Chapter 1: bad dreams
She sat in the waiting room, the hard chair an uncomfortable reminder of her location. The girl did not need to look around the room to picture the cream coloured walls, the worn blue chairs with scattered people occupying them. There was an empty chair between each body, she noticed, as if whatever mental illnesses inside them might be catching. As if it was some unspoken fact known by all. And perhaps they were contagious; perhaps she would enter the room with a clear mind and leave with someone else’s affliction. Might she pick it up on the sterile white floor, the lingering traces of sadness, of hopelessness? Of fear?
A fatigued, heavy breath was released; she already had those feelings in spades. Her legs crossed, fingers twining into themselves for want of any other activity. If she bit her nails again the woman next to her would be cross; it would not bode well for her when they returned to the house.
She was not sick, she was not sick. An active imagination, her family had always said. A young girl prone to fanciful slumber, and wasn’t that a sign of creativity? She would surely do great things in her life, then, her father had decided. An artist perhaps, or a writer. He would listen to her dreams, seemingly enraptured by the stories woven in her mind, the bright colours and adventures, the mountains and animals that seemed to bend to her will. Some people did not even remember their dreams, he had told her, but there she was manipulating her own. Her mother had been less enthusiastic, a detached hum of acknowledgment when she tried to tell a new tale, until she did not bother at all.
No, she was not sick.
Aunt Lysa, however, did not agree, from the very moment the young Stark tried to explain it. This was some sort of problem needing correction, clearly, and why had her parents done nothing to fix it? She was much too old for such childish whims; it must be remedied as soon as humanly possible. A satisfied smile lit up her face when she secured an appointment with a proper shrink, someone who could diagnose her with some incurable thing. Sansa did not doubt the woman hoped for something severe enough for a long term relocation, although she knew enough to know even if she was ill, she wasn’t that ill.
Her new warden seemed to seek out flaws within the girl, in truth, be it a blemish on her face or a mocking tone about baby fat when Sansa chose to eat dessert. It was no worse than the japes Arya might have made, she told herself, but it seemed to sting more coming from an adult, from the only one she had left.
While she mused her eyelids fluttered, the dull melody of classical music forcing her to begin a doze. She was tired, suddenly, so entirely exhausted, and when was the last time she was able to get any sleep? Sansa pinched herself, starting for a half second in a last attempt to keep alert, but she knew already the effort was futile. She lulled, her head tilted to the side, shoulders relaxing and mouth slackening as slumber took her.
A hall, just as white and clean as the floors her real self planted her soles against, was endlessly sprawling in front of her. The was nothing behind, nothing ahead of her that gave indication of any change. Brows furrowed, fingers tentatively reaching out to drag along the pristine enclosure, scanning in vain for an exit, for a way out. Long minutes were spent walking, searching, wondering why she was not able to create a door or escape this place. It was unusual, it was different.
The bird was there, then, on her shoulder, talons digging into her shirt. Green mingled with black plumage, the telltale sign that this was her ally and no foe.
“Help me, bird.” The girl pleaded, relieved beyond measure for the return of her friend.
You must find an exit, dear girl, the perched creature told her without words, for even in dreams no bird could talk. Find an exit and lie. She will not believe you if you tell the truth.
“She? Do you mean Aunt Lysa?”
There was no response; sometimes the bird did not deign to answer her. Instead, it flew off, instead she heard slow footsteps in the distance. Her head turned, frantic, searching for the source, for the direction of approach, only to find nothing at all save the corridor. She rested her back against the wall, palms splayed, craning in either direction as the sound approached with no body to match. Quicker, the steps came, until the formless noise seemed at a sprint. Her chest heaved, panic overwhelming as she sucked in air in gasping breaths. He was coming for her, he was here-
-and then her eyes were open, squinting at the bright light of the waiting room. Her aunt’s claws were on her shoulder where the dream-bird had been, shaking her awake. She glanced over to see the woman’s lips in a tight frown, nails only digging further into her skin now that she was awake. “Fool girl, it’s rude to fall asleep in public.”
The girl nodded, blinking the weariness from her stare. “I’m sorry, Aunt Lysa. I won’t let it happen again.”
The older lady smiled, but she saw no kindness in the gesture, even if the others around her might have. “No, I expect not. I’m sure they have something they can prescribe for that.” Anyone else might think her a truly doting aunt; anyone else was an idiot. “We’ll get you fixed, child. Don’t fret.”
She nodded again, the shiver down her spine not attributed to the unsettling sound of footsteps echoing in her ear. Her reality was far more grim a prospect as she heard her name called, as she stood and spared a last, pleading glance to her aunt before she was hurried off to meet the professional. Her body trembled, the nurse guiding her whispering a hushed set of comforting words as they walked through a white halfway that had a wooden door at the end.
No, the dreams should not scare her.
Why should she be frightened of that, anyway? It was only dreaming, after all. Only a bird, only a bad man, twisting, twining with her reality in the most confusing way.
Chapter 2: a little push
it feels like
The girl did just what the bird had told her to. She lied; she told the professional sitting behind a high wooden desk that there were no vivid fantasies that she could change on a whim, that there were no lifelike dreams waiting for her most every night. No winged creature guiding her, no man haunting her. A nightmare once was all, and perhaps that was what had worried her aunt so? Her body remained still, her voice sure as blood pumped quickly through her veins, as her calm body contrasted the vibrations inside.
She was so very good at pretending.
There was nothing more to say after that. The severe woman with several post-nominal letters after her name nodded, smiling a fake-sincere smile, seeing her out through the door as she called Lysa Arryn in to discuss the case further. Sansa had to wonder how ethical that part of it was, for surely they were speaking of the topics that had been discussed in private, but in truth she was more worried about what her aunt would do when she realised there was nothing wrong with the girl.
Well, there was something wrong, but Sansa would not make the mistake of speaking about it again. Her aunt was a terrible woman, after all, and as much as the Stark girl wished for her kindness and understanding she knew now she would never receive it. And she certainly did not receive it as they exited the brick office building, Lysa grasping her arm in a vicelike grip, dragging her to the car with the hastiest of strides.
It was not until they were driving, halfway home, that she was spoken to again. “So you tricked the good doctor, did you?” The words were uttered with unhidden venom in the seclusion of the vehicle; there was no one else present to conceal that constant malice from. “You did not tell her what you told me.”
“I didn’t trick anyone.” Quietly said, the only answer she could think of, and not nearly benign enough to placate the Arryn woman behind the steering wheel. “I just told the truth.”
“The truth?" A laugh, harsh and cold. "Do you even know how to be honest, you stupid child? Have you always been so dim or are the dreams making you into an idiot?” Knuckles were white along leather, and Sansa tensed, preparing. But the woman relaxed a moment later, sneering at the road in front of her. “No matter. There are plenty of others available for consultation. We’ll find one who can take care of you.” She did not miss the lilt the words carried. Take care of, like a festering wound, like a stain on the rug.
Sansa did not say anything. Instead, she blinked back tears, she wished for the past.
It’s warm; she can feel the sun on her face even as she knows it’s not real. Still, it takes a long moment to adjust; the grass is too green, the vibrant hues almost hurt to look at, but look she does. It’s winter now, out in the world beyond her closed and slumbering eyelids, and this is the closest to summer she will get for many months. It must be winter for him as well; she can’t remember choosing the weather. He must miss it as well.
She doesn’t need to see him to know he is here. The girl can feel him, the recognised buzzing along her skin, the alert to the presence of another, prickling and humming.
And then he is pushing her on the swing. It is the same set of ropes and wood that she remembers from her childhood, built by her father and Robb one sunny day spent outdoors. Simple pleasures, simpler times, and how her siblings had fought over who had the first go, over who was tasked to do the pushing. She had hated her own turn to push, having to exert the effort of her own muscles to aid in Arya soaring through the air like a bird. The girl had been in a constant state of anticipating, waiting for her own chance to fly.
The man behind her does not seem to mind helping her swing. Sansa is familiar with his palms now, his fingers, as they give swift and gentle presses each time gravity pulls her back to him. She does not try to flee anymore, she does not scare so easily. The girl knows him, at least a little. He wouldn’t harm her without reason, and so she won’t give him one.
She knows if she turns around he will disappear before she can catch a glimpse, and so she doesn’t. Her eyes look forward, the angle changing as she swings back and forth, her legs pumping languidly all the while. The air is cool against her sun-drenched cheeks, her hair blows, sweeping like fire in the space around her.
How long will this continue? It is a game, whatever thing he plays with her, and it was one she is growing impatient with. It could have been a minute, an hour, a week when she finally breaks the strangely comfortable silence around them. “Are you real?” She asks, she has to, because she did not make him up. She is not clever enough to have done it, and she has seen memories that were not her own with him. She has seen his memories.
He laughs behind her, as if he has a secret, and maybe he does. When she swings back this time he does not push again, does not press his open hand to her back. It is strange that she misses it for a half second.
“Are you?” He asks back, but the answer is one he doesn’t seem to need.
She turns, and of course he is gone.
Chapter 3: it's a fire
The pill was new.
Circular and round and so small, she almost thought it looked like a harmless thing. But he’d warned her, the bird, not the man, that the medication would be a danger to her and that her aunt would not, would never, have her best wishes at heart. She was the monster, she was the wrong one, the one who was not sane. The girl's very last relation was a broken, hurting thing, jealous above all else, and willing to do anything to make herself feel security.
Sansa was a threat, more than she was family, more than she was anything else. She must protect herself, her friend had cautioned, and who should she have trusted? Friend or kin? It would have been simple to consider what her mother would have done, but her mother was gone. Her mother had trusted, and it had killed her.
The girl pressed the little pill between her index and thumb, siding it back and forth with a cautious narrowing of eyes. Instead of doing what she was ordered to, instead of swallowing that small danger and letting the chemicals take over, feet carried her to the bathroom adjacent to her small bed. After the toilet flushed she let out a sigh and washed her hands, making her way out into the living room to bid Mrs. Arryn goodnight. Mrs. Arryn. Not Aunt Lysa, never that.
Sansa doesn’t want the dreams to go away anymore; curiosity had swiftly taken flight.
They are in front of a fireplace. Well, she is. He is seated behind her, and she knows that he is the one what warped the scene this time. There is no swing or field or benign background like the ones she usually conjures. This is a setting that speaks of intent. She is leaning against his chest, feeling the slight rise and fall as he inhales, exhales, inhales, and she does not know how exactly she came to be placed here, or why.
Maybe she could guess why. Perhaps she doesn’t want to.
One arm is around her, gentle, keeping her near, although she is too startled at first to make an attempt at escape. It is warm, he is warm, and it is terribly comfortable. His other arms is raised, and he is running his hand through her hair. She hears him inhale against the wild red that falls in waves around her.
She tries to picture him, but falls short. His hands are no mystery; she has seen them before, and they are burned in her memory. But his face, his eyes, his smile (if he does indeed smile)...they are all a weak shadow to her.
“Where are we?” Her words are quiet, and she tries not to let the worry seep through. She is always more comfortable when she is the one in control. When he takes the lead she is often confused, surprised, and this version of herself is an uncertain one; it is a hazard, even if she knows it is not real.
It’s not real. It’s not.
“Nowhere in particular.” His response leaves her unsatisfied, but she did not expect anything else. In truth, she does not expect anything anymore. She wades in uncharted territory, and she treads lightly, afraid to sink, afraid to drown, afraid to find she might enjoy submerging.
It is in this quiet moment, with him brushing along her tendrils with a familiarity he has no right to, that she dares a proper question. “What do I call you?”
He does not answer. He breathes into her hair, deeply, and lets out a sigh. The air is cool along the nape of her neck, and she realises he has pushed the auburn locks aside. She feels warmth, she feels his lips press along the vertebrae, she trembles when his tongue darts out, a fleeting moment before retracting. “You taste.” He murmurs, almost sounding surprised. The words are hot against her skin, and her breath hitches. She wants to run, she wants to stay, she wants.
Still, it is a strange thing to say, even in their strange, shared world. An eyebrow raises but of course he cannot see it. The fire crackles in front of them when a small log falls away. “I taste? Was there a doubt?”
He hums, some half noise she takes to mean yes. She wonders, for the first time, if he is as perplexed as she is about these meetings, this arrangement. She wonders if he talks to the bird, or if her airborne friend is hers alone. The girl is wary of asking.
And more, she doesn’t have the voice to ask him in that moment. His fingertips brush the top of her ear, and her own digits flex in her lap for want of movement. Would he turn away if she tries to reach for him? She dares not; she is still not sure about the man, not sure what he wants, and the bird’s warnings still ring in her ear, the one being carefully stroked. Sansa relaxes into him, her form betraying her. The fire is no longer warming her as deeply as he is.
A second after she relents his mouth opens anew along her neck, and she cannot help or hide the whimper that leaves her. He might have made a noise himself, then, but it is quiet; a stirring, the hint of a moan, a small sign that he is not as in command as he pretends to be. She sees brown hair in her periphery. She dares to peek, catches a smattering of grey at his temple, and there is a tiny relief she finds in her chest that she has another part of him to store in her mind.
He notices that she is trying to see him. He laughs and he tsks, as if she is doing something wrong, but she can tell he is smiling. He nips as her with teeth, his nails dig just a bit into her waist. And then-
-she wakes then, and her face is burning, her neck is damp. Her own fingers feel for it, bring the dampness to her mouth, and it does not taste of her.
Chapter 4: mistle
[I-I wanna know
who you told...
She made a decision to make herself docile after that, to comply, for Lysa Arryn. It became easier, after a few days passed, to move around her aunt while she pretended to bend so easily. The woman seemed to enjoy it, although Sansa was clever enough not to miss the sceptical tightening of her lips on the odd occasion, or the phone calls from a room away conferring with her new shrink. All she needed was a reason, the girl knew; she was one step away from being cast into some cell-less prison, a place where they sent those who could not separate reality from fantasy.
But it was real. But it wasn’t. All the while she battled with herself, unable to sever the part of her that knew her dreams to be something more than figments of her own imagination.
Worse still, he did not visit her for weeks after the meeting in front of the fireplace. She dared not seek him out. Close, too close, but every evening it grew more difficult to stop herself from searching.
It was a year ago when she first met the bad man.
She’d been exploring, as she so often did, weaving images and paths like tangled webs, memories and her own inventions twining like ropes at her command until she could pretend things were good again. The girl could control it now, the journey her mind would take, the concentration needed to navigate the deepest recesses of the sleeping memory without fear of losing her grip. She had made those mistakes already; she had learned. The bird had taught her, when he felt a lazy sort of whim to do so, and she’d gulped up his tutelage like a drowning tang.
It started as her own memory, one she barely remembered but clung to nonetheless, all with the desperation of a girl who had so little to grasp. A Christmas party, the soft greens and reds more comforting and clear than any solid conversation or event; she had been very young. Feet carried her around her old home as if she were truly there, even if her mind was intent on reminding her she was watching a moment long gone. The images around her, usually so sharp, carried a fogginess around the edges, and she had to strain and squint her eyes a bit to focus on them. It was strange; why would her own brain find it all so hazy?
Either way, she continued unfazed, intrigued by the new scenes she had unlocked in her sleep. She caught sight almost immediately on the shadow of herself, this version a decade younger than her present person. Hair still just as blazing with a smile she’d forgotten how to wield, and Sansa felt a strong pang in her chest at the reflection. She watched as she played, as she stuck her tongue out at Robb and yelped when a toddling Arya threw a handful of snow at her. And oh, what she would give to spend all her hours in that moment, to curl up in remembered happiness and leave the real world behind.
But the bird had warned her that it would be a danger to linger too long. She might truly get caught.
Still, she followed her smaller self as she teased Jon, and was in turn teased by Arya. She smiled as her father kissed her forehead. She blinked back tears at her own image’s lightheartedness. The scene before her was almost too much for her to bear, even now, even after the time that had passed, and she could not help her fingers shaking, twitching, at her sides. She felt her composure begin to slip. The girl turned with the next heartbeat, eager to flee, desperate for something to distract her.
Sansa hurried into the kitchen, expecting, as with in the past, that she would be propelled from her own memory once she left the images her mind contained. Instead, she was surprised to see the figures in front of her; the surroundings felt different then, foreign to her eyes and ears. Lysa was there, a version of herself that was slimmer, cares not yet formed around eyes as she smiled something closer to genuine than Sansa had ever been given, or indeed had ever witnessed. She was speaking to her mother, she had her arm wrapped around a man’s, but his back was turned to her.
The girl paused; her younger self was not in this room, how was she able to remember something she was not a part of?
The answer was sudden and intrusive, in the form of hands at her waist, a nose brushing against her ear, and she could feel breath along her skin. “What have we here, hm?”
For a few seconds she could do nothing but remain still, surprise and terror paralysing her in the most painful way, until she managed to sputter out a question, her voice shaking. “Who are you?” She trembled, true fright coursing through her. The bird had not warned her about this.
“I could ask you the same, although I think I know the answer.” His grip tightened and he inhaled, deeply, strangely, the haziness in front of her compounding into a thick blur. It was as if she were looking through thick stained glass then, voices muffled and faces fogged. He did not want her to see.
“This is yours?” The memory. How? How had she stumbled into it, how were there any others like her?
If he was terribly surprised he did not betray any indicators of it, although there was more amusement than anger in his voice. “Yes, and it’s rude to eavesdrop, my little, nosy bird.” The haze in front of her shattered then, the glass cracking into nothing but darkness. The memory was gone in a mist of colour, replaced with black all around them. “Your mother should have taught you better than that.”
Sansa swallowed slowly, her voice even as she tried to stay her panic. “She can't. She’s dead.”
He stilled then, fingers loosening as he let out a long breath. “Is she.” Not a question, not really. He seemed to know.
Just as quickly as it had started it was over. Sansa turned, arms raised and tense to defend herself now that the adrenaline had taken over a startled mind, but he was nowhere to be found.
Chapter 5: no wings
When he finds her for the second time she is terrified.
It is before she knows (she guesses) he is real, and she thinks it is a monster borne from grief that plagues her. The bird does not visit, and that only serves to heighten her apprehension. Her friend does not welcome trouble in any form; she knows he will not protect her if danger lurks. That is part of the agreement, she supposes, although she would not have expected more aid from the winged ally after all the lessons he has given. He has done enough.
It is strange; she doesn’t see the man from the Christmas dream. She feels him, the way she might know a person is in the same room without opening her eyes. But in this case her eyes are open and alert, searching and scanning for any sign of him, coming up empty with each renewed effort. Dry grass is beneath her bare feet, crunching under her when she takes a step forward. Browns and reds are all around her, and she is certain this place was once very beautiful, before neglect and death crept in like a slow plague. It seems forgotten, a decade of rot to be sure, and she might be sad if the worry did not absorb her completely in that moment. There are trees, large and small alike, and ill with time like the grass. Bushes thick with thorns cover the spaces in between, and she sees that she is very much trapped in this small, crumbled circle.
She wear a simple dress, modest and white. It is soft like the world around her is not, and she runs her palms across the material.
It is then that he decides to speak, although she sees no one around her. “How is my little dove tonight?” He asks.
She is startled at first, but it is a dream, she tells herself, and these sorts of things are possible. She wills a calm voice. “Where are you?”
“Here. Watching, wondering.” He pauses, as if he is thinking, and then: “What were you doing in my dream, nosy creature?”
The dream from before? And so she was right; the dream was not her own. But how? She does not even know the man, certainly not without seeing his face. She has no answer for him, and so she gives him none, lips tight in defiance.
It does not last. he is impatient, it seems. “Can’t speak? Is your mouth dry? Perhaps I can help.” With that, she feels her mouth filling, uncontrollable, with something gritty and yes, terribly dry. She chokes, she spits, and it is sand that infests her mouth. Her knees find the cold earth as she retches it up, a pile of desert settling in front of her as she catches her breath.
“How did you-?”
“I can show you, child. But first, you much tell me how you did it.” His tone is amused now, his voice lighter, and she wonders what has changed.
“I don’t know.” Pathetic, she can hear the misery in her voice as she replies to nothing, to no one she can see.
“You are either a very good liar, or…” He doesn’t finish, and she is left alone for a moment. Her throat is hurting now; each swallow is akin to drinking broken glass. She is desperate for something to soothe it.
It begins to rain, and she is not sure if it is her doing or his. The grass seems to groan in relief under her, and it is a miracle the plants are still alive. They suck up the water and it has no chance to settle, the rotting things pulling it in before her scrutinising eyes. And then it is all too fast; the dullness is given new life, the weeds and trees turning green around her in seconds where it ought to take hours, days. She smells the freshness, she senses the thrumming around her and she is certain now she was the one to will this to happen. It gives her the confidence to do what she must.
She does the only thing she can think to do; she runs, she sprints. The girl has never had to battle with another inside her own subconscious, but she tries now, using the tools she has learned through the years spent in this strange, dreaming world to help her. She creates an escape out, an archway made of ivy that leads away from the enclosure of trees and vines.
It does not take long to see that the path bifurcates, twists and turns in either direction, and she chooses right, darting though the curves with the quickest step she can muster.
“Where are you, my little bird?” He asks, and she hears him behind her, in front of her, echoing in all directions.
“I’m not yours.” She sounds like a child now, she feels like a child, the colours muting and shadowing around her, but the life remains. They are battling for control, they are both of them pushing at each other; her mind is fogging with the effort, blurring the scenes around her.
“Ah, but you know that is a lie.” His laugh is soft, and she wonders, not for the first time, what he looks like. He is older than she is, his voice gives that much away. Is he very old? Is his hair grey and does he have wrinkles? He is not very tall, but he is lean; that she knows from the first time she dreamt with him.
She berates herself for being curious about such things when she ought to be manufacturing a way out of this mess, this faulty dream.
But there is no time. Something snaps, severs, and the haziness goes away, the darkness falling until it is night around them. His hand is on her arm, fingers curling, pulling her back as she struggles. His lips graze her ear and she tries to run, but the vines around her are snaking up her legs, tightening until she cannot run. She holds her breath, she tries to focus, closing her eyes and clearing her mind the way she remembers. Sansa sucks in air, a gasp, when his other arm wraps around her middle, pulling her flush to him.
She feels his breath when he speaks. “Found you.”
No. No, her mind yells, and perhaps that is what was needed. The scenes ebbs away, and him with it, until she is alone again.
Chapter 6: past, present
What a wicked thing to do, to let me dream of you
After some time, Sansa found it difficult to close her eyes for more than a blink, let alone sleep through the night. Naps came in moments-long reprieves only when she was too tired to ward slumber on her own, and she was quick to wake from such unrestful bursts. It was several days before the fatigue truly took over, although her aunt surely attributed her listless state as an effect of the pills the girl flushed down the toilet each evening. And so she was often greeted with a pleased and winning smile from Lysa Arryn, quick to comment to her visiting friends how docile the wild girl had become. It must have been her parents, the women would comment freely in her presence, letting her run loose on their estate, no discipline to speak of.
Her brain protested an argument, too preoccupied forcing dry eyelids open. It wouldn't do her any good anyway.
Eventually she was granted a leave; her aunt had finished parading her around and was content to send her off to bed. This provided the girl with greater apprehension than staying with her terrible warden, but her smile would show no sign of it as she bid her aunt goodnight. She meandered up to her room, careful to avoid glancing at the bed in hopes she might forget about sleep for a moment longer. She kept the light on, grasping a book weakly in her hand as she made to sit and read the night away.
She all but slumped onto the couch, barely able to recall just how she made it there when her eyes slid blissfully closed.
It is immediately clear that this is not a dream of her imagining. She has been learning how to tell now, the colours and scenery are foreign, nothing she might have remembered or imagined on her own. A great white house stands tall in front of her, wide columns lining the outside; it looks somehow familiar. Perhaps she’d seen it in a magazine, or a photograph, but she cannot be sure. It carries a slight haze when she looks too hard, the way the heat sometimes does to the air around her in summer, and this is how she knows it is not real. This is how she knows it is his.
The air is cool despite that haze, and she glances around, unwilling to let the fear take hold of her. She has escaped him before; she is learning how to change the world around her even when it is not her own imagining. Her limbs tense as she gives herself this false confidence, and perhaps it helps, a little.
To her side are endless trees, and it seems the house is surrounded by these thick woods, as if the home needed to be hidden away. She considers her options for a moment, to stay put and wait for trouble to come to her or to seek it herself, and her feet carry her away from the residence and into the tree line, hoping if he is indeed waiting it is in that large building, hoping she has given herself time.
She is wearing the same clothing she had worn when she fell asleep; a long white nightgown and thin slippers, but the stray roots and sticks seem to avoid her as she walks along a trail of her own making. The trees and grass bow away from her, groaning wide as she walks, and she knows she is the one manipulating this change. She cannot feel him, not yet, and the girl wonders if she is walking into some new trap.
A laugh startles her out of her focus, and the life around her snaps back into place. She trips on a fallen branch, barely catching herself as she searches for the source of the sound. It is not the cruel laugh of a man taunting her, but a child’s laugh, although she cannot guess if it is a boy or girl. Another noise, two children laughing, and she moves to follow it.
She hides behind the oak to observe them when they come into view, a boy and a girl sitting in a small, sunny clearing. There are makeshift decorations, plants and rocks designed to make swirls and places to sit around them, and it seems this is a secret spot. The girl is clapping her hands while the boy watches and tries to imitate. She laughs when he makes a mistake, her eyes are bright and her red hair reflects like fire in the sun. “No, Petyr, like this!” Her hands move again in an elaborate pattern, and this time he copies her perfectly. She beams, taking his hands in hers, and she is so, so familiar.
“My mother.” Sansa whispers to herself, and she is so focused on the vision before her it is far too late when she feels him approaching.
“Your mother.” His voice behind her, and she daren't turn to look this time, she does not want to miss anything. It doesn’t matter, however; the children dissolve into nothing, mist in the air, and the rest of the dream begins to fall away.
“Petyr?” It is a name she remembers now, and much becomes clear. Much, but not all; there are still no answers to the question of her dreams, of his dreams. She does turn now, and she does not see him, but the girl can feel him still, lingering. “Petyr Baelish.” Not a question, now. She cannot help but feel a moment of relief when she makes this connection. There is no monster, no creature haunting her. It is a person, someone she is tied to by a familiar thread, and as strange as it is it cannot be as bad as the things she has feared.
“Why am I here?” She finds the confidence to ask it, even as she trembles still, the worry of the known now mingling with the unknown. The colours are dripping away around her like chalk in the rain but she stays, waiting.
Finally, he speaks. “Tomorrow.”
She thinks she will sleep early, she will try to set the location herself this time.
Chapter 7: down, down
the daylight holds you close but tonight you are mine
Her aunt goes on a date.
It might have been the first time Lysa Arryn had left her alone in the home. The woman was giddy before she bounced through the door, and for a moment Sansa tried to pretend she was always happy, something closer to the relative she desperately wished she had. She'd lingered around the edges of her aunt's preparations, taking in the care that the woman put into her dress, her makeup. The girl had never seen her so eager. Perhaps if the relationship works out it could soften the edges around the terrible woman, but Sansa knows better than to hope. The woman remains gone as Sansa makes her way to her room, determined to mould the dream the way she wants to this time.
It does not do to hope, a pitiful mantra she keeps in her daylight hours.
In her mind it is New Year’s Eve. Her family’s old house is decorated, the normal warmth forgotten for a night in exchange for a more adult gathering. Bran’s toys are gone from the floor, as are Arya’s messes that tend to scatter behind her like breadcrumbs. The young ones stay with babysitters for this night each year, and Jon and Robb are old enough to make themselves scarce on their own. Only Sansa is left to peek down the stairs, to observe as an outsider both in her dreams and in her memory.
The people around her are dressed in sleek blacks and greys, mingling in groups, their laughter twining with the piano keys and strings that gently serenade. Their faces are indistinct, blurred, and this is her own doing and yet not her own; she’d never known the guests that attended the party. She is wearing a white dress, the material flowing around her like water, the skirt of it long enough to trail after her as she walks barefoot down those steps. The girl had never been able to manage shoes in her mind.
It is not long at all before she notices him, and perhaps he has simply been waiting in the anonymous crowd until she found her footing. She feels the familiar tingle of his presence behind her, and the girl barely takes another breath before she hears him speak.
“Why here?” If he minds the location she can not gather it from his tone. He seems interested, curious.
She smiles, even if he cannot see it, and she doesn’t want him to, anyway. It is a sad tilt of the lips, a grief ridden reflex of jawline muscles. “My parents never let me go. They always made me stay upstairs.” Sansa puffs a small laugh then. “I think they thought I might sneak some champagne. Or get myself into some other trouble.”
“Trouble?” Oh, and he is smirking, she can tell without ever having glimpse it. “Well then.” And he does not need to say another word. His hand extends, palm open, his long fingers slightly parted as he offers to lead. His cufflink, she sees, is shaped like a small bird, bright silver against the shadow of his sleeve.
And shall she go with him? He is the only one in a crowd of hazy strangers that she knows. And she feels she must know him; she has seen his memories, she has felt his touch. Who else in the world can claim to have such a connection to her? They are bound, wittingly or not, and she does not think this is a tether that will snap so easily. Even if she wanted it to, even if she doesn't.
A handful of seconds stretch impossibly, lengthening to days, to years, before she makes a decision. Her curiosity gets the better of her, and the girl takes his hand, soft, warm, and how can she truly tell such things in dreams? How can she know he is real, and if they were in the waking world she would feel that same heat of his palm? She doesn’t know, but she knows it is true, and it has been a truth difficult to deny since the moment in front of the fireplace.
He pulls, firm and gentle all at once, and for the first time she does not wake up when his face comes into view, the only one un-blurred in her vision. Finally, finally she sees him.
Her brows furrow. She cannot tell whether his eyes are green or grey, but now that she has seen them she is certain no other shade would suit him. Of course he is older, but she might have guessed that before she caught the cares near his temple or the lines around his mouth. It is a lovely mouth as well, and she warms when she thinks of his lips on her neck in that prior dream, the lingering evidence of it when she had opened her eyes.
He is watching her just as intently, and perhaps he is seeing her now for the first time as well. “Not what you were expecting?” Boldly, his free hand lifts, reaching to cup the side of her jaw. His other is still twined with her own; she cannot bring herself to part with him.
His question takes a moment to sink in. Is she disappointed? Is she pleased? “No.” The words tumble out before she can stop them, but it is not the truth and he smiles at her, amused, as she rectifies her response. “Well, yes. Or-”
And he chuckles a bit then, relieving her of a proper, honest answer. “You’re very beautiful, Sansa.”
“Thank you.” Her well-rehearsed courtesies save her the trouble of anything other than an automatic reply; her comprehension comes late, too late. He is closing what distance rests between them, he is leaning into her, and there is no one left to care that this is happening, no parent or friend who might have sent her away for her own protection. Around them, the strangers are nothing and this man is all she has.
And she has him.
Chapter 8: a glass breaks
i just died in your arms tonight
(i should have walked away)
It’s real, he’s real, and there is no room at all to contest it.
He tastes, he feels, and he does not kiss, he takes. Her mouth parts in a gasp, and he opens as well, pressing his tongue into her. She has never kissed with such desperation, and as she makes a needy sound she cannot help but think she must never have truly kissed before. All prior clumsy fumbles pale in the comparison, in this perfect, biting communion. She knows already she will never want another, she knows because he tells her without words he is the same. Have they always been the same? She curls into him, an arm slipping around his neck to keep herself afloat, and she has never felt such a sense of rightness before, as teeth clash and jaws align.
His fingers are in her hair, tangling into the thornless vines of auburn. The other hand is not forgotten; it winds around her waist, keeping her near. She wants to tell him there is nowhere else she would go, nowhere else so very real, but of course her mouth is busy slanting over his. He does not seem to mind as he moans and she drinks it in, as he worships her as if he means to take her into himself, as if he has wanted this moment always.
And she is against a wall now, but how she was moved there she cannot say. There are still people around them, but they do not care and she finds she does not either. It is her dream, after all, and with no more than a thought they are gone, vanished into mist, creating a fog around them. The lights seem dimmer in this haze, and she thinks that what must be what emboldens him, and her; he pries one of her legs up against his hip, taking her dress with it until she feels his palm hot against her thigh. She whimpers, she throbs impossibly against him, and the noise he makes in reply makes her think he must be able to feel exactly what she is feeling.
His hand moves up, up, cupping her backside in a firm grip. It presses her against the growing bulge in his slacks, and oh, it is a torture as he grinds against her.
She wants to feel him, she wants what she has never had before but she will gladly give to him, she needs-
Her eyes opened, the gasp that graced her lips still tasted of him. Her body felt warm, heated in the same way she’d been in her slumbering state, affected in a way she did not know she could be. Where his mouth had been had left her parched, and her limbs felt in need of some activity, itching to forget the sensations her dream had wrought from unconscious appendages, and so she stands, intent on shaking off her sleeping desire.
Out the window she peered first, and an unfamiliar car could be seen parked in the long, weaving driveway. Her aunt was home, then, and with her new suitor. The silence around her mixed with the early hour told the girl they must have been fast asleep, and so she did not hesitate to leave her room, the direction of the kitchen, of a glass of water, the focus of her mind.
The idea of a shower sparked her interest, but only for a moment. Pitifully, she was not so keen to wash him off entirely yet.
Her fingers swept against the walls, guiding her way to down the hall in lieu of light until she made it to the lightswitch. Sansa tried in vain not to think about her dream as she reached for a clean glass, tried not to consider if he would be waiting for her once more if she were to fall back asleep. The tightening of her chest, heat rising to her face, told a tale of anticipation her mind ignored.
Her rumination was broken quite abruptly as a distant door closed. The girl stilled, her heart rate rising for something other than quiet lust, unprepared to deal with an aunt who never cared to love her. Fingers flexed on the glass, and there was nowhere to go now save face the woman, and perhaps her night had gone well enough that she was in a decent mood; perhaps she would not be accused of sneaking, or trying to leave the house, or some other flimsy excuse to yell at the girl.
Steps, getting closer, and her ears picked up a different pace, a gait that did not belong to the woman. Terror built then, and what manner of monster would bed someone as cruel and deranged as Lysa Arryn? She took a breath, her free arm crossing over her chest, as if it might ward her from some attack.
And she did not feel the glass leave weakening digits as he came into view, nor did she hear the shattering around her feet. Those eyes caught and held her attention, entirely, hopelessly, the shade that seemed to suit him so well. His scent was still all around her, enveloping her like some strange claim. She had yet to wipe the taste of him from her tongue. There, standing before her, the object of her fear and affection, her strange companion, hers.
There was no fine suit, and he indeed had no shirt on at all. Blues moved downward, taking in a great, glossy scar down the middle of him, the sweatpants that hung loosely around his waist. This was not the man from her evenings, she tried to convince her scrambling mind, but it was, she knew it was. Familiarity was found in every one of his tensed muscles, in the cares around his eyes. In the way he stared at her, the surprise clear on his face, surely mirroring her own.
Had she truly lost her mind? Was reality bleeding into her dreams, the way her aunt had always assumed it would?
Her whisper was deafening in the quiet around them. “Petyr?”
Chapter 9: where the mask ends
now you're thinking too fast/ you're like
marbles on glass
There were unspoken rules to courting a widow.
Timing was paramount, and indeed he knew he had to be careful; reacquainting himself with the woman might appear unseemly a week or month after her husband met his unfortunate end. And of course he was a busy man, unable to pause his schemes in order to seal some certain deal sooner than need be. The idea of fucking her, of hushed promises and loving smiles, was not one that gave him a single ounce of pleasure. It was never Lysa Arryn that had his eye, never the sister that forced his heart to quicken like some foolish boy. It did not help that she’d transformed into some deluded creature in her more recent years, toeing the line of sanity with a tenuous step, prancing up to that precipice before a swift retreat, and back again before anyone was the wiser.
The thought made his stomach turn. But the reward, oh, the reward would make it worth it.
It had all come up a bit quickly for his tastes after that; he’d run into the woman at a restaurant. And while he had a sneaking suspicion the happenstance meeting could have been attributed to her devious hands, he could not refuse her request for a more scheduled rendezvous. The Arryn widow had been delighted, squealing like some feral thing in the middle of the crowd; she had not noticed his tight smile, the force it took him to keep his cordial mask in place. A kiss on the cheek, and his mouth turned as soon as her eyes left him.
That was how he ended up in her bed several nights later, the smell of her, the lingering dampness along his cock, washed hastily away in the bathroom adjacent as soon as he was able. As much as he desired the contrary the man knew he could not leave her then; waking up next to her would solidify whatever the tryst would blossom into, but sleep refused to come next to that snoring body. An hour, and another, his limbs relaxed but mind running miles ahead left him in a twilight. The one clinging idea that finally pulled him into slumber was the thought of meeting her, seeing her to cleanse whatever stain the evening had wrought, and in turn mark her as his own.
He'd found himself waiting for her to appear, enmeshed in one of her vivid, sleeping concoctions. The scene she’d wrapped around herself, and him in turn, was more familiar then he cared to admit. Petyr had been to enough of those parties himself in earlier years, back when the poor boy might have still carried a hopeful torch for a former love. Back to when he was weaker, starved for things he promised himself he would never want again.
The play before him was a fantastical comparison, drops of childlike naivety woven through the walls, the floors, the people. It was all shades and glamour, the flaws all snuffed out to leave room for nothing but perfection. There was not a drop of wine spilled by any hand, and no sign of ruin on dress or suit. Of course, of course she wanted it all without fault; the girl had seen enough blemishes in her life.
Still, it blurred where it once bit. He wondered if that was her intention, or if she simply did not know how to fix it, or if she couldn't.
Ned and Cat were at the centre of it all, seeming to beckon the rest to them by sheer force of gravity. They were the only ones with clear faces, the only ones Sansa would care to see, he assumed, and that alone made the man bristle.
It would not do.
A stray thought filled with more of his own intent than his control would have liked to allow saw them gone immediately. His not-so-gentle will sent a puncture into her dream, setting the pair to mist without another consideration. Would she notice their absence? Had she expected her family to be there waiting? In truth, he did not know. In a greater truth, he did not care. It was her he wanted to see, not the remains of what had been lost.
As if called in sleep to his side by thought alone she was there, and he could not help himself. When she turned to face him he did not even attempt to elude her; he needed her, to devour, to make his own, to baptise him anew with the purity she radiated. He took her mouth, he took and took and did not relent, poisoning her with himself, marking, marring, making, and then-
No more, as a nudge to the elbow from his sleeping paramour woke him in a near startle. Feet rose directly; he would find no further rest after that, after her. And so he trudged down the hallway, intent on a glass of something strong and a trip to the bathroom to calm his thrumming form. A simple trip, complicated by the light being on already, and a too-familiar girl dropping her glass onto the hard floor.
He took her in, the fatigue of slumber around her eyes, the spill of her hair a waterfall around her shoulders, the way she looked at him as if he might be some otherworldly anchor. What did she see when she saw him in that moment? A spectre, a lover, a delusion? Would that he could envelop her there, picking up where their dream had left them, the sounds muffled in order to keep a woman across the house sleeping.
Petyr would have given her that, perhaps, if he had been a little younger, a little more foolish. If he were not himself, if life had not made him cruel.
Eyes hardened quickly enough, and if she saw that recognition in them he made certain she would second guess it later. A mask bereft of recognition fit about his visage, and when he spoke his tone was of a terrible indifference. “Sorry." He said the words, hollow, unapologetic. "Have we met?”
Chapter 10: secrets
i know all your secrets
lock them up
and keep them
and I know, you're afraid
oh there'll come a day
when you might have to meet them
It seemed as if the walls were too bright that morning, and she wondered if it was her lack of sleep that had her squinting against the white reflected along every surface. She did not dig into her oatmeal, and she did not touch the orange juice, freshly poured and waiting, next to the knife she did not need. She knew if she was too quick to eat her food she would be called sloppy and ravenous, and if she did not touch it she was ungrateful. It was a line to be toed, like all things with her aunt. A game for one who had no mind for it any longer.
She never asked to play, yet here she was.
Her aunt was uncharacteristically quiet, humming to herself as she moved to prepare something more substantial than gruel. The smell of ham and eggs wafted, but the girl had no stomach for it even if she thought she might be offered some; she was preoccupied with the man across from her.
(Have we met? Echoes, echoes along her ears.)
He too watched Lysa Arryn, but less with the open disdain Sansa carried and more with a disconnected interest. His head tilted slightly, an eyebrow lifted. His fingers grasped a cup of coffee loosely. The girl could see the veins along his hand, his arm, until his night-worn shirt met skin. His hair was neat even after sleep; his mouth was an unsmiling line. She tried to think of him in that way, cruel geometry, biology, but she could not help swinging back to his taste, the feel of his touch, the lilt of his voice.
(Sansa. Words, unspoken but heard nonetheless into the air around them.)
Her aunt still said nothing, and that remained unusual. It was too long since there had been some barb directed at her, some terrible insult, and she wondered if her good behaviour was on her new paramour’s behalf. Had it been a selling point to woo him into bed? A kind benefactor, taking in the orphan girl who had no parents left to care for her? Surely it had been a matter of time before that angle was discovered, and Sansa chastised herself for not knowing better.
Still, the man…
And as if beckoned, he turned, slowly, toward her, his eyes moving just as barely as his head, until he reached her frowning form. His mug brought to his mouth, he took a small sip as he considered, as he watched.
“Is there something wrong with your breakfast, Sansa?” He asked the question, nonchalant, as his free hand toyed with the fork at his side, sliding a long index finger up and down. It could have been any harmless question; it meant nothing, it was nothing, but for his tone.
The girl that she was, as much as she tried not to be, was irrationally hurt. Beyond the confusion that was her dreams, beyond the pills she did not take, the lack of recognition dug deep into her stomach, twisting and turning until she was not sure anything inside of her remained intact. Have we met, have we met, an awful mantra to be branded in her mind forever, confirmation of her lunacy, some solid proof that she was just as her aunt had accused. Ill, sick, wrong.
There was only so long she could keep up the ruse of her own stability. His eyes, green or perhaps grey, but all the while vivid and clear, stuck to her own as she stood, shaky on her knees, and pushed the chair behind her as she moved to vacate. One palm splayed on the table for a half second while she gained her footing, and she used it to push off and away, eager to find solace in her room, away from the man and the woman who haunted her, night and day. The first step was not a firm one, but by the third she had enough traction to keep herself upright, one hand out to reach the wall of the hallway ahead, and she was almost there, almost away when-
The floor rumbled at the voice. The very air seemed to vibrate, and she could not help but turn to view the owner of the sound. And of course it was him, her burden and tormentor, standing now, paying no mind to the lover to his right, watching her the way he watched her in her dream. And it felt like a dream now, the way the house turned hazy, the way lucidity seemed to melt away like warm wax.
Was it real? Was this real?
Hands finding the stark wall, she pushed and pushed, until the barrier itself flipped, turning the world on its side. Kitchenware behind her shattered as it shunted to the left, crashing along as it went. Sansa fell to the side along with it, her shoulder just missing the corner of some family photo frame as the new ground righted itself. She heard him yell her name this time behind her, but she moved away, crawling on hands and knees to whatever protection might rest ahead of her. A rat in a maze of her own making, or perhaps his, and hadn’t her father prepared her for this?
A hand on her ankle, then, a harsh grip pulling her back as she screamed, and the old chant in her head, the one her father taught her to use when she was afraid-
-Not real not real not real not real-
“Not real not real not real-“
Her head snapped to follow his voice, fingers clenched along her bedsheets.
There he stood, leaning against her closed door, the reflection of the moon lighting him enough to betray his identity. A half smirk lit up along his face as she sucked in air, her form heaving at the trickery of her dreams. It took a few deep breaths to gather enough calm to speak, but when she did it was with a purpose. “Who are you?”
He played with a ring on his right third finger while he watched her, the same eyebrow raised as he had in her lifelike dream. “I think it’s time we had a talk.”