It took a while for Sansa to come to him. Tyrion hadn't been sure she was going to, to be honest. The arrival at Winterfell had been fraught for a number of reasons, and there had been a handy slew of bigger issues to distract them all. You know, little things. The reunion of a shattered family. The army of the dead breaching the Wall. The King in the North falling in love with and bending the knee to a Targaryen conqueror, one he had so nicely brought along with him to introduce to everyone. Small things like that.
Not that the Starks had been outdone. Not that Starks were ever outdone. They had neatly returned with the revelation of the century.
Jon Snow, Ned Stark's bastard son, was in fact Aegon Targaryen, trueborn heir of Rhaegar Targaryen, and heir to the Iron fucking Throne. And Stark had known. Eddard Stark, the most honourable man in Westeros. He had lied through his teeth, dishonoured himself and his wife in the eyes of the world, and kept his treasonous secret from just about everyone for nigh on twenty years. He had raised Rhaegar Targaryen's son right under Robert Baratheon's fucking nose, and none but himself any the wiser.
Honestly, Tyrion didn't know whether to curse the man to all seven hells, or toast to him in blind admiration. Possibly both. No one else could have done it. No one else had a reputation so vast, so uncompromising. Ned Stark would never stoop to treason. Ned Stark would never have dishonoured himself and broken his wife's heart by claiming a bastard unless he had done the deed and the child was actually his. Ned Stark would never have lied to his best friend's face for decades. It wasn't possible. It wasn't conceivable. And so, for twenty fucking years, no one had conceived it. The perfect treason, kept secret by the unassailable reputation of one honourable man. It was incredible, impossible. It was beautiful.
It was hideously inconvenient. Not to mention potentially catastrophic.
Jon was currently in shock. Daenerys was currently in shock. Quite aside from anything else, the revelation that they'd started their little love affair just in time to discover themselves aunt and nephew was probably doing Jon at least no favours. For Daenerys, Tyrion thought, the issue was more likely a combination of the family she'd thought dead having another survivor, and the man she'd come to love abruptly having a much better claim to her throne than her. Which was, from his point of view, the more pressing matter as well. Ugly family revelations he could handle, he'd borne the brunt of more than enough of them by now. Dynastic issues of succession, in the middle of a potentially world ending war, were a bit more of a concern.
At least they'd kept it mostly to themselves. Bran, Arya, Sansa, Samwell Tarly. And then Jon, with Davos by extension. And then Daenerys, with him by extension. Tyrion was nearly sure that both Sansa and Davos had argued strongly against that. He would have, had he been in their position. Jon's honour wouldn't have allowed anything else, however. Their curse and their salvation, that honour. It might make or break them all yet.
For the moment, though, it had put vital information in Tyrion's hands, and kept it out of a lot of other people's. The Northern Lords were fractious enough just with Daenerys' presence at the minute. That little tidbit might have tipped the mess over into catastrophic chaos. Sansa, Davos and himself had successfully pressed that point, and Jon and Daenerys were still both in too much shock to argue much. That might change, once they had a bit more time to process. Jon's honour or Daenerys' temper, one or other could well shatter things then. They'd just have to work around that when it happened, find a way to temper either or both. Or hope, maybe, that the extremely pressing threat of the Night King and the end of the world would be enough to hold them both until after the war was already lost or won.
And who knew, hmm? Maybe for once love and honour would prove enough, even between such new and tentative allies. Maybe the newly discovered bonds of family would for once prove true, even in the face of pain and ambition.
Hah! Oh gods, gods above, Tyrion needed another drink.
Anyway. The point was, in the middle of all of that, he hadn't been sure if Sansa would approach him. Personally, at least. They had bigger issues, much bigger issues. They had a war to prepare for, and each their own royal to steer towards it.
Because Sansa was the power behind her brother's throne. Sansa and Davos, and apparently the young Lyanna Mormont as well. But Sansa, Sansa most of all. Tyrion had been too long in the game not to immediately understand that. She'd come such a long way, his once-wife. He'd heard some of what she'd endured, could imagine more of it. She'd strengthened because of it. Much like Daenerys, she'd suffered and fought and hardened through her trials. She'd become a woman strong and cold enough to fight wars and win, to stand up and rule in her family's name, to lay her enemies low before her. She was so different now. Harder, colder. More distrusting. Not that Tyrion could blame her.
He admired her, in point of fact. And mourned her a little as well. He remembered the innocent young girl who'd come to King's Landing, the proud, battered, kind maiden who'd been his wife. He looked at the Lady of Winterfell now, cold and careful and made of shining steel, and he felt himself in awe of her transformation, and in horror at its necessity.
She'd deserved better, Sansa Stark. The same could be said of many of them, maybe, but Sansa more than most. She'd deserved better. She hadn't gotten it.
None of them had.
He looked at her now, slipping carefully into his room, Brienne a lurking figure behind her in the corridor. Wanting to come in, wanting to make sure her charge wasn't left alone with a potential enemy. Sansa dismissed her, kindly but coolly. Sansa smiled at her gently, and closed the door between them with a soft, firm click. Cool, calm. Tired and in control. Immovable in her decisions. Exhausted in her demeanour. Without a thought, Tyrion stood from his chair and turned it towards her, wordlessly inviting the Lady of Winterfell to sit down. Without a word, too, Sansa offered the smallest smile of thanks, and sat gratefully into it.
"Wine, my lady?" he asked, reaching for the jug on the desk, smiling cautiously back at her. "You look like you could use some. It's been a long few days."
"Yes," Sansa agreed softly. She held out her hand, took the goblet when he offered it to her. She held it in her lap, cradled it in both hands, and didn't drink. "It has indeed, my lord. I'm sorry I didn't come to see you sooner. My brother ..."
"Your brother took priority," Tyrion finished lightly, raising his own goblet in easy toast as he sat on the bed, the only spare surface. "And rightfully so, given that he's also your king." He smiled crookedly. "Not to worry, my lady. I hardly expected you to run into my arms. We have ... Well. Kings and queens and wars between us, hmm? Not to mention the odd few weddings, executions and murders. Some of them at the same time. I imagine I'm rather far down your list of priorities, and justifiably so."
She studied him carefully. Very carefully, enough that Tyrion straightened in the face of it.
"You're also the Hand of a foreign Queen," she said slowly. "One that has allied to us in direst need, one that Winterfell currently plays host to. One that ... One that my brother turns out to be related to. I think that entitles you to some attention, my lord."
Tyrion winced. At the politeness, mostly. The wariness. The carefully testing apology. I am loyal to King Joffery, my one true love. And she had cause for that, he knew. Daenerys had given people cause to worry in Westeros, even if she had been pushed to it. Sansa had survived too much not to be cautious in the face of that. Tyrion was Hand, once again, to a potentially hostile royal force that stood in power before her. A royal force that may now see her brother, once again, as a threat to itself. A royal force that might try to destroy them, or else simply abandon them to face the coming war, the coming winter, on their own. Yes. Sansa had a great many reasons to be cautious, to treat him with carefully judged respect and never an inch of trust. He knew that. Admired it, even.
And hated every second of it.
He was too tired for this, he realised. He'd been too tired for a long time now. Westeros did that to him. The game did that to him. Family did that to him, the endless secrets and betrayals it entailed. He was too tired for any of that anymore. The Long Night was here. Winter had arrived with the dead firmly in tow. They might die in the morning, every last one of them, and all their stupid games for naught. He was tired. He was too fucking tired.
Fuck it. Maybe Jon Snow had the right of it. Maybe they were past the point of lying, past the point of games. Maybe it was time to try telling the truth for once, and to enemies and allies as well as just their own. Starks were honourable, especially the ones that were left. Maybe not kind, not anymore, but honourable. So was Daenerys, come to that. Fuck it. Maybe love and honour could conquer all, and even if they couldn't what the fuck would it matter anyway, hmm?
His queen could only kill him once, after all. And at this point, fire or ice, would it really make that much difference in the end?
"... Fuck that," he said quietly. Reaching down, setting his goblet on the floor. Putting aside wine in favour of earnestness for once in his life. She watched him. Sansa. Tiredly and warily. He smiled queasily back at her. "You know what? Fuck all of it. Fuck kings and fuck queens and fuck the fucking Hand. Er. Not literally. Especially not ... not in your ... Forget I said that. But. Fuck propriety, Sansa. Fuck debts and owing and who deserves what from who. The dead are coming from us, the world is ending, your brother turns out to be the true heir to the throne at the worst possible moment, your father turns out to be the most spectacular liar the seven kingdoms have ever seen, and on top of everything else my queen decided to fall in love with your king just in time to realise that, when it comes to Targaryens, incest will find a way come fire or ice or the end of the fucking world."
He paused, rubbing his face ruefully, and she stared at him blankly. Without expression, any reaction or emotion sealed away behind a careful mask, perfected through time and torture. Tyrion sighed, and carried on a little less stridently afterwards.
"We have bigger problems, is my point here," he said, with something probably too tired and frustrated to be real gentleness. Not that she'd have likely believed that anyway. "I'd like to talk to you, Sansa, about a lot of things. I strongly suspect I need to talk to you as well, about some rather more pressing ones. Hopefully, we can do both. But right now, court manners and the respect due my position can take a swim in the Narrow Sea for all I care."
He did mean that, as well. All his life he'd longed for respect, for admiration, but recently he'd learned that the form it took was not necessarily the one he'd always yearned for. All the hollow titles and empty courtesies in the world weren't worth a single honest conversation with someone who genuinely valued you. He'd found that with Daenerys. With Jon. One thing he would always regret was that he'd never had the chance to find it with this woman, who'd once and briefly been his wife.
Sansa didn't answer him at first. Not for a long second. And when she did, it wasn't with the point he'd hoped. Though it was a pertinent one, he supposed.
"You think she loves him?" she asked carefully. "Your queen. You think she loves Jon?"
Tyrion blew out a breath, and fished his goblet back off the floor while he thought about it. Sansa, in a small and achingly familiar gesture of gentility, leaned over to pour him some wine from the jug. Tyrion blinked, a little bit, and she smiled sadly at him. He took a gulp of wine to dull his reaction to it.
"... She does," he said at last. Just as carefully, taking his time to pick through the words. "I don't know how this revelation will affect that, I don't know either of them will react, but she does love him. He ... He showed her something. Your brother. He showed her ... honour, sacrifice. A man who loves his people and would do anything for them. A man who makes a promise and keeps it no matter what. He showed her ... what a good man looks like, I suppose. Noble. Honest. Gentle. She loves him." He snorted softly. "When I put it like that, how could she not? He's a good man, and an honest one. How could she help but love him?"
Sansa pressed her lips together, glancing away from him. Grief, Tyrion thought distantly. It looked like grief. Other things. Anger, regret. Fear. A complicated expression, for a complicated history and an equally complicated future. It disappeared, soon enough. She pulled it back down and hid it away again, looking back as bland and placid as before.
"What's going to happen, Tyrion?" she asked quietly. Honestly, desperately. She knew as well as he did just how little protection goodness turned out to be in the end. She knew as well as he did how thrones complicated things, how they poisoned love and ruined trust. Her jaw set, her eyes grew fierce. She was stronger now. She was harder. She had her family to protect, a brother who'd already died once before. So she looked at him, and demanded answers on that brother's behalf. "We have a war to fight. If we're not allies, we die. If she doesn't love him, if love isn't enough for her, if she decides to betray us in the end ..."
"She won't," Tyrion interrupted, and prayed, prayed, that he was telling the truth. He knew the same things Sansa did. He knew how many times he'd been wrong before. Daenerys had a temper, had a vicious streak when pushed. He knew that. But he also ... "She wants to be good. She's ambitious, fierce, she wants her throne, but she also wants to be worthy of it. She wants to treat people as they deserve to be treated. She wants to help people who can't help themselves. She wants to be good. And your brother helps with that. When all my arguments fail, when everything I say falls short, he turns to her and he ... he shows her. What he is, what she wants to be. He looks at her and makes her think."
"He shouldn't have to!" Sansa shot back instantly. "That's not his responsibility, that shouldn't be his problem! He's King in the North, not her king. He went for allies, for weapons. For a means to keep the wights from killing us. He didn't go to fall in love, he didn't go to make a Targaryen queen see reason!"
"Didn't he?" Tyrion asked, a little snidely. And then conceded again, almost instantly, holding up a hand in surrender. "No, I know he didn't. I know he didn't have a choice, I know he was making the best of what he had. But he does ... I'll admit, I'm maybe not the best judge of Starks, but I think he does love her as well, Sansa. And maybe that's not such a bad thing? She stands beside him, she lends him her fire and her strength, she gives him something to test himself against that won't kill him for trying. She's seen things he hasn't, and done things he hasn't. She knows cruelty and despair. She knows how to be royal, how to play games where everyone wants you dead. She's seen the worst of what people can be, and she hasn't let it break her, hasn't let it turn her into a monster, or at least more of one than she has to be. She ... She can help him. She can be good for him. They can be good for each other."
"... Or they could kill each other," Sansa said, and almost gently. Sadly, wearily, with such a world of experience in her voice. Tyrion felt his eyes sting at the sound of it. She'd been so innocent once, Sansa. No more. Never again.
And he couldn't say she was wrong, either. He loved Daenerys. He believed in her, as he'd never believed in anyone before. But that wasn't exactly a high bar. And he'd been horribly, brutally wrong before. He'd been wrong more times than he'd been right. They both knew that. Betrayal came easily in this game, and even the most honourable and noble of men could hold treason quietly in their hearts for twenty years on end.
"... Yes," he agreed tiredly, draining the last of his wine. "They could kill each other. She could yearn for the throne more than she yearns for love, and kill him because of that. He could think her mad, as her father was mad, and take it upon himself to finish her before she burns the world. They could fall out of love, they could put their love aside, they could tear the kingdoms apart between them. Provided there still are kingdoms by that point. Provided the Night King doesn't come along and finish us all first."
He trailed off, so endlessly fucking tired of all of it, and she looked at him. His once-wife. She bit her lip, bent down to put her still-full cup of wine on the floor, and reached out to take his hands. Hers were cold, he noted absently. Her hands were dry, and cold, and held him fiercely.
"I want to believe you, Tyrion," she said, something raw and gaping in her eyes. A wealth of experience, a nightmare even he could only guess at. "I want to believe she's a good queen. I want to see what you and Jon see when you look at her. I want to believe she'll love Jon the way he deserves, and stand beside him even knowing what she now knows. I want to believe that. But I can't. I just can't. Not anymore."
Tyrion smiled lopsidedly. "I know," he said sadly, squeezing her hands. "I know. We learned better than to hope, didn't we? Or we should have. I do know how foolish it is, believing in her like this. Believing in anyone like this. I know. It's just ... what's the point otherwise? Hmm? I could have stayed in that cell in the Red Keep, let my father cut my head off. I could have drunk myself to death in Pentos. I could have thrown myself off the ship and drowned myself in the Narrow Sea. I could sit here right now and get drunk and let the Night King come to kill us all. Or I could ... I could believe in my Queen. I could believe in Jon Snow. I could believe in Sansa Stark, even, who was kind to me when she had no reason to be, and who is stronger now than anyone I've ever seen."
She blushed, suddenly, looking away, and he smiled at her more gently. More honestly. He mourned for her, yes. He mourned for them both. But he admired her one hell of a lot more.
"Do you blame me?" she asked abruptly. Still looking down, her hands tightening almost painfully around his. Tyrion blinked at her. "For that cell in the Red Keep. For leaving you. For running away and letting your family destroy you. Do you ... Do you hate me?"
Tyrion opened his mouth. And then closed it again. Nonplussed. Baffled. She looked up at him. Her face pale, her eyes dark. He shook his head. Speechless, scrambling for an answer.
"That wasn't you," he managed finally. Not the best he'd ever scraped together, but hopefully raw and honest enough to answer. "Sansa. None of that was you. You had to run. Joffery dead, Cersei on a rampage. If you hadn't run you'd be dead. The fact that someone poisoned my nephew, that my sister and my father had wanted me dead from the day I was born ... None of that was your fault. You didn't owe me anything. You did what you had to do."
Sansa shook her head. "Littlefinger did it," she said, something tight and terrible in her voice. She rubbed her thumb absently across the backs of his fingers. "Him and Olenna. He arranged the poison. He wanted me. He loved my mother and he wanted me. Olenna wanted to free Margarey from Joff. They let you take the fall. Neither of them cared. But Littlefinger did it because he wanted me. Killing my husband was as good a result as he could have hoped for."
Tyrion ... didn't know what to do with that, for a minute. He nearly laughed at it, in truth. Revelation after revelation lately, it seemed. And Littlefinger ... yes, that made sense. That seemed like him. Olenna as well. He couldn't fault her, he supposed. She'd been defending her granddaughter. He wouldn't have wanted his to marry Joff either. And she'd paid for it, in the end. Her entire family, wiped out by Cersei's madness. The Queen of Thorns had paid her price in the end. So had the rest of them.
"I killed him," Sansa went on. Looking at him, staring him fiercely and blindly in the eyes. "Me and Arya. We killed Littlefinger. He planned ... He planned everything. He poisoned Jon Arryn. He tricked my mother into arresting you. He got my father killed. He poisoned Joffrey. He ... He sold me to Ramsay. All of it. He was responsible for all of it. And I killed him. I gave the order, and Arya slit his throat. He taught me, you know. He wanted me to be like him. A monster. And I watched him gasp around blood at my order."
Good, was Tyrion's first thought. Vindictive and fierce. Good. She'd avenged him. She'd avenged herself. He saw nothing wrong with that, not at first. But he recognised the grief in her eyes a second later. He knew the guilt and the horror and the regret. He knew it intimately. He'd felt it when he killed his father. When he killed Shae. Not because they hadn't deserved to die. Not because they'd betrayed him and seen justice at his hand.
Because he'd killed them. He'd loved them and he'd killed them. He'd been a monster in that moment. No matter how much they'd deserved to die, he'd been a monster for killing them. He'd done something that couldn't ever be undone.
And he hadn't, in the end, regretted it. Not for long. Never for long enough.
"... We're not monsters," he said anyway. In spite of that. In blatant defiance of that. Or just in hope, as empty as it might prove to be. "Or you're not. We do what we have to, Sansa. To survive, to protect those we care about. We do what we have to. Everyone does. It's only the lucky who never have to be monstrous to manage it. You ... You and me, we're not lucky. I'm not going to blame you for that. I wouldn't have a leg to stand on."
He tried to smile at that. Tried to laugh, tried to slip humour in and diffuse the sickness and the poison inside them. It didn't work, he suspected. Couldn't, really. She smiled at him anyway. Soft and tired and sad.
"You're not a monster either," she said, kinder than anyone, and still with no good reason to be. "I've seen monsters now, Tyrion. I've gotten to know them very well. You're not one. And I think ... I think you won't become one. Not when you still try to be kind. Not when you still try to believe in something better, not when you still fight for it. Monsters don't do that. Monsters would never let themselves be so weak."
She said it with a smile. Wry and bleak, a woman who'd seen far too many terrible things. A woman who'd endured them, triumphed over them, and lost pieces of herself in the process. A woman, in that moment, more beautiful than any Tyrion had ever seen.
A woman more beautiful than even his Queen.
"... We can still win," he said suddenly, with a strange, stretched feeling in his chest. Hope and pain and despair, all tangled together. He drew her hands in towards himself. Held them loosely just over his heart. "Sansa. We can still win. My queen, your king. We can help them. They love each other, we can help them. We can make it work. Build an alliance, build ... We can try. The worst that can happen is that it'll kill us. The world is ending, that's likely to happen anyway. We can try. There's no one in this world more good and honest than your brother, and there's no one in this world stronger or more determined than my queen. All we have to do is get them pointed in the same direction. Let them love each other. It could ... It could work. We could try and make it work."
And yes, he knew, empty promises. Hopes and dreams with nothing behind them. That was true of all of them, though. That was true of everything. If he didn't want to try, he might as well have stayed back in that cell and let his family kill him. And once, just this once, he wanted to be on the same side. He wanted Jon Snow to be right. He didn't want to have to choose. His queen, who had given him hope when he'd had none left. Jon Snow, who had too much honour for his own good, and made those around him want to have honour too.
And Sansa. His once-wife, the caged bird turned fearsome wolf. A woman who didn't trust him, who might never trust him, who might never again trust anyone. A woman with no reason to. A woman he couldn't help but hope would some day find one.
Well. Stranger things had happened, hadn't they? Not many, but a few.
She looked at him oddly, now. She stared at him very strangely. Suspicion, wariness. Fear, always that. And humour, too. Wry and lopsided and sad.
"They're going to kill you, aren't they?" she said quietly. "Like my father. Like Jon. You're a good man, in spite of your name, and the monsters are going to kill you for it."
"Probably," Tyrion admitted. Ignoring the stir of warmth every time she called him good, the twinge of guilt at the lie. "People like trying to kill me, it seems to be a common thing. I suspect it's my mouth that gets me into trouble. But! Look on the bright side. It might not be just me. Winter is here. The Long Night could kill us all. That would sort out a few of our problems, wouldn't it?"
She laughed. Briefly, but genuinely. The darkness in her eyes lightened, and Tyrion felt his heart trip a little in triumph.
"I missed you," she said, and that was lovely too. A lie, most likely, but lovely too. "Tyrion. My lord husband. I missed you. I don't know if I can help you. I can't trust your queen. I can't let her hurt Jon. I don't know what will happen from here on out. But I missed you, and whatever it is, I hope it doesn't kill you."
And it was genuine this time, he thought. Remembering the Battle of the Blackwater, and a backhanded prayer offered sweetly. This wasn't the same. This was honest, and kindly meant.
"I hope it doesn't either," he said, finally letting go of her hands and smiling at her. "Either of us. The world would be poorer without you, my lady. Your family would be a thousand times weaker without your strength."
She smiled too. "And your queen, without your cleverness," she returned diplomatically. Slyly. He grinned at her in warm delight.
"We'll help them," he promised. An oath, as earnest as the promise to protect her so long ago. Just as likely to fail. "Your brother and my queen. We'll help them. We'll do everything we can to keep them on the right path. And, who knows? Maybe at the end of it, everything really will turn out all right."
A lie. The lie of the century, worse than even Ned Stark's. But she smiled at him anyway. She leaned over and kissed his forehead. He'd never had a sadder kiss in all his life. Or a sweeter.
"I hope so," she said, and maybe even meant it. "I'll do what I can. I can't promise much, but I can promise that. Goodnight, my lord. Good luck."
"Goodnight, my lady," he echoed distantly. Watching her leave once more.
Goodnight, my lady. Good luck.