It’s months. No, a year. A year before she summons him to Winterfell. Of course, ravens are sent on a regular basis. Runners go back and forth, making the week-long trek whenever some matter that concerns both the North and the Six Kingdoms presents itself. His king, too, is a source of contact and information, knowing nearly everything as he does. A fact that Tyrion, a year after the worst of winter, still has trouble bending his mind around. If Brandon Stark truly does hold the stories, did he know long ago how this one would end? Does he anticipate the nature of Sansa’s request before Tyrion even sets foot in the family’s keep? He certainly gives no warning. Just one of his cryptic smiles before his Hand departs.
The week’s journey toward Winterfell seems to take years, leaving Tyrion to marvel yet again at how much has changed since they buried two queens and crowned another. The rush of battle, the anger, the fear, all of it made time go by in a blink. Now…now he can see how slow everything is. The sojourn north. The efforts to rebuild a broken Westeros. Their citizens still toil, planting over so much scorched earth. Things improve once he reaches the Queen in the North’s domain. Houses with their roofs thatched, roads newly paved with pitch, wheat fields showing promising growth. Sansa always had her people’s interests at heart, and her land is thriving ahead of all the others.
What, then, could she possibly want with him? The question plagues him when he’s finally standing in her receiving room, empty of its usual cadre of worshipful Northmen. Empty of everyone save him and her. Is it possible that she’s grown more beautiful? Perhaps his memory, not quite as extensive as his king’s, has begun to fail him? Because clad as she is in soft gray silks, with her hair spilling free around her shoulders, the Lady of Winterfell is even prettier than the girl she once was and a thousand times more stunning than the woman she became. She is…something else entirely now. Every inch a queen. Happy. At peace.
At least until her brows pull together and she laughs wearily. In this, his memory fails not at all. He remembers the sound clearly. How it wrapped around him in the crypt when death was imminent. How it made him want to hold her tightly in return. “I didn’t really think you’d come,” she confesses quietly.
“My lady,” he murmurs, aware that they’ve sidestepped protocol entirely, immersed in several minutes of silent reacquainting. Surely, she’s catalogued him just as he has her. The streaks of gray in his hair and beard. The awkwardness to his gait—he most assuredly deserved the beating Grey Worm’s guardsmen gave him for turning on Daenerys, and he will never fully recover from it. “If there’s one thing I can always be counted on to do, it’s to come at a woman’s command.”
Sansa’s laugh this time is not weary. Nor is it scandalized. It’s almost ironic. With an edge of the hysterical. She whirls away from him, bracing her palms against the table as she struggles for composure.
“I…I’m sorry. I suppose that was not something one should say to a queen.” Of course, it’s not the worst thing he’s said to a queen. And, fortunately, hardly a burning offense.
She shakes her head, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes as she half turns and meets his bewildered gaze. “Oh, Lord Tyrion…according to my council of Northmen, it is exactly what you should say to this queen.”
“I don’t quite follow.” Though he does have a small inkling of an idea, and it tightens around his heart like a fist. Perhaps it tightens things lower, too, but those organs have gone so long without attention from other’s hands that he’s not entirely sure. “Sansa, what is your council asking of you?”
“I require an heir.” She grinds out the words like someone would spit out a death sentence, fist slamming against the tabletop. “After everything I’ve done for my land, my countrymen, they still want more. I’ve bled for them, but they want flesh. And they want to use it to secure their own claims to the North. Every seed-bearing man between twenty and ninety seems to fancy himself my consort.”
Tyrion stays the ruthless pounding of her fist with both of his own wrapped around her fingers. “And me? Why am I here?” He knows the answer. He understands now why he was sent for. He still needs to hear it.
She looks down at him, her eyes the blue-gray of the summer sky over King’s Landing. It’s not a peaceful look. It’s not a happy look. It’s the look of a woman who thought she had forever escaped the cage and now stands in the doorway of it once more. “Because you’ll give me what I need to ensure succession and then set me free.”
“My lady.” He could not, on pain of death, say whether it’s her heartbreak or his own that he feels as he raises her reddened knuckles to his lips. Only that the shards are as sharp as her skin is soft. “I cannot free someone I would never hold captive in the first place.”
Sansa makes a choked noise, somewhere between another bitter laugh and an equally bitter sob. He knows she must hate showing him this weakness, this vulnerability. That it cost her everything to ask this of him…and would cost her so much more if she asked anyone else.
“Come,” she whispers as she tugs him from the meeting room.
What can he do but follow her command?
He is not surprised to find his things already unpacked and arranged in Sansa’s bedchamber. One need not be the Three-Eyed Raven to know that he was going to agree to whatever she requested of him. That he would give her his seed, his body, and his soul were it necessary. He is surprised by the small touches he notices because he’s desperately trying not to acknowledge his own misgivings. The pitcher and wash bowl on a lower table. The steps near the massive bed. The wine on the night stand. She’s seen to his every comfort, likely at the expense of her own. What must this be for her? Leading a man to her chamber in midday? Preparing to take his cock as many times as it takes to plant a babe?
Tyrion washed away the travel dust in an entirely different room—the one he thought to be taking his rest in. He repeats the motions again here just to give him something to do that doesn’t involve disrobing. He’s not certain they’re ready for that yet. “Do you really want to do this?”
Sansa stands in the middle of the room, seemingly as unmoored as he is after their mad dash from the public areas of the keep. Her pale face is even paler, ghostly as a White Walker’s. There is a fire going in the hearth, but she rubs her arms as though she’s chilled to the bone. “Do I really have a choice?”
“There are always choices,” he assures. “You could, for instance, tell your Northmen between twenty and ninety to fuck off.”
She frowns at him, affronted by the very idea. “I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone to fuck off.”
“No time like the present. By all means, give it a try.” When her mouth drops open in shock, he gives her an encouraging nod. A devilish waggle of his brows.
One or the other does its job, because she sputters “fuck off!” with what can only be categorized as abject annoyance with his impertinence.
It’s a thousand times better than the drawn look of despair from moments before. “There you go. Well done.”
Sansa shakes her head; a rueful grin having replaced the frown. “You did that on purpose. To shock me.”
“My lady, I assure you, if I’m to get a child on you, there are a great many more shocks to come.” Tyrion is loath to broach the subject, but he must be practical before they commence with the actual begetting. “Including what that child may look like when he or she enters this world.”
“I should be so lucky, to have a son or daughter who resembles their brilliant, honorable, father.” She closes the space between them. “The North will be lucky as well.”
He wants to tell her that she’s laying it on a bit thick. That he’s already agreed to bed her and she doesn’t have to cosset him with words like “brilliant” and “honorable” that mean so little after a dark and destructive time where he was neither particularly brilliant nor particularly honorable. But Tyrion cannot help but swell under her praise. Both his heart and the organ far more useful in this endeavor. “Sansa…”
She does something to the fastenings of her gown then. A tie loosened here, a button undone there, and the whole contraption slides down her body like a fall of water. Gods, she really had counted on him being at her mercy…and cry mercy he does, as she stands there before him in the barest scraps of smallclothes and a stunning expanse of bare, peach-soft, skin. “Sansa,” he says again, a man of so many words suddenly reduced to just the one. The most important.
Apprehension still shines in her eyes…but so does determination. “My lord. Please.”
Please. It’s the “please” that murders him and then brings him back from death. That makes him unlace his jerkin and his boots and tell her, gently, “Get into bed,” before he sheds anything else. There are no candles to douse. The door is already barred. Everything so efficient as he makes quick work of his clothing and she climbs under the furs.
It has been years since he’s touched anyone besides himself. The inclination was there, of course, but where were the candidates and where was the time? Tyrion wonders if fucking is something one can forget how to do. For Sansa’s sake, he hopes not. Because he can feel her trembling when he joins her in bed, like the quake of the earth beneath their feet. She is so brave, braced to do her duty for the North, and he wants it—needs it—to be better than that for her.
Her shoulder is so smooth under his palm. Like a stone washed over in a stream. He strokes her there, the lightest of touches, before pressing his mouth to her collarbone. Not to kiss but to whisper. “You chose me because you trust me to let you go. Please trust me in this, in holding you close.”
“I…I do.” Her nerves seem to settle. She nods just the once. So, he nods, too. A silly gesture of lovemaking to familiarize her with the scratch of his beard. It makes her giggle like a young girl, one who hasn’t seen war and death. Is it strange that he wants both girl and woman in his arms? The one who giggles and the one who has borne witness to too much?
Tyrion brushes his bearded cheek along the slope of her breasts. Lower. Registering where she is ticklish and where she is aroused. The subtle differences of each gasp. He teases and tends to her until he finds himself in one of his most favorite places in the world: between a woman’s thighs, between this woman’s thighs. An as-yet unexplored destination that he already adores. She tenses beneath his hands. Bucks under his mouth and nearly twists away. “This…this isn’t going to make a baby,” she protests, blushing scarlet in all sorts of interesting ways and places.
He holds her hips lightly, making soothing noises. “I’m not doing it for that. I’m doing it for you.”
And for him. He is most definitely also doing it for him. Because he’s missed the taste of cunt, the taste of honey and desire. The taut little bud that exists for no other reason than her joy. The way her legs tighten round his ears and her fingers curl into his hair and she tugs as she gives into this thing that everyone tells her she shouldn’t want but he knows she absolutely deserves.
She sobs when she comes. From relief, from anguish, from ecstasy, from anger at yet one more thing she has to give up to a man. Tyrion tastes it all in her tears, and then he gathers her in his arms, promising her nothing but now. Nothing but this. And as he assures her freedom, she wrenches his from him with one simple act. A kiss.
It’s the sweetest melding of mouths he’s ever known. With her pleasure still on his tongue and her conflict still on hers. Tyrion nearly spends before he’s even finished his task, but he rallies. He hasn’t forgotten how to fuck after all. And he’ll never be able to forget this. Sansa gripping the back of his head, kissing him with fumbling fervor as he hooks her leg over his thigh and tests her readiness with his fingertips. How she’s slick and soft and open for his cock. How she cries out when he seats himself within her, and it’s not a cry of pain but simply “Tyrion.”
He takes her gently. Slowly. Touching her all the while. Accepting the rain of her kisses on his parched face. Accepting every hushed murmur of his name and her pleas to the gods. They come together again and again. Until daylight blends into night and then becomes daylight once more. Until they exhaust one another, sweat-soaked and weary and muscle sore, heads bent on the same pillow.
“Is that what it’s supposed to feel like?” Sansa asks in half sleep, half wonder.
“I wouldn’t know.” He gives her as much truth as he can bear to. “I’ve only ever felt this way with you.”
He stays for weeks. Under the barest pretenses of political need. Well and thoroughly fucking the Queen in the North. Well and thoroughly fucking himself. He loves her, of course. He loves the sounds she makes when she reaches her crisis. He loves every iteration of her laugh. He loves her trust and her faith and her ferocity. And he wouldn’t have done any of this if he hadn’t already loved her beyond reason before he even set one foot back in Winterfell. No, not beyond reason. With just enough reason. Because, if there’s one thing he’s learned in the past few years, it’s that his promises must be kept. “I cannot free someone I would never hold captive in the first place.” He betrayed one queen. He will not betray another. Not even to save his own heart. So, he keeps his own counsel, buries those feelings as deep as he buried his cock inside her, and prepares to go back to King’s Landing as soon as her belly quickens.
Sansa will care for her people and her land and her child. All will flourish, because she demands it. He will hold her to nothing, because he swore it. And should she summon him to the North again, Tyrion will return without delay.
There is a raven perched in the window of the council chamber when Sansa finds him to confirm she’s missed her courses. Its beak seems to curve with an all-too familiar cryptic smile. Would that he could throw a rock at it. Tell it to shoo. Take your knowing, King Brandon, and fuck off.
“Thank you.” Sansa’s gaze is bright with relief, if not the joyous glow of impending motherhood. “Thank you for everything you’ve done, Tyrion.”
“I was happy to be of service, my lady,” he says with no lack of irony, his voice as brittle as the bow he offers. They know each other so intimately now that he’d be foolish to think she doesn’t notice.
“It was more than that,” she chides, softly. “You gave me things I trusted no one else to give. You taught me things I thought I never wanted to learn. You were kind and patient and generous.”
He raises a hand, cutting off her litany of compliments, each more painful than the previous. She has learned the art of diplomacy well, from so many excellent teachers. “Don’t eulogize me, I beg of you. I’m not dead.” But he is dying. In increments as his traitorous heart pounds too fast in his chest, and his breath rushes in his ears, and his every sense fills with the knowledge that he might never have her, never taste her, again. “I will leave for King’s Landing at week’s end,” he tells her, far more steadily than he thought himself capable of. “Please do send a raven to let me know how you fare in the months ahead.”
To let him know if the babe takes. If she should need him in her bed again. All the things that go unspoken due to superstition. And after that…? Well, it’s practically a Lannister tradition to have one’s children raised by someone else, isn’t it? To never claim them. To watch from afar as they are groomed to take a throne. Tyrion may be sore of soul now, but he will adapt. He will move forward. He will do as all Hands do: what is required to keep the North and the six kingdoms of Westeros secure.
“Tyrion.” The keening cry, likely not meant for his ears but so painfully familiar to them nonetheless, stops his hasty egress from the meeting chamber, forces him to turn back.
“Sansa? My lady? Are you ill?” He cannot help but rush to her side.
“Ill. Well. It doesn’t matter, does it?” She’s braced against the table like she was that first day, when they began this folly, her shoulders shaking. Not with mad mirth this time, but with barely checked pain. “I don’t want this,” she gasps out, as twin spots of color bloom red in her cheeks. “I don’t want a baby. I don’t want to be a mother. I don’t want the worth of my rule staked on my heirs.”
“What else don’t you want?” It is, he thinks, a more productive question than what she does desire. He’s not sure she could answer that. Not in her present state. He’s not sure he could bear to hear a reply. Not in his present state.
She dashes furious tears from her eyes with the backs of her hands before making her next confession. “I don’t want to do this alone.”
“You’re not alone, Lady of Winterfell. You have the whole of the North,” he reminds her.
Sansa huffs out a breath, giving him a baleful glare. “The North isn’t...it isn’t...”
“It isn’t what? Enough?” He tries to tease a smile out of her even as he gently probes the source of her anguish. “Very well, you shall have the six kingdoms as midwife and wet nurse, too.”
“Oh, fuck off!” she growls with a shocking ease. He really has taught her a great many useful things. “It isn’t you.”
Tyrion, seldom struck silent, has no response for that. He can only look up at her, at this powerful beauteous woman, in hushed reverence. Him. She wants him. Not the child, not the secured succession, but him. How is that possible? Was their entire negotiation of this arrangement not contingent upon him walking away? “Sansa, I…I don’t understand,” he begins when he can finally manage words. “I promised you that I would never cage you. Never hold you captive. You are not mine to keep.”
Some would call the Queen in the North reserved. Cold, even. But he’s learned to read the subtleties of her expressions, the shifting colors of her eyes, and the tiny lines of tension around her mouth. He knows how she looks when she comes. He sees her softness in slumber. He knows her joys, he knows her sorrows…and he sees them all on her lovely face in this one shattering moment. “I didn’t promise you the same,” she whispers. “I never swore that you wouldn’t be mine. And now you are, don’t you see?”
“I was always yours.” The words he thought to never say. That he was prepared to take back to King’s Landing, then to his grave. Tyrion says them now, taking her hands, kissing first one palm and then the other. “I’ve loved you desperately, madly, for quite some time…and I was never going to burden you with it. Not when you’ve only ever wanted one thing. Winterfell.”
Sansa’s fingers flex under his lips and then she wrenches them away. “You ridiculous man. I’ve only ever wanted home. That is not just bricks and mortar. That is not just the North. It’s not politics and squabbles and heirs to the throne. It’s everyone I love safe and together. Except I’ve buried half my family and the rest…? I’ve one brother amongst the free folk and another ruling the six kingdoms, while my sister seeks her fortune beyond the seas and my lord husband leaves me to bear his child on my own. How is that a home?”
Ah. He was wrong. She’s perfectly capable of articulating her true desires. And they stagger him. Especially the one word. Husband. Something he’s not been to her in years. Tyrion shakes his head as if to clear it of cobwebs. “Sansa…”
“I guarded against so much.” She wraps her arms around her midsection, where even now their babe may have taken root. “I fought so long and so hard. I forgot to shield myself from me, from my own foolish dreams.”
“Sansa.” He says her name once more. A trifle strangled. Considerably besotted. Unbearably aroused. “Do you love me?”
“What?” She rouses from her embittered self-recrimination…self-recrimination that there is absolutely no need for, because he will happily fulfill every one of her foolish dreams and ten more besides.
“Do you love me?” he repeats in a state of utter agony. Dying again, not because his heart is broken but because it is full to the point of bursting.
Sansa frowns at him as if he’s asked the most absurd thing in the world, as if she’s going to call him ridiculous again. She can call him whatever she likes…ridiculous, husband, fool, hers. “Of course, I love you. This…this entire wretched display”—she waves artlessly at her dried tears— “is because I love you. Just as madly and desperately as you love me.”
Thank the gods. Tyrion lets go of a sigh he didn’t know he’d been holding…and then he grabs hold of her skirts, wasting no time in shoving them upward.
She gives a little yelp, grasping at the table, at his hair, at anything she can use for purchase as he spreads her legs and hitches one thigh over his shoulder. “Wh-what are you doing?” she sputters, though that really should be perfectly obvious with his mouth on her quim.
Every other time, it’s been for her. Or to ease the way for the rigorous task of procreation. But this…? This time? This taste of her. This feast. “This is for us.”
It’s months. No, a year. A year before he leaves Winterfell for King’s Landing. Of course, ravens are sent on a regular basis. Runners go back and forth, making the week-long trek whenever some matter that concerns both the North and the Six Kingdoms presents itself. And more efficient still is a king who sees all and knows all. His Hand can conduct Westerosi business perfectly well with a bird perched on the desk and a tiny babe in the crook of his arm.
It’s a surprise, honestly. That Tyrion is far more suited to fatherhood than being a King’s Hand. Sansa’s pregnancy is not easy, nor her recovery. It takes her days to even look at the adorable noisy being they created, and she cries in his arms when she realizes she can love their child and still be a respected leader. These are debates men never bother having with themselves, he realizes, because men are selfish oafs.
“You’re not a selfish oaf,” Sansa murmurs against his neck.
“Because you expect better of me,” he points out.
Eventually, though, a trip must be made. Unavoidable discussions, petty political foibles, those things that never quite seem to go away even with Ser Brienne’s sensible voice to temper Bronn’s vulgar fancies. So, Tyrion kisses his wife goodbye—and his daughter, too—and readies for a journey south.
It’s not home he goes to, he assures Sansa with a wry smile. That is what awaits him when he returns. “Everyone I love. Safe and together.”
She laughs with the ease and assurance of a queen who knows her most devoted subject’s loyalty, who recalls with perfect clarity how many times and how many wicked ways he’s bent the knee to her. “Ridiculous man.”
“Your man,” he reminds with one last squeeze of her hand. "Your willing captive. Your servant. Your utterly besotted husband.”
“Mine,” she agrees, carding her fingers through his unruly hair as though it won’t just become windswept again once he mounts his horse. “Just as Gemma and I are yours. So, come back to us as quickly as possible,” she orders imperiously. “Come home.”
What can he do but follow her command?