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Beautiful Is the Mother

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"Is it just me, Sansa, or does this statue of our lady the Mother bear a striking resemblance to your lady mother?"

At the sound of Tyrion's voice, Sansa looked up from the babes--two of them, she still could hardly believe it--who were propped up on cushions and suckling at her breasts, and flushed. With her hands occupied as they were supporting her children's heads, there was naught she could do to make herself more modest; anyway, she reminded herself, mustering as much dignity as she could under the circumstances, it was absurd to be conscious of her state of undress in front of her husband.

Nevertheless, the smile she gave him felt wobbly, and the voice she produced was scarcely above a whisper when she said, "I didn't hear you come in, husband."

Nor had she during her labor, when she'd opened her eyes after the labor pang she'd been bearing down with had passed to find that Tyrion had emulated his brother Ser Jaime and entered the birthing chamber. Legs splayed as she sat on a birthing stool over soiled rushes, clutched the handholds with white-knuckled hands , Sansa had been painfully aware of being naked as the day she was born. The midwives had insisted that a shift would only be in the way and make her even more uncomfortable than the labor already had; indeed, she'd been drenched in sweat without it. Tyrion, seemingly unalarmed by any of this, had taken a towel that had been slung over one of the women's arms and mopped Sansa's brow, then leaned in to gently kiss it.

He did not now draw near to bestow his affection, but instead stood smirking at her from the doorway.

"Yes," he said, "I creep about silent on little cat's paws, startling unsuspecting ladies."

"Lion's paws," Sansa replied, her voice pitching high with uncertainty.

Since her marriage to Tyrion--her proper marriage, anyway, when he had returned from his exile and Ser Jaime had returned her to him, a broken girl with no family except the one person in all the world she could not deny had been kind to her, and would have cared for her, had she let him--she fancied she'd become nearly as practiced at turning aside her lord's self-deprecation as she was at making courtly pleasantries. Though that battle had been nearly as hard as the ones for the Iron Throne, and there were moments when Sansa still was not certain she had, or ever would, truly come out the victor, for Tyrion had walked among dragons and Starks were ice and Sansa had been frozen too long while she walked as Alayne.

But she'd made enough of a success of looking after Tyrion that she hadn't expected that this context--his two babes born red of hair and, as far as anyone could tell, like unto her in every way that could be seen --should require her to utilize that talent. Tears made her children's sweet faces blur before her, but she fought them back--along with the rising ghost of the bewildered girl-bride she'd been.

"I believe we've discussed your big feet," she japed, though she was not at all of a mood for jokes or the effort of making them, when she was the one who'd done the work of bringing their children into the world.

"And you know what they say about dwarves with big feet." The smirk no longer twisted Tyrion's lips, but a mocking note lingered in his tone as he said, "They sire twins, apparently."

It was the first mention he'd made of babes since their son slipped from her womb and Tyrion, observing the wet, slimy, bloody perfection of the boy whispered gods be praised so low that Sansa was sure he meant no one to hear, not even her. He'd not had time to say anything else before she'd clutched his again, crying out with a sharp pang which she'd thought must signal the expulsion of the afterbirth, but had instead produced the head of their son's twin sister. There had been no grateful prayer for their daughter, whole and healthy as she was, too; Sansa had supposed that Tyrion must have been, for the only time since she'd known him, too well and truly shocked for speech. He must still be so.

And he was drunk. He'd just come from drinking with Ser Jaime, and he'd been in his cups before he'd attended her at the birth. Which was precisely why Sansa had not wanted him there. She hadn't told him in so many words; when he'd kissed her, the heavy scent not of the Arbor red, but of his fear--strong drink always made Tyrion's emotions so raw--threatened to make her heave up the remaining contents of her stomach, and she'd protested that it wasn't seemly for a husband to--

"See my lady wife through what I started?" he'd said in a voice as hollow as the mismatched eyes he'd turned up to her, she standing taller than her lord husband even in the birthing position. "I owe you that much, at least--and you know the Lannister words, as they are yours now, my lady."

Indeed, they were, for winter had come; Sansa had seen the snow falling, snow upon snow, through the window whose drapes she'd insisted remain drawn back in spite of the midwives' orders that the chamber remain dark and closed throughout the birth, so she might see the heart tree, blood red against the snow. Tyrion owed her no debt, she'd wanted to tell him, but at that moment a pain had ripped through her back and belly and bottom and she could no more say that than she could tell him to leave because her own fear was enough to make her too terrified to do what she must. For the fingers that had reached out to clasp hers had been cold as ice, smaller than her own, and trembled. He'd needed succor more in that moment than she did, as he had throughout her pregnancy. Then, she had retreated to the godswood to grapple with the fears of what grew in her belly so that Tyrion would not be burdened with them as well as his own, but she'd not had that option once the time had come to birth.

So she had fixed her gaze on the statue of the Mother, and prayed. Or talked to her own mother, she wasn't sure which.

As she did now.

Since Sansa could not very well give birth in the snowy godswood, much as she would have liked to, she'd requested a likeness of the Mother be brought into her chamber. The only one in Winterfell had been lately carved for the small sept which Tyrion had insisted on having rebuilt, though none of their household was likely to make use of it, he because he kept no gods, and she because she kept the old, if she kept any at all.

"I also thought she looked a bit like my mother," said Sansa at length. "Though that might have been the labor making me a bit mad."

And, truth be told, there were times when she could hardly remember Lady Catelyn's face at all, for the ragged visage of Lady Stoneheart that haunted her sleep. Sometimes when she woke from those nightmares, it helped to look in the glass and remember how often Petyr had spoken of the strong resemblance she bore to her lady mother.

But she did not wish to think of Petyr now.

Tyrion chuckled, low and warm, the laugh Sansa had come to love the feel of when it rumbled from his chest into hers as he held her at night, and he stepped further into the chamber, toward their bed.

"I wouldn't gauge your sanity by my sobriety." Abruptly, he stopped--walking and chuckling--and stared at her with a gaze that seemed not at all impaired by wine. "I believe I may commission a stonemason to carve your likeness for a new statue of the Mother. The goddess herself must look upon your beauty in this moment with envy.

"You flatter me, husband."

Flushing again, Sansa glanced down at her breasts to check that the babes were still nursing. Their mouths yawned wide around her nipples, and their round little chins seemed to be moving, but she wasn't entirely sure if she felt them sucking or not; putting her babes to breast had not felt at all like she imagined, and though the midwives and nurse had been helpful in helping her to position them before leaving her alone to rest, there were questions she had not thought to ask, or had been too embarrassed to put to anyone but her mother. Her wish for modesty was not so great as her wish to keep her infants content, so Sansa left them alone and did her best to meet Tyrion's eyes without weeping for want of her poor, ravaged mother who hadn't even known her, in the end, or blushing like a maid.

The time was long past that Sansa had quaked under her husband's longing gaze; indeed, she welcomed it. But being observed by him while her breasts fed her children was different, and she was as much embarrassed by her own ignorance of matters of childrearing as by the way she must look to him now. He wasn't looking at her quite with lust--he had not, in fact, throughout her pregnancy, which had left her strangely bereft--and little wonder: she had seen herself in the glass, her face and hands swollen, her hair matted with sweat, her belly not quite as big as when the babes had been in her womb, but looking rather more like a mound of lumpy dough. He could not find her desirable.

Yet…as Tyrion stepped nearer to the bedside, he looked at her in such a way that made her heart quicken nonetheless.

"I speak truly," he said, without a trace of irony. "And I fear I never told you how beautiful I thought you when the babes were in you. I wanted to…but I was too afraid. The reddest, shiniest apple on the tree may be opened to reveal rot and worms."

This time it was Tyrion's face that was obscured by her tears. He'd been so distant during her pregnancy that a seven hundred foot wall of ice might have been erected between them; the part of her that had not fully healed from the wounds inflicted on her by his father, his sister…his nephew…had feared that her marriage was a sham after all, that once she produced a sound and sturdy Lannister heir to Winterfell, her lord husband would have no further need to be kind to her. She'd been as great a fool to believe that, of course, as she had been to believe Joffrey would spare her father's life; it could only ever have been as Tyrion said, that he feared what their child would be.

Carefully, so as not to disturb the babe, Sansa slipped one hand out from under her daughter's head and wiped away the tears that clung to her eyelashes, then reached out for her husband. His fingers clasped around hers as he clambered up the set of stairs he must use to get into their high bed and stretched himself out on his side next to her.

"They're as sweet as they are beautiful, you see?" said Sansa, watching him watch their children. She could see some of the lines ease from his face, though the corners of his mouth tugged downward in a wary expression. His fingers untwined from hers and moved as if to stroke the red down that covered their daughter's head, but they did not quite touch it. "The gods have been good to all of us."

"How can you be so certain, Sansa?" he asked, dragging his eyes up to hers. "It never occurred to me till the second babe came out that there might be worse Lannister traits to pass on."

It had to her, Sansa thought, her heart pounding as she stared at her husband. Much worse. Thankfully, had not come to pass, and she had never let the truth of her fear pass her lips into Tyrion's hearing.

But she could not understand why, when his fears had not manifested in their child, he was still afraid. Then she remembered how Ser Jaime had looked, aghast, at the babe in his arms and the other one in hers and had to flee for a drink, too, and realization dawned.

"Another pair of Lannister twins," she murmured.

Tyrion pushed himself a little more upright on one hand, clearly bemused. "Do you mean to tell me the similarity didn't cross your mind before now?"

"Truly, I never thought it. I was so relieved that the gods--" She caught herself, but not soon enough.

"Had not cursed you with a dwarf child," he finished for her, flatly. "You mustn't be afraid to tell me the truth, my lady. Especially when I already know it."

"You don't know. "It's not the truth."

One of Tyrion's eyebrows arched, disappearing into the unruly mop that fell over his misshapen forehead. "You spent practically your entire pregnancy in the bloody godswood. What did you ask the gods for, if not to spare our child the shame of taking after a father like me?"

Tyrion spoke of shame, and Sansa desperately wanted him to see that she wasn't ashamed of him. Yet she couldn't stop the heat from prickling into her face or make her eyes meet his as she answered, "The gods, if there are any, have been no kinder to me than they have to you. I am much healed, but I feared they might be crueler still and answer the prayers I made to them when I was a young, foolish girl who asked to have children with beautiful blond hair."

She had wept when she'd spoken the same words to her lord father, begging him not to take her away from King's Landing and break her betrothal to Joffrey, and now she nearly wept for shame of the memory, which had not dimmed with time.

Tyrion, however, laughed. The sound startled the babes, each of them cracking open an eye before it drooped shut again and they resumed suckling.

"Forgive me, sweetling," he said, taking Sansa's hand in his when she looked up at him sharply. She tried to pull away, but he held fast to it, and drew it to his laughing lips. "I'm extremely drunk, and sleep-deprived, and just became a father not once but twice, and it's just…It's so bloody absurd, if you don't know our family history, that anyone would rather give birth to a dwarf than a blond."

As Sansa let out a long breath, a tremulous smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. "It's absurd if you do know it. Imagine what your sister would think."

The bed shook with Tyrion's laugh. "There are times I wish sweet Cersei still lived, to be tortured by my rise to good fortune and happiness. I hope that in whichever of the seven hells she's found herself, she can hear us now. Joff, too, for that matter." He trailed off with a sigh. "We could drive ourselves mad worrying about everyone our children might take after, couldn't we, my love? At least on my side of the family."

"Don't forget my charming Aunt Lysa, or my little cousin Robin."

"Ugh." Tyrion pulled a face. "No child of mine shall suckle at your breasts past the age of two." He waggled his eyebrows, and looked as much like himself, the man she'd learnt to love, as he had since she'd told him she carried his child. Children. His hand released hers, but only to lightly rub his thumb over the swell of her breast. "I shall not wish to share them for that long."

It felt a little wrong to speak lightly, and ill, about her kin after the lives they'd lived and the gruesome ends they'd made, but Tyrion had a greater influence on her that she liked to own--and he had said he was happy; she had made him happy. Japes did no real harm, Sansa supposed, and did often did feel like balm for their past wounds, but she turned the conversation.

"I think the point isn't so much who they take after, but who we are."

"Jaime said as much. Before he sent me in here. I hate it when he's right."

She hoped Jaime was right, strange as it was to think so about the man who had crippled her brother with the intent of killing him. And she hoped that whenever she found out exactly who she was--if she did, though she thought she was on her way--she would not find that trusting these people who had done her, and so many, so much hurt, she'd been a fool and a pawn yet again; she wanted to believe that redemption did exist, and that their children were not doomed to repeat the mistakes their mothers and fathers had made.

Tyrion leaned in and cupped her cheek as he pressed a kiss to her lips that was as sweet as any Sansa had ever dreamed of receiving from one of her shining knights or princes or kings. For her dreams had never come close to touching what it would feel like to love a man for reasons deeper than the beauty of his face or the magnificence of his form, or to make a child--children--with him.

"Fortunately for our children," he said, drawing back, "one of us wasn't born with this wreck of a nose, and the other is fairly a goddess." A strand of hair that had fallen loose from Sansa's braid wrapped around his finger. "Red is far more beautiful than blond, anyway."

"You should touch their red hair," Sansa said, nodding to the babes. "I never felt anything softer."

Tyrion let his fingers slide out of her hair, and, so carefully, traced his fingertips over his daughter's head. "Look, there are even hairs growing over her ears, and her shoulders," he said, drawing back the swaddling clothes. "She's like a kitten." He grinned. "Although I'd better not say that, or Tommen will want to keep her."

"Not a kitten. A little lioness."

"Or perhaps a red wolf?"

Sansa liked that. She gave her husband a nudge. "You should hold your little red wolf cub then."

Tyrion seemed less a lion himself as he looked at her uncertainly. "Has she had enough milk?"

Both infants had fallen sound asleep at her breasts, their rose petal lips open and leaking milk around her nipples, but Sansa didn't bother to tell her husband this. "Well, if you're worried about them giving suck beyond the age of two…"

Without further hesitation, Tyrion sat upright and scooped the babe up in his hands, cradling her in the crook of his arm. Sansa did the same with their son, pulling her grey velvet bedrobe around herself--at which Tyrion briefly looked away from their daughter to shoot her a look of dismay--gingerly shifting on the bed so that she sat shoulder to shoulder with him as he crooned to the babe.

"Hello there, pretty sweetling. You quite surprised us with your arrival, but you're a little lady just like your mama already, aren't you?" No sooner had he said it than his smile faltered.

"What is it?" Sansa asked.

"My dear, I believe our daughter has just pissed on me."

Sansa sniggered. "Have you inherited your papa's crude sense of humor, little one?"

"You're a Lady of House Lannister," Tyrion said to the girl as, with surprising deftness, he unwrapped her wet blanket and then, discarding it, cuddled her close to his chest. "Which means you'll inherit a lot of money from me one day."

"Perhaps one needn't be a dwarf to be a bit of an imp." Sansa lay her head on his shoulder, her eyelids drooping.

"Bearing that in mind," Tyrion said through a yawn, "do you think your lady mother would much mind if we named this little beauty after her?"

In the firelight, the statue of the Mother seemed to smile.