Title: The Lion’s Den
Rating: T for adult concepts
Word Count: 3085
Summary: Sansa will always think of King’s Landing as the lion’s den.
Author’s Note: Part of the A Wolf Among Lions series.
The Lion’s Den
Sansa walks hands folded alongside her husband. Their shoes echo through the stone halls of the Red Keep, and she must measure her steps so she does not outpace his short stride.
“You did well tonight,” Tyrion says, looking up at her, and his disfigured face comes better into focus as they pass a torch.
“I’m not the girl you married,” she assures him.
If she was, she would hurry down this hallway so that he need struggle to keep up, but she would only be punishing the wrong Lannister. Cersei rots beneath Casterly Rock, living or dying at her pleasure. The thought brings a little smile to Sansa’s lips.
The Lannisters shaped her, and she knows how to behave here in what she can’t help but think of as the lion’s den if she pauses too long and lets the memories creep in around her. She knows how to behave before the young queen, who might have more right to the Iron Throne, but who is no less dangerous than the family from whom she took it. Sansa’s learned that and more. She likes to congratulate herself that she has done well.
There is still so much more to do, however.
“I’m glad of it. You were sadder than a young girl should ever be.”
Sansa takes a shallow breath. She doesn’t want to speak of the past. She meant it: she’s not the same girl. That girl sometimes feels like someone else entirely.
“Are you sad now, Lady Sansa?”
There is no taunting in his question, and she imagines he says it out of true concern.
She has done her best to appear happy. All evening she sat cheerfully at his side, while he served her the choicest things off his plate. She had smiles and kind words for the queen and took care not to glance down the length of the broad wooden table. Even when she heard the heavy thud of a wine glass hitting the table and muffled twittering. She knew that sound for what it was: someone was too drunk to properly grasp their glass with a mostly useless golden hand.
“Sad? Of course not,” she says brightly.
She hopes her response didn’t sound too chirped, too false. She would not like Tyrion to know her heart. To allow people to see inside of you is to allow them to dominate you, to own you. It is tantamount to failure, and she has survived thus far: she cannot afford to fail now. She has encapsulated moments of happiness, where the world seems not so dark and threatening, but there are things she desperately wants that keep her from being content, keep her from sleeping at night.
“You’re not unhappy at Casterly Rock?” he presses.
Unlike the Red Keep, she has only known Casterly Rock as her own, and she takes some satisfaction in reigning over the Lannister house, but it doesn’t bring her real happiness. Only home could do that. But Casterly Rock is temporary. Tyrion has assured her of that, and Jaime has done the same. That has been his pledge since he found her in the Vale, and he has promised that even should his brother forget where she belongs, he will not.
“The company isn’t too bad, I hope. Jaime is not as charming as me, but you must settle for the the taller of the Lannister brothers, I suppose,” Tyrion says with a grin.
Her cheeks flush, for it is Jaime more often than not who is responsible for making her feel something other than numbness. Petyr tried, but he could never train her not to blush. Her body betrays her in the most treacherous ways.
“He’s very useful when I have questions,” she says with practiced calm.
Jaime is useful, despite what he might believe.
“Useful,” Tyrion muses with a low chuckle that makes Sansa raise her chin just an inch. “Well, I’m not the least surprised at how well you do,” he continues, his face turned serious. “You are every bit the lady I imagined you might become one day.”
She smiles. It’s almost entirely genuine.
“Thank you, my lord.”
“Daenerys is fond of you. If you came to court more, you might become a true favorite.”
Sansa manages to keep her countenance. “I have no wish to be a favorite.” She sounds apologetic, which is just as she intended, but the thought of being confined within these walls once more is enough to make her want to gather up her skirts and take flight.
“I know it,” he says with a crooked smile. “But I thought it worth saying.”
“You wouldn’t truly want me here, my lord. You’re busy and I’d only be under foot,” she says, tilting her head. “I’m better out of the way at Casterly Rock.”
“Aren’t I the one under foot?” he jokes.
She purses her lips, but says nothing.
“Come now, Sansa. Barely anyone will enjoy a jape at my expense these days. Do oblige me.”
“You don’t mean it,” Sansa says, pausing as Tyrion stands feet astride before his door.
“In growing up, you did me no favors in growing even taller,” he says with mock displeasure.
Yes, they are an odd pair. A mummer’s farce.
“Sansa,” he says in a low voice, and Sansa catches herself.
She has been staring at the wooden door, at a spot above his head, thinking how she once had no choice as to whether she shared a bed with her husband. How once she was just a girl at the mercy of the Lannisters, and it was only her husband’s compassion that spared her.
“I wouldn’t ask it of you, sweetling,” he continues. “That delicate little nose of yours might snore, and I value my sleep.”
Sansa silently castigates herself. She should know better than to betray herself by words or looks. It is not enough to merely talk sweetly, one must also look the part, never giving anything away. Petyr would be so displeased, and although she wants him out of her head, he whispers to her in moments like this, reminding her of his lessons and her continued failures.
“No, you performed admirably tonight, and I hear that you manage Casterly Rock with great skill. That’s more than enough to ask of you after all my family has put you through, don’t you think?”
“You’ve been nothing but kind,” she responds without pause.
It is expedient to say so, but it is also true. She does not fear Tyrion Lannister anymore, but their arrangement is one borne out of practicality, not affection. Daenerys has no great love for the Lannisters or Starks, but they grace her court as relations of Tyrion, the man who helped her reclaim her kingdom. Their marriage ensures Sansa’s safety, but she does not feel so grateful that she would ever walk through that door. Even if he demanded it of her. Thankfully, he would not.
For all she knows, someone else warms his bed. She certainly wouldn’t begrudge him that.
Whatever relief she might take in that, however, is spoiled by a creeping sense of betrayal. “I must own I’m curious who it is that reports on me from Casterly Rock. Have you drunk enough wine to loosen your lips, my lord?” she asks with a small smile meant to charm.
Tyrion waves off her concern. “You’re pretty and polite and have a smile for everyone there, when for years they were faced with nothing but my father’s demands. Which means I would have to pay out a great deal of gold to get them to report on you, and I have no interest in squandering what’s left of the Lannister fortune on thickheaded guardsmen and serving girls.”
Sansa could make a joke at her husband’s expense about coin and girls, but she’s much too careful to tread on the tail of the lion. This gentled lion plays with dragons after all.
“No spies, no one lurking in the walls, Sansa. It’s only talk between brothers, you understand.”
Jaime. Jaime has said she’s done well as the lady of Casterly Rock. There is no time to indulge in girlish pride over the revelation, however, since Tyrion immediately interrupts her thoughts.
“Which reminds me,” he says, as he crosses his arms over his chest, “you have mistakenly walked in the wrong direction. Your chamber is that way.” He nods back the way they’ve come, back toward the chamber that has been arranged for the Hand’s wife. “Unless you only meant to accompany your husband safely to his door.”
He knows where she is headed. He must.
“It’s a little indiscrete. Don’t you think, my lady wife?” he asks, with an arched brow.
She is careful not to blink as she responds evenly, “I don’t know what you mean.”
“I mean, right under the queen’s nose?”
“The queen?” Sansa parrots back, not understanding what he means to imply, and bargaining for time, as her mind works to figure it through.
“Well,” he says, reaching up to rub the stub of what was once a nose, “I haven’t got a nose, so you needn’t be concerned about doing it under mine.”
“Why should Queen Daenerys care about my comings and goings?” she asks, her voice rising slightly, while she attempts not to fist her hands at her side.
Her control is slipping away, as what makes her happiest feels threatened.
“She might not care at all,” he says with a shrug.
Sansa wants to say that she thinks the queen is currently in the muscled arms of the Lord Commander and therefore, if Ser Jorah has any skill in pleasing a woman, Daenerys should spare no thought for where Sansa lays her head. But she bites her tongue. It is one thing to say such a thing to Jaime, who would no doubt find some mirth in Sansa’s suspicions, but quite another to say it here in a corridor of the Red Keep, where someone other than her lord husband might be lurking.
“I only suggest a little discretion might be advisable. Perhaps a tryst tonight is not a wise plan of action, considering how tenuous certain people’s positions are. It took me no small amount of convincing, you know, to secure it in the first place.”
She hates the implication that her visiting Jaime will place him in danger. She wouldn’t have to be indiscrete if their chambers hadn’t been put at opposite ends of the castle, but she knows that would be asking too much and she is being unreasonable.
“It isn’t a tryst,” she says, her back straightening, as she finally addresses his accusation.
“It isn’t,” she insists. “I merely want to check on him.”
Without turning her head, she’d watched Jaime stumble with uncertain steps from the hall hours earlier, and her heart had climbed into her throat, knowing she couldn’t follow.
“Let him sleep it off, Sansa.”
It’s wise enough counsel, and yet…
She swallows before explaining, “He doesn’t like it here.”
“No more than you do,” Tyrion says with a sigh.
It’s true. Jaime gives way to his feelings. He has drank and scowled at table ever since they were both forced to come here, while she must sit straight backed and smile through it all. What Tyrion doesn’t know, however, is that the only one she can crumble before is Jaime, and that on occasion she does. Going to him might be as comforting for her as she hopes it will be for him.
“Goodnight, my lord,” she says with a little nod.
She won’t be turned back from her purpose. The girl she once was would have scurried back to her room, but she isn’t that girl anymore.
He’d seemed drunk enough that she’d wondered if she might find him draped over the bed, passed out. She’s seen him like that before, and if that had been the case, Tyrion would have been right to urge her to let him sleep. But he is awake, slouched on the bed with his head in his hands, and she’s glad she didn’t listen to his brother.
His golden hair falls before his eyes, hiding them from her. He doesn’t even look up at her as she approaches and lightly rests her hands on his shoulders. She murmurs his name, rubbing her thumbs over the blood red silk of his tunic. He will barely speak two words in the queen’s presence, but he wears his family colors with the boldness of the lion of his house sigil.
She has been forced to come to King’s Landing before, alone, and she had hoped it would be some different with him at her side. He is her senior by a score of name days, but she is better skilled by far at this game. He had an fearsome tutor—her lord husband amply demonstrates Tywin’s legacy—but perhaps Jaime never truly wanted to learn. Jaime lost the game and by all rights should have lost his head as well.
It’s a handsome head, she muses, as she moves to lean closer to him, to lecture him softly. She means to say that this won’t be the last time they’re asked to come here and that he must learn to put a brave face on for the world, but he stops her cold.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he says even as he reaches out to grip her upper arms, one hand tight against her flesh, the other a cold dead thing, pulling her between his legs in one swift movement.
She is thrown off balance and holds more tightly to his shoulders to keep her feet.
Instead of her intended sweet words, she finds herself saying, “You were selfish tonight.” She bends down, until her face is even with his and she can smell the wine on him. “I’d like to pout and drink myself into oblivion too, you know. I hate it here just as much as you do. Shall I tell you why?”
“Then let’s leave,” he says, ignoring her question, as he lifts his green eyes clouded with drink to stare blearily up at her.
It’s the desire of a child. To flee. She has felt it countless times.
“In the middle of the night?” she soothes, her sympathy replacing disappointment, as she moves to sit across his knee. Petyr said sympathy could be the death of you, and maybe it will be. Even now she cannot help but wonder if she has placed her faith in the wrong man. “You’re too drunk to ride,” she adds, cupping one cheek as she presses a kiss to the other. She could wish Jaime stronger, but it would be a pointless wish. “You’d lose your seat.”
He did not shave this morning, and his beard is rough against her lips.
There are things she expects him to say, as her fingers trail over his neck, where she can feel his pulse twitch beneath his skin. She can imagine chastising him for leaving her alone in that wretched hall, as she slips her arms around his broad chest to stroke the planes of his back, her forehead resting against his shoulder. She can hear him bite back that the Dragon Queen brought him here to laugh at him with the baker’s son seated above him. And perhaps she did. Two dozen seats between his and hers. Sansa counted.
She believes he was unhappy with the distance between them. As unhappy as the distance made her. When they are not safe within the walls of Casterly Rock, he does not like the distance between them to be too great. Her safety is his prime concern. To be someone’s priority in such a way… It is why she forgives him as best she can for his past wrongs, it is why she finds solace in his arms.
But he says nothing. He is silent except for his ragged breathing as his left hand drags over the sleeve of her gown, clutching at the fabric and skewing it on her shoulders.
She allows him to fondle her through her gown, to bunch her skirts in his hands, and she smiles to herself thinking of her lie to Tyrion not minutes earlier. Of course this is a tryst. How else is she to quiet his hurts and still a mind consumed by poisoned thoughts of the past?
“Take this off,” he demands, breaking the silence as he gives up grappling with her gown.
It is difficult enough for him with the laces, but in his current state Sansa knows he wouldn’t be able to free her from her gown. It isn’t easy for Sansa either: she usually has someone to help her, but she angles she arm back and begins to tug on the laces he has clumsily loosened. Once she is mostly unlaced, he pulls roughly and she is suddenly bare to the cool night air and him, her grey gown a rumple of bodice and skirts trapped about her middle.
“Tell me about Winterfell,” she says, as he rolls them over, his weight heavy upon her as she stares up into his suddenly too clear eyes.
They can’t flee in the night, but she can disappear into her head, as much as he can disappear into her body.
“It was your home. You should tell me,” he murmurs, as he presses a kiss to the hollow of her throat.
“Please,” she whispers, as he fumbles with her smallclothes.
He knows what it is she wants. He teased her once that she was very easy to please: he only had to speak of her future in Winterfell and she melted for him. Only, he said it in cruder terms that made her flush red.
His breath against her skin—wet from his attentions—raises bumps along her arms and legs, as he shakily sighs, his good hand below as his golden one presses cold against her scalp, tangled in the locks of her unbound hair.
“You’ll sit your brother’s chair and sleep in your father’s bed. The men of the North will bend their knees to you. I’ll raise the stones myself to make it so,” he vows, as she bends her leg for him.
He has not only promised to keep her safe, he has promised to take her home. She wants to believe him. She wants to love the man who would make it so.