It had been a hard day at the Crownlands DA office—the kind Stannis liked best. DA Stark had been chomping at the bit to get the case against Jamie Lannister airtight before depositions started. As a deputy DA, Stannis had been coaching witnesses and perusing briefs all day, trying to predict the angle that Lannister’s legal team would take. Whatever it was, Stannis looked forward to the challenge.
Stannis had even volunteered to stay late, but Ned had clapped him on the shoulder and sent him home.
“Some of us should be with our families tonight, Stan,” he’d said with a weary look around at all the people who were settling in for an all-nighter. “And say hello to my daughter for me.”
Stannis had clenched his jaw and left.
He got home not long after six, as usual, and her Jetta was parked outside, as usual. Once inside, he performed his after-work ritual, which took him into the kitchen after he’d put away his shoes and coat. That one squeaky bit of linoleum in the hall announced his approach, and Shireen and her tutor, Sansa Stark, turned to greet him in chorus.
They were sitting at the dining table, books and folders and binders spread over the wood, Shireen’s pink backpack looking sad and deflated on the floor. They were working on getting through some Jane Austen novel for Shireen’s English class; flash cards with illustrations and definitions were in neat piles in front of Shireen.
Stannis fished a water bottle and an apple out of the fridge and turned to watch. He leaned against the counter and listened to Shireen read aloud, trying to chew his apple quietly. She spoke, he noticed, with more confidence than he’d ever heard from her.
“‘Mrs Weston,’” she read, “‘capital in her country-dances, was seated, and beginning an irresistible waltz; and Frank Churchill, coming up with most becoming gallantry to Emma, had secured her hand, and led her up to the top.’”
She stopped, and wrinkled her nose. “What?”
“You read that very well, Shireen,” Sansa said. “Don’t you think so, Mr. Baratheon?” Suddenly her bright blue eyes were on him.
“She did a great job, yes,” he said. Sansa gave him a smile.
“Thanks, Dad,” Shireen said, almost dismissive. She turned back to Sansa. “But I didn’t understand any of what I read.”
“Well, they’re waltzing. It’s a kind of dance.”
“Dancing!” A strange expression came over Shireen’s face. “Can you show me?”
Sansa furrowed her brow a little. “Well, it’s a partner dance—two people hold each other close, and one partner leads and the other follows. A waltz is a specific kind of partner dance with set steps and music—you don’t just make up moves yourself. Hold on,” she said, and pulled out her phone. “I think I have an old ballroom video on here from high school.”
After a few moments of tapping, Sansa’s face lighted up. “Wow, I can’t believe this is still on here. It’s from senior competition.”
She turned the phone over on its side and gave it to Shireen, who tapped the screen. An unpleasant cacophony erupted from the strained speakers of the phone. Shireen grimaced and turned down the volume, but even when it was at a more bearable decibel, her frown stayed in place.
“I can’t see,” she complained, and handed the phone back. “It’s really fuzzy, and you’re really small.”
Sansa snorted. “That’s the first time anyone’s told me that in a really long time,” she said. She paused the video. “Yeah, you’re right. Terribad quality.” She pressed a button and started tapping the screen again. “Maybe YouTube has something better . . .”
Sansa was bent over her phone, but Shireen moved her gaze to him. She sat forward in her chair, elbows propped on the table, hands under her chin, her sweetest expression on her face.
“Daddy,” she said, as though she were five and not ten. “Do you know how to dance a waltz?”
He gulped down some water.
“Uh, yes,” he said. Sansa looked up, eyebrows raised. “Your grandmother had all her boys take lessons. Baratheon tradition. I took lessons until I was fifteen.” He grimaced.
Shireen hopped off her chair and bounced over to him. She grasped his wrist and pulled him towards the dining table. “Daddy!” she said again. “Waltz with Sansa.”
Sansa was looking down at her phone again. Music started playing, the ¾ signature obvious.
“I don’t mind if you don’t,” she said as she stood. “I’m not on the team at KLU, so I kinda miss it.”
Then she was in front of him, so close he could smell her shampoo, count the freckles on her nose. She was taller than he’d realized; her forehead would knock into his chin if she came any closer. He set down the apple core and water bottle without turning around.
Her left hand came to rest on his shoulder.
“Normally I dance to more modern stuff than this,” she said, meaning the music, “but this is the first thing YouTube pulled up.”
Stannis realized that he actually recognized the song—decades old by now, but one he’d heard before, possibly at one of the cotillion balls he’d been forced to attend as a teenager. Suddenly he felt half a teenager again, all sweaty palms and nervous energy. At least he remembered where his hands had to go: right lightly on her shoulder blade, left hand holding hers.
He found the downbeat, and they began to dance.
It was a little awkward. The linoleum was cracked in places and they only had ten square feet to move around in, so they kept smacking their elbows against the fridge. She was a little out of practice, he was a lot. She stepped on his foot once or twice, but only because he didn’t move his the right way.
Her hand felt nice in his.
Soon enough, the performance ended and Sansa immediately let go of him, to Shireen’s disappointment.
“That was so beautiful—why did you stop?” She whined, waving her arms wildly. She hopped up onto her chair and stood, arms crossed. “You have to keep dancing!”
Sansa was still standing next to him, he noticed. She merely smiled at Shireen.
“I wanted to make sure you got a turn, sweetling,” she said. “Your dad’s a very talented dancer.” Then she turned to him.
“I mean it. Not bad at all.” He could see the faint surprise on her face. “Cotillion?”
“Yes, three years. Do they still hold that damnable event?”
She walked over to the table. “Yep,” she said. “My sister agrees with you about the ‘damnable’ part.” She held out her arms to Shireen, who launched herself into them.
“Oof! You’re getting heavy.” She turned back to him, her face nestled against his daughter’s. “I loved it, though. The dresses, the party, the dancing—even though it’s a little old-fashioned. That’s why I joined ballroom.”
Then she kissed Shireen and set her down, grabbed her purse and left, promising to come back the next day.
For a moment, Stannis wondered if he had offended her. Then Shireen tugged at him, asking for her turn, and he spun her around the kitchen while she sang some half-familiar song.
He heard it again later that night, after dinner, when he was in his home office going over the deposition questions for the hundredth time. He recognized the song, finally—it was from some musical Shireen had been watching every day for the last two weeks. He thought of Shireen, sitting on the couch by herself, singing to herself. He tapped his pen against the file, thinking.
He got up and went into the family room to join her. Shireen smiled at him when he came in and sat down on the couch. On the screen, a young woman was singing nonsense to seven children while they all frolicked around a village square. He watched in bemusement as the movie went on, with a puppet show, more singing, the unexpected appearance of Nazis and then of nuns, and the young woman marrying the Captain. When the von Trapps fled Austria, he saw Shireen clutch a pillow to her chest, tears streaming down her face. Then it was over, and Stannis was amazed to find that he had enjoyed it, despite himself.
Shireen was humming the songs as she went to bed.
. . .
Over the next week or so, Stannis watched the movie once or twice from the beginning, not giving much thought to the way Shireen drank it in—like a desert-dweller at an oasis. He’d been much the same way about hawks, once.
The DA continued to demand much of his time and energy. The depositions were starting soon, so Ned had him stay late for a few days. Stannis liked to work, liked to make sure criminals were punished, but he sometimes felt as though he were neglecting his duties to his daughter.
Friday morning at breakfast, he cleared his throat to get Shireen’s attention.
“I’ve heard there’s a new Disney movie that’s come out,” he said, and she looked up eagerly. “Would you like to go see it tonight?”
“Yes,” she said, making that expression that always made him uncomfortable, with her head tilted back, chin pointing at him. Her eyes were crazed. She pulled up her legs to kneel on her chair and leaned over to grab his face. “I’ve only wanted to see it for forever. All my friends’ve seen it already!”
He gently removed her hands and sat back, while Shireen dove back into her cereal.
“Be ready to leave when I get home,” he continued. “I’ve already let Sansa know that she has the evening off.”
“I’m sure Sansa doesn’t want to go to the movies with us, Shireen,” he said, exasperated.
She said nothing back, just stared at him.
They pulled up to the curb of King’s Landing Academy at 8:05 on the dot. Shireen, distracted by something on his phone, didn’t realize for a moment.
“Oh! Sorry,” she said, as she dumped it back into the cupholder. She undid her seatbelt and scrambled out of the car, tossing a smile and a wave back at him. “’Bye! Can’t wait for tonight!”
He waved back, then started off across town and to the DA’s office.
The sun had set by the time he got home that evening. He pulled into the garage and went inside, looking forward to the absurdly overpriced popcorn at the movie theater. “Shireen?” he called. He kept his suit on, just deposited his briefcase in his office. “You ready to go?”
“Just finishing up something!” he heard from the kitchen. He followed the voice down the hall.
She was, he saw, working on math homework, swinging her legs under the table. He noticed that her ankles were tucked together—just, he realized, as he had seen Sansa Stark do a hundred times. Debutante training, he supposed.
He heard keys in the front door, and stood. It opened and shut, and he went to investigate just in time to collide with someone coming around the blind corner. Sansa Stark herself.
She bounced off him, flailing, and his hand shot out to catch her by the elbow. They looked at each other for a long moment.
He realized that her fingers had caught his belt. The tips of their shoes were touching. Finally she stepped back. The space between her eyebrows furrowed.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” she said. He squinted at her.
“Sorry, I mean—I’m here to help with Shireen’s science project.” She was blushing, eyes darting around, smoothing one hand down her cheek. He realized she was flustered.
“You texted me this morning, saying you’d be working a little late and—ah.” She peered around him to look at Shireen. “Your phone’s been compromised.”
He pulled out his phone, and there were the text messages, sent from the phone but not by him—time stamp 7:59 and 8:03 that morning.
“We’re going to the movies, Sansa!” Shireen shrieked. She got up from the table and scampered over to Sansa, grasping at her. “Come with us.”
“Shireen—” Sansa started, gently.
“What do you think you’re doing, Shireen?” Stannis said.
That was the instant it all came together in his head: tutor, child, stern father. The Sound of Music.
“It’s a date!” she answered, proud as a peacock. “Don’t worry, I’ll be chaperone.”
Stannis felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. His ears grew hot. Sansa was certainly very beautiful, but he’d never even allowed himself to consider it—he was near ten years older than her, he worked with her father, he was divorced, he certainly wasn’t handsome, and she—
Sansa’s face was bright red again. She let out a wheezy laugh. “Oh, sweetling,” she said, embracing Shireen, “if you want me to come watch a movie with you, you just need to ask. You don’t need to trick me into it.”
“No, we’re all going out to the movies!” Shireen protested. Sansa didn’t seem to hear her. She looked at Stannis, blushed again, and looked away.
“Sorry for just barging into your house.” She sighed. “I have to go.” Then she left, just as abruptly as she had arrived.
Shireen pouted out the window as Sansa drove off, and Stannis—
He didn’t take Shireen to the movies that night.
. . .
The worst part of it all—his embarrassment, Shireen’s disappointment, temporarily thinking he’d need to get a new tutor/babysitter for Shireen—was that he kept thinking about the date that could’ve been. He’d never spoken to Sansa much about anything other than Shireen and Shireen’s progress for exactly this reason. But now the memory of her blush and her smile and her eyes wouldn’t leave him. A thousand times he considered and discarded the idea of her saying yes and what could’ve happened.
Seeing her in his house on Wednesday was something of a shock. He’d checked with her on Saturday, of course, calling to establish whether she wanted to continue as Shireen’s tutor, and she’d said yes. Still, seeing her comfortable and casual in his house after the days and days of trying to drive her out of his mind—
But he wouldn’t avoid her in his own home (he told himself, as he retreated to his office.) The best way to get over it was to pretend it never happened.
Unfortunately, Shireen had not decided to give up.
The first Wednesday of each month was the day he and Sansa had determined to discuss Shireen’s progress, and since today was the first Wednesday, he was unsurprised to hear the knock at his office door.
She stood there in the doorway, more tentative than he’d seen her in a long time. “Come,” he said, gesturing her in.
She shut the door behind her and sat in her usual chair, reaching for the envelope on his desk. It contained Shireen’s grades and comments from her teachers, and was mailed quarterly to the house. Sansa took it, but didn’t open it. She twisted it a little in her hands.
Finally she opened her mouth. “Mister Baratheon—“ She stopped.
He swallowed. “Stannis,” he said. “You can call me Stannis.”
“Sure.” She bit her lip. He tried not to be distracted by it.
“I would rather we didn’t discuss last Friday’s events,” he said.
Her face went absolutely blank. “Of course.”
She opened the envelope and read what he already knew. From there, it was simple discussion of Shireen. They were in neutral territory here, but Stannis thought her tone, her demeanor, were missing some familiarity, some casual quality that he’d never noticed till its gaping absence.
When they were done, Stannis got up to open the door for her, the best apologetic gesture he could muster. The handle turned just fine, but the door wouldn’t swing more than an inch towards him. Utterly puzzled, he tugged on the handle a few more times to the same result.
Sansa placed her hand on his. He panicked for a moment until he realized she wanted him to hold the door open while she investigated. She stuck her face into the gap between frame and door.
He heard Shireen’s voice: “Crap. I didn’t think it would stretch that much.”
Sansa pulled her face away from the door. “She’s tied a jump rope to the door handle. The other end’s tied to a door down the hall.” She grimaced. “Your kid’s too smart, Stannis.”
Stannis massaged his forehead with a hand. “She’s von Trapping us. That’s what she’s calling it.”
“You know the movie, The Sound of Music?” Immediately, he saw understanding come over her.
“I’m Maria and you’re the Captain?” She blushed, then laughed. “Oh, my gods,” she said, and covered her eyes with one hand, the other on her hip. “You’re totally the Captain.” She smoothed her fingers through her hair, realizations dawning in her eyes one after another. “And she’s been reading Emma in school!”
“Emma, the main character, is a matchmaker,” Sansa explained, eyes focused somewhere over his shoulder. Then she looked him in the eye. “Do not, I repeat, do not let her watch The Parent Trap.”
“Too late!” came a voice through the door. Along with an incredibly disturbing cackle. “Now kiss!”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I spoke to her, but obviously she didn’t listen—“
Sansa waved a hand dismissively. “I’m the same way. I want stories to imitate life.”
She studied him for a moment, fingers of one hand tapping against her lips, fingers of the other tucked into the crook of her elbow.
Without another word, she went to one of the windows, opened it, pushed out the screen, and climbed out. The house didn’t have a second floor, but the bush just outside the window was wild and very prickly. She didn’t hesitate, just climbed right through the window and dropped down. She peered back through the window.
“Give me a minute? I’ll talk to her.” And she edged out of sight. He ground his teeth, thinking of how much she must dislike him if she preferred a prickly bush to his company.
A few minutes later he heard a loud, disappointed “WHAT?” followed the soft sound of lowered voices. Minutes later still, the door was pushed open and Sansa finished untying that end of the rope. Her cheeks and neck and arms were all scratched up, and her eyes were slightly red and puffy. Some instinct took over, but just enough for him to approach as close as he could without actually touching her. He stared down at her.
She wouldn’t meet his gaze. She wound up the jump rope and handed it back to Shireen, who looked somber as well.
When Sansa left, he knelt down to Shireen’s level and asked her.
“She said not to tell anybody, especially not you.”
. . .
Over the next month, he and Sansa barely spoke at all. She would return his greetings and even call him by his name, as he had asked, but she never looked at him. It bothered him more than he cared to admit. When she was with them, even Shireen looked at him with doleful eyes. He wandered around with a pit in the bottom of his stomach for weeks.
Finally, at a slow day at the DA’s office, he broke his cardinal rule and mixed personal life with work. It was fine to complain about life with your work friend when outside of work, but during business hours?
He was desperate, he had to admit.
Davos wasn’t investigating in the field that day, so Stannis dragged a rolling chair up to his desk and spilled out the whole story, careful to not use her name. Especially not her last name. Davos looked at him with increasing incredulity as he recounted it all. When he was done, Davos was frowning.
“I’m glad you came to me about this,” he said, in his most professional voice.
“She jumped out a window, Davos.”
“I know. You’ve said it. Several times.” Davos smiled, then. “Gods, I’ve never seen you like this!”
“Don’t look at me like that.”
“Davos, I came to you because you are happily married. You seem to understand women. Will you help me, or are you going to laugh at me?”
“I am happily married, thanks for noticing.” Davos tapped a pen against his chin. “The important thing about women, I think, is that they’re not all the same. What works for Marya might not work for your Miss No-Name. But what will work for almost all women is this wonderful thing called communication.”
Stannis glowered at him.
“I’m not making fun of you! Stannis—and I cannot believe that I am saying this to you—you’ve got to tell her you like her. You’ve got to ask her why she’s sad, and listen if she trusts you enough to tell you.”
Stannis scratched his chin for a long moment. He got up abruptly. “I’ll think about what you said,” he said, and turned to walk off. He turned back. “Thanks.”
. . .
Work was his only consolation in the days after he and Davos had their conversation. The problem was that the DA was in his office more than usual. Stannis jumped out of his skin every time he saw Ned.
Thinking about Ned’s reaction was almost the worst part. The actual worst part would be Robert’s reaction. Robert would probably hug Stannis, he’d be so proud.
He drove home on autopilot, not noticing much. He did notice Sansa on the front lawn as he pulled into the driveway. She was moving towards her car, the sun setting on the horizon behind her.
He parked and flung the driver door open without bothering to turn off the ignition. He intercepted her at the sidewalk, reaching out to touch her shoulder. He jerked his hand back right before his fingers reached her.
She looked as though she were about to cry.
He was at a loss for what to do.
“It’s the first Wednesday of the month,” he said, lamely.
“I know,” she said, the words sounding thick in her throat. The bottom dropped out of his stomach.
“Sansa.” He stepped closer, placed his hand on her back. “You are not alright.”
She nodded, eyes closed.
“You have not been alright all this month, in fact.”
She turned her head to up at him, eyes glossy with unshed tears.
He took a deep breath.
“It has bothered me this month, seeing you so upset,” he said, studying her expression. “Not knowing the cause, or how I could help. I couldn’t stand seeing you that way. Then it bothered me, that I cared so much. That I cared—”
She turned her whole body toward his, and he was struck dumb by her loveliness. His hand fell away from her.
“You care for me?”
Words almost failed him. “Very—very much. Shireen had the right of it, after all.”
A tear fell down her cheek, and she let out a strangled sob.
“Stannis, I need you to accept my resignation, right now.”
He was taken aback. “What?”
“This is my formal resignation. I need you to accept it.”
“I—yes. I accept.”
She took a half step closer, so close their breath mingled in the evening air.
“I care for you, too,” she whispered. Another tear rolled down her cheek. She reached out, and clasped one of his hands in hers.
He lifted her hand to his lips, kissed the knuckles.
“Gods know I don’t understand why you do,” he murmured, “but I am glad.”
Her other hand caressed his cheek, the stubble on his jaw. The contact shivered down his neck.
She smiled, close-lipped but genuine, wonder in her still-teary eyes as she ran her fingers through his hair, down his throat, feeling the dip of his collar bone and the ridge of his shoulder through his shirt. Then her fingers returned to his hair.
“I thought I’d never get to do this—that you’d never let me,” she breathed out. “I was so sure.”
Her other hand squeezed his and let go. It trailed up his arm and over his shoulder to cup the other side of his face.
He brought his hands to her hips, traced the bones with his thumbs, felt the heat of her through the fabric.
“She can’t know she was right,” he said. “Shireen.”
Laughter shook through Sansa, and she rested her forehead against his shoulder to stifle it. The barest of smiles crossed his lips.
“Oh, gods, no,” she said between giggles. “She’d never let us live it down.”
He trailed his fingers over her hips, her back, savoring the feel of her head tucked under his chin. She’d said us.
She raised her head, determination clear on her face. “Stannis,” she said.
He could feel her breath on his jaw. Goosebumps erupted over every inch of him. Their noses bumped.
Her lips touched his.
He froze for a second. Then her nails scratched gently through his hair and he groaned, opened mouthed, against her lips. Her tongue darted in, lightly touched his, and retreated, the heat of her searing his mouth.
His left hand moved to the small of her back, spreading wide against her spine and drawing her forward. He groaned again when her breasts brushed against his chest, and she seemed to like the sound. She pressed her whole body against him then, both sets of her fingers carding through his hair. He vaguely registered that she was stepping on his foot, but it didn’t even matter: he’d never felt so good. It was a whole-body sensation of warmth and pleasure and sweetness, especially where her mouth met his.
He pulled away the slightest bit, pressed his lips against her cheekbone, her temple, her forehead, the skin between her eyebrows. He held her against him, hands spread wide against her spine.
Across the lawn, the front door opened. Stannis let go, stepped away on instinct.
“You know we can see you!” Shireen cried, triumph evident even through the darkness that had descended around them.
Stannis clenched his jaw. He’d been so unthinking—the neighbors across the way were notoriously nosy. Half of King’s Landing would know by now.
An arm slipped around his waist, hand resting on his hip. Sansa had tucked herself against him.
He looked down at her for a moment, then put his hand on her shoulder.
“I don’t mind,” she said. And smiled, wide and brilliant.
“Then neither do I.”