feeling lonely, there’s always the students living in that block over there.” Olenna pointed to the nearest building perpendicular to theirs. “Although with your current infamy…” thought Olenna aloud, “perhaps it’s still best to keep to yourself for now, girl.”

Mercifully, Sansa found her way back to her little cottage, having acquainted herself with the lay of the land through the course of her day. The little wooden gate creaked open and she gingerly walked the meandering path to her doorway, noting how the dark overgrowth seemed to swallow her whole the further in she went. Great for privacy, thought Sansa, but a part of her gut twisted with unease. If anyone should think to attack her here, she wondered how far her cries would carry and who would even hear her at this time of day. Would anyone think to look here, in this long-forgotten shack at the back of the university?

She had to use her phone to shine a light on the door so she could work the key in, and when she stepped into her home and whiffed the musty air, a part of her finally broke inside and she started to cry.

She should be so grateful, she knew. Yet the weeks had been nothing short of a nightmare she could not wake from and the trials, unrelenting. She had no idea how cushioned her life had been until the last month, even after suffering the great loss of her mother and brothers two years ago. That had been heartbreaking, but at least her family name had still meant something. They still had friends, they still had dignity, they still had a standing in the world.

She still had her father. She still had her home. Her wolf.

But then the national fund collapsed and her father was fingered and now she was made to live like a fugitive. Where once she would be the one to dispense kindness and mercy at will, she was now begging for it. And she was already learning quickly how far removed the world was from her microcosm. How cocooned and privileged she had been, living as a Stark. Bouts of unconditional kindness and mercy in this world were few and far between. The world was much too cynical and avaricious for sentiment. And how it delights in the fall of man! How quick everyone is to bring down the high and mighty, to trample the downtrodden, to pour salt on wounds and then point and laugh some more. The greater the height, the harder and further the fall, they say.

Her phone buzzed again, and she fished it out of her pocket in anger. For a split second, she thought to throw it across the room until she remembered the state of her savings account, and realised she could not even afford a temper tantrum.

She smiled to herself sardonically, and dried her eyes.

In the end, the room was not so bad. There was a small attached bathroom and toilet, and a space for a washing machine next to a sink within an alcove behind a sliding door. The main living space housed the kitchenette, a double bed, a study desk, and a small dining table for two.

Sansa spent the next two hours making this ramshackle house a home. She dusted out the closet and hung up her clothes. She found a broom and started sweeping, then found a mop and a pail. She started a list of things to get — a brighter lightbulb so she wouldn’t go blind, for instance. Perhaps a pretty light fitting, if she could afford one down the track. A small rug for the kitchen. And even a Japanese screen to separate the living area from her sleeping quarter. She didn’t think she could afford a washing machine, so she would have to research how to hand wash her clothes. She was glad, at least, that she had free wifi as a staff member living on campus. That was one less bill to worry about.

She never had to cook and clean for herself in her life. She had been schooled in such useless things, she thought ruefully. How to paint and sing and cross stitch. How to walk elegantly into a room, and dress up for the opera. How to organise a household of servants to host a roomful of diplomats. How to make ladylike conversation. What good were any of these skills now, she wondered.

After she had aired the room until the mustiness no longer assaulted her nose, she looked around her new home with a growing sense of satisfaction and excitement. She had never lived away from home before; even her university education had been done online with the oversight of Septa Mordane from the comfort of Winterfell. She had been homeschooled by a governess like all the girls of her ilk, her virginity and religiosity held up as the pearl of great price to be auctioned off eventually to the highest bidder or to the most powerful ally. Male headship was the way of their world, and under her father’s rule she had known only kindness and love so she never thought to question its implications to her life until she was matched to Joffrey Baratheon...

No matter. That was old history now. Sansa was hungry. Maybe she was secretly a dab hand at the stove as well.

She was not a dab hand at the stove at all.

Sansa coughed and pushed open the windows. Smoke was curling up thick and fast from the stove, and soon the thin insistent shriek of an alarm was sounding out obnoxiously, damn well near taking over the rest of her senses with its volume. She had turned the stove off, but to no avail. Smoke was still coming off that gods-forsaken burner and there wasn’t enough time to consult the internet on what to do next.

And then the pan caught fire.

With a squeak and an uncharacteristic curse, Sansa grabbed the biggest pot she could find and filled it up with water at the sink. But just as she was about to throw the pot of water onto the pan, she felt a firm hand still her.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” commanded a deep voice, and Sansa whirled in fright to find grey-green eyes staring straight at her. She stopped, and then watched as Professor Baelish smoothly fished out a metal cover from the cupboard under the sink to place on top of the pan, before moving the pan to the sink. There was a hiss of steam as water met heated metal, and they watched as the fire, eventually starved of air, died a natural death. The shrieking from the alarm soon died as well, and Sansa was left to stand awkwardly in her room, a sheepish look on her face.

“I really don’t know what happened there,” she admitted finally. “I’ve never used a stove like that before.” Or any other stove, but Sansa was even more loathed to admit that to Professor Baelish.

He smirked slightly. “It’s an old electric stove, that’s for sure. My guess for the smoke is that old grease had caked the burner you used. As for the fire… How long did you leave the oil in the pan?”

“I don’t know… I was too caught up with the smoking burners.”

“Grease fires happen when your oil is too hot. When you see your oil smoking, it’s time to turn down the heat.”

“But I had turned the burner off!”

“Doesn’t matter. This is a very old electric stove. The latent heat in the coil would have still heated up your pan for a good long time after you turned the stove off.”

Sansa felt like a fool. As if reading her thoughts, Professor Baelish’s eyes softened and he turned to look around the room approvingly.

“You’ve classed up this place at least,” he murmured, walking over to one of the wall hangings with interest. “Did you paint this?”

Sansa nodded numbly.

“This is Winterfell,” he pronounced, sounding impressed. “You have a great eye for detail.”

She flushed with pleasure and smiled. “You know it then?”

“Mmm,” was all he said, as he moved to her other two paintings. Her beloved wolf stared back soulfully at Professor Baelish as he gazed at her with unmasked appreciation. But as he stared at the portrait of her mother and brothers, his face was a blank, inscrutable.

She noticed then that he was worrying a part of his left hand and as she stared harder, she realised why.

“You’re hurt!” she exclaimed and without thinking, she reached for his hurt hand and gently led him by it to the kitchen sink.

“You’ll need to run burns like these under a cold running tap for a while…” She turned the tap on, and placed his left hand underneath the steady stream of cool water. “Leave it here for now, while I go prepare the warm water.”

“It’s alright, really,” he started to demur, but Sansa was already busying herself with the hot water kettle and the firm set of her lips discouraged any further protest. When she returned, she turned the tap off and gently submerged his hand into a shallow pail of warm water.

Professor Baelish was intrigued.

“Warm water seems… counterintuitive for burns treatment,” he observed.

“It does, but you’ll find that while cold water will take the sting away, it’s the warm water that will help minimise tissue damage and restore your blood circulation.”

Professor Baelish smiled then. It was the briefest of smiles, with a flash of teeth and a spark of energy that lit up the eyes. It occurred then to Sansa that he was quite handsome.

“Many unique talents,” he said softly, and Sansa found herself flushing once more with pleasure at the praise, glad for once that the wattage of her lightbulb was too low to show up the colour creeping up her neck. She felt, rather than saw, him staring at her with something akin to wonderment. When she finally looked up, his eyes held hers with the same magnetism that held them that morning. She held her breath, waiting for something to happen, unsure of what she wanted to happen. He raised his free right hand and, for a moment, looked as if he might hold her face with it. She watched as he stilled it, forcing it to drop to his side.

“You look so much like her,” he almost whispered in awe, his eyes searching hers, transfixed. “It’s uncanny.”

Sansa stilled, her breath caught in her throat. There was only one person in the world he could have been referring to. Professor Baelish was talking about her mother.

“I’m so sorry she died.”

Sansa breathed out again, and dropped her eyes. “So am I,” she whispered, more to herself than for him. The first year since their death had been devastating for their family. Losing her mother, Bran, and Rickon in the one traffic accident was horrendous enough. But in this last month and at her spiritual and emotional lowest, she had felt a yearning for her mother like nothing before. A keening sense of loss and wishing that was utterly new as it was agonising.

She turned abruptly away from him then, anxious to recollect herself and put some distance between them. She wondered vaguely if they had somehow stepped outside the bounds of propriety. Yet, theirs was already a complicated relationship, that of employer and employee, newly acquainted uncle and niece, protector and ward. Where did familial feelings end and professional behaviour begin? Would they change by the clock? Colleagues by day, family by night? She was simultaneously grateful for, intrigued by, and apprehensive of him. He was perfectly polite and helpful, yet somehow there was a layer beneath it all with an intensity that almost scared her.

“I’d better get back,” she heard him say eventually, and she turned to find him at her doorway.

“No wait,” she heard herself say, and saw him still. “I need to say something.”

She crossed the room to him and looked him in the eyes, hoping he could read the depth of gratitude in hers because she knew words were not enough.

“Thank you,” she said simply. “Not just for today with the stove and the pan, but for… this.” She gestured at the bedsit lamely. “Thank you.”

He bowed slightly, stiffly. His voice was gravelly as he said, “Don’t mention it. We’re family.”

She shook her head, refusing to buy the casualness of his remark. “No. I can only guess what this might have cost you. You took a risk taking me in. Our family ignored yours for decades, and yet you and Aunt Lysa were the only ones willing to walk in when everyone else checked out.”

He looked away then, uncomfortable. Sansa was touched by his humility.

“Is there any chance for me to meet my Aunt Lysa soon? So I may thank her in person?”

He looked at her again then, and this time his mouth was set into a thin line.

“Your aunt can be reclusive.”

“It doesn’t have to be a long visit. Just to say thank you, that’s all the time I need. From everything I’ve heard, I know that she fought hard to have me welcomed here. And that I couldn’t have this all without your support also, of course,” Sansa added hastily.

Professor Baelish stared at Sansa as if calculating within his mind, before he finally acquiesced with a curt nod.

“Very well, I shall arrange a meeting when she next returns home.”

She watched as his elegant form made its way down the flagstone path before disappearing into the bowing trees overhead. And she wondered why she felt lonelier now than ever before.

Chapter Text

The next few days passed with little incident. After the excitement of her introduction to the staff on her first day, most of them took pains to give her a wide berth. She bolstered their efforts by sticking to her corner of the building, perched outside Professor Baelish’s office like the proverbial white elephant with flaming red hair.

There was absolutely nothing to do.

After troubleshooting every last issue to do with her computer, Sansa had sat and waited for further instructions from Professor Baelish, but none came. The academic year was almost over and everyone, including the sharp-eyed Dr Tyrell, was too busy with exams and marking to check in. By logical deduction and eavesdropping, she had worked out that he had been called away suddenly to King’s Landing on a matter of urgent business, although what a Head of School for religious education had to do in the empire’s jewel that was so very important bemused Sansa.

She had no formal job description, no tasks, no responsibilities. No wonder they all hated her. She was practically a kept woman at this rate.

She looked up what being an executive assistant entailed, and found several websites with many handy templates. Some of these assistants, she soon discovered, were practically glorified house maids, getting the dry-cleaning done and ensuring the flowers got ordered for the wife. Professor Baelish didn’t look like the sort of man who would outsource the procurement of gifts for his wife, Sansa decided. It somehow felt beneath him.

And then one afternoon, more out of boredom than anything else, she decided to try the knob on Professor Baelish’s door and was stunned when it actually turned.

The heavy door swung in slowly and Sansa gazed into the room, taking in everything, suddenly hungry for information about the enigma that was her absent and neglectful boss. She took in the masculine elegance of the room, so much like his habiliment, the effortless blend of modernity with an almost romantic homage to the bygone. Everything was immaculate, including the pride of the room — a large mahogany desk that looked too stately and expensive to be store bought. It was set diagonal to the room, so Professor Baelish could face whomever came through the door as soon as they entered, the two walls of windows meeting in a thin seam at the corner behind him. On either side of the room sat floor to ceiling bookcases in matching mahogany and filled to the brim, and a small sitting area next to an original fireplace that had since been modernised to pipe in natural gas heating. Sansa imagined him sitting in his armchair reading late into the night, or lounging across the leather couch, eyes closed and face relaxed as sleep overtook him.

She took one tentative step inside, and then another. She gazed at his books, fascinated. She wondered if there was a system of cataloguing since he did not seem to alphabetise, and soon found there was. By topic, his books covered a dizzying raft of subjects: religion, politics, ethics, history, physics, mathematics, literature, geography, botany, economics, finance… There were new releases and seemingly ancient tomes, reaching as far back and as far ahead in time as she could see. She read the jackets on some of them for their gist and found that some volumes would wholly contradict others in their theology.

He even had a section on fiction — classics such as Voltaire, Dickens, Steinbeck, and Hemingway. She was delighted to find he had the Bronte sisters, and a couple of love stories in this year’s Highgarden’s bestsellers list.

Curiouser and curiouser...

And then his phone rang.

Or rather, hers did. Sansa quickly returned the book she was browsing back to its slot before dashing outside to pick up her receiver.

“Good… afternoon, Professor Baelish’s office, this is…” She faltered, suddenly realising her quandary of revealing her real name to a complete stranger.

“Sansa, it’s me Pet-... Professor Baelish.”

“Yes!” She blinked in surprise. “Yes, hello!”

“Yes, listen. I’m sorry I haven’t been in the office these couple of days. I’m in King’s Landing.”

“Yes, yes I heard.”

“Good. I need your assistance with something.”

Sansa brightened up. Finally, an official assignment. A chance to be useful.

“Have you been in my office yet?”

“No.” The lie was instinctive and instant.

“Well, that’s surprising, considering it’s not locked.” His voice was neutral, calm, but Sansa wondered if there was also a gentle mocking in his tone. She wisely chose to stay silent and not take the bait.

“Are you still there?”

“Yes, Professor Baelish.”

“I’ve got a patchy connection here, so I need to be quick. There is a key stuck under of one of the bookshelves in my room. If you were to look at the shelves on the left of my desk as a grid, it would be in cell B3.

“The key opens the top right drawer of my desk. In that drawer, there is a double sawtooth key. I want you to take it to the post office on twenty-second and third, and open box number nine-oh-three. And then I want you to call me back on this other number. Please.”

Sansa quickly jotted down his mobile number as he rattled it off. She could barely hear the last two numbers as his voice started dipping in and out.

“I’m about to lose you because I’ve stepped into an elevator,” he offered, as if reading her mind.

“I’ll go right away,” Sansa promised. Even though he had not pressed on her the urgency of the matter, it was clear that he could not wait and Sansa was like a coiled spring, all bundled energy waiting for release.

“Thank you,” he returned sincerely, before the line went dead.



Sansa found the post office easily enough. She paused outside the box he had named, and pondered her next step. In her haste she had neglected to grab the piece of paper on which she had scribbled his number, but found she had committed it to memory anyway. Decision made, she whipped out her phone and tapped it in.

He answered within the first ring.

“Is it you?”

“Yes it is,” she replied, taken aback by his abrupt manner and the suddenness of his answer.

“Have you opened the box?”

“Not yet.”

“Alright.” He paused.

“Sansa, before you open the box, there is something you need to understand about the terms of your employment. And I need you to listen carefully, to… understand.”

“I’m listening, Professor Baelish.”

“Good.” Another pause.

“When… your aunt Lysa and I approached the University with the proposal to take you in as an employee, the University was understandably concerned about the ramifications. There were several members on the board who had strong reservations. As a result, there were a few conditions put in place, one of which was that they would provide affordable lodging for you, while I funded your employment... privately."

He stopped then, to let the weight of his words sink in.

“So technically… I'm not an employee of the University?” clarified Sansa.

“For all intents and purposes to everyone else on our campus, you are. And when I say everyone on our campus, Sansa, I mean everyone.”

Sansa blinked, her mind whirring.

“You mean Aunt Lysa…”

“Does not know,” finished Professor Baelish.

Sansa chewed her bottom lip thoughtfully. If Professor Baelish had meant to spare his wife the discomfiting news that the University was reluctant to take her niece in, that was entirely between him and her aunt. In some ways, Sansa found the revelation heartwarming; here was a man who loved his wife enough to carry out an expensive lie to ease her mind and champion her cause. Perhaps there were true gentlemen in the world after all.

And yet, Sansa felt a twinge of something else. A small kind of sickening warred within her heart. Sansa tamped down its ugliness and returned to the phone, voice bright.

“Don’t worry,” she assured Professor Baelish. “Your secret rests with me.”

And then something else dawned on Sansa, and she understood finally the full implication of his disclosure.

“So what you’re also telling me, Professor Baelish, is that my final loyalties may not necessarily lie with the University but with… you?”

“If it ever came to that, then yes,” returned Professor Baelish, tone cautious. “Will that be a problem?”

“You’re asking me to trust you.”

“I am, yes. Do you trust me, Sansa?”

She stopped. Five weeks ago, her world was different. Her problems were pettier and humanity, on the whole, was kind and good.

“I don’t trust anyone, Professor. Not anymore. I’m sorry.”

She was surprised to hear him chuckle. It sounded like warm honey.

“What’s so funny?”

“Only that... I’ve just told you who’s paying your bills, and you tell me what you really think anyway. Oh Sansa. I once asked a noble man the exact same question, and his answer was not half as wise as yours.”

Sansa did not know what to say to that, but she smiled to herself at the faint praise.

“I think you may have guessed by now that this box is a private one?”


“What you’re about to see… its contents… they might be surprising to you. Just understand that I wear several hats in my life, only some of which the University is aware of. I need your utmost discretion. Can you give me that?”

“Yes I can, Professor Baelish. And... I will.”


If Sansa had been curious about the contents within this box before, she was dying to find out now. She clipped her phone between her cheek and her left shoulder as she inserted the key, giving it a wriggle before she felt the mechanism give so she could turn.

In it were three letters in white, nondescript envelopes. Two of them were addressed to Petyr Baelish, no titles, no post nominals. The last one surprised her the most, as it was addressed to Lord Petyr Baelish. She knew next to nothing about him from her family, except that he was lowborn. He must have come by the title later in life, but how?

“Do any of them bear a wax seal?”

“No, they don’t. I can take a picture of the letters for you, if you like.”

“There is no need.” He sounded distant, and Sansa sensed that his mind was racing.

“Would you like me to open any of them for you?”

“Not right now, Sansa. You can take them back with you and leave them on my desk. I hope to be catching a ride back to the Vale soon. Thank, you, Sansa.”

“My pleasure, Professor Baelish.”

Sansa hung up, her feelings jumbled and warring with one another although in the end, her disappointment won through. What had started out as such a promising adventure had turned out to be nothing more than a quick postal run. She was no better to him than those house maids she had read about earlier in the week, after all.




In the light of the moon, a helicopter sailed across the clear night sky. When it spotted a clearing, it started to descend, pushing the trees around the edges low until some of them kissed the ground.

Sansa had almost reached the cottage when she heard the thump-thump-thump overhead, the slapping sound increasing to a roar as it started to land. She had turned back and ran towards it, curious and a little bewildered. She passed two mature-aged students enjoying an after-dinner smoke, nonplussed.

“Ay, that would be the Head return’d fancy-style,” she heard one say to the other.

She slowed to a stop when she saw it. The sleek black chopper had landed in the middle of the near-empty car park in front of the reception building, barely thirty feet from where her own car was parked. It was too far away for her to make out any distinctive marks, any logos that might indicate whose it was. The propellers were still moving when she saw him step off the helicopter easily, briefcase in one hand, a dark business trench coat making him seem taller from the distance. He waved to the pilot like they were old friends, then made his way to his residential building as the rotors picked up speed again.

Who was this man that a helicopter would drop him off at his doorstep, Sansa wondered, slipping further into the shadows.

Chapter Text

She had planned for this. The campus felt almost deserted, even though she knew there were students in the other block. It was a breezy day. The air was neither too warm nor too cool, perfect for throwing open the windows. And Sansa was tired of eating cold sandwiches.

She had looked into how to clean an old electric stove, especially one as decrepit and neglected as hers had been. First, she had climbed on the sturdier of her two dining chairs to disable her smoke alarm. That had been easy enough to do. The ceiling was low and she was naturally tall, even taller than her mother had been. 

The second part was more bothersome.

Sansa cranked all four burners on high, and then watched as they smoked like before. She had stripped down her bed and covered it as best as she could, anticipating the need to wash her bedlinen by the time she was through with the stove. It did not take long for the tiny bedsit to be filled with smoke, even with the doors and windows wide open. Sansa started to cough, glad she had the good sense to disable the alarm beforehand. She wandered outside to wait, hoping all the grease would burn off as promised on the website, and that the coils would be easy to remove and clean once they cooled.

The smoke was starting to drift out her kitchen window now, helped along by that light easterly wind the bureau of meteorology had promised yesterday. She would scrub those coils with baking powder. She hoped she had enough. She prayed to the gods she knew what she was doing. The website had not provided any pictures of the actual scrubbing, only the before and after photos. Was she supposed to make a paste with the baking powder or just coat the coils with it, she wondered. 

The Japanese Maples up ahead rustled just then, though not in concert with the breeze.

“What in the gods…” Sansa started as Professor Baelish suddenly emerged, his hair uncharacteristically tousled as if he had broken into a run.

“Sansa, are you alright?”


“Then step away from the bloody door!” 

Without fully registering how calm she was, Professor Baelish firmly pulled her to himself. She felt herself enveloped in a fierce embrace for a moment, then unceremoniously deposited in a corner of her unkempt front garden. Professor Baelish turned, as if contemplating whether to go in.

“Professor Baelish!”

He was not listening.

“Prof-… PETYR!” she yelled, and this time he stopped and whipped his head around. He took in her appearance, the way her hair was done up in a high knot and wrapped in a scarf, her scruffiest T-shirt with the holes, rubber gloves scrunched in one hand, jeans rolled up. A spark of understanding finally touched his eyes and Sansa scrambled up from the grass as gracefully as she could.

“I’m cleaning the stove, Professor Baelish. The house isn’t on fire.”

He had the grace to look sheepish for once, and Sansa bit down a grin. They stared at each other before Sansa’s poker face began to waver. Sansa held the dishcloth she had been holding to her mouth to stifle the laugh that was threatening to erupt. Her eyes continued to dance, filled with mirth. 

“I’ve been a goose, haven’t I.”

Sansa squeezed her eyes shut and nodded slowly.

She heard Professor Baelish chuckle, and that was her undoing. Sansa started to laugh. The more she tried to stop herself, the harder she laughed. 

“I’m sorry!” she wheezed in between, a distant part of her rational mind horrified at her rudeness. What must he think of her, she scolded herself. But then a quick flashback to the way he had tossed her to the ground set off a fresh peal of laughter. Oh gods love him, but he meant well.

“Could you see the smoke all the way from your rooms?” Sansa asked finally, when the last of her mirth had been spent. 

“I don’t know,” Professor Baelish admitted. “I wasn’t in my room.”

“Where were you?”

“On my way to you, actually. To install this.”

As if on cue, Sansa and Professor Baelish watched as a tradesman gingerly wheeled in a freestanding cooktop and oven over the bumpy flagstones to her bedsit. Sansa gasped.

“An oven!” She was delighted. Professor Baelish looked pleased.

“After Monday’s incident, I decided it was high time the University replaced this old cooktop. I’m only sorry that other pressing matters took me away this week so I couldn’t arrange this sooner.”

Sansa shook her head. “I was quite happy to clean out this one and try to use it.” She hesitated, suddenly remembering what he had told her yesterday. “I hope this isn’t yet another expense you’ve had to shoulder?”

“Please. Let that concern be between myself and the Board,” replied Professor Baelish firmly.

Professor Baelish watched silently as the tradesman he called Lothor made quick work of removing the old cooker and fitting the new one in. It was a snug fit, but when Lothor finally left with a generous tip from Professor Baelish, Sansa marvelled at how much better the entire kitchen area looked because of it. She shyly set the kettle on, and invited Professor Baelish to stay for a cup of tea. He acquiesced, settling on the rockier of the two dining room chairs to watch her.

“How do you have your tea?”


“No sugar?”

“No sugar.”

Sansa set his tea down, and he watched as she poured a generous amount of milk in her own before spooning in several heap spoons of sugar.

“Please don’t judge me,” she mumbled.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he replied smoothly, grinning into his cup.

They sipped their steaming teas in companionable silence, the sun breaking through the clouds intermittently. Sansa stared out the door into her unruly garden, quietly planning what she might do to improve it given the time and, eventually, her salary. It’s so quiet in here, thought Sansa. So peaceful. And almost pretty,

She realised it was the first time she felt peace in quite a while.

“How did you know I would be home?” she asked suddenly.


“Just now, when you had the cooktop delivered. How did you know I would be here to let you in?”

“I made an educated guess.”

“I see.” She wondered if that meant he knew she had no friends, that she had nowhere to go. And he would be right, she realised with a jolt. She didn’t. She was still a prisoner of sorts, although not of his making. 

“But what if I hadn’t been?” she pressed, curious. “What if I had gone for a walk somewhere, or chanced it and gone to the local village?”

Professor Baelish dug into the left pocket of his pants and fished out a key that looked familiar. 

“You would have let yourself in?” 

“As the official custodian of the grounds, one of the great staff perks is unfettered access to all rooms on this campus. I could let myself into any room if I needed to. And I have, from time to time.”

The fact should have unnerved Sansa more, but it didn’t. She was under no illusions. She was there purely because of their hospitality — and specifically his generosity, since Aunt Lysa was under the false impression that it was the University who had given Sansa a living. To be upset that he would help himself into the bedsit to improve her living conditions would be churlish indeed.

“About the phones…” he said suddenly, his mind clearly having drifted into other areas, “If you are to answer the phones for me, going forward, I think it’s best you pick a pseudonym. As much as I doubt anyone in this School would give you away, answering the phone as 'Sansa Stark' could be problematic, don’t you think?”

“I agree,” replied Sansa, but she suddenly stilled.

“What is it?”

“My email… my staff account,” she realised with horror. She had used her actual name. How careless! What must she be thinking? Was there now a whole roomful of IT nerds who knew exactly who and where she was?

But Professor Baelish seemed untroubled by the admission. “When you contacted tech support, did you only use the number that Jeyne had given you?” 


“Good. Genna works for me, and if we were to decide to stick with a pseudonym for you out of pragmatism, it would be easy enough to change your settings without too much hassle.”

Sansa breathed a sigh of relief. Evidently, she was unused to subterfuge and also sucked at it. Even after five weeks of hounding from the press and the public, she couldn’t think fast or far ahead enough to get herself out of trouble. She could kick herself.

“Don’t worry about it,” he soothed, and Sansa flashed him a grateful smile. What is it about Professor Baelish that he could find just the right words to address her insecurity of the moment? Sansa wondered if all these years studying about the divine didn’t also give him preternatural insights on the human condition. 

“Would you like more tea?” she offered, and was glad when he happily accepted. She wasn’t ready to see him go yet. 

She had just set her kettle on when her phone buzzed on the dining table. Sansa turned and quickly crossed the room but it was too late. From the look on his face, she knew he had read the message as it popped up automatically on screen before disappearing. 

“Sansa…” his voice was low, slightly strained. “How many of these do you get?”

“Not many,” she lied, but she could not look at him and that seemed to be all the answer he needed.

“Could you please show me the rest?” he asked. The tone was gentle and he had worded it as a request, but Sansa sensed that he brooked no argument on the matter. And suddenly, she didn’t feel like fighting him either. The weeks of abuse, of vitriol, of hate were only so much she could bear and it suddenly felt good to share it with someone perhaps stronger and wiser than her.

Wordlessly, she flicked on her phone and then passed it to Professor Baelish, who took it from her gravely and started to read.

She returned to the kitchen to finish making their teas, unwilling to watch his reaction, unwilling to see disgust and pity seep into his grey-green eyes.

When she returned to the table, he was angry.

“These cowards ought to be rounded and shot.”

“They’re scared,” Sansa explained pointlessly. “They’re scared and they’re angry, and they want someone to blame."

“Yeah? Well, hunting an innocent woman down and threatening to rape and kill her is still a federal crime, the last time I checked. This is not your fault!”

They don’t see that. All they see is my name, and my blood. My father doesn’t have his phone anymore, but I do and so they text me."

He placed the phone down slowly, the careful control belying the white hot anger rippling under his bare skin like a viper.  

“Have you tried changing your number?”

“Once,” she admitted. “But someone ratted me out soon after, and so I’m back to this again.”

He cursed and Sansa flinched at the strong language. 

“What if you tried changing your number again?”

“I can’t…” she faltered, and she had to blink to keep the sudden tears at bay. Those stupid tears, she gritted her teeth in frustration. They came always at the most inopportune time. A silent mockery whenever she strove to look her very strongest.

“And why not?” he almost demanded, before comprehension dawned in his eyes. “Your father has no phone…”

“I think he still remembers my current number. If he ever has the chance to call me from whatever prison they’re hiding him in, at least I’ll know he can reach me.”

Professor Baelish stared at Sansa, the wheels in his head turning. Silence filled the room. Sansa gazed at him, the setting sun behind him now throwing a faint shadow on part of his face. He looked younger in a T-shirt, Sansa noted idly. It was harder now to remember he was a Head of School at a prestigious university, and gods know what else at King’s Landing. Here he was, in her bedsit, wearing a T-shirt and cargo pants, and brooding. He was not an exceptionally tall man, but she noted how his soft, seasoned T-shirt skimmed his lean, athletic figure, how the sleeves fitted snugly over the muscles in his upper arms. A hint of collarbone peeped through the small V in his neckline. Sansa looked away then, suddenly conscious of where her eyes and thoughts were travelling.  

“Change your number tomorrow, if you can,” he said at last, and Sansa looked up in surprise. He reached across the table for her hand suddenly, and grasped it gently for emphasis. “If not for your own sake, then at least for my peace of mind. I cannot stand by and let you take any more of this abuse.”

“And my father?”

“I’ll find a way to get your new number to him,” he replied, staring at their hands, assiduously avoiding the look of curiosity and disbelief on her face.

How, she wanted to ask but instinct told her that he was unlikely to tell her anyway.

They sat in the shadows this way, her hand in his, the sun sinking low behind him. Neither of them felt the inclination to move as the shadows lengthened.

“I’d best be going,” he said eventually when the sun was all but home. He stood up, and she with him. Their hands parted naturally, but Sansa did not know what to think of it. She dared not question what she felt about it. 

“I know what my pseudonym could be,” she said at last, picking up a broken strand from before.


“Alayne. I’ve always secretly wanted to be an Alayne.”

“Alayne…” She watched as he tasted the name, his mouth curving up in approval. “And what would be a suitable last name?”

“How about something generic, like Stone?” It was close enough to Stark, and had a weight to it that Sansa liked. At the very least, it was a constant reminder to toughen herself.

“Alayne Stone…” He tried out her name, and she decided she rather liked the sound of it even more. “Very well,” he agreed. “If you’re happy with that, you shall be Alayne on Monday. And if you like, you can contact Genna and get your email address changed as well. I can notify the staff at our meeting on Monday. They’ll be smart enough to catch on why we need the anonym.”

They were standing at the doorway now, each of them with hands shoved deep into their pockets. Sansa finally turned the light on in the room. 

“Thank you for two excellent cups of black tea.”

“Thank you for the new cooktop and… everything, really.”

“Don’t mention it.”

He finally walked out the door and she watched as he made his way down the flagstones. Long after she heard the little gate creak shut, she stood there getting used to his absence.

Chapter Text

It was the first day of the week, the traditional day of atonement and rest for those who worshipped the New God.

Sansa heard them making their way to the Sept this morning. She pictured the carpark steadily filling with worshippers from the university and the village nearby, imagined as they made their weekly pilgrimage up the steep drive to worship the God of Seven. 

She stayed in bed, contemplating for ages whether she should go, wondering if the risk of someone recognising her was worth it. It had been ages since she had prayed to anyone — Old Gods, the Seven… The only words to leave her lips in the past weeks had been tortured half phrases, her soul pleading for the end of their torment far more eloquently than her lips ever could. There had been whispered confidences to her mother's spirit but they were mostly a keening of the heart, an endless chant that she missed her and if only, if only, if only she were here. 

The God of Seven was the god of her mother. But the old gods were her gods — the gods of her father and her forefathers and their forefathers. Yet all of them remained silent thus far. Or perhaps the answer all along was a resounding no.

She missed Winterfell. She missed her godswood.

Unsurprisingly, the Faith of the Seven was the faith of the university as well. It was the faith of the land, and no doubt funded by deep pockets of many of the Faithful. Why else would there be two septs, instead of just the one? It would be overkill anywhere else, but completely fitting for a School of Religious Studies.

Their hymns wafted over like sweet incense. She could make out the tune but she did not know the lyrics. It was not one her mother had known, otherwise she would have heard her singing it before. 

She imagined the seven-sided hall filled with worshippers, her learned colleagues, the Septas and Septon interspersed among them. Were any of them leading the prayer today? She wondered if Professor Baelish was a Septon. She wondered if her Aunt Lysa was with him in that hall.

She got up eventually when the singing had died and the bell tower had chimed a haunting seven times. She got dressed and had a late breakfast, taking her time. October was almost over and the chill was starting to set in. She felt the cool seeping in through the gap in her windows, her door, the naked floorboards. It could get grim when winter finally arrived, though she supposed she should be glad that winters now were no longer like how they had once been in antiquity — years long of bitter cold, barrenness and death until the Great Battle of the White Walkers had forced the Old Gods of the Forest to finally step in and right the earth so all seasons now took their turns politely, each allotting the other a fair amount of time in the year. 

Or so they say.

She waited until she was sure the grounds were empty once more before she slipped out her gate and took a gander. She contemplated stepping into the Sept for a prayer but when she got there, the large doors were locked and so she continued on her way. There were plenty of nature walks on the grounds to lose herself in.

Eventually, she returned to her cottage just before dark to find newly installed solar garden lights dotting the flagstone path to her door. 




She came early to work on Monday to find him already in his office.

“Good morning,” she greeted and tried not to sound shy. 

“Good morning,” he smiled from behind his computer, his eyes glancing once to her. “You’re in early.”

“But not as early as you.”

“Just hold on a second…”

She waited at the door awkwardly while he finished up a thought, the sound of his fingers lightly tapping on the keyboard at a typing rate that far exceeded her own. The room looked complete with him in it now, his suit today a deep navy blue with a matching tie, perfectly knotted, crisp white shirt, tie pin in place. 

“Thank you for waiting.” He beckoned her in and she walked in dutifully. 

“Are we Alayne today?” he asked, leaning back in his chair to regard her.

“Yes, I think so.” She stood a little taller, as if mentally putting on a new cloak. 

He nodded. 

“We’ll let the staff know later. Staff meeting starts in an hour and a half and it’s weekly. I want you in on them, so put that in your calendar. Can you take minutes?”

She nodded.


They spent the next half hour going through the various tasks she would undertake, and by the time she left the room her head was spinning with information but her steps were light. Finally, actual work — and it looked as if he had spent some time thinking of how she could contribute in a variety of ways, as her responsibilities were not all menial. He had even passed along a few books — An Introduction to the Theology of the Seven, and Ancient Faiths, Contemporary Ethics.

“You don’t have to read them,” he assured her. “I just thought you'd want to know more about the world you’ve just entered into. No rush to return them to me,” he added. “When you’re done with them, you can return them to the shelf yourself. If anything else piques your interest in this room, all you have to do is ask."

She tried not to notice how he did not look at her, not properly. She tried not to think he was avoiding her gaze. She tried not to gaze.

He is a busy man. He has a lot on his mind.



The staff did not raise any objections to the duplicity. They seemed to barely blink. Sansa noted with relief that Dr Ellaria Sands was not in the room today. That probably helped her cause more than anything else.

Professor Baelish explained to all that they were welcome to call Sansa by her real name on campus, but just to be careful with official correspondence and to understand that as far as outsiders and students were concerned, she was Alayne.

“We are not hiding her, not as such. We are doing nothing wrong. We are just preserving the privacy of a member of our staff, like we have done before.” He looked pointedly at Tyrion, who tilted his head slightly in acknowledgement.

“Eventually, I expect others will find out — in this age of modern technology and a media that never sleeps, it would be surprising if someone didn't recognise her. But the Vale is fairly isolated and — dare I say it — insular enough to feel less… affected by recent events. By the time local gossip alerts the media of Sansa's presence here with us, hopefully the media have moved on to other things.”

Sansa marvelled at his calm, even as she felt a restlessness in the room at the Professor’s glib optimism. For everyone’s sakes, Sansa prayed to the olds gods that his confidence was not misplaced. 

The rest of the meeting was a blur of directives and ideas that Sansa did not yet understand, much less minute intelligently, so she was thankful when Tyrion caught up with her afterwards as they left the room.

“You’re doing alright?”

She nodded, and gave a small smile.

“And still sticking around after a tedious Monday morning meeting. Very impressive. You know, I’ve always wondered about the necessity of starting the week with a big drone about priorities. I guess it can only get better from here. It’s a wonder we all don’t turn to drink.” He fished out a small silver hip flask from his back pocket and proferred it to Sansa. “Would you like some?”

“It’s ten o’clock in the morning!”

“It’s water,” he replied airily, but there was a twinkle in the eye and Sansa didn’t know what to say, so she smiled.

“Join me and Bronn at lunch this afternoon, if you’re not busy. We’re taking a short drive to the Song and Bird. They have decent gruel and terrible lighting.”



Professor Baelish disappeared into his office for a conference call and Sansa felt loathed to ask for his help. She tried for the next two hours or so to put together the meeting minutes on her own until she gave up and slunk downstairs to knock meekly on Tyrion’s door. 

“Am I making any sense?”

“Uh… not really,” he answered kindly, and proceeded to take a red pen through her efforts. Most of her difficulties had surrounded the names of the courses and the theses they had been referring to. 

“They all have such long titles, and I couldn’t catch most of them,” she explained sheepishly.

“You’ll get the hang of it. Theologians never know how to write or speak concisely. Why should three words suffice when you can say twenty? In that regard we're like lawyers, except we don’t know how to match our clothes.” 

She got back to her desk to find a terse email from Septa Unella — who had missed the morning’s meeting because she was at the Sept — asking when she might expect the minutes. There were at least seven phone calls that she had also missed. Sansa had a hunch that Professor Baelish had thoughtfully redirected all his calls to his mobile during his time away last week, because the phone was now ringing hot for him.

She corrected her minutes from Tyrion’s notes and sent them out as soon as she could. And then she left an email with Professor Baelish with a list of phone messages and to let him know that she was having a quick lunch out with Tyrion and Bronn. “I’ll be careful,” she promised the Professor.

She flew down the stairs and ran to their waiting car, glad for their company.


The Song and Bird turned out to be a pub in a quiet street just outside the village. The babble of voices died the moment Sansa stepped into the door and she froze until Tyrion kindly led her by the small of her back through a side door into a private room that had been reserved for them.

“Do you think they recognise me?” she asked anxiously, twisting her hair like she used to do when she was sixteen.

“Doubt it,” Bronn replied, tone bored. 

“In all likelihood, it was more the spectacle of seeing a dwarf next to a beautiful, statuesque woman,” reassured Tyrion and Sansa flushed and smiled, assuaged. Yes, she supposed the height difference between them would be eye-catching. She was even taller than Bronn. 

They made quick work of the short menu and were soon tucking into lunch.

“So tell me,” Tyrion began, as if they had been talking about nothing else before. “Are you really an executive assistant, or just one of Baelish’s projects?”

Bronn made a sound like a short bark, before hastily shoving in another mouthful.

“He had others?” Sansa blurted before she could herself.

“It depends on what you mean by others,” Tyrion replied amiably, dipping his bread liberally into the oil. “Other women, not so much lately. But one could never tell what was going on in that mind of his, even back when I was in King’s Landing.”

“Were you a... project?” Sansa asked hesitantly, afraid to offend her new friend.

“I was never really sure,” the shorter man admitted, chewing thoughtfully. “He was new in the position at the time — his marriage to your aunt secured him the top job at the Vale within twenty-four months or less…?”

“Less,” agreed Bronn, tearing a chunk of sourdough.

"Scandalous business it was at the time, she carrying on with Petyr within the year of Jon Arryn’s death. Although there was never any talk of an actual affair while Jon was alive, but she was practically throwing off her widow weeds to wear a big white dress as soon as the hundred days were over. But the board was still loyal to the wife of the late Great Jon Arryn, Chairman of the Board and Protector of the Vale, and so when Petyr came waltzing in with his impressive credentials, his nice clothes, and his powerful new wife, he got the job. 

"And then that whole business with me and Joffrey blew up around that time, and suddenly I get a call from Petyr Baelish and he’s offering me an out.”

“That is kind of him,”

“Perhaps,” Tyrion replied cautiously. “But I've always felt beholden to him. His reputation for quids pro quo precedes him, I’m afraid. He’s not a selfless man, but a shrewd one. The consummate businessman, which is why the university loves him. I’ve long wondered when he would come calling for me to pay my debt.”

“Has he ever?

“Not yet.”

Sansa mulled over his words, frowning slightly. She owed Professor Baelish — her Uncle Petyr — a debt of gratitude as well. But she had yet to feel that sense of resigned obligation or wariness that Tyrion seemed to carry. Was she being too naive not to feel the same?

“What happened between you and Joffrey?”

Tyrion gave a short laugh, but it was not filled with mirth.

“Oh, you know what happened.”

“I know what the media report, and what your sister and father said about you. I know that Cersei had placed a large bounty on your head.” And that your father had publicly disowned you, Sansa did not add. “I’m sorry… I was still at Winterfell then, and... didn’t pay much attention to the news.”

And her parents had shielded her from most of it anyway, eager to leave the past behind.

“I know that there are always other sides to the same story, though,” Sansa continued, her gaze at the dwarf unwavering. 

“Of course you do,” Tyrion allowed, and raised his glass in acknowledgement to their shared fates. “So then, here is my version of things. 

"Let’s just say that he had pushed the proverbial envelope one too many times, and that I may have sworn something along the lines of killing him in his sleep after slapping him about the face for being the spoilt, daft brat he was. That was very satisfying, I must admit. But then I also shoved him up against the wall, and he had bled a little. That was more unfortunate.

"Let’s also just say that I had been agitated, that I had more than my usual tipple of drink, and that I was acting to protect the honour of both my love and… well… you, really.”

Sansa’s eyebrows shot up, stunned to be part of this story.


“You had been promised to Joffrey at the time. And the… I want to say cunt, but I’m a respectable theologian of the Faith now.”

“I’ll say it for you then,” Bronn volunteered, dropping his chicken bone onto his plate and rubbing his oily finger tips on the napkin beside him. “I’ve got no academic airs. Joffrey was a cunt.”

“Thank you, Bronn. Because you are a lady and you took your vows of chastity so seriously, our frustrated Joffrey was chocking up frequent flyer points with the Ladies of the Night… and he had the bloody nerve to try and cuckold me.”

“He tried to seduce your girlfriend?”

“He couldn’t seduce a pillow with a hole in it, pardon my Dornish. No, he simply took what he would not be given. He tried to rape her.”

Sansa’s mouth fell open in dismay.

“I told you he was a…” Tyrion pointed to Bronn.

“Cunt,” Bronn supplied.

“What he said.”

Sansa shook her head, all food forgotten now, a hand to her mouth. She gazed at Tyrion and wondered at his calm. Except he was not calm, not really. The words were light and flippant, but in his retelling his eyes had grown darker and hooded, and she could see him clenching his right hand now and then as the memories replayed.

She had known none of this, not at all. What if they had gone through with the wedding when had she finally come of age? She would be married to Joffrey by now. What if he had picked up a disease while he was out whoring, and then given it to her?

“So that’s why you arranged for the… for the…”

“The cut brakes? No, sweetheart. That is not my style. It’s more Bronn’s style,” Tyrion qualified reflectively, “but he didn’t do it either.”

“I wish I had,” Bronn sighed. “Cunt.”

“But the media all reported that it was you!”

“Just like they reported that your father embezzled the empire's retirement fund to sponsor the rebellion of the usurper Daenarys Targaryen. When you effectively own ninety-percent of the media across the seven Kingdoms — and your father breakfasts and golfs with its mogul — you find anything you say quickly becomes national fact."

“They own the police too,” she added bitterly.

“And the courts.”

“And the good lawyers.”

“And probably,” added Tyrion quietly, “the Faith.”

Sansa’s head shot up. “No!”

“Maybe not directly,” Tyrion replied in a low voice. “But I know my family.”

“So why are you here, in the Vale, with the Faithful?” Sansa furrowed her brow, desperately trying to piece things together with new parts of a puzzle she never knew she was missing.

“Because the Faith is not a monolith, and they are an empire unto themselves. Because the Faith changes ever so slightly, depending on where you are and therefore what you care about. The Vale is very different from King’s Landing, and very sheltered. It is why, I suspect, Petyr is holing up here himself. It is why I’ve made my life here now, with Shae. It is why, I suspect, he has brought you here.”

A natural silence fell on the table, Sansa chewing her lower lip again. Professor Baelish was always going to King’s Landing. She thought about how he had effortlessly alighted from the helicopter as if he had done so a hundred times before. How he had said he wore many hats, not all of which the University knew about...

“So why…” she hesitated, struggling with the words. The implications of her unformed question were disturbing, but she had to know. “Why… do you think my aunt and uncle are really doing this for me? I mean, you don’t seem to trust Professor Baelish, or you’re second-guessing his motives, or… something. And he’s been so kind to me. But do you think it’s because we’re family, like he says, or that he wants something in return eventually?”

Bronn and Tyrion exchanged a look.

“I don’t know, Sansa,” was the eventual reply.



He was out of his office when she returned an hour later.

Sansa stood outside Professor Baelish's door, emotions warring within her. She had thoroughly enjoyed the lunch, especially the easy and genuine camaraderie between the two men. Tyrion the erudite, privileged intellectual and Bronn, the brusque, brawny janitor and Magna Cum Laude of the University of Hard Knocks — they had kept her in stitches for part of the afternoon. And yet Tyrion’s friendly warning nibbled at the corners of her mind. She could not shake them.

But Jeyne had already mentioned how private the Professor was. And Sansa was his executive assistant — the very person tasked to defend his privacy.

I have to know...

She stepped into his room and headed straight for the same bookcase — the one on the left of his mahogany desk, the one where the key to the key was. Her plan… she had no plan, only one barely formed. If she could find the key, perhaps she could slip away later to the post office. See what his box held. Find a clue, get some answers… Her eyes darted once more to the door before they returned to the floor-to-ceiling bookcase before her. If you look at it like a grid, it would be in cell B3…

She stood on tip-toe like the last time and felt about with her left hand, then her right. She checked underneath the shelf. She stood back, counted the shelves again. All the while, her sense of unease bloomed within; she could feel its cold tendrils start to snake through her insides. She made a small stepping stool out of a few tomes and finally gained direct eye-line to the shelf and its contents. She pulled back the books, searching behind them, inside them.

The key was not there.

She left the room as she found it, made her way back to her desk and forced herself to calm even as the implications sank in like a deadweight. He had moved the key. He did not trust her. And she did not trust him. 

Chapter Text

The door was ajar and Sansa could hear everything. She wasn’t entirely sure that had not been the intention.

“She’s slow. I’ve given her as much time as she should need in a menial job like hers, but I’m sorry to say it’s been disappointing…”

Sansa flinched as Septa Unella gave a litany of her sins. 

“… and she messed up my travel booking and — to add serious insult to injury — she won't even tell me where you are — and I wouldn’t be surprised if it's because she hasn’t worked out how to access your schedule yet. And she keeps changing the templates! Every time I open up a document from her, such as the staff meeting minutes or a powerpoint presentation, she’s changed the way it looks. Is she not capable of following previous examples set? If she can muck such simple things up, what happens when you finally decide to give her something important to do for the University?”

A movement. Sansa instantly sank back into her chair and started typing furiously.

Professor Baelish came to the door then. Their eyes locked for the briefest moment and he mercifully gave her a small smile before closing his door, Septa Unella’s railing now muffled behind the thick wood.

Sansa slumped back in her chair, dismayed. 

Septa Unella only ever referred to herself as Septa Unella, the only academic to eschew her academic title and her last name as was custom at the University. But as much as Sansa found her inflexible and dogmatic, the accusations she levelled against Sansa were true. She was terribly inept at handling mechanical things, having little real life experience with such complex photocopiers or the knack for figuring them out. She didn’t know how to work a ring binding machine, or how to laminate posters without melting them, or create a three-way phone conversation, or any of the thousand basic office tasks that Jeyne seemed to juggle with ease. 

And as for the templates… Sansa had never thought it would distress anyone to change those document templates. She only meant to improve the layout and categorise information to make it much quicker and easier to read. How was she to know that templates were sacrosanct too?

Just a stupid little girl with no life experience. 

The door opened then and Septa Unella swept out of the room, glaring at Sansa as she passed her desk. Sansa returned the glare with a meek smile. 

Professor Baelish was standing at the door, and his mouth was set in a thin line. Sansa opened her mouth to speak although she was unsure what to say. He spoke before her words came.

“Septa Unella will not be addressing your work performance again,” he said to Sansa, his gaze following the departing figure of Septa Unella until her austere figure disappeared down the stairs. His voice was soft and made of ice.  

“Also, in future,” he continued, speaking still to the void, still not looking at her, “please let me know if any more of my staff think to use you as their personal administrative lackey. Is that understood?”

Sansa nodded.

“Good.” He returned to his room, closing the door behind him.

She saw him again the next evening, quite by chance. He had been away all day, during which Sansa made sure to acquaint herself with the office equipment and dutifully transcribe the latest meeting minutes using an old template she had found. 

He was back in casual clothes. This evening he wore a pair of smart chinos in mushroom with a thick navy henley pullover, the collar high and snug around his neck. The wind was starting to pick up in the last week, especially in the evenings. 

The days were getting noticeably shorter now, and rather than squirrel away on her own in her room, Sansa tried to sneak in a walk before nightfall most evenings. She, too, was dressed for the weather; she wore her only pair of jeans without the fashionable rips, a white cable knit sweater and her longest, thickest wool scarf that she wrapped around her slender neck thrice. She wore her long, red hair down and loose and it cascaded down her back in waves, a stunning contrast to her sweater.

They noticed each other about the same time and met, wordlessly, in the centre.

“Making the most of the daylight?” he guessed, smiling. And after the incident with Septa Unella, she suddenly felt shy.

They started walking together without further preamble and in wordless accord, falling in step with each other naturally. The wind picked up then and she pulled the thick woollen scarf closer, burying her face in the folds. A peaceful silence fell between them and Sansa started to relax. The Professor seemed to know where he wanted to go and she was contented to follow.

“I’m sorry about yesterday,” she finally said, and felt relief that the words were out. 

He glanced at her and smiled softly, before turning back to stare ahead. 

“Don’t be,” he replied evenly. “Septa Unella is passionate about a great many things that, frankly, should not trouble her. I’m sorry you had to hear so much of it yesterday.”

“She’s not wrong, though,” Sansa replied, frowning slightly. “All that she said… I can’t type fast, and I’m rubbish at working the photocopier, and I feel like I’m making all of this up as I’m going along. I know you gave me this job as a favour, as a way of helping me out… but I think the rest of the staff resent me for the nepotism in this bad economy — now worsened, of course, after the public fund collapsed.”

He said nothing for a while, and her words hung in the air like an indictment.

“Do you know why I chose you to be my assistant?”

Sansa blinked. The answer to that had seemed patently obvious before, but his very question suggested a new answer.

“Not because I’m family?”

He shook his head. “I mean… do you know why I chose you to be an assistant to me, instead of some other job like helping Jeyne out in the front office, or off working in the library? Why I specifically gave you the job of being my executive assistant, when I could easily have chosen an old hand like Jeyne or someone else with actual secretarial experience?”

Sansa flinched slightly at the last but shook her head, curious.

“Any monkey can learn to type. To do the filing. To master the flaming photocopier until it spat out books and made coffee on the side. These are just grunt skills. They don’t require anything extraordinary, just practice. 

“But loyalty… now that’s a different thing altogether. And that one can be bought for a time, but never authentically manufactured. It is either there or not. You are either a faithful person or not. You are either a trustworthy person or not, a person of integrity or not, and Sansa Stark…”

He stopped suddenly and turned to look at her, his eyes serious and unblinking. She held her breath, unsure.

“I see that in you. I trust you. I saw the way you handled the media after the fallout, saw the way you carried yourself. Saw your core, your inner strength. I’m known to be an excellent judge of character, and I knew.” 

She didn’t know how or when it happened but he was so close to her now, his face level with hers. Any closer, and she would feel his soft breath on her face, or graze his with hers. She stilled herself, the moment fragile and fraught. She was waiting, but she knew not what for.

“I saw what you went through,” his voice was almost a whisper, “and you were magnificent.”

He moved suddenly and her breath caught in her throat. For a blinding moment, she wondered if he was going to kiss her and her lips parted slightly, reflexively. But then he stretched his neck and she felt him drop a kiss on her forehead.

A thousand butterflies took flight within her, each an emotion fluttering and colliding. She willed herself not to react, to school her face so it remained placid.

They kept on walking beside each other, further away from the sandstone buildings, away from the car park, away from civilisation. They kept on walking until the footpaths ended and it was gravel, until the gravel ended and it was grass. The sun was starting to sink but there was still some daylight left, and he quickened his pace slightly now. 

When the grasses got longer, she finally hesitated and he turned back to her, a hand outstretched in invitation. Beyond him, the trees were taller and thicker, the undergrowth wilder and unkept. If they walked in there, they would slip away in the darkness and no one would hear her cries.

“I want to show you something,” he said. “Do you trust me?”

And even though her heart hammered in her chest, she took his outstretched hand.

Eventually, the grasses thinned again and Sansa had a sense that she was approaching a forgotten garden.

He broke the silence then. The difficult parts of their walk were long behind them, and the ground was more even now. The jumble of butterflies was ever present but curiosity was the strongest motivator at present.

She tried not to dwell on the fact that her hand was still in his. 

“Long ago, before the Faith of the Seven so dominated the world, we had more room in this School for other beliefs…” He turned to her and smiled sadly. “You must be feeling quite out of place and alone, even with the Faith of your mother to buoy you.”

And before Sansa could understand, they arrived. For there before them stood an ancient Weirwood tree, bleeding from its eyes and mouth.

Something like a strangled half cry escaped Sansa’s lips and she ran to the tree before stopping short of touching it, as if suddenly mindful of sacred ground. She reached out and touched its ancient bone-white bark gently, feeling its weeping gashes. Feeling its power and drawing from it much needed tranquility.

She stayed there for ten, fifteen minutes — maybe even longer. The sun was starting to sink quickly now. He stood at a distance, graciously giving her the space and watching over her like a self-appointed sentinel.

When she finally stood up, she felt stronger and more complete. She felt emptied of herself and filled again. Before they left the godswood, she whispered her thanks and softly kissed his cheek.   

Chapter Text

“Your mail for today, Professor Baelish.”

Sansa placed the stack on his desk and was about return to her own when he said, “Please open them, Sansa.”

“Right here?” she asked, hesitant. He had never asked her to open his mail before. She had sensed from the start that he wouldn’t have appreciated the breach of privacy, even if she was supposed to be his assistant.

He nodded and returned his attention to his screen, half keeping an eye on her as she slit each envelope open. “Read them out to me.”

Most of them, he had classed as unimportant with only a couple needing his immediate attention. In handling his phonecalls, Sansa was already privy to the surprising myriad of people wanting his attention, and his post was no different to that. Both the academic world and the business one craved patronage, or advice, or money — there was very little difference between them after a while. 

But a letter caught her attention and she paused, which made Professor Baelish look up, suddenly attentive.

“It says here,” she read, eyes growing wide, “that you’ve been invited to be a keynote speaker at the Citadel at their annual theological conference.”

He waved his hand, as if brushing the invitation off impatiently.

“This is the second reminder,” she continued, looking at him curiously now. “They must really want you if they bothered sending you a second letter to ask for your time. It says here that they emailed you and have tried calling. I’m sorry, Professor Baelish, but I don’t recall getting any of their phonecalls. I’m sure I would have remembered something like this.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he assured her, returning his attention to the screen. “They usually call my mobile.”

“And so you knew about this?” 


“And you’re not going?” she asked incredulously. “It says here that they want no one else, that they very politely insist. Professor Baelish, this sounds like an incredible honour.”

He gave a small snort of derision. “Yes,” he replied drily, “they would think that.”

He sighed and turned to look at her. “They’re tedious affairs, conferences. I’ve been to quite a few of them this year already, and the same pompous people always turn up bellyaching about the same things. There’s usually an exhibition attached, and then there are the endless meetings in between. I’ve met them all. They are not where new business lies, not unless something truly innovative happens this year. Frankly, they’re a bore.”

Sansa nodded, feeling slightly crestfallen but not utterly convinced. “Who usually turns up to these events?”

“Other theologians, clergy from around the Seven Kingdoms, scholars and potential students… It’s the same crowd at other smaller theological conferences. The community is tiny and incestuous, at the end of the day.”

“And have we ever had a stand at their exhibition?”

“Not in recent memory. Previous attempts were a waste of time, according to Olenna. We don’t get much support from Marketing out here.”

Sansa chewed on her lower lip, thoughtful.

“You’re thinking of something,” he observed mildly but his eyes were sharp, missing nothing. “You think I might be wrong, that this is worth a shot?”

She hesitated, then nodded slowly. “Even I’ve heard of this event. And I’d never been interested in theology, prior to coming here."

He sat back in his chair and steepled his hands, considering her for what felt like an eternity. Finally he nodded.

“Come up with a proposal and we can talk further. But I’m promising nothing.”

She smiled and returned to her desk. There was work to do.

He was waiting at her gate that evening when she stepped out an hour before sundown. She didn't know how long he had been standing there, but there he was leaning against the nearest tree, one knee bent, his foot against the trunk for balance. When she walked towards him, he pushed off the tree with that foot and strolled towards her. She liked his natural grace, the ease in which his body seemed to move, always effortless no matter where he was or what he wore. They fell in step wordlessly, their easy silence all the hello they needed. 

"Are you happy here?" he asked by and by as pavement turned to gravel. 

She thought about her answer, not wanting to be flippant. 

"I'm grateful," she acknowledged, "and people are kind here. But I'm lonely." She smiled at him then. "I'm not lonely when I'm with you. Thank you for taking the time to keep me company. It's very thoughtful. I appreciate it, I really do." 

Something flickered across his face, but he bowed his head briefly before looking back up and into her eyes. 

"The pleasure's mine." It came out slightly hoarse. He cleared his throat. 

The gravel turned to dirt, then slowly turned to grass. When it got longer, he turned to her once more and offered his hand, his eyes not meeting hers. Her heart leapt slightly but she took his hand calmly. This time, when the long grasses gradually morphed into neglected paths once hewn for a much-loved garden, he tucked her hand in the crook of his arm as he led her to the Weirwood tree. 

It had been a long time since anyone had watched her pray. Her parents used to, when she was much younger and they thought to form in her the habit. But by the time she was ten, she was taking herself to the godswood on her own — sometimes to unburden the heart, most of the time for the peace and quiet. And yet he was here, watching her from a respectful distance. Even as her back was turned to him as she clutched at the weeping tree, she could feel his gaze on her form, drinking in her solemn ritual. She should feel embarrassed or awkward that he should pay such close witness to her worship. That he should encroach on such an intimate, personal space. It was almost voyeuristic, and yet she did not mind. In fact, she liked it.

She liked his company. She liked to be near him. She liked it when they touched.

When she whispered her last prayer, she struggled to her feet only to find him at the ready, proffering a strong, steady hand to pull her up to standing. She turned towards the path leading out of the godswood, but with her hand still in his, he led her instead towards a flat tree stump that was large enough to seat them both. They made themselves comfortable and then he began to speak.

“What do you know about me and your Aunt Lysa?” 

Sansa shook her head.

“My parents hardly mentioned her. And they mentioned you even less. I always assumed that my mother and Aunt Lysa were never close, or that something might have happened to keep them apart. But I only ever saw my Aunt a few times, and only when I was little. I think I can count the number of times on one hand. And you…” Sansa chose her words more carefully next. “My parents never seemed to mention you, even when they could. I was told once by my brother Robb that my mother knew you in her childhood. And I overheard my parents talking when you were engaged to my aunt.”

Talking was an understatement. It was the first time in a long time she ever heard her parents quarrel so badly.

He nodded slowly and she had the sense that the cogs of his mind were moving once again, that he was sifting through thoughts and words to shape what he was willing to share.

“I did know your mother once. And very well. I lived with your mother, your uncle and your aunt for nine years as your grandfather’s ward.”

Sansa’s eyes widened. She did not know this. Somehow she sensed, rather than knew, that this was important. That somehow this held the answer to a question she didn’t yet know to ask.

“What happened in the ninth year?”

He shrugged. “I moved away.”

It was a non-answer, and they both knew it. Sansa tried not to let her impatience and disappointment show. Her curiosity was piqued now. Who was he to her mother? Who was she to him?

But again he surprised her with his intuition, as if already reading and knowing her mind.

“I’m sorry I’m not answering your question more honestly. Some of this past, as you can probably guess, is unpleasant.” He gazed at her hair tumbling long and loose around her shoulders. She had worn it down today to warm her neck. She watched as he reached out to touch her hair. Watched as he picked a lock and felt it slip between his fingers, taking in the colour with a sense of wonder. 

“That Tully red,” he mused, and he brought his hand up towards her face. She held her breath, but he only tucked her hair behind her ear. Even then, the feel of his fingers left a trail of goosebumps as they grazed her face. 

She liked it when they touched. When he touched her. Even if he touched her like she were a child.

“Your aunt is back in town,” he said quietly but now he was watching her face. “She flies back tomorrow morning. And she has asked to see you. We would like to invite you over for dinner at our home this Wednesday evening. Would you be able to make it?”

Sansa smiled warmly. “I’d be delighted.”

“Good,” he replied absently and she sensed once again a kind of turmoil, as if he were holding thoughts at bay, words on a leash. 

“Your aunt… can be changeable, Sansa. She is not calm like your mother. She can be excitable.”

Sansa nodded slowly, trying to read between the lines.

“Just… let it all wash over you. She says things now and then, but you don’t have to take it personally. I want you to remember this.”  


She was five minutes early, but he opened the door before she knocked as if he had been expecting her. 

Sansa smiled, although she was sure her nerves showed through. His caution in the godswood about her aunt had proved more haunting than she would have liked. When they parted that evening, he had leaned in to kiss her cheek. His breath had brushed her ear, and she had felt a warmth shoot right through her. Nightfall had hidden well the blush that crept up her neck involuntarily.

“Good night, little one,” he had said softly. He had given her a determined look that she did not understand, and then he had slipped away through the maples and into the dark. 

They had returned to work the next day more distant than ever. He held most of his meetings out of the office and kept his door closed when he returned, asking not to be disturbed. For the next three days he did not meet her for her walks and she missed him. She went to the godswood on her own but found she couldn’t pray. It was emotional whiplash, she realised. The hot and cold between them was starting to make her feel unsteady, and she could not shake the feeling that her aunt had something to do with it.

“I baked something,” she offered shyly and held up her lemon currant loaf. His face softened visibly.

“Thank you,” he murmured and took the bread tin from her, still warm from the oven. His fingers brushed over hers for a full second and her heart smiled, drawing courage from him.

"Is that her? Is that San-sah?" she heard a voice thrill in the background and he bowed slightly, opening the door wider to reveal a thin and eerily familiar figure gliding swiftly towards the door. 

“It IS! It is you, San-sah! But how big you’ve grown.” Her Aunt Lysa beamed at her, and Sansa’s fears dissipated like fog in the sun. All that worry and for nothing!

“Come in, come in!” she waved a bony hand and Sansa stepped through the door and into the light, taking in her surrounds with much interest. The apartment, their lodgings, was much larger than she had expected. Like the building itself, it was old but stately. The walls were exposed brick in that same sandstone colour that must have been all the rage about a century ago. The furnishings were simple but looked expensive — mostly dark lacquered wood that looked like they weighed a tonne each, the only pops of colour in the room from framed art pieces that hung from picture rails around the room. It was all beautifully put together, yet almost austere. Lifeless. Sansa wondered if his private study was anything different or more of the same. 

“Isn’t it breathtaking?” her Aunt Lysa chirped, gesturing to a framed watercolour of a Dornish villa. “My Petyr has such an eye for beautiful things. He picks these pieces up on his travels here and there. And look at what else he brings me when I return!” Aunt Lysa leaned over, a heavy gold chain of linked flowers creasing over her bony collarbone. Cloying perfume snatched at Sansa’s nose. “Isn’t it exquisite? He misses me so.” She straightened her back again and slipped her hand easily into the crook of his arm, tip-toeing to plant a kiss on his cheek. 

She smiled at Sansa almost smugly and Sansa smiled back at the both of them politely. 

“Sansa brought us dessert,” he announced, holding up the loaf tin as proof. “Would you like me to bring this to the kitchen, Lysa?”

“You baked for us?” her aunt turned to look at her appraisingly. “What did you make?” 

“Nothing very complicated,” Sansa replied diffidently. “I picked the simplest recipe I could find. I’m only just teaching myself, since Pr… Uncle Petyr bought me that new oven.” Uncle. The title tasted foreign on her tongue, like straw.

“He did, did he?” her Aunt Lysa’s voice was light but her eyes had narrowed. “And when did he bring the oven over?”

“Lysa…” he warned.  

She ignored him. “Your mother used to bake, you know. All kinds of sweet things which your uncle could not get enough of…"


She stopped as if he had shot her. He coolly placed the loaf tin down on the nearest side table and wrapped his arm around his wife’s bony frame. 

“My silly wife,” he soothed, rubbing his hand up and down her skinny arm. “No more of this. Let’s have dinner.”

Sansa watched as her Aunt Lysa leaned her head back into the crook of his neck to gaze adoringly at her husband. “Okay,” she cooed to only him. “Dinner.”

Sansa dipped her spoon in the soup, willing herself to take another mouthful. It was dreadful. Her aunt was not a gifted cook. 

She watched as her Professor —her uncle — calmly finished his portion and dabbed his mouth with a napkin. Her aunt was watching his every move like a hawk. She even looked a little like a hawk, Sansa thought. Her long nose was slightly hooked and her eyes were sharp, bright and blue. Her ruddy hair — parted in the middle — was long and fell to her waist like her own, like how her mother’s had been, but the colour was dull and it lengthened her face, drawing unflattering attention to her high, blank forehead and the small, petulant mouth. She was wearing a long, fussy dress that reached to the floor. Its print was loud and much too young for her, the gossamer fabric of the sleeves revealing her long thin arms underneath, excess flesh hanging off the bone like wings. She might have been plump once, Sansa realised. But her weight, like a pendulum, had now swung to the other extreme so her aunt appeared almost skeletal and about ten years older than her own mother had looked before the gods claimed her.

“You’re finished!” she exclaimed, like a mother applauding the efforts of a toddler feeding himself. “Would you like another bowl?”

“No, my good wife,” he was quick to return. “I am quite full, thank you.” He patted his stomach for emphasis and Sansa hid a smile. Liar, she thought. I’ve caught you. And I don’t blame you. Soup was all that Lysa had offered for dinner — that, and two thin slices of overdone bread that could break teeth. It was hardly adequate as an entrée — let alone a whole meal — but perhaps that was how she kept her svelte figure.

“And you, San-sah?” her aunt Lysa asked pointedly. “Are you not well, child? You’ve hardly eaten.”

“I’m quite well, thank you Aunt Lysa,” replied Sansa truthfully and forced herself to finish the rest of her helping speedily. Her aunt did not offer her another round, which Sansa was thankful for.

The lemon currant loaf sat enticingly on the table, still ensconced in the tin. Sansa and her uncle cast sidelong glances at it longingly, but neither dared to broach the subject before her Aunt Lysa was ready to. 

Meanwhile, Lysa had started chatting again.

"Petey and I were so sorry to have missed your mother’s funeral, dear,” she piped up suddenly, as if discussing the change in weather, as if her siblings were inconsequential collateral of the same tragedy. “We would have gone, you know, but it was messy, so messy.” She waved her hands vaguely as if that explained it all, but Sansa was still perplexed as to her meaning. “And Sweet Robin, you know… He was having exams and the poor dear was battling the flu again, and we had to be there for him. But I should have liked to have been there. Did many people come?”

“Yes,” Sansa replied simply. It had been a seven-day wake and they had all been exhausted by the end of it, wrung out by unspent grief and hosting fatigue. Their family used to be well-loved and respected. Literally thousands had come to pay their last respects, the upper echelons of business and government rocked by a needless car accident that succeeded in wiping out half a distinguished family. 

She watched as her uncle clenched the napkin on the table briefly, but said nothing.

“And how are you finding work? Is the University keeping you busy?”

“I am happy where I am, Aunt Lysa. And I really want to thank you.” Sansa took the opportunity to open the loaf tin then. Inside it, she had hidden her small tokens of gratitude. To her aunt, she gave three white handkerchiefs with “Lysa" cross-stitched elegantly in the corner. To her Professor, her uncle, she gave the same except his kerchiefs were blue. He accepted the gift with a warm smile, his fingers brushing lightly across his name, admiring her fine handiwork. 

“It’s a little old-fashioned, I know,” Sansa babbled, feeling slightly sheepish about the lameness of her gift. “But I just wanted to do something… give you something… to show my appreciation for all you’ve done for me. Aunt Lysa, your generosity has really touched me. I’m so grateful for your big heart, I truly am.”

“Oh, don’t thank me too much, child,” Aunt Lysa laughed. The sound was brittle. “Thank my husband, really. It was all his idea. From the very start.” She was staring at him again but this time her mouth was set in a thin line. “All his idea,” she repeated quietly.

“It is the least we could do for family,” her uncle replied, and he reached over to cover his wife’s clenched hand on the table. His smile was serene but his eyes were alert and trained on Lysa.

Sansa stood up. “Let me get a knife so I can cut this up,” she smiled brightly and fled to the kitchen before her aunt could think to say no.

Inside the kitchen, Sansa’s heart was pounding in her ears. The walls of the stark white kitchen seemed to close in on her. She ignored them, found a knife and took the loaf out of the tin, found a plate that was big enough and sliced the loaf on it deftly, one, two, three…

She brought the plate outside and prayed to the old gods that she would find her aunt amiable once more.

His eyes lit up when she entered the room, and his stomach rumbled loudly as if on cue. 

“Oh Petyr, I should have known to have gotten you more soup!” Lysa lamented. “I can still heat it up, you know. It’s not too late.”

“You take such good care of me, wife,” he replied gently, a hand on her wrist beckoning her to sit back down. “But don’t let me spoil dessert for everyone else. Let’s have this first, and I’ll end the evening with another bowl of your broth, I promise.”  

Not quite assuaged, she sat down nonetheless and watched beadily as Sansa served first her aunt and then her uncle. 

He took a bite and pleasure spread across his face despite his best efforts to keep his expression neutral. He nodded his approval and Sansa flushed, pleased but slightly alarmed about her aunt.

Aunt Lysa took a bite and then made a face.

“Perfect, of course,” she smiled tensely. “Gifted, just like your mother. You say this is your first time? You must either be lying or a natural.”

 “It’s just cake, Lysa,” he replied mildly. Sansa jumped when her aunt threw her fork on her plate. The sound of hard metal hitting porcelain sliced through the oppressive air like a guillotine.  

Aunt Lysa stood up. “Look at her!” she shouted to her husband. She grabbed the knife and pointed it at Sansa, who jumped up immediately from her chair and shrank against the wall. 

Look at her!” she shrieked again at him, her blue Tully eyes bright and accusing. “She even looks like her! You never told me she would be this beautiful, Petyr. You lied, you lied! She is just like Cat! She is!” 

He rose slowly from his chair. “Lysa,” he called, his voice dangerously low, “put the knife down, my wife. There’s a good girl.”

“Did you not tell me, because you secretly want her?” she cried, the knife still clenched tight. “All this time while I’m with Sweet Robin, have you been wanting her?”

“No, no my dear wife, of course not. She is a child, just a child…”

“I thought this was over,” she started to moan. “Cat died and that was all I could think of, that this was finally…”

He pulled her suddenly into a fierce embrace, his mouth on hers cutting off oxygen to her words. He kissed her deeply and thoroughly, and Sansa watched as her aunt froze for a second before going limp in his arms. The knife clattered to the floor as she snaked her fingers into his hair and sucked on his face like a vampire. 

Sansa looked away, sickened and relieved, and then sickened once more.

She closed her eyes just when she heard him murmur to Lysa, “Oh silly wife… my silly wife. There is only one woman I have ever loved.” She heard his mouth claim hers again and heard her aunt sigh with relief and triumph and desire.

Sansa could take this no more.

“Please excuse me,” she mumbled, chucking the loaf back in the tin before closing it quickly. Husband and wife broke apart and her Aunt Lysa laughed coquettishly. 

“I do beg your pardon, niece,” she simpered. “It can’t be very becoming watching your aunt and uncle behave like newlyweds.”

“It’s getting late anyway,” Sansa lied, forcing a smile on her face. “I should have been more thoughtful, and not trespassed on your hospitality so late in the evening.” It was only half past seven. Lies, all lies. She moved quickly to the door like a woman dying for breath.

Aunt Lysa smiled, both arms wrapped around her husband’s neck.

“Thank you for understanding, San-sah. I’ve been away for a long time, and it appears that my husband misses me just as much as I have missed him. We have much catching up to do.” Her meaning was clear as day. She nuzzled into Petyr’s neck and breathed him in unabashedly. Sansa turned away again, her insides twisting.

“Thank you for coming, Sansa.” She looked at him now. He stood there as if planted to the ground, one arm around his wife, her head pressed into his neck, her eyes shut as if in ecstasy. 

“Thank you for the thoughtful gifts,” he added, his brogue heavy, his voice raspy.

“You’re welcome,” she managed to reply. The last thing she saw before she slipped out the door was the smile painted on his face. But his eyes were stone.

She made it down the stairs, round the corner of their block, past the spiral fire escape. She held herself together until she could just make out her little gate before the sobs came, shuddering through her. 

Chapter Text

He did not come in the rest of the week. The email to all staff explained that he was working from home and that his wife was unwell. Olenna had tutted and rolled her eyes but did not explain. Life continued. The staff continued marking as students started turning in their final assignments. The machinery of the School continued to hum as if there was nothing untoward. As if the Lady of the Vale wasn’t touched by a bit of madness.

He left for King’s Landing the week after. Aunt Lysa had left with him.  

Sansa tried to throw herself into work. The opportunity to put together a plan for the conference at the Citadel should have consumed her attention, but the strange turn of events at That Dinner continued to haunt her. It played on repeat like a horror reel she couldn’t put away; she paled and cringed at the same moments, never growing immune. She wondered if there was anything she could have done to change the outcome, even as she knew the answer to her question. Her aunt was unhinged and there was clearly a terrible past shared by her mother, her aunt, and her uncle. Never did Sansa feel so ignorant and parochial, so childish and naïve about her family. And she wondered, she worried what she just allowed herself to walk into by accepting this offer of asylum.

You stupid girl. You stupid, stupid girl.

Every time her mind’s eye saw him kiss her mad aunt, remembered how he claimed her shrivelled mouth with a force that snapped her aunt’s head back like a hollow reed… Every time, she’d shut her eyes and blank her mind and force herself to breathe until her heart no longer felt like bursting. 

The weekend finally came and Sansa fled to the safety of her cottage the moment her clock struck four. Winter was almost upon them now; the leaves were starting to fall in clumps, and the sun was sinking earlier and faster. Her home was no longer comfortable. As if the gods had flipped a switch, the temperature had plummeted one day — one of the cold snaps Jeyne kept talking about. Now the arctic air would seep through the gaps between the thin floor boards and the old wall radiator would struggle to counter its effects. She would wear layer upon layer, then freeze come laundry day. 

No matter how cold Winterfell had been, she had never felt as exposed until now. 

She used the oven often. Tonight, she had made a vegetarian quiche and the radiant warmth of the stove promised to keep the cold at bay, at least until she dived under her covers tonight and read until sleep overtook her. She was just about to set the table when she heard a soft knock on the door, and her heart stuttered as it swung open to reveal him.

“Hello,” he said softly and she took in his form. She had imagined this moment secretly, often, but now that he was here, words failed her. A five o’clock shadow darkened his cheeks and she realised he looked almost as haunted as she felt.

“I’m interrupting,” he realised, taking in the quiche beside her on the narrow kitchen bench beside the stove.

She shook her head and smiled unsteadily. “No you’re not,” she admitted. And then propriety kicked in. “Do come in,” she invited.

“Actually,” he replied, “I came to return this.” He handed her a familiar loaf tin. She took it from him wordlessly, even as a myriad memories flitted across her mind. 

“And…” he continued before taking a deep breath, “I was hoping to invite you back for a meal. I’ve made a roast... and Lysa has gone away to be with her Robin.”

“I’ve already made a quiche.”

“Then bring that along. It smells wonderful. And I haven’t had a quiche in years. That’s if…” he hesitated, “you would like to join me for dinner.”

Her eyes met his and she searched for something familiar. Had things changed irrevocably? Whatever it was they had before? And his eyes searched hers, as if asking the same.

Her thoughts warred with her heart, and they both had valid needs. The mind wanted answers. The heart wasn’t sure it could cope.

Silently she found her oven mitts and placed them beside her dinner while she hunted around for her jacket. He carried the quiche while she locked up the cottage and they followed the dimly lit flagstones past the familiar wooden gate. They headed to his block wordlessly but she was surprised when he veered left instead of right and made for the old spiral staircase.

“It’s faster this way,” he beckoned with a tilt of his head and she ascended the metal twisted stair with him. It creaked and groaned in places but he didn’t seem perturbed, his steps sure and methodical as he carried her quiche with her oven mitts while she gripped the curved railing before him. The door was unlocked at the top of the stair and she opened it, stepping aside to let him through first before she walked in to find herself in his study.

It was similar to the one in the faculty block. Solid walls of books lined the room and a cheerful fire was burning in the hearth at the end furthest from his desk. There was a sofa in front of the fire and Sansa guessed, by the lack of another chair or couch, that he did not entertain others in this space. More art dressed the room, not all of them hung. Small, neat stacks of papers and books dotted the floor and Sansa spied empty whisky glasses yet uncleared. She guessed that he lived in this part of the house more than any other, that this was truly his private abode, his sanctuary, his castle.

She followed him out the study back into the space where things had turned horribly strange. She watched as he placed her quiche on a table prepared for two, wine glasses at the ready next to two table settings. He had been prepared.

“Water? Wine?”

“Wine, please,” she croaked. She was suddenly nervous, as if she was standing on thin ice. She half expected Aunt Lysa to come bursting from one of the rooms, knife in her hand, accusations hot and stinging about her late mother. About her own intentions towards her treasured husband. 

“Please, sit,” he beckoned as he brought out the roast. It smelled like Winterfell dinners and her mouth watered immediately. His home was so different to the depressing lack in her bedsit. She took off her layers and felt the warmth seep back into her fingertips, good cheer returning to the heart along with it.

“This is nice,” she admitted and closed her eyes as she inhaled those mouth-watering smells deeply. The bottle of red popped open easily and he poured her a glass before filling his own. She took a sip tentatively and then some more when she realised how easily it slipped down her throat.   

“Would you like to pray?” he invited, and she startled. She never gave thanks in her household. That was not a child's place.

But he held out his hand and she took it, emboldened. Then she closed her eyes and prayed, 

“We ask the Father to judge us with mercy, accepting our human frailty.
We ask the Mother to bless our bodies with the food she has so richly bestowed us tonight.
We ask the Warrior to give us courage, in these days of uncertainty and turmoil.
We ask the Smith to strengthen our hands and steel our wills so we may finish the work required of us.
We ask the Crone to guide us on our journey, that we may always choose the light…"

She paused for a moment, her heart suddenly quickening at what she knew was to come. But her voice remained steady even as every atom of her body stood aware of the way his thumb absently brushed across the tops of her fingers like a gentle caress.

"We ask the Maiden to... protect every virtue, to keep us from the clutches of depravity…”

His thumb slowed infinitesimally.   

"And we ask the Stranger to keep my brothers safe. To remember my mother and her faithfulness.”

At the last, she felt his grip tighten and she squeezed his hand back briefly. She opened her eyes to find him looking at her.

“I didn’t expect you to pray to the Seven,” he said softly. “I was expecting just a minute of silence. But it was very considerate, and a lovely prayer. Thank you.”  

She flushed red for misunderstanding, but he smiled so disarmingly that her embarrassment quickly ebbed. She cut into the meat easily and closed her eyes as it melted in her mouth. A tiny sound of pleasure escaped her throat.

“This is wonderful. Did you cook this?”

“It’s an old recipe of Olenna’s. Just followed the instructions.”

“You’re being modest. This is beautiful.”

They finally relaxed then and fell into companionable silence. She watched with pleasure as he took hearty helpings of her quiche. The wine disappeared easily and he topped up her glass when he refilled his own. And then just when both of them had their fill, she heard him say, “I want to explain what happened that night.”

She stopped. Quietly, she placed her cutlery down beside her plate, then placed her hands on her lap. 

“Is my Aunt Lysa… alright?”

“I think you know the answer to that.”

“How long has she been this way?”

“A long, long time.”

Sansa frowned. The question that played most on her lips was also the one that was rudest. Was she like this before he married her? And if so, why did he take her as his wife? Was it to gain control of the Vale, like Tyrion suggested?

“Most of the time, she is able to be calm. A dose of Sweetsleep usually does the job when she’s awake and I have Dreamtime on the ready if she has fitful sleeps. But I’m starting to think her body has grown immune to the drug. The day you came over, I thought she was fine but her reaction to you was unexpected. I didn’t think she'd be as affected as she clearly was that evening.”

He sat back in his chair and folded his arms, his eyes taking on a faraway look as he remembered a time long before her.

“You already know now that I used to live with your mother and your aunt as a ward of your grandfather. He wasn’t the kindest man, but he gave me a headstart in my education and for that, at least, I was grateful. But your mother was my greatest comfort in those days.

“So I loved her. And she loved me. Except she loved me like a sister and I loved her like a man. And your aunt loved me like a sickness. It had been that way for years. 

“Finally, things came to a head. It had to. We had been dancing around in circles like this for years and the tension had built to such a point. Both sisters hated each other by then, mostly because Lysa was deeply jealous of your mother who seemed, in every way, to be a superior specimen of femininity, breeding, and stature. It drove your aunt mad.

“And then one day, a suitable man came for your mother’s hand and your grandfather was keen for your mother to accept him. Except he was an arrogant boor. And I, deeply besotted and hoping against hope to be good enough, declared my intentions for your mother to your grandfather in desperation. I suspected he knew for years how I truly felt about your mother, but he was furious nonetheless.

“Lysa was crushed. She knew, of course, what your mother meant to me but by declaring my intention to marry her, that was the final straw. Both sisters had a terrible fight. Meanwhile, I was told in no uncertain terms how I did not have your grandfather’s blessings, and how I was ungrateful for seeking to ruin the life of his most precious child after he had given me a roof over my head and a good education. I was to pack my bags and leave my home and my heart’s desire forever.

“But if that wasn’t devastating enough, your mother’s triumphant suitor started taunting me. I wasn’t always a patient young man or a terribly bright one. And I was a man deeply disappointed in love. So I lost my temper one afternoon and challenged him to a fight and, well, I lost.”

Sansa’s eyes opened wider at that point as a vague recollection floated up from the depths of her memories. “I remember!” she said slowly. “Robb had mentioned once about my father’s brother — Uncle Brandon — beating… someone… to a pulp. Over honour. In a fight.”

“Is that the story?” he replied with a smirk that didn’t reach his eyes. 

“I don’t know the details,” Sansa finished lamely. “They never tell me anything. But I did remember that they called you… Littlefinger?”

Something dark and fierce crossed his face just then, but he shrugged it off as quickly as it came. “History is always written by the victors,” he remarked blandly. 

“So what happened?” Sansa pressed gently, mesmerised by the story that at once seemed so foreign yet familiar.

“Your aunt Lysa nursed me back to health,” he replied softly. “In the end, the woman I despised was the woman who was there when it counted. I was an ungrateful man and left as soon as I was able, and that broke her heart even as it brought your mother relief, I’m sure. But I never forgot your aunt’s faithfulness and kindness. Many years later, we met again — soon after your uncle Jon Arryn died. Your aunt never forgot how she felt about me. And I never forgot her kindness.”

“But was she sick like she is now?” Sansa wanted to know. “Surely you knew she was unwell?”

“She was much healthier then than she is now. Your mother’s death set off something in her that I hardly understand myself.”

Again Sansa’s eyes widened. “My mother’s death?”

“Lysa was always competing with her. I wonder if she feels she can never win, now that your mother is immortalised in death. We all know how we tend to make saints of the dead. Your aunt now has an impossible benchmark to surpass. And no matter how I strive to reassure her, it is never enough. 

"And now she sees you. Except she doesn’t see you, only your mother. You, who are altogether lovelier than Catelyn ever was."

At the last, a strange mixture of pleasure and darkness bloomed within her but Sansa pressed on. “So why did you take me in?” Sansa needed to know, her face now tense with an urgent curiosity mingled with irrational guilt.

“Because you are the daughter of Catelyn,” he replied softly. “How could I not? Except even I never expected you to be… you.”

They gazed across the table and she longed to know what he was thinking, what he meant by the last. She searched his face for answers but as usual, he was inscrutable even as she sensed a roiling within him, a turbulence that she didn’t understand. His eyes were bright and penetrating and she was reminded once more of his arresting mien, even as she fought her frustration at always being kept in the dark, always protected like a frail thing.

“I’ll wash up,” she finally said, if only to break the hold of his gaze over her. Wordlessly, they cleared the dishes and brought them into the kitchen. He stacked the dishwasher while Sansa filled the sink with hot water, taking her cardigan off so she wouldn’t get the sleeves wet. She washed and he dried and put away. Together they made quick work of it, easily finding a rhythm that was disconcertingly natural and familiar. 

“Come into the living room,” he beckoned, grabbing the bottle of wine on his way to the settees. He settled into a tall wingback chair and left the three-seater leather Chesterfield for her. Sansa thought it looked hard and uncomfortable but it was surprisingly yielding and she nestled into its depth, sweeping her long legs up and tucking them to the side. He poured another liberal helping of that fine wine and they both sank into their chairs in easy silence, the fire crackling before them, the warm buzz of alcohol spreading within.    

“It’s so nice and warm in here,” she sighed and stifled a yawn. The food and wine were doing their work now; they settled within her like a comforting weight and she felt a sense of deep contentment and growing inertia. The wind was picking up outside and they both sat and listened as it howled against the sandstone and stirred up the leaves. Her eyelids started to close.

“Go to sleep, sweetling,” she thought she heard him murmur before slipping away into a dreamless sleep.

Sansa awoke suddenly, disoriented. She lay there for a moment as she retraced her steps before her eyes adjusted to the room in the near dark. The embers gave a faint glow in the fireplace, just enough for her to make out that she was alone in the expanse and he was no longer there with her. A thick, soft, velvety throw had been carefully laid over her during her slumber and as she sat up, she pulled it over her shoulders to keep them warm. 

She could just make out the light under the door to his study. He was still awake. It was far too dark for her to make out the time, but she sensed they were in the wee hours of the morning.

She padded over to the room softly, the throw wrapped around her slight frame. The room had cooled down considerably now. She tapped lightly on the door before she pushed it open.

“What time is it?” she asked without preamble.

“It’s two in the morning, almost three,” he replied quietly. He was dressed in a robe tied firmly around his hips, a small tuft of salt and pepper hair peeking out just underneath. He stood up from behind the table and made his way around it.

“I should go…” she started, but he shook his head.

“The weather is foul out there. I won’t have you go out there alone, and I’m not keen to get out there myself either.” He placed both hands firmly on her shoulders. “Stay. Please. You can take my bed and I’ll sleep on the couch. Or take Robin’s room. It’s never used, but Lysa changes the sheets every week just in case, so I know it’s ready.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep on you.”

“Nonsense,” he replied quickly. “No trouble at all. As you can see, I was working in my study anyway. And I’m going to bed shortly.”

“Then let me sleep on your couch,” she insisted and he finally acquiesced. He found a thick feather pillow and she sank into it gratefully, pulling the covers over herself once more and snuggling in.

He stood watching her for a moment before suddenly bending to seat himself carefully beside her. His eyes brimmed with words unspoken and he moved his mouth as if to speak, yet all he did was to reach out and lightly brush her hair away from her forehead. The gesture was so unexpected, so tender that Sansa sucked in her breath. And then he bent down and kissed her, so softly between her furrowed, quizzical brows, before moving down slowly to drop the lightest of kisses on the tip of her nose.

He stopped there, his lips suspended over her nose, so precariously close to her mouth. The both of them scarcely breathed. And then with the smallest shake of his head, he rose from the settee and straightened his back.

“Goodnight,” he said and his voice sounded faint, hoarse, even though the tone was sure, final. 

She did not trust herself to speak.

Chapter Text

Time passed like a brisk winter wind marked by long moments of exquisite stillness. 

Something changed the morning she awoke in his house to the smell of home-brewed coffee and warm toast. In the twilight, between sleeping and waking, their foundations had moved. Since then, the change was every day implied but never declared. She would touch her nose now and then in wonder.

It started with small favours and necessities. Much of it had involved the state of her ramshackle bedsit; he soon learnt how she froze in there and then froze even more during laundry days. On his insistence, she was to take her laundry to his place — a most practical solution. He had both a washer and a dryer, and because she separated her clothes according to colour, she soon whiled away whole afternoons waiting for two cycles of laundry to get done.

He would sit in his wingback chair and she would recline on the Chesterfield. They would talk unendingly, or not at all. Sometimes he would read from one of his theological tomes, his deep dulcet voice painting worlds on a canvas spanning time and disciplines. The driest subjects came alive with him; he looked for beauty in prose, in a profound thought phrased well. He was a polyhistor, obsessive about knowledge yet skeptical about truth. It was almost as if he saw the world four-dimensionally, almost as if his mind never slept. It seemed filled with dark energy, his universe ever-expanding, ideas exploding within at a dizzying, accelerating pace. And yet he was always controlled. Refined. The restless energy might prowl like a caged lion at times, but then he could be incredibly still. Watchful. Almost beautiful. 

Sansa was equal parts fascinated and afraid. But the kind of terror she felt was nothing so sinister, only the sort borne from sitting in the presence of someone truly brilliant and therefore formidable. 

He would not hurt her. She felt sure of it.

Other times, they would talk about the conference at the Citadel. She would bring up ideas and he would smile and nod slowly, yet never commit. She had found her watercolours and had started to paint again, the conference serving as her muse. One Saturday morning, he had walked into her bedsit just when she had finished a painting; a possible centrepiece for posters and brochures about the School — a montage of the many faiths of the world in dialogue, enshrined in the picturesque hilltop campus of the School. 

“That is truly stunning,” he had pronounced, gazing at her handiwork with unmistakeable awe and even pride. “Both inspiring and allegorical. Clever.” 

She had flushed with deep pleasure. “It’s hard to find the perfect image on the internet. I got frustrated and decided to create my own.” Emboldened, she shyly slipped him a prepared copy of her marketing plan, including rough mock-ups of all the collateral she proposed they should create. 

“I’ll read it,” he had assured her, holding the plan in both hands as if it were ancient, brittle parchment. “But I make no promises."

Two days later, he had procured a top-of-the-line computer tablet that had won huge awards and rave reviews from graphic designers and artists the empire over. “Try this,” he had said nonchalantly, as if handing her a mere painting smock instead of a magic canvas that cost more than a month’s salary. “It will take a bit of getting used to, but it will help you in the long run.”   

She would sit in his living room and practise painting him with it. She wondered if he knew. Sometimes she would look up only to find him watching her, his face shuttering as she met his gaze.  

In the day, they would be just as they were. He would disappear into his room on countless phone conferences, or else walk over to the lecture hall to teach. She answered his calls and screened his emails with growing confidence, playing gatekeeper with a sagacity and grace that earned the approving nods she now craved. He no longer seemed to have any engagements in King’s Landing. Sometimes she would leave the office for her home before he did. Other times, he left before her. But invariably they would find each other soon after, when the carpark had emptied and the campus was hollow and still.

He left his study door unlocked now. She would wind up those stairs and he would hear her, timing it so he opened his door as soon as she reached the last step. His smile would be the first thing to warm her from the cold. Sometimes she brought a dish, other times groceries to cook. Sometimes she walked in to smell dinner waiting on the table. Whenever she cooked, it was a casual affair; a one-pot meal where she’d serve a bowl and a spoon each before padding over in her woolly slippers to the nearest settee by the fire. Sometimes, she would serve him at his desk before settling herself down in the love seat in his study. He would always abandon whatever task he had been mired in, picking up his bowl and spoon to come join her by the fire. The seat was just big enough for the both of them and no more; their arms and legs grazing each other's as they ate and stared into the flickering flames.

Whenever he cooked, it was almost a courtly affair with wine and a proper table setting. They would sit across each other and talk about their day thoughtfully, openly. If they had nothing to add, if one of them should be lost in thought, they would fall into a comfortable silence. There was purity in that quietness, an honesty. It was freeing.

Sansa found herself taking snapshots with her mind’s eye, keeping each one to revisit precious moments that had otherwise gone. They never brought up Lysa again, their bubble only consisting of work and current affairs, of life and questions about the eternal. That’s all they had air for, their conversations twining, private, enough. An elegant sufficiency.  

He did not kiss her again, not the way he did in the twilight while she lay across his couch. For days after, they were stiff and aloof until good conversation and long walks into the godswood eventually relaxed them. Now if they happened to touch, it was always accidental. Unavoidable. A too-small couch. The passing of the bread basket. Narrow doorways. 

She tried to ignore how her pulse would quicken. She tried to hide the way her body would shiver in the warmth.

Today, he had surprised her with new carpet. He had told her a full day beforehand that tradesmen were coming, and assured her she had nothing to prepare for. Her bedsit was spartan enough as it was. They laid thick insulation and glued the carpet down, taking hardly any time at all. But then the smell of the glue was overpowering with the windows closed, and the men told her she needed to let the floor set before moving her furniture back in.

“Come by tonight,” he had said after the carpet installer’s advice. It was the pragmatic solution, but her heart hammered in her chest all the same. He avoided her eyes. “You can sleep on my couch again, if you like. Or in Robin’s room. Or mine.”

Tonight he had made a succulent lamb roast. The vegetables were golden and perfect. Once more he uncorked a beautiful red that slid down her throat too easily, loosening her from within as it warmed her. He looked very handsome in the ambient light, his face perfectly symmetrical, his eyes dark and gleaming. Their feet barely touched underneath the table, but she was aware of where they were. She was aware of him. Every nerve ending was at attention and trained on him. Tonight felt different. She felt, rather than knew, that a change was afoot.

“Lysa returns soon,” he said lightly, but he drained his glass slowly. “Tomorrow afternoon, to be precise.”

A heaviness descended immediately, the air thickening with disappointment and apprehension. Oppressive. 

“Come,” he said, standing up from the table. He stretched out his hand and she took it, letting him lead her back to the dark leather Chesterfield, only this time he settled in a corner and patted the seat beside him. She sank into it slowly while he found a cushion for his lap. Her long, thick hair covered him like a cloak when she lay her head down slowly, the rest of her body stretched out on her side across the length of the sofa. She turned her head to stare at the painting of the idyllic Dornish villa, still unhung. Silence dominated the room, save for the crackle and spit of the fire casting long, gothic shadows across the walls. He started to thread his fingers in her hair, brushing them out in long, languid strokes that were comforting even as goosebumps rippled across her body.

She desired him. There was no denying that now. It was a hopeless, twisted want and she was secretly ashamed.

“What’s in that remarkable head of yours?” she heard him say, his long, able fingers now finding her temple and giving it a gentle massage.  

“Winter solstice is coming,” she supplied. 

He continued kneading. “I remember. I remember the dinners, the wine, the gifts. Winterfell used to herald the solstice like no one else.”

“Not anymore,” she murmured. The kneading slowed, then stopped. 

“I’m sorry. That was unthinking and unkind.” She felt the back of his fingers brush her cheek gently and she closed her eyes.

“Are you thinking of your father?” 

She nodded and focused on not getting emotional. “I just want to know how he’s doing, you know?”

“Of course,” he soothed and his hands went back to kneading her temple. 

They stayed like this for an age. She never wanted it to end. She started to dose, a little aware of her fragmenting consciousness, that tumbling between wakefulness and full sleep. She roused as soon as he moved, however; his legs were starting to tingle.

She sat up, shaking the sleep from her. He was staring at her once more, the silence between them crisscrossed by dozens of unformed sentences. He picked up her hand without warning, cradling it in his as if it could break. With his finger, he examined her callouses before tracing the full length of her lifeline. It was the softest of touches that went straight to her fluttering core. 

“This is no longer a lady’s hand,” he observed. “But it is full of character now, and has all the marks of hard work.” He raised her hand to his mouth and hesitated, before pressing a slow kiss in her palm. She held her breath, not daring to move. Desire and confusion coursed through her once more, colliding and deafening and blinding.

“What do you want from me?” she heard herself whisper. She sounded terrified to her own ears.

“A great many things that I cannot say,” he replied quietly.

She left first thing in the morning, letting herself out through his front door. She had folded the throw neatly and left it on the couch, along with her feather pillow. His bedroom door had remained shut.

Lysa arrived that afternoon. The academic year ended. In the days after, the last remaining students made their way down the hilltop to their true homes far away. As the campus emptied, the Baelishes left for King’s Landing.

One Tuesday a few weeks later, she returned from the godswood to find a card in her letterbox. An invitation to dinner on Winter Solstice.   

Chapter Text

It felt odd to enter from the front door now.

The first thing Sansa noticed were the two men stationed outside the Baelishes' residence like sentry. One of them was the man who brought and installed her stove not three months ago. They looked at her without so much as a nod or hello, but they opened the door for her all the same.

She was hesitant, half expecting her Aunt Lysa to come bearing down on her immediately. Whether she would find her aunt sweet or savage or simpering, Sansa was now certain it would all change again anyway, given a quarter hour.

Instead, her uncle Petyr met her at the door. His smile was warm and reassuring but guarded — the room was more crowded than she had anticipated. He was dressed for festivities in a deep black suit juxtaposed handsomely against the whitest shirt underneath, a mandarin collar gracing his neck perfectly. Hair swept to the side and combed, he looked immaculate, arresting, distinguished. And she only had eyes for him.


Standing about in the room stiffly were two others she didn’t know. They were dressed like the two men were outside — in form-fitting black long-sleeved T-shirts, tucked into dark corduroy pants that looked almost black. Their boots looked heavy and menacing, their faces like tough leather — weathered yet blank and uninviting. But one happened to move so she could see her Aunt Lysa slumped unnaturally in the high wingback chair, a glassy expression on her face. And when the other stepped aside, she finally saw him.

Sansa gasped, and it was loud enough to silence the room.


Eddard Stark got to his feet just as she ran to him, weaving past the men in black and straight into his arms. “My beautiful girl!” his whispered into her hair, stroking her head tenderly. Their embrace was tight, fierce, and long, neither quite believing this was happening. He smelled different, and Sansa guessed the faint cloud of cheap soap and sweaty men that clung around him was the odour of prison. And yet underneath it all, she could still detect his own musk — the smell of childhood, security, and unconditional love. Her eyes started to blur with tears she now hastily brushed away.

“How did you get here?” 

Her father pointed his chin towards her uncle. “I am his prisoner.”

“You are my guest,” her uncle Petyr corrected smoothly. Yet something about his tone made her turn sharply to look at him.  

You organised this?” Sansa asked, incredulous. A thousand questions jostled for air. But how? she wanted to know chief of all. And who are you, really?

“You are both family,” he replied simply instead. “It’s not right for a man to sit alone in prison on Winter Solstice.”

Something dark and fierce crossed her father’s face, and Sansa broke away from his embrace to regard the looks that passed between her father and her uncle. She watched as her uncle smiled thinly.

“Shall we?” her uncle gestured to the dining table, resplendent now with an ornate table setting of flowers and candles nestled within a spread of delectables. The unmistakeable aroma of a succulent roast made her mouth water without warning. Her uncle Petyr had cooked tonight.

He crossed over to the wingback chair where her aunt Lysa sat. Her eyes were still glassy, unseeing. “Come my wife,” he coaxed gently and pulled her up to standing. She turned to look at him then, recognition and awareness suddenly pricking her eyes. 

“Is it dinner?” she murmured, her voice low and sluggish, and he slipped her hand easily into the crook of his arm. 

Ned stared at them both, questions pursed on his lips. But he too moved to the table mutely, placing a hand on the small of his daughter’s back gently. She smiled her brightest smile at him and tried not to notice the way her father’s feet shuffled, the sound of heavy cuffs clinking at his feet. 

They sank into their seats, just the four of them. The chairs scraped the wooden floors, and then silence. The two men in black had entered the dining alcove soundlessly before and were now stationed on opposite ends of the room. 

“Shall we say our own prayers, then?” invited her uncle Petyr, and her father agreed with a grunt. Silence filled the table for a good twenty seconds or so, and then dishes were passed around. Glasses were filled liberally and each recipient was thankful to imbibe some liquid courage. 

Gradually, light, meaningless conversation seeped in. They covered the prosaic while assiduously avoiding the obvious. So no politics, then. Or mention of the National Fund, or the trial. No questions about the long stretches of solitary confinement and this puzzling temporary reprieve. And when they exhausted banal chat about travel conditions and the weather, her uncle Petyr chose a topic that would appease both men in the room: Sansa.  

“She’s doing well, then?” asked her father, looking at her with pride. “My girl’s first real job in the real world, earning her own keep.”

“She is bright, self-motivated, and displays great initiative,” her uncle agreed.

“What does she do at the University?”

“She is my assistant.”

At that revelation, a shadow passed over her father’s face once more. He did not look pleased.

“Couldn’t you have found her some other kind of job?” he asked, his tone suspicious.

“And what’s wrong with this one?” returned her uncle congenially, even as his eyes narrowed. “It’s a senior position, and makes use of her fine mind. And this is the most effective way for me to ensure her safety,” her uncle pointed out. “Had I placed her in another area outside my direct influence, how can I protect her? She is safe where she is, and she has some power now. No one would dare make life difficult for the EA of the Head of School without expecting some sort of consequence to them.” 

Sansa looked down at her plate. She had never thought herself as powerful but the more she reflected on his words, the more she realised it was true. The past few months had been her most peaceful in a twelve-month. Not even Dr Sands had attempted to raise hell since her first spirited interrogation at the staff meeting. And of course there was the incident with Septa Unella, which had also been swiftly dealt with by the Professor. Sansa had initially thought they had all left her well alone because of disinterest, but she was not so sure now.

“Are you happy, my girl?” Ned asked his daughter, his eyes searching for truth in hers.

“I am, Daddy,” she answered softly. “Uncle Petyr has been a good mentor.”

“And what’s the matter with Lysa,” her father asked, pointedly looking at her aunt who was staring off into the distance once again in mid-chew.

“You know how she suffers,” her uncle replied darkly. “We’re still adjusting to her new medication.”

Her father sniffed then, and it sounded like disbelief. “It seems she’s gone steadily downhill since you married her, Baelish.”


The silence following Sansa’s shocked reproof reverberated through the alcove. Aunt Lysa began to chew again.

“I’m sorry, Baelish,” her father sighed heavily after a time. “Winter Solstice is not a good time for our quarrel.”

Her uncle Petyr smirked. “I have no quarrel with you, Ned.”

Her father looked like he was about to sharply dispute that, and Sansa watched in growing alarm as he clenched his fist and then loosened it. But he bit his tongue and chose instead to say nothing, the great effort turning his own face red. A tense silence fell over the table once more, the tinkle and clinks of glass and metal the only sounds to fill the room. The meat had turned cold now, the gravy coagulating. Every bite felt difficult to swallow.

What was it about family dinners in this home, Sansa despaired inwardly. She had so many happy memories of this place, and yet they were now turning to ash.

“So tell me, what have you been busy doing, Sansa?” her father asked at length, the words falling awkwardly from his mouth. He never did manage small talk very well.

“It changes day to day,” Sansa replied, placing a hand over her father’s and squeezing it affectionately. “For instance, last month I was helping compile a large report for circulation to the Board. Lately, I’ve been working on a marketing plan for a conference in OldTown,” Sansa added proudly.

“Oh? What conference is this?”

“Oh, it’s not even like we’re going—”

We?” Her father narrowed his eyes. He looked to her uncle accusingly. “What is this?”


“It’s the annual theological summit at the Citadel,” her uncle Petyr replied coolly. “I’ve been invited to be one of their speakers.”

“But what has Sansa got to do with it? Surely she wouldn’t need to go…”

“No of course not, Daddy…” she was quick to reassure. “When I said ‘we’, I meant the School—"

“She’s been leading the preparations for this event. Of course she would go.”

Her breath caught in her throat. What did she just hear, she wondered, her heart thumping wildly. He had given no indication of attending before, let alone speaking at the event less than a month away. And with her… Sansa glanced surreptitiously at her uncle — her Professor — to find him smiling amiably at her father. But his eyes held her father’s in a challenge, his cold stare unflinching.

“And who else would be going to this summit?”

Professor Baelish shrugged. “We are thin on staff,” he replied matter-of-factly. “We can’t possibly afford to send anyone else along, and they won’t be across the detail like Sansa. No, it will just be the two of us.”

“I forbid it!” Her father slammed the table with his open palm and the china shook. The two men in black instantly rushed in, but her uncle Petyr merely waved them away and they resumed their positions reluctantly.

“Don’t be irrational, Ned,” he reasoned. “Sansa is a grown woman. This is a work conference. I’m not sure what your misgivings are, but if it is her honour you wish to protect…”

“I don’t trust you, Baelish!” her father seethed.

“I have a wife, Ned!” Petyr’s tone was frosty, clipped. “She sits right here. She may be drugged up, but she can still hear you. And we both take offence.”

“I don’t mean you’ll… it’s not her virginity I worry about, but how you’ll corrupt her. In other ways.”

Her uncle’s eyes were glinting now, and his smile was anything but happy.

“In what ways, exactly?” he asked, his voice dangerously soft and low. 

Her father glared at him. “Don’t act coy with me, Baelish. I should never have trusted you.”

A deathly silence took over the room, save the ticking of a clockwork somewhere in the distance. Sansa shook her head slowly. “Enough, the both of you.” She sighed wearily. “Can someone please tell me what’s going on?”

Her uncle arched his eyebrow at her father. “Go on then,” he taunted softly. “Tell her." 

“I want to speak to my daughter alone.”


“Godsdammit, Petyr!”

“If you think I’m going to let you conspire with your daughter in plain sight of two Kingsguards, you are either a fool or you mistake me for one, Ned. I have already put my neck on the line arranging this dinner. The least you could do is thank me, and not give cause for me to be suspected of treason.” Her uncle leaned in and Sansa could see an angry vein throbbing near his temple even as his tone remained neutral, his voice even. 

“You’re on thin, brittle ice, Stark. But Sansa is safe here with me, and you know it. Think of her at least."

The fury in her father’s eyes was unmistakable, and yet Sansa watched in wonder as he forced himself to look away for ten whole seconds, his breath ragged as if he had been running. Finally, he looked at her.

“Promise you won’t stay with him if you ever smell a rat, my love.”

“Daddy, I —“

Promise me.” 

She nodded, bewildered. “I promise!”

Her father sighed heavily. Her uncle rolled his eyes.

“Honestly, Ned. If I were truly all the evil you think I am, don’t you think Sansa would be corrupted by now?” He sniffed. "And yet you see her as she is."

Sansa returned her hand to her father’s and squeezed it. She pasted on her sweetest smile to reassure him when he squeezed it back, even as her heart remained troubled.

“Daddy, don’t worry about me,” she said softly. “Just focus on getting out and clearing your name, okay?”

A look of pain filled his eyes anew, and Sansa fought down her alarm.

“Go help your uncle Petyr bring the dessert out, love,” he grunted at last. “A man of his standing shouldn’t have to fuss around the kitchen like he has the whole night.”

She nodded. “Of course, papa.” And she excused herself from the table. She was half surprised when she heard the scrape of another chair behind her, only to find her uncle Petyr making his way to her.

“It’s my bloody kitchen, Ned!” he retorted sharply to an accusation unmade, before following her into the kitchen. The door closed behind him.

 “Right, where’s your dessert…” But his hands were on her face now, and his mouth covered hers, cutting off all oxygen and thought. He kissed her hard, his lips parted against hers and she felt herself sag against him as she felt his tongue tentatively taste her, seeking permission. 

She parted her own lips and she felt his tongue enter her. A shudder racked her body when their tongues met. Boys had kissed her of course, but never like this. Blood rushing to her sex, a faint roar in her ears. Desire, desire, desire… 

They both broke apart as suddenly as they came together, their gaze still hungry yet stricken now. His pupils were blown wide. They were dark and reflected all that she wanted and could not, should not have. 

“What now?” she whispered, her breath shaky still.

He gave a tremulous smile. “Dessert.”

Chapter Text

The tiniest sound, perhaps a scraping of a chair. 

Petyr flung open the refrigerator and tipped the fruit crumble on the floor deftly. He bent down to clean it with a roll of paper towels, just when the door swung open to reveal her father.

“Just an accident, Daddy.” Sansa apologised in a shaky voice. “I wasn’t careful, and I’ve spoiled Uncle Petyr’s dessert.”

“Not to worry, child,” a muffled voice soothed, her uncle still bent over the ruin of his own making. “I have ice-cream in the freezer. Be a good girl and take it out, will you?”

“I was wondering what was going on,” she heard her father say gruffly and she turned away from him to busy herself at the freezer, willing the arctic air inside to cool her heated face. She found the ice cream too quickly and willed herself to steady. Don’t dwell on what just happened. He will see your face. He will know…

She made a show of looking for the crockery, even though she’d helped pack them away so many times before. And again with the cutlery, before she took them all outside to serve them all.

By and by her uncle joined them, and they ate their ice-cream in silence. She tried not to watch as he gently lifted a spoon to her aunt Lysa, as he tenderly scraped away the chocolate from the edges of her slack mouth before dabbing her lips clean with a napkin. She knew her father was watching him, eyes narrowed in suspicion. And yet the act was so loving, she began to doubt that the kiss before had really happened.

The kiss.

Sansa ate her ice-cream mechanically, barely tasting any of it. Her mind replayed the scene like a video on loop. His lips on hers, the heat of his mouth, the way the room felt like it was spinning wildly in the opposite direction to her spirit. The press of his body on hers, something she had barely realised she had been yearning for until he was flushed against her and she was lost. It all happened so quickly and yet time stood still and passed over them.

She wanted more. She shouldn’t. 

“I don’t want you to go to this conference, Sansa,” her father’s voice broke in like an intruder. Sansa looked up from her bowl sharply.

“What do you mean, Daddy?” Her eyes were wide, bewildered.

“I know Petyr’s your boss and he just said you’re going, but he can’t make you,” her father explained, his eyes beseeching her. “Please, Sansa. I can’t explain everything, not in this room. But I don’t know… I don’t think… it will be wise.”

“But I’ve worked so hard, Daddy.” She could not keep the disappointment from her voice. 

“Please, Sansa. I just don’t think it’s a good idea.” 

She looked down at her bowl, completely torn in two. She wanted to honour her father, her incarcerated, suffering father. She wanted to prove herself at this conference. She wanted to please her Professor. She wanted him. She wanted him. She shouldn’t. 

She looked up at her uncle, but his eyes were guarded once more, revealing nothing. They stared back at her coolly, impassively. They gave her nothing, no encouragement, no dissuasion. 

“Please, Father...” She reached for his hand and gripped it, desperate for his permission, his understanding if not his approval. “I’ve worked so hard for this and I want to go. I’ve been here for months, and it’s the most tranquil I’ve been. I feel like my life can finally move forward now. I know you don’t think it’s true, but I feel safe here.”

“Then promise me you’ll leave this place when you return!”

She laughed bitterly. “And where can I go!”

“To Robb?”

“The moment she leaves the empire, Ned, you know the Lannisters will pin this on her and spin it to look like guilt.” Her uncle Petyr’s tone was pleasant, and yet no one could miss his warning. “You will implicate your son and his wife in the process. And you know the Lannisters' reach easily goes beyond King’s Landing.”

“Then go to Uncle Howland. I have hidden money with him. He will give you all he can spare and then you can disappear.”

“She will do no such thing!” her uncle Petyr snapped. He looked at the guards around them. “The both of you will do well to ignore what you just heard. Our guest has had too much to drink and forgets himself.” 

“How dare—I am not drunk, Petyr!”

“No,” her uncle conceded irritably. “You are stupid.” He dropped his dessert spoon into his bowl and the clatter of metal on china jangled her nerves.

“Think carefully, Ned. For a man so famously gruff, you sure paint your vulnerabilities like a target on your back. If you love your daughter, you will do well to pay attention to what I’m about to say: don’t do anything rash, Lord Eddard Stark. Because the moment you do, the Lannisters will see to it that Sansa will pay for it. They know — just as the rest of Westeros knows — that Sansa is your joy and therefore your weakness. If they want to hurt you, all they have to do is look for her. Do you get that?

Sansa gasped. From the look of defeat in her father’s eyes, she knew her uncle’s words to be true. She was a liability.

“If you should ever betray her…” her father threatened futilely.

“I won’t,” her uncle replied with finality. He looked at his watch and then signalled the guards in the room.

“Our time together is now drawing to a close,” he pronounced grimly. “It’s time you returned to King’s Landing. I had made a promise.”

Who was he, she wondered for the hundredth time that week.

Who was he, that a mere three weeks before the theological conference he had never intended to speak at, he could casually pick up his phone and secure for himself a prime speaking spot?

She did not know who he had bumped off the program in the process, but he did not seem unduly worried. 

There was so much to do. Flights had to be booked. A printer of good repute and efficacy had to be engaged. Every brochure had to be written, designed, proofread, and sent to the printer. A stall for the exhibition had to be secured and then the exhibition table designed to stand out. In all of this, the Professor was clear — no need to notify the central Marketing office of the Vale University. They were to fly solo, as much under the radar as possible. If they needed to, Professor Baelish explained, it was preferable to beg for forgiveness after the fact, rather than try to secure permission.

As word got out that Professor Baelish was to be speaking, a flurry of appointments were requested. Soon, there was a wait list to manage as people from far and wide sought an audience with the Head of School of the renowned School of Religious Studies. She had to secure a spare meeting room in order for him to take his appointments. She had to assuage delicate egos as requests were ranked and shuffled in order of political and business gain. 

Then there was the accommodation. The nearest hotel to the Citadel was already full, save for the presidential suite. There were a few bed and breakfasts nearby — all full — and then there were the motels. Professor Baelish did not do motels. And he would not hear of her staying in one either.

“How many bedrooms in the presidential suite?” he had asked finally, as Sansa scoured the websites for the umpteenth time. There were several large events in OldTown that very week, from what she could gather. 

“It has two bedrooms,” she answered, adding hastily, “but it’s far too expensive. About twenty-five gold dragons a night! And we’ll need three nights.”

“Book it,” he replied impassively, his eyes not meeting hers. "We have no time."

Their kiss seemed all but forgotten in the rush. She worked long hours at her desk and he took his work home to his study. The only indication, perhaps, of any tenderness toward her was how he made her promise to lock herself in the building while she beavered away into the night.

“Your safety is paramount to me,” he said with a small smile. “I would hate that something should happen to you.”

She wanted him to do something then. Touch her cheek, perhaps. Trail a long finger down her profile. Step close and brush his lips across her eyelids. But he didn’t. 

She did not know if her Aunt Lysa ever understood the trip to come, for surely she wouldn’t stand for it. Did she ever have lucid moments, or was she now forever comatose? Was she even there at present, in that apartment, squirrelled away like a prisoner of her own keep?

Either way, Sansa avoided them both, her own guilt and her jealousy proving enough of a jailor that she should remain where she was.

The new year came and went without ceremony. She heard the fireworks just before sleep took over, whispered half-prayers pursed on her lips.  

It was her very first all alone. Sansa tried to prepare herself for the likelihood that it would be the first of many. 

He did not even text, but then again he never did.

A week before the conference, staff and faculty trickled back in the Vale and slowly the campus came to life again. She jumped at the chance to have lunches with Tyrion and Bronn at The Song and Bird, eager for good company. If they thought it strange that she should be travelling alone with the Professor to the conference, they didn’t show it. It had been news to them and a look had passed between the men but they said nothing to her at all except to wish her safe travels.  

Dr Olenna Tyrell returned one morning and within two hours of her arrival, she had ascended the steps to the third floor to stand in front of Sansa’s desk.

“The Professor is not in this morning,” Sansa explained. “He is working from home today.”

“And that is why I am here, girl,” the formidable Deputy Head of School replied. “I came to speak to you.”

Dr Tyrell opened the door and tipped her head towards the couch inside Professor Baelish’s room. Sansa followed her lead, suddenly nervous.

“I won’t bite, Sansa. Sit down.”

Dr Tyrell fiddled with the thermostat at the faux fireplace before removing the scarf she always wound tightly around her head and neck. Sansa didn’t think she’d ever seen Dr Tyrell's hair before. She never pictured Dr Tyrell as a platinum blond, and she said as much.

“It runs in the family, my hair colour.” Dr Tyrell seemed pleased that Sansa noticed. “I have a granddaughter not much older than you. She was born with such gorgeous light hair, but the stubborn child prefers to go dark. You always want what you can’t have.”

She adjusted her skirt impatiently.

“How are you doing, Sansa. I hear you’ve been busy with the conference.”

“Yes, I have been. But it’s almost all in hand now.”

“And you are travelling alone with Petyr? How is Lysa taking that news?”

Sansa startled at Dr Tyrell's forwardness, once again struck by how she'd baldly cut straight to the crux. 

“I’m not sure what my aunt thinks,” Sansa answered slowly. "I haven’t seen her since Solstice and she has not been well.”

“I see.”

The older lady’s eyes drilled into hers, and Sansa willed herself not to flinch nor to challenge. I have nothing to apologise for, she reminded herself. I am his niece and his colleague. There is nothing improper...  

“And when did you both decide to do this conference?”

“Professor Baelish had been invited many months ago, but he made his final decision last month. I’ve been helping him since.”

“Yes, I heard. Something about setting up a station at the exhibition. I’ll say this about the young,” the older lady’s mouth quirked in amusement, and yet somehow Sansa also sensed admiration. “They’ll rush in where sages fear to tread. You have plenty of pluck — or foolishness — for wanting to do this on your own. This is your first time? Good gods. I hope for your sake this recklessness will pay off.”

“Do you think this is a bad idea, the exhibition?” Sansa started to falter within.

“Probably,” Olenna mused. “But then I'd done far rasher things, I recall. All to impress my highers or a man, back when impressing a man was needed to climb higher. And those ventures often paid off. I see the same happening for Margaery.”


“My granddaughter. You know, it’s a pity you’re going when you are. She comes ‘round to visit me some time and she was going to visit me next week. You would have gotten on, I think. She is very bright and merry, and one of the least irritating people in your generation I know. You don’t have any friends your age here. A missed opportunity.”

She leaned in then. 

“How long are you staying?”

“Three nights.”

“Is he speaking all three days?”

“Only the first two. But he has meetings booked for every other available slot in his day.”

“He’ll need privacy. Some of these meetings must never be known to happen.”

Sansa swallowed, unsure of her meaning, dread starting to knot in her stomach.

“I had booked one of the Citadel’s meeting rooms.”

“Too public. Everyone’s there. Is there a room you can book in the hotel you are staying at?”

Sansa shook her head. “I doubt it — the hotel is overbooked as it is.” An idea. “They could come up to his suite.”

“He’s staying at the presidential suite?”


“And where will you be?”

A pause.

“I see.” Dr Tyrell eyed Sansa shrewdly. “The suite could work. I’ve never been in this one, but I expect it will be the same as all the others. And it will afford him the comfort, the privacy, and the home advantage in some ways.”

She watched as the wheels in the old crone’s head continued to whirr.

“When’s your exhibition.”

“On the third day.”

“And he’s speaking on the first and the second?”

Sansa nodded.

“You will need to help him. Just as well that you’re sharing a suite.” Her eyes flicked over Sansa critically. “You’re not going as Sansa, surely.”

“I’ll go as Alayne.”

She nodded, mouth still stern. “You’ll need to look different, mind. Try not to get recognised. OldTown isn’t King’s Landing, and the media has moved on to other things, but it is best that you don't draw attention to yourself. The Lannisters are busy right now, what with the general unrest with the recession and the mounting tensions between their godless government and the Most Devout… oh, surely you know about this?”

“I fear I don’t read the news that much…” It had never been a habit with her. That had always been Robb’s thing. Even Arya used to pay attention sometimes, when she could get away with it. It wasn’t a seemly thing for girls to talk politics, so Sansa never did. And ever since the disaster with her father, she had avoided the news like greyscale. 

“Well, start reading!” Dr Tyrell was appalled. “You, of all people, should. Especially if you are Petyr’s personal lackey. This whole mess is right up his gutter! And with your family mess in the mix, I don’t know what the two of you are thinking, frankly. Going off to this conference. It’s rash.”

Sansa’s eyes widened. What could the Septa possibly mean? And yet a growing sense of unease was blossoming within her. His long, frequent trips to King’s Landing. His expensive clothes and wine, his home, his tastes. The guards at the door. Her own father, in his home. He was her uncle, her Professor, but so obviously much more.

“Who is he?”

“One of the Most Devout, girl. The most ancient, powerful, non-governmental group in the whole of the Seven Kingdoms." 

Chapter Text

The more she learned, the less, Sansa realised, she knew. 

There were facts one was already armed with. The Most Devout were the highest ecclesiastic office bearers and the ruling council of the Faith of the Seven, save the High Septon himself. Just under five hundred years ago, there used to be almost forty of them; they were usually wealthy, politically and socially well connected, and highly corrupt. The council would determine who the next High Septon would be, unless the ruling political party of the day turned out even more iniquitous than the council and overrode their choice, planting instead their own puppet pope. It was known to happen from time to time. 

After all, it was a fact universally acknowledged then that the swiftest way to move a great many people was to have the mouthpiece of the Seven conveniently speak your brand of truth.

Sansa read between the lines, but even she — apathetic all these years to current affairs and the historical machinations of Man — could understand the clout that each officer of the Most Devout would carry in the political climate of those ancient days. The separation of Church and State is a refrain of her generation, but the reality back then could not be further from the truth. How could state polity and religious practice remain separate, when the latter informed every ethos and purpose of the individual’s life?

All this, Sansa knew and had always known, the way she always vaguely understood the tenuous system of fealty that made up the empire, or the fact that a king or queen might sit on the Iron Throne, but not necessarily inhabit the true seat of power if they lacked money and connections. 

But then there was the dusty past and recent history that Sansa had glazed over before but now devoured with new understanding and not a little alarm. 

She now understood, for instance, what the destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor had meant for the council — and indeed, the whole Faith of the Seven. How it was only when The Lioness brought down the Great Sept and with it, the entire council of the Faith, that the Most Devout fully understood their two biggest vulnerabilities. 

First, that their conspicuous corruption would be their ultimate undoing. A zealot movement of ascetics — headed by one they named the High Sparrow — had arisen among their own and overtaken the corrupt council, with widespread backing from the proletariat. That the people worshipped the High Sparrow as their one true pope and king was a rude awakening for the Establishment — both the Most Devout and the government of their day. King’s Landing, now personally on trial for their sins, thus saved their own skin by flaying that of their political cousins. 

Cornered, ambitious and vengeful, the Lioness of King’s Landing exploited the second glaring vulnerability of both the Most Devout and the Sparrows: their penchant for publicly meeting en masse in open spaces.  

The moment the Great Sept of Baelor melted in a fury of neon-green wildfire, the Faith was shook from without and within. The people of Faith throughout the empire had lost all their shepherds and guides in one fell swoop. Many also duly lost their personal faith as their own mortality came into sharp focus; the Lioness’s wrath extended outside of the Great Sept to the poor, angry fools who enabled the High Sparrow to wield such unmitigated power in the first place. 

In the aftermath, a new Faith was reborn — one more circumspect and purposeful than before. 

When the Most Devout eventually came to exist once more and with them, a new High Septon, they never flaunted their political powers again. These days, one only knew who the High Septon was. No one could definitively name any of the Most Devout, let alone seek to manipulate them. No one knew their full number, whether there were seven, or seventy, or seven thousand. They each lived double, triple lives, moving chess pieces on the political board in the shadows and in often surprising ways. 

There were rumours they were now more powerful than ever.

“Oh, but the Most Devout,” Olenna had waved her hand dismissively, “have always been powerful. You may not think so because in the last century, having a Faith has become unfashionable. But all that is changing now, thanks to recent events. The Most Devout are not so merely decorative anymore.”

The older woman had turned to Sansa then, her eyes penetrating and hard. “Protect your uncle Baelish by all means. The Faith will thank you for it, if what we all secretly pray for ever does come to pass. But young lady, never be fool enough to trust him. For the only person that Littlefinger cares for is Littlefinger."

It would cost her, Sansa realised, both her savings and her vanity. But anonymity is bought with sacrifices. 

The woman returned with a plastic mixing bowl and a brush, the powdery paste within it black as raven. Sansa sank back into her seat and tried to be comfortable. It would be hours before she emerged from the hair salon. She would have that much time, at least, to get used to the idea.


She was ready. She was even early.

She was at the foot of the long staircase that curved up in a huge, sweeping bow and led directly to the entrance of his apartment on the first floor. He was locking the door behind him, unaware of her until he turned to descend the steps. He stopped as if shot. Sansa did not know what caught his attention first, whether it was the dark red of her almost floor-length capote, or her large, earnest black-rimmed glasses that were almost too big for her heart-shaped face. She pulled the soft hood down and when he saw her jet-black locks, now pulled back into an austere French pleat, he smiled a little smile. He descended the stairs and his eyes never left her form, even as she diverted her gaze, choosing instead to stare at his shoes. His eyes, they burned into her.

“Very good,” he said softly when he reached the landing, when he circled her to survey her transformation. Her dress was simple, almost utilitarian. Drab. Grey. The Citadel didn’t much care for flamboyant women, Olenna had said. They didn’t much care for women at all, really.

She was to be his aide, his tool, his servant. She would be perceived as much, and the more she played down her own natural beauty, the better she could play the part.

“Shall we begin?” he asked, a question heavy with promise and something perhaps more foreboding. She nodded and followed quietly after him like a shadow. He entered the cab first after the smallest of pauses, as if wrestling with his own chivalry. She entered after him, her head bowing low.  


Oldtown was still its namesake, its labyrinth of wynds, crisscrossing alleys and cobblestone streets still narrow and charming, its climate still balmy even in winter, its stone buildings still ancient and majestic. Only the very, very wealthy could drive here; most people traversed great distances on foot or bussed otherwise, as even the cabs were extortionate. Its rubbery borders had long expanded to overtake the rest of the Reach, going now as far south to the ancient Three Towers and as far north as Brightwater Keep, brushing up against Highgarden, to the chagrin of its nearest neighbour.  

The Citadel still straddled across both banks of the mouth of the Honeywine and it was here that their conference was to be. Sansa beheld its formidable length, breadth, and height, taking in the intersecting stone bridges arching across so high in the sky, they were partially shrouded by low-hanging clouds. The gate of the Citadel, they passed without ceremony in their solemn black cab but Sansa was transfixed by the monstrous pair of green Sphinxes that flanked it — bodies of lions, wings of eagles, tails of serpents, and eyes that feel like they’d seen too much not to go blind. 

They arrived eventually at Hotel Hightower, its low sprawling profile on the edge of the east riverbank in open defiance to the rest of Oldtown’s architectural landscape, both vernal and venerable. Space has always been precious and scarce in a city as preeminent and populous as Oldtown, so to build an enclave of low-lying buildings in the heart of the city centre was about as vulgar and ostentatious as one could get. It had its detractors, but the rich absolutely loved it and it really was only a stone’s throwaway from the Citadel, all things considered.

“Have my deliveries arrived?” Sansa enquired at Reception.

“They have, ma'am.” 

“All eight lots?” 

“They are in your suite.”

“Any mail for Professor Baelish?” And this time the manager himself appeared. 

“M’Lord,” he greeted her Professor and gave a little bow. And as the small stack of mail changed hands, the manager lowered his voice. “There is someone to see you, he has been here for an hour.” Then gestured subtly to the lobby lounge.

Professor Baelish inclined his head a fraction towards the lounge, his eyes scanning the room quickly before seeming to find what — or whom — he was expecting. He gave a brief nod. “He can wait,” he said quietly, before moving ahead quickly to the elevators. She slipped in beside him just before the doors closed.

“When we arrive in our suite, I need you to be silent for the first half hour,” he told her in the elevator. Her blood ran a little cold, but she did not ask him to explain. The bellhop met them just as they arrived at the door, and he taught them how to code in their thumbprint for the front door lock.

The double doors swung open to reveal an elegant apartment swathed in cream and beige and mint green. A generous living area of long couches and vintage-inspired chaise longue proved the centrepiece of the suite, their horseshoe arrangement naturally inviting all guests to contemplate unimpeded the magnificent vista of the Honeywine beyond the generous balcony that spanned the entire length of their luxurious lodgings. The ceiling was unusually high throughout, with drop chandeliers that sparkled in the sun. Floor-to-ceiling windows powder coated in cool white flooded the room with natural light, while soft billowing sheer curtains gently muted the glare.

To the left of the living room was a handsome dining table long enough to seat a dinner party of twelve very comfortably; the open bar was to the left of it beside the double-door entrance, beyond that, a luxurious kitchen that Sansa felt sure was more adequately kitted out than even her uncle Petyr’s. Past the dining table towards the right, so as to make the most of the riverside view, lay a bedroom with a four-poster queen-sized bed. Sansa wondered if that was to be hers or her Professor’s.

She soon found her answer when she wandered to the other end of the suite. Beyond the living area sat a glass hexagonal table, its chairs chromed in silvery white, cushions in dark, velvety grey-green. And then the most magnificent bedroom opened up beyond that, the king-sized bed suddenly small in the understated grandeur. Gorgeous cream tapestry twined and draped around the four bedposts, a kingly complement to the other, now humbler specimen across the other side of the suite. The colours were heavier in here, and Sansa knew instinctively which room rightly belonged to him.

“Thank you,” she said to the bellhop, remembering to tip him with the note her Professor had slipped into her hand. The bellhop’s eyes bulged imperceptibly before he nodded his gratitude, his steps suddenly lighter as he departed their suite.

Professor Baelish pressed a finger to his lips to silence her and she watched as he moved deftly around the room, peering inside lamps, scrutinising shelves and tapestries. Her eyes widened when he eventually produced three contraptions pulled ruthlessly from their hiding places, so that one still had its wires exposed. The one with the wires looked a little like a camera. He dropped them disdainfully into a tall glass of sparkling mineral water. 

“There are eyes and ears everywhere,” he warned. “And more so when they think you are rich and important.” He pulled out his phone and with one hand, he punched a number. It rang. “I need some housekeeping,” he ordered without preamble, and hung up without a further word.

“I’ll have to take this room,” he explained, gesturing to the Taj Mahal of the two. He looked sheepish, guilty. But she shook her head and smiled.

“You have to take this,” she agreed. “They would expect it of you. And I will be more than comfortable in the other, I know it.” He nodded reluctantly, but she knew he was relieved she understood and bore him no ill feeling. There would be many meetings in this suite. They could not afford for eyebrows to be raised.

“Oldtown is different, you know,” he started. She watched him search for the words. “The city itself is not very different from King’s Landing or the Vale, but the Citadel still clings to the old ways. Their Maesters — their real Maesters — are still all men. There is no room for women in their world; you will be seen as ornamental, almost a nuisance. When we go there tomorrow, things will have to change slightly. I will have to treat you as nothing more than my hired secretary.”

“Am I not already your secretary, Professor?” Sansa replied, somewhat bemused.

“I have never treated you like my servant, but my equal."

She found her deliveries piled neatly against the wall closest to his bedroom and started to go through them, her heart pounding with each box she opened. The brochures, the flyers, the banners, they all looked good. She hadn’t seen the display set for their booth yet; that was due to arrive and be set up in two days’ time. But if these initial jobs were anything to go by, they were going to be stunning.

“How are we going to get all of these boxes to the Citadel again?” she asked. That had been the annoying part, the fact that the Citadel had refused to accept any deliveries, forcing her to double-handle. “You said you had an idea?"

“Tell Lothor,” he replied, "He’s coming later anyway to do a sweep of the suite. You’ll recognise him — he’s the one who delivered your stove. He’ll sort it out. Just tell him when and where and that I sent you."  

Satisfied that she was going to be otherwise engaged for the rest of the evening with her deliveries, Petyr moved his bags to his room and reappeared a short while later changed into slacks, an open shirt, and an evening jacket.

“Please don’t wait up. Call room service for dinner if I am not back by seven,” he advised, shutting the front door behind him.

Dinner was long over now. She had ordered a cream-based pasta and it had arrived with a complimentary twenty-year-old bottle of Highgarden Viognier — a beautiful white, if a little too acidic for her tastes.  

Sansa felt slightly giddy with pleasure, tickled pink by the Viognier and the fact that she had just ordered room service on her own, like a true grown-up. She couldn’t remember ever having room service; her parents had always insisted on leaving the mini-bar well alone, and eschewing the overpriced convenience of a decadent meal on wheels, preferring always to herd all children down to the cheapest and cheeriest family restaurant across the street. “More value for money,” they’d say a lifetime ago.

Lothor had come and gone. In the end, he had found one more camera in the suite, this time in her room, pointed directly at her bed. She had felt rather ill knowing that, the fact that strangers had looked forward to watching her sleep. Or not sleep. 

“Are you sure there’s none left?” she asked, and he shook his head, holding up a small contraption that looked a little like a walkie-talkie. 

“You’re clean now,” he rumbled. "But call me again if you’ve got doubts, and I’ll drop another one of these off with you if you like. You can do your own sweep then.”

He hadn’t batted an eyelid about moving the boxes to the Citadel. They were all opened now, and she had spent the few hours sorting them into clear carrier bags to give out at the exhibition. 


It was just on ten o’clock when she heard the lock of the front door slide open and she knew her Professor was home.

“Have you eaten?” she asked, and he answered in the affirmative. He peeled off his jacket and dropped tiredly into the long couch, the one facing the Honeywine dead straight. The windows were closed, but with the lights turned off save for the table lamps illuminating every corner of the room, they could just make out the dots of light lining the Western bank. There really was nothing between their suite and the great expanse of water. 

“Lothor been here?” he asked and she grimaced. She disappeared into her room and brought out the offending camera they had found.

“Where was it?” he asked.

“In my room. In the corner of the dresser, pointed straight at my bed.” He turned sharply to look at her then. 

Your bed?”

“Yes.” She was still indignant about the invasion of privacy.

Her Professor sucked in his cheek. “Lothor swept the rest of your room?”


“You sure?”

“He swept it at least three times. He said to be sure you knew he swept it at least three times,” Sansa added, looking pointedly at him.

Her Professor laughed. “Alright,” he acquiesced grudgingly. They stared straight at the water, him on the couch, her standing right behind him. When he leaned his head back, it fell against her stomach and then stayed there. She longed to reach down, feel the broadness of his shoulders, palms flattened, moving down the planes of his chest and beyond. But she stood still and tall, her breaths shallow and soft. And they stared at those dancing lights across the waters.

She sighed after a time. “I was on my way to the shower when you came back,” she admitted. 

“A shower is what I’ll need too,” he replied, tilting his head back to look at her in the dimness. It would have been too easy for her to bend down and kiss him now. But she stood tall and stiff, unyielding.

Her shower was long. She let the water beat down on her body and imagined every filth of the day’s travel streaming off her and into the drain. Her attached bathroom was replete with a deep freestanding bathtub, the legs burnished gold. She promised herself a long, hot soak as a reward before they returned to the Vale.  

Her reflection still shocked her, her long red tresses now light-sucking black. She dried herself off briskly, donned her white cotton gown and wrapped a thick terry robe around her slim frame. The hairdryer managed to take most of the moisture out so she was no longer dripping down her back, but she turned the dryer off eventually, deciding instead to let the damp curls underneath dry naturally.

She hesitated then. Should she say goodnight? Or had it been implicit earlier, when she excused herself to her room for a shower? In the end, common courtesy and curiosity won out, and she padded out of her room barefoot, the hotel terry robe two sizes too big still wrapped around.

He was standing directly in front of the tall windows now, his own robe wrapped low around his hips like how she remembered back at the Vale. He was nursing a glass of whiskey. Most of the table lamps had been turned off, the brightest light in the room now the beam streaming in from a gloriously full moon.

He turned to her when she came to him, and she heard him suck in his breath.

“I came to say goodnight,” she said uncertainly, her eyes searching his in the dark.

“Did you?” he replied, before setting his glass down. His hands reached into her hot, damp hair as he pulled her head in and pressed his lips to hers.

She sighed into his mouth in spite of herself. This was what she had wanted from the very first, she knew now, her heart beating wildly, blood rushing down low. He deepened the kiss, and this time her tongue sought his, a tentative graze at the part of his lips. He felt her and groaned softly before opening his mouth, his tongue melding with hers, his breath heated and heavy with spirit. His hand pressed down her back, still clutching her hair and she whimpered as he pulled her to him. Her heart thundered in her ears as she felt his unmistakeable hardness pressed near her own yearning core.

He pulled away from her mouth and she felt bereft, but then he was kissing her everywhere now. The corner of her lips, her nose, her eyes, his beard grazing her jaw as he breathed her neck in. Her toes curled when his breath touched her ear. 

He kissed her neck, but now he was licking her. Small licks, and then nips, each sting thrumming her centre. She felt her own wetness, felt wanton and wanted, guilt nibbling the edges but desire blinding all. He pulled her robe down impatiently, then sucked in another breath as he beheld her cotton nightgown. She was not wearing a bra.

“Oh my angel,” he groaned, “you will undo me...” and he pressed her into the glass. His thigh pushed between her legs, rubbing her centre through the thick towelling, through the thin white cotton, through her soaked white panties. Slowly he slid the cotton collar off her shoulder and cupped her breast.

She heard herself moan. 

He was kneading it now, and his mouth was back on hers. She kissed him back with unbidden passion and vigour, her tongue sliding into his mouth, seeking wish fulfilment. He responded immediately, his hand cupping her breast and squeezing almost painfully before his mouth tore away from hers suddenly. 

“I can’t!” he cried, pushing himself away. His eyes were wild, even in the dark. They both stood and stared at each other, still panting hard. Her robe, her gown still hanging off her shoulder from when he had pulled them aside to taste her. Her breast still exposed.

The hurt, the confusion. She could feel them seep into her eyes. Then the guilt, the shame. She pulled her robe up to cover herself.

“Sansa,” she heard him say and it was so quiet, it was almost a whisper. “When you go back to your room tonight, do me a favour and lock your door."

Chapter Text

In the morning, he was Professor Petyr Baelish, distinguished and preeminent Head of School of Religious Studies at Vale. His hair was swept to the side, his beard trimmed and immaculate. His face was cold and closed. He wore a metal-grey three-piece suit that set off the deep wine-red of his tie and hardened his eyes to steel. The man who last night slid his bare hand over her breast, her heart, was this morning a stranger to her.

The three rings on his right hand were new to her. They sat heavy on his fingers, lending even more weight to the man. One looked to be a signet, another a bezel setting wrapped around a large and precious black stone, and yet another a simple, thick platinum band. It was the last that caught and held her attention. She wondered long after breakfast if that ring was his wedding band, even though he wore it on his littlest finger. After the events of last night, it felt like a talisman against her. 

She, too, was dressed. In the morning, she was Alayne Stone. A no one. Her simple black dress was buttoned up to the very top, and the white round collar sat stark and plain around her neck. She wore her hair in a low chignon today, hair parted in the middle. Her face she kept natural and pale, her lips only moistened by a glide of lip balm. She had left her thick glasses off; the lens were clear plastic, but the frame squeezed the sides of her head. She was unused to wearing them, and she stood now next to the dining table, gingerly trying to re-shape the sidepieces.  

“Stop touching that and serve me breakfast, Alayne.” And she stilled at the ice in his tone. She gave a quick bow and placed her glasses on the nearest side table before disappearing into the kitchen to prepare a hot bowl of oats drizzled with nuts and honey. The way she knew he liked it.

She had her own breakfast in the kitchen, her heart pounding in anticipation of the day ahead. Today she would walk into the Citadel, playing the very role she was hired to be in the first place. But as she remembered the feel of his cock gently rutting her thigh, how his mouth claimed hers like a man starved… she quaked at the mammoth task ahead of her.

He had gone back into his room when she emerged from the kitchen to clear the table. Her glasses were now next to his empty bowl. When she slipped them on, she was pleased to find they no longer hurt her head.  

The Citadel was every bit as magnificent and imposing as what she had expected, the walls within impossibly high so all who passed through their corridors could not help but feel insignificant. Alayne clutched her map close to her, still lost even though she had memorised it in the office just last week. But the Professor moved swiftly along, ducking and weaving through shortcuts she never would have found on her own. 

He was the second speaker of the day. He was sitting in the largest room backstage, having fought off all attempts by staff to powder his face like a doll. The stage manager had been quick to accuse Alayne of incompetence for not sending the Professor’s presentation slides through sooner, until he was politely informed that there were none to begin with. Professor Baelish was going to speak extemp, a fact that seemed to send the stage manager into a minor state of apoplexy, squelched only by the Professor’s cool gaze

“Where will you be?” he had asked her quietly, five minutes before the first speaker’s time was up and the Maester of Ceremonies was to introduce the Professor.

“Where would you like me to be, Sir?”

“I’d like you to stand on the side — off-stage, but just where I can still see you,” he replied. She kept her gaze down, focusing on her hands folded demurely before her. But she flushed with pleasure nonetheless.

She had listened to the litany of his accomplishments, and was bemused she recognised quite a few names that cropped up. He had helped a surprising number of people, and he was widely acknowledged to be a clever, creative, multitalented man. She thought there was a decided energy in the room when it came time for him to speak. Perhaps it was her own bias colouring her version of things, but she rather sensed the crowd was even more excited to hear from her Professor than they had been the keynote speaker before him. 

He walked on the stage and commanded the amphitheatre immediately. The venue was full, the tiered seating rising up high in a semi-circle around him. He should look so very small, but he didn’t. Standing straight and sure, wearing his suit and a smirk, he surveyed the crowd for a full twenty seconds until they were entranced.

“Ideas,” he started, his baritone conversational, “are powerful. And knowledge,” he continued, his volume rising, "gives life to ideas. Wisdom then determines whether it lives or dies. This is why we are in business. This is why we will always be in business. The days of the Faith are not behind us, but in front of us.”

The tension in the room was electric. They were spellbound. In the temporal safety of the shadows, off to the side of the stage but still within eyeshot of her Professor, Alayne allowed herself to melt away and Sansa to emerge.

In the next sixty minutes, he spoke about the power of ideas, casually drawing from memory a dizzying array of examples from ancient to modern history, then piecing them together so they hung like a masterpiece. He spoke of how ideas take root long before the shoot thinks to sprout, long before the leaves start to show. 

“Guard your thoughts,” he had implored the room. “Once an idea takes root and grows, it can almost be impossible to move a person. It can set a course. And depending on where the idea is sown, it can bring about joy or much destruction.

“For we all know of trees, great oaks, that were planted too close to things of importance. How these trees can move the very foundations... even wreck homes.” His eyes flitted over to Sansa just then, and in the shadows she felt herself flush furiously. 

"Five hundred years ago, an idea took root and went wild, like weed. The coup of the Sparrows and their so-called High Sparrow had cost our Faith deep and lasting damage. In their arrogant overreach, they thus massacred our shepherds, scattered our flocks, and allowed the Lions to roam freely. Ideas, my brothers, my sisters, have consequences.”

His eyes flicked over to her again briefly, but this time she was uncertain as to his meaning. 

“And yet as recent as the last three years, we had almost forgotten our devastating history. New Sparrows had dared to return and with them, dangerous old ideas. They had set up a new High Sparrow, one even craftier than their predecessor half a millennium ago. But we did not all forget. And thanks be to the Seven, this evil has been uprooted. The Sparrows are with us no more and this is a triumph, brethren. Ideas have consequences.”

The room broke out into a low murmur, which the Professor immediately worked to placate and soothe. In the last ten minutes, Sansa watched as he painted a picture of moral triumph, a Utopia where the quest for knowledge was paramount, where the Faithful were elevated and reinstated at the right hand of government once again.

“That day is coming, my friends,” his voice soared above the thundering applause. “The Seven is alive and well today!

She watched as he bowed low, as the theatre rose to their feet and in so doing, paid obeisance as if to a king.

He was inundated with requests after that. He dealt with each of them with charm and dexterity, flicking the bulk of their requests to engage with him in private discourse to Alayne, who then had to deliver the bad news that the Professor’s time was already fully spoken for. She had thought, in a patriarchal world of the Maesters, that she herself would be reduced to nothing but his shadow. Yet in wielding the power to grant access to the deeply charismatic and popular Professor Baelish, Alayne found herself in unexpected and slightly disconcerting territory. 

She was now actively sought after and courted, her favour wooed from all sides. She kept herself still and solemn, unyielding even as men far older and illustrious than she badgered her to be reasonable, or coaxed her to be kind. She had hoped to stay anonymous, but it seemed almost everyone now knew who Alayne Stone was. 

She kept her voice quiet and said as little as she could get away with. She tried to speak in an accent entirely unlike her own. She was not good at accents, but she was terrified now of being uncovered. She kept her head down, refusing to look people directly in the eye, her face schooled into a blank, impervious to threat or entreaty. 

“I’ve got us a cab,” he murmured in her ear at last, materialising out of nowhere in the crush of bodies. “I’ll see you at the gate in five,” and she nodded, so thankful to be able to extricate herself. She excused herself and fled to the cloakroom.

When she reappeared, the crowd had finally dissipated and she wrapped her capote around her shoulders and pulled the hood down low. Then a pair of eyes caught her attention. A man in the distance, an Oriental wearing a strange hat. He smiled straight at her, and then he did a funny bow. The way he looked right at her, the small tilt of the head, it was as if he knew. Her blood went cold and she ducked her head once more, focusing on her feet as she hurried past the Sphinxes to the cobblestone outside.

She climbed into the cab stiffly but as soon as it pulled from the curb, she sagged against her Professor’s strong arm beside her.

“You’ve done well,” he murmured, his voice admiring. She turned and looked at him in wonder.

“You were perfect,” she breathed.

It was seven hours later when the last of the meetings ended and the last of the guests took their reluctant leave, Alayne’s quiet but stoic presence brooking no argument towards the end. It had been a revolving door of meetings, and Sansa looked worried at her Professor even as she watched him slip back into just Petyr.

“You must be exhausted.” But he only shrugged.

“I’m used to it,” he replied. He unbuttoned his waistcoat finally and loosened his tie, then ran a tired hand through his hair. “I’m taking a shower,” he announced and Sansa took this as permission to end her work day, slipping off into her room and closing her door.

She ran her bath while she scrubbed the day’s grime away quickly under the shower, then slipped into the tub when it was almost full, giving out a deep, happy sigh when the hot water covered her breasts. What a day, she wanted to laugh. She had definitely earned her money’s worth. She replayed the way the audience rose to their feet, and her heart soared again with pride and something much more possessive. Almost carnal. 

She placed a soapy hand on her breast, remembering how it filled his hand, how he kneaded it hard as his tongue plunged her mouth. She squeezed her eyes shut as she squeezed herself.

A loud crash tore through the memory. The distinctive sound of glass breaking, and Sansa was out of the tub like a light, dragging a towel around her body.

He burst into her bedroom just as she entered it from her ensuite. Together, they darted to the balcony where a large rock had broken through a tall window. On it, scrawled in red, was a single word.


She gasped and he pulled her to him, not caring that she was still dripping on the carpet, on him. “We need to get out of the room,” he growled, staring at the broken glass and the billowing curtain with alarm. She felt herself ushered into the kitchen before she snapped to herself, turning away suddenly from him to wrap her towel around her body more securely. Satisfied she was alright, he left the kitchen. She could hear his voice, low and angry, but could not make out what he was saying.

Eventually she left the kitchen to find him standing in the living room, looking furious. The moment the doorbell rang, he stalked over and after a brief check in the peephole, he yanked the heavy door open.

“How the hell did this happen!” he barked, and Lothor murmured something about checking it out first. “I thought you had the place locked down,” he accused. "How the hell did they manage to catapult that thing into her room!” 

Lothor disappeared into her room and reappeared looking displeased, even by his standards. 

“You could call Housekeeping to clear up that glass, but they’re going to ask questions.”

“I know that!” snapped the Professor and Lothor actually winced. 

“It might have come from the river, but chances are someone was on your balcony. There’s no clean access from the river, so an inside job, perhaps? Someone already on the compound.” Sansa stiffened at his words.

“Clear the rock and the glass,” the Professor ordered at length. “I want another sweep of our suite and a full security detail on our balcony and our front doors tonight. I’ll smooth it out with the hotel about the window. If you find the perpetrator,” he added darkly, “bring him—or her—to me.”


Dinner was spent mostly in distracted silence, each lost in their own thoughts as they chewed half-heartedly. 

“You will take my room,” he said suddenly.

“No I can’t — where will you sleep then?”

“There are four couches here and two chaises longues. I’ll cope.”

“Then I’ll sleep out here.”

“You will do no such thing,” he snapped finally. "As your boss and your uncle, I am ordering you to sleep in my room.” 

Sansa placed her fork back on her plate, her appetite now completely dissolved. “Was it a mistake to come?” she asked quietly. Her voice was low and a little shaky.

“I don’t know,” he sighed heavily but his hand reached across the table to cover hers. “Do me a favour, Sansa, and move your things to my room. I need to know you’ll be safe.”

In the end, she did as she was told. In truth, she knew it was the most logical step to take. There were no other rooms in the hotel and her uncle was even less inclined now for her to be in a room apart from him. The window could not be fixed this evening, much to the hotel’s mortification. The size and the age of the glass meant a specialist needed to be brought in.

She brought out his pillows and bedding, and he took them from her wordlessly. His robe hung loose around him tonight; he had not tied the stays. His T-shirt hugged his chest and made him look younger again. His long pants tonight were dark, soft and silky, and Sansa tried not to stare below his navel.

He caught her looking at him and he stopped. They gazed at each other soundlessly, even as each of their minds seemed to race at a thousand paces a second, frantic, colliding, confused. Delighted and scared. He had pulled the thick block-out curtains across all the windows tonight, cutting off their view and keeping the world out. The silence was shrill in her ears when he placed a hand on her cheek. As soon as his lips brushed her own, she was lost once more.

“Oh Sansa,” he whispered in between kisses, “what I want to do to you.” And her core, her most private of privates started to ache with a keening want. 

She slipped her arms under his robe and around his waist, matching his words with her desire. He turned his head and kissed her more deeply now, his own arms snaking round her body. He pulled her tight into his embrace, his kiss now searing, his beard delightfully harsh across her cheek, her chin. Hard liquor had not loosened his inhibitions tonight. This was all him. The knowledge emboldened her, even as her legs turned soft with understanding.

This time she broke away from him, her mouth trailing light kisses across his five o’clock shadow. When she reached his ear, she blew lightly into it and he groaned.

“Sansa, I can’t.”

“Why can’t you?” and blew into his ear again. His hands reached down to cup and squeeze her buttocks through her robe and she sighed happily.

“Because…” he breathed, "I am spoken for.”

She froze then, and slowly dropped her arms. When her eyes finally met his, they were dark with unshed tears of frustration.

“I should feel bad,” she whispered fiercely, “but I don’t. Not a bit.”

“Sansa, I need you to go to my room. I need you to lock the door.”

She turned slowly away from him and walked towards his room. She knew that his eyes were trained on her as she pulled at the loose knot in front so the stays came apart, as she stepped past the hexagonal table and let the robe drop from her shoulders into a heap on the floor. She turned slightly at the door then, her white cotton nightgown skirting her form, a strap tumbling down one shoulder to reveal a full side of her soft breast. She looked at his parted lips and knew exactly what he saw.

“If you need me, I’ll be inside,” she murmured.

“Lock the door, Sansa. Please.” It was the first time she thought he had ever sounded close to desperate.


He had left one curtain pulled aside so the bluish white of the moon refracted into the room, casting long, creeping shadows. She left it as it was. She coaxed the sheer virgin-white netting down so it wrapped the four poster bed like a bridal veil before slipping under the covers herself, the sheets silken and sensual under the thin fabric of her night clothes. Her head sank into the downy pillows.

She waited. And waited.

And just when she started to lose hope; when her confident, knowing visage started to crack and flake in the shadows, in the dark, he came to her. She felt, rather than heard him, when he entered the room. When he sank into the bed, wrapping strong arms around her from behind. She turned into him and his mouth found purchase immediately. His kisses were heated, searing, possessive and she made sure to match them, her tongue bold as it met his and told wordlessly of her desire. 

His hand went to her neck, her shoulder and he slipped her strap down, freeing her breast easily. His mouth left hers again to sample new treats, his tongue trailing a hot, wet path down her neck and past her collarbone, until it laved her nipple. She arched her back into him just when his mouth clamped over her tip to give it a warm, hard suckle.

A high, breathy sound escaped from the back of her throat as liquid heat rushed into her ache, her panties. HIs fingers, his hand played her like a mandolin, stroking the length of her body slowly, cherishing the curve of her breast, the dip of her waist, the curve again of her back, her buttocks. He gripped her leg and pulled it up so it hooked around his waist, his hand slipping under the thin cotton to feel more of her yielding softness.

“You are so, so beautiful,” he husked into her chest, his voice reverent and worshipful. She was flat on her back now and he pulled himself back up to eye level, bracing his weight on his forearms now flanking her head. He pinned her to the bed, and yet it was she who felt powerful. 

She placed her hands on his chest and pushed him gently back so he was soon sitting upright, his weight on his heels. She sat up on the bed, her posture a mirror of his.

“I want to see you. All of you.” Her words were simple but the ask was complex. He furrowed his eyebrows, his eyes now dark and unsure.

“It is ugly,” he warned her, but she shook her head. 

“You can never be ugly to me.”

Tentatively, she slipped her hands under his T-shirt and lifted it slowly. He sucked in his breath but didn’t stop her when the fabric skimmed past the planes of his chest, when it caught on his arms and he had to help her wrestle it off entirely. 

The scar was prominent, even in the moonlight. The skin looked almost silvery as the deep, ugly gash sliced his body seemingly in two. She gazed at his wound from collarbone to navel, now healed in the flesh but it hurt her to look all the same. That someone would think to cut a young man down, already hollowed out by grief and loss. Emasculated. It was brutal, unkind, spiteful.   

She reached out slowly and brushed her finger lightly across his collarbone, feeling the bump of the scar in between. She traced her finger down the silvery path until it ended just north of the vee of hair that dived past the elastic of his silken pants. His eyes never left her face. They were both holding their breaths.

“I am sorry my uncle did this to you.”

“I never said it was your uncle,” he replied, surprising her. 

“But I was told…”

“It was your father.” His eyes darkened fractionally from the memory. “It had always been your father.”

She gasped then, and recoiled slightly in horror. A confusion of guilt, shame and cognitive dissonance flooded her. “No!” she cried softly, her heart breaking slightly as reality bit down. The man she had grown up loving had hurt the man she was now growing to love. 

She placed her hands on the sides of his roughened face and kissed him sweetly, deeply. And then she pulled back, her eyes locked into his as her hands reached down to find the edges of her night dress. She pulled it over her head in one fluid motion and dropped it over the side of the bed. 

“Here,” she said softly, her eyes gentle and loving and open. “Have me instead.”

A small sound escaped his throat, a cross between a groan and a whine. “Oh Sansa,” he rasped, “my angel, my sweet… you have no idea what those words do to me.”

“Then show me,” she replied softly. She lowered herself back down on the bed, her head sinking softly into the pillows. He was still sitting at her feet, his breath ragged and harsh, his features conflicted and dark.

She parted her legs ever so slightly, a deep blush creeping up her face at her own forwardness. But she had never been surer of anything. 

And then he came to her, his body warm and musky, his kisses heated and fierce. She felt his finger hook into the elastic band of her panties before he pulled them down roughly. She felt the silk of his pants against her, his member hard and free under the thin layer, seeking impatiently for release from its flimsy confines, for entrance into her person.

She was unbelievably wet. It was as if he had turned her to molten liquid itself. His eyes smouldered with the knowledge of her want for him when his fingers found her damp. It excited him greatly, she realised. She was deeply embarrassed and turned on. 

“I don’t know that I can go slow with you tonight,” he admitted. “You’ve broken through just about every one of my restraints. I don’t know if I have any self-control left, my darling.”

She shivered at his words, the prospect of some roughness exciting her more than she’d care to admit. O when did she turn so wild, so wanton? He did those things to her. He, with his callous beard and his green-grey eyes.

His finger explored her external folds, spreading her liquid, her warmth around her. And then he sank his finger slowly into her, his mouth capturing hers just as she sighed.

“Oh gods,” he groaned, “seven hells, seven heavens — how is it you’re this tight?” He looked at her with something akin to awe and astonishment. “I don’t think I can even fit another one in!”

Her eyes flew open in consternation. Another? But he was filling her already, his finger thick and slick inside her, flicking up to hit against a part of her that elicited her moans. Her sounds excited him. His finger moved faster with each low moan, his thumb now covering the bit of skin in front of her entrance, it too flicking at a different rhythm that made her back arch up.

His finger dived further into her and she felt some pain, some discomfort, even as a tension within her grew. When he withdrew his finger finally, she heard him inhale sharply.

“Blood,” he breathed, smelling his finger. He looked at her with something resembling guilt. “Your monthly is not due, I hope?”

“It has just finished.” She blushed mightily again. 

“So it’s true,” he murmured, “you are a virgin.” His brow creased into a frown. “I think I might have just broken your maidenhead.” His mouth was shaped almost comically into an O. “I just assumed… with Joffrey… that your father was just being naïve, as all fathers are inclined to be when it comes to the chastity of their daughters.”

“Joffrey made me do things,” she said darkly. “But I never gave him full… access to my body. To me. Never.”

His eyes narrowed. “He hurt you.” It was a statement that both of them knew to be true.

“He is not here,” she reminded him in return. “He has no claim to what I am about to give only to you.”

She took his hand and returned it quite deliberately to her entrance. “Take me,” she commanded. “For I am yours.” And then more softly, “Please don’t make me beg.”

Like a frayed rope, she saw his final strand of restraint snap. He pulled down his pants and kicked it off, freeing his cock. It bobbed in front of her, thick and lush and smooth. It was a beautiful thing to behold, she realised. A man’s desire. 

He slid his body over her, his cock positioned at her entrance, the lips of her sex just wrapping his head, “I don’t know if you are ready,” he growled. “I think I’m about to make the most ungentlemanly of entrances. But I cannot wait any longer.”

“I am ready,” she replied, but he shook his head. “You know nothing yet.” And then he slammed into her, knocking the air out of her lungs from the sheer force. 

A searing pain as she took all of him in. She wasn’t quite ready, he was right. But he filled her more completely than she thought was ever possible. And then he started to move. First slowly, so she could adjust to the fullness of him. She felt herself stretched painfully tight at the base and yet a profound pleasure was spreading within her.     

Each time he drove into her, she felt a pulse of desire. A tension within her was drawing out painfully thin like a violin string about to snap. His pace was quickening now, his kisses wet and rough, and she wrapped her long legs around his hips, driving him deeper into her as he pummelled at a punishing pace. He was building to something; she could feel it in the way his rhythm grew erratic, his breath quick and harsh.  

And then he shuddered, her name tumbling from his lips along with a litany of worship. “My angel,” he murmured, “sweet precious, my song…” and he kissed her ardently, down her jaw, past her ear, her neck, her breast, her navel, her sex. She returned him to her mouth and stared at him for a second, taking in his tousled hair, the brightness of his eyes. And then she kissed him softly, lips pressing against lips, her heart bursting into flames both frightening and fearsome. 

Chapter Text

She felt the light as it brushed her eyelids, as it started to seep into the room and bathe it in yellow blue hues. It had cooled right down in the night with the curtain still parted, but she had been wrapped in a cocoon of rumpled sheets and bare, heated skin. It dawned on her, before she opened her eyes, that if anyone had thought to look through their window, it was plain for all to see what had transpired just hours before.

They were still tangled under the sheets, his legs tucked up under hers, feet intertwined, his arm across her waist, a hand loosely cupping a breast. And as much as she did not want to ruin this moment, this sliver of heaven, this home, she could not help noticing how clear the glass window was. How she could see all the way out to the river. Which meant Lothor and the others could see all the way in.

She wanted to call him, to tell him. But she found his name stuck in her throat. Was he Petyr this morning? He was Professor just a day ago. He was Uncle last night until he broke through and buried himself in her. And then he was simply hers

Instead she chose to lightly pat the arm stretched across her breastbone. She felt him stir and then push himself closer to her, the most intimate parts of him grounding against her bare cheeks. He felt firm against her and her heart thumped a little faster with that knowledge, that understanding. 

“The window,” she whispered into the room. She was facing away from him, but she was sure he could still hear her. “The curtains are open. Everyone can see.”

“There’s no one there.”


“They don’t count.” But he got off the bed anyway and her body missed him instantly. He dragged the curtain close, plunging the room once again into semi-darkness. After checking his watch, he sank into bed once more and reclaimed his place behind her.

He kissed her almost immediately, and she was most self-conscious about her breath, the musk of sleep still lingering on her skin. But he tasted her as if he could not get enough of her. Slowly, he coaxed her on her back and started to journey the length of her, sampling her wares on the way — a very ticklish neck, a sensitive collarbone, and beautiful breasts still high and with tips now dark pink with pleasure. His beard grazed the side of her breasts and another wave of goosebumps rippled across her body. She shivered as if she were cold, even though her skin was heated once more with anticipation.

She watched him with hooded eyes, a mixture of fascination and curiosity. He had resisted and resisted for weeks, for months, and yet in a matter of hours, everything had changed and here he was, indulging fully like a man from a desert now near a fountain. He licked around her navel, dipped his tongue in it, tickling her. But when his warm breath came close to her sex, she started to squirm.

“You don’t have to…” she started, heat shooting up her neck as she realised his intention. His seed was still in her; some of it had leaked out progressively through the night, but she was still tacky and she was convinced she must smell funny. And who would want to put their face near that, and especially with her tuft of hair in the way? 

Besides which, she was still sore. The skin at the base of her sex still felt stretched and stung slightly. He had felt wonderful inside her last night and she would happily receive him all over again. But she reached down now and touched herself gingerly, wondering if there was blood.

As if sensing the cause of her unease, he reached over for the top sheet of the bedding and gently wiped her dry. There was blood after all, but it was not from the stretch but rather from within her. She remembered the moment he had sheathed himself in her last night, tearing through her only defence like a battering ram.

He continued to clean her tenderly, taking care with the folds, almost clinical and fussy in his attention. She wondered for a moment what Housekeeping would say when they found their sheets so soiled in one room, and so pristine and untouched in the other.

When she felt almost clean at last, she looked down the length of her body to gaze at him. She was still nervous. But his eyes were full of nothing but desire for her and she saw no disgust. That he found that part of her beautiful was arousing already; Joffrey had been most unkind about her physique, sneering at her statuesque size, and insinuating a general inability to please men because of it. Yet here was a far greater man prostrate at her most intimate place, desiring to worship there. He stretched an arm to fondle a breast while other fingers started tracing light circles around her thighs, her hips, her pelvis. 

“Try to relax, Sansa. This will not hurt. It will be different, but not unpleasant if I do my job well. I will stop anytime you want me to.”

Partly assuaged, she sank her head back into the downy pillow and closed her eyes. She felt him sink lower, felt his head between her legs, a graze of his beard slow on the inside of her thigh, a hand moving her legs apart slightly. Already, a deep blush was colouring her neck as her breath started to hitch with each light touch. She felt wanton and did not dare think about her mother and brothers looking down on them from somewhere above. 

His two fingers, they each flanked her seam and then gently pushed apart her outer folds, revealing the intricacy within. Before long she felt a wet warmth covering her centre and realised, with a jolt, that it was his tongue.

She wasn’t sure what she was expecting, really. Maybe some kissing. But a whole tongue! Yet now he was gently lapping her, his tip flicking up and brushing against a sensitivity. It was all small little movements, nothing so severe. So vastly different from the night before, where every stroke and gesture felt overpowering and significant. But this, this was pleasant. She started to relax, even as a small, heated pleasure bloomed somewhere south.

That he was tasting her most private juices, that he was laving her like it were honey… the thought alone sent blood rushing low. Her heart pounded in her chest and she held her breath, not daring to move.

Eventually the licks moved a little north, and she found that petal of nerve endings now receiving his fuller attention. It felt very strange, not unpleasant, but almost too much. When he licked her there the first few times, she jumped, her hips lifting off the bed slightly and she felt his large, sure hands coax her gently back down. When he found a rhythm, she soon settled down again and a deeper pleasure started to uncurl.

And then slowly a finger pressed just below the ministrations of his mouth. His thumb dipped in slightly and whatever juices were there, he used them to massage the soreness, the skin stretched at her base. He was ever so gentle, and the fact that he was now so tender, a man she watched last night come into her with an almost violent passion… Her pleasure started to deepen even more.

When he slipped his finger in, she moaned because it felt good and because she knew he liked to hear her. It was like the amphitheatre again, except she was an audience of one and every breathy cry and utterance was as hearty as applause. 

She felt herself building slightly, and especially when his finger flicked up and found a small patch almost as sensitive as that petal of nerves. She opened her eyes and gazed down at him, marvelling at his patience and feeling guilty for taking so long.

“Stop,” she said finally, and he looked up, a little surprised. 

“Is there something wrong?” he asked, but she shook her head and laughed slightly.

“No…” And then more shyly but still clear enough so he heard: “Come,” she said. “Come inside of me.”

He did not need to be told twice.

He caressed her face for a second or two and she hesitated before the words tumbled out clumsily.

“Who are you to me?” she asked and it sounded too existential so she tried again. “What… should I call you?”

And he laughed into the darkness before he sank into her. They both gasped and then sighed as her walls closed around him tight, as he filled her completely and touched the very depth of her. The stretch was still there but thanks to his earlier attentions, she was much more comfortable now.

“Call me Petyr, my angel. I think you can call me Petyr now,” he smiled down at her, before his hips started to move.   

She used his bathroom first. He could have easily walked over to use the other, but he took the time to check his email and the news. She prepared herself quickly, donned another plain dress, and then stepped into the kitchen to make their breakfast.

When he sat down to eat, with his rings on his fingers and his hair swept neatly to the side, she served him his meal and then turned to retreat to the kitchen as before. But he clasped her wrist and she turned to him, unsure if she was Alayne or Sansa.

“Stay with me,” he murmured, and then added, “Sansa.” And she raised her eyebrow at him.

“Professor, are you sure?” but he shook his head. 

“As long as we are within these walls, I want to be with you, Sansa. Once we step through those doors — yes, you will be Alayne and I will have to pretend to be like them. Those chauvinists who would cut off half the world in order to secure their place in it. Fools.”

“I don’t understand…”

“Women,” he replies. “The Maesters still stubbornly hold to a patriarchal view they maintain is scientifically sound. It is utter nonsense, a blasphemy for an organisation so wedded to objectivity and which prides itself in pursuing truth through knowledge rather than superstition and twisted human ambition. They treat women like daft little things to be protected from themselves, thinking them unfit for any other duty except childbearing, homemaking, and whoring.”

Sansa spoke softly. “My father, then, is a patriarch.”

“I know.” And he placed his hand on hers for a brief moment, squeezing it. 

“How is it, then, that this theological summit is held at the Citadel? Surely the Maesters would regard religion as superstition?”

Petyr — Professor Baelish — smiled approvingly at her then, and he tapped the side of his nose. “Very good, Sansa. It’s a good question. And the answer can be complex in the extreme. But for the most simplistic answer, one need only dip into our history, to that awful day when the Great Sept of Baelor exploded into the sky and took everyone with it. It did not just kill Septons and Septas that day. That trial in that Sept was historically unprecedented. The Maestors were there too.”

Sansa stared out past the balcony, her lower lip between her teeth as she turned over this information in her mind. “And so how is the Faith… how are you different?”

The Professor smiled. “I am a Septon. And we treat our women like the formidable sex that they are." 

Day Two was the beginning of rubber meeting the road for Alayne. 

They had decided last night that they would split forces today; the Professor would take his meetings in the suite while Alayne would work with Lothor to set up their station at the hall for tomorrow’s exhibition. The Professor need only be at the Citadel from three in the afternoon to speak at the last plenary session for the day. Three, maybe four more quick meetings back in the suite after that, and then they would have the rest of the evening in peace.

Lothor was a fast, silent worker with a brain. They hardly spoke, which suited Alayne fine. Even as Sansa, she was not given to much prattling. At first, she had avoided looking him in the eye, convinced he knew all too well how the relationship between her and her uncle-by-marriage had evolved late last night, and again this morning. But as he worked methodically, with grunts and curt questions, she grew oddly more comfortable with him, convinced over the hours that he chose not to make the personal life of his employer his business.

She wondered about his loyalty to Petyr, wondered what made him loyal apart from money. Did he respect Petyr? And in doing so, did he then respect her? By the end of the afternoon, she hoped so, very much. Lothor was a steady presence to have at one's side.

The exhibition stand turned out even more stunning than she had ever hoped. Her painting, screen-printed as a dramatic backdrop with a beautiful semi-gloss finish, made the Vale look even more romantic and aspirational, the colours rich and layered. The School’s motto was emblazoned above clearly in ancient High Valerian: Mirre Vokēdre Jurnegēre Ōños. Faiths Seeking Understanding. 

Against the rest of the trade displays around them, all with their trendy modern, minimalist colours that ironically blended as one, their School’s exhibition stand, to her sharp relief and hidden pride, stood out from the crowd for all the right reasons. 

She was just starting to gather stray boxes and wrappers when a pair of eyes caught her attention again. The same man she had seen, the Oriental. Except he was situated a little closer today, close enough for her discern that while he was clothed in yet another oriental garb — a strange little hat, Chinese knots down the front, silk tunic, dark pants — he looked more like a Targaryen, his features fine, his skin fair. He was round and soft, his manner feminine, almost affected. She could not make out the colour of his eyes, except that they were staring at her now quite baldly. But they were not unfriendly. She faltered as he started to make his way to her, but before she could think whether she should stay to meet him or slip away, a most welcome voice behind her scattered all thoughts.

“Very good,” her Professor said, admiring the stand before him and she turned to gaze at it, soaking in his admiration. He was standing a foot off to the side and behind her, his hands clasped behind his back, his expression serious. But the low rasp of his voice brushed her ear like a feather and the world quickly faded away. “You did this,” he said quietly so no one else in the room could hear the note of pride in his voice, a rumble of praise that pleased her greatly because she had worked so hard to earn it.

“Have you eaten, Professor?” she asked, and he shook his head. 

“I had forgotten the time.”

“As had I. I will find something for you. You are due to speak soon; you shouldn’t go on stage with an empty stomach.”

“Stop fussing, Alayne.” But his eyes danced with affection even as his mouth stayed stern. She suppressed her own smile and kept her eyes low as she felt him take his leave. It was only when she had recollected herself and looked back up that she realised her Oriental man had also disappeared like a vapour.

She slipped to the side of the stage once more, taking her position like yesterday. And she watched as he conducted the amphitheatre like a symphony, each note pitch-perfect, each word landing and finding its mark, cutting hearts and troubling minds. Today, he walked the whole theatre through the separation of Faith and Empire, weaving effortlessly for all a tapestry of its checkered history of symbiosis, outlining incisively its realistic impracticalities, then confounding expectation with passionate ideology. 

She realised, all the more, how terribly intelligent he was. And how strange, therefore, that he should find fascination in such a young, simple girl like herself. It made little sense for a man so full of sense. How was she ever able to be his equal, to sharpen him like iron sharpens iron? And yet he had cast holy vows aside to be with her, and at great risk.

He is one of the Most Devout.

She wished he was devoted to her.

When he left the stage, once again after a standing ovation, the admiration that had dripped like slow, thick honey through the course of his exquisite performance now settled low in a dull ache of desire she was desperate for him to assuage. 

“Could we… perhaps...” she started, her voice quiet and quivering. And when he looked in her eyes and saw what he saw in them, he swallowed and rasped, “Cancel my meetings, then.”

He took her as soon as the doors closed and not a moment later. She was bent over one of the many, many couches, her long skirts rucked up over her hips, cotton undies pulled down. He entered her without ceremony, continuing with a brisk precision that made her cry out, the curve of his thick, smooth cock hitting a part of her almost too sensitive to bear. The friction of her own sex against the brocade of the upholstery, against the corded seam now added to the cacophony of sensations as he slapped into her over and over at an unforgiving pace. When he came, she felt his whole weight fold upon her back, his hands reaching out to squeeze her small, high breasts with a grip that was painful as it was deeply pleasurable. She ground her sex into the cord of the seam, searching for something, for something. That same shot of exquisite bliss that her small fold of skin occasionally glimpsed at. It was frustratingly within reach and yet still elusive. She heard herself groan, an almost animalistic sound, her pool of desire still deep and dark with nowhere to run off. 

They dined in for the rest of the evening, walking around their suite, around each other like the first men, naked and natural and unafraid. The only time they dressed was for the benefit of the room service staff who brought their dinners to the door, their modesty a pantomime of propriety; she receiving the cart and tipping the waiter, him at the large mahogany study desk checking his mail.   

They ate their dinner quickly. There was precious little time left now. In the morning, they would check out of their suite. They would journey back to the Citadel for the exhibition and they would return to Professor and Alayne. And then, and then it would be finished. They would spend the hour packing down their stand with military precision before the mad rush to the airport. Their great affair, their little idyll dissolving behind them as their plane took off on the tarmac. 

But tonight... 

He stepped into the shower, tested the heat of the water before he held out his hand. She took it, stepping into the rain shower with him, feeling the warm water wash over her hair, her face. He got her to sit on her shins before him, feet tucked behind and under her as he lathered her hair, then massaged her scalp. She tilted her head back as he washed her hair out thoroughly, careful not to get the shampoo in her eyes. 

It was the first time her lips met his member, the first time she thought to bring him pleasure with her mouth the way his did to her sex. She had soaped him. Taken a loofah to his body and with gentle, circular motions scrubbed him down until he was a new man. She had taken his cock in her hands and carefully cleaned the length of him, the suds running off in the shower stream as soon as she got him slippery. And then it had been the most natural thing to kneel before him as the rain shower pelted down, to kiss him there and take him in her mouth. 

He moaned long and low then, a wholly new sound that stirred her soul and started her juices afresh. He tasted clean so she took more of him, and he guided her with a loose hand in her hair. "There, my sweet," he would say. "Hold it there, lick the ridge. And now suck me in." Then another low moan that made her feel like a conqueror. A queen. 

But he would not let her continue. 

The water stopped. He took her by the hand and led her out again, found a big, white towel and wiped her down almost like a child. She returned the favour, drying his back and then kissing down his spine. 

Her hair still a little damp, the heat returning now that her body was dry, he led her languidly to the bed. Settled her down in it before climbing over her, his forearms flanking the sides of her face, his hands stroking her hair, brushing it from her forehead. 

"You once said you didn't trust me. Do you trust me now?" 

She nodded without hesitation. 

"Are you sure?" 

"You will never hurt me," she returned with simple confidence, adding, "Petyr."

He smiled. His eyes darkened when she said his name. 

"I have a little game we could play. Do you trust me?" 

When she nodded again, he retrieved from behind her one of his many silk ties. 

"Close your eyes." 

She felt the tie tighten across her face, felt him lift her head to ease the fabric behind it before tying a knot on the side. 

"Can you see me?" she heard him ask. "How many fingers am I holding up?" 

"Do you trust me?" she asked in return, and heard him chuckle. His mouth claimed hers then, breath minty and heated but tongue languid and sure. Her hands came up to his face instinctively, holding him to her as her heart danced in tune with her tongue. She felt his hand grip her wrist gently before he broke the kiss. 

"Do you trust me?" he asked and she nodded again, then her breath hitched as he raised her arm above her head. She felt him tie her wrists to the ornamental frame behind her, first one and then the other. 

Desire flooded her loins at once, her cunt seeping as she took in her full state of surrender. She was utterly at his mercy now. Her nervousness mingled with the promise of dark pleasure and her heart raced in her ears. 

And then... nothing. She felt him leave the bed. She didn't know where he was going, what he would do. He could be taking pictures of her, for all she knew. He could leave her there and walk out, have Housekeeping find her naked and tied like a common whore. He could kill her and she would not see it coming. 

She thought about asking, about calling out. But that wouldn't be very trusting, now would it. 

Then his voice, softly, from the corner of the room: "You are so beautiful." 

Then nearer, "I have something," he said. "I found it on my way to the Citadel earlier and thought only of you."

She felt him climb back into the bed and lie beside her. 

"It's not very much, just a trifle. A toy." And she felt something soft brush her ear, skirting around it and then dipping in. A feather. 

A tremor ran through her body and she gasped. "You wouldn't! I'm ticklish!" 

"You are," he agreed, and she heard the grin in his voice. "I know you are... and I would." 

With bated breath, she waited as that wretched feather skimmed her jawline. It flirted with her neck, then brushed past her ear again so she squirmed with surprise. Not seeing him, not knowing where he would go next, just waiting, waiting… That alone made her skin feel hot, goose pimples ghosting her body in a heightened state of anticipation.

Everything felt… more.

The feather ducked down past her hips to her pelvis then. She felt the whispers of hair stroke the inside of her thighs, exquisitely close to her sopping sex. And then his mouth claimed a breast in an open-mouth kiss, his tongue rough on her nipple before his lips clamped down and sucked her hard. She cried out, but he shushed her immediately.

“Let’s play a game, Sansa. Let’s pretend that it’s night and you’ve climbed up my staircase and into my study. Let’s pretend that we are lying on the sheepskin in front of the fire. Lysa, my Lysa, my fierce, jealous wife is sleeping only twenty paces away. We must be oh so quiet, my angel. So quiet, lest we wake her. Can you do that, Sansa?” And he sucked her breast again, just when a finger slipped into her sex and curled into that spot. She jerked then, a cry escaping her lips before she shut her mouth tight, the rest of her desire strangling in her throat.

“Yes, quiet… shhhh, my angel, goddess. So good, so quiet…” she heard him say, and he licked her slowly like a large, predatory cat. Long strokes, first over the small mound of her breast to just under the collarbone, then again from her navel to her breasts. Her skin chilled and then pimpled as the cool air hit the wet trail in the wake of his tongue. And then he made a small path of licks and nips back down from her breastbone past her naval…

He stopped and then she felt his body pull over to her, his sharp nose nuzzling the skin behind her ear. The feather again, it made its reappearance, giving his fingers an interminable reach. The soft, soft hairs, they skirted past her hips, then brushed oh so slowly past her petal, her petal. It travelled down the length of her leg, and stroked the underside of her knee. She jerked again from the tickle, right before the tip of his sharp, talented tongue entered her ear.

A mad heat rushed to her sex once more. She had no idea how erotic that would feel. Another sound from her throat, but he was quick to quash her.

“Lysa, my darling. Remember, she can hear you. She can hear your moans for me.” And his tongue entered her ear again, just when his finger entered her folds. She jerked then, the stays around her wrists tightening as they pulled. She bit hard into her lip, her legs clenching around his hand. 

“You’re so slippery, my sweet,” he said, spreading her honey. His thumb brushed her nub and she gasped. “We’re upstairs in my office, everyone thinks we’re having a meeting. They’re all just a floor below us. Each and every one of them. We must be so quiet.” And his fingers entered her then, not just one but two.

His mouth sealed her cry, cutting it off as his fingers found that dark spot of immeasurable pleasure. His tongue roamed her mouth as his fingers roamed her sex, and then she was kissing him back with great ardour, her head lifting off her pillow, her arms straining against the tie. His fingers, they kept… hitting that spot… they kept… moving… hitting a depth… And the cries were rising from somewhere deep within her now, even as his mouth swallowed them whole.

His fingers slowed and with it, her cresting. His mouth left hers and she heard his voice low in her ear again. 

“You must try harder, my darling, my sweet. They’ll all hear us, and they’ll know. And what will become of us then? Can I trust you?” he asked, and she nodded slowly after a beat. 

“I’ll try,” she said shakily.

“Good.” A pause. “Because this time, you must do it all on your own, my angel. I cannot be there to help you.”

She was not quite sure what he meant by the last, for surely they were just playing a part? But then she felt the heat of his mouth on her sex, and when his lips covered her petal and suckled, her head dropped forward reflexively as her teeth bit down hard on her lower lip. 

Then he sucked harder, and her head slammed back into the pillows, her mouth falling open in a wordless, soundless cry. His fingers joined in again and they found a rhythm, as did her hips. They were lifting right off the bed now, grounding shamelessly, shamelessly into his face. She was searching again, reaching for something, for anything…

He broke away from her abruptly, and again she strangled a sob, but this time from sheer frustration. But he was on his knees now, on the bed, she was sure. He had to be because the next thing he did was to replace his fingers with the whole of his cock.

He slid into her sharply, one of her legs thrown over his shoulder, the other wrapped around his hip. And then he was thrusting into her, her sex on full display before him so his fingers could still play her hard and fast. His thumb flicked her engorged nub over and over as she moved her hips to meet his own stroke for stroke. Everything was cresting, was building, frustration cooped up, an angry kettle about to blow. No voice, no crying, no break, no release while a storm of sensations racked her body over and over…

And then it happened. A wave of heat running through her as she started to shake uncontrollably. She felt him lean over briefly before she felt the tie give, her hands slip free as he murmured, “You’re beautiful, so beautiful…" She clenched the sheets then and started to writhe, a sob half stuck in her throat. And then she felt him come, his thrusts finally slowing as he slammed into her deep and long. A sheen of sweat coated both of their bodies lightly as he collapsed into her, heaving. 

“Well done, my angel, my darling. So very well done, my dove, my song.” And he pulled away the last tie from her eyes before kissing the tears wetting her red face.

And just like that, it was all over and they were going back to the Vale.

The exhibition was a modest success, and especially for a first-timer like her. Alayne managed to keep a stoic, professional face for the organisation, even as Sansa squirmed at the number of questions she could not quite answer on behalf of the school. Alayne kept copious notes of what went right, and what they could do better next time. Sansa kept trying not to think about the weakness of her legs, the fatigue in her arms, and the deep purple marks covering her breasts and her inner thigh.

The Professor had sat with her for part of the time, but his attention would invariably be called away to this impromptu discussion or another. It was almost three when the rest of the vendors started packing down, and Alayne took her cue to do the same.

The Professor had stepped away to yet another private discussion, and Lothor was loading the excess brochures in his van when her Oriental visitor sidled up to her.

She noticed straightaway the colour of his eyes, which were an unusual bright violet. Right after the fact that her Oriental, without his hat, was completely bald. 

“I must congratulate you on a wonderful display and an all-round successful conference,” he began genially, sticking out his hand. “I can see why Petyr is so proud of you… Sansa.”

Her eyes widened a fraction before she could stop herself, but she kept her tone bland — almost bored — when she replied, “My name is Alayne Stone.”

“Yes, of course,” her Oriental replied agreeably. “You should keep a low profile around these parts. It’s only wise. Although,” he added, as if only just arriving at the thought now, “you’ve already exposed yourself tremendously by coming out here.”

A shiver ran down her spine at those words. He was staring at her, his eyes smiling. Twinkling almost. But the words were threatening.

She wondered wildly if he had anything to do with the rock that came straight through her window.

But instead, she drew her head higher as if an invisible thread from the ceiling had straightened her spine. She stared down at him imperiously and with her frostiest voice — yet still engaging her manners — she demanded to know who he was.

“I’m a friend,” he replied, and this time his smile was thin. “And I’ve come to give you a warning.”

Again, that shiver. But her voice was clear and — she was glad to note — betrayed no sign of her disconcertment. 

“And what warning would that be?”

“That you cannot trust Littlefinger, child. ’Tis a dangerous game you are playing if you don’t know who your enemy is.” He passed her a card and she glanced at his name. No titles, no last name, no post-nominals. Just Varys.

“We should talk,” he continued, his voice still amiable as if he were a potential student discussing his options. “Not here, of course. But I’d strongly recommend that you get in touch with me soon. Without the handsome Professor’s knowledge, of course.”

“Why should I trust you?”

“Because I know your uncle very well, Sansa. More than even he may realise.”

She shook her head. That did not answer her question, but another more pressing one now fought to the fore.

“And how do you know him?” 

“We work together, Sansa.” His mouth quirked up at a corner. She knew then he was about to drop something vastly unpleasant. 

“And who do you both work for,” she breathed.

“Cersei Lannister, of course."

Chapter Text

He cupped his hands under the gold tap, watched as the tepid water overflowed and trickled down the drain. He splashed his face once, twice, then stared at himself in the mirror, taking in the dark circles under his eyes, the greying of his beard.

Gods, he hated meetings at the Red Keep. They aged him, he was sure of it.

“Lord Baelish,” sounded Olyvar’s voice uncertainly, but he waved him in tiredly. 

“What is it,” he asked, looking at him from the mirror.

“A message, my Lord.” And Petyr looked down at the small, discreet envelope in Olyvar’s hand, recognising the lettering and seal at once. 

“And… her Majesty, the Queen Mother will be ready in ten minutes.”

“Thank you, Olyvar.”

Petyr waited until the door closed, which Olyvar knew to do. And then he went to his wardrobes and withdrew his cassock.

It was one of his favourite ones, one of the more handsome ones, properly fitted and a little reminiscent of the ancient Highgarden style. A little unusual, but then Petyr was not very “usual”. He liked the concealed buttons, the modern high collar, the dark heavy fabric that lent structure and authority to the garment. The cuff and cape were detailed with purplish ecclesiastical tapestry that matched the low cincture, accentuating the V of his lithe frame. He could wear the cassock alone or with a stark white neck-band collar underneath. And because it was Cersei, who tended towards whimsy and enjoyed sycophants dressing to please, he donned the restrictive formal collar — all the better to act the part he was called to play. That of religious court counselor, insider, and spy.

“You are looking very well, your Majesty. Those royal colours suit you.”

Cersei Lannister smirked and rolled her eyes at the obvious pandering to her good humour. But she waved him in anyway with a half glass of Dornish red. She glanced around the room, and immediately the council stood and meekly made their way out, scraping their chairs and muttering their thanks and bowing. Varys included.

The two men passed each other warily, the bald, pale, ingratiating man sweeping past Petyr in a cloud of exotic perfume and rustling silk. He waited until the heavy door closed behind his pudgy adversary, before consenting to speak freely.

“Your Majesty—“

“Baelish, it’s not like we’re in the fifth century. Just call me by my title.” But he could tell she loved it anyway. Which is why he always did it.

“Queen Mother.” he acquiesced, and bowed a little in mocking good humour. “I have returned.”

“So I see.” But she didn’t get up from her seat, and he made sure to wait until she nudged a chair with her foot so that the heavy wooden feet scraped the tiled floor with a groan.

He sat down slowly, pulling the cassock down with him so it did not bunch up around his neck, making him look like a turtle. 

“Any news?” she eyed him beadily from the top of her glass. “How was the conference?”

He raised his eyebrow. “News travels fast.”

“Varys ran back to tell me the moment his fat little legs touched the ground. How was the conference?”

He settled back into his chair, elbows on the armrests so he could steeple his fingers. “Productive,” he purred.

“Any more news about Luceon Frey?”

The tone was nonchalant, but that she would start with Luceon right off the bat was telling in the extreme. Something had rattled her, a whisper perhaps. Idle talk, or a new poll. His guess was on the last. It was no secret to her private council that Cersei hated how the proletariat increasingly viewed the new High Septon as their saviour and Cersei’s government — for she would count it as her government, not even privately — the Great Adversary. 

“More interesting whispers, yes.” He watched as she set her glass down. A rare thing, so she must be most interested. Good.

“There is trouble brewing. I’ve been told that his position is… insecure.”


“Luceon had come into power off the back of his family’s wealth and it now appears he may have bought a few votes with promises he can no longer keep.” Petyr’s grey-green eyes watched as Cersei’s own lit up in glee.

“And that means…”

“That votes against him can be… negotiated.”

Cersei leaned back, her eyes dancing with mischief as the cogs turned under her cap of golden hair.

“The Freys have long relied on my family’s support. Suppose I redirected my monies.”

Petyr bowed slightly, and pretended to give the idea some serious thought before he shook his head slightly. For all of Cersei’s purported evil cunning and imagination, she certainly seemed to circle the same drain over and over — cutting her enemies down by robbing them of their funding. At least she stopped talking about assassinations. For now. 

“Your Majesty, that will only alert Luceon to your hostility. And right now, the fact that you both appear to be working hand in hand plays completely in your favour. The public still love you as they love him.” Another tarted up lie. They hated her. But they tolerate her young son.

“No…” Petyr leaned forward, as if the idea had just come to him. “We play His Holiness at his game and simply… buy his enemies.”

“That sounds expensive.”

“No more than the usual, really.” Petyr shrugged. “I’ll put together some figures. Put some feelers out. See what their price points are.”

“Sooner, rather than later, Baelish.” Cersei’s tone was sharp, and he pricked his ears. 

“Something troubles you?”

“Some stupid poll the Daily Landing published while you were away. The question was asked if the people were happy with the government — which of course the paper skews to say they’re not. But then it asked if, given a choice, the people might consider replacing our civil law with the Law of Faith.”

Petyr raised both his eyebrows, as if he was all astonishment. Truth was, he floated that poll. And paid for it with the monies Cersei had disbursed him the last time he thought to ask for a handout to avert another potential Most Devout disaster of his own making.  

“Surely they would not. We’re not barbarians. Even a man of Faith like me will have problems following the letter of every Law of Faith. They were written for ancient times in ancient ways to address ancient legalities.”

“The people are stupid,” Cersei hissed. “And forty per cent were actually willing to consider it, according to cunting Daily fucking Landing.” She made no excuses for cussing in front of a man of faith, even though he winced visibly.

“And what about you,” she asked suddenly. “I heard you gave a grand talk about the separation of Faith and State, and how impossible it all was.” Her eyes slanted in suspicion as she sneered. “That doesn’t sound helpful to my cause, Lord Baelish.”

He smiled genially, unperturbed. “It’s troubling when little birds only stay for half the story.” Especially Varys’s little birds, he wanted to add but didn’t.

“I also talked about the necessity of keeping them apart. I talked about the realistic impracticalities, but I never talked about it as impossible. I talked about change that was needed — moving foundations, even creating new ones so that impracticalities turn into possibilities. Believe me, I was helpful to your cause, your Majesty.”

She grunted, but he sensed she was assuaged. For now. He thought to press his cause, to assure her with more pretty words that he was very much on her side. But intuition told him that she was more suspicious today. Always the case, when Varys just had her ear.

So he left it as that, and asked about the wedding. A passably benign change in subject.

“Is His Highness excited?” he asked politely. “Tommen the First, finally to be wed and at nineteen!”

“He likes his fiancée enough,” she sniffed. “Margaery simpers and giggles. One would almost think she’s forgotten all about my Joffrey.”

“And may his soul rest in peace,” Petyr was quick to intone. “It must be bittersweet for the Queen Mother to celebrate the nuptials of her child and king, while her other child and king is no more.”

He managed to infuse the sentiment with enough warmth so that it felt genuine, even if distant and polite. Joffrey was the worst of kings, and a near-miss for Sansa. And for that, he and the nation were so grateful for his untimely death.

But as if her own thoughts dovetailed with his own, Cersei’s lips hardened suddenly into a thin line and her next words caught Petyr slightly off-guard.

“I heard Sansa was at this conference, posing as your maid or your help. Why?”

He recovered quickly enough. “I needed to keep her close.”

“Is the Vale not remote enough to keep her out of trouble?”

He fought down a longsuffering sigh as he explained things to Cersei once more.

“The Vale is remote, but I’d gotten word that some Northerners were close. You know as well as I do that if they got in her ear and told her about her father… I needed to control her whereabouts until I could ascertain their whereabouts and guarantee her safety. I trust no one else in the Vale for that.”

“That silly, stupid, useless girl…” Cersei’s lips twisted into its familiar sneer. “I cannot wait to finally stick the knife in and get rid of them all.”

“It is not the right time,” he patiently reminded again. “We still need her to control Ned. As long as we have her, we have Ned.”

He broke the seal and read the message quickly. The corner of his mouth quirked. She could be so playful. 

He glided down to the loading bay and slipped into the waiting car. Olyvar knew the way. They drove on, the tinted windows and Olyvar’s silence affording him much needed mental rest and reprieve. He felt himself change gears within, his mask slipping away even though he was still in his cassock like an actor in costume.

It was a full hour before they turned off into a tired, quiet suburb. They pulled into a commercial garage, and Petyr alighted from the unmarked car, a small smile of approval and thanks flashed at Olyvar as he pulled away. Petyr slipped into a smaller sedan — one of many in that garage — and drove the rest of the way alone.

Home. Or at least where Home was for now. It was one of the newer safe houses that he had appropriated along the way. From the street, it looked innocuous enough. Brick walls, red roof, modern and nondescript. The driveway dipped into a basement garage and as the automatic door lifted, he realised he was not the first to arrive.

“Finally!” a voice rang out. A rustle of fabric and layers, and then she appeared in the flesh, a plume of flowers wafting to his nose. “What took you so long! Was it Lysa again? Did you have to bring her back after all?”

“I wouldn’t be here if I had to,” he pointed out archly, unclipping then shrugging the cape off. “She’s back at the Fingers and pretty out of it. The nurses said they’d call if she gets feisty, but this last dose my pet acolyte cooked up for her seems to be working well. Boy’s a genius.”

“We’re alone, then?” And she tiptoed to wrap her arms around his neck and pull him to her face. “I like your frock,” she teased into his waiting mouth, before she slipped him her tongue.

He groaned his contentment and slipped his arms around her waist, pulling her closer to him. Silence for a moment as they tasted each other again, the weeks apart sweetening their reacquaintance. He ran his hand through her hair, mussing it, and she returned the favour. 

Finally he pulled away, wearing a smirk and most of her lipstick. “Why Margaery Tyrell,” he tutted, “what would young Tommen say if he saw the state of you now?"

Chapter Text

She led him by the hand straight to their room and pulled him into the modest bed with her, the evening sun kept at bay by old floral curtains that looked better suited in a little old lady’s flat than the secret boudoir of the future queen of Westeros.

She pushed him lightly so he fell back on the doona, then straddled him, sliding up his body on her shins while she started unbuttoning her top. He reached a hand out to stay hers; he wanted the discovery for himself. But she misunderstood.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, her mouth twisting down into petulance.

“Nothing,” he replied, replacing his hands with hers as he slipped a button through its hole. She watched as he undid another. 

“How was your conference?” she asked lightly. He shrugged, non-committal.

“Tedious. Boring. Long.”

“Grandmother told me that Sansa went. That you both went together, with no one else.”

He was expecting this, of course. Olenna was a hawk and hardly a fool. Perhaps the only person in the world most capable of beguiling Olenna was her own granddaughter. Her one blind spot, her weakness. Yet even though Margaery still managed to keep their affair from the old crone, neither of them was under the impression that Olenna was anybody’s poodle. 

He wondered if Olenna had her suspicions about Sansa. He supposed he was about to find out.

“We did,” he replied lightly, slipping another button past and pushing the silk back over her shoulders. But she stopped his hand and he paid attention, looking at her askance.

“She said you were sharing a room.”

“We were in the presidential suite. It took up half the floor. And Sansa had her own room in the furthest end of the apartment from me. Darling, I have no desire to share my bed with that child. Please.” He infused his words with enough disdain to cause the corner of Margaery’s mouth to lift ever so slightly.

“Did you have to bring her along?”

“I found I had to.”

“You never took her anywhere with you before.”

“I wouldn’t have, except she was the only member of staff close enough to the details of the event that I had to take her. We’re still on skeletal staff this month. There were practicalities to consider. And she proved, in the end, to be a good distraction with all the business of exhibiting at the show.”

“She must have loved her time away with you.”

He heard the words between the words, and sought to assuage her. In one quick movement, he flipped their positions, his body now pinning hers to the bed as he stroked her face.

“My darling, are you jealous? 

“Do I have a reason to be?”

“No.” He kissed her softly, his beard tickling her cheek, her chin. She kissed him back after a second’s thought. 

“She’s just a child, my Margaery.”

“She’s not that much younger than I am.”

“But you have always been a woman. She has always been kept a child. And nothing bores me more.”

He leant down and kissed her again, and meant it. He also meant the words. Right here, right now, in this tiny, modest bedroom, on a creaky queen bed not fit for the Queen, he meant it. He might even believe it. 

It was a gift, to be grounded so much in the present. He could fight every battle everywhere, always, in his mind. Consider every possible series of events as happening all at once so as never to be surprised. But he could also shed it all and live only in this present. So single-minded in his endeavour that, just for the moment, just for the time that it suited him, he could live in the lie. Breathe it. Walk it and give it legs. He could park one sentiment and pick up another, wear it like a mantel and strut it. Only to shed it and don another when he departed for other worlds.

Duplicity was a gift, a talent he had honed for decades. Without it, he could never have been one of the Most Devout.

“Was she trouble?” Margaery asked as his kisses travelled down her neck.


“Did you have to nanny her? Make sure no one noticed who she really was?”

His mind flashed back to Sansa’s head bowed low, her burnt-red capote wrapped around her like a cape, her dress underneath long, dark and austere. Her thick, tell-tale hair now black as night, pulled back from her face by a severe braid. 

The transformation. 

But then the way she had looked up at him suddenly as he rounded down the stairs, her eyes still startling blue and knowing. 

She had stood so still. Sometimes she was like a portrait. 

“She took care of that herself,” he replied blandly. “She kept a low profile. She’s a child but she’s got a brain in her.”

A child, a child. A child with a woman’s body.

He shook his head slightly, then focused on the lace of the bra before him. He pulled it aside with his teeth so a nipple came free with a small bounce, ripe for a taste like a succulent cherry. Margaery stretched under him as his tongue played with her tit, her arm reaching up to the back of the bed so her body lengthened like a cat after a nice long nap.

“Ooohhh that’s nice… I’ve missed this…” 

“I’ve missed you,” he replied, as he rucked her skirt up under him and started stroking the seam of her sex through the satin.

“So what did you do there?” 

“At the conference?” he asked, voice slightly muffled 

“Did you see anyone worth seeing?”

He rested his chin on the valley between her breasts just then, eyeing her in bemusement.

“Am I boring you?”

“No!” she laughed. “I just wanted to know why you bothered to go in the end, after telling me for months that you wouldn’t. So tell me.”

“Right now? In the middle of… this?”

“You’re a talented man. And I miss you. We haven’t talked in weeks. So talk already. Tell me.”

 “Well,” he replied, fingers wandering back up and tracing an idle path between her breasts and her naval. “Many reasons, actually. I needed to give a few public homilies about my Faith politics that would conveniently reach Cersei’s ears and assuage her. And I think it worked, despite Varys’s best intentions.”

“That all?”

“No…” he replied slowly. “I met with the rest over time. Almost all of them, actually. Save Number Six.”

She pulled herself up to sitting then, and he rolled over to his side to give her the space. 

“You have news,” she breathed.

“Not so much, but a bit of progress at least. The groundswell is turning to your favour, like we hope. They will back you, I feel it, once they see for themselves how you hold Tommen in the palm of your little, powerful hand.” He kissed her palm then. "The sooner you wed Tommen, the better."

“I can’t make the wedding happen any sooner,” she replied defensively. “It’s a royal wedding, for crying out loud. Everyone’s in a state of panic as it is, although why they would be, I have no idea. You would think all they had to do was use the plans they drew up for me and Joffrey. But no. State panic. It’s a mad rush. It’s a miracle I could even slip away to be with you here.”

Petyr fixed his eyes on their hands then, watched as her small fingers intertwined with his. “There are,” he murmured, not meeting her gaze on him, “other ways of wedding Tommen to you.”

He let the words hang in the air. Margaery sucked her breath in.

“You mean…”

“Tommen is a boy. His brother was degenerate, a reprobate from age fourteen, but I have it on good authority that sweet Tommen has yet to be with a woman — even a whore. His very first should be most indelible. Bed him now — bed him well — and you will control him even before your marriage begins.”

He looked up at his Margaery then, and her big brown eyes were dark and conflicted.

“You would let him… touch me? You would give me away like that?

“I give away nothing. You will be his wife soon. It is you who has been taken from me already. But you will always be mine.”

He pulled her hand to his heart, let her feel how it beat for her. He believed there and then that it did, so it did. He let the thought seep into his eyes.

“Why… before? Why not after?”

“Because Tommen is marrying you out of duty, even though he has a schoolboy crush at the moment. Make him fall in love with you. He is malleable now, but when he is King and you are his woman in name, he owes you nothing but the outward appearance of a lasting marriage and crown — provided you give him an heir. With everyone scraping and bowing to him, even a simple, sweet boy like Tommen will understand his power. And then where will you be?

"But bed him, intoxicate him, create in him the addict for your body if not your mind, and he will be yours now and then into his kingship.”

“I had thought of the same,” she admitted slowly.

“This is why I love you,” he replied, “my Sweetling." And he covered her mouth with his.

All conversation ended then, their bodies now communing through sighs and sounds in lieu of words. They tore off each other’s clothes with practised ease and deftness. Her touch on him was sure, and like a piper she charmed his body so that like a lemming, he let himself fall over the cliff.

She was all dark silk and lace and satin and luxury. He tried not to remember white cotton.

She had him back on his back, her hips straddling his. She sank down on him with a groan and then rocked to and fro with slick expertise. Then an increasing frenzy, pulling from him all that could meet her desire. He met her halfway, his hips bucking into hers, his length knocking into the very depths of her so that she started to pant and moan.

They stared at each other, his grey-green eyes transfixed, almost drowning in her big brown gaze. He felt himself tense but when he came, he shut his eyes and saw startling blue.   

Chapter Text

Professor Baelish returned to the Vale a week later, slipping into the campus in the dead of night after taking the Red-Eye.

There was much to do, of course. Term was starting in a week; he had lost all that time at the conference, and again in King’s Landing although the latter was truly unavoidable. He surveyed his desk, every detail memorised so he would know the instant it was touched by someone other than he. Except who was there to meddle? His good, Faithful wife was still in the Fingers, passing her days staring blankly out at the ugly sharp rocks and the taciturn seas. 

He was bone tired. He was starting to feel his age. The chase always did invigorate him. But he wasn’t a young man anymore.

Soon, he told himself. Soon his Queen will ascend the throne, his beautiful rose the deadliest plant that the Red Keep shall ever see. He had every confidence she would succeed with Tommen. He had warmed her bed for almost a year. He knew exactly how good she was. How skilled. How persuasive. 

And then when the time was right, they would strike. History to repeat itself, except better. Better because they were the custodians of History. And they had learned.

Soon, he told himself. But first, Sansa. 

He heard her come in and settle down, heard her open the blinds softly and wind them back, the soft chime as the computer turned on. His door was ajar and even though the wood was thick and heavy, he felt her presence as if the very air she moved around her eventually moved him. 

He stayed very still, the only movement the scratch of his pen as he made his remarks on the margins. It was a full half hour before he allowed himself to call her into the room.

She knocked. “I didn’t realise you were already in,” she admitted softly. Her hair was still jet black, but she wore it down and loose today like she used to do when her hair was auburn and flame. A soft band around her head making her look even more like the maiden she no longer was. Thanks to him.

She stood in front of him, hands clasped. He steepled his hands on the desk and gazed at her for a second or two, wondering what she was thinking. Taking her temperature, measuring what best to say.

“How have you been, Alayne?”

“Fine, Professor.”

“You’ve recovered well from the conference?”

“Yes.” She said it without hesitation. If her mind was on the events that transpired between themselves after dark, her face, her manner did not show it.

“Good,” he replied. Then more softly, “How have you been… Sansa?”

“F-fine, thank you, Professor.” The tiniest hesitation. A chink, a crack he could use to test.

“You’ve recovered well from the conference?”

“Yes,” she said. But this time her eyes cast a sidelong glance to his couch at the end of the room. It was the briefest of flickers, but he caught it anyway and in that instant, he knew. She remembered what he had said, what he had murmured in her ear when he was between her bare, pale legs. In that instant, they both remembered how they had to be so very quiet while everyone else was downstairs. 

He dismissed her shortly after, and she swallowed and left. He feigned indifference well but when she shut the door, he had to palm himself down underneath the mahogany desk. 

They avoided each other the rest of the day, an easy feat as work came crushing down punishingly. The meetings that had been pushed aside for weeks were now scheduled back to back. He scarcely had time for lunch, for tea. He barely made it to the Sept to lead prayer.

He made his way home an hour after he insisted she left the office herself before it got too dark. He left the door to his study unlocked, but she did not come.

It was more of the same in the morning. She greeted him politely and carried out her duties with an air of quiet dignity and professionalism he had never taught her to have, but she had mastered all on her own. She brought him a steaming hot mug of black coffee, just the way she knew he would like it. But he noted how very careful she was that their fingers did not touch.

Was she having second thoughts, he wondered. Did his travels away straight after the conference leave her room to breathe without him? Was the intoxication wearing off, and her conscience now eating away at her like locusts? With Margaery, her ambition had always served to whet her appetites and his sham marriage to Lysa had never figured in her consideration of him. But Sansa was capable neither of ruthless ambition nor perfidy. She would look at Lysa with pity and compassion, and her own part in her aunt’s humiliation with no small measure of guilt and self-reproach.

She was truly virtuous. Some days he almost envied her, almost craved that peaceful nescience, that blinding-white peaceable simplicity for himself, But then he would remember how the virtuous and noble were often the first to lose their heads, so to speak. 

And he rather liked his head. Virtue, after all, was capable of taking different forms, if one chose not to be too narrow in their theology. He had much to offer Westeros, if she would listen. And he would make her listen.  

The small black phone buzzed suddenly in the hidden pocket of his jacket. He retrieved it quickly, his sharp eyes absorbing the short message when it flashed on screen before he deftly deleted it.

He checked his watch. He would have to cancel a meeting, or delegate to Olenna. If he hurried, he could be back in time for morning prayer.

The only light to steal into the room came from the slit under the door to the spiral staircase. He checked that it was locked, before turning his attention once more to the task at hand.

He logged on to the dark network, willing himself not to drum his fingers on the dash as his computer thought about things before granting him access to the network drive. A new folder. He opened the files and then smiled.

It was all there, the shell organisations, but more importantly the emails and memos linking them inextricably to the offshore Braavosi account he had helped Ned set up all those years ago. And then at the bottom of each one, the unmistakeable careful curls of her dainty signature.    

Again, she did not come to him. He waited until he was sure that she was done with dinner before he locked the door behind him, his shoes making a dull twang down the metal steps despite his best attempt at stealth. It was starting to warm just a little, the air fractionally less biting even as the arctic wind picked up, flapping his dark long wool coat around his legs. 

He threaded softly through the trees, the long meandering path forged in the woods by frequent walks to and from the School now petering to the flagstones leading to her cottage. The solar lamps were so dim now, he could hardly make them out. He jumped easily over the low, creaky picket gate, landing softly on his feet before moving swift and sure to her door.

It took a full minute before she opened it. 

“Sansa,” he breathed, his tone grave, his eyes holding hers unblinking.

“Professor,” she answered stiffly, her eyes watchful and alert.

“It’s me, Sansa,” he tried again, and took a small step towards her. He was a little surprised to see her shrink back from him. An infinitesimal move, but he saw it all the same. What is this? “It’s me, Petyr.”

“I wasn’t expecting you.”

“I was expecting you,” he replied, his eyes colouring with hurt. “But you didn't come to me.”

“I didn’t think it was a good idea.”

“Even for dinner?”

Her gaze seemed to sharpen then, and she replied in a voice so low in the winds howling around them, he almost didn’t catch it. “You know it won’t just be dinner.”

Blood started to pool in his cock.

“We should talk,” he pressed, but she shook her head. 

“There is nothing to say,” she replied. “The conference is over. Things cannot… continue.”

“You would leave me like this?” His eyes bore into hers. “Like it or not, things have changed irrevocably. I am changed. You have changed me.”

Her eyes darted away, and he saw his in. 

“Can I please get out of the cold, at least?”

A full two seconds before she nodded, stepping aside so he could squeeze through the small opening she allowed before she shut the door behind her. She was wearing a thick fluffy robe which she pulled tightly around her now so her arms were crossed and tucked firmly into her sides. She leaned against the door, her gaze never leaving his face. Almost like a small animal, trapped in a log with a fox.

“What is wrong, my angel? What have I done?” He hesitated, wondering if he should bring up Lysa. He decided against it, not wanting to inadvertently colour her response.

He watched as a series of emotions played across her face, as she struggled whether to hold her tongue or come clean. He toyed with the idea of reaching out to touch her arm, her face… but what if she pulled away? Then it would be proof to herself that she could resist him, and then she would be bolder. No. Perhaps if he stayed right here, his eyes beseeching and confused, his palms open, vulnerable... Let her come to him of her own accord. See for herself that he is harmless.

“I know who you are,” she almost whispered. A strong crosswind shuddered the house, the roof rattling right then. “I know who you are!” she repeatedly, slightly louder. Her eyes were large and unnerved.

Who had she been talking to?

“Oh?” he replied benignly. “And who do you say I am?”

“I know you’re one of the Most Devout.”

He blinked slowly. 

“Who told you?” he asked, although he already knew. Olenna, that crone, that witch. That traitor to the Faith.

“So it’s true,” she replied. He stepped towards her then, and she shrank against the door. Easy, easy… 

“You cannot tell a soul!”

“I’ve heard about you all, you know. I’ve read things about you. You’re dangerous.”

“Only to those who are evil, who deserve it, my sweet. I never hurt the ones I care about.”

He moved towards her again, slowly, slowly, his gaze still holding hers like invisible thread. She had nowhere else to go, but at least she had stopped pressing herself against the door as if she wished it could absorb her whole and then, like she were a spirit, let her pass through the other side.

“Who do you work for?” she asked.

“A higher power.”

“What does that mean?”

“I cannot tell you, my sweet.” he replied, his eyes beseeching hers for understanding. "This knowledge puts you in danger as it is. You cannot tell a soul! But know this: I am on the side of the gods. And I can help your father, Sansa. I’ve been helping your father all this time. How else do you think he could be here during Winter Solstice? I had put my own position, my life in danger so you could hold him on your most cherished family day.” 

He stepped right up to her now, his face mere inches away, their noses almost touching. "Would a dangerous man do that for a father and a daughter?” he rasped. “Would he care at all?

“My father doesn’t trust you.”

“Your father doesn’t like me,” he corrected. “We have history, as you’ve seen from my scars. Those scars you’ve touched,” and he clasped her hands, “with these precious fingers. And yet, I have been nothing but loyal to your mother’s memory. Your father would be dead by now, if not for my constant intervention.”

“How do I know you won’t hurt me!” she whispered.

“Isn’t it obvious?” he replied, bringing her hands up and holding them to his chest, his heart. “I care deeply about… I care deeply for… you.”

He tilted his face and kissed her then, rejoicing within when she tilted her own instinctively to receive him. Slowly, so slowly he deepened the kiss, tasting her reaction, reacting to her taste, not pushing her further than she allowed in any microsecond. Flightless bird that she was, she would still try to take off if he pushed it. And he wanted her right in the palm of his hand.

And then slowly she started to take the lead, her tongue now exploratory, her hands now moving out of his grasp, one placed on his chest to brush a nipple. He flicked off the light, plunging the room into darkness suddenly so all he could feel was the rising heat of her face, the quickening of her breath, the rest of his senses sharpened as Vision lost her dominance. They were moving now, almost blindly across the tiny room, her hands pushing back his thick black coat so the ambient air cooled first his shoulders and then the rest of him as the thick fabric crumpled to the ground heavily. He lifted his hand to her neck, his thumb grazing the side where she tickled, his other hand snaking around her waist before suddenly pulling her body to his so she could feel his growing thickness against her sex, even through the thickness of her robe.

She moaned softly into his mouth then, and he felt that sensation once more. That vague sense of his falling into her.

Her knees connected with the back of the modest double bed, the sheepskin he bestowed her a moon ago now spread in the middle, the layers of sheet-blanket-doona pushed aside. Somehow he got rid of her robe, his hands meeting soft, well-loved flannel before they sank into that bed together, the springs groaning slightly as it adjusted to the new weight. 

He was raining kisses on her now, she on her back and his right arm supporting his weight while his left hand deftly slipped buttons from their holes before reaching in to cup a sweet breast. His mouth moved down to suck hard on the other, taking as much of her flesh as he could, and he revelled as she arched her back in pleasure, flexing into his cock. He rained more kisses on her, travelling down the long plane of her perfect body. She shrugged out of her flannel top so her bare skin now lay flush on the sheepskin. His hand dived deep into her pants, under her sweet cotton panties to find her already dewy. When his fingers slid over her clit, she exhaled a high-pitched sigh so he did it again, just to hear it. And again and again and again.

Then he pulled down her pants, her panties, impatient now to feel all of her. She helped him, kicking off her clothes underneath the doona before her own hands fumbled with the front of his pants. She coaxed the zip down, then freed his erection as her hands slid beneath both pants and boxers over his buttocks. She pushed them down and he too kicked them off. Her cool hand grasped his cock and he groaned.

And then his hands, his fingers were working her folds, each gasp a guide, each low moan an encouragement. Her kisses were dark and fervent now, tongue snaking around his, her hand working the length of him to the same soundless melody he made as he hit her spot. When he thought she was close, he replaced his fingers with the whole of his cock, shafting her deeply and without warning so he knocked the breath out of her. Both he and the bed groaned mightily then, the feel of her tight, slick walls around him almost too much. He felt the skin of his pretence slide away completely in that moment, and when he thrusted into her, it was with a fervour, a worship that was for her and her alone. In this moment, he would do anything in the world to please her, if only because she gave him such exquisite pleasure. 

She was crying faintly into the room now, to the beat of his length hitting the back of her. None of them was quiet now. The springs squealed rhythmically as he grunted into the air. The flimsy bed shook with their passion, and the house seemed to quiver and rattle as the harsh winter winds whipped and shuddered the roof. When he buried himself deep in her before his own great release, he shouted sharply into the night, trusting that the howling outside would drown out the evidence of his capitulation.

He worked tirelessly for the rest of the hour, drawing out from her all the pleasure that her body could reach. And then when she finally tired, his face drifted back to hers so he could stare into those bright eyes, his heart knocking with a terrible joy that, frankly, should scare him.   

Chapter Text

He never enjoyed coming here. Neither the journey nor the destination gave him joy because it was a joyless place and a right pain to get to. 

The Fingers were a series of narrow peninsulas extending into the narrow sea from the hand that was the Vale of Arryn. Like a crone, each finger was gnarly and old, and his ancestral home sat on the smallest and humblest of the five. He had grown up here for a long time — too long. It was part of him, whether he liked it or not, and went some way to explain why he had never sold the place. And who would buy it anyway, he would often say half in jest. The green of the grass was dull and almost blue, the rocks jagged and mean, spread over the countryside like an advanced case of greyscale. What little sheep their family had were now long dead, animal husbandry a difficult trade considering how rocky the fields were and how dreary the weather so that even the animals got depressed, much less the human inhabitants. There was nothing at all charming about this land, nothing to recommend itself; neither climate nor circumstance favoured it, and everyone remotely able would bolt like spooked horses as soon as they came of age. As he had.

As the sole heir, he kept this place as a talisman. He kept it to remind himself how far the drop was from his current elevation. To throw away this shameful reminder of his puny past was to almost jinx his present and future. He was seldom sentimental and superstitious, but he kept his stake in this Finger and with it, his ancestral home.

It was here that he hid his wife, in the tower he had wryly nicknamed Dreadfort —which was tiny and unimpressive, as ancient towers went. An open stair wound ‘round the inside wall, each floor a small room that got progressively smaller, the higher you climbed. With the sheep now all dead, at least the smell of wet wool and dung no longer clung to everything like it had in his childhood. And with faster speedboats, his servants were now at least able to get supplies from the other Fingers easily. He was not a cruel man. He provided for his wife and household generously, and in recent years had outfitted this tower so it boasted of all the modern conveniences he had never grown up with. Like a continuous hot water system, ducted heating, rich food, comforting music, and good books she could hardly understand in her recent, addled state. 

He saw that she wanted for nothing, except his company and his love. But he numbed the last with new drugs he paid for handsomely.

It was this last investment that now brought him here this godsawful evening, even though they had just started the academic year and he could scarce afford the time away.

“What is it, Qyburn?”

Qyburn the Second turned to look at him, his face still barely emerging from boyhood but his eyes as aged and watchful as his old man’s. 

“It’s the Lady, Lord Baelish. The drugs… they are starting to fade.”

“How do you mean?” Lord Baelish quizzed the prodigy, his eyebrows furrowing. 

“I would give her the usual dose, but it takes longer and longer to have its effect, only for the effect to fade sooner than before. I can’t give her anymore because I think it will kill her outright. I have to wait for her body to pass out the toxins as it is. Then today, I gave her a dose and, well…” He hesitated then.

“Go on.”

“You should go up, my Lord.”

Petyr raised an eyebrow. “Is she wild?”

“No.” Again, the hesitation. "Quite the opposite, actually.”

Petyr stared at the boy-genius chemist for a second longer before turning towards the stair leading to the top of the tower — their bedroom. Once he reached the top, he breathed in through his nose, then pushed on the heavy door.

“My darling,” he heard a familiar voice ring out, its tone unusually warm and bright. “They told me you had come, and then here you are! Come here and give me a kiss.”

He climbed the long, sweeping stair up to his apartment feeling wearier than he had in the longest time, a slow but steady migraine building up with each step he ascended heavily.

Why is it never simple, he was tempted to lament. He remembered once boasting to Varys about chaos being like a ladder. But that was a long time ago, when he was younger and fitter. The climb is all there is. And here he was, still climbing.

The problem with prominence and penthouses is that you still have to climb the most steps to get back on your perch.

He dropped his keys in his bowl on the bar table, shrugged his light spring coat off and hung it inside the closet. He pulled off his tie, unbuttoned his shirt and his cuffs, plugged the bathtub and turned the hot water tap on full bore. He had long worked out the timing perfectly so that by the time the old hot water system kicked in, there was enough cold water in the tub to give him the perfect warmth he needed for a good soak and think. Or un-think. He needed to clear his mind. The stratagems, the questions, the outwitting were clamouring on top of each other and this was starting to prove unhelpful.  

His spare phone charger was still in the study, and he strode over briskly to connect his ailing mobile. It was then that he heard her footsteps on the metal. That unmistakeable thung-thung as she worked her way up the spiral stair leading to him. 

He opened his door just as she reached the top. The timing of it was still perfect. 

“Hello,” he said softly.

“Hello.” Softly back.

She stepped through the narrow doorway, brushing past him as she used to do. Except this time, he slipped his arm around her waist and pulled her to him easily. There was no resistance. She tasted as sweet as the first time he tasted her, and she sighed into his mouth like this were an answered prayer. Nothing for ten, fifteen sweet seconds as their tongues roamed each other slowly. The clamouring in his head had quietened to a low hum at last.

“You just got home?”

“I was about to jump into the bath.” A beat. “Would you join me?”

He turned the water off, estimating the depth of water for two bodies instead of the one. They disrobed one another languidly, gently. Time seemed to slow right down, then vanish. He brushed his lips over the sensitive spot between her neck and her shoulder, trailed kisses across her right shoulder then down, down her long graceful arm until her fingertips. She stood like a piece of art as he did so, the only hint of his affect on her the hitch of her breath.

She sank first into the tub, then he after her. Her long legs wrapped his naked waist and he sank right into the water so his head rested on her small, high breasts. Almost instinctively, she started to massage his temples with slow, circular motions, her thumbs applying the perfect pressure as if reading his pain like a therapist. He groaned with pleasure and relief, and felt himself sink heavier still.

“I’ve missed you,” he heard her admit to the white art deco tiles.

“And I you.”

He found the fresh rag he had chucked in earlier, and took simple pleasure in scrubbing her legs down with soap. Together they groomed one another, the air pungent with promise of sex and yet spiced with something far newer. A familiarity.    

When the water finally cooled, he got up slowly and gingerly, careful not to get the floor too wet. Her hair was still dripping when they sank into his marriage bed. He made love to her slowly then — far more slowly than he’d ever fucked Lysa on this mattress. With Lysa, he obfuscated brevity with a top show of unbridled passion. But now, he entered and withdrew in deep, deliberate strokes, stringing out each moment for the both of them, building tension to an exquisite peak. They coupled like they had all the time in the world, her each gasp grasping his full attention, her each sigh singeing his skin like a whip so he worked harder. And then they were both in a frenzy, her sex slick and wet, his movements torrid and wild. He finally peaked in a blinding-white split-second of nothing that was as cleansing as a second bath. No wonder the pagans worshipped sex, he thought in the dénouement. Done right, it was a baptism like no other.

He flipped her over on her front after that, her long damp hair spilling over the side of the bed as he drank her sex thirstily, lapping up her honey and her whimpers with long, slick strokes of his cunning tongue. She came in two powerful waves that surprised her, her shocked moan so low and long that he felt his cock grow heavy once more.

When she finally relaxed, she fell into such a deep sleep that she didn’t seem to notice how he rained kisses all over her body in deep gratitude for those couple hours of absolute and singular peace.    

“Send him in,” he said when he was finally ready, and Olyvar nodded to the men outside curtly. He heard the small struggle that was futile, really. Their prisoner was intimidating in size, but it was obvious he had grown soft and flabby over time in King’s Landing during the days of plenty. The men pinning his arms behind him, however, they were the real deal. Dothraki, born and bred, domesticated through immigration but no less lean and mean. As a people, they also had very little sympathy for weakness — especially in their own kith and kin. 

“What’s your name?” Petyr asked, to which the man replied by spitting near his newly buffed shoes.

“No matter,” Petyr replied blandly, “I have your file here. You are Akho. And you have lived in King’s Landing for a long time.” He watched the man’s face for any sign of change, any flicker of emotion.

“You have a wife…” Nothing.

“Actually, two wives… and a bit of a penchant for mistresses.” Petyr smirked. “And then quite a lot of sons after that, not all of them recognised by you.”

Akho’s face remained impervious, almost bored.

“That all changed after the Fund collapsed.” 

A flicker of emotion then.

“Your daughter…” he pressed, and this time the lips on the man thinned. “She is not doing well. She needs an experimental drug, something the insurance won’t cover. Neither of your wives works because you are a chauvinist, so it is down to you. And you no longer have a high-paying job in King’s Landing.”

He closed the file. 

“And somehow, you ended up in Hotel Hightower as a bellhop — not our bellhop, mind. I would have remembered an ugly, angry face such as yours. But a bellhop nonetheless. And somehow you learnt that one Sansa Stark, daughter of Ned Stark, was masquerading as Alayne Stone and was staying in your hotel.”

He stepped over the man’s spittle and walked right up to his seething Dothraki prisoner. It didn’t matter that the man towered over him. Petyr knew this man’s life was in his hands, even if the dolt didn’t understand that yet.  

“You threw that rock into Alayne’s window — into Sansa Stark’s window. You called her a bitch and, if you had your way, would probably have raped her to within an inch of her life to teach her a lesson. I know how base you all are, how uncreative your vengeance can be.”

Petyr stared into the man’s eyes, took in the black heat and hatred. He stared up into them and detected, to his satisfaction, a growing tinge of fear. 

“I have friends in Immigration,” he continued quietly. “And one particularly powerful friend. The Commissioner, actually. Second only to the Minister. He doesn’t care for troublemaking Dothraki. It’s just politics, mind.” He grinned then. 

“We are deporting you,” he purred and he watched as the man’s eyes dilated in fear as the penny finally dropped. “You’re doing time for your crime — one day in jail. But then our laws technically state that boisterous immigrants will be deported to their country of origin straight after they serve out their sentence. You are returning home to your kinsmen, Akho.”

“B-but… I don’t know anyone!” the man started to stutter. “My family, my daughter, my life is here!”

“But you are Dothraki,” Petyr reasoned politely. “And by threatening a native citizen of the Seven Kingdoms, you have demonstrated your disregard for our laws and our customs. So you may return to your people. Though, they are rather nomadic so it’s going to be a challenge. Better brush up on your camping skills.”

The man was trembling now, all bravado and anger drained away from his skin so he now quivered like jelly.

“Please, sir. Please have mercy.”

Petyr looked at Akho, pictured him forcing Sansa to her knees. Her arm twisted behind her painfully as he unbuckled his thick belt.

“Die alone in no man's land, Akho.”

Chapter Text

Her long, bony arm was draped across his chest, a thin finger tracing the silver trail, the ghost of the wound she had clumsily yet tenderly dressed and tried to heal all those decades ago. She liked to kiss that scar whenever they came together as man and wife, whenever he did his duty by her and took her to their marital bed. She would trail her tongue from end to end as if to remind him what he owed her all those years ago. As if he’d ever be left to forget.  

She loved him then. She loved him now and maybe always and forever. He didn’t think he could ever get rid of her. Naturally.

“When can I return home, my love?” Lysa asked for the third time that day. And for the third time, he dropped a kiss on her forehead.

“I want to be sure you are completely well, my wife. There is no one at the Vale. If you should take a sudden turn to the old darkness, I want to be sure that you are surrounded by capable hands.”

“But you see me now!” she replied, and her tone was gentle, and he marvelled once again. Ordinarily, she would have boiled over by now. She would have raged and shouted, then swung back to begging and pleading. Everything would be heightened, sharpened, jagged and raw. He sometimes wondered if a tiny part of her mind called Prudence would always watch herself from afar with no small measure of despair. But if it ever did, that tiny part of her was always powerless. The rest of her body and instincts seemed to only be governed by its other two mistresses: passion and paranoia.  

But to look at her now… She was a new woman. A woman that might have been, had jealousy and rage not ravaged her face and her soul over time, and heartache and despair not killed the rest of her mind after losing six babies. She looked softer now. Her mouth was not set on a downturn, her eyes not twitching and tense. Even her hair looked relaxed. She had long lost her looks, but she looked at him now and he knew that she was sound. Normal. Happy.

Thank the Seven for his own talent, he supposed. For it was his talent in reading people that saw the latent greatness in Qyburn the Second. And thanks to that gamble, Qyburn Junior — that bloody genius — had accidentally cured his wife, when no other Maester in all of the Seven Kingdoms could or dared.

The irony of the situation was not lost on him, of course. He wondered which of the Seven was laughing at his plight the most. The Father? The Smith? Those sons of bitches. 

“Soon, my love.” She heard the smile in his voice and smushed her face into the small mat of his hair to the left of her favourite scar.

“When exactly?” she pressed.

“Let me ask the good Apprentice later,” he replied cautiously. It was soon, too soon. There were things to set into place, into motion. He had to visit King’s Landing before long. And then he needed to return to the Vale without her.  

“Darling,” he murmured, and kissed her temple. “You’ve been away from your Robin for ages as well. And I know you want to go home — as do I! But with the School board meeting soon, I hate the idea of leaving you alone in the apartment while I have my long meetings away. What if something were to happen to you? There’s no Qyburn there. No servants there. You will be lonely, and I hate to see you alone." 

He stroked her hair idly, lulling her into contentment before making the sell. “So how about you visit good Robin, eh? Bring him some good cheer, and your wonderful cooking.”

“He hates my cooking!”

And Petyr chuckled in the dark, as if she just told a wonderful joke. 

“Then buy him cakes and lollies and treat his friends and make them fall in love with you. Spend time with your son — our son. Send my love and then, when you return home finally, you will have me all to yourself.”

He knew she could see the appeal. If there was one person she loved more than even he and his scar, it was her Sweet Robin. And thank the Seven that the boy was still as needy of his mother as she was of him. Even at nineteen. 

It worked, he thought. She tilted her head back and smiled up at him. She almost looked sweet then. “Alright, my Lord and Protector,” she cooed and he felt her hands skim down his body and knew to prepare himself. 

"But first,” she husked hungrily in his ear, "your wife would like to tell the world how much she will miss her husband."

"I have a present for you."

"Oh?" smiled Margaery, her arms circling his neck as he leaned lazily back against her. The old swivel chair groaned slightly as she tilted his head back for a kiss. 

"I like presents."

"I know you do." He moved his mouse and the screen flickered on. She watched in fascination as his fingers danced over the keys rapidly, as he pulled up the file from the dark net before long.

She was silent as the documents cascaded on screen, one after the other. He eased himself out of that tired old chair and left her to it as he made them each a cup of coffee. He returned before long, and her eyes were shining and quizzical.

"What does this mean?"

"It means we have Ned by his balls."

"Are these even genuine?"

He smirked, a small burst of fondness. "Not all of them... but all one has to do now is show the few to be true to have the rest of the dirt stick."   

He watched as Margaery scanned the pages. He was curious to know if she'd figure it out, if she could piece together the puzzle of how this all hung together.

And perhaps she did. "Sansa's signatures... these organisations, are they real?"

"I'm sure she thinks they are. But they're nothing but empty husks."

Margaery tutted, a playful smile curving up on the corner of her mouth. "Poor darling thinks she's on all these boards helping the needy." She paused, thinking hard.

"So we take down both father and daughter then, at one go. These documents incriminate them both."

"Not quite." His mouth twitched, and he placed his mug on the coaster before resting against the edge of the desk so he could face her. "We use them to get Ned to fall on his sword, so to speak."

"Think he'll do it?"

"I know he'll do it. Anything for his precious daughter. And besides," he added, lifting the mug to his lips again. "Ned's guilty."

"Because these papers say so?"

"Because he actually did it."

Margaery's mouth fell open in scandalised delight. "Do you mean to say he actually embezzled the fund?"

"Perhaps not to the fullest extent, no. But he thinks he did, and that's the important thing. We play on his guilt, and we get him to fall on his sword."

"I still don't see why you need to go through all that trouble. Such a long-winded means to the same end. You have the papers. Kill off both father and daughter and be done with it." Margaery frowned. 

"That would be decidedly unwise," Petyr returned slowly, his gaze penetrating. Hardening ever so slightly. 

"I don't see how—"

"Take everything from the man — especially his daughter — and there is nothing left for him to lose. He will give up the gig, and by that I mean he'll have me hung, drawn and quartered as well. But give him a reason to stay quiet — the safety of his daughter, a life still unblemished... keep a man motivated, and he will remain malleable. He will go down quietly. Take the ten-year sentence. Fall on his sword. If only to keep his daughter out of it. I will remain the guardian of her secrets, of course. And together, we will all remain safe. Cersei has a fall guy, the nation has a villain..." 

"Okay..." The frown still creased her pretty forehead. "I still think it's more trouble than it's worth. All these papers will silence Ned and Sansa once and for all. If he fingers you, all it looks like is a desperate man trying to shift the blame on his brother-in-law who's a man of the cloth. I still think it'll work. But alright..." She held her hands up now, in placation, in surrender. "You know Ned better, of course. If you think this is smarter, I trust your judgement."

She got up from the chair then, and he caught her elbow and pulled her into his embrace. He kissed her slowly, lazily, and felt her relax as her arms wreathed his neck. Good. 

"How's your lessons with Tommen going," he asked, his beard brushing her cheek. "Have you made him a born-again Faithful yet?” Teasing.

“We’re getting there,” Margaery smirked, the corner of her mouth tilting up. “It’s a tricky thing, playing both the virgin and the vixen.”

“Will you run out of time?”

“I am closer than ever.”

“How close?”

She cupped him then, and smiled into his mouth. “He feels a little like you do now, when I read from the Seven Pointed Star and I brush against him like so.”

“That is hardly a brush, my sweet.” His voice had turned husky with want as she kneaded him firmly.

“I am gentler with tender meat, I can assure you.”

She kissed him then, and this time her tongue found his. And with it, she told him exactly what she’d like for him to do to her, except lower.

“That’s hardly innocent,” he smirked when they finally parted.

“Would you like me to kiss you like I kiss Tommen, instead?”

“Oh ho… so you've kissed the king, then?”

“I had to. He was star-struck and rather too shy. I got tired of waiting.” She pulled back suddenly and stared at Petyr. Her mouth parted in wonder and bewilderment, and she stared at his mouth.

“What is it?”

“I just... I’m sorry, your Grace.” She lowered her eyes, as if caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Another one of her games, he thought. A pity she never could blush like Sansa. An act like hers would secure her a livelihood on stage if she could flush — on demand — a lovely pink like Sansa. But Tommen the Innocent probably couldn’t tell the truth from the theatrics even if Margaery had painted her forehead with the answer.

He decided to play along.

“Were you staring at me?”

“I… I… no.”

“What were you thinking, Margaery. You can tell me, you know.”

“Very good!” She broke character then. “That’s exactly what he had said.”

“And then you kissed him.”

“And then I kissed him… like… this.” And she slipped back into the skin of the young, hesitant bride, still smitten and breathless and in awe. Sweet Margaery, earnest and Faithful yet now yearning to touch her young, handsome betrothed. Her eyes fluttered close just as she leaned in and pressed her lips to his sweetly.

A first kiss. It had been a long time since they shared their first kiss. But in that instance, he was transported with a rush back to the Vale where an old bear of a father in chains waited mere feet away while he pressed his lips to a virgin's, almost in spite of himself…

He kissed her back. His own eyelids had fluttered shut. His kiss deepened and so she responded. His tongue found hers again, and his hands went into her hair as he locked her head in place so that he could possess her mouth. A moan escaped from her throat. But the sound, the tenor was different. He broke away then, a little dazed and disoriented.

“Well!” Margaery exhaled sharply. “You haven’t kissed me like that in a while.”

“And I won’t be able to for weeks,” he added, taking her hand. He led her to the ensuite, and lifted her so she sat on the vanity. She unbuckled his belt and eased his pants over his buttocks before freeing his cock and pumping him greedily. He pushed her skirts up to find her panties already wet where her slit was. It was a flimsy little thing, a thong. He pulled the triangle aside and slipped in two fingers at once. She gasped happily and scratched her long, red nails down his back, marking her approval. Satisfied she was wet enough, he positioned himself at her entrance before plunging straight into her.

He banged her with fervour and little sentiment. Sometimes she liked that, the almost careless roughness. It suited her now, her legs wrapped ‘round him tight, her grunts and groans reverberating on the cold bathroom tiles in that tight space. He stared at his own reflection in the mirror, his chin over her shoulder, his nostrils flaring slightly with each rhythmic thrust. He stared at himself and wondered what he was feeling.

Petyr nodded at the prison guard and waited as he took his leave, standing outside their room like a sentry. Both he and the prison warden were Petyr's own men, embedded a few years back to provide him both eyes and ears. Criminals held some of the most interesting secrets, after all. If you knew whom to shadow.

To Ned, he turned now and effected a troubled expression. Concerned.

“I’ll be straight with you,” he started without preamble. “Someone else has uncovered your secrets.”

And with that, he pulled out a dark black envelope with a string tie button and pushed it across the table.

“What’s in it?” Ned asked, his fingers staying the packet, not yet willing to sift through the contents.

“It depends,” Petyr replied, his eyes watchful. “Evidence we bury… or evidence that buries you. And yours.” 

Ned’s eyes widened a fraction and Petyr watched as he untwined the string and emptied the packet. The air was thick with growing unease as a page was scanned quickly and then the next. And the next, and the next. And then finally the great man before him, his posture already resembling one in defeat, looked up at Petyr and rasped, “How did you get this?”

“Someone who considers himself a friend of the realm and believes I have Cersei’s full interests at heart decided to give me the means to destroy you… and your daughter.”

“What are you going to do with this?” Ned’s eyes were hooded in suspicion and trepidation. 

“I can’t ignore the fact I’ve been given this…” Petyr hesitated. “You know how it will look. My allegiance to Cersei will be questioned and my influence, therefore, undermined. And if I’m undermined, I cannot help you… or your daughter.”

“This doesn’t help Sansa now!” replied Ned fiercely. “Her name’s everywhere! Some of this doesn’t even make sense… I have no recollection of such events. And yet they were done so long ago, so maybe I’ve forgotten even…” Ned ran both his hands through his hair. 

“If only I have the means to access my study, my files. Search through my own computers myself…”

“They’ve long been confiscated, Ned,” reminded Petyr in a soft voice. “How else do you think they got these, mm? Your emails? The contracts? Even with your encryption...”

“I had no idea…” Ned rubbed his face with his hands, almost as if he could rub out his own nightmare from his eyes. “I just had no idea that the little I did to get the funds to the Targaryen campaign would snowball to this.” He sighed tiredly. “I know you’ve heard it all from me before.”

“And you would have also heard me explain, time again, how Ponzi schemes spawn and how easily they can collapse like a precarious house of cards. Lies upon lies, all foundations hollow. All you need is a system and it can take a life of its own.”

“And I am to be blamed for this?”

Petyr looked evenly at Ned. “You should not be blamed for all of it, no.” He leaned in then, never breaking his gaze. “But if a deal can be made…”

Ned frowned. “A deal? What deal?”

“Your trial date is almost certainly going to be after the young King is married. Which means Tommen will preside over your trial.” A corner of Petyr’s mouth lifted. “This is good, Ned."

“Wait — you’ll set me up to take all the blame for this?”

“I won’t set you up to do anything you don’t want to do yourself,” Petyr cut in smoothly. “Despite what you think, Ned, I don’t mind you. You’re decent, you’re hardworking, you’re known for your integrity, you’re a good father, and while Cat was alive, you made her happy.” Petyr leaned back into his chair. “I don’t mind you. I’m not thrilled about you, but I don’t mind you. And as you know, we both share a common hatred of the status quo. And that is good enough for me. I don’t need to call you friend to work with you.” He smirked. “I don’t even need you to trust me. As long as our purposes align, I don’t mind you.

“So listen very carefully when I say that in your hands are copies of originals that live with someone else who trusts me. Originals that will hurt your daughter. Think of that. You know what you’ve done. But what has she done, except obediently sign the papers her father had set before her, in blind faith?”

Ned lowered his eyes, and sifted the papers again until he found the ones he wanted. He stared at Sansa’s careful signature, her lovely penmanship marking her complicity in a scheme so sordid yet necessary.

“You’re certain a deal can be made?” Ned asked finally. “If I were to take the whole blame… these people, whoever they are, would be happy to leave my daughter alone?”

“They may even arrange the documents to be destroyed,” Petyr replied. “I can drive a hard bargain.”

Ned grunted. “I know,” he replied drily. And then hopefully, “But they’ll leave my Sansa alone?”

“If they’ve found a villain, they don’t need another. A man plays better in the papers than a woman, anyway. Society doesn’t like getting outsmarted by women as much.”

“How long, you think?”

“Ten years, maximum. And I have it on good authority that Tommen has recently become more devout than his mother ever will. His future bride is known for her charitable deeds and her kindness, motivated by her Faith. She’s a regular feature at the biggest orphanages. They love her there. Perhaps her graciousness will rub off on His Grace’s sentencing. In fact, I feel certain it will." 

“When you… when we first came upon the idea of backing Daenerys… I told you that we were talking of treason. And you had said to me then, ‘It’s only treason if we lose.’”

“I remember.”

“It feels like I’m losing now,” admitted Ned. His gaze hardened. “And it feels like you’re the only one winning.”

Petyr eyed the man across the table from him, took in the way his head looked thinner and smaller now that his long hair was shaved. The prison-edition bright orange took away the lustre of the man, it was true. And yet Ned was still commanding, in his own way. Still the soldier, the noble, the man people once looked up to. They still did, up far North. It was one of the main reasons Cersei needed his name destroyed. Killing him would only martyr his memory. And that was almost worse.

This man whose brother had sliced him in two. This man, who waltzed in after and took Cat away anyway. Both brothers were as bad as each other, even if only one of them had taken a knife to a fist-fight. Petyr had been the loser that day, of everything. 

“Ned,” he finally said, “Tommen will never be free of Cersei. You know that. Is that what you want now? Because if you’ve changed your mind — again — I’ll walk right out of this cell and never look back. And you can tell everyone how I’d been scheming with you to bring the Dragon Queen back on her throne. You can throw me under the bus, even. Cersei will be de facto queen with her son on her puppet strings. And all this will be for nothing. You will live the rest of your days in the legacy of poverty, corruption, and depravity that you helped built, thanks to your success with Robert’s Rebellion.”

A crack of emotion on Ned’s face. It was but a mere parting of lips, but Petyr secretly crowed because he knew he got him.

“If I had known then what kind of king Robert turned out to be...” Ned murmurred softly. He shook his head slightly, as if dispelling other voices in his head.

“I’ll do it, Littlefinger. Not for you, but for the love of my empire and my girl. Make the deal." 

Chapter Text

He had lost a day already. Maybe more. He hadn’t planned on staying so long in King’s Landing, but then he hadn’t planned to linger in the Fingers either. Things had added up. Each woman, each cog needed tending. Needed to be greased.

The chopper landed in the parking lot gingerly. The ride had been rougher than usual, but he would not be put off any longer and so they had taken the risk, and the risk had paid off. Petyr bid Rikard a farewell and thanked him once more for his services. He grabbed his travel bag and his briefcase, flicking his eyes over the cabin one last time to check he had gotten everything, Satisfied, he alighted the plane and then made his way briskly past his block and towards the path leading to the white picket fence.

It was Spring and the days were now cool but not cold. The nights were pleasant with just enough chill in the air to justify soft cashmere, thin flannel and thick sheepskin rugs on the floor and little else.

Out of whimsy — and he was seldom inclined towards whimsy and play, for that was Margaery’s department — he had made a makeshift tent in front of the fire, just wide and high enough for two. There they lay side by side on their fronts, watching the fire flicker before them, the embers low. The shadows framed her face somehow, making her look even more captivating. Bewitching. No wonder Ned had worried about her honour. The perfect plumpness and symmetry of her mouth alone could sink many a boy to their knees. As it was, he alone was the keeper of the secrets of that mouth. It grew bolder every night, it seemed.

“Petyr...” He heard that question in her voice once again. Lately, after their bodies had been thoroughly spent by the pleasures of flesh rutting flesh, Sansa’s mind seemed to take over, to come alive.

“Yes, my darling.”

“Your position as a Most Devout... it’s dangerous, isn’t it.”

He turned away from the fire to look at her. “I am good at what I do. It’s why they chose me.”

“An answer like that... it means Yes, doesn’t it. It is dangerous work.”

He gazed at her, contemplating her question. He fingered a lock of her hair idly. “Alright, Sansa. What is troubling you, my sweet?”

She blushed a dull red. “Is it that obvious? 

He smiled. “Only to me. I can read you like an open book.” He trailed the length of her nose with his finger, watched it travel lazily down past her lips, her neck, and then beyond.

“I was just thinking back to our time in Oldtown, and the broken window and the way you had to sweep the suite for bugs.” She lowered her eyes. “Did you ever catch the man?”

“Did I... whatever made you think I could?”

She said nothing, except to raise an eyebrow as if to say, do you really mean to take me for a fool?

He chuckled quietly. “Alright,” he acquiesced, “I did catch him in the end. But what made you think it was a man?”

“The rock, the word, it said Bitch,” she replied quietly. “And the violence of throwing it through thick glass like that... I just assumed only a man would be capable of such an act.”

“It was a man,” he answered, “this time. But my darling, if you think that women in this world are not capable of the same, you have largely underestimated the strength and will of your sex.”

It did not take long for them to slip once again into a routine, an idyll, where time felt suspended yet the days passed swiftly. 

He tried not to notice the way the week disappeared — one, and then now the other that was drawing swiftly to a close. The inevitability of change, of moving backwards, filled him with a kind of dread he could ill afford. Missions suffered from sentimentality. And he feared some days he was in danger of growing maudlin.

But for now, they were packing up the kitchen as always, him doing his part like a modern man would, like a man of the times. The rhythm of life that he somehow never composed with Lysa now hummed in the background. On impulse, he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her against his chest. She turned her face towards his, and he kissed her deeply. Her hands were still in the sink, the water still almost hot. But he felt her body go limp in his arms. And he kissed her deeper still.

He was going to miss this.

“The first time you kissed me...” she asked almost shyly still, in spite of all they had done together, to each other since his return. Her eyes flicked over to the corner he had pressed her into the first time he had pressed his lips on hers. “Why did you choose that moment to kiss me then? And my father just in the next room...”

A smile quirked his lips.

“Why?” He repeated. “Because you are irresistible. And I was distracted that night, and my defenses were down, and then I had to taste you.”

And for once, he wasn’t lying.

He worked late in the night as he always did, except now he had quiet company. He could never work with Lysa in the room. Lysa, with her fidgeting and banal questions. Lysa, with her touching and stroking and continual need for reassurance that he was still there for her in spirit, and not just in the flesh. 

Sansa had no such demands of him. She was quiet, an oasis of calm and self-assurance. It was different again from his Margaery. Margaery, who could rule the world and was very much on her way to doing just that. Margaery, who could dominate all his senses if she willed it. She was polished sophistication, groomed from birth, and now formidable. She played the coquette well. But she was no coquette. 

Sansa was no coquette either. But she was no less alluring. And her spirit was quiet, not restless. 

He worked while she sat by the fire, her feet tucked under her as she lay on her side, the dip and curve of her body traced by the flickering flames before her. She was reading a book he had recommended in answer to her questions about the Most Devout and how it dovetailed with the machinations of the crown over the centuries. The author was guessing on many accounts but the book was, on balance, a fair attempt from an outsider at piecing together an intricate, secretive history. It gave her a taster anyway. He found her a voracious reader, fast and hungry — faster and hungrier than even Margaery. Margaery did not care much for history, something he had often taken her to task for. History wasn't dusty and irrelevant. History informed one of how we got here in the first place... and how we are likely to think and behave again. 

He wondered if Sansa would have turned out a vastly different creature had Ned not been her father. Had he been hers instead. Such squandered potential. 

They did not make love in his boudoir anymore. Just as well. The longer she stayed, the more redolent of her the room became. Her fragrance graced his sheets, his pillows. Their scents mingled among the tomes and parchments, stopping him in his tracks when he opened his study after a full day away. When Lysa returned, he would have had to air their bedroom, wash the sheets to erase all traces of her. But in his study at least, he got to keep her around a little while longer. 

He had been productive tonight. The responsibilities of the Vale could not be ignored, not while he still remained the Head of School. The parody still had to be performed, the mask maintained for a little while longer, just until he had no more need for the Vale or Lysa. It was time-consuming work. Tedium. He had little patience for admnistrivia.

But he had been productive tonight. He cast his eyes over to the fireplace, the tent still in the middle of the room although Sansa was curled up on the couch they had pushed to the side, against the shelves on 5th to 10th century wars and peace (feudal and Holy) and the evolution of the Law of Faith. 

She was curled up on the couch and from the rise and fall of her breast, he guessed that she had fallen asleep while reading the tome. Two things he enjoyed when she was in repose. One was to sit and watch her as she dreamed. The other was to wake her.

Quietly, he slipped over to her. There she lay, slightly reclined on her side like a painting, a queen. The book, marked by her fingers. He gently pulled the tome away before it fell to the floor. Her thick hair was still slightly damp after her bath; it hung loose over her back, her preference always for it to dry naturally. He started at her feet where he knew she was ticklish. Sensitive. He took the largest toe in her mouth and sucked it slowly. She stirred slightly, so he did it again, taking the whole of it into his mouth and sucking it off, harder this time. Then he nibbled it gently before reaching down the arch of her foot, licking and kissing it until she stirred once more.

“Mmmm?” she murmured, but he continued his ministrations unabated. His other hand grazed the length of her leg and he stroked her inner thigh before running his fingers down again. She shifted her legs slightly and he smiled. His fingers stroked the length of her feet, the pressure deep enough so she did not feel the tickle, only the pleasure.

She hitched her breath, tensing slightly, and then she sighed. 

Slowly, he kissed her calf, trailing his tongue along the curve of it to the back of her knee. His hands continued their lazy wander up and down, his fingers lightly stroking, skirting. Teasingly close to the centre, the apex of her legs before changing its mind and running down the length of her inner thigh. His mouth wandered up eventually and he started to suck, to nibble. She gasped the first time his lips clamped over the sensitive flesh closest to her folds. She was going to mark a little, but he would see to it that by the end, her entrance would be flanked by a myriad crescents of his own making. 

He would not touch her most secret place, not yet. But he saw the way her seam was starting to sop through the thin cotton. He could smell her want, clean and musky and promising.

But still he would not touch her.

And so she touched herself instead, her hand snaking down past her navel, past the thin elastic until it disappeared beneath the cotton. This was something new, he thought. Her fingers moved beneath the fabric, constrained and inexperienced. He pulled her panties down to enjoy the view.

And there he saw her, long lady’s fingers rubbing her seam, the tiny bud of flesh amidst the rosy bush. He wondered how many times she’d done this before, and then he found his fingers joining hers, guiding her fingertips towards her folds, watching her rub until she reached a kind of satisfaction.

He gave up on the crescents, his nose nudging her fingers aside and then his mouth was upon her, tongue long and hungry. He drank her in, his teeth, his lips, his tongue playing with her centre, her nub, its hood until he heard her start to keen. 

Oh please, oh Petyr, please...

But then she moved away. Somehow, she slid off the couch and landed on the carpet. Somehow, his pants, his shirt, went the way of her underclothes. She reached for his length, wrapping her hand around him. So much surer now than the very first time. Now it was she who found a rhythm and was bringing him to a peak. He started to pant for all of her. When she kissed down his scar only for her lips to find his length, his most sensitive tip... when she thought to wrap her lips around his head, he gasped like a man dying for air then breathing for the first time.

“Oh Sweetling,” he moaned, then froze.

But she hardly noticed the shift at all, so focused was she on the task that he soon lost himself again. He guided her with his hand on top of her head, with short words and unintelligible croons of encouragement. She was a quick learner, a pliable student, and he soon had to work hard not to slam his full length into the back of her throat. Eventually, when he knew he was far too close to the edge, he coaxed her off quickly and guided her onto his cock, sitting so she faced away from him. The friction, the length of him grazing the wall of her sex, against the natural curve of her body and his member... it elicited new sounds he delighted in hearing. Her calls, her words were not so innocent now, tinged as they were with a little bit of darkness and knowing. 

He pumped into her with all his energy and might, and then came within a minute or two. So intensely, that he squeezed his eyes close as if hit by a giant wave.

The tumbling down together, and then the way she turned into his chest. The moment she bit him, he yelped a little before barking a laugh in astonishment. 

“Sorry,” she murmured, looking a little horrified at herself as she stared at his flesh blossoming red and starting to bruise beneath the skin. “I think I got carried away.”

He stared at his chest, the evidence of her darker passion. Perhaps she was turning into his creature after all.

“Petyr,” came the voice again in question. “It sounds silly, I know, especially since I understand now who you are... but... why were there cameras in our suite? And why were they aimed at my bed?”

She was lying on her front again, staring unseeingly into the flickering, dying frames. He kissed her back, a lick, a suck, before he found his answer.

“I don’t know that it had anything to do with who I was, my angel. Or who you are to me. I just think there are curious people out there who stand to make a lot of money trading the secrets of the rich.”

“So it wasn’t because they thought that we... that we...”

“That we would come to be intimately known to each other?” The thought had crossed his mind, of course. It was disconcerting, yet unsurprising. If it had been Cersei’s doing, then at least all she stood to gain was the knowledge that he was making good on his promise to screw Ned in every way possible. If it had been the Most Devout... well. Each of them was hardly in a position to point and judge, really. 

No. The real annoyance would be if a whole other entity, unknown to him, were to come into the knowledge of their trysts. And then planned to use this against him.

The question, of course, was how. Destabilising his marriage with Lysa? An inconvenience if he were to lose his position at the Vale. But they were closer than ever to the end game, and he could always adapt as things around them continued to unravel as planned.

Unless, of course, they were to pass this nugget along to Margaery. 

But that would mean even thinking to link him with the future bride of the King. And that secret was airtight, as far as he knew. 

All a moot point, really. They had swept the room for bugs twenty times over.

On Sansa he focused now, quick to allay her simple, troubled heart. “No, my darling. A perfect coincidence, I can assure you. Oldtown likes to think itself rife with secrets and intrigues, but I’m betting it’s just some enterprising staff member looking for a quick blackmail.”

She looked suddenly so appalled at his cavalier suggestion of blackmail that he grinned. 

“You’re adorable,” he chuckled before continuing his descent down the curve of her back.

And then,

“Why do the people hate Cersei?”

His hand stilled then, taken rather aback by the sudden jump in topic. He slipped over on his side so he could face the girl by the fire. 

“Why the question?” he asked blandly. But his eyes were now watchful.

“I know why I hate Cersei, after Joffrey and now especially after the way she’s treated my father. I know she does it because it takes the heat off of her. The thing I don’t yet understand... and I know it’s because I never paid attention until now... is why she’s hated in the first place.”

“Do you think she is a wise ruler?”

“Well... I... no. But she’s clever.”

“You were with Joffery. Do you think she’s a great mother?”

“NO.” The answer was sharp and quick then. “She brought up a monster.”

“Many in the Seven Kingdoms believe it takes one to rear one.” He said the last softly, careful to watch her every micro-expression. What was this girl thinking. What was she up to?

“What do YOU think of Cersei?” 

And there it was. The most interesting question, if only because it did not seem to have an obvious source or motive. Where was this coming from?

His hand skirted down her back and over her buttocks. She stilled then as his finger dipped lower. Then lower still. One brushed her seam. Her question was all but forgotten as her eyes tensed in expectation.

“Well,” he answered, as if giving it serious thought, “I certainly don’t think of her the way I think of you...” he reflected as he pushed a thick finger in and heard her gasp. He pulled it out, then slipped another in and started pumping her quick and hard. Her face changed then, her mouth dropping into a surprised O before a moan leaked out from the back of her throat.

“I wasn’t asking if you liked her... this way...” she managed to retort in between.

“No?” he replied pleasantly, adjusting himself as he sat on his heels beside her, his fingers still diving deep into her folds relentlessly. “What are you asking then, my dove?” He started to stroke himself slowly. 

“I want to know if your loyalties lie with her.”

His hands did not miss a beat, a stroke, a thrust. “You’re asking a dangerous question, my dove. A question that could get you killed if I were any other kind of man.”

“Well, I’m asking you. What do you think of Cersei? Are you loyal to her? Are the Most Devout her enemy or her friend?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Because I want you to help me take her down. I want you to be my teacher.”

He slipped his fingers out of her then, and she rolled over to her back. She received him greedily, her legs circling around his waist almost before he could drive himself into her.

She matched him, thrust for thrust, her eyes never leaving his. 

“Will you?”

“Will I...”

“Help me take her down?”

His pace was growing erratic. This creature, this beautiful, vengeful, foolish, brave creature. A little hare aligning itself with a wily old fox. He reached down and kissed her deeply, his mouth rutting hers with sinful passion and something almost resembling pride.

“Maybe,” he replied. But the dominoes were already in place.

Chapter Text

Lysa returned eventually to the Vale, to her rightful place beside her brilliant, handsome husband. And thus a new tedium settled upon House Baelish. Where once her rumoured illness had kept her out of sight and therefore out of society’s mind, she now played her rightful part as the Lady of the Vale. To her credit, she threw herself into acts of service and charitable projects as was comme il faut of a Septon’s wife. And like a house cat bringing in dead mice, she managed to pounce on and reply to innumerous social engagements that Petyr was soon obligated to attend as the resident luminary. On that score, Lysa proved to be especially vigilant and effective. Any opportunity to be paraded in public by her clever, enigmatic husband was greedily snatched and scoffed and savoured.

She was sane. She was not witty or winsome. And she could still be capricious, jealous, petty, unkind. Where once, in more magnanimous moments, Petyr would chalk up his wife’s many annoyances to her fragile mental health, he now lacked even that to rationalise her utter lack of loveliness. Petyr could no longer dissemble his negligence of her by ironically pleading her best interest when keeping her indoors or away from the Vale. And so, for the first time in just over a year, he found himself torturedly playing the part of a dutiful, attentive husband… and lover.  

It felt like a snake slithering back into tattered old skin it had long shed. Like a dog returning to day-old vomit. It was enough to drive anyone spare. Or to murder.

Even though he had long been expecting the change, Petyr was still surprised at his resentment. He knew better than to bring Sansa up at all, of course. And his wife never mentioned her niece again. There would be no more family dinners, of that he was sure. His loyal, doting, Faithful wife had been drugged out of her mind for months, but he was under no illusions that Lysa had forgotten. She was insipid but she was no fool; Lysa Baelish might have allowed herself to believe her doting husband had her best interest at heart, but she was cognisant enough to understand that her special medication all started after she lost her temper. That the darkness began days after that fateful evening when Sansa Stark had joined them for dinner and had brought that gods-damn scrumptious loaf of lemon bread that had been so... Cat-like

She hated her sister. Hate. Hate

And so they kept their distance, uncle and niece, each treading around the other softly, softly. They would not touch, where once he could touch her freely and deeply. They would not catch each other's eye where just two moons ago, she'd waded into the depths of his before gasping his name.

The contrast was stark and left him irritable. An itch below ten layers of skin he couldn't scratch. He never did like it when anyone told him he couldn't...

To the outsider, they looked perfectly civil. Professional and distracted. Hours and hours of shutting himself in his office, or else rushing out to teach, to meet, to lead, to discourse. When he returned to grab his messages — always waiting neatly in a pile for him on the corner of her modest desk — Sansa would smile a small smile before she would invariably turn away to another task at hand. He would not look at her either, not fully. And yet he would not leave. He would stand in front of her desk, sifting through his messages, rifling through the latest documents requiring his careful eye and approval. His skin would prickle from the nearness of her, heat and hair starting to rise from every pore in awareness. He told himself it was because the air on the top floor of this building tended to be stifling. Thick. Deafening in its silence and austerity. 

Unsaid words would hang in the balance and crackle in the stillness. It never quite used to before. Not so much of it, anyway. Not like this. 

The terrible silence. He had gotten used to her quiet. The low murmur of shared thoughts late into the cool nights; the turning of the wheels in her head as she read; the small, eloquent sounds as she listened to him recount and explain. The hum of easy companionship, now cut off from each other, a thick wall of silence tall and immutable in its place. It was built just as much by him as it was by her, he knew. But he chafed at it most of all. 

Yet still, they would hold up that wall. 

Until, like a desert storm, his resolve would suddenly break one day. And the force of his passions then would be something to behold. He told himself that hidden things, like rare treasure, often seem the shiniest — especially in the dark. It would explain why his skin would feel like a fever, when he pressed her back to the door. When he’d catch her hand suddenly and spin her into his embrace before cutting off her surprise with a punishing kiss that robbed her of air and him of his senses. When his cock would harden immediately and flex into her, nudging into that sweet space between her legs that he knew was already dewy for him.

The first time he took her in his office… The first time he’d almost clawed at her cotton panties like a savage, fingers, hands seeking her wet warmth… The first time she moaned into his mouth in the precarious privacy of his working domain, in spite of her desperate efforts to the contrary…

He had taken her on his settee in front of his faux fireplace, the blinds of the windows that faced out to that grand, historical staircase barely drawn tight before he sank his cock slowly into her most secret place and watched as her head dropped back, exposing her throat. They had only ten minutes to spare then, before his next appointment was to come knocking on his door. And in that frisson of too-little time they had rutted in an almost animalistic frenzy; two bodies clashing and greedy, each drawing great gulps of searing pleasure that threatened to drown them both. And silent. Oh, so silent. When she finally tumbled over that cliff to soar, he had to cup his hand firmly over her mouth to stop her climax from spilling over into glorious, whimpering, telltale song. And when she bit into the fleshiest part of his hand instead, he came hard — thick ropes of cum pulsing into her until he was sure he had nothing possibly left to beget a child. Face frozen in soundless ecstasy. 

Sleep had come early and quickly to Petyr that night, dreamless and heavy and warm.    

But now it was turning into a little compulsion, almost. A stolen kiss here, a heated hand there… She had taken to dispensing with make-up altogether now; her lips were kept their natural pink, enhanced only by the lightest of tints from a lip balm that rubbed out easily from his skin and shirts. 

They had to be careful. They couldn’t afford to be careless. 

But now he was opening the door to his study, her footsteps light like a dancer’s as she slipped into his embrace. Lysa had been doused in Dreamtime after husband and wife had shared a bottle of Arbor Gold. The distant drone of her snores stole across the expanse of the house, forming a strangely intoxicating soundtrack as Petyr’s hands wrapped around Sansa’s waist, bunching her dress in tight fists as he drew her bodily to his mouth and drank her like a man parched from a long drought.

They sank into the thick carpet slowly and began their most secret dance. The thrill of it all was the headiest drug. He told himself it was because he was prone to boredom. He had always upped the ante, always gambled with higher stakes; it was why chaos seduced and aroused him, why he steered closest to the razor edge when everyone else chose a more comfortable margin for error. The man, Petyr Baelish, he craved the unparalleled high of a calculated bold risk paying huge dividends. The consummate adrenaline junkie.

Forbidden fruit was what he told himself, when he sank his tongue into her sex and imbibed her sweet nectar until she hummed and writhed and panted and rutted his face while his heart beat wildly like a caged little bird. While he felt terribly, terribly pleased.

It’s only fleshly desire was what he reminded himself when their limbs lay tangled and a sheen of sweat coated their skin and started to cool in the night air. When he traced light circles on her shoulder with his thumb and buried his face in her thick auburn tresses to breathe her in deeply as if she were pure oxygen and he wanted — no, needed — to get high. 

“Here’s a gun, Sansa. Do you know how to use it?”

“My father taught all of us… but, no. I can’t possibly.”

“I am a dangerous man, as you said yourself, Sansa. And you work for me. So here’s your gun, precious one. Do you know how to use it?”

“Not this one. Not yet.”

“Your lessons start tomorrow."

The event was televised live, of course. The wedding that the nation had been waiting for — first for Joffrey the brat before his untimely demise, and now Tommen. Sweet, young Tommen. And to the same bride, no less. 

In any other family, in this day and age, the notion of passing your brother’s intended down the line like she were mere chattel would be utterly scandalous. But somehow the empire always seemed to set aside such modern standards and sensibilities when it came to the royal family.

Petyr reckoned the plebes just liked the romance and the pageantry.

True enough, the inhabitants of King’s Landing set aside their grievances about their lost retirement funds for a whole day to come out in excited droves and flank both sides of the street, if only to catch a sight of young, beautiful Lady Margaery Tyrell in her fairytale carriage. She played her part prettily, of course — flashing her most photogenic smile, her mouth never straying upward to twist sardonically, her face open and happy and girlish.

Petyr was there, head straight and eyes most serious. He was frocked from head to toe, resplendent in his most formal and ceremonial vestments. His ferraiolo complemented his cassock handsomely, reaching all the way to the ground and rustling like heavy silk tended to do as he walked the length of the aisle with purpose, carrying himself with natural poise and all the gravitas of humble superiority. 

As a Holy Man, he was seated on an ancient, uncomfortable chair rather near the action — second to last on the dias, in the apse of the Great Sept between the Mother and the Father. He was there in his lowly capacity as a venerated scholar that the crown occasionally leaned on, no more. Only four others in that apse, including the High Septon conducting the ceremonial hand-waving, knew of his other higher duties — those that accompanied his rank as the fourth member of the Most Devout... and Cersei’s secret spiritual spy on the aforementioned.  

There, in his ceremonial high-backed chair, Petyr was close enough to watch — like an impassive, unblinking hawk — every thought and expression painted and fleeting on his Margaery’s face. Her performance was flawless, and he was really quite proud of her. A rather paradoxical thing, feeling pride even as one watches one’s lover marry another. Perhaps the strongest niggling within that Petyr could put his finger on was a kind of mild annoyance, almost as if he had just been vaguely snubbed once more. But overall, Petyr was feeling rather serene. Even festive. 

Margaery’s small sweet face and lilting voice belied her actual age and cunning. Today she appeared almost younger than Sansa — almost as innocent as her youthful royal husband. Tommen was no lion, even if he was bedecked in house colours, his royal cloak bearing the sigil. But he had unwittingly just yoked himself to one in the eyes of the Seven and on international TV. 

Margaery’s ambition was lion enough for two. 

He watched as their fingers brush one another's, as the High Septon tied the red ribbon in a knot around their joined hands. 

“Let it be known that Margaery of House Tyrell and Tommen of the Houses Lannister and Baratheon are one flesh, one heart, one soul, now and forever. Cursed be he who would seek to tear them asunder.”

A tiny muscle in Petyr’s eye twitched then, and he fought down a rascal’s smile.

Tommen, though he be young, had a voice that surprisingly could carry in that crowded, great sept. As he turned to his happy, young bride, he announced for all to hear the final words that ended an hour’s tedium while bringing with it a brand new beginning.

“With this kiss, I pledge my love.” And as Tommen the First kissed his bride allegedly for the very first time, Petyr breathed out and smiled to himself.

As with custom, all in the sept erupted in applause as the royal couple broke their kiss and faced their witnesses and subjects. The atmosphere was palpable — thick with genuine joy and even a kind of relief, Petyr observed with interest.  

No one, therefore, thought it inappropriate when High Septon Luceon Frey raised his sonorous voice over the din to announce the royal couple thus.

“All Hail His Grace, Tommen of Houses Baratheon and Lannister, First of His Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm.” And they did.

“All Hail Her Grace, Margaery of House Tyrell, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms… and Defender of the Faith of the Seven.”

Petyr raised an eyebrow. Whatever the Defender of the Faith of the Seven was meant to do exactly… that was anybody’s guess right now. Purely honorary, Petyr guessed. Lucern would never relinquish real control willingly. It made Petyr slightly uneasy that he should be left in the dark of such an announcement. And if Margaery had been taken by surprise, she hid it well. 

No matter. He would get to the bottom of that soon. In all likelihood, Luceon had made the most of the exhilaration of the moment to slide that one in. Any titles to do with the Faith were his to bestow, after all. It was not something bequeathed by the Crown, nor to be rejected when given. A quirk of the religious politics of their day. Ancient laws could be such fun when placed in the right hands and minds.  

Defender of the Faith. Queen Margaery could do with a longer, grander title. And if anything, this helped tie the Crown to the Faith inextricably.

Cursed be he who would seek to tear them asunder.

It had taken much planning and military precision to finally have a moment alone with the Queen on the day of her wedding, but Petyr managed it like he managed all other affairs. It was always a matter of keeping a few possibilities up his sleeve, waiting for sown opportunities to rise like poppies on cue, and then adapting as he went along. 

In the end, he had hidden behind the thick velvet curtains drawn tight in front of a recessed window bench on which he had been comfortably seated and waiting for a quarter hour. Margaery’s duties as a modern monarch now included playing Royal Clothes Horse, and her wedding day demanded a large number of dress changes. It was here, sliding between the third and fourth gown change, that Petyr met her in this temporary changing room. The secret tunnels in this ancient building still came in handy now and then. It also helped that her current ladies in waiting were earning double on the side, under his employ. They had conveniently made themselves scarce just then. 

“Hi,” Petyr said softly, slipping out of his hiding place.

“Hi,” the new queen replied quietly, before bursting noisily into tears.

He was there with her in an instant, his arms around her delicate frame, his fingers threading through her long, dark hair slowly. Margaery's hair was pulled back near her ears and swept up into an ornate and fussy arrangement of curls and coils festooned with chains of tiny flowers that matched her soft green gown, almost more gossamer than silk to the touch. She was made to look like a faery queen and she suited the part. At least outwardly.

His eyes dropped to her lips and he thought briefly about kissing her slowly, but both of them were nothing if not pragmatic.

“My make-up will smudge,” she explained as if she had heard his thoughts clear as day. She gave him a watery grin.

“Why are you crying, my love?” He drew long strokes down her back, through her hair. Up and down, up and down… It always used to comfort her.

“You are Queen now,” he murmured. “The Queen."

What he didn't add, of course, is that things between them had also changed irrevocably. Their time of idyll is no more. They would still be together. But differently.

She sniffed again, dabbing the corners of her eyes carefully with her little finger. 

The Queen,” he repeated slowly, his voice low and rumbly in his chest the way she liked it. “Didn’t I promise you? I have delivered on that promise, as you have. Clever girl.” A pause. “Did you fuck the young king after all?”

“To the moon and back.”

Petyr marvelled that there was no jealousy. Not even a twinge. Perhaps it was the way she had said it. It wasn’t meant to injure or gloat or goad. It was a statement of fact, a report of yet another triumph.

“And was he... appreciative?”

He sensed before he heard the smug satisfaction in her voice when she replied, “What do you think.”

“I think the king must be quite taken.”

“He got took. I know I can lead him around by his willy now.”

“Good.” He pulled her closer to him again and started to hum. There can’t be very much time left, Petyr thought. This was it: the in-between, before the new game begins.

He heard her sniff once again. Crying still? How unlike his Margaery. This won’t do.

“Why are you crying, sweetling. You have what you want.” He paused, something squeezing inside him uncomfortably before he ventured to ask in a low voice, “Don’t tell me you’re having second thoughts now. It’s a little too late for that... your Grace.” He felt the weight of the title on his tongue, the newness of it. 

“Oh Petyr…” he heard Margaery of House Tyrell laugh. “You misunderstand me completely.” She pulled herself back to stare into his eyes. Hers were such a deep brown and right now, they looked chocolate and warm and merry. "I’m not sad at all, silly. On the contrary — I’m just… so… happy, I could die."

His favourite cassock again, the clerical collar high and snug against his throat. The Queen Mother clutched all symbols and semblance of power with talons that could dig deep. Petyr knew her well enough to continue to play to her ego, even if her influence in the court was slowly waning.

Let it never cross Cersei Lannister's mind that he had designed her slow and tortuous fall from favour through her own beloved son and his well-used cock. 

“Your Majesty.”

And this time, Petyr noticed she did not fob him off for using the overly formal title. Apparently, the lower one sank, the more one enjoyed the pomp and pageantry. He hid a smirk. 

She did not meet him in the throne room, like she used to do. Cersei in days of old — and he referred to days only a quarter year past — would take an audience in the throne room, as if she already ran the Seven Kingdoms by deed if not by name. Queen Cersei, of the House Lannister, First of Her Name, Lady of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms...

Probably not the Defender of the Faith just yet.

Instead, he had been summoned to her private solar. The days were starting to cool again and grow shorter. Out of the balcony was nothing but dark now, but he could hear the waves crashing against the rock far below. It was a long way to fall and crack one’s head open like a coconut from this pretty perch. 

As if listening to his thoughts, the Mountain of her bodyguard flexed his arm slightly, almost in warning.

“A drink?” she asked, and poured a very tall glass for herself. There was now more wine in her glass than in the crystal decanter from where it came from. She could have just saved herself the trouble and guzzled straight from the narrow crystal mouthpiece, thought Petyr. He stifled the urge to roll his eyes.  

“No thank you, your Majesty.” She smiled thinly back at him, thoroughly expecting his response, and took a long swig.

“Seen Ned lately?” She drawled. 

“About two months ago. He’s still waiting to fall on his sword, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

She nodded. “He can do that real soon. Tommen, my boy, has agreed to a court date under my urging.”

“Urging? Is there a reason for this to be expedited now?”

Cersei shrugged elegantly. No matter how shitfaced the Queen Mother got, never let it be said she did not know how to lounge, pout, and hold a wine glass with insouciant finesse.

“I’ve heard from a few little birds…” Varys. “… that people are starting to dig around again, concerning Ned’s role in the National Fund collapse.”

“Oh?” replied Petyr neutrally.

“I know you’ve buried it well before, Lord Baelish. And left the last bit with Ned’s involvement sticking out of the ground. But if anyone were to pull on that turnip too hard… I wish for some things to remain underground, Baelish.” 

Petyr nodded then. “Ned will be your fall guy, m’lady. They’ll never find out it was you who…” Drained the coffers. With your drinking and your dresses and your epically wasteful and idiotic endeavours. Investments and petty, unwinnable wars that washed centuries of wealth away… Tywin would turn in his grave.

Petyr cleared his throat as Cersei’s eyes narrowed. “Your secret is safe, m’lady,” he reiterated with feeling. He watched as she watched him and judged, before she relaxed into her chair again, boneless with drink. 

“We need to discredit Ned. It is not enough that he is waiting on his sentence and his day in court. You were right, Lord Baelish.” Cersei’s lip curled up humourlessly. “It’s almost like you planned this.”


She flicked open her phone and found what she was looking for. She tossed her phone over to him. He read the message from Jorah Mormont quickly, his eyes narrowing.

“Danaerys is collecting armies like a little girl collecting hurt pussycats. She thinks she’s coming for us. She can’t, not yet.” Cersei paused then. “But if she turns North…”

“If Ned’s credibility is not utterly destroyed, all the North will gradually rally around him. And if he throws his weight to the Targaryen girl…” Petyr let the words hang and speak for themselves in the silence. 

“You always told me that this was a possibility, Lord Baelish.” Cersei swirled the contents of her wine glass, her eyes never leaving his. “You have a way of predicting the future. Tell me how this will play." 

“It’s a delicate exercise, m’lady,” warned Petyr. “Overdo the sentencing, and we’d make him a martyr and we might as well deliver the North to Dany ourselves. The trial has to look fair, the punishment meted just. If the Crown were to get heavy-handed and overreach — or worse, kill him — then it is game over for us all. Suspicion will fall on the Crown because we will look like we protested too much. It won’t take much for the tide to turn against us then. The seeds have already been sown.” And Petyr would see to it that they get watered. But his face remained earnest, calm.

Cersei snorted mirthlessly. “It’s ironic, really. That Targaryen bitch winning the North by default if we end up being too hard on poor ol’ Ned? He’s a traitor to the cunting crown! I fucking cannot believe we’re not trying him for treason and giving him the injection. Bye bye Ned Stark! And it wasn’t even his idea in the first place to fund Dany by robbing the coffers. He’s too stupid to even know how to run a mile, let alone a Ponzi scheme. I bet he only did it by your urging and your teaching, I’m convinced of it. Varys thinks so too.”

“I saw an opportunity to hide a multitude of sins, m’lady.” Especially yours, you bloody ingrate, thought Petyr. But he smiled conspiringly. “We’re home and hosed free after this trial, if it’s managed well.”

Cersei smiled back and it only made her face frightening to look upon. 

“My boy is the judge. He’ll do right by his mama." 

Chapter Text

He had given it much thought, even surprising himself. He had mulled it over some, wondering how he would broach the subject with Sansa. How he could break the news. 

In the end, he had waited for a day when Lysa was invited to a fundraiser especially for wives of Septons, over at Riverrun. Ages ago, Petyr had leaned heavily on the organisers, enough to secure a small speaking spot for Lysa to preen. It was just the distraction Lysa craved and the prospect of the honour, the glory, and a room held captive to her thoughts and opinions for a whole quarter hour delighted his Faithful wife to no end. She had worn his patience down to a fine, brittle thread by the fortnight’s end, but he held out for the pay-off which was worth its weight in bribing gold: Lysa bustled away this morning in a cloud of highly agitated self-importance and excitement, not even caring — for once — that her most cherished, desirable husband should be home on a quiet weekend alone with their niece still wandering the grounds.

Petyr was here now, in the quiet of her bedsit, Sansa's long red hair fanned out on his chest like heavy satin. He was stroking her face, her ear absently. His fingers tracing her jawline as he absently waited and thought. She, in turn, spread her hand over his chest in a pose of quiet and assured possession. It brushed down his side now and then, gliding over his bare hip gently. His cock lay soft and content, the thick thatch of hair tickling the inside of her leg when she brought her knee up to rest across him.

There they lay, wrapped and rapt.

“Sansa,” he murmured into her musk, her hair. “I have news.”

She stirred slightly, so he knew she was listening.

“Your father’s court date has been set.” He waited until she roused herself, until she was sitting up beside him on her heels. He noted a small crease of flesh on her right breast and stroked a thumb gently across as if to smooth it.

“Your father will most likely be found guilty, Sansa. I’m sorry.”

His eyes flicked up to hers and he watched as her own filled with understanding and distress.

“You know?” she asked softly. “You know what the King is going to say?”

“There are early indications.”

“How is that a fair trial!” Her eyes were ablaze with anger. “If His Grace has already decided, then it is a farce and we should all just go home.”

His fingers swept down her arms until they reached her hands and he held them gently in his. 

“Careful, my angel,” he replied quietly. “You are safe with me. But never forget that the Crown can be pernicious if it wants to. You are right to be angry. But this is the way of the world. It is corrupt. That is why we need the gods.”

He kissed her on her forehead, but it seemed to only lessen her mounting distress fractionally.

“Is my father going to be judged fairly?”

Petyr pondered that question for a moment. “Yes,” he decided finally. “In a way.”

“In what way!” Sansa’s voice was rising now, her usual sweet notes climbing higher in frail agitation. “You just said he will be found guilty.”

“That is not the end of the world, Sansa. Consider your circumstances! The evidence is heavy, Sansa. Weighted against him.”

“But gaol!”And now the tears were lacing her eyes. “My father, convicted like a common criminal! How is that even preferable!”

He sighed deeply, working his mouth. Should he tell her Ned was guilty? The truth of it? But to do so would mean telling her the whole lie that lived as its companion. Your father did defraud the crown. It would crush her, this woman child. But then Peter would be forced to let her think that Ned had been guilty not just in part but of the whole. Your father emptied the coffers of the crown, stole savings, destroyed families and livelihoods.

That would do more than crush her, surely, 

Which was the crueller? To let her believe that her father was innocent, a victim of gross injustice and frustrating circumstantial evidence? Or to let her believe that her father was a traitor, callous, and the cause of so much anguish and brokenness. 

Petyr remained silent, Sansa’s rhetorical question hanging in the air. But as his mind worked the problem, Sansa reached her own insights swiftly.

“You know something,” she realised aloud, her eyes widening. “What would happen to my father, Petyr? What would be worse than gaol?”

At that, Petyr’s eyes softened and he stared at her wordlessly. Unflinching. He saw the moment she understood completely.

“They would kill him?”

“Sansa, we’re talking about the reserves of the nation here, allegedly drained then squandered on the Mad Queen of the grass seas. It’s treason of the highest order. The fact that your father has not been taken to the gallows immediately shows incredible restraint on the part of the Crown.” 

“But only because they have no definitive proof to convict him!” Sansa cried.

“You believe that, Sansa?”

“I know it!” she sobbed, and thumped a fist to her chest, “in my heart!” And then the last confession, her voice thick with fury and emotion. “Cersei is guilty, I know it, I do! I just know she did this to my father, don’t ask me how. I just do! Call it women’s intuition, call it foolishness, but I've lived with this woman —  she did this!” Sansa’s anger seemed to glow from her skin now. “Don’t tell me I’m mad, Petyr. Please, please believe me!"

Something in his spirit moved in tandem with the outward show of care and love. He pulled her to him immediately and made shushing sounds as she sobbed openly into his neck, wetting it with hot, angry tears. He willed his heart to slow, even as his mind raced. Her certainty had been breathtaking. He waited until she collected herself, until she calmed before pulling her away from him gently.

“The facts remain, precious one, that no matter where the truth may lie, your father looks guilty. But the thing that works in your favour is the fact that the people are suspicious of Cersei. The fact that, until Tommen I, Cersei had stood as your father's most strident accuser. Opinion of her is low and divided. That had been the only thing saving your father, ironically! Killing him immediately would have stirred up considerable unrest, maybe even a revolt. As it is, I’m sure you know how rife the whispers on the grounds are. The conspiracy theories abound. They paint Cersei with the same brush, as she has always looked more guilty than your father ever did. Take heart, my darling, that your father's name does not tarnish so easily, even now.

“But in our present times, with Tommen and his pretty, kind queen, things are changing again. If Tommen were to choose to incarcerate your father — or even put him to death — the people might have a stronger stomach for it. They still hate Cersei, but they are warming to their young king. And now that he’s married, they think him less under the thumb of his evil mother, and more under the enchantments of his beautiful, charitable wife. And I hear Queen Margaery is against the death penalty entirely. 

“But do you see, my Sansa? Do you understand now? Cersei, as deplorable as she is, stands in the way of your father’s utter destruction.”

“I hate her,” Sansa breathed. He brushed another tear away from her cheek.

“I asked you once, Petyr. I asked you to take her down.”

“Not now, Sansa.”

“Then when!”

“Timing is everything, my darling.” He paused. “But plans are in motion.” Just not in the way you think.

But Sansa would not let him brush her away. 

“Tell me, Petyr." Her voice was low, but Petyr heard the urgency and frustration lacing it. "Tell me you have a plan. Tell me my father will be safe.”

He brushed his lips across her temples and sighed into her hairline. 

“Your father will do more time in prison, but he will be safe.”

“And how do you know? Is the Most Devout in the business of governing the thoughts of new kings as well?” Her voice was bitter and sullen. Petyr raised an eyebrow. This was a side to Sansa he had not seen. 

“No,” he replied slowly. Then paused, as the words took shape and slowly dropped out of his mouth like long-kept jewels.

“I know,” he heard himself say, “because I have an ear to the whispers of the court. I know, because Cersei trusts me. I know because I work for her.”

He waited for Sansa’s reaction, bracing himself for the shock and fury but she was surprisingly calm even as the look of surprise crossed her face.

“Why do you work for her?”

“You don’t say no to the Crown when it asks you to serve the empire, Sansa. They’re not exactly the fishmonger’s wife, asking for a favour.”

“Can I trust you?”

He smiled. 

“I work for Cersei, my darling, because I need to keep my friends close but my enemies much closer. How else can I wrap my hands around their necks and squeeze when the time finally comes? Only proximity and trust give those advantages.” 

He watched Sansa shake as if she were suddenly cold. But she was listening and unafraid. Good.

I work for Cersei,” he continued, “because I need to keep my family safe. And my family includes… you.”

At that, Sansa smiled and the heat, the blackness of the last half hour seemed to lighten.

“Cersei knows you’re the Most Devout?”

He laughed. “It's the biggest reason I am useful to her. Cersei thinks I am working with her to bring Luceon Frey down. Her fear of him creating a religious state that she will lose all control of is why she keeps summoning me back to King’s Landing.” He stopped himself suddenly, almost vexed that he had revealed the last. He stared at the woman child before him and wondered for the first time if the Mother and the Crone had allowed this siren to bewitch him, that secrets could fall from his lips so freely just because she looked at him a certain way. 

He had always been immune to Margaery’s tears. 

Only Margaery had known about Cersei and her plot against Luceon.

“So you’re working from the inside,” Sansa slowly replied, piecing things together in her mind. 


“And you have a plan.”


Sansa’s blue eyes flicked up suddenly, locking with his with such intensity that he felt unable to look away.

“I love you.” Her words were solemn and grave. 

The throne room was an architectural miracle conceived and birthed in the Ancient Days solely to impress and to shrink the hearts of men. Built like a basilica, its walls climbed dizzying heights up to sixty feet at its highest point — a dome over the infamous Iron Throne, itself a twisted, melted, hostile monstrosity climbing forty feet. Lancet windows designed and stained by the empire’s greatest lined the walls of the chamber like hooded septons, but it was the thirty-five feet of clerestory windows curving around the back of the Iron Throne that commanded the entire attention of the chamber. Whoever sat in the Iron Throne was always backlit, the shadow of the impressive, foreboding structure suddenly casting an almost supernatural hue over its royal occupant. Depending on the time of day, a halo of light would appear on the head of the sovereign, as if he alone were blessed by the gods with wise judgement.  

To date, it remains the single largest chamber in all the Seven Kingdoms — even bigger than the Great Sept of Baelor ever was. And yet today, the room was filled, bodies from near and far jostling to see. Even though the Crown had made this a closed trial and the media were not allowed in, still there were crowds that came to gape today. Among their number stood indignant newly impoverished lords and ladies who had invested in the Crown for generations. Landed gentry. Farmers, businessmen. Many of them had once been proud to call themselves acquaintances and friends of the Starks. But today, they crowded in booing and hissing when Lord Eddard Stark was finally brought into the great room, bound in chains.

Yet mingled among the anger were equally vociferous calls of support and cheer. 

At the sight of her father, haggard, scruffy and brought down low, Petyr watched as Sansa blanched before her countenance hardened and her eyes cooled and narrowed. She was sitting alone on one of two wooden chairs situated directly behind the plaintiff's seat and that of his counsellor. Together, the four seats cut a lonely and defensive figure in the middle of the cavernous room, the pressing throng of onlookers made to give a wide berth of ten feet. Even from this distance, Petyr knew that the heat and spite of the crowd's collective anger already determined that all who sat on those simple wooden chairs were already guilty.   

As Sansa’s blood relation, Lysa should have been in that empty seat beside her. But Lysa would have nothing to do with the trial, insisting that she could not afford to sully her married name — his name — by association. It was probably for the best; Lysa would have ratchet up the tension. She was about as comforting as a cat o’ nine tails and Sansa had not hidden her relief when he had informed her that Lysa had to visit her son.  

And so she sat alone. Her back was straight and tall, and even though she was in a chair that insinuated shame, she looked regal.

And Petyr was proud of her.

She glanced his way right then and for a fleeting moment, their eyes locked. If this were any other trial, another kind of life, perhaps he would be there holding her anxious, clammy hand. He would trace her pulse with his thumb, willing it to slow and calm. His leg would press against hers and she would draw comfort from that and tell him so, in a low voice that was only for his ear. 

But he was no good to her there now. Not if they all wanted to get out of this relatively unscathed.

Ned shuffled with heavy dignity to his place then. Petyr watched as a look passed between father and daughter. When Ned finally sat on his chair directly in front of Sansa, he looked a little cheered. 

Petyr sat on the left of the throne room in the middle row of the temporary spectator stands specially brought in for today. From his perch, he had full view of both the plaintive and the Iron Throne, just near enough to read important faces and infer their hearts and motives. He noted where other key players found their perches and smirked when Varys caught his eye. Varys bowed with a smile that was as empty as his soul. He too had brought a tiny pair of binoculars, as if bird watching. 

“Announcing  His Grace, Tommen of Houses Baratheon and Lannister, First of His Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm.

The entire court stood to attention.

“Announcing Her Grace, Margaery of House Tyrell, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms,and Defender of the Faith of the Seven. And Her Majesty, Cersei of House Lannister, and Queen Mother of Tommen the First.

The two women entered the room behind their  sovereign and were led to their respective modest thrones flanking the great stair of swords that led up the forty feet of twisted metal to its apex. The room fell into hushed silence as King Tommen slowly made his way up the throne with as much stately grace as he could muster, yet carefully so as not to fall on a pointy sword.

Once Tommen was as comfortable as he could ever be, the grizzly business of the Seven Kingdoms vs Lord Eddard Stark finally began.

It was nothing he had not expected. As the evidence piled higher and weighed down against Ned, the outage of the courtroom spectators grew thick and palpable. Menacing. More than once, the young king had to ask for silence until he threatened to make an example of the next protester who interrupted the day's proceedings. 

Young Tommen was still green, but he held himself with surprising grace and gravitas that had faint echos of his late, legendary grandfather. Tommen was fair and he allowed Ned to speak in his own defence, questioning him as if he really were trying to get to the bottom of the truth. It was a far fairer trial than even his own uncle had ever received. Ned was honest, of course. And to a ridiculous fault. And while he weakly suggested the possibility that he had been framed, his admittance that he had no idea as to how those incriminating documents came to be on his computer sounded so feeble that even Petyr cringed. Ned's own counsellor looked as if he was about to cry or kill his own client. Or both. 

Petyr knew, of course, that Ned was building things up to take the fall himself. And true to his own word to Ned, none of Sansa’s papers made it to evidence.

Sansa’s hands were squeezed in her lap. The longer the trial progressed, the tighter and whiter her hands became.

She flicked a look at Petyr once, twice, and he knew then that she could read the writing on the wall. Her father was going to gaol. The only question now was, for how long.

Ten long years, my darling. Can you bear it?

Margaery the Queen sat on her throne, her face in perfect neutral, her large brown eyes seemingly distant and unseeing. In her royal finery with the perfect posture, the delicate crown on her head, her kind but imperious mien… Margaery Tyrell was no more, but in her place sat a diminutive figure now larger than life. And luminous, so luminous in her own right. He had not seen her since her wedding day. And in those short months, the girl he knew and plotted with and loved, in his own way, had been replaced by the woman she had always wanted to be. 

It was hard to imagine The Queen naked and writhing in his arms. Perhaps, in an unguarded moment, in a time so rare when the planets aligned and they could be in each other’s cosmos at the same time… when the last piece of their intricate puzzle finally dropped into place and he was finally by her side… then, and only then would he find the real Margaery Tyrell in his arms again. 

Not once, he realised, did she ever glance his way. Or perhaps she did, but he never caught her. 

In contrast, the Queen Mother looked almost bored. Cersei was slouched in her throne, legs crossed and swinging slightly. It was the perfect posture of insolent insouciance. But she would stare at Petyr every now and then before her generous mouth would curve into a smirk. 

The air was shifting now. The spectators felt it, the chamber fairly hummed with expectation. Tommen had passed judgement before, but this was history about to be writ. The spectators knew it. His council knew it. His mother and wife knew it. And the king knew it.

He cleared his throat.

“Lord Eddard Stark, former Lord Regent of the North, Lord of Winterfell. How do you plead?”

“Guilty, your Grace.”

Sansa’s mouth fell open, mimicking the gasps that rippled around the cavernous chamber.

Tommen nodded gravely. “It is tragic that you have chosen this moment at last to do the noble thing. Your confession is heard and noted, and for that your sentence will be muted. 

“In this trial, we have heard much evidence to suggest your key role in undermining the security of the empire’s reserves through a wretched scheme so grand and insidious as to make the history books of our children. I still profess not to understand all of it, nor how a single man could have caused such a catastrophic event to occur right under our noses. You claim to be acting alone. And yet the fact that you consistently seem incapable of answering the hows and whys seem to suggest that you may not, after all, have been the mastermind.”

Petyr’s jaw clenched ever so slightly.

“Or perhaps, Lord Eddard Stark stands before us as the greatest manipulator of our lifetime."

Tommen’s face wore neither judgement nor anger. But the next words out of his mouth were chilling nevertheless.

"You are a traitor to the crown, Lord Stark. Your titles are hereby formally stripped from you and your kin, to be returned to the Crown. Your lands are to be returned to the Crown. Your property, your wealth, your worldly possessions are to be returned to the Crown. And as for your part, whether great or small, in the greatest heist the Seven Kingdoms has ever seen…”

Ned Stark closed his eyes and drew his breath. The Chamber stilled.

“… I hereby sentence you to life in prison. You are to live out the rest of your days as a man without his freedom.”

The Chamber erupted then in a clash of thunderous applause and outraged disbelief. Petyr’s jaw went slack. The sound of Sansa’s horrified scream pierced the pandemonium like a lance to a boil.  

Tommen raised his hand and it was with great effort that the chamber quietened.

“However…” And Tommen looked down to where his wife was seated. As if sensing him, she looked up as if towards a god.

“There is room for mercy.” He smiled at his queen and she returned the smile demurely.

“Eddard Stark, you may live out the rest of your days in prison. Or you may have your sentence drastically reduced… if you were to repent from your Old Gods and turn now completely to the Seven.”

Cersei turned sharply to look up at her son. 

An uneasy silence fell over the chamber before the murmuring started to rise. Petyr’s eyes darted immediately to Margaery and his blood ran cold, for it was clear that she had not expected this either. She was staring up at her king now, her lips moving but unreadable. 

With everyone scraping and bowing to him, even a sweet boy like Tommen will understand his power.

How’s your lessons with Tommen going? Have you made him a born-again Faithful yet?

People were starting to rise from their seats now, darting to each other, conferring. Petyr jumped up from where he was seated, searching for Sansa, desperate to know…

The moment their eyes locked, something deep inside himself shrank.  

Sansa looked lost. Haunted. And utterly betrayed. And then Ned was standing and pulling his daughter to him. She snapped awake then, her hands reaching into his hair, brushing down his face, a child trying desperately and futilely to soothe her parent. They were telling each other things, tears streaming down their faces openly. And then she was shaking her head vehemently. No, Petyr read her lips, no! But then she was nodding as well and openly crying.

The counsellor was pulling Ned away, and Sansa searched for Petyr immediately. Her eyes were begging him now. Please, Petyr, please. Do something. This is an impossible choice.

Petyr reeled. What had young Tommen just done?

As if hearing his thoughts, the young king raised his arm once more and the babble of voices in the chamber hissed and shushed until it reached full silence. 

“And what is your decision, Eddard Stark?” asked the young Faithful king. “Have you considered my offer?”

“I have, your Grace,” replied Eddard Stark gravely. In spite of their history, Petyr admired his stubborn stoicism even as he already knew what the foolish man was about to say.

“I thank you for the offer, but I choose to keep the Old Gods. They are all I have left now.”

“Nooooooo!” cried Sansa, a sound so pitiful that his own chest grew tight. Petyr watched as guards stepped forward gently to hold her back and in that moment, he felt within himself a fleeting and irrational rage. Father and daughter had a wordless conference once more as Ned was calmly cuffed and led away. 

“May this matter be finally laid to rest now,” Tommen intoned when the last of Ned’s entourage swept out of the great room. He looked directly at the sobbing girl before him, now still struggling to hold herself upright as was befitting a genteel woman who once would have been the heiress and Lady of Winterfell.

The young king’s eyes were full of genuine compassion when he finally stood to address the rest of the room. “Let not the sins of the father be held against the child.” He nodded to Sansa before descending the forty feet of swords and the rest of the chamber rose as was expected. But Sansa’s head remained bowed low, her hands turned up on her lap as if to say to all the world that she had nothing, nothing, nothing left anymore.  

When Petyr finally thought to tear his gaze from the broken woman-child in the middle of the room, it was only then he'd realised that he had been watched. And by none other than His Queen.

Chapter Text

She was nineteen when she first met Petyr, and even then she knew enough about him to wonder if she should be wary. Her brother Loras did not trust him, largely because Renly — the man she was to marry at the time — did not trust him. And Loras was led by his cock. The youngest Tyrell male had always been exceptionally athletic and pretty but sadly rather more hot-headed and suggestible than his sister. Margaery, in contrast, tended to view the world in shades of cool gray. 

And so it was that Petyr piqued her interest from the start. Their first brush was at a royal polo match in Highgarden, right about the time when Renly had been toying with the idea of staging a coup against his own royal brother while her own sibling whispered sweet somethings into his ear promising greatness within his grasp. While Renly and Loras made their snide remarks about Petyr, Margaery sat and watched the man in question. This supposedly Holy Man, walking alongside her as she led him to his room, all harmless in his newly tailored cassock, his head bowed in practised deference, the hint of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. When he commented quite blandly how he’d just seen Loras slip into her fiancée's bedroom, when he stood and watched her every micro-expression for a fracture, for weakness… She knew then that this was a meeting of equals. 

They even smirked alike.

She had turned away after serenely putting him in his place. A play of words, a banter about fidelity and loyalty and treachery and love. She had taken a swipe at the fact he was old but single, and he had looked almost delighted by her nerve. Petyr had revealed very little, but just enough to show teeth. To suggest that he was a man with hidden depths to hide a multitude of secrets and sins. He knew enough about Renly’s private proclivities and politics to make her uncomfortably impressed. And his allegiance felt like shifting sand; no sooner did he tread one way would his tracks disappear in the wind. 

As Margaery walked away from him at last with the last word, she felt the steel of his piercing eyes sharp on her back. And she secretly thrilled at it.

The second time she met Petyr, Renly was dead.

Margaery remembered the night her first husband was found murdered by the silent assassin, and how she felt simultaneously dethroned as queen while also immensely relieved from that sham of a marriage. 

She was still officially, practically a virgin, for all intents and purposes. She had not sired a child; they had hardly done the deed in the quarter year since their wedding, that tragically comical event where Loras had cried and kissed the groom instead of she. She thought they had sex, maybe once. It was rather hard to count these things, wrenched as they had been from the man with such reluctance and effort that she had called Loras in the room out of desperation. The humiliation. 

Margaery used to love sex.

And then Petyr appeared.

"My Lord, my lady, get out!"

He had been dressed this time in a dark suit that would have hid him well in the shadows if not for the telltale sweep of silver at his temples. That, and his piercing eyes that now glinted in the room in warning. 

"Stannis will be here in an hour," he had hissed. And because he knew how slow of understanding Loras could be on a clear day, and yet how much more the sluggard he now was in his grief, Petyr had explained with a slow and careful precision that was his trademark.

"When he arrives, Renly's allies and bannermen will flock to him for mercy. And they will sell you out, make no mistake."

Margaery had suspected as much. But she had not expected it so soon. 

A quick back and forth with Loras then ensued. Loras was verging on hysteria. Loras, who would not leave his king and lover's side. He was more a husband to him than I ever was a wife, Margaery remembered thinking. She remembered feeling no jealousy, only anxiety and exasperation prowling under the thin veneer of sisterly patience.

On hindsight and only much later on, Margaery would wonder at how Petyr knew to be in this part of the world mere hours after the assassin's work was done. But at that moment, Margaery had been consumed by a quiet fascination as she watched him coax and cajole her grief-stricken brother. She had watched as Petyr felt for cracks like a curate would with a priceless vase. Once he found it, all it took was slight pressure before Margaery watched as Loras's defences fell apart.

"Tell me, Lord Loras, what do you desire most in this world?"


"I have always found that to be the purest of motivations, but you won't have a chance to wreak your vengeance on Stannis, not today. You'll be killed ten ways before he sets foot on Storm's End. If it is justice that you want, be smart about it." More softly, almost like he had actually cared. "You can't avenge him from the grave, Loras." Such an understanding tone. Hypnotic and silky.

When Loras had left at last, Margaery had seated herself by her late husband's bedside and gazed upon his countenance. She had been careful to keep her back to the door, to him. But she could feel his presence in the room and the way he was watching her pantomime of grief. Every hair on her neck was at attention now. 

He always had such a stare.

"He was very handsome."

"He was, Your Grace." Such silky words, calculated to disarm and ingratiate.

"Your Grace." She huffed through her nose in scorn, the weight of the last few months since Renly declared himself against his own royal brother now lifting from her slim shoulders, even as her grief of losing her one swipe at real power now gaped in her body like a wound bigger than that of the dead man before her. "Calling yourself King doesn't make you one," she observed dryly. "And if Renly wasn't a king, I wasn't a queen."

"Do you want to be a queen?" His voice was now dangerously soft, like a black velvet panther.

"No," she replied, voice equally cashmere. Girly almost. "I want to be The Queen."

She turned to look at Petyr Baelish then, and the heat of ambition in his eyes mirrored that of her own.

The silence, the dead space between them hung swollen and expectant. She watched as he swallowed slowly. 

And then in a flash, he closed the gap between them, just when she rose from her chair to turn and face him fully. Their mouths met, clashed, fought and consumed. She felt his hand drag down the side of her arm, his slim fingers slip over to her waist and then down the curve of a buttock before suddenly pulling her to him so she was flush against the hardness of his erection. It was obscene, this. Renly, still a little warm perhaps, not three feet away from them. A Holy Man's tongue fucking her mouth. And she letting him as her sex grew slick and hot. 

As if hearing and agreeing with her thoughts, he slipped another arm around her waist before catching her completely by surprise so she yelped like a bitch when he suddenly carried her over to the windows. The curtains were drawn, but he settled her on the sill right where the heavy velvet parted. 

"A pragmatic man," she purred against his lips and she felt the curve of his smile against her own. “How much time, did you say?” She cocked her head to the window behind her.  

"An hour," he reminded as she worked the buckle of his belt, as he rucked up her skirt with a jerk and a flip. "Give or take a quarter hour." The whisper of soft woollen pants as they fell to the ground. The snap and pull of intimate clothing as they skimmed past skin deftly. "Stannis is an impatient man." 

"As are you," she gasped, when she felt his thumb brush firmly down against her sex before slipping inside her easily. She squirmed against his hand as he cupped her bottom, felt the filthy caress of a little finger. She was unbearably wet for him, the months of working her own slim digits inside her sex nothing compared to his audacious thumb in hers right now. 

It was almost a perfunctory gesture for him, a clinical examination. He smirked as if he'd found an answer that pleased him greatly. He removed his hand even as she started bucking against it. 

"An enterprise most unwise," he growled more to himself, before he took her.

His cheek grazed her temple as he pulsed into her deep and fast. From where he stood, he could stare through the slit in the curtain and act the sentinel while he took her, grunting into the window with every thrust as she clenched down on him, every muscle in her body tensed with expectation. Oh she had been waiting for this, not necessarily from him but from any cock. A life with Renly was a life of a celibate Septa. And Margaery was no Septa.  

The fact that he was Petyr Baelish did nothing to diminish the want, and everything to build it.   

She wrapped her legs around his naked buttocks as the most delicious feeling within her started to build. It was wrong, it was wrong, it was wrong, it was wrong… but it felt like nothing else she had ever experienced. She had been no real virgin before Renly — fingers and petting, “life lessons” she had gleaned and sought from others. She grew up in a family of boys. They all had friends who thought her small high breasts, sweet cunt, and laughing brown eyes very pretty. 

There had been no hymen to break; a genteel upbringing complete with the requisite horseriding had provided the most handy excuse. Renly had been the first man to enter her officially. But Petyr Baelish was the first to possess her.

She felt a sheen of sweat on his back as he picked up the pace suddenly, his breaths shortening, now harsh. Something was exciting him.

“What is it?” she gasped. “Are you close?”

“There is movement,” he murmured and her eyes flew open in alarm. What were they doing then, literally fucking precious time away while the enemy grew closer?

“Shouldn’t we leave?” she cried and then groaned as he suddenly stopped, driving the full length of himself deep within her.

“We will leave. There is enough time, but we must hurry,” he rasped, pulling out of her suddenly. Before Margaery could think to ask what was going on, he had turned her around and bent her over, so her hands now braced against the sill. The curtains had parted wider, affording her now the full view of the courtyard underneath and the hills far beyond, as it did him standing behind her.

She cried out in surprise and pleasure when he slid his length into her once more, the curve of him grazing inside of her. She could barely understand as his voice calmly explained his plan amidst the roar of pleasure in her mind. She was bucking back against him mindlessly now. 

“I have a helicopter waiting,” he stated pleasantly as he picked up the pace once more, so hard that her own breasts were starting to hurt from the jolts. His breath was laboured, but his tone continued in that ludicrously conversational way. “Stannis will likely come by road. I know for a fact that their air force is directed elsewhere as they prepare to take on King’s Landing. They had been that confident about wiping out your ex-husband. One way or another.” Margaery chanced a glance behind them to the dead body still on the bed, and groaned from the sordidness, the nastiness of it all, even as her sex was so slippery now that Petyr was having some difficulty staying inside her.

“We can see them approaching from beyond the trees. It will be tight, but my chopper is readied.”

“Where are you taking me, Lord Baelish?”

“Back to Highgarden, of course. I have a proposition to make to you… and your father.”

For a fleeting moment, Margaery wondered if this was Petyr’s roundabout way of proposing marriage to her. The cheek of the man! But if he would fuck her at least once a week this way, right now she would willingly call him anything under the sun, including Husband.

He leaned over her suddenly, still pounding into her flesh. She heard his voice almost against his ear as he rasped the sweetest words she’d ever heard a man utter while deep inside her still.

“I will give you your heart’s desire, Margaery. I will make you The Queen.”

A kick of dust in the faint distance. Perhaps it was a small sand whirl. Perhaps it was Stannis finally coming to carve and conquer. 

Margaery tightened just as a dark tremble swept over her. She gripped the sill and cried into the window, her voice airy and high, striking the pitch of exquisite pleasure. Her knees buckled, her legs barely holding her up as she felt Petyr reach over and cup a breast in each hand before he squeezed painfully. She shuddered, still whining as he pounded through that overwhelming cacophony of sound and sweat and emotion. Faintly, she heard him groan into her back, before pulling out suddenly. A wetness, a sprinkling, a spray on her back, her hair as she sank into the floor in a daze. 

He was already pulling his pants up, and her panties were nowhere to be found. “Quickly now, my Lady,” he urged like an excited boy, holding out his hand and pulling her up to standing with surprising strength and ferocity. “The dullest man alive is almost here.”

They had fucked in Highgarden repeatedly, under her father’s nose — she resplendent in widow black with lacy lingerie to match.

Within days, Petyr had dangled the opportunity for her to steal the Joffrey brat from under Lady Sansa’s nose. Assuming, of course, that Tywin would wipe the floor with Stannis and Joffrey would remain king. 

“Sansa is a child and she wants to be relieved of that little shit. But you can handle him, sweetling. I know you can.”

And when it became clear in the end that no one could, not even Margaery… Joffrey had taken a car ride one afternoon from which he never recovered.

Margaery had been sure it had all been for her benefit. Setting her up with Joffrey, even securing Tywin’s approval, only to remove the boy king quickly while paving the way clear for marriage to the more malleable Tommen instead... Margaery had been secretly relieved and very touched when the brakes got cut, mere weeks before she had to endure her wedding night with that mercurial and vile boy king. It had all been as swoonsome as a lover’s poem.

Margaery had been sure it had all been for her benefit.

But it struck her now that there had been another beneficiary all along. 

Had Margaery’s engagement to Joffrey been about enabling her grasp for the crown, or about saving a virginal younger woman from a monster? Had killing Joffrey been about saving Margaery from a marriage to a frightful fool, or about wreaking revenge on an entitled, cowardly bully who had inflicted such scars and pain on a wide-eyed, flame-haired ingenue?

Margaery had been sure it had all been for her benefit.

But it struck her now, as Petyr stared at the pitiful figure before him, his eyes bright and unblinking, his mouth parted almost as if he were in pain… It struck her now, as Sansa stared back at her benefactor… as their eyes locked across a crowded, seething room and their gaze held fast with such intensity and intimacy...

It struck Queen Margaery now that she might be understanding this all wrong. 

Chapter Text

“I’d ask why you didn’t call me sooner, but I’m just thrilled to be here at all.”

Sansa gazed dispassionately at the pasty, bald man standing before her, then turned slowly away to stare out the window. Wooden, they had described her. Hollowed after the trauma of losing everything — her home, her family’s name, her wealth, her standing, her father. Post-traumatic stress, poor child. Severely depressed, and rightly so. 

They don’t know, she assured herself at least. Let them think I am empty and broken and afraid. I am not. I am full. I am roiling beneath. I am furious to overflowing.  

Sansa no longer smiled. Petyr told her it broke his heart to see her like this. Sansa wondered about that sometimes. The last time he had taken her to his bed, she was sure he had felt like he was fucking a rag doll. It only made her more furious that this, all this, was breaking them as well. 

She tried not to blame him. She did, a little. 

Varys stood with his hands clasped in front of him. Such an affected man, except Sansa knew instinctively that he wore it all as his armour. Let them take him for granted, think him effeminate. Silly, high voice. So harmless. A fool. And then show them that channelling the femme only made one stronger. Not weaker. 

Sansa blinked and just like that, she had enough about thinking on Varys and abruptly cut to the chase.

“You’re still working for Daenerys’ campaign?” It was half a question. Sansa knew the answer, but wanted to hear it from his lips all the same.

“Are you recording a confession?” he snarked, but sobered up as Sansa narrowed her eyes. “Yes, I am.”

“I will trade you,” Sansa coolly replied. “I will give you all that I have and know that will hand you the victory you want.”

“Bold words,” Varys replied, his interest piqued. Sansa had always been reserved and cautious with him, careful in all their coded correspondence over the months. They had only conducted three proper exchanges since the conference, but Sansa was always scrupulous with her words most of all.

He tilted his head slightly, considering the hardness of her gaze with open curiosity. “Alright… and what do you want in return.”

“My father’s freedom. I want him broken out before the transfer to maximum security.”

Varys laughed, disbelieving. “You don’t ask for much!”

But Sansa was suddenly crowding his space, having taken a huge step forward. Varys resisted the urge to cringe and shrink back. Women had never made him comfortable. 

Sansa opened a slim, black presentation folder and removed the front document from its sleeve. “This is a report from a forensics lab that I had commissioned when I was still living in King’s Landing and almost married to Joffrey. It means nothing to you now, of course. You’re just staring at Cersei’s results.

“But what if I were to tell you that when I was a very young girl, the Baratheons came to visit Winterfell for a fortnight. And my little brother Bran, who was out climbing one afternoon, had accidentally seen something that would make even the most seasoned hookers in King’s Landing raise an eyebrow. And then he had lost his balance and fallen."

“I’ve heard about your brother's fall,” Varys replied. “I’m sorry your brother had suffered so much in such a short life. First made a paraplegic and then to lose his life in a car accident…”

“Yes, yes…” Sansa answered almost impatiently. “But what if I told you that he had not lost all memory of the afternoon. That he remembered something briefly one day, something even he did not understand at his age: the queen herself, fucked like a bitch in heat by her own twin brother.”

Varys’ jaw fell open.

Sansa tilted her chin towards the document she held in her hand. “When Joffrey got rough with me, I slowly got even. I now have irrefutable evidence that all three Baratheon children are, in fact, a product of incest between their mother Cersei and their Uncle-Daddy Jaime.”

Scrupulous with her words indeed.

Varys reached for the document, but Sansa moved it away deftly. “You will get this. You will get them all. But first my father, out, safe, and smuggled away.”

“Where can I possibly take him!”

“To Howland Reed. He is a good friend to my father. He already knows and is expecting your call.” Sansa flipped to the back of the folder and fished out a card. Varys took it from her hand, quietly impressed.

“I could always just circulate the rumour, you know,” Varys reminded, almost flippant.  

“And get a DNA test to confirm it? Even pictures?”

Varys stopped. “You have pictures?”

“Picture. Only one.”

But it was enough. Varys was fairly salivating now.

“But it’s never enough, of course,” Sansa continued. "Pictures can always be doctored. Which is why I did the DNA tests as well. For all of them.”


“Myrcella. The King too. And yes, that dead and buried bastard. His was the easiest to procure after all.”

Varys felt a shiver of delight. He had never been so surprised by anyone before.

“Why didn’t you use this, child. Against the Lannisters. When you still had the chance!” And at that, the hard flint in her eye finally softened into something akin to anguish.

“I wish I had!” she gritted through her teeth. “But I was always holding out. One more thing. One more day. One more time. This was my trump card. I didn’t want to waste it. I had one shot, I knew. And I didn’t want to waste it. And then I ended up waiting too long.” The fury coated her words like tar. 

“And then Tommen came to the throne and he was supposed to be good!” Sansa cried, her outrage finally piercing the air.

“None of them is good, my child. Why do you think I’ve thrown my lot with the Dragons?”

“None of them is good,” Sansa agreed. Including the crazy self-made queen with the Dragons.

Sansa slipped the lab result back in the black presentation folder and handed it to Varys. “Consider this the downpayment for my father’s freedom. Once he’s out of there, once he’s safe, once I hear his voice for myself… then you will have the rest.”

“And I am to take you at your word?” Varys raised an eyebrow. A habit to question, to suspect. Sansa narrowed her gaze in return.

“I have no love for this king, this queen, and this government. Of course I’ll give the rest to you. And I’m not lying,” she added. “Get my father out of there and you will hear from me by the end of the week.”

Sansa waited for Varys to nod. He wouldn’t shake her hand, of course. But a nod… Sansa nodded back, satisfied. She turned abruptly to leave.

“Sansa…” His voice was still high and almost singsong. “Come with me, child. There is nothing left for you here either. Come with me back to House Reed. I am sure Howland would almost expect it.” 

Sansa’s hand was on the handle, her back still to the room and to Varys. She closed her eyes tight. 

“Are you here because of him? Is that why you won’t come? Held back by a little… finger?”

Sansa pressed the handle down and shut the door softly behind her.

He could see that she didn’t believe him, but experience had long taught Petyr Baelish that patience and a resilient vehemence for his own version of truth… that was usually how the story got sold eventually. It had to be in the eyes. It had to come from the corner of the heart that almost believed itself.

Queen Margaery was staring him down now, her manner almost cold. Petyr remained in his chair, legs crossed, his hands relaxed on his lap, one on top of the other. 

“You’re very calm for someone who’s just heard that Ned has fled the capital,” Margaery remarked at length. “I tell you the man who is your brother-in-law — the one you have loathed all these years — has just managed to squirm out of a lifetime sentence, and all you can do is sit there and smirk?

Petyr chose to narrow his eyes then. “What would you have me do? Cry out that it’s a travesty? Announce the shock I do not feel? You already know I thought the sentence ridiculous — the worst verdict that could possibly be announced that day. And am I right? Did I not predict the outcry? Of course Ned was going to be jailbroken. He’s a martyr in the North now. Tommen has declared war on their gods. If you had ever hoped to unify the North and have them ally with you, that was a decidedly poor way to do it.”

Margaery stared at Petyr and he met her gaze, unblinking. There was something else. He cocked his head to the side.

“You know something…”

“Sansa’s fled the Capital as well.” Margaery’s stare hardened even more. “From under your nose. She’s gone. She’s left.”

“I know.”

“And you didn’t tell me?!” Margaery resisted the urge to stomp her foot. “Why in seven hells didn’t you tell me!”

“I only found out myself this morning. I didn’t know either. She had left most of her belongings behind, taking only the sentimental things. She must be travelling light.”

“And so why didn’t you tell me!”

“I was going to, Sweetling. But then you started by telling me about Ned.” He looked at her pointedly now, as if she were a petulant child instead of the Queen. Margaery clenched her fists by her sides and then released them, striving for control. 

“I just think,” she started again slowly, “that it is a rather odd coincidence how father and daughter are no longer anywhere to be found.”

“We don’t know that they left together. Or that they had left at all.”

“Are you serious!” Margaery laughed and it rang in the room, bright and scornful. “Of course they left the capital! And do you know what else I think?”

“What else do you think.”

“I think you know exactly where they’ve gone.” Margaery walked slowly to Petyr until she stood between his thighs. She leaned down and slipped her hand under his tie, stroking the length of it softly under her thumb. She had bought him this tie. 

“You think wrong, Sweetling. For once, I know very little about this grand escape. If indeed it is an escape.”

“Again, you’re very calm for someone who’s just heard that your niece…” and Margaery almost hissed the word, lengthening the sibilant as her tongue tasted the word that now seemed to her to describe Sansa’s relationship with Petyr but poorly. “…that your niece has disappeared from the home you have given her.”

Petyr returned the gaze evenly. “I gave her a roof over her head. She is Lysa’s niece, not mine. Cat’s daughter, sure. Doesn’t make much difference to me anymore — you know that, Sweetling. Sansa was useful, I admit, while I needed to blackmail Ned. And the girl latched on to me for a while, I think. Poor child is so starved of affection in the fallout. But she’s useless to me now. All that work, the planning, the waiting — upended by your own husband, the boy king. In mere hours.”

Petyr stood up then and even in her heels, he was taller by a half-inch. He leaned in closer. “You seem to be suggesting that I’m behind their apparent disappearance — that I smuggled the Starks out, or at least arranged for it. You forget, Sweetling. I’m not the one here who went off script.”

Margaery tilted her chin. “Don’t you always say to me, ‘Always keep your foes confused. Baffle them by making moves that have no purpose, that even seem to work against you. That’s how you play the game.’?”

“Am I your foe now?” Petyr’s voice was soft. Silky. Another half-step forward.

When his lips met hers, she wanted to turn away. She did. She is the queen! And not some young, insipid thing to be so easily bent to his will. But his lips were so soft, and when she felt his tongue lace her entrance, her heart juddered even as she stood her ground. Ten full seconds. Fifteen, after his arm snaked around her waist, after his hand slipped to the small of her back. That little spot near her buttocks had always been so sensitive to his touch, especially when they rutted.

“Don’t fight with me, Margaery… love… we can’t. We’ve worked too hard for something like this to tear us down.” She parted her mouth against his and heard his sigh as his tongue finally found hers.

They had not kissed in months and months, and maybe it was the missing of him that drove her to such incredible leaps in logic. 

“Tommen… is he under control, my love? That mistake. That trial… so much work has been undone, but we can still turn it to our advantage. Play to Tommen’s dedication to the Seven. Bring in a semblance of a Faith-run state, just as we planned. Appoint some of your Councillors from the Most Devout, just to keep Luceon happy. And most importantly, of course — maintain yourself as the Defender of the Faith. When you’re strong enough in the people’s affections… we will end Tommen. Use the grumbling of the people to your advantage. Cast yourself as the sympathetic royal spouse, the one more reasonable and tolerant of different faiths and gods — and therefore better fit to rule. And yet keep Tommen on side. It is a juggling act but you do it so beautifully, my love. So beautifully.”

He kissed her again and this time, she met him in his fervour. Silence, while their bodies curved into each other's, while she remembered what it was like to be one with the man who was her equal and her twin in spirit. 

“I fear the worst is yet to come, Sweetling,” he warned finally, resting his forehead on hers and breathing her in just like he always used to. “The king is obviously not yet in your pocket. And now that Ned is gone, the Crown is made to look even more foolish and you’ve also lost the North.” And Margaery bristled, for it seemed as though he were fully laying the blame at her feet.

“You will have to fix this,” Petyr warned, as he brushed his lips against her temple. "And even then, there is going to be a reckoning. I don’t know how yet. But it’s coming."

Margaery felt her King, her husband slip out of her, leaving a trail of his seed on her thigh as he turned and rolled back on the bed with a hard exhale. What he lacked in technique and endurance, he attempted to make up for with enthusiasm and frequency. He knew no better, of course. Margaery writhed and moaned like the best of them and the fact that she never came close to climaxing under his youthful, clumsy ministrations was something she was yet to explain and improve on with him. Little steps. Even young, doting kings like Tommen had egos that would bruise like apples when dropped.

He turned on his side suddenly and pulled her into his chest. She squealed like a young girl, like she were seven years sillier and gigglier. As if she, too, was only nineteen.

She let him kiss her then, down her neck and to her shoulder. Petyr's whiskers need only brush that path for her sex to grow wet and hot again. But with Tommen, darling Tommen, all she felt was a mild sense of contentment and a slightly annoying tickle. But she kept a smile on her lips just the same.

Margaery picked her moment. Usually Tommen would fall into a short and deep sleep after his exertions only to awake suddenly, revitalised and ready for another round with his wife. This time, she felt him stay awake and even though he was still a little drowsy, he was listening when her soft, sweet voice broke the companionable silence in the room.

"Tommen... my King..." she punctuated this with a kiss to his hand over hers. "... my love, I never did ask... but why did you put Ned away in gaol for a lifetime? Surely ten years would have been enough? He would have emerged a pauper, destitute anyway. The Crown could have just stripped him of his titles and wealth. I'm just curious, that's all..."

She turned around to face him then, her brown eyes wide and searching his. "Was it really because he worships those silly old gods?"

"But they're not silly, Margaery." Tommen's golden brows were furrowed slightly now. "They're pagan. They are real. And they are not to be worshipped."

"But my darling," she smiled sweetly at him and tried to look a little bemused. "I thought we talked about this together, you and I. That ten years was enough. That it was fair and just. Even-handed. Merciful." She lowered her voice and infused a little hurt. "I thought we were a team."

"My Queen," Tommen looked at her now and even though his eyes held their usual puppy-dog worship of her, there was also a shard of determination that Margaery did not much care for. "We are a team. I won't have our marriage be like the one my mother endured — I promise you that! We are a team. But I am also your husband, protector, and king. Don't you see? I did this for you. To please you. For pleasing the Seven pleases you. And this judgement was right. I love you, Margaery. I thank the Seven every day for you. But as much as I love you, I know that I have to love the Seven more. I did this as a servant of the Faith. Ned Stark needed to repent of his sins, especially his sin of rejecting the Seven Pointed Star."

And with that, Margaery's blood turned to ice. But she kept her smile soft and sweet.

"But don't you see, my King... by making Ned choose in this way, by using the trial to make an example of his heresy... you've only turned the North against us now and made him a martyr of his faith. In the end, had it really been an effective campaign? The trial now no longer is about bringing a man who defrauded the Crown and the Kingdoms to justice. It is now about the Seven, and the people are divided."

Margaery held her breath. She had said too much, perhaps. Tommen's frown was deeper now.

"My wife... the defrauding is bad, that is true. But that is only mammon. Ned's faith to the Old Gods is far worse a crime. The bigger lie is the worship of false and evil spirits."

And it was then that Margaery understood. The puppet now saw himself a prophet. A proselyte. Margaery's conversion of Tommen had been too perfect a good work. She really had created a true believer.

Tommen looked upset now. 

"My love... we both have to place the Seven ahead of our own fleshly desires in order to serve the Crown to the fullest. Do you believe that?"

"But of course!" soothed Margaery now with a smile that dimpled in a corner of her mouth. "This is why I love you and serve you."

She leaned over him now, pressing him gently back down on the bed. Margaery kissed Tommen's bare, hairless chest, making a trail down His Grace's slim body, stopping along the way to tongue his navel. She heard him suck in his breath.

"Margaery..." he gasped. "It is wrong."

"Says who?" she grinned. "The Seven Pointed Star?"

 "This is unnatural." He hissed when her lips wrapped around his tip, her tongue swirling expertly. "Margaery..." he whined.

"How is this unnatural, your Grace?" She lowered her mouth and suckled gently. When she came up again, he was almost fully hard for her.

"We know it. It is what our consciences are for."

"That is hardly a perfect barometer of faith and morality, your Grace. And the last I checked, the Seven Pointed Star had absolutely nothing to say about how a wife should please her husband."

Silence in the room as she held his length firmly in her hand and lowered her mouth over his tip once more. He was still mostly a boy, fresh and sweet. She had to be gentle, she knew. It was likely that he could come in her mouth otherwise and then he would be embarrassed. Still a boy. Still the self-control of a boy. Margaery ran her tongue along the underside of him, then dipped lower as she took a ball in her mouth.

Another gasp and a whine. And then he was muttering feverishly into the night, his head thrown back. 

Her mouth returned once more to his most sensitive length and she pumped him now with her mouth, licking the head of him. When he came, she pulled back satisfied. He was still murmuring, even between the clenching and the crying out. She listened properly now to what his fevered thoughts of her were.

Except he hadn't been muttering filthy praise, nor odes of love. No. Tommen the First had instead been praying to the Seven for both their souls.

They were woken three hours later by a rap on the door that was tentative but panicked.

"Your Majesties," Varys now panted. "I am sorry to wake you in this way. But news has broken of a rumour most damaging to the Crown... and to you." The soft, bald man was looking squarely at Tommen now. 

"It concerns your Queen Mother, your Grace. And the Lord Commander of your Kingsguard, Ser Jaime Lannister."

Chapter Text

The click-clack of her heels on the marble reverberated off the walls crowded with gold-gilded frames, each preserving the disapproving stare of royalty before her. She sped up, her agitated gait announcing her arrival long before she appeared around the corner. 

She should be more discreet, she supposed. But there were much greater concerns right now than the off-chance that someone should stop to wonder why the Queen herself was storming full tilt and unescorted into the deserted east wing in the dead of night. 

Gods knew — everyone knew — that there were much bigger fish to fry. It wouldn’t be the first time urgent footsteps pounded the halls at odd hours, ever since the news broke.

Margaery paused outside the room, willing the telltale rise and fall of her chest to slow. She squared her jaw before pushing the heavy door open. 

As promised, Petyr was already there and waiting.

“What news?” he rasped by way of greeting. His face was pinched and tense, and a wisp somewhere in the back of Margaery’s mind wondered if this was an act.

“Nothing you haven’t already read or watched ad nauseum in the news. Gods I hate the twenty-four hour news cycle…”

“So you’re still maintaining that it’s vicious rumour?”

“Yes. For now.”

“For now? That’s it? A staunch maintenance that the Crown is innocent?” Petyr did not keep the scorn from his voice. 

"Well, what else can we go with! It is just rumour. The last thing we need to do is give this air.”

“It is not just rumour. Margaery. There is a photo!”


“Yes, but what if there is more?” Petyr stepped closer. “And I think you know that the photo is not doctored.”

Margaery’s eyes narrowed. “What do you know that I don’t?”

And Petyr’s frown deepened. “I know when to spot a smoking gun when I see one. This is not the end. This is the beginning. Someone has started a trail that they want everyone else to follow.” He paused, squeezing the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know what, and I don’t know when… but it’s coming.”

Margaery paled, but then again she had suspected as much. It wasn’t pleasant to have her suspicions confirmed by the one man whose instinct on these things she trusted even more than her own.

His eyes flicked up to hers now, and the pale moonlight changed the colour of his gaze so he looked almost supernatural when he asked, urgently, “Margaery. Did you ever ask your king if the story might even be true?”

“I don’t need to. Tommen is practically hysterical. He is convinced that it is a vicious rumour and a test from the gods sent to try them—us.” She rolled her eyes, remembering her stake in all this belatedly and resenting it mightily now.

“Alright then…” And Petyr stepped a little closer. “Did you ever ask the Queen Mother?" 

The terrible silence was all the answer he needed to know. Petyr sighed.

“My queen…” And he took her hand and pulled her over to a chaise. They settled on it, the distance between them more familiar than that of subject and queen, the crackle of tension between them that of co-conspirators more than lovers. “Two things. First of all, assume that the full ugliness and truth of this incest is going to break sooner than later. That photo is not the end of it, I am convinced. They—whoever they are—are inciting the swarm of locusts that is the media to start feeding season. Make no mistake. The incest is probably real and will be irrefutable before too long."

Petyr ignored her sharp intake of breath, barrelling on.

“Secondly—your bitch Queen Mother and the Knight gold-fingering her are not the story. The story is going to be about the legitimacy of Tommen’s rule. His bloodline is now in question. And that is where the seven hells are.”

Margaery felt the blood drain from her face, even as she felt dread pool into her gut. 


“Think about the questions. Are the children even Robert’s? Where is the resemblance? All three of them have always been lauded for getting their good looks from their mother. Well! What if it’s not just the mother. What if it’s because each of them is made up of all that pure gold blondness which can only come from twin Lannisters fucking each other’s brains out for twenty years.”


“What, am I being indelicate now?” Petyr snapped, and Margaery watched as the man before her struggled for control. At the sight, the dread within her gut cooled to ice. He was angry. Margaery could feel the edges of his fury, his seething even from here. The agitation he was trying so hard now to repress was clear as day once she recognised it for what it was.  

Margaery had never seen Petyr look like this before. 

“What do the Most Devout think?” 

He smirked and there was no humour in the habit. “They’re worried, to put it lightly. Your control over the Crown and the people is not yet secure. We still need Tommen. But if he is illegitimised…” He pinched his lower lip unhappily, even as his mind raced.

“What can be done!” Margaery cried, and hated that she sounded just then like a young, helpless girl.

“The only thing to be done,” replied Petyr grimly. “Try and turn this all into our advantage somehow.”


“I’m working on it!” he snapped again, and Margaery was duly chastened. His hand fell on hers then. “Forgive me, love. I am upset.”

“I know. So am I.”

He nodded, and then smiled grimly. “A hair and a whisker,” he said.

“I don’t understand.”

“We need to get rid of Cersei and Jaime. The moment their incest comes to light, they need to be shunned and punished. Removed punitively. Where’s Myrcella?”

“Still in Dorne. Still studying there.”

“Keep her there. Don’t bring her home. It’ll only complicate matters.”

Margaery nodded, following along. “What do I do with my king and husband?”

Petyr stared at Margaery, working his jaw. She could feel the gears working to a heat, even as he ground his teeth lightly. “Your husband. How devout is he? To the Faith?”

An indelicate snort, as a flash of memory crossed Margaery’s mind. It was only last week when he had insisted on prayers before and after they came together in their marital bed. All that screaming for his benefit, and then grounding to an abrupt halt as they got on their knees and prayed... 

“He is devout,” she replied blandly.

“Use it. Impress on him the sins of his true parents so that he will incarcerate them. And then, let him come to the natural conclusion that he, as a product of incest and no true heir to the throne, should only have one recourse. Abdication. The noblest, most patriotic, most righteous deed.”

“And after that?” Margaery asked, breathless.

“And after that, there will be a power vacuum. One that you must immediately plug with your pretty little ass on that Iron Throne.”

She turned sharply to stare at Petyr. “There is no way they will let me take it!”

“No,” he agreed, brushing her hair over her ear. “You must therefore get Tommen to see that you are the best candidate for the job. He must give you the crown.”

Margaery’s jaw fell open. “Why in seven hells would he ever give me the crown after all that!”

“Because he loves you. Because the people love you. And because you can usher in change—convince him of that! You are the Defender of the Faith. Pristine. Faultless and blameless. And still royalty. The Crown needs a purging of old ghosts and its sordid past. Tommen would need to sell it to the people that a new order is needed. Perhaps one more closely aligned with the Faith… A baptism of the Seven Kingdoms, if you will."

“This is insane!”

“Oh yes. But possible… by a hair and a whisker.”

Margaery stared into the eyes of the man she loved most and wondered for a moment if she knew him at all.

“This isn’t you, is it…” she wondered aloud. Hesitantly. “All this... the chess pieces in the air, the chaos… pushing through an impossible agenda in no time at all… This isn’t your doing, is it? Petyr?”

The light in his eyes dimmed just then, and Margaery swore that his face shuttered before her very own. “I’ll pretend you never asked that… Your Grace.”

She stared out into the bleak sea. It was a calm day, that is to say the soft wind was still brackish and the waters were sullen as always, but at least it didn’t appear as murky. Muted sunlight was hitting the surface just now, adding a sheen of colour to the harsh rocks below that made them almost pretty.

Not for the first time since she arrived at this dismal place did Sansa wonder about the boy that was Petyr Baelish. 

It was grim. He had warned her as much, his shame carefully hidden from her except she saw right through him anyway. If anything, she was proud of him, of how far he had come. To have such humble beginnings and then to grow into such a formidable force... Although she never could help wondering how much of the man she actually knew. Even naked and sleeping in her arms. 

Ironically, as grim as this corner of his past might be, Sansa found her old self returning slowly. Varys had kept his word, and that went a long way to mending her fractured soul. She really was a traitor to the Crown now. She found she didn’t care. 

Her father was safe. Howland Reed had given word. And the Lannisters… well. The fun and games had only just begun.

Sansa brought the steaming mug of tea to her lips and sipped quietly. Fuck them, she thought. She seldom swore to herself, and never swore out loud. But fuck them. All of them. Including fucking sweet inbred Tommen. Sansa smiled.

She heard him before she saw him, the soft dull thud of his boots marking his ascent on the stair. When he wrapped his arms around her waist and perched his chin on her shoulder to stare out blankly with her at the rocks and the moody waters, she felt herself relax once more.

Petyr kissed her, just below her ear and behind her jaw. The hairs on his face tickled her and she sank her weight into his embrace.

“Penny for your thoughts?”

“I’ll take anything at this rate, given how broke I am,” Sansa jested. He tightened his embrace.

“You only need ask, and I’ll give it to you—as long as it’s in my power. I can’t give you Winterfell… but I can make you comfortable at least.” He knew it was cold comfort, but it was sweet of him to try so all she did in reply was to shake her head softly.

“I am comfortable here. This is enough for now.” He didn’t challenge the lie. They stood silent for a good quarter hour, maybe longer, just staring out into the open sea. That was their way. Silence. Two introverts coming together to rest.  

At length, he murmured into her ear. “You seem… better.”

“I think I feel better.”

“Ah, the healing powers of the Drearfort,” he intoned. “As cleansing as the alps.” And both of them chuckled. 

“As... cosy as your childhood home is, I think my recent improvement has far more to do with the implosion of the Lannisters,” Sansa grinned. “The frenzy over the incest has been like a miracle drug. I feel like a woman reborn a little. It’s been seriously fun to follow the fallout.”

“It’s certainly diverting,” Petyr agreed and turned her around the waist now to face him. “It is mayhem down at King’s Landing. But perhaps all worth it if it brings you back to yourself.” He lifted her chin then and pressed his lips to hers. And she kissed him back, her arms circling his neck like she had imagined a hundred times before. She had missed him. Gods, she had missed him.

“Any news from King’s Landing? What’s the latest?”

And Petyr grimaced like he had just swallowed something rather bitter. “Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it turns out that there is biological proof.”

Sansa’s face was a picture. “Explain!”

“The Times is claiming that they’ve been given DNA evidence that proves all the children are Jaime’s. They’ve asked for exclusive rights to an interview with Cersei, Jaime, and Tommen. So that they can have the opportunity to ‘set the record straight’ when the news breaks.”

Sansa’s hand flew to her mouth. There was a stunned silence before she doubled over in laughter. 

“Gods. That’s crazy! DNA evidence!”

“DNA evidence.” Petyr’s eyes took on a glint that almost resembled open admiration. “Whoever was behind all this — if the evidence turns out to be true — is a genius. If it turns out to include Joffrey’s as well, then one wonders how long these anarchists have been sitting tight on this bombshell.” He shook his head then and made a noise that sounded like frustration. “The timing of it! If I had only known that the incest had been proven… it could have gone so differently.” He clenched his fist. “What a waste.

Sansa stilled right then. “You knew?”

“No, that’s the frustration!”

“No, Petyr… not about the DNA proof. You knew about the incest?”

He turned to look at her then, suddenly cautious. “I had my suspicions.”

“For how long!”

“Years. I’d made a study of the Baratheons in general, and Robert’s bastards in particular. Been tracking them. They are never, ever blonde. Even when the mothers are. And so I knew Cersei had cuckolded him. It was simple deduction after that. And the blonde on all three children is strikingly unique to the Lannister gold standard.” He smirked. “It explains Joffrey at least.”

But Sansa was shrugging off his embrace now. “You knew, then!” The hurt on her face was clear. “You knew all this time. You had the chance to stop Cersei… to stop Tommen before the trial. To take the attention, the heat away from my father. From me! And yet you didn’t act!”


"What exactly were you waiting for!”    

He reached for her then and she pulled away again. “No. Answer me! Why didn’t you help!”

“I had no proof!” he cried, opening his palms up beseechingly. “Sansa… think about it. What proof could I have? Robert’s bastards? I would first have to prove they were, indeed, his bastards. And then what? Hair colour? Even before I could be laughed out of town, the Lannisters would have hung, drawn and quartered me…”

She didn’t know what to think. Surely he could have found a way. He was so brilliant at everything…

“I’m not omnipotent, Sansa. I have… vulnerabilities, just like everyone else.” He stepped closer to her. “Truly. If I’d had it in my power to stop what happened to your father, don’t you think I would have spared you by now? Do you not know,” his voice roughened, pulling her suddenly to his breast. “Can you not see how much it breaks my heart to see you destroyed like that? That terrible day of the trial. If I could have scorched the earth…” He clenched his fist again.

“Sansa…” And his voice was now thick with emotion. “Don’t you know by now how much you mean to me, my heart?”

And this time when he kissed her, she did not, could not pull away. She kissed him back, tears lacing the fringe of her lashes as she closed her eyes and capitulated. Just for this moment. Just let it all go. 

He always tasted so good. He always tasted like home.

They sank into the bed and she sighed into his mouth as they began the dance of disrobing and baring themselves to each other. She didn’t know if she believed his innocence of the matter. She didn’t know if she trusted this show of frustration and anguish. Petyr Baelish was never helpless, surely.

She couldn’t think right now, only feel. But as he sank his length deep into her and gasped her name, she still felt a little angry and yet profoundly comforted. 

Above all, she knew she loved him still.

Olenna Tyrell could feel the joints in her bones protesting even as she descended from the helicopter gingerly. Frightful things. Never any real graceful way of getting in and out. But it was either that, or arriving by boat and the latter would have taken far too long and removed any element of surprise. 

Olenna never did travel well by boat. Car or plane. That was her limit and her standard.

Her pants wrapped around her legs as the rotors slowed. The wind was picking up, it seemed. The air here tasted foul, if she could be honest. Slightly salty, slightly briny and bitter. Ghastly. She wasn’t opposed to a good sunny day at the beach. But this was something else.

She adjusted the scarves around her head, making sure to look tidy before she hesitated at the door. Lifting the ancient knocker, she rapped on the wood. Thrice. A pause. And then again.

Before the servant girl could speak, Olenna stared her down with all the haughtiness she could muster and summon from her bloodline. It was considerably intimidating, and had the desired effect as the girl flinched even before she opened her mouth.

“Olenna Tyrell here to see the mistress of the house.”

“There is no one h-here…” the girl stammered in return. “Th-the master is away.”

“I know he is,” she replied, a corner of her mouth lifting in a smirk. “But I also know there is a Lady in this house. I want to speak to her.”


Olenna was tired now. She had never been a patient young lady. And Olenna Tyrell could hardly be described now as either patient or young. 

“Send a message up to the residing Lady of this house, girl. Tell her Olenna Tyrell is here to call on Sansa Stark—and no, no, none of this wide-eyed blinking innocence. I know she’s in there."

Chapter Text

The last time Sansa Stark sat down in a personal conference with Septa Dr Olenna Tyrell felt like an age ago. Even then, the Deputy Head of School had always looked like she could see right through the strongest alibi as if it were the flimsiest excuse. She suffered no fools. She was nobody’s poodle.

The last time Sansa Stark sat down in a personal conference with Septa Dr Olenna Tyrell, she had nothing to hide, not really. Sansa might have felt an unusually strong connection to her uncle, employer, and benefactor, perhaps. An admiration that bordered on a foolishness. She could have been accused of a schoolgirl’s crush. Embarrassing but understandable, maybe. 

But Sansa had not yielded her body to Petyr then. Had not shared his bed repeatedly, loudly and unrepentantly. Her father had not yet stood trial and been found guilty, only to flee the country. And she had been hiding but not quite as a fugitive. 

She had called Petyr the moment Kella, his rather po-faced domestic helper, had told Sansa of her visitor but refused to tell her who it was. Intuition had pressed her call to him then, but she could not get through which usually meant he was in flight mode or in a meeting with Cersei. And then Olenna had entered the room and there was no time then to turn and flee.

And so they sat, quite courteously, in the living room. Sansa called for tea and tried not to shake as she poured them each a cupful. 

“How do you like your tea, Septa Olenna?” 

Olenna recited her preference. “Black, steeped for two minutes, no sugar.”

“So just a teabag in your cup.”

The older woman smiled thinly. “I can be easy to work with sometimes.”

Sansa smiled but it failed to reach her eyes. She took her time with their teas, stirring prettily until Olenna bristled visibly.

“I hope you won’t insult an old, tired woman by playing coy, Sansa. I’ve just taken a very long and uncomfortable journey to this spit of land to get some answers. I hope we will speak freely. ” She adjusted her scarf at her neck impatiently even as Sansa paled before she drew herself taller. 

“Of course, Olenna. What would you like to know?"

The older woman opened her mouth to speak then, but suddenly closed it as if a new idea had crossed her mind. She began now with a story instead.

“You know,” Olenna began, stirring her tea, “I’m curious about you, Sansa. I’ve known Petyr a long time.”

“So you've told me before. You work closely together.” 

Olenna’s lips thinned and curved into a smile. “Indeed. And not always by design, but these things have a way of turning out. You see, I used to be one of the Most Devout.”

Sansa stilled and felt something like ice shoot down her spine. This was not a secret to divulge lightly. Why was Olenna Tyrell telling her this now?

Unless… And Sansa brushed a finger softly along her thigh, felt the hardness of the metal still secure in the holster.

She willed herself to breathe steadily.

“The Most Devout!” Sansa raised the lilt of her voice along with her eyebrows. “That is very impressive. You say you used to be…”

“I got old and sick of it. Paid my dues. I retired,” Olenna explained brusquely, before her eyes narrowed. “So you really didn’t know? Petyr never told you?”

When Sansa did not reply, Olenna looked away bemused. “The two of you...”

“What about the two of us?”

But Olenna was ignoring Sansa for now. 

“No doubt…” And she tilted her head at Sansa now, as if in confidence. “No doubt Petyr has told you by now that Queen Margaery and I are related.”

Sansa stilled once more and felt the blood drain from her face even as she fought for calm. They shared the same surname of course, but that need not have meant anything. A name like Tyrell was only renowned now because of the Queen. Before all that, however… Sure, they might have been a powerful name back at the Reach. But just because Septa Olenna and Queen Margaery had the same last name didn’t necessarily follow that they must therefore be close relations, would it.

Would it? 

It never crossed Sansa's mind that someone powerful and close to new royalty would be working in the Vale, of all places. It never crossed her mind that Septa Olenna could be anything else, formidable as she was. Yet somehow, knowing now that she used to be one the Most Devout…

Sansa felt a cold sweat start to break. She didn’t like the feeling of this. Something was going terribly wrong and she felt like an exposed fool. Like a girl caught out in a thin summer dress in the dead of winter. 

“Of course,” she lied in return instead, and wondered if that had been persuasive. 

Olenna related to Queen Margaery. Olenna, one of the Most Devout. Oh Petyr, why didn’t you tell me.

“Margaery’s probably the only grandchild I have who had some measure of greatness in her,” Olenna smiled, a touch of fondness flickering across her wizened face before it hardened again. “I know it’s hard to imagine… a quiet academic life having anything to do with the Crown. But it’s amazing how many strings one can pull from way over here in the sidelines. And besides — my Margaery is perfectly capable, I know. And she still likes to confide in me now and then.” She looked pointedly at Sansa now and it took all of Sansa’s will not to shiver on the spot. The creeping icy-cold of intuition was shooting down her spine like merciless arrows now.

“Sorry to hear about Ned, by the way,” Olenna added suddenly, and Sansa looked up sharply from the change in subject. “Things were never meant to get quite so out of hand.”

Sansa stopped breathing even as her heart started pounding wildly now.

“He was always guilty, you know. Not for all of it. But for some. Not a lifetime’s worth. But some of it would have been justified.”

“What do you mean!” Her breaths were coming out so shallowly now. She felt like she was losing air.

“Your father. That Ponzi scheme. Not really his thing, of course. Didn’t start it, per se. But he did help the ball get rolling, you know. Totally regretted his part in Robert’s Rebellion and putting that fat bastard and his cunt wife and her inbred bastards on the throne. Although your father didn’t know about the incest, I’m guessing. That would have really been the straw. He would have blown the whistle then.”

“My father’s not a traitor!” Sansa’s voice sounded strangled. “He wasn’t.”

“Oh but Sansa… he was. Twice. But as they say, it’s only treasonous if you lose...”

“Robert’s Rebellion doesn’t count.”

“Robert’s Rebellion killed all the Targs, except for that dragon girl over there amassing an armed force that will triple ours, and heading our way fast. Could be worse, I suppose. Her brother was a real piece of work. At least he’s gone.”

“What are you talking about! A Targaryen banished my uncle and grandfather to gods-know-where on false grounds of treason. A Targaryen kidnapped and raped my aunt!"

“Did he?” And now Olenna had a curious look on her face. “Or did your father know differently. Or at least was convinced enough that he had been part of a rebellion to overthrow a government using a misunderstanding. He had the noblest intentions, of course. Vengeance. And Aerys really needed to go — everyone knew that. It was the coup that had to be had.”

Sansa’s mind was reeling. “You’re saying… my father…”

“Danaerys Stormborn is the last remaining Targaryen. If one were to stick to the principle of things — if everyone pretended for a moment that they truly cared about that sort of thing even if the results don’t turn out in their favour — then she really is the one owed the throne. And if Robert hadn’t turned out such a disappointment, your father would not have started questioning his own part of this debacle of a government after time had cooled his anger. I think he blamed himself for trading one bad king for another. And you know what your father can be like. Noble to a fault, sometimes. And as they also say, ‘Once a cheater, always a cheater—'”

“My father is not a cheat!” But even then Sansa’s world was spinning. The money, the money, the money… what the trial said. How much of that was true? He had not lifted a single weapon, but he had thrown his support behind the enemy. Using the national funds, no less.

Even if it had not been his work to start with, the fact that he was part of it…

“But here’s the puzzling thing,” Olenna continued now, stirring her tea thoughtfully as if she had not just thrown a bombshell that ripped Sansa’s world to shreds. “Why are you here. What does Petyr want with you here? It doesn’t make any sense to me, you see. I thought you’d be with your father by now. You give exactly zero advantage to his cause. Ned is out of the way and Petyr has already used you to secure Ned's cooperation — so as far as I know, you’ve outlived your usefulness. Maybe, I thought, he’s using you to barter with Cersei. She could certainly do with a media distraction to take the heat off her. Except what does he need from Cersei now? She’s done. And even if she weren’t — why wait? Why so secretive? He’s displayed absolutely no intention of revealing your whereabouts. The fact that he’s squirrelled you all the way here says as much.”

And Olenna leaned in now. “Unless… unless… there is something else.” The older woman eyeballed Sansa and the latter could not look away. She just couldn't. Her eyes were filled with terror now. She was completely exposed and she had no answer.

“My dear,” Olenna sighed finally and made to stand up. “You’re in way over your head.” And then she started to laugh, which only made Sansa shiver more. 

“Oh this is priceless!” Olenna grinned as she made her way to the door. “Could it be that simple? All those florid plans and then he ties this pretty manacle around his cock?” She shook her head. “Fool."

“Why are you even here,” Sansa finally spat out, desperate for some vestige of control. Desperate to catch up. To understand.

“To follow my hunch. To confirm my suspicions. Took a long time for me to find this place. And then I had to come myself to take the measure of you,” Olenna smiled thinly. “I do my best assessment of things on the ground, so to speak. I came to read the situation. To read you.

“I hardly spoke at all.”

“You don’t need to, girl. Your poker face is good. But I am old and I have experience.” She made her way down the winding stair slowly now. “Also,” she added off-handedly, “I came because I was sent.”

“By whom?”

“Oh you’ll find out, dear. Or you can guess. You’re not stupid. Just a very slow learner.” 


Sansa counted all in the Drearfort. Including the children, there were thirteen of them in total.

She whipped out her phone and called again. And again, nothing but silence. Not even a means to leave a voice message. Should she even leave him a text message?

Something told her there was no time.

She whipped through the contacts in her phone. It was a very short list. She found what she needed and clenched her free hand anxiously as she pressed the phone to her ear, praying for an answer.

Margaery stared at her hands in her lap, the phone still off the hook, still sitting useless on her skirt. The dial tone had long changed to something else. A dead silence.

He had lied. He had lied to her. To her face. He had lied. 

He was keeping her there. Like his wife. He was hiding her, keeping her all for himself.

“You know what this means of course, Margaery. He’s smuggled Ned out as well, in all likelihood. And maybe in exchange for her, I don’t know. But quite possibly. She loves her father, we all know that—and he can’t stand the man. But maybe somehow she managed to persuade Baelish to break her father out of prison and in return, she promised to stay with him.”

That had fucking hurt. To think that she had that kind of hold on him. That kind of sway. To think that the child knew that it would work, this barter. But Margaery had to agree: it made sense. And from what she saw herself...

She would not cry. No. Not over him. No. Not after this. Especially not after knowing this.

She squeezed the receiver until her hands turned white. She cannot rely upon him anymore. She cannot trust him.

“I was hardly born yesterday, Margaery. Both of you were carrying on, on the side. You thought I didn’t know. I know you, Margaery. I know how you like to play with your food. I was hoping and praying you knew exactly what you were doing.

“Your pride is now hurt, my girl. He played you more than you hoped to play him. Yes, they’re probably having an affair. It’s quite likely he even has real feelings for the chit, if that can believed. But forget all that for now — use your anger to THINK, girl. Turn this around! Keep him close to you still. You can’t afford to lose him now. Not yet.”

Margaery blinked. Her pride was hurt? She wasn’t sure if this was pride. There was a searing pain that had started somewhere high in her throat and now scalded downward like indigestion. A heaviness mixed with a sharpish pain in her chest. Was this the ache of pride? She felt like she was about to have a heart attack. 

She gulped loudly. She could hardly breathe. She swallowed air and shuddered as she willed herself to stop shaking. She would not cry. She would not. Not over this. Not over him.

There were things to do, she knew. Tommen was already making noises about giving up the throne because of his tainted blood, because of the truth of his ancestry. His decidedly un-blue bloodline.

But he was not necessarily inclined to want to give the throne to her either. She still had to work on her husband. Cersei and Jaime were still at large. Tommen was floundering on that count, and she needed to guide his thoughts towards them. Persuade him to put away his own parents, lead his empire until he doesn’t...

“Do you want to be a queen?"

The feel of him, his mouth on hers, his arms wound tight. The smell of him, the warmth of his skin, the graze of his beard on her cheek. The mix of mint and wood and that cologne he always used. 

The feel of him inside her, the perfect curve of his cock, the way he’d whisper dark things into her ear until she’d come with a hard tremble and a shrill cry. 

“I will give you your heart’s desire, Margaery. I will make you The Queen.”  

He did. And then he loved someone else.

She gasped now, dragging air into her lungs like she was drowning. A gulp, a heave so loud and ugly it was as if she were sobbing anyway, her body wracked with a kind of grief. But no. Instead, the pain just sat there like a burning rock that could not go away. How could it be possible that her body could no longer understand how to draw breath? Did it not want to live anymore?

There was so much to do. Tommen needed a firm hand now, and he was putty. There was no time to lose. “First things first, my girl. You know what to do.”

She would not cry. Margaery stood up now, drawing herself up taller.

First things first. 

It wasn’t that difficult, in the end, to find this place. Grandmother had already done the hard yards and all Margaery had to do now was command the right people to make it happen. Petyr had been right, the bastard. One could move surprisingly quick during a time of chaos. No one had really batted an eyelid when she swept from King’s Landing in a tremendous hurry with a small retinue in tow.  

Everyone just assumed that everyone else was scrambling for a plan. And if any of them had been foolish enough to try and stop her…

She had left even without letting Tommen know. She had left him a note in his boudoir, as if she had just ducked down to the shops for a pint of milk like a housewife. There would be consequences once her absence was properly felt. But Margaery hardly cared anymore. 

She had not known what to expect. Petyr had told her this was remote. It was the assurance he had given her repeatedly when he had hidden Lysa away like a communicable disease. Like a secret shame. 

There was nothing here to speak of. The village hardly qualified as a hamlet when they had passed over it earlier. A smattering of houses, if that. It was dismal and nothing like Highgarden. How he must have climbed and climbed hard. The realisation made her heart twist strangely, which only made her even more furious.

This time, all the servants had gathered outside as they watched both chopper and chinook descend — hers, and the backup of muscle she brought. The Fingers were surely part of her empire too.

And there stood Sansa. Regal, as if she were the fucking queen herself. As if she were her. If she was scared, she didn’t show it. She was tall in person — much taller up close than from that great distance in the throne room. She was taller than Margaery, but she was NOT the fucking queen. 

“Inside,” Margaery snarled and she gave a hard shove to the small of Sansa’s back as both women ascended the stairs. “To the top,” she gritted out, knowing what was there. She wanted to see the room for herself. The bed where they probably rutted repeatedly. Behind her back.

Sansa turned around as soon as both of them entered the room. The servants, her guards, all of them seemed to understand that they were to remain downstairs. There was no other way to leave the room except for the stairs, anyway. That, and the small window looking out to that murky sea and to those mouldy, jagged rocks below.

“Your Grace…”

“Sansa,” Margaery bit back, and the girl flinched as if she had been struck. But she stood tall again, her face schooled to implacable as she faced her queen calmly.

“He’s not here,” Sansa explained. “If you’re looking for my father, he’s not here.”

That was slightly unexpected. Margaery paused, belatedly remembering that her father had fled as well. That had been the bigger crime, actually. But Margaery was wholly disinterested in that.

“We will find him,” Margaery replied instead with a smugness she wore better than she felt. “And when we do, the both of you can slowly rot in each hell together for all I care. You whore.”

Sansa’s eyes widened. “Your Grace?”

“Taking what does not belong to you. You whore!

“I never took the funds! I had nothing to do with it,” Sansa cried. 

“I don’t care about the fucking money!” Margaery screamed and something in Sansa seemed to jolt awake then.

“You can’t mean that,” she returned now and her eyes drilled back into Margaery's. “You wouldn’t come down here yourself, demanding to look for my father if you didn’t care about the money!”

“SHUT UP ABOUT THE MONEY! I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR FATHER. I DON’T FUCKING CARE ABOUT THE NATIONAL FUND COLLAPSE!” Margaery screamed before an arm flew out and she heard the crack of flesh against flesh before her own hand started to sting.

There was a deathly silence then. Sansa’s face was white as a sheet now, save for the print of the queen's own hand now blooming angrily on her face. Each finger was starting to appear on that porcelain complexion. Sansa’s pain and confusion were plain even to Margaery and suddenly she knew.

“You didn’t know!"

“I d-don’t understand, Your Grace!”

“When you’re cumming so prettily while Petyr fucks you, does he tell you whether you sound just like me?”

Sansa’s jaw dropped, her hand flying to her mouth then. She looked as if Margaery had just dealt her another stinging blow.

“No…” But the sound was pitiful, like a whimper of pain. “No, noooo…"

“How long,” Margaery seethed. “How long have you been fucking…”

“The conference,” was the whispered reply. Sansa looked broken.

But all Margaery saw was red.

“You little skank,” she snarled. “You little whoring BITCH!” And she moved to hit Sansa again except something changed in the younger, taller girl and she ducked to the side at the last moment so Margaery missed her.

“And what about you,” Sansa’s eyes narrowed. “How long have you been sleeping with Petyr? I’ll take those insults from my aunt, but both of us are the sinners here. Both of us.

“How dare you…”

“How dare you!” Sansa cried with feeling. “Don’t care about my father? About the fund? YOU DESTROYED A GOOD MAN! A man who stuck by your father-in-law, who gave him this realm…”

“He sold this country out!”

“It was he who was sold out!” Sansa shot back heatedly. “Your grandmother was here and she told me. Not a lot, but enough. My father in a Ponzi scheme? He couldn’t even take care of the household budget! He didn’t start this. He was the fall guy, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say Cersei had something to do with it… and for all I know, you did as well!”

“Do you know who you’re talking to?” Margaery could feel the room tilt and bow, her anger so hot that she could hardly string that sentence together. “Who do you think you are!”

“Who do you think you are? Tommen isn’t even legitimate. You married an empty shirt — a sick product of a filthy, unnatural union who dared to look at MY FATHER and demand that he repent! You’re no queen,” Sansa scoffed. “Your husband should never have been conceived. You’re all going down and to the seven hells in a handbasket!”

With a full-bodied scream, Margaery lunged at Sansa, her fingers, her nails aiming for her wretched self-righteous blue eyes. But Sansa was fighting back now and Margaery screamed as she felt her hair gripped at the roots and yanked back so hard, she was almost sure she felt them leave her scalp. Somehow she managed to grab an arm and she bit into it now like a feral cat. Sansa yelled in pain before smashing an elbow back into her face.

They were scratching and kicking and biting now, each of their movements fuelled by nothing except hate and white-hot fury. There was no grace in the art, no choreography, no strategy, just passion. They both heard the ripping of clothes, but neither could quite tell whose dress had just been rent. Knees connected with cunts, nails scratched down faces and backs, seeking blood. There was much muted shouting and pounding on the thick wooden door but both women were otherwise far too indisposed to answer the damn thing.  

Eventually someone must have found a key for there was suddenly a gust of air between them as each woman felt pulled away, their limbs still clamouring for the fight, their yells and groans of outrage still ringing in their ears.

Margaery finally stood up on her own, shrugging her guards off her and they released her gingerly, ever on the ready just in case she were to lunge at Sansa once more.

“This household is under arrest,” she bit out coolly. “You’ll be locked in here until we decide what to do with you. I don’t care if you haven’t eaten. I just don’t fucking care if you die.”

Her skirt was torn to the point of indecency. Her eye was probably going to turn blue-black tomorrow and when she rubbed her mouth, there was blood from a cut she could not see. But she didn’t care. She was queen. She was still queen. And she had the power.

They vacated that gods-forsaken tower within the half hour, taking the servants with them, including the children. Margaery took Sansa’s phone. There was still a full battery in it.

She read every single message between the both of them on the two-hour chopper ride back to Highgarden. It was a death by a thousand paper cuts. And at the end of it all, she started texting back. She glanced at her watch, and counted the hours. Perfect. He should be out of his whole-day meeting with the Most Devout soon. He’d finally have reception.

Olenna knows. She's taking me to Highgarden.

Chapter Text

It was almost touching on four in the afternoon when Petyr emerged from deep within the bowels of the Reach. The Most Devout did try to rotate the location of their meetings for security and fairness, but with the recent debacle concerning the Lannister bloodline and the throne, Luceon had seen fit to have their meeting near Highgarden once more. Geographically, it was easily accessible to all and was kitted with the most robust facilities for security — secure even from themselves. None of them really trusted anyone else, after all. This, here, was not a council of the guileless.  

Petyr lengthened his stride and quickened his step. The meeting had not gone well at all, predictably. Everyone was nervous about the likelihood of a power vacuum with Tommen’s credibility severely diminished. Luceon was agitating for the Most Devout to step into the breach in a hopefully peaceful coup — which would bring the rather convenient result of making him, High Septon of the Faith, the default ruler of the Seven Kingdoms.

Not on his watch, Petyr wanted to growl. Not while there was air in his lungs. Not while that particular move was to have been the capstone of his own flagitious career thus far. Petyr and Margaery had waited and connived and wrought so long to ultimately overthrow the powers that be and install them both. Establish a theocracy but Luceon taking the crown? It was an irony that he could not, would not bear, thought Petyr. 

Thank the Seven that the room had been immediately divided. There was simply no time, half of them said. The memory of the havoc that the High Sparrow had almost wreaked was still fresh in the national psyche. Revealing themselves, Luceon coming to the rescue like some ecclesiastical knight was too obvious a play. There would be a revolt or a backlash. Had recent events taught them nothing?

But what was the alternative, the other half cried. Stannis? He’s a Rh’llor worshipper now and then the Most Devout would be rooted out and systematically burned alive by that soothsaying red witch he carries around in his pocket. And let them not forget the threat coming from the Great Grass Sea; Danaerys was still at large, and her armed forces only growing from strength to strength. 

And what about Margaery, someone had asked finally and Petyr thanked the Seven that the question did not have to come from him. Wasn’t she still working for them?

What about Margaery, Luceon had shrugged. She was the Defender of the Faith, but her fate was tied to her husband who was now an abomination. Unless she worked a miracle and separated herself from him somehow… unless he gave her the crown… Did people even want her, someone else had asked and Petyr had stepped in coolly then. She rated outstandingly well in the most recent polls among the lower socio-economic groups who formed, by far, the majority of King’s Landing at least. Well, yes, Luceon had grunted. But who had ever given a fig about what the poor and downtrodden thought anyway.

To and fro, back and forth they had argued. From sun up to almost the close of the day, they had each changed their minds a multitude of times as one argument was put forward then another, as each scenario was tested to their logical conclusions. Petyr had played along, voicing support for this and that so as not to give away his true position.

But privately, he was tense and disconcerted. This was all happening far too soon. The game was getting away from him and he was searching wildly for a new foothold but finding each new possible crevice alarmingly soft and insecure. 

Oh but for the timing of that bombshell on their incest! If only they had held off… if only he had known who these anarchists were… Seven alive, they could have all truly accomplished something great then. 

There was a signal-jammer with a range that extended a full kilometre from the building itself. Their meeting had also been held in a basement seven levels deep — a rather poetic depth from which to make, then bury, their secrets. None of them ever bothered turning on their devices in those meetings. It took rather a while before Petyr's phone would flicker to life and his messages could come pouring in.

He had not taken Olyvar with him — none of them could take their drivers, and so he had to scroll and scan while keeping an eye on the road. The next thing he read elicited such a visceral reaction from him that he knocked his own breath out as the seatbelt slammed him back into his seat. The car behind him blared its horn in the hard brake and then narrowly missed as it swerved sharp left before taking off like a cat on fire.

Petyr's breath was shallow, though whether that was from the unyielding seatbelt earlier or from the deep sense of dread that was now tightening across his chest like a vise, he did not know. He rather suspected the latter.

Olenna knows. She's taking me to Highgarden.

He was not surprised, of course, when Olenna granted him an audience almost immediately. She had refused to answer his calls, but she clearly wanted to see him in person.

Highgarden was, as they say, very happily situated. A natural entrepôt between the three largest cities of the realm, Highgarden made its fortune chiefly on being all things to all cities, flirting and simpering and mediating and otherwise bedding each of their illustrious neighbours for trade. 

In many ways, Margaery was the personification of Highgarden; seemingly pretty and delicate on the surface. Exciting… except for the sharp thorns that could wound if one were not too careful. Handle it wrong, and one could be in a world of pain.

Olenna, on the other hand, was a thick and woody vine that took some brutal hacking at to tame. 

He resisted the urge to run to chamber where she was expecting him now, the old cow. Petyr had no idea what to expect from the older woman. Had she told Margaery? Had she divined the truth about Sansa’s relationship to Petyr? He would stick to his guns, of course. What did Olenna expect him to do, abandon his own niece just when she needed family the most? Her father, mysteriously disappeared? Her fortune seized and forfeited, her name destroyed? 

He hoped to the Mother and the Crone and who else would listen that Sansa was safe, that she wasn’t under arrest. Locked up somewhere in lieu of her father. He had to brace himself, of course. That was likely. He could not be seen to be overly affected by such a decision. Even as he devised to break her out using every influence he still had. 

He rounded the corner and almost missed the door. Smoothing a hand over his hair, jerking his tunic down so that he was presentable and did not at all resemble a man who had just been on the verge of breaking into a desperate run, Petyr pulled his shoulders back and nodded to the footman to open the double doors.

Olenna Tyrell stood waiting for him. But that was not what made him stutter. No. What made him stop in his tracks instead was the vision of Margaery sitting in the middle of the room, flanked by her lady’s maids and her queensguard.

The look that Margaery gave him would stop a glacier from the North.

Olenna eyed Petyr, her mouth pinched into something almost resembling amusement except it was something else. No, not amusement. Consternation. 

“I’ll leave you both to it then,” she bit out quietly before brushing past him and out the double doors. They closed with an air of finality behind her.

“Your Grace.” And Petyr bowed low, his face almost touching the floor. He willed himself not to tremble even as his gut was starting to flutter with nerves. He straightened himself slowly, his eyes watchful. 

There had been an altercation, he realised with a jolt. Her face was made up thickly this evening, but even then he could make out the scratches on her face, her neck… One particularly deep one near the corner of her lips that made her mouth look even more downturned in quiet fury.

The hairs on the back of his neck started to prickle in warning.

“You once told me that it doesn’t matter what we want. Once we get it, we want something else."

“Your Grace?”

“I should have known,” Margaery murmured now, looking at her nails in a detached manner. “It had been a warning. All along. I was so stupidly taken in by you.

Petyr started to tread slowly towards Margaery. “Your Grace…”

“Don’t.” She looked up at him and the ice in her voice, in her eyes stilled him at once. The queensguard readied themselves, their stance suddenly on the offensive.

He thought about using her name. But it was far too intimate and the room, far too crowded for him to speak so familiarly to her. Surrounding herself, presenting herself in the capacity of Queen… that had been deliberate of course, and Petyr was nervous. He stood and waited.

“Do you love her?”

He startled. “Your Grace?”

“Don’t act coy with me, Petyr. Do you love her! You know exactly who I’m talking about! That girl. That child. That imbecile. Do you love her!”

“Mar—your Grace!” He took another step forward, flicking a nervous glance at the ladies in waiting before he answered earnestly with, “You know I only love you.”

“Oh?” Margaery replied pleasantly. “Then why the hell are you fucking her behind my back?”

A cold sweat broke then. It was bad enough that she knew — she knew. The moment he had stepped inside the chamber and saw Margaery with Olenna, he had known the gig was up. There was no hiding the fact that he had lied to her. And the only reason that he would do such a thing, Margaery knew, had little to do with the fact that Sansa was “just his niece”. 

But to speak so plainly. To announce the nature of their own relationship in front of her guards, her maids… Margaery was no longer ruled by her head. This was recklessness. Any number of them could be Cersei’s. Cersei was down, but she was not out yet.

And yet Margaery did not seem to care. And that made Petyr extremely nervous now. 

“She told me you both started fucking at the conference.”


“You lied to me then. And I could have forgiven that, you know. I could’ve. You needed to keep her on side. Wrap her around your little finger. Maybe fallen on her sword, if things with Ned had not worked out. I would have believed all that, you know. If you’d told me from the start that you intended to fuck her, I would have eventually come around. I’m not stupid. I know how some things need to get done. By any means possible, right?

"But then I saw you, you see. I saw you. I saw the way you looked at her that day of the trial. I think I knew then.”

“Margaery… please…”

Her eyes flashed then and when she opened her mouth, the words that tumbled were shrill. “Shut up—SHUT UP! I’m talking here, your Queen! Don’t you fucking dare ‘Margaery’ me!”

He closed his mouth, his eyes never leaving hers.

“What was it about her, Petyr? Was it that she was Catelyn’s little girl? Is it that simple? You, finally getting the one that got away? Was that it? I never stood a real chance?”

He swallowed and forced himself to place his hands behind his back, if only to still the small tremble of his hands. His brain was whirring but it was as if thick glue had coated the cogs. He could not think, not fast enough. He was spinning his wheels.

And he was completely exposed. How did he let himself get so completely exposed? He swore after that fight with Brandon that he would never, ever leave himself this exposed over a woman again...

Margaery’s brown eyes narrowed now, but her face suddenly relaxed, her countenance almost sweet. 

“We had a chat, Sansa and I. Earlier today, did you know? Grandmama found her and was so good to tell me that our lovely Sansa had been found. Not Ned, though.” And Margaery frowned in mock consternation.

“I got to see where you grew up, Petyr. You never did take me back to your place, did you.”

He took a shuddering breath. “I never wanted to let you see what I was.”

“Funny,” Margaery replied as if mulling his reply in earnest. “You had no qualms letting Sansa see you. See all of you.”

She stood up now and walked towards him slowly, deliberately. Her queensguard followed behind her, a menacing presence that Petyr tried hard to note without quelling.

She was hurt. She was even limping slightly. What had happened back there, exactly?

He tried not to panic suddenly. Was Sansa alright? His eyes flicked around the room in vain. She was not there, of course. But there were holding cells in Highgarden. His gears started whirring once more even as Margaery started to speak.

“Got to talk to Sansa for myself today,” Margery continued, still in that calm voice that Petyr was now sure edged along the fine line where hysteria lay beyond. “She’s… surprising. Taller than I expected up close. And pretty. Very pretty. I can see why you fell for her.”

“Margaery…” he whispered hoarsely, and it sounded tortured.

“And quick too,” she mused aloud, as if remembering something. “Had a mouth on her, and wasn’t afraid to use it. Not to her queen, oh no. Practically treasonous, when it came down to it. Told me I wasn’t a real queen, since Tommen was a freak that should never have been conceived.” She raised her eyebrow as Petyr’s jaw fell. “Told you she had some bite to her.”

“Something else she said too,” Margaery was drawling now. “It made me think, you know. She said that both of us — Sansa and I — were the sinners here. That really, Lysa — your darling wife, your legitimate love — is the real victim in all this. She had a point.”

Margaery stood right in front of Petyr now. “How is your wife doing, mmm? Is she still touched in the head? Still the jealous type?” She smiled then and Petyr’s heart plummeted to his stomach.

“You didn’t.”

“Lysa is technically her guardian, you know. She has the right to know.”

“She will kill her!”

Margaery tutted, even as her eyes shone with a malice that Petyr had never seen before. “Not yet, she won’t. But then, the poor old dear needs a way to get back out there.”

Petyr stilled as he connected the dots. “Sansa is not here.”

“Bright boy.”

“Where is she!”

“She never left. She’s still in your cosy little bedroom, locked up like the damsel in distress that she is. Waiting for her prince charming to come rescue her from the tower. I’ve set the dragon on her, of course.” Margaery added helpfully with a cruel smile. “Lysa is the dragon, just in case I hadn’t made myself clear just now.”

Petyr started to turn but Margaery reached out quick as lightning and he stilled as he felt her grip on his arm, so tight that her nails were digging into his flesh.

“You go to her,” she gritted her teeth, “and we are through. You are dead to me, do you hear. I will see to it that you are destroyed.”

The eyes that met hers in return were hollow. “I’m a dead man either way, aren’t I.”

Something in Margaery snapped right then, and she reached for both of his arms, her fingers tight and desperate as her eyes searched his. “Look at me — look at me! This is us. Here—“ She gestured to the space between them, her eyes wild and beseeching now. “We can get through this. I will forgive you, I know I can. It will be hard, but it’s not impossible. And we will triumph. And all that we planned so hard… You are brilliant and we can do this. That’s what you told me, remember? And we are two halves, you and I. And we are two souls in one. Two twins. Two hearts. Two minds that think the same. Remember, Petyr?” Her voice had hushed to a whisper.

“Don’t you dare let us go!” Her voice cracked then. And somehow that seemed to tighten his resolve.

He turned, breaking her hold on him.

“Nooooo!” she screamed at him.

“She is the most innocent of us all!” His eyes begged her to understand.

“I hate you!” she cried. “I HATE YOU!”

“Then lock me up. But I have to try.”

He reached for the door, waiting for the word, for the guards, for recrimination to descend swiftly and heavily upon his person. But nothing. She was sobbing now, a wretched sob that was borne of fury more than anything else.

But she had not spoken the word. And her guards did not move.

He flung open the doors and fled

She had never been in such a fancy helicopter before, or maybe she did and she just did not remember.

It wasn’t from the royal fleet. That had been disappointing. But it was very kind of Her Grace to provide transport all the same, and at such short notice.

Lysa gingerly opened the box that her pilot had handed her. It was another gift from the young queen. What an unexpected ally. To tell her of Petyr’s indiscretions… Her Grace had been so warm, so understanding. So discreet.

And Petyr! Lysa’s heart twisted at the thought. You always knew, though. You knew even when you could not speak when you were in the Darkness. But you saw them, in your very own house. The way she looked at him. Wanton, grasping, grabby little whore, just like Cat. And stupid Ned didn’t stop anything, didn’t see. You couldn’t tell her off then. You can do it now. Stay the hell away from my Petyr! He doesn’t know. He thinks he’s being kind. He doesn’t know what you really are. I have been neglecting him…

The lighting in the helicopter was very, very poor. Lysa had to guess the young queen’s gift by feel and she did so, patting down the opened box in the dark, her ring hitting the metal. And then, as if blessed by the Seven themselves, a beam of moonlight shone in just then, acting quite well as a torch.

Smyth and Wesson. They do make the nicest handguns for women.  

Chapter Text

It took only two hours by chopper from Highgarden to the Fingers, weather permitting. But Petyr would lose all mobile reception halfway through their journey. Petyr held his phone in both his hands, just willing for intel to come through. 

"Rickard," he called out now to his faithful pilot in front, "thanks again for doing this. I anticipate some push back when we get there."

"How many on the ground?" Rickard asked.

"Just one. The pilot." For now, Petyr thought. He checked his messages again. Mya, Robert Baratheon's first bastard and one of the lady's maids Petyr had long planted near Margaery, seemed to have finally gotten hold of a means to contact him. Petyr quelled his fury. He understood that he had been in lockdown most of the day, but he had expected much better cunning from Mya. 

Margaery had apparently sent Lysa a chopper some two hours ago. Whether his good wife would have boarded the chopper immediately at the Vale remained to be seen, though Petyr preferred to imagine the worst possible scenario and work from there. By his estimates, they would be close. He might be able to intercept her, or else catch her as she just arrived. He took courage from the fact that there seemed to be no other reinforcements commissioned. For now.

As for Petyr and his pilot, they were in a light combat helicopter that had some nominal weaponry. It could take on a few troops on the ground easily, but if Marge or Olenna were to send a squadron of helicopters hot on their tail... This chopper had neither the firepower nor the payload to take them on.

His phone lit up.

Olen T still talking to QMarg

Here we go, thought Petyr, the roiling of unease ratcheting from the message.

QM changed mind. Wing commander summoned.

Petyr clenched his jaw and waited. The seconds ticked on interminably. It lengthened into minutes.

Come on... come on...

Petyr flicked his eyes to his watch. They were getting closer to the dead zone. And it's not like Mya could radio in to Rickard from where she was. They were running out of time.

The screen lit up and Petyr swiped his phone to read the full message.

News just in from KL!

Another minute stretching to two. And then a ping.

OT & QM rushing to KL. King down!

Petyr sat up straighter. King down! King down? Has Tommen been killed? Or merely incapacitated? Petyr ran through the list of repercussions. If he was assassinated, the populace would revolt against a usurper. Margaery might stand a chance then. A good chance. Young widow, victim of circumstances outside of her control, strong and brave, rallying for love and duty to the empire... If Tommen was incapacitated and not able to rule... Cersei would be Regent, but the people would not have her. So would they take Margaery?

What if he had taken his own life?

The last reception bar on his phone finally disappeared and the circle-backslash symbol took its place. They were in the deadzone now.

"Rickard," he called. "Something's happened to the King! Find out what!"

Lysa alighted from her helicopter gingerly, squinting into the dark as her eyes adjusted to the thick blackness surrounding the tower she hated so very much. 

This place. This place of torment for her.

Her long pants were whipping around her legs even as the rotors slowed. The wind was picking up from the land breeze rushing out to the sea beyond the tower. From the beams of light that the chopper kindly afforded, she could just make out the winding broken path up to that ancient wooden door.

Her Grace had been so kind as to provide the key. Lysa felt for the gun stuck into her waistband. It had been a while since she shot at anything, but oh she had every confidence that she would not be missing her target tonight. She had full permission now, you see. Her Grace, and no doubt King Tommen, would pardon her. She had those assurances. No witnesses. The pilot was as good as blind. The household staff had been evacuated and there was nothing and no one for miles and miles. She could do what she liked, you see. Sansa Stark was finally at her mercy.

She stuck the key in the lock and turned, an almost delirious smile touching her face. She was no longer the jailed but the jailer in this place. This place of torment.

She ascended the winding stair, a steady trip trap trip trap as she passed each floor, silently bidding each sullen crevice an almost fond farewell. She will be rid of this place. Maybe she’ll find some kerosene and burn this gods-forsaken hell hole down. And then she will run back to Petyr and tell him that Sansa had done it. 

Petyr. Oh Petyr, oh Petyr, you fool. I loved you, I loved you. We must have words. I will make you forget her, if it is the last thing that I do. Maybe I’ll shoot you too. But you must forget Sansa. I will be the last face you see, you see. I love you, I hate you, oh but I love you… I will make you eat her heart raw. 

The second key that Her Grace provided fitted easily into the door of the room that had been her prison for months on end. The heavy door swung inward after a heave. The light was off, the orange ambient light from the winding stairs not nearly bright enough to illuminate the room. Lysa stepped further in, fumbling for the light switch.

It flickered on, suddenly bright. Too bright. Lysa blinked. “Sansa, dear?” she cooed into the room and that same dead silence greeted her back.

“Sansa, sweet light?” she called, her voice thin and reedy. Her eyes bright and unblinking. She stepped further in. Her Grace had sworn she would be locked up in this room. Perhaps the stupid girl was hiding under the bed. 

Another step, and then another. Softly now. Perhaps if she could creep up on her… Lysa crouched down slowly, one knobbly knee braced on the scratched timber floor.

A sudden shadow shot past behind her, ducking out from behind the door. Lysa caught a glimpse of Tully red and sprung as quick as she could to her feet, her arms, her hands reaching out to claw, to grab.

A shriek as her nails raked down soft skin. Another cry as Lysa gripped her arm then twisted painfully.

“You silly girl,” she hissed, and pulled the taller girl to her. Sansa was slender, but she still had a sturdier build to her than her thin, almost gnarly aunt. It should have been easy for Sansa to break free from her frail aunt’s grip. But Lysa was never letting her go. Her grip grew tighter, her strength almost superhuman now.

“You whore,” she snarled. “You lying, thieving whore. Homewrecker. Bitchy, witchy whore!” And the stupid child had the temerity to whimper.

“I’m sorry, aunt!” she cried.

“Sorry doesn’t even begin to describe…” And Lysa let go of the girl without warning, clenching her hand tight before drawing her arm full back. And then she swung hard and sudden, her fist a ball of fury so Sansa’s head snapped right with the impact.

There was a cry of pain and Lysa grinned as a gash of blood appeared on her niece’s porcelain complexion. Good, she thought. Marked you now. Uglied you up, you stupid lying, cheating cunt. Petyr can’t possibly want you after I’m through with you...

Lysa reached in now, grabbing a scalpful of that Tully, Tully hair and yanked hard so another cry of pain pierced the oppressive, still air of the room.

“I knew you were trouble from the first,” Lysa hissed, pulling Sansa’s head back so far, she was almost looking at Lysa upside down. “Just like your mother, always taking what was not hers. Entitled, stuck-up self-righteous bitch, always taking the best things for herself. Selfish cunt. Always bathed in glory by the Old Gods and the New… greedy little cunts, the both of you!” And she slammed Sansa’s head into the door. 

But Sansa was pushing back now, her hands instinctively bracing for impact even as Lysa tried to smush her face in the splinters, kneeing her legs and pressing her body against the wood. A sudden push, and Sansa locked her elbows as her aunt staggered back and hit the doorframe behind her.

Sansa heard a screech before she turned around and just barely missed the talons of her aunt, reached out now to claw at her face, her eyes. Openly crying now, gasping for breath, her eyes blown wide in terror, Sansa bolted from the room, reaching for the stairs but again, her aunt’s reach was supernaturally fast and far. She felt her blouse rip as Lysa clung on with a death grip.

“Are you trying to escape me, girl?” Lysa shrieked again and her voice was sharp and thin and hurt Sansa’s ears. “I decide whether you come and go. I decide your fate now! Petyr is not here.” Lisa’s lips curved into a smile that turned Sansa’s insides into ice. "And the queen has given me a lovely present!”

“The que—”

But Sansa never got a chance to clarify. With a snarl, Lysa pulled Sansa towards her before suddenly shoving her hard.

She scrabbled for the bannister but it was too late. Sansa felt herself trip, then stumble. Her hip landed sharp on the edge of the stair in an awkward twist and Sansa cried out in pain before she started to tumble. Arms and legs sprawled but she could not stop herself. 

It was only when she lay at the bottom of the flight of stair that she heard the cackle of her aunt ringing in the stairwell. And getting closer.

She saw the kick before she felt it in her side. Then her ribs, as Sansa curled instinctively, sharp pain shooting through her as another landed on her back, her side. She tucked her head in as far as she could as her aunt aimed for her skull. Her neck. She heard a ringing in her ears and thought she heard firecrackers in the distance.

And then it stopped. Eerily, eerily stopped. Sansa whimpered, her hip screaming in pain, her face soaked with tears. She slowly raised her head. Gingerly, gingerly. Until she looked up finally at her aunt.

The barrel was pointed straight at her face. Even a fool couldn’t miss from that angle.

Sansa closed her eyes. And then her free leg swung out. 

Petyr jumped from the chopper even before Rickard could fully land. As soon as his feet touched grass however, he heard the shots fired.

“Shit!” he yelled. “Rickard!”

“I see him!” his pilot yelled back. Petyr ducked and ran for the nearest collection of boulders. More shots whizzed past him. Just ten metres… seven… two…

He dived just as he heard Rickard pull back up, the sweep of lights from the chopper scanning their surrounds. Petyr could make out the other chopper now, the one that Lysa must have arrived in. He couldn’t see the pilot, or whoever it was that had fired on them.

But Rickard was opening fire now. Petyr flattened himself on the ground on reflex, covering his head uselessly with his arms as the helicopter swung around, scanning the grounds as it hovered. 

More shots littered the landscape but the helicopter was pulling even further back now. Petyr ventured a look. There was still no one there that he could see. But the tower lay just beyond and the light in his bedroom was on.


There was another spray of bullets and Petyr threw himself back down on the ground. And then it stopped. The chopper was landing now and that could only mean one thing. Petyr stood up, dusting himself off before rounding the boulders and breaking into a jog.

“Got ‘im?” he shouted out to Rickard and then he smiled as Rickard gave the thumb’s up. The rotors were slowing as Petyr jogged past him towards the tower. 

“Rick,” he turned back and eyed his pilot and long-time friend for a moment, slowing his steps down. “Later… if only one of us were to come out of there...” He gestured behind him at the tower. “Just go, alright? Even if I… just go. Do you understand me?"

A single gunshot, sudden and muffled and coming from up ahead. The blood drained from Petyr's face as he turned back and sprinted for the door. Another shot fired. 

Sansa watched as Lysa stared hatefully at her, then through her. The gun slipped from her fingers and clattered to the floor.

And then Sansa watched as the life from her aunt’s eyes left her, as Lysa crumpled slowly to the ground, a bloom of red now spreading over the place where her heart should have been.

Her own gun was still in her hands, still gripped tight. Sansa suddenly tossed her gun to the floor, hearing as it clattered down the step. And then she started shaking like the last leaf on a bough in winter.


And then warm arms wrapped tight around her. An all too familiar scent cloaked her face like a favourite scarf. And she trembled and trembled even as Petyr pulled her close, even as he rubbed her back and whispered nonsense about the worst being over, about praising the Seven that she is alright, about how brave, how good she was.

At the last, she pushed him back roughly. “No!” she cried, and her voice was hoarse from the rawness of screaming before in terror. From holding in all that horror.

“No, I am not good!” she cried. “I just… I just killed… I j-just…”

“Shhhhh…” he soothed and tried to rock her, but she pulled away again, this time angrily.

“We killed her!” she cried. “Both of us did! With our lies and our cheating… and skulking around, and f-f-f-fucking…!” She was shaking again. She didn’t think she could stop herself.

“She tried to kill you,” he reasoned, checking her now for sprains, for bruises. He noted the gash in her face, still bleeding on her shirt. The buttons were all ripped now, save just the one.

“Are you alright? Are you hurt? Can you stand?”

And they try now. He pulled her gently up and winced when she winced.

“What happened?” 

“Sh… she found out. Qu-queen Margaery…” She took in a shuddering breath, counted to ten before blowing out slowly. “Queen Margaery must have told her. And she gave aunt Lysa that gun.”

And Sansa looked at him now with a frankness that made him uneasy. “She told me, you know. Her Grace. She told me how I had come between the both of you. I could tell that she really loved you.” Her eyes were large and iridescent orbs that searched and scorched his insides. Maybe even his soul.

“What about us, Petyr? What were we then?”

And then she looked away. “I don’t know you anymore.”

“Sansa…” His voice sounded so meek. So broken. He didn’t think that it would.

“You used me. You used all of us.”

“No… yes… but no. Sansa, truly — don’t go, my heart!”

“Your heart.” And she felt the words in her mouth, as if trying them out for the very first time. “Is that what you say to all of us?”

He opened his mouth to reply, but no words could come. 

She gripped the bannister and started to hobble down the stair. “I have to go.”

“Where are you going? Where can you go?”

“I don’t know,” Sansa answered calmly, feeling rather strange and detached. “I suppose to turn myself in.”

Petyr stilled. “No!”

“I just killed my aunt.”

“No! I won’t let you!”

“Petyr,” she explained slowly, as if to a child. “In all likelihood, I think you must be on the run too. You can’t protect me. And the queen knows I'm the only one here with aunt Lysa.” She took another step down the stair. She stopped when he held her arm firmly.

“I won’t let you,” he repeated himself. And then slowly sank down and felt the floor for the gun. He pulled it up now, that gun. That very same one that he had given Sansa once upon a time. Felt the weight of it in his hand. 

Sansa stared as his prints replaced hers on the grip. 

“Sansa,” he rasped and this time his voice sounded less broken as his eyes narrowed in determination. “Go upstairs to my room, please. In the wardrobe, in the set of drawers there, you’ll find Lysa’s gloves. The third drawer, I think. Put them on. And take Lysa’s gun.”

Sansa’s face whitened. “No…” she whispered.

“You will need to shoot me. It needs to look like I acted in self-defence.”

But she was shaking her head now. “No you can’t! You can’t possibly!”

“Sansa,” he murmured and his voice was low and sure now. “Listen to me very carefully. I can. And I will. I have to.” His eyes pleaded something else entirely. Let me do this please. Don’t take this away from me.

“I don’t have to shoot you, surely! I did shoot her in self-defence, you know! She threw me down the stairs! And she fired at me!”

“But no one is going to believe that she threw me down the stairs, don’t you see? And even if they were to deduce that her gun had gone off and she had missed… I am a man. It needs to be that she mortally wounds me. I know how this plays. I know how people see things, how they come to decisions. How they judge.”

He moved in now so his face was right before hers. She looked into his green-grey eyes and felt truly lost.

“Sansa…” he breathed her name and she wanted to cry now. “If I have learned anything in this long, shitty life of mine, it is this: in the game, we find out who we are. But in love, we find out who we want to be.”

Her eyes widened then, and he took the chance to take her hand firmly in his.

"Come on…” 

And woodenly, she let him guide her. They were hurrying now, as if he were expecting the guards to descend upon them any minute now. Or perhaps he needed to move quickly before he lost his own nerve.

Lysa’s gloves were on her hands now, but she held his tight and refused to let him take his place further down the stairs. “No,” she repeated stubbornly, her eyes suspiciously bright now. 

“Yes,” he replied softly and she fisted her hands and started pounding his chest, her racking sobs finally breaking the impasse. “I hated you! I was so angry with you, and what you made me become — a cheap whore, an adulterer, your mistress twice over! I HATED YOU! And now, you would even take that away from me?" 

And he stood there and took it, wanting to stroke her hair and murmur words that would only sound like platitudes. For what could a man like him say, when he’s said the lot and found to be nothing but a liar now? The boy who cried wolf.

And then her fists stopped and her sobs turned into a wail even as he pulled her into his embrace. He held her tight, breathing her in for the very last time, remembering the way her skin felt against his, remembering how she looked with her head thrown back, when she writhed and shuddered in his arms and called his name and made him feel whole night after night, day after day. When there was nothing else in the hours except blissful solitude with this woman. And a peace that transcends all schemes and understanding.

And then he kissed her, tasting her wet, salty lips tinged slightly with the metallic taste of her blood from the hurt that she had endured. He was sorry, so sorry. He didn’t know how to even begin to show how very sorry he truly was. 

How he knew now. How it’s all become clear. Where the playacting ended and the real person began. 

He broke away from her and slowly pulled away. This time she let him, watching as he walked down the stairs to where he had found her, further down perhaps.

“Do you know where to shoot?” he asked calmly. “I’ll leave it up to you of course. You could just maim me. Or,” he shrugged with a nonchalance he hardly felt at all, “you could always off me. I trust you to know what to do best… sweetling.”

An impossible position. Sansa felt something almost akin to rage once more. She was a mess. She knew it. And it was all because of him. Again.  

One more confession.

“It was me,” she said now, her voice low so he had to strain. “The photo, the evidence of the incest?” She took a deep breath. “That… that was all me. I got mad after they incarcerated my father for life. I traded his freedom with all that I knew.”

Petyr’s jaw fell open. 

“Sansa Stark,” he finally rasped. “It’s been a pleasure knowing you.” He looked almost mournful then. 

Petyr watched as Sansa raised the gun with both her hands. He closed his eyes and she took aim and squeezed. 

Chapter Text


Sansa smooths a brush over her hair and sets it down, staring at herself in the mirror. Her visitors had taken her by surprise and even though she feels a twinge of something resembling excitement, she is wary. Sansa had not seen either Bronn or Tyrion in seven years. What are they doing now in Winterfell, coming unannounced like that? Either they require something of her, or are about to give her something she might not, perhaps, welcome or need.

And either way, she is not going to find out any sooner by staying in her room and delaying the inevitable.

When Sansa enters the drawing room, both men stand up out of respect — although that tends to be the natural response whenever Sansa enters any room. She has grown somehow in the seven years since they last saw her. She seems taller, although Tyrion is sure she was just as tall when he first met her. But she holds herself with a languid and almost regal grace now that commands a quiet respect. Oh but she is a stunning beauty. More so now than ever before, even with the scars. All the rumours they heard down south are founded on truth after all.

“Warden Stark,” Tyrion murmurs but Sansa chooses then to bend down and offer her hand as he kisses it chastely, before enveloping him in a short but warm hug. 

“Please…” she demurs. “It’s Sansa.” She kisses Bronn on the cheek and Tyrion watches as his friend returns the slight hug, his face scalding red now. Tyrion would poke fun at Bronn, except he feels just the same. Slightly overwhelmed by the almost ethereal creature before them.

She gestures to the heavy antique chaises behind them and invites them to sit. She orders some tea with a raise of her hand and a smile. They start with small talk first. How’s the North, how is the harvest this year. How are the various Houses doing. (“Oh well,” she had waved her long delicate fingers dismissively. “They are like children, as usual. In need of a mother to school them like naughty boys now and then.”) 

They get to more sobering things. Ned’s death, for instance. Tyrion relays his personal condolences, even though he had formally written as much in his previous capacity as Hand to the Queen. Even Bronn grunts his sympathies. It was rather tragic, really. A man finally gains his freedom only to die from a heart attack. 

“I was with him, though…” Sansa says now, and this is news to Tyrion. “At least I got to hold his hand and close his eyes in the end. He was where he would have liked to have been when he died. With family who love him.” Tyrion notes to himself how she doesn’t keep the mourning black, although she's wrapped a charcoal-gray scarf around her neck. Another indication, yet again, of the swift changes coming through the empire for women.

For in the end, Queen Daenerys had won the throne. And it had been hard won. Tommen had killed himself, supposedly succumbing at last to the grief of his true parentage although Sansa is almost certain that another reason had been the stronger motivator. Quiet murmurings at the time suggest that he had lost all hope the moment he had cause to question his wife’s fidelity. Someone in Margaery’s entourage had squealed. Pure rumour of course, and Sansa wisely says nothing of her knowledge of — let alone her part in — that One Dark Day.

But his death had created a power vacuum that had immediately drawn three contenders. Cersei had attempted to insinuate herself, but Margaery had joined forces with High Septon Luceon. Daenerys Stormborn had chosen then to finally strike and she had done so decisively. When Cersei had struck a deal with the notoriously ruthless and faithless Greyjoys, Dany had made an example of the latter and released a Dragon on their land and armada — the largest in the world. That bomb killed almost all the young and fighting men on the Iron Islands and literally sank a nation. King’s Landing had capitulated almost immediately. But the people did not love their new queen and that was the price she paid by flexing a ruthless might to win a war. 

Dany is now queen, and even Sansa doesn’t know where Margaery has gone. The Queen rules with different sensibilities from the men before her, and it seems sometimes as if she’s almost carving a matriarchal society to counteract the past. At the very least, she’s abolished the arcane practice of primogeniture — women can now inherit lands, titles, and fortune, even without being the firstborn. It is up to the parents’ discretion now. 

It is why Sansa inherited the wardenship of Winterfell instead of Robb, even though he is the firstborn and a man. But Ned had seen something in his daughter and had charged the North to her care — a move that had shocked both Robb and Sansa, and then all of the Northern Lords until Robb stood behind his sister and pronounced his faith in her and lied about his total disinterest in the position. Sansa remains forever grateful for his support and magnanimity. Robb, meanwhile, remains where he is in faraway Essos with his brood of children and the wife whose side he never wants to leave. 

Queen Daenerys has many lovers she enjoys openly without ever feeling the need to apologise or explain. She doesn’t see the impetus to take a husband either, something that deeply impresses Sansa. The Queen’s current Hand is also her lover, which is something of a scandal but Jorah Mormont is well-liked and respected, devoted to his Queen forever more. 

Tyrion had shocked Sansa when he was revealed as the Queen’s first official Hand and Sansa learnt then how many other secrets the Vale must have been keeping within its walls. She continues to learn never to take anyone at face value. 

Varys is, unsurprisingly, part of the Queen’s small council and her other closest advisor. When Daenerys took the throne, it was he who ensured the Starks were never forgotten. To be fair to the realm, the new Queen acknowledged Ned’s role in the robbery of the coffers to line her own campaign for the Iron Throne. Dany repaid every cent Ned had directed to her. Pronouncing his sentence not befitting the crime he actually committed, she allowed Ned to serve out two more years in relative quiet and comfort — a ‘prison' in Dorne, where they served him three hot meals a day and allowed him to walk the grounds and stretch his legs in the golden sunshine. To read and chat, to while away his days rebuilding his health and regaining his sense of self as he mended his dignity.

As for Sansa, the young plucky lass who single-handedly brought down a corrupt and blackened government, the Queen practically gave her a blank cheque to which she asked for three things. That the Starks regain Winterfell. That her father were to return home, and not re-enter government service. He had long paid his dues to the Crown.

The last wish had been to keep Petyr alive.

Sansa never made any active enquiries about Petyr, but news of him made their occasional way to her somehow. She can never forget him. The scars on her face are faint now, and she no longer spends an eternity in front of her vanity hiding them. Those scars… they remind her of who she had been and who she’d allowed him to turn her into. They remind her daily of her sins against her mad aunt. And the man who covered her sins with his own hand and asked her to shoot him because he truly loved no one else. 

Even after the nightmares finally ceased, she continued to dream of him. Sometimes he was just there, a reassuring presence in her sleep while she continued to solve her daytime problems she brought home after long full days governing the North during her father's time in Dorne. Sometimes she dreamt that she shot him and missed. And then they’d be transported to a faraway place where no one knew to touch them. A cabin by a river. A bed with an old bedspread and too many flattened pillows that don’t do anything for her neck, and a cheap stove with burners that smoked terribly.

Sometimes she could almost smell him, so close he could be to her in her sleep. And when he slipped inside her and gently thrusted, her legs wrapped around his neck, him buried within her deep, so very deep that she'd almost always come. And she’d wake up and miss him terribly, even while her sex throbbed, hungry and vacant. Her fingers, her hand could never satisfy. 

She'd remember, sometimes, the evenings they'd spent alone. The way he'd read by the fireplace and pull her hand in her lap. The way he'd trace her lips with his finger before he'd bend and press his lips to hers. Sometimes she'd imagine that the press of her pillows against her cheeks was him. She'd close her eyes and almost feel the rumble of his chest as he read his tomes out loud, his hushed baritone serenading her to sleep. 

And she'd have to swallow that treacherous lump in her throat. He weakened her, always. All she had to do was think on him to feel rent apart. Seven years on.

Petyr had bargained for his life, not knowing that Sansa had parlayed for him already. He had given away the identities of all the Most Devout. And the Queen had rooted them all out like weeds and tossed them all, including Luceon Frey and especially Olenna Tyrell. The Most Devout, past and present, are no more.

Sansa never visited Petyr, of course. Never mentioned him once, except to ask the Queen for his life. “He’s useful,” she reasoned with Dany then, careful to keep her voice even. And evidently, Dany conferred with her Hand at the time — the very man before her now — and eventually came to agree with Sansa’s assessment. Enough to grant a stay of execution.

And Sansa had gone home that night and cried as if her heart would break with untold relief or the deepest grief. She could no longer tell between the two anymore.

But now Tyrion is regaling Sansa with funny tales of the Dothraki, and a semblance of their old friendship returns as she feels herself start to thaw. Bronn is a married man with a two-year-old who already swears very eloquently, just like her papa. Sansa is heartened that the both of them before her have remained close friends. 

She, in turn, gives gossip about the North, even managing to crack both men up as she recounts the myriad of stubborn, stupid things that big burly old men with delicate egos are wont to do and say in the face of a young woman leader. Ned had returned from Dorne and true to her word, the Queen allowed him to retire. But instead of resuming control of the North, he chose instead to mentor his daughter until his dying breath.  

“We hear about you all the time, you know. The Queen has a healthy respect for you,” Tyrion observes and Sansa thanks him for the compliment politely. Tyrion notes how she no longer drops her eyes in a show of pretty modesty. She accepts the judgement with cool aplomb and no bluster. His already high opinion of Sansa steps up yet another notch.

“They're all crazy about you,” Bronn drawls. “I’m serious! The North are rallied behind you. They all talk ‘bout yer like yous their daughter-mother-queen all in one, and every last man will rush to protect yer — all the more, now that your old man’s died. You watch.” And he smiles as Sansa colours slightly but doesn’t look away. Privately she suspects as much, but it is still reassuring to hear this from someone else all the same. 

"Saw Petyr a few months ago, you know," Tyrion mentions casually even as he watches Sansa's reaction from the corner of his eye as he picks at the brocade in the upholstery of the chaise. "He's the same, in a way. Been steadily making friends since he got out of Solitary a few years ago. Making himself useful as usual, teaching the worst of them how to rort the system. Legally, of course." Tyrion smirks and Bronn grunts. 

And Sansa keeps her face perfectly blank like a porcelain doll.

"Never got to tell you, but I was there, you know. The trial?" And Sansa's head snaps to face him now. 

"It was a closed trial, I thought." She counterposes her sudden interest with a shrug. "Was all hush hush, wasn't it? How did you get in?"

"I had to testify against him," Tyrion replies quietly and Sansa stills. He twists his mouth in slight distaste. "Didn't really enjoy it, mind you. But I got subpoenaed in the end. Had to report on what I thought I saw while we worked together in the Vale."

"What happened?"

Tyrion shrugs again even though his eyes hold a glint of mischief now. "Oh, you know. Had to throw out a lot of what I said in the end. Drinking problem. Pesky hobby. Makes for a thoroughly unreliable memory most times." And Sansa's mouth twitches.

"I see."

"I'm sure you do. But fun fact: I got to sit through crucial parts of the trial, in the end. He owned up to it all, you know. How he happened to wander back to the Fingers for no discernible reason whatsoever. 'On his way back to the Vale' indeed. And his wife just happened to be there too. And all that jazz about her long-term struggle with madness. Qyburn the Younger was quite moving on that account. And then the randomness of it, that huge fight they had and how she had pulled a gun on him and blown his left shoulder clean through. His one regret, apparently: that he never paid her enough attention, working so hard for Cersei's council and all." Tyrion smiles genially.

There's nothing, nothing in that story that mentions either Margaery or herself, Sansa realises and her heart squeezes in gratitude.

"It was close, you know," Tyrion adds, turning serious. "He would have gotten Murder. Opinion in the room was that he was guilty as sin. And even when the Queen finally charged him with him involuntary manslaughter, he got the maximum of ten years because things just couldn't quite add up."  

And Sansa swallows thickly now. But she looks back at Tyrion pleasantly. "I'm glad my uncle seems more comfortable now."

"Wellll," Tyrion hesitates before he gives a small smile that Sansa doesn't quite understand. "He's about to get infinitely more comfortable soon, actually. The Queen has reduced his sentence. Change of heart. Cut three years off on a whim. I'm on my way now to deliver the good news to him personally. And catch up with him, see how he's doing." His smile turns into a wide grin. "Bronn and I... we just thought it'd be fun to drop by and pay you a visit. You know, on our way to Petyr."

And Sansa huffs delicately at the outrageous lie even while Tyrion grins, flashing all his teeth. Winterfell is decidedly never on the way to anything and everywhere. Much less from Casterly Rock back to King's Landing. 

"Would you like to see him, Sansa?"

And her chest tightens. The air catches in her throat at the thought.

She actually thinks about it before she turns him down. Madness

"Pressing duties keep me here," she explains apologetically. "I'm sure my uncle will understand."

It was downright decent of Tyrion to leave a good suit behind, seeing how Petyr’s own clothes had been soaked right through with his own blood.

It should be a distant memory, but one simply doesn’t forget being shot after asking for it. Petyr remembers how the impact had thrown him back first, before the pain took over everything. How she had dropped the gun and run to him with a sharp cry. And how he had to patiently prise her away from him with words, all while coaching her gently and urgently. Where to go. What to do with the gun. Where to place it near Lysa. 

All while staving off the panic. All while knowing these were his last moments with the one he’d just laid down his own life for. 

That irrational, uncalculated selflessness. He had been the most surprised of all.

And then the annoyance that was almost comical on hindsight if his own heart had not been breaking as his shoulder shrieked in anguish. He had to repeat himself so many times with Sansa, even while she patently ignored his instruction, stubbornly cradling his head in her lap and calling for help between the platitudes of comfort. He had gotten dizzy. 

And then he had awoken in hospital to find that Rickard had brought him in. That both of them were now under arrest. Sansa had never gone to Rickard. She had simply disappeared.

The recovery had been a blur. And then the trial, put off for months and months on end. He had the strangest hunch that Margaery had visited one night. A sense of her had lingered when he awoke quite suddenly, his pain meds worn off so he cried out and slammed the beeper for the nurses. He never sensed her again. Never seen her since. And he languished in prison, waiting and waiting and waiting. Perhaps she had changed her mind, he wondered. Perhaps she wanted to string it out before she exacted her maximum revenge. Perhaps… perhaps…

And then Queen Daenerys happened.

More waiting. And then the trial that should have killed him once and for all. Except a bloody miracle happened. Ten years. The sentence that Ned Stark should have had, now conferred to him. 

The irony was not lost on Petyr. 

At first, the solitary confinement scared him. What if he went mad in the process? What if he lost the days and weeks and years and eventually, his memories of her. And then he was good as dead. 

But eventually, he came to see his confinement as a blessing. For to be so securely contained also meant that he was, ultimately, kept safe. He began bargaining. Trading small secrets for medium freedoms. And then bigger ones to secure larger liberties. 

Even from his cell, he tore down plenty in the end. Burnt them all to ashes using dragons that weren’t his own. Queen Daenerys was hungry for information and even though Varys and Tyrion probably warned her repeatedly, the Queen found her way to his cell often enough. They sat and chatted for hours. She was volatile but ultimately a good listener. And he was good at weaving a tale.

He had many tales to tell.

Eventually, he moved through the ranks in the institution. From high security, to medium, to minimum. They let him mingle with the others, which provided a couple years of amusement. The wheeler and dealer of invaluable advice, always genial, always helpful, always quick, he found his way around once more and kept himself alive.

And he was always comfortable, or as comfortable as he could be made. He still had his own cell, and ready access to books. It was the books that had been especially suspicious, he mused. He rather suspected that prison libraries kept literature that catered to decidedly simpler tastes. And yet somehow he would find whole shelves that would pique his interest and occupy his mind for blessed hours. 

And there were favourites among these. He’d read over familiar chapters again and again and again. Just to remember the feel of her skin on his own, her breath as it evened when sleep took over. That blanket of stunning quiet and peace that took his breath away as they sat curled up in front of the fire. 

He had fallen in love with her as he read these sacred books. 

Sansa was never far from his thoughts, of course. But ever since Tyrion’s last visit, she's entered his dreams again. The colours are vivid now, brighter. He had hung over Tyrion’s sparse descriptions of her like a man starved. Trying to imagine Sansa older. Wiser. And even more beautiful than ever before.

It gave him immeasurable comfort to know that she went on to embrace her destiny. That she turned out wise and shrewd. Kind, yet unafraid to use her strength when she needed to. She will surpass Ned. She will surpass them all. It remains his greatest comfort and pleasure, knowing this about her. His gamble had paid off. His sacrifice had not been in vain. 

It has to be enough, Petyr tells himself. To know that she doesn’t merely just live on, but thrives.

It is enough to know this, Petyr thinks to himself as he slips on his cufflinks. His left arm is still largely useless and so the right cuff remains undone. Once upon a time, that would have annoyed the seven hells out of him but he merely shrugs now. He is only too aware of his many imperfections. The Mockingbird pin survived after all. It needs a polish, but it will shine again. 

Surreal is a word that grossly understates the feeling of walking out the door and into the sunshine unaccompanied by guards who are trained to forever suspect his every endeavour. I am alone once more, Petyr tells himself. I will emerge from here a new man and friendless once again. But that is not so bad.

He turns around the block and crosses the courtyard. The air is still and cold, even as the sun shines bright. He squints into the distance.

And then he sees them. A tall man in the shape of Rickard whose last name he never used to remember but he’ll now never forget. Beside him stands a man as tall as a child, although he is anything but. 

A tear slips down Petyr's cheek now. For beside Tyrion, there stands a woman tall and lithe and clothed in innocent white turned sheer in the golden, golden sun. Her hair is a cascade of priceless copper waves, her rose-red lips turned up into something almost resembling a smile.

And it is only now that Petyr Baelish understands what it really means to be free.