“This is often the way crimes get solved- through a side door. The clue that led to New York’s “son of Sam” killings was a parking ticket David Berkowitz was issued for parking his Ford Galaxie too close to a fire hydrant near the site of his final murder”
― John Edward Douglas, The Killer Across the Table: Unlocking the Secrets of Serial Killers and Predators
Sansa mentally reviewed her to-do list while the shop was slow. Myranda had put on a John Mayer album again, and Sansa had heard it plenty lately, and had no regrets about letting her mind wander.
Finish pattern design final project. Pick up Robin from school. Study for history. Take Robin to his doctor’s appointment. Clean your bathroom. Ask father about going to Volantis with Mya.
She sighed. The last one was a no-go- she knew that her father would never allow her to go as far away as Volantis without him, and he couldn’t leave Braavos this summer because work would keep him busy. As it always did.
She hissed as the espresso machine she was cleaning burned her, turning to run her sore hand under water. When she looked up, she nearly yelped.
There was a man standing almost right in front of her, the most amazed look on his face. Sansa hadn’t heard him approach at all- and she wondered if her thoughts had simply gotten too far away from her, or if this man was some sort of secret agent.
She did that, sometimes. Made up little stories about the customers who came in to pass the time, and to live a bit vicariously through them. Ragman’s Harbor always had decently interesting characters, and It wasn’t as though she really got to have much adventure as Alayne Baelish, anyways.
After her mother’s death, years before, her father had grown overprotective of her and her brother to the point where Sansa, even as much as she loved her father, was feeling more than a little smothered. She hadn’t been allowed to move on campus for school, and she had gotten lucky that Braavos Central University had such a strong fashion program, as her father hadn’t wanted her to go as far away as King’s Landing or Oldtown, and he had flat out refused White Harbor when she had brought it up.
A secret agent. She decided. With lovers on every continent- his face was very handsome-and chasing a prolific crime lord across Essos. He’s ducked into my shop to avoid detection from one of the man’s own agents, who spotted him in the square along the way.
Sansa smiled at him, greeting him.
“What can I get for you?” she asked, observing his clothing. He didn’t look Braavosi- he wore a burnt orange shirt that had a colorfully patterned border at the sleeves- it stood out against his weathered olive skin. Sansa would have bet every cent in her meager bank account that he was Dornish. His eyes seemed to dance as he smiled at her, and she hoped she wasn’t blushing.
“You wouldn’t happen to have Dornish coffee, wouldyou?” the man asked, looking hopeful.
“Of course!” Sansa told him. “This is Braavos, sir. If it exists, you can probably find it somewhere in this city.”
“Very true.” The man agreed, his face serious even as his eyes sparkled. There was something almost boyish and mischievous to his face, and Sansa liked him immediately. “I figured I was more likely to find it here, rather than in the Purple Harbor.”
“You might still find it there-“ Sansa laughed as she rung up his order, “It’s just probably going to cost about three times what we’ll charge in this neighborhood, and might have some sort of odd herbal infusion in it.”
The man looked about as disgusted as she had ever seen anyone look- It was really rather funny.
“That-“ he muttered, shoving the change she gave him viciously into their tip jar, “-is not how anyone in Dorne typically drinks their coffee.”
“That’s gentrification.” Sansa shrugged, giving him a wry grin. “Everyone thought it was gross until they stuck it in a tiny cup, added some overpriced flowers, and charged about six dragons for it.”
The man barked out a short laugh.
“Can I at least count on a decent cup here?”
“You’ll have to tell me.” Sansa shrugged. “My best friend loves it, but I’m more of a tea drinker myself.”
“Fair enough.” The man chuckled, taking the cup she handed him. “Thanks for the heads up-“ he squinted at the nametag around Sansa’s neck, “-Alayne.”
“Of course- enjoy!” she told him, watching him wave at her as he walked away.
Oberyn’s hands were shaking as he dialed the number, impatiently pacing by the water a block away from the small coffee shop he’d just left.
“Pick up- pick up-“ he muttered, checking his watch.
“Hey Oberyn.” A slightly raspy voice answered at the other end.
“Lya.” He greeted shortly. “Is your wife there?”
“Aren’t you in a mood.” She chuckled. “Yeah, El’s just coming in from outside and asked me to answer while she washes the dirt off her hands. Her vegetable garden‘s been a resounding success so far.”
“Excellent.” Oberyn muttered, anxiety pooling in his stomach. “Sorry Lya- I really am glad to hear the garden is doing well, but it’s kind of urgent.”
“Sure thing. No one wants our secret agent man kept waiting, I gotcha. Here she is.”
Oberyn exhaled with relief.
“Elia.” He greeted.
“What happened? I know that tone.” Oberyn grinned.
“El, I think I just caught a pretty major break in the case.”
“Which one?” his sister asked, casually. Oberyn could hear water running in the background, and assumed she was washing vegetables. “Gods I can’t even specify ‘the kidnapping case’ because you’re working two of them.”
“Sansa’s.” Oberyn breathed, excitedly. There was a pause, and the sound of running water cut off.
“What are you saying?” Elia asked, cautiously. “That you have a solid lead?”
“No, El- I think I just found Sansa.”
There was a beat.
“You’re kidding me.” Elia breathed. “Oberyn, you can’t be-“
“I’m absolutely serious.”
“How?” Elia asked, sounding flustered. It was a rare thing for his usually calm sister. “Where? Oberyn, have you called Ned and Cat?”
“You can’t say anything to Ned and Catelyn until I can confirm it.” Oberyn told her, firmly. “I shouldn’t even be saying anything to you, but I’m still shocked that it happened- El, I walked into a coffee shop in Ragman’s Harbor and she was just there.”
“How did you know it was her?”
“She looks just like Catelyn.” Oberyn told her. “Same face, same eyes and hair, but her chin and height are all Ned Stark’s.”
“Oberyn I don’t want to doubt you-“ he heard Elia sigh, “-but a resemblance to Cat isn’t exactly ironclad evidence.”
“I know, Elia!” Oberyn exclaimed, nearly throwing his hands up. “Believe me, I know, but Gods I just have a feeling here.”
Elia was silent for a moment before Oberyn heard her chuckle.
“You and Lya and your hunches.” She told him, affectionately. “Just the other day, she came in ranting and raving about corrupt businessmen and a money trail she’s following on nothing more than a hunch- although I think most people who encounter Roose Bolton assume he’s not exactly law abiding- or at least leave the meeting feeling slimy about the whole affair.” She was quiet for a moment. “But I trust Lya’s gut, and I trust you too. I won’t say anything to Ned and Cat, but Lya’s probably going to grill me about this the minute we get off the phone.”
“That’s fair.” Oberyn admitted. “As long as she doesn’t say anything to the Starks yet- particularly Catelyn, who will have my head if I make a mistake here.”
“What are you going do next?”
“She’s going by a different name-“ Oberyn frowned, “which is unsurprising, all things considered. Dig into her records- see who she is, where she’s from, and once I have enough evidence to justify it, I’ll get a DNA sample from her.”
“You’re just going to compel one?” Elia asked, tone incredulous.
“No, that’s far too risky.” Oberyn shook his head. “We had a bit of a chat today about the inauthentic Dornish coffee that Braavosi hipsters are trying to sell for an absurd amount of money in a certain neighborhood, so there’s a bit of rapport there. I might just come in a few times this week to see if I can repeat that- maybe I can catch her on a break and just talk.”
“Just be careful.” Elia reminded him. “I know you, and I know you’re good at what you do. But if someone took the time to take Sansa and raise her all the way in Braavos, they may not take kindly to someone trying to take her back.”
“I will, don’t worry El.”
“I always worry about you.” Elia chuckled. “So does Doran. Call him sometime, will you?”
“I will.” Oberyn promised, feeling guilt curl in his stomach. “I talked to Ty and Nym just yesterday- I’m not completely cut off.”
“Is Bara still deployed?”
“She’s teaching at the Military Academy in Kings Landing at the moment.” Oberyn told her. “Just got back recently- while we’re on the subject of calling, she’d probably love to hear from you and Lya.”
“We should be able to make that happen.” He heard the smile in Elia’s voice.
“Excellent.” Oberyn muttered, glancing behind him. “El, I need to run. I have to go talk to Daemon about this before he leaves the Braavosi PD for the day.”
“Alright. Be careful- and let me know as soon as you find anything Oberyn.”
“I will. I promise.”
Sansa was surprised to see the Dornishman back two days later in the shop, another man trailing behind him and looking decidedly less cheerful than the colorful man before her.
“I take it the coffee was authentic?” Sansa asked, smiling at him.
“More so than any other place we’ve tried in Braavos so far.” The man snorted. “My partner doesn’t believe me, so I dragged his grumpy ass here with me so you could prove him wrong.”
“Sure.” Sansa laughed. “Two Dornish coffees then?”
“That would be fantastic. For here if you would.”
“That, we can do.” Sansa smiled, quickly fixing their drinks. “Are you two here for work then?”
Oberyn nodded his head, yes.
“We both work for the Westerosi Bureau of Intelligence- the WBI.” He told her, with a flirty smile. She blushed, but smiled back.
“The footwork can be a bit dull.” Daemon grumbled, gladly taking the coffee she handed him. “Thank you.”
“Of course. Let me know if I can grab anything else for you guys.” Sansa offered, before directing her attention to the next customer.
Oberyn and Daemon Sand- significantly more awake now, thanks to the coffee- sat down at a table farthest from the register and other prying eyes and ears. Oberyn pulled out his phone, and showed a picture to Daemon while the man sipped on his drink.
“You took a picture of the girl already?” Daemon asked, looking incredulous. Oberyn shook his head.
“That’s a picture I got from the Starks- that’s Catelyn Stark as a teenager.”
Daemon’s eyes widened near comically, but he kept his composure.
“Alright. I’m on board with your hunch. You were right. Do you want me to say it in Rhoynish, too?” He sighed at Oberyn’s cheeky grin. “Gloat all you want, asshole. What’s our next move?”
Oberyn yelled an obscenity, watching in amusement as Daemon nearly jumped out of his chair next to him at the Braavosi WBI Building.
“You want to explain what you’ve found?” Daemon asked, tiredly rubbing his eyes. “And no dancing around it, Oberyn. We’ve been at this records search for days.”
“Come look.” Oberyn pointed at his computer screen, his fingers trembling with excitement or anger or adrenaline- perhaps all three. Maybe it was simply the caffeine.
Daemon rolled his chair over, following Oberyn’s finger with his eyes, and promptly swore in three different languages.
“Alayne Baelish. Baelish!” he hissed. “All this time he was right under our fucking noses.” Oberyn growled. “Made sure he had an alibi that we couldn’t contest, and he took her and hid her away all because he couldn’t take a woman’s rejection.”
Daemon’s eyes widened as he read through the files that Oberyn had pulled up.
“Alayne and Robin. Their mother’s name was Alys Ehrling?”
“Lysa Arryn.” Oberyn huffed. “The pictures on record for her son aren’t great, but it’s almost definitely Robert Arryn- that’s Jon Arryn’s nose if I ever saw it. She apparently died five or so years ago- ESRD according to the reports.”
“Alayne attends university at Braavos Central-“
“Shit.” Oberyn swore, spinning around in his chair, clutching fistfuls of his hair. “She’s probably walked past Arya on campus at some point- Catelyn is going to have kittens-“
“We have to figure out a way to confirm it before we do anything.” Daemon pointed out, ever the sensible foil to Oberyn’s impulsiveness. “And we have to be careful- if he gets even a hint that we’re about to catch him-“
“He’ll run with Sansa and Robert.” Oberyn muttered. “I’m not sure that compelling a DNA sample from either of them is the way to go- it could frighten them and spook him enough to leave.”
They were silent for a moment.
“All these years looking on two separate cases and they converged right where we never expected them to.” Daemon said, his tone disbelieving. “You did, I suppose. Gods- your theory was right.” He suddenly grinned at Oberyn. “I’m going to fucking clean up in the office betting pool.”
“There were people who bet against me?”
“Not Rhaenys.” Daemon chuckled. “I promise, your niece still believes in you- wants to be just like you for some godsdamned reason. The Blackfish is going to lose a bit of money though.”
“Tully should know better than to doubt me by now.”
“He’s close to the case.” Daemon shrugged. “It is his family, after all.”
“A family that was torn apart by the very parasite they invited in, years ago.” Oberyn gritted his teeth. “Catelyn mentioned a few times that Lysa was obsessed with Baelish when they were younger- I’d guess he didn’t bring Lysa to Braavos with him until a year or so after the Arryn investigation began. We looked into him initially- Catelyn was certain Lysa would get in touch with Baelish if she could.” He shook his head, combing a restless hand through his dark hair. “I don’t doubt that Lysa was complicit in Robert’s kidnapping, but we knew there was no way she would be able to hide so well, and for so many years on her own. Sansa didn’t have a choice, but-“
“But we don’t know how devoted she is to him.” Daemon finished. “Nothing about this is going to be clean, Oberyn.” He warned. “She’s probably attached, Robert’s probably attached-“
“-and it’s going to be difficult to separate them from him.” Oberyn sighed. “Gods- if I could go back in time and warn Hoster Tully-“
“You can’t.” Daemon shrugged, ever the realist. “All we can do now is catch the wily bastard, and hope like hell the media doesn’t eat Sansa and Robert alive.”
Oberyn swore again, glaring at the image of Petyr Baelish that had appeared in the WBI’s databases. Smug, intelligent, and utterly without conscience. Listed below his name it simply said:
‘Children: Alayne Baelish (20), Robin Baelish (14)’
Their pictures were clearly displayed, and he wondered how in the seven hells it had taken them this long to put it all together.
Catelyn was going to be a wreck when she found out that her childhood friend- the same friend who had assisted the Starks in the search for Sansa, and had funded and coordinated local law enforcement efforts to find the girl- was responsible for the eighteen-year horror story that her family had been forced to endure.
Baelish had returned to Westeros after the kidnapping to ‘show support’ to Catelyn- giving him a solid alibi for the actual crime. Oberyn suspected if they dug deep enough into financial records, they would be able to find records of a payment from Baelish to a hired contractor. Someone, somewhere, had to know something. Either that, or there was a body trail they would have to follow.
What turned Oberyn’s stomach the most, though, were the Braavosi records. He had gotten in touch with the correct departments, and while it was certainly possible the Baelish had simply backdated the documents, Oberyn knew enough about him to know that he was a planner. He had produced a birth certificate for Alayne Baelish immediately after she was ‘born’, and Braavosi records clearly showed that he had married a woman named Alys Ehrling two years prior.
His lip curled as he clenched his teeth. Baelish had laid the groundwork, and laid a paper trail so absolute, that without DNA samples, Oberyn would have a hard time proving anything. He had planned this whole thing as soon as Sansa had been born. He had watched and waited with the patience of an ambush predator- striking when the Starks were least expecting it.
Oberyn would bring the sick fuck down if it was the last thing he did.