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She-wolves and Lionesses

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She-wolves and Lionesses

Tyrion arrived in the late morning.  The visit was a planned one: it was necessary the Lord of Casterly Rock sometimes show his face there to keep up the appearance of normality or some semblance of it.  Jaime generally was glad to see his brother here rather than in King’s Landing, where he could find no pleasure in anything.  Even if Tyrion’s presence here meant an end to Sansa’s nighttime visitations.  She did not warm his bed on the nights Tyrion slept within these walls.

It was the least they could do, Jaime supposed.  Although, he found himself brooding now on Sansa’s presence in his chamber the previous night and the inexplicable things she had said to him as he moved inside her.

Everything will be all right.  She said it more than once.  A chant amidst their coupling that now seemed ominous.

What was Sansa afraid of?  He might have asked at the time, but he had been consumed by need and even if he had, he doubted she would have told.

There was the child, of course.  Tyrion still knew nothing of the child.  But they need not tell him quite yet.  Only a few moons had passed.  They had time yet to discuss how best to handle it.  It could still be their shared secret.

He promises himself that he will broach the subject with Sansa as soon as Tyrion has left them alone.  That he will quell her fears the way she has tried to quell his.  He cannot broach the subject now, because she is with Tyrion.  She has been for some time, and as the hours slip by, he becomes increasingly worried that their discussion will have come too late.

Jaime’s troubled thoughts are disturbed by his brother’s entrance.  Whatever Sansa and Tyrion have been closeted away talking about since the cold winter sun was still high in the sky over Casterly Rock, they are finished for now.

That entire time his presence was not required.  It only serves to remind him that this house is not his.  Sansa is not his.  And he is not needed.

“Pour me a cup,” Tyrion says, as he climbs onto the chair across the table from him and gestures towards the bottle at his left.

Jaime fills the cup, which he wasn’t using anyway, preferring to pull straight from the bottle, almost to the rim with dark red wine and pushes it across the table.

Tyrion nods, knocks back a swallow, and grimaces.  It isn’t the best the cellars of this house have to offer, but as winter stretches on, less desirable vintages must be quaffed alongside the fine.  For Jaime’s purposes—drowning assailing doubts—it makes no difference.

Tyrion clears his throat before beginning, “I understand congratulations are in order.”

Jaime stretches out in the chair, his leg extending under the table like a lounging lion as the contents of the bottle slosh in his hand.

“Congratulations for what?” he asks lazily, although his muscles are tensing, and everything within him is urging him to find Sansa, to make sure she is safe.

“That I am to be an uncle, of course.”  Tyrion smirks.  “And you a father.”

Jaime stares back at his brother’s mismatched eyes.  He sees no hint of malice there, but he can’t be sure.  Sansa must have told him, for although Jaime can see the swell of her middle beneath her gown, he believes it is only because he knows it is there, because he has pressed his hand, the length of it spanning her, over that space, when she wore nothing.  Sansa should have let him be there if she was going to tell Tyrion about the child.  His brother is short, and so can his temper be.  She should have at least told him what she had planned.

But, even with his child growing inside her, she still keeps things to herself.  Perhaps more so than ever.  Protecting not only herself, but the unborn babe as well.  He would protect them both if she would only let him.  He will not fail.

“There’s no need to play at being simple,” Tyrion insists, as he lifts his cup.  He looks over its rim, raising his brows at Jaime.  “Though they say the husband is surely the last to know, you mustn’t congratulate yourself on being particularly cunning.  It isn’t as if I wasn’t fully aware of what the pair of you were up to here.”

“Very well,” Jaime says, gritting his teeth as he replaces the bottle on the table with a heavy thud.  “We both know what’s gone on here in your absence, but I won’t have you blaming Sansa for it.”

“Blame her?  No.  These things take two.  Do they not?” his brother asks, looking more diverted than he has any right to be, as a cuckold husband.  As a heavy frown creases his brow, however, it makes him look abruptly less amused.  “Although, I must admit, I’m surprised she was not more careful.  Sansa is usually so careful in all things, so measured.  I wonder what she was playing at.”

She is careful.  Jaime could not help but wonder the same thing, when she came to him, and whispered in his ear the truth with a shy eagerness that made him recall her youth more so than ever.  Moon tea is not difficult to obtain.  Not with a fat maester on hand, eager to please the mistress and make himself useful.  He could only assume the maester had prepared moon tea for her previously or there would already be one child at least in the time they had been together.

“She wanted a child,” he says, swallowing hard.

It became amply clear to him with time that it had not been a mistake, that she had sought this outcome.  That in itself is not wholly surprising: she is tender and nurturing, and he can see where she would want a child to love and lavish attention on, where before she was ever made to come to King’s Landing Sansa Stark was meant to be a good wife and mother.  A Lannister child, however?  That Jaime still doesn’t understand, as much as he tries and fails to understand why she should want him, a member of that family and as guilty as all the rest.

“I suppose she has forgiven you then,” Tyrion says.

Jaime shrugs and picks up the bottle to swig from it once more.  If he was a superstitious man, he would fear that his brother could read his thoughts.

“She seems very fond of you, though she would not wish me to know it.”

“One’s always wary of one’s husband finding these things out,” Jaime responds flatly.

“You would know better than I about such matters.  I’ve only ever been the husband,” Tyrion says, as he rubs the stub on his face.  “Well, no doubt she will make a good mother.”

Tyrion makes no mention of Cersei, but Jaime senses it floating between them unsaid.  He cannot blame his brother: he has made the comparison himself.

“You must own that it’s an awkward position you have put me in, Jaime, but luckily enough I am quite accustomed to dealing with awkward positions.”

Jaime shifts in his seat, his eyes darting to the door.  Despite his brother’s assurance, until he sees her, he won’t be able to rest easy that she is safe, that she has been untouched.

Jaime thinks of Daenerys and her barely concealed dislike for him.  If the Dragon Queen was to discover that Sansa carried the Kingslayer’s child, she might find herself suddenly less forgiving about both of them.  Yes, it is an awkward and dangerous position for them all.  Perhaps they’d all be safer across the seas, where no one would know who they were, an anonymous family of three—a fantasy he’s indulged not for the first time.

And not just for this family.

He doesn’t want to make the same mistakes again, doomed to repeat himself and drag innocents down with him in his weakness.

“You mean to help Sansa?” Jaime asks quietly, as his good hand fists.

“Yes, of course, Jaime,” Tyrion says not quite gently but with a calm confidence Jaime would like to take comfort in.  “I’ve promised she shall be safe and her child too.  I bear her no ill will.  I certainly didn’t threaten her just now or whatever it is you’re imagining.”

“Enlighten me then.  What has passed between you and Sansa,” Jaime says.

“We’ve merely had a talk, my lady wife and I.  It might be of some interest to you.  She’ll tell you, I’m sure.  Go ahead, call for her,” he says, gesturing towards the door.

Jaime tilts his head and narrows his eyes slightly.

“I don’t summon the Lady Sansa.”

She is the lady of this house and he is not her lord husband.  To even presume that he has the right to command her to do anything is laughable.

Tyrion shrugs and calls over his shoulder for a servant to fetch his wife.  Turning back to Jaime, he whispers hoarsely, “May I have the honor of informing our sweet sister of your blessed event?”

It is through gritted teeth that Jaime growls his answer: “Enough.”

It might amuse Tyrion, but he will not have Cersei’s name on their lips when Sansa appears.

Tyrion chuckles.  “I should have known you’d tell her yourself.  You two always were as thick as thieves.”

His brother pauses, touches his chin, and looks as if he is about to say something else, but Sansa must not have been far.  Before he can speak, she sweeps into the room, her slippered feet silent on the stone, and comes to stand alongside Tyrion’s chair, a pleasant, unreadable look upon her fair face, which has seemed all the more lovely since conceiving.

“There you are,” Tyrion says, looking up at Sansa.  “Have a seat, my lady.”

Sansa dutifully takes a seat next to his brother, and he can’t help but notice that her blue eyes have not met his since entering the room.

What have they schemed together, what plot have they hatched?  A feeling of doom begins to settle low in his stomach.

“I thought we might share with my brother the arrangement we have come to, my lady.”

“As you like.”

Tyrion turns his attention to Jaime.

“I believe it is time for Lady Sansa to reclaim Winterfell as her own.”

“In the middle of winter?”

And with no signs of lifting.  Jaime shakes his head, thinking this is insanity.

“You would have me stay here forever?” Sansa asks with an edge to her voice he has become unused to hearing directed at him, as her eyes find his for the first time.

Jaime knows that Winterfell—her home—is what she wants, desperately.  Much more than she wanted a child, he thinks.  He would rather never disappoint her, and yet, the timing is not good.  It is in truth of fact very, very bad.

“No.  Of course not.  But you should wait…if not you might starve or freeze.”

“That won’t be a real concern,” Tyrion begins, but Jaime cuts him off.

“Of course it is,” he snaps.

If he turned his back, he would see glistening icicles hanging from the window behind him.  Icicles that never melt, never drip.

Sansa and Tyrion wait silently, both their gazes upon him, making him feel like a petulant child, whose tantrum must simply be endured.

Finally, Tyrion begins again, “I’ll see to it that Lady Sansa is provided with ample supplies to feed and clothe and house her household, brother.  The Hand of the Queen has more than enough on hand to provide for his lady wife’s journey and establishment there.”

“This winter might be a long one,” Jaime protests, thinking of Sansa cold and hungry in the broken shell of Winterfell, thinking of their child without enough food to fill its belly.

There are things he can do with one hand, but growing crops in frozen soil is not one of them.  That he could not save them from.

“This winter might last forever,” Sansa bites back, her fingertips gripping the edge of the table.  “I would leave now if my lord husband approves.”

Jaime cannot even give thought to an endless winter.  In his mind the winter would come to an end, just as every winter before it had done, and he would lead her through melting snow to her home, just as she desired.  He would help her rebuild.  He would make himself useful for once.

The snow won’t have melted.  Quite the opposite: it continues to fall.  He had thought her more controlled than this.  He had never imagined she would try something so rash.

“I do approve,” Tyrion says with a grin.  “I think it’s a very suitable plan.  The North needs Sansa.  What is it they say?”

“There must always be a Stark in Winterfell,” Jaime supplies, and he would say it with bitter irony, except Sansa still holds his gaze, and he sees something in her eyes that makes his heart beat quick.

It is what he has promised her, and if he denies her it…

“Daenerys will be glad to have Lady Sansa represent her, a strong beacon of authority and submission to the Iron Throne in the North, and the North will be glad to have their Lady back, I have no doubt.  They will be pleased to see what a capable woman she has become.”

Sansa gives Tyrion a cool smile, which Jaime suspects has nothing to do with fidelity to House Targaryen.  She is caught up in thoughts of her seat, of the North, of home.  The very visions he has spun for her when they are alone together in the dark.

Not now, Jaime wants to beg if it will make a difference.

“Gods, Sansa,” Jaime says, leaning forward to address her as if they are the only two in the room.  “In your condition.”

Does his brother mean to kill her and the child both?

“No,” Tyrion says, waving a hand dismissively before reaching for his cup once more.  “There will be no question of that.  The child must be brought safely into this world here at Casterly Rock, in his father’s house.  I would be too far away to attend the birth if Lady Sansa had already departed.  That would never do.”

Sansa at least does not look surprised by this pronouncement, and he can see with certainty now that Tyrion means to continue this alliance.  To protect Sansa and the child.  To protect Jaime as well.  Sansa had said it would be so, and while her nerves may have failed her last night, it has turned out that she was right: she is always right.  She has an uncanny way of reading people that has nothing to do with luck or inborn talent and everything to do with careful practice.

Jaime feels as if he should say thank you for this magnanimity, but the words stick in his throat and he stares dumbly at the table instead.  Tyrion could stop this mad plan of hers—for he is certain this plan to leave with a suckling babe for a castle in ruins is Sansa’s and Sansa’s alone—if he wanted to do so.  He has that power as the Hand, as her lord husband in name at least.

“When the babe is strong enough, Lady Sansa may depart with whatever she might require to reestablish Winterfell’s former glory.”

“It will be difficult to rebuild,” Sansa admits.

“In drifts of snow twenty-five feet tall?  I’m astonished you’d think so,” Jaime says, crossing his arms over his chest.

“I meant, Jaime, that you might go as well if your presence would be helpful to my lady wife, but if you think the prospect too daunting,” Tyrion says, letting his statement go unfinished.

Jaime can see that Sansa’s breathing has become shallow, her chest barely rising and falling, as she watches him and waits for his response.

“Of course I’ll go with the Lady Sansa,” Jaime says, staring back at her.  “She must know I will.”

If the snow drifts were one hundred feet deep, he would ride at her side into it to freeze rather than see her depart without him.

“You will be much needed, no doubt,” Tyrion says, draining the last of his cup and replacing it on the table.  “Now, if you’ll excuse me.  My legs are tired from my ride this morning.”

“A warm bath, perhaps,” Sansa suggests gently, as Tyrion climbs down from his chair and waves back at them as he waddles from the room.

“Sansa,” he says once more now that they are alone.  He thought sure he knew enough of her to trust that any child of hers would be safe.  He can’t fail the innocent again.  Not after watching once…  “Sansa, I won’t allow you to endanger the child.”

He prepares to see a bright flash of anger at his insistence, at his attempt to control her even if it is in the name of their child.

He waits in vain for anger that never materializes.

Sansa stands and moves around the table, coming to sit so close to him atop the table that her ankle brushes his leg as it swings unconsciously in an almost childish gesture that is unintentionally seductive.

“I would never, Jaime,” she says, placing her delicate hand over his.  “Never,” she says with a fierceness that makes him grip her hand back and squeeze so tightly that she winces.  “No child of mine will ever burn.”

Or freeze, he wonders?

He exhales sharply, but cannot bring himself to speak yet.  For a moment he can almost smell the sickening scent of burning flesh, forever wedded in his mind to loss and betrayal and sickening self interest.

“I’ve done this for the child,” she insists, pressing her free hand to her middle.  “Stark blood will flow in its veins; the winter will only make him stronger.”

“Him?”

Sansa’s mask of confidence slips, he sees for a moment the young girl, and she looks uncertain as she stretches out her hand to trace his cheek.

“Would that please you?” she asks in a small voice.

“It would please me for you both to be safe,” he says with a heavy sigh.

She responds without pause, assured once more in her choice, “It is where we shall all be safest, Jaime.”

He opens his mouth to object, but she bends down and presses a soft kiss to his lips, silencing him for the moment.

“In the North.  Far from here.  This is no place for us, not so close to King’s Landing,” she murmurs against his lips.

“Dragons have wings,” he reminds her.

It is a harsh truth.

There is no place in these Seven Kingdoms where they truly might be safe so long as they are Jaime Lannister and Sansa Stark.  No place that the leathery wings of dragons might not blot out the sun.  That their breath might not char the flesh.

She sits back, and he watches in confusion as a smile just barely causes the corners of her lips to quirk.

“What have you done?” he asks low enough that no one in passing might hear.

“I’ve managed everything,” she says, her hand pressed against her middle once more.

Somehow he doesn’t doubt that.

“How?”

She sucks her lower lip between her teeth, and her ankle trails over his calf with deliberate motion this time.

“Through quiet observation,” she says with no small amount of pride.  “It is true, what I said about the Dragon Queen and the Lord Commander.”

Reaching down, he catches her leg, so that he might focus on what she says.

“And how would you know that?”

“Because I am not the only one who will deliver a child, and I threatened to say what it is I know and put the succession in question.  To make public their crimes.”

“You told Tyrion this?”

She inclines her head in assent.

“His response was enough to prove that my assumptions about them are correct.”

They have been careful.  Jaime has heard no whispers about the queen, except those fed to him by Sansa herself.  For all he knows, Sansa and the Hand are the only two who have found their secret out.  Jaime knows how well a secret can be kept even in King’s Landing if one takes the trouble to be discrete.  It’s a painful game.

“Take care, Sansa.  I don’t imagine Daenerys Stormborn will appreciate being threatened.”

“I very much doubt she will ever hear one word of my threats.  My lord husband will not wish to see Westeros torn apart once more.  He will smooth the way for us, so my threats never need be made.”

He cannot help but chuckle, as Sansa’s plot unravels before him.  Tyrion thirsts for power in a way he never has.  Even if familial affection was not enough to encourage him to protect Sansa and Jaime—and he suspects it would be—his desire to remain the Hand will surely do the trick.  He would no doubt go to great lengths to see to it that they remain safe and silent in the North.  He will say whatever needs to be said, make whatever assurances, and make long, arduous trips north to visit his lady wife all to keep the peace.

She has created a contingency should Tyrion ever doubt his desire to assist them.

“He would stand to lose what power he has if he didn’t,” Jaime says in awe of Sansa’s adept maneuverings.

Yes, she has placed his brother in an awkward position, and secured her freedom and her child’s safety.

Lionesses are given all the credit, but a she-wolf might prove a better mother yet.

THE END